Feb 23, 2018

Why Lutherans Are Like Two-year-olds

By Heather Smith

Why is truly the basic human question. Only beings with reason can ask it. Animals don’t care. In fact, we might say the curiosity to know why is the defining characteristic between animals and humans. Animals act upon instinct. Humans act upon reason. Thus, when we as humans do not care to understand the whys of life, we make ourselves, in a way, more like animals than proper human beings. The person who ceases to wonder why limits life to the shallow pleasures and pains of the moment, lapping up the fun when times are good and whining with discontent when things get unpleasant.

We needn’t look far to see such painfully limited lives. The world is full of them. So is the Church. Individualism has taught us to follow our desires rather than our reason. Secularism has instructed us that there is no meaning beyond this life. Pragmatism has indoctrinated us to do whatever works—never mind why. The innate human impulse to ask why (which we all possessed in abundance as two-year-olds) has been trained out of us by the idols of our age. We no longer trust that the world is a rational place worth trying to understand. Our culture is in a crisis of apathy and ignorance, and we must not imagine that we are completely immune to this epidemic.

The good news is that the cure is quite simple: Ask why. Look at the world and wonder about anything and everything, as many times a day as possible. Why is this potluck dish made of marshmallows, pudding, and fruit considered a salad? Why does the word salad look so much like salary? Why do my children study social studies but not history in school? Why do I want my children to be educated, anyway? Why is this television show so popular? Why does it not bother anyone that it contains so many openly immoral characters? Why is the sunset especially vibrant this evening? Why have I not noticed the sunset in so long? Why is the world filled with so much fury and so little contentment? Why do I believe my life can be different?

Keep asking enough whys and you are certain to discover that all questions ultimately lead to God. It could not be any other way. Since why is a quest for meaning, it must lead us to God, who is the source of all meaning. Hence the quintessential Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”

Feb 16, 2018

A Note to Our Lovely Readers

Hi Everyone,

As you may have noticed, things are a bit quiet on SDMW this month. Life may stay that way for little while. One of the reasons involves the imminent arrival of a new Mussmann baby.

I look forward to doing more blogging once I am able! Feel free to send submissions as usual--I look forward to reading them and responding as I have time.

Blessings,

Anna

Why You Should Marry Someone Who Laughs at the Right Things (from our archives)

By Anna Mussmann

Last Valentine’s Day, one of my Facebook friends shared this quote from Timothy J. Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”

Mr. Keller is right. I am married myself, and it is an amazing thing to live with someone who knows more about my flaws than anyone else does, yet continually lives out his marriage vows by loving me anyway. I am deeply grateful that I am able to experience the blessed estate of marriage. It is truly awesome.

Yet finding a spouse isn’t always easy. In fact, in a world filled with marital strife and divorce, it is downright scary. Many young people have reacted to this by delaying marriage and waiting for someone who is perfect enough to sweep away all of their fears. Unfortunately, like unicorns, perfect spouses are extraordinarily elusive.

I have heard many debates about the qualities that Christian young people should really be looking for in a prospective spouse. I would suggest that the list be kept short. The items at the top are (or ought to be) pretty obvious. Find someone who recognizes his or her own sin and who rejoices in Christ’s forgiveness. Find someone who treats others kindly and whom you would trust to raise your children. Find someone whom you are willing to try to love, no matter what, even though he or she is flawed (note that this is really about you more than it is about the other person). In addition, I would like to point out one more trait that I think makes married life more pleasant for everyone.

Find someone who laughs at the right things.

Feb 13, 2018

The Law We Don't Like Hearing

By Ruth Meyer

You’ve shown them, all these moments, that the phone is more important than they are. They see you looking at it at while waiting to pick up brother from school, during playtime, at the dinner table, at bedtime . . . .

Those words are from the article “Dear Mom on the iPhone,” which made quite a splash in 2013 when it was first published. Judging from the number of shares I saw on Facebook, it struck a nerve in a lot of people, reminding parents that they’re sending a powerful message when they continually choose their phones over their children. I was certainly convicted, because there are times when I get caught up in my own phone, ignoring my children when they’re right in front of me.

