Rest in God Alone

It is customary for youth confirmands to receive their own “confirmation verse.” Sometimes the student choses their own passage; other times it is chosen for them. In any case, I think the passage is supposed to be a passage for the individual to make special application to their lives of faith as they make their confirmation vows and as they walk through life. When I was confirmed, we didn’t get to pick ours. We were told that they were chosen with each individual in mind. But I could never figure out why I got the one I did. It wasn’t a passage that I was very familiar with. It wasn’t one that seemed to obviously apply to me. (By 8th grade I already knew pretty well that I wanted to become a pastor. Maybe I was looking one more specific.)

I was assigned Psalm 62:1,2: “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.”

It’s a wonderful passage, but it just didn’t jump out at me. It’s no Revelation 2:10 or Romans 8:28. And so I really didn’t latch on to it. If you asked me in high school, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you what my confirmation verse was (without looking it up in my Bible where it was highlighted).

This evening I was reading the section on Psalm 62 in the Psalms Devotional Commentary that I’m working through. And I thought to myself that this passage has become so much more dear to me now than it used to be. As I have grown more attached to the psalms and as I have grown a little older with just a few more experiences, I have found these words to be priceless: “My soul finds rest in God alone.”

There have been many times that some situation in life and ministry is really weighing on my mind and heart. Maybe it’s something a member is going through or said to me. Maybe it’s some issue at church or school that needs to be resolved somehow. Or maybe it’s some big project or task that’s coming up—either it’s behind schedule or it’s becoming harder than it seemed at first. All of these kind of things take their place in my heart and soul. I can’t simply leave them behind “at work” as though my work were just a job. When these kinds of things weigh heavy, it’s hard to shake them. It’s hard be relaxed, comfortable. These things can even hang on long into the night.

“My soul finds rest in God alone.” If I can come before God at the end of each day, and through Jesus Christ, find a welcome in his arms—does anything else really matter? Yes, those things all need to be dealt with and thought about and worked on, but in God—I need nothing. I don’t need to work to be with him. I don’t need to convince him to let me come. I don’t need to think about the right way to approach him. Only rest. And only in God. Only in Jesus.

So I now appreciate my confirmation verse. Now I add it to my ever-growing list of favorite psalms. And, interestingly enough, very often it’s the psalms to which I turn when I want to “find rest in God alone.”


Children’s Books

We have a lot of books at home. Lots of kids books. And naturally, we also have our share of Christian children’s books—mainly Bible story books. The USA Today had an article on these kind of books a couple days ago. I thought that it made some very interesting observations, which we might forget sometimes. Consider this: "every Bible storybook reflects a certain theology" (Ted Olsen, managing editor of Christianity Today). Unfortunately, much of the Christian children’s literature widely available today reflects a theology that is not in line with the message of the Bible. I’ve noticed these very things in so many of the books that are in the stores or that have come into our home one way or another.

Some of them simply miss the real point of the Bible stories (For example, the feeding of the five thousand: "A boy shares his lunch" Is that really the point?). Or they focus so much on what we are supposed to do and give very little emphasis to what Jesus did for us.

So here’s my suggestion: If you are buying Bible books for children, please read them first. If you aren’t sure what to look for, ask your pastor to show you. A very good series of books for children is the one mentioned in the article, the Arch Books series from CPH. They’re inexpensive and generally, very well written.

Also, here is a link to a radio segment dedicated to children’s bible story books.
"Christian Children’s Books" on KFUO


Advent Candle Song

Here is a recording of our preschool and kindergarten singing in church yesterday.



Last week I captured this video of Hannah and Andrew dancing together.


O Jesus Christ, Your Manger Is

This year’s children’s service is based on Paul Gerhardt‘s Christmas hymn, "O Jesus Christ, Your Manger Is." It’s not the most common Christmas hymn. It’s probably not on everyone’s favorites list. But in my opinion there are few that are better. As I was doing a little research I happened upon an article about Paul Gerhardt’s hymns from the Forward in Christ a few years ago. The article is written by Prof. Theodore Hartwig. I thought I’d share a portion of it with you.

Many of Gerhardt’s 17 hymns in Christian Worship are much admired and much used. It would be a credit to our worship practice if another of his hymns, much neglected, won its deserved place in the sun. It is the Christmas chorale “O Jesus Christ, Your Manger Is” (CW 40).

On reading this hymn no one can fail to notice its childlike quality and its focus on the central truth of Christmas: God coming into human flesh. The excellence of the text is matched by a tune of calm, confident serenity that was composed by Gerhardt’s friend, Johann Cruger.

Any commentary on the first stanza simply gets in the way of its beauty: “O Jesus Christ, your manger is My paradise where my soul is reclining. For there, O Lord, we find the Word. Made flesh for us—your grace is brightly shining.”

The second stanza tells how the eternal God condescended to our low estate. The third stanza sings of the comfort gained from Christ’s birth. The fourth raises this comfort to the higher bliss reserved in heaven.

The final stanza bids each believer to turn away from this world’s distractions and keep heart and mind fixed on Jesus. It’s a matchless meditation: "The world may hold her wealth and gold; But you, my heart, keep Christ as your true treasure. To him hold fast until at last A crown is yours and honor in full measure."

We should be grateful that the world has not added this hymn to the roster of carols blared from loudspeakers at scores of shopping centers. When the world touches holy things, it unfailingly cheapens them. Praise God that we possess this hymn exclusively as our own.

