Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Even Death Passage

MIKE HEARD VOICES in the other room. He rubbed his eyes. What time was it? He looked at the clock. 9:15AM. It couldn’t be right. He found his watch. Same time. He sat on the edge of the bed and massaged his legs, bringing them back to life. He put on his glasses and stumbled out of the room. As he turned the corner at the end of the hall, he stopped suddenly and began quietly retracing his steps to his room, closing the door.

A moment later, the pastor knocked. “Herr Loesch?”

“Come in, Pastor,” Mike answered.

“Sorry about the surprise.” The pastor grinned. “The ladies called this morning, asking if you’d found your friends. When I told them no, they insisted on coming over to prepare a proper breakfast.”

“There’s no mirror in here, but I’m pretty sure I’d like to wash up before I say hello,” Mike said with the first traces of a smile on his face.

“Not a bad idea,” the pastor laughed, looking at Mike’s frazzled hair. “I’ll be in the kitchen. There’s quite the spread in there. They’ll be offended if you don’t have some of it all.”

“Trust me, your ladies are no different than mine,” Mike assured him, the smile gaining ground.
“I have a few belt notches worth of proof if you need it. Did Agent Schultz call?”

“No. I called him, though. Nothing new. They said there was no reason for us to come down yet, so I figured I’d let you sleep. We can head down after you eat if you’d like.”

“Sounds good,” Mike answered as he grabbed the towel the pastor had hung on the door for him the night before. He snuck down to the bathroom and hurriedly showered. He sniffed his shirt before pulling it on. His other clothes were in the car. He’d have to live with a little ripeness. The pastor had offered him a change of clothes, but Mike preferred his own dirty clothes to another’s clean attire.

“Ach, Pastor Loesch,” the ladies called as he walked into the kitchen, faces filled with maternal concern. “Hier, hier, sitzen Sie, bitte,” one of them said, pulling out a chair. “Kaffee?” another asked, holding the coffee pitcher next to her face as she hobbled over toward the table.

“Ja, bitte,” Mike answered, still somewhat groggily. “Danke.”

Another held a cup of sugar in front of him. He reached toward the spoon. She was quicker to the draw and shovelled a heep into his cup.

“Milch?” another asked as she poured it into his cup.

“Danke.” He grinned and nodded.

“Und für Pastor,” the coffee lady said dutifully, warming up his cup.

“The ladies offered to come to the station with us,” the pastor explained to Mike, “but I told them we should be fine without them. It was pretty crowded there as it was, wasn’t it, Pastor Loesch?”

“Ja, das is wahr, aber danke,” Mike said, bobbing his head in agreement as he worked through the German in his head. Being sure to take a little of everything, Mike filled his plate. The ladies watched with rapt attention as he took each bite, occasionally whispering to one another, speculating about what he had particularly enjoyed or not liked so much, making secret plans for supper, should he be back with them again.

Thoughts for the New Year

This time of year is a time of reflection. For many, especially in our part of the nation, this year has been testing in many ways. There are temptations to worry and fret, to doubt and seek deceptive consolations. Here are Gerhard's thoughts:

Accordingly, whoever adheres to God firmly with his love and inwardly enjoys divine consolation cannot have his rest disturbed by external evils. In sad things he is glad; in poverty rich; in the tribulations of this age secure; in the storms of this world tranquil; in the insults and contempt of men peaceful; in death itself alive. He pays no attention to the threats of tyrants because inside he experiences the rich consolations of the divine. He is not saddened by adversity because the Holy Spirit inwardly and effectively consoles him. He does not anguish in poverty because his riches are in the goodness of God. He is not troubled by the insults of men because he enjoys the joy of honor from the divine. He pays no attention to the will of the flesh because he has more satisfaction in the kindness of the Spirit. He does not seek worldly friendships because he knows the joys of friendship with God himself. He does not store up earthly treasures because he has the greatest treasure of all stored up in heaven. He does not fear death because he always lives in God. He does not exceedingly desire worldly wisdom because he has an inner teacher: the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20). The perfect takes away the imperfect (1 Corinthians 13:10). He does not fear lightening and storms, fires and floods of water, unfavorable configurations of planets and darkness of heavenly lights, for, having been elevated above nature, he rests in Christ by faith and lives in him. He is not drawn away by the allurements of this age because he hears the more pleasant voice of Christ within him. He does not fear the power of the devil because he knows divine indulgence. The One who lives within him and conquers is more powerful than the devil, who consumes himself in vain with conquering that man. He does not follow the enticements of the flesh because, living in the Spirit, he perceives the riches of the Spirit. He mortifies and crucifies the flesh by the vivifying Spirit (Galatians 5:24). He does not fear the accusations of the devil because he knows that his intercessor is Christ (1 John 2:1).
May the Author and Giver of this only true rest of the soul, our Lord, God blessed for all the ages, grant it to us.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Even Death Passage

