Derek Johnson Muses

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Category Archives: Religion

What I Wear to Church

Yeah, me

Yeah, me

When I go to church, I look like the way Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger wanted the Joker to look like in The Dark Knight: like a young man who spends a fortune on clothing and goes out and parties all night, only to have his clothes appear ratty and tattered. Granted, I buy things on sale or at thrift stores, but my appearance remains urban hipster. I get mistaken for a Concordia student every now and then, mainly because I’m a walking billboard for American Eagle Outfitters.

While I’m always slightly miffed when everyone thinks I’m in college, I’d rather where my ratty blue sports jacket, 1980’s second-hand tie, and off-color pants than 3-piece suit stuff. I don’t care for polo shirts, and I only go really formal when I serve on worship committee. It’s not that I’m directly anti-establishment, but maybe I’m just more comfortable wearing a hit like it’s the 1950’s. If it were, I’d probably be going to a very different job than I do today.

Considerations while Receiving Communion

Remember This at All?

Remember This at All?

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14)

“Dear Savior, we come to your table at your gracious invitation to eat and drink your holy body and blood. Let us find favor in your eyes to receive this holy sacrament in faith for the salvation of our souls and to the glory of your holy name.” (Lutheran Worship, Prayer before Reception of Holy Communion.)

I think about this scripture and pray this prayer when I go take communion often. I’m not sure why (a version of the prayer is in the front of LSB), except that I might have something to with the fact that I’m always rushed because I have to go back up to the choir loft and tape another hymn, or I’m the last usher in line and have to tell pastor who to go give to communion in the pew to. Point is, I go to communion with a busy mind and a guilty heart sometimes. I still get Christ’s body and blood, which is fear-inducing.

It’s probably a good thing that communion is for sinners.

World War Z, Conservatism, and Christianity

“Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’” (Genesis 8:20-22 ESV)

I read World War Z last winter, after the film adaptation’s trailer came out, and enjoyed the book immensely. The idea of a zombie did get me thinking about how I should think about post-apocalyptic literature like WWZThe Walking Dead, or even the late TV show Jericho, from a Christian perspective. WWZ preached the token secularist point: surviving nations ruthlessly adapt the Redeker Plan that leaves people to die, and Theocratic Russia is plainly hiding something. But as I read the book, I couldn’t help but wonder why it seemed that liberal, isolationist culture would be the ultimate victim of a WWZ, if there was such a war.

Liberal social policies tend to rise in societies that can afford them. Should the resources disappear, society would have to adapt. Ask yourself this: who is better built to survive a zombie apocalypse, wealthy, urban social liberals who can pay for two or three divorces, or thrifty conservative families who have always bought their clothes at Goodwill? Birth rates always go up with the advent of war and fears of the end, and prospering in our modern society is bound in many ways to being socially liberally. Should the zombies rise, humanity would have to reproduce at much more rapid rate to replace those who died, and conservatives, in general, have more children than liberals

And consider how the notion of family would change. Without birth control abundantly available as it is now, people would have more children, and the sheer act of providing, even without emotional content, would be considered love. The ambitious people who today leave government for the private sector would have a stronger moral obligation to lead in government. And religion would become more of a cultural force, and not the religion of self. If you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, “give us this day our daily bread” is your favorite prayer, and you would want a God who is greater than this world.

I’m not saying that every liberal/leftist principal would get swept away in a sea of zombies, but what I am saying is that a lot of liberal principals require the vast prosperity that America (certain parts of the world) currently provides. Liberalism wouldn’t die (although modern capitalism as we know it might), but some of it we would see in a different light.

It makes me wonder why Hollywood, the liberal center of western culture, is greenlighting so many destroy-the-world epics when destroying the world would likely cause them to loose a place for the liberal values they enjoy. Of course, the Hollywood version usually features the “death of God” in some capacity, and the end of the world is caused by a greedy businessman or general (think Terminator 3, where the ambitious military is responsible for Skynet, or , as I’m given to understand, The Day After.) But it would be curious to see one where the liberals get the shorter end of the stick. 