I might note here that this year is the 400th anniversary of Paul Gerhardt’s birth. There have been a number of celebrations and commemorations throughout the Lutheran church over the past year to remember and give thanks for such beautiful hymns.

Church Year

Waiting for Christmas

Over the past several years I have become more and more intent to wait through Advent. I have tried hard to wait for Christmas until Christmas. I separate the Advent music from Christmas music in my iTunes library. My family is gracious enough to indulge me and we wait until the last week before Christmas to put up our Christmas tree. I actually even try to avoid the actual Christmas account (unless I’m prepping for something). I want to wait. I want to celebrate Advent and watch and wait and prepare.

I sometimes have to explain or defend myself for this. I have to explain that I’m not some kind of Scrooge. I explain that what I’ve discovered is that when I celebrate Advent, then I can really celebrate Christmas. The longer I wait for Christmas, the richer the message of Christmas becomes, when it finally comes.

Several years ago, when Sara was teaching in Kewaskum and I was at the Seminary, I had the opportunity to sit right in the front during their children’s Christmas Eve service (on Christmas Eve). We sat in the first row not occupied by the kids. This was one of the first years that I consciously "postponed" Christmas. So that year the first time I really paid attention to the Christmas story, especially those precious words in Luke chapter 2, it came from the mouths of children. There they were, just a few feet from me, and they recited their parts—parts that God first assigned to prophets and apostles and even angels. But here God has given this message also to children, ready and eager to proclaim it—to me. And it just about took my breath away. It’s something so simple that a child could recite it. But at the same time it is something that no human can ever comprehend. In fact, the only way we can really grasp it is with the eyes of faith—as a child.

This morning our school kids rehearsed our own Christmas service parts all together for the first time. And even though our service is not on Christmas Eve (it’s the day before), I already know that it will take my breath away. I’ll do my best to wait for it, and when it finally comes, I’ll be glad that the kids are saying it. Because I don’t think I could make it through. The truth is, over the past several years I’ve found that I can hardly make it through the reading of the Christmas Eve Gospel. "Today…a Savior has been born to you." It’s as though my heart can’t quite take it all in. Really? For me? And I feel like I need to stop and breath and try to absorb it.

So the kids will say the words for us, so that the rest of us can just try to take it all in. I’m looking forward to that. Let me know in the comments what you appreciate or remember most about children’s Christmas services.


Advent Candles

This Sunday our preschoolers and kindergarteners are singing in church. This morning after chapel they were practicing, and I managed to snap a few shots of the kids.

Andrew came with me to church so that he could go to chapel and sing with the kids. (He only goes to preschool on Tuesdays and Thursdays and doesn’t normally get to go to chapel.)

Notice the Advent wreath in the background with the first candle lit.


Family Fun Night

Fridays used to be the day of the week that I try to take "off."  Recently I switched to Mondays, but I’ve still tried to leave Friday night open if possible.

Today I ended up staying home after lunch. Our lawn desperately need to be mowed (yes, that’s right). And now that the middle school is open down the street, our yard collects much more garbage from passersby. It was getting pretty bad. So I spent a couple hours mowing, trimming, pruning shrubs and rose bushes, and cleaning up.

We’ve begun to have pizza on Friday nights. Usually it’s Papa Murphy’s. The kids really like the cheesy bread. At the end of supper we watched a few of the kids’ birthday videos. Someday I’ll try to post some of those older ones. They’re pretty good.

Then we played a couple games of Candyland. You can’t beat that. And they still manage to get excited when they have to go all the way back to the Gingerbread Man.

Tonight we started singing an Advent hymn before bedtime. We sang "O Lord How Shall I Meet You." When Hannah was little, I used to sing that to her at bedtime. I started it during Advent, but she kept asking for it all year round. She used to be able to sing all the stanzas with me. It probably won’t take them long this time either. We’ll be singing that hymn (CW 18) in church on Sunday. It’s one of my favorites, at least for Advent.

O Lord, how shall I meet you,
How welcome you aright?
Your people long to greet you,
My Hope, my heart’s Delight.
O Jesus, let your Word be
A lamp to light my way,
To show me how to please you,
To guide me ev’ry day.

Church Year

St. Andrew Festival

November 30 is the minor festival of St. Andrew the Apostle. (It’s also my sister-in-law Abby’s birthday.) Our Andrew was very excited when it gave me the opportunity to remind him that there is an Andrew in the Bible. I guess that’s really the value of all the festival days on the Christian calendar. They give the opportunity to turn to Scripture, see those characters that played their role in the story of salvation, but more importantly, to see ourselves there, too.

Andrew doesn’t seem to play as large a role as his brother Peter, but it was Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus. And I love how automatic it seems for Andrew to do that. "The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus" (Jn 1:40-42). Perhaps we might also give thanks to God for those people who "brought us to Jesus" (perhaps they were named Andrew, too).

All praise, O Lord, for Andrew,
The first to welcome you,
Whose witness to his brother
Named you Messiah true.
May we with hearts kept open
To you throughout the year,
Confess to friend and neighbor
Your advent ever near.


VBS: Except Through Me

I was going through some old video on our camcorder last night, and I found this video from this summer’s VBS. This was one of the main songs from the week, and one that the preschoolers learned and sang with us at the end of the week.

“Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).