“You serve a dead God,” Ibrahim countered. “A weak, pathetic, defeated, crucified, dead God.”

“He was all those things, you’re right, and that is why I love Him. He was all that for me, for now.”

“You’re a fool,” Ibrahim sneered. Feeling his anger swelling within him, he decided to return Isaac to his cell.

“You can’t kill me,” Isaac called as Ibrahim closed the door.

Ibrahim stuck his head back into the cell and said, “I can, and I will if I need to.”

“You can’t kill me, because I can’t die, because of that weak, pathetic, defeated, crucified, dead God. I already died with Him.”

The door closed with a thump. Ibrahim marched up the stairs and out onto the porch, hoping the crisp air would cool his rage. He was not Hatim. He didn’t do any of this because he liked it. In fact, he hated it, but it was Allah’s will. He was but Allah’s instrument, and Allah was not defeated. Allah conquers. But he could not confuse himself with Allah. He must remain calm. He must stick to the plan. He must be but an instrument, a vessel. Allah’s wrath was not his own.

Sacred Meditations Passage

Year B in the 3 Year Lectionary has a particular baptismal emphasis, and we encounter St. John the Baptist in these weeks, who preaches Christ and baptizes for the forgiveness of sins. Here are some thoughts from Gerhard on Baptism:

There was a pool near the sheep gate in Jerusalem. At certain times, an angel used to descend and turn the waters of it. Whoever descended into it first after the waters were turned was healed of whatever disease he had suffered (John 5:2-4). The water of Baptism is that pool which heals us from all the disease of sins when the Holy Spirit descends into it and turns it with the blood of Christ, who was made the [sacrificial] victim for us, just as the sheep to be sacrificed were also washed in that pool in Jerusalem. At Christ’s Baptism, the heavens were opened. Likewise, in our Baptism, the doors of heaven are opened. In Christ’s Baptism, the entire Most Holy Trinity was present (Matthew 3:16). So also, it is present in our Baptism. And so, in the words of promise that are joined with the element of water, faith receives the grace of the Father who adopts us, the merits of the Son who cleanses us, and the efficacy of the Holy Spirit who regenerates us.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sacred Meditations Passage

We are now into Advent. Gerhard provides these thoughts on the coming of our Lord and His judgment:

Satan will accuse me, your friend. He will accuse me, your brother. He will accuse me, a most beloved son of the eternal Father. How will you then severely judge your friend, your brother, and your son? Moses will accuse me in that judgment. He will speak curses on me, “for I have not kept all which is written in the book of the law” (Deuteronomy 27:26). “Surely you, O Jesus, have become the curse for me to free me from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13). I will be cursed by Moses, but I will be blessed by you. Indeed, I long to hear that voice: “Come, blessed ones, inherit the kingdom of My Father” (Matthew 25:34). Moses will accuse me, yet you will surely not accuse me before the Father, for you intercede for me (Romans 8:34). Therefore, I do not fear the curse of Moses, for you have removed that handwriting which was against me (Colossians 2:14). Damned ones will accuse me and proclaim that I am guilty of the same punishment as them. I admit, O Lord Jesus, that punishable guilt unites me to them. But my acknowledgment of that punishable guilt and my knowledge of your saving work distinguish them from me. “Whoever hears your word and believes in him who sent you has eternal life and will not come into judgment” (John 5:24). I hear your word, Lord, and I believe in you with faith, albeit it languishing faith, yet faith nonetheless. I believe, Lord, but help my unbelief (Mark 9:24). I believe, Lord, but increase my faith (Luke 17:5). Although I may not be free from all the sins of the damned, yet from unbelief alone you will nevertheless free me, O Lord. All those accusers terrify me, but you, the Judge, encourage me.

