The sacrament of the present moment

Officer Charles (“Chuckie”) Irvine Jr. End of watch: Thursday, June 7, 2018.

“The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams, but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your faith and love. . . .  To discover God in the smallest and most ordinary things, as well as the greatest, is to possess a rare and sublime faith.”- Jean Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment

“When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive in Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”- Colossians 2:13-14 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”- John 14:6 (Chuckie’s self-selected confirmation verse)

I awoke around 1 AM the morning of June 8, 2018, to find a prayer request on my smart phone. The post requested prayer for the family of Charles Irvine Jr.  “Oh no,” I cried, “not Chuckie!”  Visibly distraught, I soon discovered that Officer Irvine died in the line of duty after a high-speed pursuit on Milwaukee’s northwest side the previous afternoon.  Amidst the devastating darkness, though, an endearing image of Chuckie emerged.

After Chuckie’s year in our fourth grade community, his father died.  As a fifth grader the next school year, Chuckie often stopped in my classroom during his morning break.  While I taught a lesson, Chuckie quietly walked in and stood right next to me- I always kept my door open.  Next, I’d pause the lesson, put my arm around him and say, “Hey Chuckie, how are you doing?”  When Chuckie felt comfort in the present moment, he returned to class.  Chuckie – small in stature, but big in heart.

In God Is Closer Than You Think, John Ortberg affirms his belief that right now constitutes the greatest moment of your life.  That’s not to imply you find the present moment happy, pleasant, or easy.  Rather, right now is the only moment you’ve got.  Most noteworthy, it’s God’s irreplaceable gift to you.  This moment matters because God is present. To walk with God, you must experience His presence now – in this moment.

Therefore, John asserts, tomorrow represents possibly the most dangerous word in the English language.  As a result, Pastor Ortberg explains how to address the root of the problem:

“What matters most is this: God is present in this instant, offering to partner with us in whatever we face.  The failure to embrace ‘the sacrament of the present moment’ will keep us from being fully present to God right here, right now.  Not because we consciously say no to God.  We just say ‘Tomorrow.’ ”

Furthermore, John observes, spending the day with God usually looks no different than what you already do.  However, to receive each moment as a sacrament, what John calls a God-charged sliver of grace, involves learning to do what we already do in a new way – with God!

Thus, Pastor Ortberg finds it helpful to “review the dailies” with God.  Discover things to thank God for in each scene of your day.  When you do, you’ll find, as Chuckie did, little rainbow moments in ordinary days.  Hence, what Chuckie now proclaims in heaven, we sing on earth:

“Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free/ Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me/ You have broken every chain/ There’s salvation in Your name/ Jesus Christ, my living hope.”

Restored and made right – I’ve got Jesus!

1960s version of Cadeco’s All-Star Baseball, a popular board game.

“I’m restored and made right/ He got a hold of my life/ I’ve got Jesus/ How could I want more?”- I Got Saved by Selah

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”- Matthew 6:19-21

“Smart players are clear on what lasts and what doesn’t.  So Jesus says it’s wise to store up treasures in what’s eternal: God and people.”- John Ortberg

Before the advent of MLB The Show 18 or R. B. I. Baseball 18, Baby Boomers like myself enjoyed Cadeco’s All-Star Baseball.  Former ballplayer Ethan Allen developed this hands-on game, first sold in 1941.  Today the game ranks among the most popular board games of the last sixty years.

Each circular player disc represented a pie chart of that player’s overall performance.  The chart depicted the actual career percentage a player achieved in various ways of getting on base or making outs.  Thus, numbers on the disc ranging from 1 to 14 designated specific data for each player.   Hence, a spin landing on #1 indicated a home run, while landing on #10 meant a strike out.

But when the game ended, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle went back in the box, their athletic riches only a memory.

Writing in When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, John Ortberg cites Yale theologian Miroslav Volf.  Professor Volf notes two kinds of riches in life, “richness of having” and “richness of being.”  While richness of having consists of an external circumstance, richness of being involves an inner experience.  As a result, when the “haves” keep popping up in your thoughts, your language reflects your focus on the richness of having.

Furthermore, Pastor Ortberg notes, the richness of having never satisfies the bottomless pit of our desires.  Therefore, no matter how much stuff we amass, we remain what Volf calls “not-enough people.”  In other words, no lasting soul satisfaction exists for not-enough people.  So, if we give casually, John observes, we wind up with casual joy.  But, we receive immense joy when our giving is effortless, thoughtful, and creative.

Most noteworthy, your sense of freedom always increases when you give.  Because giving signals your declaration that your security rests someplace other than your bank account.  Rather, it gives witness to your confidence in God.  As Pastor Ortberg quips, “you cannot get enough of what you do not need.”