So, conservatives, let’s write a novel that will show a world crisis that eradicates radical secularism and liberalism from America after a cataclysmic event. Hey, maybe I should get on that.

Thanks, Dr. Walther

I had a joyous experience Tuesday night. I had the privilege of attending the coordinating council at St. John as the rep from the worship committee. Finally, I was hanging out with the cool people and have made a small step toward becoming one of the elders.

Not only that, but I was also privileged to read the group’s devotion and choose a daily devotion from God Grant It by C.F.W. Walther. The devotion covered John 3:14-15, and was on new birth. Even though I read it at home before the meeting, hearing myself read to the group was a bit surprising. Dr. Walther had a way of piling up words against each other that we don’t hear in today’s diction.

“our bodily birth gives us a bodily life and natural movements, desires, wills, understanding, and powers…” (p. 472, God Grant It, Concordia Publishing House. Translated by Gerhard P. Grabenhofer. 2006)

“a born-again person…thinks, judges, speaks, and lives according to the Word.” (p. 473, God Grant It.)

For a young man who was eager to be in a place of church leadership, I’m glad to remember how little I really know. Today, we read news stories and blog posts that say, “Bill got up. He ate breakfast and went to work. His boss supported him.” Walther hammers on points, making them over and over again, one sentence after the other. In our modern twitterverse, you will rarely hear one person expound the same principal in such a way, for fear of loosing audience. Which you will if you are too repetitive.

A hundred and fifty years ago, when sermons would last an hour and political debates three. Now, pastors I know tell me that they have, at most, fifteen minutes of people’s attention until their eyes start glazing over. Our technology in America today is amazing, great, and a blessing from God, but we should never think that we are so much smarter today than we were fifty years or a hundred years ago, even if we have a greater libraries of information. What we do with information and using it well is what counts for something.

So thank you, Dr. Walther for knocking me off of my pedestal. 

walther

Even if it Weren’t True…

Rogate

Why doesn’t this work for you?

The socially liberal lifestyle (or progressive, as it likes to be known by) is a tempting proposition. For the most part, people can do whatever they want in that life and can follow any kind of whim that they, and if anyone wants to challenge you, you just have to claim personal autonomy.

But I still follow conservative Christian social teaching for a simple reason: Christians are kinder.

Of all the half-truths that are propagated about Christianity and “religion” on TV, this is the one that the world gets the wrongest. They keep portraying Christians as stuck in their ways and unchanging, and sure, I know some Christian people who are bit crusty and who come off as cold and unfeeling.. But all of my Christian friends have better countenance, are better educated, and generally more pleasant people than the non-religious people I know.

There have been times in my life where, yes, I was wandering about, and I would have happily adhered certain liberal positions. But I missed the Lord, and even though Christians are a bit rigid and unwavering, at least they are for the right reason. The modern leftists are so insecure they don’t just want to win, they want the other side’s argument completely silenced in the public square. Why? What is it about Christianity that makes you so afraid?

In my observation, the simple difference between secularists and Christians is that Christians believe in joy over happiness, and secularist just believe in happiness over joy. Secularist look to whatever makes them happy in the moment, to whatever gratifies their fancy as something that deserves moral public standing. Christians believe in joy, that whatever is happening to them, God never lets go, and in fact, whatever happens is part of God’s plan. This is no more different when look at a Christian’s attitude toward having children versus a secularist’s attitude toward having children. Secularists say, “Have a child if it helps you realize yourself. Don’t compromise your lifestyle because of it.” Christians see children as a gift from God, and no matter how much work they are, they have intrinsic value beyond this life. (As someone who really struggles with the idea of having kids, that does help me.)

And even if that wasn’t true, who wouldn’t want to believe in that?