The Father has handed over all judgment to you (John 5:22). He has placed everything in your hands (Matthew 11:27). In turn, however, he has handed you over for us all (Romans 8:32). Indeed, you have handed yourself over for the Church to sanctify and cleanse her, washing her with water and the Word (Ephesians 5:26). How will you then judge those severely for whom you have handed yourself over to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8)? “You will not have hatred for your own flesh. We are members of your body, of your flesh and your bones” (Ephesians 5:29,30).

Even Death Passage

“YOU THINK THESE ARE THE AMERICANS?” Schultz asked Schmidt as he sat on the loveseat, reading through immigration records.

“Sure seems like it.”

“Why pastors?”

“Who knows? I don’t understand any of it.”

“Of the case?”

“No, of religion.”

“Never go to church?”

“Not since confirmation.”

“Evangelical or Catholic?”

“Evangelical. It was getting harder and harder to tell the pastors from the politicians. God was obsessed with social democracy. You go?”

“Try to. My wife takes the kids every week.”





“What then?”


“What do you mean?”

“Old Lutheran, not state church.”

“How’d you end up there?”


“You into it?”

“I’ve got no problem with it. It’s important to her.”

“What’s it like?”

“I don’t know. A lot of Jesus.”

Schmidt chortled, as if he knew Schultz’ pain. “He’s everywhere, isn’t he? In your wallet, on the ballot, in the bedroom, on your case about whatever the pet peeve is that week.”

“Mostly on the cross, way our pastor tells it.”

Unsure what to make of the remark, Schmidt changed the subject. “You think they’re going to kill them?”

“I’m planning on not giving them the opportunity.”

“Good plan. Let’s hope it’s realistic. These guys don’t seem like amateurs.”

“Neither are we, Schmidt.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sacred Meditations Passage

This Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent. Gerhard writes about Christ's coming:

“I announce great joy to you,” said the angel at the nativity of our Savior (Luke 2:10). It is truly great and greater than human intelligence understands. Great was the evil. We were held captive under the wrath of God, the power of the devil, and eternal damnation. Greater still was the evil since man was either ignorant of or denied that greatest evil. Now truly great joy is announced to us because he who would liberate us from all those evils was coming into the world. The Physician comes to the sick, the Redeemer to the captives, the Way to the lost, the Life to the dead, salvation to the damned. Just as Moses was sent by the Lord to free the Israelite people from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 3:10), so also Christ was sent from the Father to deliver the entire human race from the captivity of the devil. Just as the dove returned to the ark with an olive leaf after the deluge of the world had dried up (Genesis 8:11), so also Christ came into the world to preach peace and reconciliation between God and man. Let us therefore sing joyfully concerning his merits and comprehend the great mercy of God who loved us so much, even when we were still enemies (Romans 5:8). He did not disdain to assume our nature in a most strict union with his divinity. Why then would he reject those with whom he has been joined through participation in the flesh? Who has ever hated his own flesh (Ephesians 5:29)? How then would he who has made us participants in his own nature by that highest and infinite mercy now be able to turn us away?

Even Death Passage

The last few months before the trip had been the worst. He was unhappy—profoundly and seemingly inescapably unhappy. It had been a long winter. “I resign,” he would inexplicably mutter under his breath as he drove or showered or sat in his office. Each day was another tug on the rope around his neck—when would his toes leave the ground? He was convinced he was losing his mind. His members seemed cold and unappreciative. Attendance sagged. Distractions and dissensions and time -consuming though unrewarding tasks with nothing to do with the ministry loomed unrelentingly and unceasingly. Even the most trifling matters seemed to take on an insurmountable immensity. Depressed and burned out, he didn’t talk to her, and when he did, it was only to rant. Come home, mix a drink, retreat to his office and his books: that was the evening ritual. And what did she do? She gave him time to work through his funk.