Ah, but then came the rebuttal, “Dear Mom on the iPhone, You’re Doing Fine.” For good measure, more than one response came out, all defending moms on iPhones, and it seemed that the more rebuttals there were, the easier it was to dismiss the first article and the twinge of conscience it produced. Moms everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief. See? I’m justified in checking my phone while my kids play! Don’t judge me! The conscience-pricking article was replaced by the more palatable message of the second. Of course some women use their phones too much, but I probably don’t. Whew!

Humans have an innate need to feel good about ourselves. We want desperately to believe that other people make mistakes; other people need to change, but not us.

This phenomenon has infested the Christian mindset as well. The Law seems very antiquated indeed. Focus on God and His love instead. Sermons that speak of sin in a generic way are okay, but let’s not get too specific. We squirm in the hard pews if the pastor starts talking too strongly against homosexuality or cohabitation. After all, we don’t want to offend anyone or be seen as unloving and intolerant.

And what if the pastor gets even more personal, aiming at sins that infect our own hearts and minds, such as gossip, coveting, lust, hatred, bitterness, etc? How do we respond? Do we flee to God in repentance, asking him daily for the strength to battle against our sinful flesh? Or do we remind ourselves that we’ve been forgiven and carry on with life as usual? Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Indeed. Just because Jesus has forgiven us doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with sin. And sometimes we need to hear the Law in all its severity to realize how many of our own sins we have learned to ignore. We dare not dismiss the Law or gloss over it by thinking, Well, God knows I’m not perfect. I’ll always sin, no matter how hard I try. The main thing is that I’m forgiven.

Feb 6, 2018

Yes, We Should Ask Each Other More Questions

By Alison Andreasen

I live in a small, rural community where many of us are related by blood or marriage. Every now and then you hear that someone is sick or dying. I could make a fortune if I charged a dollar for every time someone says, “Well, I never knew!” or “No one would have guessed!”  

How is this even possible? In a small town where we know each other’s names, you’d think everyone would know about each other’s struggles, too. But we don’t. Maybe our independence is a remnant of the pioneer mentality that proved useful many generations ago. Some people like to be private--both when times are good and also in times of difficulty. But, perhaps there is another reason we aren’t aware of what is going on in the lives of those around us: We have stopped asking each other questions. And why have we stopped asking questions? I think there are several reasons.

First, we forget that people aren’t stagnant, never-changing creatures. For example, we think that happy-go-lucky neighbor who helped us move into our house is still the happy-go-lucky neighbor, just several years older. That grouch living on the corner has always been that way and will always be that way.

We all know this not to be true of ourselves. We are always changing: happy one day, sad at the loss of a loved one the next. The same is true of others. Our neighbors near and far are humans in flux. We do a great disservice to their humanity when we expect them to be more like machines that never change.  

Second, we tend to be narcissistic, and when we see others acting differently toward us, we assume it has something to do with us. We think that they may not like us anymore, or that they don’t want us to bother them. Yet, deep down, we know that this might not be the case. It is more likely that the new attitude has nothing to do with us, but rather is an outward reflection of their own internal struggles.

Jan 26, 2018

When our Vocations Change

By Rebekah Theilen
“Part of the sanctification of motherhood is learning to trust God with our children.” Cindy Rollins, Mere Motherhood.

Our pastor preached a beautiful sermon that stayed with me. It was based on the Scripture reading from the Gospel of John, the story when Jesus turns the water into wine. Jesus and his disciples are in Cana for a wedding. While they are there, Mary, the Lord’s mother, comes to Jesus with an important matter.

“They have no wine,” Mary tells Jesus. How Mary heard the news of the unfolding event, we aren’t told, but Jesus must have known that the word from his mother was more than mere gossip, and more than a casual informative statement. Mary wasn’t mingling in the crowd with her wine glass, sipping warm water, hoping to make interesting conversation. She was turning to God in a face-to-face prayer.

