Read With Me

This summer I will be reading through the Lutheran Confessions, and I wonder if there is anyone out there who would like to read with me. Several years ago I came across a schedule for reading the Book of Concord during the summer (May 30–September 6). I like doing it in the summer because my schedule is a little lighter, and it seems better to read this in longer sections, rather than to spread it out over the whole year (using the schedule included in the Reader’s Edition).

I will be using the CPH Reader’s Edition (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions) again. This has become my standard English version which I use.  If you don’t have a copy of the Book of Concord, get one. Read the paragraph below to explain why. It is currently on sale for $20 at If you have a different version (Triglot, Tappert, Kolb/Wengert), there is an older version of the summer schedule here. If you don’t want to buy a book, you can read it on the internet right here, or purchase an electronic version here. You might also consider the pocket edition if you want to keep reading while on vacation and not have to lug a big book around.

Are you interested in reading with me? If so, I’d like to hear from you. Perhaps we can even discuss a few topics as we go through it. I’ll warn you that the schedule is pretty ambitious. This is the third time I’ve attempted this schedule and I’ve never yet finished on September 6th. But maybe if I had a few reading partners, you can help me stay on track. You can download the schedule through this link.

This is not just a book for pastors and church “professionals” or “academics.” In fact, it is important to realize that the people most directly responsible for the Lutheran Confessions were laymen, not pastors and theologians. At tremendous personal risk to their own lives, their property, and their profession, laymen boldly stepped before the emperor and the pope’s representatives. They asserted that these Confessions were their own. They did not back down or compromise. For this reason, it is unfortunate that down through the years the Book of Concord has come to be regarded more as a book for pastors and professional theologians.

Tucked into the middle of this book is the most widely used of all the Lutheran Confessions: Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Luther wrote this document not simply as a resource for the church and school, but, first and foremost, for the head of the household. Luther intended this little book to be used by laypeople, daily, to help them remain anchored to the solid teachings of God’s holy Word, the Bible. So keep this important fact in mind: The Book of Concord exists because of the faith and conviction of laypeople, who risked their very lives in order to have these Confessions produced, published, and distributed. The Book of Concord is a book for all Christians, church workers and laypeople alike.

Christians who want to be true and faithful to the teachings of the Bible return, again and again, to this book. In these confessions of faith they find agreement, unity, and harmony in the truths of God’s Word. (from the General Introduction to the Book of Concord)

So dust off those Concord Books and we’ll get started in just a few days!

Meant to be…

There’s a line in the movie Lonesome Dove when the Hat Creek Cattle Company is about to drive their cattle herd through its first dust storm. One of the cowboys says to another (I can’t remember who), “Well, I reckon this is where we find out if we was meant to be cowboys or not.”

I find myself thinking of that line every time I find myself in a situation that seems to require a higher level of pastoral expertise than I imagine myself being capable of.  It may be a phone call that requires me to give pastoral counsel on the fly, for a situation I’ve never even dreamed of. Or the visit to a member’s home that brings to light an aspect of their life that no one else knows about. It could be a trip to the emergency room or to the county detention center, when I have no clue what condition this particular soul is in—until I walk through the door.

But I keep riding into these storms, wondering to myself how I’ll find my way out. I think that this is where I’ll find out if I was meant to be a pastor. I get there and I may stumble around for a while, but usually Jesus’ words find their way to my lips. Then things seem to become more clear. Then I know that, ready or not, Jesus has called me to do this work on his behalf. He has called me to serve these people as their pastor, which means sometimes stepping into unknown places, and into a world entirely different than the one I know.

Yesterday was Assignment Day at the Seminary. We watched the call service via the internet with the upper grade students. Our teacher’s brother was being assigned. As I think back to those days, I realize that we were well prepared to enter into the pastoral ministry. By the time a candidate’s name is read, he’s ready to go, ready to be a pastor. But I find that there is a whole lot more preparation that goes on every day, with every visit, every phone call. I find that I am constantly learning what it means to be pastor, to these people, at this time, in this place.

Christ Is With Me

This year our theme for the school year, especially for our weekly chapel services, was taken from this hymn from Christian Worship Supplement, “Christ Is With Me.” During the year, I covered as many aspects of Christ’s presence among us as I could, generally following the themes of the church year. Here are a few highlights:

  • September: Christ is with us when we gather in his name. Because of his promise, he is with us when we worship him, from invocation to benediction.
  • October: Christ is with us at all times and in all places. We noted God’s presence by night and day, and no matter where we might travel.
  • November (End Time): Christ is with us to the very end. Whether that is the end of our earthly life, or the end of this world, Christ will never leave.
  • December: God is with us in his son, Immanuel. Now that he has become our brother, Christ is never separate from us, for he is one of us.
  • January: In baptism, we are connected with Christ. His righteousness is ours; our sin is his.
  • February: Christ is with us through cross and suffering. In fact, especially in times of danger, fear, and sadness, Christ assures us of his presence.
  • March (Lent): Christ is with us because he suffered and died. He was abandoned by his people, his disciples, and finally by God himself. Left alone, so that we never would.
  • April (Easter): Christ is risen. Had he remained in the grave, he could not be with us. But a living Christ can keep his promise to never leave us.
  • May (Ascension): Jesus left his disciples when he ascended into heaven, but not really. In fact, when he sits on his throne, he is closer than ever before. Jesus’ ascension guarantees his presence with us constantly, and especially in the means of grace.

