Derek Johnson Muses

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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. 


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…

Isaiah and Jesus: where the Pharisees and Sadducees Missed the Boat

There are two points I’ve learned about how to read the New Testament that give me a greater understanding of the text. The first, I learned from Pastor Arnold Jurchen in Bible study at Holy Cross Lutheran church in Goehner, Nebraska. The second I recently read in the Lutheran Study Bible’s introduction to the prophets, and will be a key point in the upcoming study I’m preparing for the book of Isaiah.

In that Bible study, Pastor Jurchen addressed the issue of why the Jews in Jesus’ day didn’t believe that he was the Messiah. He said that Jews in the Old Testament laid out two Messiahs: one was the suffering servant, the other was the eternal heir of David. From that, it’s pretty easy to determine who the Jews wanted to believe in. The point from the Lutheran study Bible heightened that point: the Sadducees, Pharisees and other religious leader held the Books of Moses as authoritative over the prophets, or at least as more important than the prophets. That shocked me when I read it, but in a way that made sense.

At the time of Jesus, the Jews, after generations of struggle, had gotten a temple, and some measure of control in Jerusalem. With their nose up to the Romans, the teachers of the law said to themselves, “Listen, the previous generations really screwed up. We’d better observe the law of Moses to the hilt. Our fathers didn’t, and they themselves shipped hundreds of miles away from God’s promised land. If we return in repentance and keep the temple law, eventually, we’ll get the Rambo Messiah who’ll kick out the Romans.”

But they forgot a couple of things: one, God works in spite of our failings. In Isaiah 1:12-17, God bemoans the sacrifices that Israel was offering up, and tells them to concern themselves with social justice. Even though Isaiah and the other prophets proclaimed God’s judgment, they proclaimed his forgiveness for those who repent (even in exile). When you go to the New Testament, you see Jesus healing the widows’ son and feeding large crowds, caring for the needs of lesser people. When you read John 7-8 (Jesus at the Feast of Booths) and see the dialogue, it’s clear that the Jews want to use their allegiance to Moses (“we are Abraham’s children”), but if you read Isaiah, you see that claiming Abraham isn’t valid if you are persisting in sin. The answer wasn’t to reestablish the temple which could be destroyed again (and was); the answer was to look to the hope that, in repentance and faith, God would send His Messiah.

Perpetual Students: Beggars at Christ’s Feet, with a word from Dr. Luther

I have a confession to make: there are times when I think that I have learned all of scripture and when it bores me. There are times when I forget the scriptures, would rather listen to sports talk radio, and I feel like I know everything in scripture. These are the moments when I am really a sad fool.

This all goes back to college, when I decided that I wasn’t going to go on to seminary. When I had begun to study Greek, I was really excited about getting to seminary and learning more about the New Testament and what it said. But as the years dragged on, and I moved into the advanced classes, I became bored with Greek, mainly because it came so easily to me. While there were other, more personal reasons as to why I did not go to seminary, my neglect of Greek and Hebrew is a regret in my mind, and I wish I would have pursued those studies more.

Now I’m a guy who makes it to Bible study when I can and listens to Issues ETC. in my truck. Granted, Issues, Etc. provides great teaching to me wherever I go and when I’m at home. I do read my devotions every day, but I still miss reading them in Greek. I guess I have no one to blame but myself for not taking up the study of scriptures. Many are the days when my head is filled with thoughts that don’t matter, even sinful thoughts. But then I remember that God works good even in spite of out sinfulness.

There are many times when I think to a book of the Bible like Romans, and I think to myself, man, I should really know what’s in that book. But I can’t think of it. What I remember now, is Paul begins with the law (the homosexual passages in chapter one get brought up in our current environment a lot), by chapter four he’s discussing the faith of Abraham, then moves on to the law, its place in the Christian’s life, Jews and Greeks, Paul enumerates his heart for his Jewish brothers and sisters, and then his final admonitions and greetings. Okay, so perhaps I remember a little more than I thought, but I just wish that I had more specific verses down in my head.

A few years ago, I bought a bunch of tapes of the New Testament and intended to listen to them in the car all the time, but I eventually got them fragmented all over the place. They helped me a little bit, and now, there are many times when I recall a parable of Jesus when I’m in the car, or out on a walk, or in bed. Psalms are easy to remember too, as well as anything that was put into song into some of the prayer offices I learned in college.

Whenever I struggle with this subject, I remember this quote by Luther in the Preface to the Large Catechism, “But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and ever morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain. And yet these delicate, fastidious fellows would with one reading promptly be doctors above all doctors, know everything and be in need of nothing.” (LC 1, 7-8). It is very comforting to know that I can always be the catechisms’ student, as Dr. Luther was and many after him were. We can never stop learning from the Scripture, never read them enough.

Will I ever go back to the seminary? I don’t know, and that may not be important now; God’s given me His Scriptures to read, and I will joyfully do so


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