“Woman, what does this have to do with me,” Jesus replies. “My hour has not yet come.” It seems an odd question for Jesus to ask. Has He not come to show the world His glory, to be about His Father’s business? After thirty years of walking with Jesus, of pondering day after day in her heart, surely the Lord’s mother would have known Him well, known who she was talking to, and what He was capable of.

“Do whatever He tells you,” she says to the servants. These are the last words of Mary recorded in the Bible. The mother tells the others to listen to her Son. The woman known to us by her humble-hearted, “I am the Lord’s servant; May it be to me as you have said,” sets the stage for the Lord’s first sign. Jesus turns and tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

“Who is this Man” the disciples would later ask, “that even the wind and the waves obey Him?” Twenty years earlier, we found the boy Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Upon reuniting with Jesus after losing Him for three days, the relieved Mary asks the boy, “Son, why have you treated us this way?” Like any mother whose child has gone missing, her heart was, understandably, greatly troubled. But Jesus returns home to Nazareth with his mother and father, and the Scriptures say He was obedient to them.

How do you teach God to honor you? Did Mary and Joseph teach Jesus the commandments, or did He always “just know” them from the time He was born? It takes years and years to train up a child, but by the time Jesus is grown, after all the years He and His mother have spent together, Mary has mysteriously grown up alongside Him. “Do whatever He tells you,” Mary says. Her maternal efforts are no longer focused on teaching children to obey her, but rather, on entreating the children of man to obey God.

Jan 23, 2018

Five Low-Pressure Ideas for Date Night at Home

By Anna Mussmann

None of us want to be “that woman”--the one who pours her emotional energy into her children or career but forgets to maintain a meaningful relationship with her husband. After all, husbands are pretty awesome. They are the people we’ve vowed to stick with for the rest of our lives. Why miss out on enjoying life together?

There are lots of ingredients that go into nurturing any relationship, and, despite having passed my thirtieth birthday, I’m still learning about them. One ingredient, of course, is time together.

My husband and I go on occasional dates. However, we also like to spend quality time together at home, and we’ve found that tricky to consistently achieve. Even after the kids go to bed, our home is full of distractions. There are chores to be done, books to read, and links to click. It’s easy to live parallel lives without focusing on each other. By the time we’ve come to the end of the week, we are often too tired to come up with creative ideas for a joint activity. That’s why it’s nice to have a pre-made list of suggestions.

Here are five of the at-home couple-time activities that help us have fun together.

Jan 16, 2018

Self-righteousness vs. Self-care

By Alison Andreasen

Hello. My name is Alison Andreasen and I am recovering from self righteousness and idolatry.  

There, I said it.  

I was forced into this revelation. I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I hit rock bottom and had to face the facts. Some people call it burn-out, and that is a pretty accurate statement. I had been burning dully for a while, red embers barely hanging on. If I were a candle, I would have been the sad little part of the candle where the wick meets the base. It looks so pathetic that the owner just throws it away to put it out of its misery. That was me.

If only I had been a super human with no needs, I could have continued in my previous lifestyle. I could have kept living life the way I thought I should, embracing my ideals to the fullest extreme and truly living a life worthy of a Christian--or so I thought. I always said that I wanted to be faithful. That was my goal. What I meant by this was that I wanted to do all the things a “faithful” person does and none of the things a faithful person wouldn’t do. I had an ideal, but it wasn’t one from God. I strove to meet that made-up image in my head. I bowed to it, sacrificed my health and well being for it, and became enslaved to it. What was my ideal, you ask? It was that mom should do all the things a mom does, including cooking, cleaning, caring for the children’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs, homeschooling, and more. Not a bad ideal, you might say. But after a while, this ideal became too heavy a burden for me to bear.

Jan 12, 2018

The Cost of Forgiveness

By Lindsay Sampson

The unfaithful servant Onesimus fled his master Philemon. I could conjecture about the circumstances beyond that simple fact, outlined by Paul in his letter to Philemon. I could supplement the conjectures with history about slavery and bond-service within the Roman Empire, with details about the goings-on in a typical household like Philemon’s. That’s all a Google search away, and it’s not really what I care about.