This is just a summary of a whole year of chapel devotions. This Sunday, our students will be singing this hymn in church. Our kids have been practicing at home, and so I have had the privilege of listening to these deep scriptural truths sung to me by the kids. The verses are paraphrases of verses from Romans 6, John 15, and Galatians 2.

We were buried with him into death,
That as he was raised by God’s glory,
We might walk in life made new by grace.
Having died with Christ, we shall live with him.

Christ is with me ev’rywhere I go. Never to leave me, this I know.

I have now been grafted to the vine,
Drawing life from roots rich in mercy,
Bearing fruit as I abide in him:
Fruit forever fresh, glorifying God.


I have now been crucified with Christ.
I no longer live; Christ lives in me.
Now I live by faith in God’s own Son,
One who loved me so—gave himself for me.


Text: Gerald Patrick Coleman, b. 1953, alt

Ascension Afterglow

A large, framed picture of this stained glass window hangs in my study at church. The window is located in the balcony of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa WI, where I spent my vicar year. I received the print as a seminary graduation gift. While I was in California, the picture hung in my office, in just the right position so that I could see it from the front of church. Every time I raised my hands in blessing at the end of the service, I could see Jesus’ outstretched arms. Indeed, the benediction is his blessing. Today, I can’t see the picture from our chancel, but it still often reminds me of Jesus’ ascension. I have found that Jesus’ ascension has provided me with tremendous comfort for my life and ministry as long as I have been in it.

For the past seven years, I have been privileged to participate in worship services on Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. I know that many churches no longer observe Ascension on this day (many transfer it to the Sunday after), but at this point, I just couldn’t imagine not marking this day. In fact, I have been told that my current congregation had never had an Ascension service before last year. But I have said that since I would be observing it anyway (on my own or with my family), I might as well invite others to join me.

I understand that Jesus’ ascension doesn’t rank up there with Christmas and Easter (in the minds of most people). I understand that Thursday nights in May are often busy with all kinds of activities. I understand that Hallmark and Walmart don’t have Ascension aisles—no one makes any money by getting you to celebrate Ascension. I get that. But none of that takes away from the mighty significance of Jesus’ Ascension, and the importance of ordering our lives around these monumental events in the life of Christ. The fact that people don’t celebrate it and don’t think much of it does not take away from the fact that 40 days after he rose, Jesus ascended and now sits at the right hand of God as our exalted brother who rules all things for the good of his church. His Church would no longer exist if he didn’t do that. I wouldn’t be a part of it if he hadn’t ascended.

Since it is such a high festival in the church year, a neighboring pastor and I decided that we would work together to plan a service that could rightly be called a festival. We used a special setting of the liturgy (Missa Pacem). A choir made up of members of two congregations led the way through the service. The service was accompanied by organ, piano, trumpet, handbells, and violin. And to top it all off, we knelt side by side and received the body and blood of our ascended Lord, in an uncommon opportunity to enjoy the communion fellowship we share with our sister congregations.

Our hope is that if we treat it like a festival, perhaps other people will, too. Perhaps if we preach it for what it really is, some might also come to appreciate its importance in the life of the Church, and in the life of every Christian. Unfortunately, we still had only 69 people in attendance. About 30 were in the choir loft. Last year we had 47 here, but that was just members of our congregation, and just shy of half our normal Sunday attendance.

But I have no regrets about doing the service, or how we did it.  I don’t think that it was at all a waste of effort or time. We pulled out all the stops. We made use of the best of our resources. We celebrated. We feasted. Perhaps with time it will be different. Perhaps more will come next year.

But if we have to wait until Jesus returns in the same way his disciples saw him go into heaven before we see huge crowds, so be it. Until then, I won’t be surprised to find that the group who looks up into the clouds continues to be rather small.

But when Jesus comes, even if that falls on a Thursday in May, people will come to that. The trumpets will sound. Alleluias will be sung. Jesus will be there. And his people will come. From every nation, tribe, people and language…

Collect for Cantate

One of my favorite collects (Prayer of the Day) in the whole year comes up tomorrow for the 5th Sunday of Easter. I think that part of this prayer might also show up on another Sunday, but this is just precious:

O God, you form the minds of your faithful people into a single will. Make us love what you command and desire what you promise, that among the many changes of this world, our hearts may ever yearn for the lasting joys of heaven.

Wow. Just think about all the things that you want, that you desire. “No, Lord, what I really want is whatever you have promised me.” And won’t that just be so much better than what we would have thought of? Isn’t it always? And won’t that always lead us to—above all else—yearn for Jesus to make good on that final promise?