It came to a head not long before he left. She knocked on the door to his office and mentioned something that needed to be done—not nagging, just reminding. He exploded, vehemently took to task everyone and everything that had knocked the wind out of him, turned his bed into a hideout, stripped his church life of what made the church the church. He was relentless, rabid, someone he’d never been before. And while he was swinging at the world, she took all the verbal punches; mad at God and the devil and everything in between, she was the one he berated. And why? Because she would sit there and take it. Because she would forgive him. Because her commitment to him didn’t depend on how much he did, or how far he bent backwards, or how careful he was not to offend. Because she loved him, loved him as the church loves Christ precisely and even as he treated her as the old evil foe does Christ’s bride. And she took it. She sat there. She looked at him with eyes that said that she knew him and this wasn’t him and that if this might bring him back she’d happily bear with it all. And he hated himself all the more. Would he ever be able to tell her he loved her again and not have it seem a joke? What untold damage had he done that he would never be able to repair? What would she harbor for the rest of her life because of him? How would she remember him? Would she remember him?

Sacred Meditations Passage

In the spirit of thanksgiving, Gerhard reminds where our true treasure rests and warns against false security:

What are the afflictions of the pious? They are bitter arrows sent from the sweet hand of God. God esteems those unworthy of chastisement in this world whom he will nevertheless reject in eternity. Often the happiness of human success is evidence of eternal damnation to come. Nothing is unhappier than sinful happiness. Nothing is more miserable than one who is ignorant of his misery. Wherever you turn your eyes, there you find a reason for sorrow and gaze upon the remedy for security. Lift up your thoughts to the God whom we have offended. Look down to the hell that we have earned, back to the sins that we have committed, forward to the judgment that we fear, inward to the conscience that we have soiled, outward to the world that we have loved. See where you have come from and be ashamed, where you are and sigh, where you are heading and tremble. Narrow is the gate of salvation, but still narrower is the way (Matthew 7:14).

God gives you the treasure of faith, but you carry this treasure in a jar of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). God gives you angels for protection (Psalm, 91:11), but the devil is not far away to seduce you. God has renewed you in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23), but you still have much of the old flesh. You have been established in the grace of God, but you have not yet been established in eternal glory. He has prepared a mansion for you in heaven, but he yet chastises you with the challenges of the world. God promises forgiveness for the penitent, but he has not promised to give a penitent will to the delinquent. The consolations of eternal life await you, but it is nevertheless necessary for you to enter into it through many tribulations (Acts 14:22). The crown of eternal reward has been promised, but first a serious battle remains to be surmounted. God does not change his promises, but neither ought you change your zeal for eternal life. If the servant is not doing what is commanded, God does what is threatened. One therefore ought to continually be ashamed and mourn, putting aside security, lest by the righteous and secret judgment of God we are deserted and relinquished into the power of the devil for destruction.
For that reason delight in divine grace for as long as it is present, although you must never nonetheless presume that you possess this gift of God as an inherited right so that you actually become secure concerning it as if you could never lose it, lest God should suddenly take the gift away and retract his hand and you become disheartened and sorrow more than you ought. You are indeed in every way blessed if you take diligent care to avoid indifference toward the appearance of every evil. God will not desert you, but beware lest God is deserted by you. God has given grace. Pray that he may also give perseverance. God grants certainty about salvation, yet he does not grant security. You must fight bravely so you may also triumph sweetly (2 Timothy 4:7).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sacred Meditations Passage

This coming is Christ the King Sunday in some of our churches. Gerhard shares some relevant words about the fruits of our King's suffering (upon which the Holy Gospel sets our meditation):

