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July 28, 2014

Howdy!

Greetings from Texas.  The recent lull in posts has been due to a very busy couple weeks.  The wedding in Alabama was beautiful.  The drive to St. Louis wasn't bad.  Loading the truck was not fun.  Driving through Oklahoma was better than I thought, though I am not sure what the toll money is going to because the road quality was much worse than any of the non-toll roads that I drove on.  Crossing the Red River was exciting, an then I finally landed in Wichita Falls, TX.

I was greeted by a group of gentlemen who unloaded the whole truck for me, and afterword took me out to dinner to what is now one of my favorite places: Cotton Patch.  It has delicious home-style food, much like a Cracker Barrel only better.  The first time I was there I ate a chicken fried steak that was really good.  After Marie and Levi arrived by plane the next day I took them there and ate their pork chops which were also really good.  Then, I took my dad there when my parents were in town and had the meatloaf which was also delicious.  We  also went to Jalapeno Tree which had some really good Mexican food.

Last Sunday I was officially installed as Vicar at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church.  Though I have been in the office for the past week and did half the service yesterday I am still waiting for it to sink in.  I have come to love living in Texas already though, and I also love the congregation.  Pastor Snyder, Linda, and Kianna (Church Staff) are all really fun people and have a good time joking around with each other both in and out of the office.  They have already treated me like on of their own (with Kianna already threatening to light me on fire yesterday) and I pray that wherever I end up I have people who surround me like them.

In addition to that, though Pastor has told me that as a Vicar I am lower than dirt, he treats me far from it.  You hear all of the horror stories about vicarage at the seminary and so far this is anything but.  Pastor has treated me like a competent theologian and even a partner and brother in ministry.  He has already asked me my thoughts on different practices and doctrine that he has been thinking about and wrestling with or thinking about.  He has looked at my resources and has even asked me to look into resources for the church.  It has been great so far and I know that being treated in such a way is going to challenge me to make me think more about theological issues and who I want to be as a pastor and what kind of resources I want to use.

It has been a great week and I am still waiting for it to feel like work, but at the same time pray that it never feels like work.  I know that I will probably have frustrations and struggles this year, and as Pastor even said in his sermon last week many of them will be from my own doing, but in those moments I will just have to remember that God has chosen me, a poor miserable sinner who has received His sustaining comfort and grace, to bring that same comfort and grace to those around me.

Heavenly Father, thank you for placing me at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Wichita Falls, Texas.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn from a great man, Pastor Snyder, and help me to absorb the good things that he teaches me about ministry.  Help me to gain experience so that I can be a better minister to your people, both those that know you and those that don't.  In Your precious name I pray, Amen.

July 10, 2014

Moving On

Our time in Florida is almost through.  Marie is leaving this morning because she has to be in Alabama this evening for wedding stuff.  Levi, Grandma, and I will be heading out tomorow when Levi is ready to go down for his morning nap.  It's a six hour drive to Huntsville, meaning it is also half way to STL making the drive back easier.  Grandma is coming with to watch Levi during the things he can't come to.  It will give her some good time to spend with Levi, and it will give Marie and I the chance to spend some time alone together.  We're looking forward to that.  After the wedding it will be off to STL and then to Texas before we know it.

July 3, 2014

Update from Florida

It has been a great few days with Marie's parents.  Levi went swimming for the first time and loves swimming in their neighborhood pool.  He's already become quite the dare devil leaping out of daddy's arms and into mommy's through open water.  He's also put his head somewhat under the water...a couple of times drinking the water, we think on purpose.  He's also been to the beach and put his toes in the ocean!  I think the water was too cold and the sand too weird for him to enjoy it much.  He still enjoyed walking along the beach with mommy and daddy.

This morning I ventured out by myself into the ocean while Levi was sleeping.  I took one of Larry and Ann's kayaks and headed out.  I departed from the beach and went straight out.  I love kayaking in the ocean; it both is terrifying and blissful.  Terrifying because even when the swells are small they are still much lager than you are, terrifying because you don't know how much water lies between you and the bottom underneath, terrifying because you don't know what critters are swimming freely underneath you.  (I saw the tail of something quite large twice not too far away, but I think it was a dolphin.)  Yet blissful because you find yourself lost in God's creation, so far away from the beach that you can't even hear the playful noises of people splashing and screaming, so far away that the crashing waves are gentle swells.  You find yourself in the wide open ocean that you know was created by God for you.  It's just amazing and peaceful.