In conclusion, John exhorts and explains how to get your soul restored:

“On the other hand, we can have very little and yet be rich.  A rich soul experiences life differently.  It experiences a sense of gratitude for what it has received rather than resentment for what it hasn’t gotten.  It faces the future with hope rather than anxiety. . . . freed from the treadmill of having.  Richness of being is always available.  I can seek at any time, with God’s help, to be compassionate, generous, grateful, and joyful.”

Appropriate smallness – dream small


Cookie Cockatoo, last surviving member of Brookfield Zoo’s original collection.

“Humility is the freedom to stop trying to be what we’re not, or pretending to be what we’re not, and accepting our ‘appropriate smallness.’ “- John Ortberg

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?’ . . .  The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “- Matthew 25:27-38, 40 (NIV)

When Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo opened July 1, 1934, Cookie Cockatoo first went on exhibit.  Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, arrived earlier that year from an Australian zoo in Sydney.  He’d hatched in June of 1933. Years later, on Cookie’s 60th birthday, a Chicago Tribune story took note: “Like some cockeyed vaudevillian comic in a loud suit and funny hat, Cookie  . . . always has relied on exaggerated showiness and a raucous line of patter to attract attention.”

Even in his final years, Cookie retained the beautiful plumage typical of his species.  However, in 2009 he began showing signs of stress while on public display.  As a result, the zoo retired him backstage in the his keeper’s offices, located in the Bird and Reptile House.  There, Cookie did a complete turnaround and became very active.  On August 27, 2016, Cookie died at the record age of 83+.

At age 76, Cookie’s life revitalized through appropriate smallness.  As Cookie served a small group in hiddenness, he experienced renewed vigor and purpose.  Writing in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg underscores that the primary reason Jesus calls us to serve. Jesus’ concern mainly involves what happens to us when we serve.  It’s secondary  that others need our service.

Consequently, Pastor Ortberg outlines four ministries that help us explore and revision avenues of servanthood that help us taste appropriate smallness:

1.  The Ministry of the Mundane.  The opportunity to serve naturally, effortlessly, for the joy of it presents itself to us countless times a day.  Furthermore, Jesus’ statement that the last shall be first, and the least shall be great wasn’t an order.  Rather, Jesus simply described the truth about God’s kind of community.  It operates counter to the prevailing world view.

2.  The Ministry of Being Interrupted.  One might also call this form of service the ministry of availability.  The Russian church refers to people who devote themselves to a life of prayer as poustinikki.  They withdraw to the desert (poustinia) where they live in solitude, but not isolation.   The ‘latch always off the door’ availability occurs in the midst of solitude.

3.  The Ministry of ‘Holding Your Tongue.’  Coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this describes perhaps the least-practiced form of servanthood: “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words. . . .  It must be a decisive rule of Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.”

4.  The Ministry of Bearing.  In conclusion, John stresses that our call to bear each other’s burdens doesn’t require becoming best friends.  Instead, it means we learn to wish them well and release our right to revenge.  Thus, we come to experience our common standing before the Cross.

My seasons change, You stay the same

Bill and Elinor Henning enjoying a bike ride on a pleasant autumn day in Chicago, circa 1950 (aka 1 BD- Before David).

Each step I take/ You make a way/ And I will give you all my praise./ My seasons change, You stay the same./ You’re the God of all my days.”- God of All My Days, Casting Crowns

“All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.”- Psalm 25:10 (ESV)

For part of his military service in the army during World War II, my dad William (Bill) Henning was stationed at Red Bank, New Jersey.  Due to its close proximity to Manhattan, Dad enjoyed occasional weekends there. On one of those visits, he struck up a friendship with my mother Elinor’s twin brother, Elmer.  He served at the Navy Fleet Post Office there.

Imagine Dad’s surprise when he ran into Elmer at the Lutheran Service Center, located at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in New York City.  Because Elmer wasn’t alone.  That weekend Elinor came up from Washington, D. C., where she worked for the Navy Department, to see Elmer and his wife Clara.

Bill and Elinor next met “by chance,” as Mom put it, after the war at Elmer’s home in Milwaukee.  Mom stopped in Milwaukee on her way back to Chicago from her vacation in Colorado.  Since taking a job with United Airlines, she now lived in Chicago.  While Mom was there, Dad traveled from his native Chicago to visit Elmer.  After a year and a half of dating, they married.

In the seventh century John Climacus, a Egyptian Christian monk renowned for leading people to deeper levels of Christlikeness, advised: “Fight to escape from your cleverness.  If you do, then you will find salvation and uprightness through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Thus, Climacus identified one of the greatest barriers to experiencing Christ’s presence and power in our lives. That barrier consists of our need to completely figure God out in advance of what He’s doing.  This represents our attempt to control Him and predict His next move.