John 17:20-26: One Because of Christ’s Glory

John 17 is a prayer, the sacerdotal prayer, that Jesus prays in the midst of the disciples, somewhat as a sermon. What is prayer? Jesus knew what was going to happen and what the Father was going to do, even after he ascended. But he prayed for His own strength, and that His disciples would be strengthened. In the prayer that Our Lord gave us, we ask for him to do things He has already done (“hallowed be Your name”), but we ask them because we are weak.

Throughout this prayer, Jesus connects himself to His Father, and then Himself to His disciples, and finally, His disciples to His church. It is through this line we receive the Gospel.

Jesus has spent the last couple of hours giving His final teaching to his disciples, and with this prayer, He first looks at himself. He needs His father’s help as much as His disciples. Then he turns His attention to His disciples, those He has trained and prays for their strength.

v. 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,”

Note how Jesus connects the church to the Apostles. Jesus has first testified to the father, and now the disciples will testify to what they have seen and believed about Jesus. (16:30, and post-resurrection). Throughout this prayer, Jesus has connected his work (His “glory”) to His union with God, and the work that God sent him to do.

Grammatical point: the word of the disciples comes before in me. Faith always come through hearing the message, God’s word to us. (Mary conceived through her ears.)

v. 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

We have access to the Father via the Son. Through the Son’s work, we can stand forgiven before the Father.

Where are we one with Christ? In His supper. This is an uncomfortable topic. In the age of ecumenism and our ELCA cousins badgering us, we de-emphasize how we are united to our fellow believers at the Lord’s table. It is an easy trap to fall into-we only talk about the forgiveness we receive at the table, and then, we feel awkward when we tell our neighbors they can’t go to the supper, and they take it personally. We need to take seriously how the Supper judges us.

Through Christ word’s here, we can be assured that no matter what disagreements we may have, we will always be one in Him, because of how He is one with God.

v. 22 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one” God’s glory is through suffering. Glory doesn’t just mean shiny stuff. Glory is the work of Jesus, that He would set His majesty and titles aside, all so that we should be forgiven.

How an Old Person Should Ask a Young Person to Church

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;” 1 Peter 3:15, ESV

A lot of times when I visit a church (or sometimes at my own church), I get this eager look from old people, as if they want to cheer, “Yes, finally someone under the age of forty is showing up! All is not lost!” And just like that, those eager eyes send me running in the opposite direction (okay, not like that.)

But seriously, a large percentage of young people leave the church in their twenties, and since I am still in my twenties and have gone to church consistently throughout the last ten years of my life, let me give some advice to the AARP crowd about how to talk to Gen-Y about church.

First, listen to where they are in their lives. Young people get a lot of messages from the culture about what the church is, and have a lot of things vying for their time. Let them give voice to some of them before you offer yours.And know that, of all the options that they have, you have one that speaks of true life and salvation, so…

Go to them in hope and optimism. As I alluded to before, if you come off as eager, you’ll just look desperate. If you say “What are you looking for in a church?”, it puts the onus on them. They may not even be looking for a church or want anything to do with a church, and will look at you as if you are coming to them to fulfill a need. Instead, talk to what knowing God in this place has meant to your life, and how the ancillary support system has helped you.

Speak in humility and have a message about how God has called you. They will expect you to preach at them, so make sure to make it personal when you talk about your relationship with God and His church on earth. Remember, they can listen to any message that they want to hear. You need to give them a reason to listen to yours.

And make sure you have a message that has theological content, albeit basic. Most young people won’t go to church just for the sake of going, so talk about your specific beliefs and about how Christ comes to you in His word and sacrament.

Do all of this in confidence, because it’s God’s work. Our socially liberal culture may seem appealing and act as if the church will eventually die out, but the peace that passes all understanding only comes through Christ. Churches may rise and fall, but God sustains them all.

Our culture preaches a message that accepts the breakdown of the family in all areas: divorce, premarital sex, living together without marriage (for many, many years even), and homosexual relationships. Many young people simply accept that a lifelong marriage is an unrealistic goal. This contemporary world is very similar to the one Jesus sent His apostles into to preach the good news and offer an alternative to the pagan lifestyle of the day. That is what you and the church have to offer Gen Y, thanks be to God.