I'm really excited for tomorrow, though.  There is a neighborhood block party with a low country boil.  There will be LOTS of good food and best of all fireworks!  Larry (Marie's father) is buying the fireworks on the way home today and I will be in charge of the show.  I love setting off fireworks.  This will also be Levi's second experience with fireworks.  The last time was also at Grandma's and Grandpa's house.  It is going to be fun!  This weekend we are talking about going out on a sailboat and borrowing some jetskis.  Lot's a great family time and first experiences for Levi before going to Texas in less than two weeks!

June 30, 2014

Florida

After driving all night last night we made it to Florida this morning in time for breakfast.  It worked out really well as Levi slept all but the last half hour of the 12 hour trip.  Even when he did wake up he was pretty quite.  We also were able to see Marie's father before he left for business.

Today has been a nice relaxing day, including some naps.  The only thing we did was go to the grocery store to get some food.  Since my father-in-law is out of town I grilled the meat by myself.  After the stress of the past few weeks it was great being outside, drinking a cold beer, sitting on the porch swing, and enjoying the breeze blowing in from the gulf.

The next few days will be full of relaxation and play as we spend the time with Marie's parents, including their neighborhood 4th celebration at which I will be responsible for lighting the fireworks.  We're also going to take Levi swimming, both in the pool and in the gulf.

After our time here we head to Huntsville, Alabama for the wedding of Marie's best friend from high school.  Marie has her duties as a maiden while Levi and I will be relaxing.  Grandma Ann will be coming to watch Levi during the reception so mommy and daddy can have a good night to themselves.

After the wedding we will head back to St. Louis to pick up all of our belongings and move out to Texas.  I can't believe that it's finally here and actually about to happen!  What a great way to start out a great year.

June 20, 2014

New Experiences

I was thinking today about all of the new experiences I will be having on vicarage.  I will be doing a lot of things that I've never done before, but one of the strangest to me will be the fact that I have a desk.  I've never had a desk before.  I think being in the "professional" role will be the hardest thing for me to get used to.  Other aspects of ministry I am at least familiar with, and then there are the personal changes in life, like Levi growing so quickly and wanting to become a big kid so bad, but for some reason that thought isn't as foreign to me as the thought of having a desk.

Maybe it's because I don't often feel like a father.  More often than not I feel like we have a tiny roommate that I help care for.  Getting to play with this roommate is fun, and even taking care of him is enjoyable (or at least not as bad) but does not make me feel any older.  The idea of having a desk, however, makes me feel like a responsible adult.  In it reality confronts me of the looming reality shift that is standing in my not so distant future.  At times this thought is even frightening.  At times I feel so young and ill equipped.  I know that I have been called to the ministry though, and that God will be with me as I care for His people.  This thought encourages and comforts me as I continue to move on into the unknown.

To Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

June 15, 2014

Reality Check

It's all been happening so fast it's been so surreal, but reality is catching up.  On call day, when I heard my name paired with "Our Redeemer Lutheran Church; Texas District; Wichita Falls, TX" my first thought wasn't of the church that I would be going to, but "This is really happening!"  Nothing made vicarage more real than hearing my name paired with a real congregation with real people.  From that day excitement has abounded as we've been getting ready to move and make our transition to Texas.  That was until the other side of reality hit on Friday.  Don't get me wrong, I am still way too excited about going some place new and meeting new people, but that means that I am leaving where I am now and leaving good friends and family.

Friday was my last day of work, and I had to say good bye to some of my bosses and other seminary staff who has become more than just "people" in my life.  They have become good friends and have helped me become who I am today.  And yes, while it may "only be a year," that does not make leaving them behind any easier.  And when I think of it "being only a year," then I think of only being back a year before I leave them again, and that time for good.