There are three things that always must be observed in this mystery: the mercy of the loving God, the merit of the suffering Christ, and the grace of the Holy Spirit calling us through the Gospel. The mercy of God is universal because he loved all the world (John 3:16). “The world is full of the mercy of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5). For this reason God’s mercy is indeed greater than heaven and earth—it is just as great as God is (Sirach 2:23), for God is love (1 John 4:16). He has testified in his own Word that he wants no one to die (Ezekiel 33:11). If this were insufficient, he also confirmed it with an oath. If you cannot believe God when he promises, at least believe on account of the fact that he took an oath concerning your salvation. He is called the Father of Mercies (2 Corinthians 1:3) because he by his very nature has mercy and pardons. The cause and origin of the demonstration of mercy is in God’s own nature. Judging and avenging are foreign to him. Thus mercy more than punishment is seen to proceed from his heart.
The merits of Christ are also universal because he suffered for the sins of all the world (1 John 2:2). What then can demonstrate the mercy of God more plainly than the fact that he loved us when we did not yet exist, for it is out of God’s love that we have been created. He furthermore loved us when we were enemies. It was out of love that he gave the Son for our redemption (Romans 5:8). To the sinner sentenced to eternal torment and unable to redeem himself from that sentence, God the Father says, “Take my one and only Son and give him for yourself.” The Son himself says, “Take me and redeem yourself.” Christ is the flower of the field (Song of Solomon 2:1), not of the garden, because the fragrance of his grace is not restricted to a select few but is open to all. And lest you doubt the universality of his merits, Christ was praying for the ones crucifying him as he suffered and was shedding his blood, for the very ones who were shedding his blood (Luke 23:34). The promises of the Gospel are also universal because Christ says to all, “Come to me all who labor” (Matthew 11:28). What has been obtained for all is also offered to all. As many good things as he has extended to the pilgrim through faith, that many you will obtain. God denies his grace to no one except the one who deems himself unworthy of it.

Even Death Passage

AT 6:07PM, SHE CAME HOME. She’d been living with him for a few weeks now. They’d dated for a month or so before that. She was beautiful—thin, blonde, blue eyes, an athletic build. She was up each morning crisply at 6AM for a run, back at 6PM in the evening to make his dinner. She was just the kind of girl you’d pick if you wanted the world to know you were a fully assimilated and red-blooded German patriot, and, knowing he’d struck gold, he always left the shades open to prove just that. Nothing to hide here, his every action was scripted to assure the world.

She loved him. He despised her. He didn’t show it, but Schmidt was convinced of it beyond a doubt. They always despise her. He’d spit on her pretty little carcass when he was done with her. That’s what men like him did to girls like her. Rose-colored glasses are bad for the heart. Schmidt had learned that while she was probably still in diapers.

“Who do you think you’re fooling, Ishmael?” Schmidt mumbled into his glass. “Not me, that’s for sure. You can’t stand the sight of her. You buy her the latest fashions and then burn with indignation when she wears them. You complement her for the very things you want to destroy.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Even Death Passage

The cathedral itself was quite large, but not as large as those in Augsburg and Worms. It was very medieval. Paintings of the saints wrapped the massive pillars. The chancel was ornate and deep, with a meticulously carved oak choir. They walked to the front pew and took a seat. This was the place where Luther was ordained. If only the bishop knew what he was doing!

They sat a while and listened to the soprano. She was singing Psalm 16. When she finished, they walked across to the Severikirche. You could hardly walk without stepping on markers for the dead. In a little side chapel a marvelous crucifix hung at eye level. Isaac stood and took it in for a while. The baptismal font was fantastically unique, reaching a few stories into the air. '

“You guys ready to head down? I want to get a sausage at the stand we passed. I’m starving,” Mike said.

“Sure,” Phil said. “I’m kind of hungry too. Don’t want to miss too much in Leipzig either. We’d better keep moving.”

When the others started down the steps, Isaac took a picture of the view from the top. The entire city knelt before these churches, genuflecting to the God in whose honor they’d been built in a piety long since lost by most of the population.

Isaac met up with the guys in the little market at the foot of the steps. Mike came back, looking baffled, gazing in consternated contemplation at his lunch. A foot of Thuringian sausage rested in a dinner roll almost too small for his hands—not quite the bratwurst you’d get at a Brewer’s game.

“What’s wrong, Mike? Don’t like sausage?” Isaac joked.

“Shut up or I’ll whack you with it.”

“But then what would you do with all that bun?”