Where I watch the sermon from when I'm on Worship Committee Duty

The Lord’s House, not ours

Prayer Books Just Sitting There…

My Treasury of Daily Prayers stares at me from its post on the kitchen table. I try to read it over breakfast most days, and I hope I succeed more than I fail. I rotate other devotional books through-a daily Luther book, a daily Walther, both of whom are worth reading. The daily Luther blog was great too, when it was being update. (Whoever did that, please come back and continue it.) A word of advice to Christian youth: you never think that you’ll get caught up and need devotional time until you really do.

Devotions always feel sluggish to me, but that’s just how they are supposed to feel. That’s probably the devil too, telling me I already know what’s in the scriptures. It’s the same thing I hear in my ear when I go to listen to Issues, Etc., podcasts and choose the quick, 10 minute social issues-cast over the in-depth Bible study. Yes, it’s easier to get into that controversial, call-to-arms, but I still need to carve out time to listen to God’s word. I keep having to remind myself how low the standards of our culture are.

I keep theology books in my bag. I don’t read them that often; they serve more as a talisman than anything else. Sometimes, I peruse them at stops when my brain isn’t going too fast, or when I’m out in Lincoln and don’t want to go home yet. I remember hearing an antidote once that, just like you can’t remember every meal you’ve ever eaten, so you can’t remember every sermon you’ve ever heard, or every devotion you’ve ever read for that matter. I hope that is true, but what concerns me more is when I forget sermons hours after they’re preached or spend my free hours thinking about drivel rather than what Pastor Todd says on the radio.

This is what the hypocrite does: he carries around something just for others to see, or more importantly, for himself to believe that he is a good person. But I do have them with me. Perhaps I need to remember that my vocation isn’t to just read theology books or listen to podcasts; it’s too be a good worker, and a good writer. I listen to sacred music and read God’s word because Jesus died for me on the cross, and I need to be reminded of that over and over.

Right here for you...

Right here for you…

Study on John 16:12-22, The Trinity and the Holy Spirit’s Job

All Scriptures English Standard Version (ESV)

This morning, I had the privilege of leading a Bible study at St. John in Seward on John 16:12-22, the reading of the day for the fifth Sunday after Easter on the sending of the Holy Spirit and “a little while, and you will see me no longer.” (v.16). The Heritage Room study is a very talkative group, which allows for a very open discussion and easy day if you are the leader. Here’s some notes from that study and thanks to everyone who was there who contributed.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (v. 12) Jesus has told his disciples that one of them will betray him and now has lead them to the garden and has warned them that the world will hate them (15:18), all before his crucifixion. Jesus has laid on them many tough teachings on how the church will be after He is gone and their minds must have been swimming.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (v. 14-16) We see the interplay in between the members of the Trinity. In mysterious fashion, Jesus will have to leave His disciples after His great victory over death for the Spirit to come. But the Spirit will not lead people according to their whims or directives, but “will not speak on his own authority.”

Our God is modeling within himself what relationships are to be, as each person of the Godhead serves according to the will of all three. Jesus said in John 5:19  “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Proper relationships are all based upon service and how we serve our neighbor.

This is a mystery: how does an almighty God not only exist as three persons, but be one. If God would have wanted us to know how this could be, he would have told us, but, as Jesus said to His disciples, they already had enough to bear. This goes against the grain of American culture, where storing up things is encouraged and we can access a wealth of information on the internet. How can we not understand how the persons of the Trinity submit to each other? And yet, in this regard, it is a blessing not to know.

As the Lutheran Study Bible notes (literally), the Spirit is “guiding” the church “in truth”, that is the truth that is already revealed in the Scriptures and through the Apostles. This is not meant to be a directive to deduce new revelations from God, as some would assert. In a speech dissected on Issues, Etc. earlier this year, openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church in the USA used “the Spirit…will guide you into all the truth” as the reason believers should disregard all the passages against homosexuality. Basically, whatever anyone asserts comes from the Holy Spirit is valid truth, even when it’s contrary to other parts of Scripture. This is why clear passages interpret unclear passages.