That is part of life though: saying good bye.  Thankfully, that saying goodbye is paired with saying hello.  I will be with the good people at Our Redeemer for a year.  I will live with them, I will laugh with them, I will cry with them.  Wichita Falls will be our home.  I know that in a year from now it will be extremely hard to say goodbye to them, but our strength will come with being reunited with family and friends.  Then once I receive my first call I will leave the seminary once again to say "Hello" to my first call.

We often say that we are in a life transition at the seminary, but all life is transition.  Yet there is one constant: God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.  It is leaning on Him that we find the strength to continue on, to say good bye and to say hello, trusting in Him as He guides us through our ministry.  Amen.

June 8, 2014

Pentecost Sermon

            Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
            Today we celebrate the birth of the Holy Christian Church.  We remember God’s pouring out of the Spirit upon His people.  We celebrate for without the Spirit we would truly be lost.  Take the disciples for example.  When Jesus was arrested, they scattered.  When Jesus was crucified, they hid or denied any association with Him.  When Jesus lay in the ground, they locked themselves behind closed doors.  When Jesus was raised, they doubted and had to see for themselves.  Even after He appeared to them, they questioned what it all meant.  It is apparent from the testimony of Scripture that the disciples just didn’t get it, even as they stared off into the sky after Jesus ascended.  Confused and not knowing quite what else to do, they did as Jesus instructed and returned to the house in Jerusalem.
            Ten days later something amazing happened.  It took place during the Feast of Weeks, when Jews and proselytes were gathered in Jerusalem to remember God’s giving of the Law to Moses.  It was in Jerusalem, amongst the mixture of Jews from far and wide, that a sound like a rushing wind came from heaven and filled the house where the disciples were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
            What a sight it must have been.  It became quite a spectacle as men and women of different tongues and nations gathered around them and heard them speaking of the mighty works of God in their own language.  And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  Now THAT is a very good question.  What does it mean that Christ has given His Holy Christian Church His Spirit?
            John gives us an answer in his Gospel.  It is a brief but very powerful answer to that question.  John writes that Jesus went to a different feast, the Feast of Booths, in Jerusalem to remember Israel’s wandering in the wilderness.  During the middle of the feast He began teaching in the temple with such wisdom and authority that people marveled and wondered if He could be the Christ.  On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Now this he said about the Spirit.  John continues on to say that the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus was to die, raise, and be glorified first.  John’s clarification was said in reference to Pentecost when the Spirit was first given to all believers in Christ.
            The Holy Spirit is still is active with Christ’s Church today, but there is much confusion over the person and work of the Spirit.  Typically, Christians go to one extreme or the other when speaking about the Holy Spirit.  Some of us tend to ignore the Spirit and His activity while others place too much emphasis on Him.  A proper understanding recognizes and trusts the work of the Holy Spirit but understands that we cannot comprehend how or when He works, other than what has been revealed to us through Scripture.  It is through truly recognizing the person and work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to come to Christ and drink, for it is the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ and together They turn our dry and barren hearts into flowing rivers of living water.  For without Christ we could not be saved and without the Spirit we could not know Christ.
            On our own we are spiritually dead.  Without the Spirit we are unresponsive to God’s call on our lives and are truly helpless and miserable.  We are no more able to help ourselves than dry bones are able to get up and walk.  When we ignore the Spirit’s work and claim we come to Jesus on our own, we take credit for the work that is God’s alone.  We replace the work and life of Christ with our own work and life.  When we ignore the Holy Spirit we become blind to the sin in our lives and are not convinced that we need saving.  We start believing we can save ourselves and make the ascent to God on our own works and deeds.  But if we place too much of an emphasis on the Spirit, we get caught up in the mysteries of God that we simply cannot understand.  We replace the revelation of Christ with our own revelations from the Spirit.  When we emphasize the Spirit we begin believing that it is the Spirit who saves us, not Christ, but the Spirit did not die for you.  We start using the Spirit as a tool to make the ascent to God through our own emotions and experiences.  By ignoring or emphasizing, either way we make it all about us and our ascent to God.
