Friday, May 15, 2009


For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God,
not of works,
lest any man should boast.

So the question in chapel, as we discussed this verse, was "Can we boast?" The children's answer was NO.

This seems a reasonable answer, especially for us who know that Pastor usually wants the answer to come straight out of the text. Oh, how often someone will give a correct answer and he'll say, "Yes, that's right, but give me another way to say it, using the language in the text itself."

But the answer this time was YES. In Galatians Paul writes, "God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Isn't that an antiphon or versicle or something during Holy Week? I can't remember for sure, but I suspect that is why it came up in connection with this week's verse.) Oddly enough, the other place where Paul talks a great deal about boasting is in 2 Corinthians. There it is about boasting in his infirmities (which might also be called "the cross") that we might boast in God's mercy and grace.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

God Provides

Our verse for this week is from Ephesians 2:
By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast.

Pastor has been persisting in asking what the that refers to. Answer: and that faith is not of yourselves. Even faith is a gift of God, and not something we do.

Similarly, I noticed something in Sunday's [3-year] reading from Acts. The story is about Philip preaching to the Ethiopian eunuch. The story starts off with an odd little geographical detail about where the story was happening and tells us "This is desert." Those kinds of details aren't put into the Bible just to satisfy our curiosity or give us an education about Social Studies.

I think a person could make an analogy to the unbeliever being in a wilderness or desert. But what I'm noticing is more direct -- there isn't water in a desert. Luke makes sure to tell us upfront that Philip and the Ethiopian are in a waterless place. And yet, eventually they come upon water, and the Ethiopian requests baptism. Not only did God create faith where there was none (as Paul tells us in this week's Bible verse) but also God ensured that there was water in that desert so that His sacrament could be administered.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mandatory Kindergarten

The Wisconsin legislature is considering AB 119 and SB 89. State law mandates school attendance from age 6 to 18. This bill, while not changing mandatory attendance age, would require attendance at a kindergarten program prior to enrolling in 1st grade. This would be true for both public schools and charter schools. If this bill passes, the same attendance/truancy laws would apply to 5-yr-olds (who are not even required by law to be in school) as apply to older students. I just find it hard to imagine that parents could be jailed for keeping a sleepy and/or overwrought 5-yr-old home from school. But then, we don't trust parents to know when a 10-yr-old should be kept home from school.

Still, ... 5-yr-olds being prosecuted for truancy???

More information available at WPA's website as well as how to find your legislators.

Matthew 20:12

In the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the owner of the vineyard pays the same wages to those who worked all day, to those who worked a half-day, and to those who worked only an hour. The complaint of the men who began work in the early morning was, "These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day."

I usually hear the parable explained with several different points. First and foremost is that God's grace is given abundantly and generously, even though we might think it's unfair. Many pastors will point out that "cradle Christians" should rejoice and not begrudge the grace given to those who come to faith late in life or on their deathbeds.

But think about the charge. What is the complaint, really? "Hey! I've been a Christian all my life, and I think I deserve something more than that guy who was a Christian for a week before he died." Okay, that betrays a lack of love. And it betrays a sense that the person thinks he's earned whatever God has to give him. But it also betrays something else that I've never heard mentioned.

What does it say about my perspective of my Christian life? Doesn't that complaint come off as though it were something I'm enduring and that there is no joy in it? I mean, think about it this way:
"Hey, I'm ticked. I've been eating fresh strawberries and alfredo seafood and cantaloupe and hotfresh cinnamon bread and blueberries and teriyaki steak all my life. And that other guy has been eating gruel and soda crackers all his life up until the last week. And now the master is going to bring both of us to his feast? That ain't fair: I deserve better than he gets." I mean, really now, how stupid is that?

Granted, the theology of the cross is real. There is suffering in the Christian life. And yet, those who have been lifelong Christians have known the sweetness of His love all along. They have come to His Supper week in and week out for decades. They have prayed to Him and heard His answers. They have soaked in the sermons full of mercy and kindness. They have again and again absorbed those dear words of forgiveness. He has sustained them through their trials, and given them temporal blessings too. And we begrudge the late-in-life convert for missing those things?