However, as Brian Jones points out in Finding Favor: God’s Blessings Beyond Health, Wealth, and Happiness, God’s vision for His people involves serving Him wherever they are.  And that spans from the end of their driveways to the end of the earth.  Therefore, Pastor Jones underscores, God wants us to view every area of our lives as holy ground.  Furthermore, through all seasons, holy work occurs on holy ground.  Hence, we use every ounce of our beings to consecrate holy work as an act of worship.  As Brian notes, “Holy ambition honors a holy God.”

Throughout his life seasons, Dad walked on holy ground as fiancé, husband, father, chemist, provider.  To sustain his journey he, like all of us, needed only one thing- the favor of the Lord.  As a result, like the great men and women of the Bible, seek the favor of the Lord before anything you do. With God’s favor, Brian exhorts, victory’s ensured.  Without it, you’ve already lost the battle.

Finally, even though we rarely find God’s favor understandable or predictable:

“[God’s] favor rarely gives us what we want, no matter how much we squint, make threats, . . .but it always gives us exactly what we need.”

Building the wall in front of you

North Division High graduation picture of my mother Elinor – June, 1934

“Focus on building the wall in front of you.  Some of the most powerful lessons God wants to teach us are the simplest.”- Banning Liebscher, Rooted (2017)

“Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall.  Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house.”- Nehemiah 3:38 (NLT)

“Help me want the Giver more than the giving/ Help me want you Jesus, more than anything.”- Natalie Grant, More Than Anything

My mother Elinor graduated from North Division High School (Milwaukee) in 1934, two months shy of her 18th birthday.  Amidst the throes of the Great Depression, mom found work difficult to obtain.  Although she demonstrated proficiency in shorthand and typing, mom noted that inexperienced girls had a rough time of it.  However, during 1934 and 1935, Elinor occasionally volunteered for office work at the Lutheran Children’s Home in Wauwatosa, WI, when they had fund-raising drives.  Consequently, in June of 1936 they offered mom a paid position.  She worked there for the next four and a half years.

In the spring of 1940, Elinor took a civil service exam.  As an afterthought, she place a check next to Washington D. C. as an “if necessary” location.  To her surprise, mom received a telegram asking her to report to the Navy Department in our nation’s capital.  Building the wall in front of her, she accepted, remaining there for the duration of World War II.

Writing in Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You, Banning Liebscher defines thriving as growing in wisdom, character, faith, endurance, and strength.  And while growth creates occasional discomfort, it’s also exhilarating and rewarding.  Thus, in order to thrive as you navigate life’s diverse circumstances, finding God’s strength in every situation, you must focus on building the wall in front of you.

Furthermore, we need to know where to look/maintain our focus in the face of Satan’s distractions.  Typically, Satan’s ploys attempt to convince us to:

  1. wish we were in someone else’s process.  As a result, we miss what God’s doing right in front of us.  Rather than building the wall assigned to us, we longingly gaze at more attractive portions of the wall.
  2. resist the lessons God is trying to teach us in our present circumstances.  Instead, we rightly shift our focus to how God’s using what’s right in front of us to develop our root system. We desperately need for our root system to thrive.
  3. rush the process.  In order for your root system to survive, much less bear fruit, your roots must take up more space underground than what’s visible above ground.  This process takes time.
  4. skip steps in the process. You’ll only thrive in the process when you accept the wall in front of you.  For that’s the only place God will work with you.

In conclusion, Pastor Liebscher offers these encouraging words:

“It takes faith and commitment to trust the God who gave us both the dream and our current assignment and to say, ‘. . . getting me there is Your job, and this wall in front of me is my job.’  Faithfulness to build the wall is not giving up on your dream; it’s trusting God with your dream.”

Fighting the onslaught of fret

Dresden’s Frauenkirche after the 1945 bombing and today.

“God’s sovereignty bids us fight the onslaught of fret with the sword that is etched with the words but God.”- Max Lucado

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”- Proverbs 12:25 (ESV)

Between 13 and 15 February 1945, more than 1,200 British and American heavy bombers dropped high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on Dresden, Germany.  For two days, the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), affiliated with the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, withstood the attack.  Also, the church’s most distinctive feature, a 12,200 ton sandstone dome known as the “Stone Bell,” stood tall and strong.  However, at 10:00 am on 15 February, the dome collapsed.  Temperatures inside and surrounding the church reached 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit.  As a result, the eight pillars supporting the dome glowed bright red and exploded.  In addition, the updraft created by the incendiary devices produced hurricane-force winds.