Onesimus fled Philemon. He abandoned his vocation. He sinned against his fellow believer in Christ.

I have recently had to revisit the wounds of an old break-up. The details are unimportant, and it would certainly be unkind to my ex-boyfriend to share them with a broader audience. It wasn’t the break-up, however, that hurt me most, but a slow realization that this man had not treated me kindly throughout our relationship. The relationship had left lasting scars on not only my identity, but my faith. I felt deeply betrayed, unloveable, and I despaired of my worth before God and men, in no small part because of his words and actions.

I struggled to forgive this man. The days after it ended with him, I was catatonic with near-physical pain. It reads like the diary of a teenage girl, but the hurt was very real. It was a constant pain in my chest. I wanted to retch because of it, to scream loudly and forcefully enough to match the tone of my thoughts. But I lay still for hours, staring at the popcorn ceiling of my bedroom.

Dec 20, 2017

How Eternity Comes to Us in Advent

By Heather Smith


Christianity sits at the intersection of time and eternity, where the eternal God enters the forward-flowing stream of time for our sake.  The liturgy and lectionary teach us this mystery in many ways, but never so clearly as in Advent.  In the season of Advent, we learn not just of Christ who came or who is coming again, but of Christ “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8).

Our linear minds most often think of Advent as the season of waiting to celebrate Christ’s coming as a babe in Bethlehem, and it certainly is a time of preparation for and meditation on this great event.  We cannot marvel enough at the mystery of the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us.  The infinite God made Himself a finite creature.  The Lord who is without beginning or end was born.  

Christianity is a historical religion, not one of vague presences and flighty feelings.  Thus, we set our calendars to recall each year the true events that worked God’s salvation for us.  Christ came into the world at a specific time—in the days of Caesar Augustus, while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  It is good that we, who so easily forget God’s wondrous works, yearly call to mind how Christ came in the past.

Advent also turns us toward Christ’s coming again.  Many of the readings and hymns during this season call out for us to stay alert and look for our Lord’s return.  As surely as He came once to win salvation for us, He will come again to deliver us from sin and death forever.  

We who live in the time between His comings constantly need to be filled with these words of promise and warning so that our faith may continue to burn brightly.  That lamp of faith guides us as we walk through the shadows of these gray and latter days, seeing “distress of nations in perplexity” and “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world,” for we have our Savior’s promise that “when these things begin to take place . . . your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:25-28).  So we also encourage one another as we look toward that swiftly coming future.

Yet our gracious Lord does not leave His time-bound creatures always looking to past and future.  He comes to us where we are now.  This is our constant prayer:  “Thy kingdom come.”  Not that we must by our pleas convince God to come, for as Luther reminds us, “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.”  Advent speaks of Christ’s coming to us here, now, in the midst of earthly life.  

In trial and sorrow, He comes.  In mundane daily tasks, He comes.  In joys and struggles, He comes.  His kingdom comes “when our heavenly Father sends us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”  He does not leave us orphans, but comes to us in Word and Sacrament even now, in the present time.

So it is that in Advent all time is rolled into one.  Past, future, and present meet here, and we catch a glimpse of eternity.  Through the most temporal activity of all—waiting—we find the assurance that all our waiting is already fulfilled in the eternal triune God.  To us who see only one moment at a time, Christ our lamb slain from before the foundation of the world speaks, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  

Take heart because He came as He promised to suffer God’s wrath in our place.  Take heart because He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Take heart because He comes to us so long as this earth remains in His Word and Sacraments.  He is the first and last, the living one who died yet is alive forevermore (Rev. 1:17-18), and in that day when time ends and we are raised to eternity with Him, we will understand fully how He who is, and who was, and who is to come, really is, and always has been, the eternal I AM.


***

Heather is a pastor's wife in rural Illinois, prior to which she was a teacher in a classical Lutheran school in Wyoming and spent time in the Washington, D.C. area working on a master's degree in English.  She has an abiding love for reading, baking, deep intellectual conversations, and persistent Lutheran matchmakers.

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