‘…A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father”?’ (v. 16-17) In retrospect, we know that Jesus was talking about his death and reappearance after his Resurrection, but these words must have come to them as a play on words. (In verse 29, the disciples will thank Jesus for saying plainly that he is going to the Father.) If a husband telling his wife that he will take out the trash “in a little while”, the wife may wonder when a little while is. So the disciples wonder here.

Good. Working on it.

So let me say this first: I believe in the Lutheran teachings about good works, that they flow from the heart of faith only, and that we can’t consciously do good works. I believe that, I really do. But I still have a question.

When I started going to St. John, I wasn’t really involved in anything. I had a lot of time on my hands, so I began helping with the tape ministry, welcomers, and serving on worship committee for the sole reason that I was bored and wanted something to do around church. I didn’t really care about the people who were getting the tapes or I was helping into church. Okay, that is not really true. Technically, I do care about people who are shut-in and in the nursing home. I’d have to be a pretty cold guy not too.

But those good works, like a number of my good works were done simply because they were right in front of me and I just didn’t want to be the bad guy. I wanted to be the bad who once in a while did something not as terrible. Does that make my good works a little less good? Well, any way I answer that question, I’ll end up saying that my good works came from me.

That’s really part of the practical problem with the Lutheran doctrine on good works. Said doctrine states that good works flow from faith, that they are the work of the Holy Spirit, and that even if we try, our good works are just filthy rags. Even when we are thinking we do a good work, it becomes soiled because we are always sinking in our sinful motivation. Perhaps my good works out of apathy reflect this to a degree. My problem with this doctrine is, how do you go out after hearing it and do anything for God, if you know that what you do will ultimately just get soiled by your sin? It’s like the problem with inception Arthur points out to Saito in Christopher Nolan ‘s movie: if you tell someone not to think about elephants, they’ll just think about elephants. If you tell a Christian that good works only flow from faith and have nothing to do with himself, won’t the Christian automatically just do good works because he was told that good works don’t come from himself?

I’m not sure how to answer that, other than to say there’s no good or perfect way to live in this fallen, sorrowful world. Trust whatever certainty you have to Christ, and seek His forgiveness and image. The sheep in the parable didn’t know their good works, so I don’t worry if I can’t know mine.

Why go to Easter Vigil and Long Communion Lines

If you are good Lutheran, you will have been to church three times in four days by the time Easter is up, so why would it hurt if you went four times in four days? I get it: you’re physically spent, and you literally can’t go to church again. But if you live in Seward, here’s the benefit of coming to Easter Vigil at St. John: you will get to watch yours truly play with fire!

Okay, that’s a really lousy reason compared to hearing about God’s grace and reason. But it is ironic that the two major festivals in the church, Christmas (celebration of the Incarnate Word) and Easter (Celebration of Christ’s victory), are both marked by service the night before that involve candles. One is the height of all celebration, the other is an afterthought.

Pastor Will Weedon does a lot better job of explaining Easter Vigil in this podcast, but let me state this from my experience: the service is a lot of readings (not unlike Christmas day), and focuses on how the story of the Bible has culminated in the event we celebrate on Easter, Christ’s resurrection, the promised and testified to hope. If you’re home, going to bed early for 6:30 sunrise service, I understand. But you are missing out.

It’ll look just like this.

Lutherans seem talk about communion a lot, but in one of two ways: one, there are those who talk about what a joy it is to receive Christ’s body and blood, and two, how long it takes. I haven’t met a lot of Lutherans who will talk about both.

Let me just say this, since Easter is tomorrow and you’re probably going to find yourself in a long line: give thanks that it takes so long to go up for communion. You get to sing more hymns, and more time to ponder the mystery of the sacrament. And if you’re church has a lot of old people who sit in front like mine does, it’s going to take them a long time to get up there. I’m on the ushering committee at St. John, I know how long it takes.