I think the complaints of the vineyard workers --and the complaints of Christians like them-- betray an idolatry of the self-centered life. If what I want more than anything is to indulge myself, to be lazy, to live for my own self, and to care nothing for my Savior, THEN I have a complaint against the master of the vineyard.

Is it really that unbearable, that intolerable, to be a Christian for your whole life?

Holstein vs Jersey

Back when I was wishing for enough stability that I could justify a small cow shed and a family cow, I wanted a jersey. Less milk, about right for a family. Richer milk, so there'd be butter and cream. But I learned something else today that nobody ever mentioned in polite company. (Who said this blog was polite company? Nobody, right?)

Jerseys poop less.

A neighbor milks Jerseys. They've taken in some loaner Holsteins. And they say the new cows poop like crazy. They say it takes twice as long to clean the barn after milking now that they've added a few Holsteins. Another reason to keep a Jersey on my wish list.

Of course, when I asked last week at town hall about regulations regarding chickens, they told me "No livestock on less than three acres." So I guess my Jersey continues to live only in my dreams.

Unavoidable Suffering

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away. And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2)

So, either you are cut off and thrown away,
or you are cut for the sake of trimming and eliminating the dead wood.

Looks like there's no avoiding the snips.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Kombucha's Air Flow

When Barb got me started on kombucha, she told me I needed to brew in a bowl with a wide top. She was brewing hers in mixing bowls. I didn't want to go out and spend money on Pyrex mixing bowls, and I wasn't about to tie up the few I had from Nanna for a week at a time. What would I serve salad in? What would I use to make granola? So I resorted to wide-mouth canning jars, covered with a cloth to cut out light. It worked decently enough. I've been making kombucha for five years now, and in "full production mode" for about three. Using sun-tea jars (the kind withOUT the spigot!!) had been working okay.

But something changed. I had to throw out a whole batch last week. It just wouldn't finish brewing. That set me behind. And now this week, well behind what we need, it seems that another batch is going to be stubborn. I anticipate that I may have to pour that one down the drain too. (Silver lining: it ought to be excellent for the septic system!)

Last week I purchased more "cracker jars" from Walmart. Those have served me well. There is proportionately more air space at the top of the cracker jars than there is for my sun-tea jars. But I sure would like to know why my taller jars worked for so long and no longer do.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bethany Lutheran College

I love this place! (The price-tag scares the dickens out of me, but that's another issue.)

I can't put my finger on what it is, but the college is just wonderful. The buildings and the landscaping are gorgeous, but that's window-dressing. The bulletins and newsletters are never filled with goofy weirdness (which is something we see altogether too often in some other alumni material that arrives at our house).

Gary and I drove to Mankato this weekend to pick up a bunch of Paul's stuff so that he'd be able to transport himself and his remaining stuff home in a sedan after finals this week. Walking around campus, meeting his friends and some of the staff and profs, I can't get over what great people he's been living with this past year. I am so impressed with the way the adults interact with the kids in the hallways, in chapel, in the cafeteria, etc. The students aren't stick-in-the-muds; they're fun people; but they are also polite and engaged and ... well... really super. Chapel isn't quite what I'd want for it to be --using Matins or some versicles would be really nice-- but nevetheless, chapel is better than might be expected from certain other Lutheran colleges.

Now, if Paul can get through one more year without the student loans getting too large, by 2010-11 he'll probably be getting all sorts of student aid as did his older siblings.


Oh, the sermon yesterday was wonderful. At the moment, I can't recall which things actually came out of Pastor's mouth, and which things were just barely touched on but were especially picturesque for me because of some recent conversations.

Pastor was talking about how the person who is joined to Christ is filled with His love and mercy and grace, and that love cannot help but overflow to the people around us.

Some Christians worry that we need to spend more time telling people how to be good. But I'm still picturing that cup. If a person isn't constantly being filled up with Jesus and His forgiveness, then the forgiveness won't just naturally spill out all over to the place to other people. Then, maybe, good works do become a chore. Then, maybe, there needs to be some concentration and effort expended on trying to be good. But when a person's self-righteousness is smashed, and the absolution is bestowed frequently and massively and abundantly, it can do nothing but spill out. And the more the person's "cup" is filled up with forgiveness, the more will spill out in service to the neighbor.

And so it is the Gospel, not the Law, which makes us good.