Sacred Meditations Passage

This Sunday is Saints Triumphant Sunday in some of our churches. Here is a passage from one of Gerhard's devotions on that topic:

O pined after life! O exceeding blessedness, in which the Most Holy Trinity is present, who will be gazed upon without end, who will be loved without wearying, who will be praised without monotony, who will bring our desires to completion! Seeing God will surpass all joy. Seeing Christ, living with Christ, and hearing Christ will surpass all the desires of our heart. O Jesus Christ, the sweetest Bridegroom of my soul, when will you lead your bride into your royal palace? What could she possibly lack there? What more could she desire or expect in that place “where God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28)? The sight will be beautiful, the taste as honey, the sound as a harp, the smell as incense, the touch as a flower. God will be everything and he will distribute good to each according to the desire of his heart. If you desire life, if health, if peace, if honor, there God will be all in all. What is here shrouded in mystery, even to the doctors of the church, there will be obvious, even to small children. Christ will be present with us in his blessed humanity, and with the sweetest voice he will preach on all of the once-hidden mysteries of our salvation. His voice is sweet and his face is lovely (Song of Solomon 2:14). Grace pours from his lips and he is crowned with honor and glory (Psalm 45:3; Psalm 8:61).
1 Psalm 8:5 in English.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thank You

Thanks to all who have already ordered Magdeburg Press books. The response we have had so soon after announcing the publication of Sacred Meditations and Even Death has been wonderful. If you have any problems with your orders, please be sure to contact us.

Even Death Passage

SHEW ME THY WAYS, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Movie time again. Greatest hits. Crescents and swords and masks and battle cries and screams and “Allahu Akbar” and pleas and splayed arteries and shooting blood and trophy heads and the like. Real heartwarming stuff.

Matthias laughed. “Reruns again?”

Phil sat and watched with resignation. His stomach growled. He was hungry. He hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before.

Isaac sat, elbows on knees, head in hands, staring at the floor, imagining his captors, contemplating the grim prospects he faced. Occasionally, he read the words on the wall again. Didn’t they know someone could very well say them without meaning them, with no intention of following through on them, of putting them into practice once they let him go? Or were they not really planning on letting anyone go to begin with? Or could they care less what happened once they had what they wanted, after their captives were another scene in their footage, propaganda for a future victim’s eyes, wayward role models for next season’s prey as they too pondered professing another faith—however so disingenuously—to save their lives.

Sacred Meditations Passage

This coming Sunday is Last Judgment Sunday in some of our churches. Here are some thoughts from Gerhard's devotion on the last judgment:

Lord Jesus, to whom may I flee in this anguish of mine? “I fear all my works” (Job 9:28), knowing that you do not spare any delinquent. I will be placed between time and eternity, where time passes by and eternity still remains infinite in its span. The evil spirits will demand credit for all their works. All the evil that they persuaded here they will produce in that most severe judgment, so that they may drag the soul with them into their fellowship in torment. “All the heavenly host shall be slowly consumed and the heavens will be folded together like a book; all the host of them will vanish as a leaf that falls from the vine and a fig from a tree” (Isaiah 34:4). “The sun will blush and the moon will be put to shame” (Isaiah 24:23). And if these works of your hands, which have never committed any evil, will flee from your face, how should I, a miserable sinner, be able to appear before your face? The heavens are not pure before you (Job 15:15). How will I, a wretched man, who drinks iniquity like water, be clean (Job 15:16)? And if the righteous man will scarcely be saved, where will the sinner stack up in comparison (1 Peter 4:18)? To whom, then, may I flee; to whom may I turn, except to you, O Lord? You will be the Judge of my sins—you who died for my sins.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Magdeburg Press is excited for the upcoming release of its first two titles. The first and most important is the Sacred Meditations of Johann Gerhard. This modern translation, which includes his introduction to the work, and has been supplemented with the instructive work on the theologian's life and work by Gaylin Schmeling of Bethany Lutheran Seminary, will prove a useful aid for the Christian's devotional and prayer life. The other work is Even Death, a novel about four Lutheran pastors on a trip to Germany who are kidnapped by jihadists and faced with a crisis of faith. This fast-paced thriller centered on the theology of the cross should prove an entertaining and edifying read for readers of every background, and especially for Lutheran Christians. For more information on these works, or to order them, go to www.magdeburgpress.com, which should be up and running in the next few days.