I’m guessing there are certain congregations in the LCMS that discontinued weekly communion because it just took so long and so many volunteer hours, which I get. But while it’s up to an individual congregation to decide how often they communion, just remember: you are receiving a gift from God, with your brothers and sisters, for your eternal salvation. Do you really want to complain about how long it takes to set the table and do the dishes?

Let me share from my own personal experience. Since I usher at St. John’s, there are Sundays I don’t get to read the prayer in the front of the hymnal before I go up to take communion. Sometimes, I do feel rushed, since I communion at the end and have to tell Pastor who needs to receive communion in the pew (which is a significant responsibility). I don’t always take communion with the best mindset, but I’m there, and my receiving depends on what God does for me, not what I’m thinking at the time.

So this Sunday, when you’re in a long line headed to an assist who is standing outside the altar, just remember: you’re able to have slice of heaven this because Jesus gave up his God-head and rose from the dead. Even if you’re groggy, you’re getting Christ’s body and blood.

Days Gone By

Ever since I got past the initial burst of buying the house, I hit a personal slump with less to do. I even found out today that the loan is on schedule and I don’t need to do anything for that for a while. With great relief, I’m doing my taxes; this year, the money is more important than it normally is, given what I will have to invest in the house.

I’m in a bit of a writing funk, pretty typical for this time of year. If I’m going to write, I need a lot of walk-outside, free-headspace time on the trail, and the current weather has restricted this this. It hardly feels like I’m two months away from hitting the road to go and see little corn plants popping out of Wisconsin and Michigan soil, ground that is probably now covered with snow. I still try to wear shorts every day that I can, as a way of protesting the snow that still insists on falling.

I’ve stalled on the fiction piece I was working on earlier this year. I have a large chunk of it down, and I have written notes to finish it, but it doesn’t feel as fresh as it did. Of course, all writing goes through phases, and it probably needs a polish. But I worry a lot that it has stalled out after a major revelation, at a point where some of the main characters will need to be very confrontational. Confrontation isn’t always my specialty.

I have followed through on my commitment to listen to more Issues, Etc, and other religious/educational podcasts and regulate out some ESPN radio. It works most of the time, although Issues, Etc, is pretty heavy, and probably does contribute to my need to walk more and process stuff.

But the real affect of listening to theology and reading Christian blogs, it’s realizing all the crappy television and cheap lit I read is full of secularist garbage that keeps me from sharing and living in my faith. Most of this particular revelation comes from a book by Ben Shapiro, Primetime Propaganda, a book about how far left the television is, including breakdowns of specific shows from the last forty years. I knew everything on TV was liberal, but what I didn’t know was that Hollywood treats conservatives with a blind hatred, refusing to hire moderate conservatives who grow up around liberal and keep their politics “in the closet”. Of course, I still watch TV (it’s crack, what can I say), but I do it with understanding that it won’t provide me with any affirmation I need.

And at the center of it all, I think I’m just lonely. My thoughts have turned toward dating again, or at least connecting with people. Perhaps it’s just the natural progression of things, of doing something like buying a home that people usually wait to do until they get married. Certainly, getting married would make all the work I have to do around the house a lot less taxing.

It’s times like this I’m actually happy to go to the office and plant samples, empty the trash, move trays, and mop the floor. I love writing and doing this blog, but I think to myself a lot that I’d be just as happy if I was working with samples every day. Did I just write that?

The Loup River, just off Highway 81

Washed up? Hopefully not yet

At least Holy Week is early this year. I’ll miss midweek dinners at church and seeing my church family on Wednesdays, but I don’t like having to wait until the end of April for Easter. Lent hasn’t felt like the downer it has in the past, because I’ve come to realize that repentance is something to be done in joy, as we are coming before a merciful God, knowing he will forgive us. I’m looking forward to the musical festivities of Easter, and moving forward with the church year. Thanks be to God.

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