            But we cannot make the ascent.  When we rely on ourselves, we stand on shaky ground.  When we put our hope and our trust on our works or our experiences, we can never be confident of where we stand with God.  We are sinners, and will always be sinners in this life.  When we try to find the assurance of our salvation by our own efforts we are left lost, hopeless, and miserable.  For if a man is never directed away from himself and toward God, he will never be sure of his forgiveness.  We can only understand our right relation to God when we hear the word spoken to us, “Your sin is forgiven!”  When we doubt this word we are no better than the Pharisees and the Sadducees who doubted Christ.  We don’t even see Christ standing right before us, offering us His mercy and grace and peace and rest through the Holy Spirit.  Psalm 46:10 declares, “Be still and know that I am God.”  It is only when we quiet ourselves and listen to the voice of God that we can be confident of our salvation.
            At the feast, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”  Luther once remarked, “This is not a physical thirst, but a thirst of the soul, a spiritual thirst, a heartfelt desire, yes, a distressed, wrenched, terrified, and aroused conscience, a despondent and frightened heart which longs to know on what terms it is with God.  Such is the timid, fainthearted conscience: it feels its sin; it is conscious of a weakness of spirit, soul, and flesh; it is aware of a menacing God; it fears God and sees His Law, wrath, judgment, death, and other penalties.  Such anxiety marks the proper thirst.  It is natural that people who live in fear, amid temptation and distress, are athirst by reason of their anxiety.  For such a time the tongue becomes parched, we grow feverish, our distress consumes the humors of our body, and this creates thirst.  How much more will our soul grow thirsty from spiritual temptation, when sin and God’s wrath stare us in the face!”
            When we are confronted with our sin, we are faced with a harsh reality.  When we meditate upon God’s Law, and compare it to our own thoughts, words, and deeds, we are confronted with how wrenched and desperate of a state we are in.  There was nothing, is nothing, and will never be anything that we could possibly do to save ourselves from sin and death.  We could never do enough good works in a thousand life times to save anyone much less ourselves, for our good works are nothing but trash to a righteous God.  We are a lost and hopeless people, full of sin, barren, and worthless.  Yet for some reason, Jesus comes to us in this desolate state.  He finds us in our anxiety and cries out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.
            This is what the disciples discovered on Pentecost.  They themselves were filled with the Holy Spirit, and everything they had been through with Jesus came together.  Christ’s words and deeds all came into focus.  His sufferings and death, His resurrection and ascension; they realized that it was all for the forgiveness of sins, and it was the Holy Spirit that gave them this understanding, and it was with this understanding that they went out to preach.  Peter’s sermon on Pentecost did not tell the Jews how they could get to God, but instead how God has come to them, first through the person of Jesus Christ and second through the Spirit.  The Spirit worked on all those who heard and convicted them in their sin.  Peter’s words pierced their hearts and left them asking, “What shall we do?”  To which Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit.
            When you were baptized, you were forgiven your sins, and you did receive the Holy Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit united you with Christ, in a way that we cannot comprehend, and took your sin and exchanged it with His righteousness, making Christ a sinner on the cross and you a righteous child of God.  So when the weight of your sin presses you and crushes you so that you are starting to feel hopeless and don’t think that you can take much more, just remember that this is the Spirit working within you, preparing you for repentance so that you will be ready to receive the living water flowing from the crucified Christ, through the Holy Spirit and into you heart.
            The Spirit came for this one thing: to convict the world of its sin and to show it to the only source of its salvation in Christ Jesus.  The Spirit gives us our blessed assurance as we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified us and kept us in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
            It is only through the Church, the communion of saints, that we can know the works of the Holy Spirit.  Most of the Holy Spirit’s work is done in secret where no man can ever see.  We do not know when and where the Spirit will work.  Yet so that we can be sure of our salvation and grace, God has promised us that the Spirit will work through the preaching of His word and the administering of His Sacraments.  God has given us these means of grace so we can be confident of His presence.  Without them we would be no better off than we were before, but with them we can be certain that in our baptism and each time we hear the Word or come to the altar, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit unleash a flood living water to cure our parched throat and ease our troubled minds.
            The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.