But shortly after World War II ended, the people of Dresden began collecting and numbering stones from the rubble for future use.  Since some residents felt the ruins served as a necessary reminder of wars destructiveness, the massive pile of stones laid there for fifty years.  Others, though, considered the site and eyesore.  Time to move on.  Therefore, several years after Germany reunited, reconstruction began, using the original 1726 plans.  Workers finished the project in 2005, a year ahead of schedule.

Both blackened, original stones and modern, light-colored sandstones comprise the current façade of the Church of Our Lady.  This creates a mosaic of past and present.  Most noteworthy, a son of a British pilot who dropped bombs on Dresden made the golden cross that crowns the dome.

Today, the Frauenkirche interprets its reconstruction in the light of reconciliation.  In fact, John 20:21 provided the motto for the consecration on 30 October 2005 – “Peace be with you .”  On the other hand, author and pastor Max Lucado (Anxious for Nothing, Thomas Nelson, 2017) describes perpetual anxiety as “the mental alarm system that never turns off.”  Rather than viewing God as distant and removed, we must affirm that God existed before all things – that in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17, NIV).  For the whole universe collapses if God steps back.

Furthermore, to fight the onslaught of fret, we, like Joseph in Egypt, need to view life’s sufferings through the lens of divine providence.  Otherwise, Pastor Lucado, stresses, anxiety winds up stalking you every day of your life.  As with Joseph and his brothers, God used intended evil for ultimate good.  God’s resolute in His plan to carry, as well as sustain, creation to its purposed glory.

Hence, if the story of Joseph teaches us anything, it’s that we either wear our hurt or wear our hope.  Either we outfit ourselves in our misfortune, or we don the lace of God’s providence.  Pastor Lucado explains how to fight the onslaught of fret:

“Has God permitted a time of darkness in your world?  You look but cannot see him.  You see only the fabric of circumstances woven and interlaced.  You might question the purpose behind this thread or that.  But be assured, God has a pattern.  He has a plan.  He is not finished, but when he is, the lace will be beautiful.”

The loudest voice in your life

Group cuddle, c. 1952 – mom, me, and teddy bear, one of my favorite toys.

“Is God’s voice the loudest voice in your life?  That’s the question.  If the answer is no, that’s the problem.”- Mark Batterson, Whisper

“They [the Emmaus disciples] said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?’ “- Luke 24:32 (ESV)

After many hours of labor, my mother Elinor gave birth to me on July 3, 1951.  Since Dr. Hauck, mom’s physician, determined I wouldn’t survive a natural birth, he performed a Caesarean section.  Mom later described the first physical features she noticed, my “big, bright blue eyes and beautiful hands with long, slender fingers.  In her hospital room, her whispering spot, God’s voice was the loudest voice.  And mom leaned toward His whisper.

As a result, mom probably thought of her twin brother Elmer, who asked for violin lessons at the age of nine.  Beginning with the second semester of his freshman year at North Division High School in Milwaukee, Uncle Elmer was chosen to play in the senior orchestra.  Eventually, he held the seat next to the concert master.

At the age of three, my parents bought me an inexpensive portable record player.  My first choice of records consisted of an album of marches.  Also, mom and dad enrolled me in a record club, introducing me to classical music.   Furthermore, as an alto in Ashburn Lutheran’s Children’s Choir, my sense of pitch kept me from getting thrown off-key by the sopranos.

Writing in Whisper:  How to Hear the Voice of God, Mark Batterson notes God possesses an outside voice He’s not afraid to use.  However, when God really wants us to hear Him – because what He needs to say carries great importance – He speaks in a whisper.  Just above the absolute threshold of hearing.  As Pastor Batterson explains, when someone speaks in a whisper, you must get very close to hear:

“We lean toward a whisper, and that’s what God wants.  The goal of hearing the heavenly Father’s voice isn’t just hearing His voice, it’s intimacy with Him.  That’s why He speaks in a whisper.  He wants to be as clos to us as divinely possible!  He loves us, likes us, that much.”

Through the silence of proactive listening, we battle daily against the competing voices within us.  But with each small victory, God’s voice gets a little louder in our lives.  With perseverance, God’s voice becomes the only voice we hear.  To bring this to fruition requires listening with more than our outer ear.  We need to give God a second hearing with our inner ear.  As a result, His truth gets from our head to our heart of hearts.

The loudest voice in your life defines the image that shapes you.  This Easter, tune your inner ear to God’s whisper.  Come awake to the loudest voice in your life.

“Christ is risen from the dead/ We are one with Him again/ Come awake, come awake/ Come and rise up from the grave.”- Matt Maher

My God — the strength of my soul

Winter, 1953 – On the sidewalk in front of our first home, Dad prepares to take me for a ride in my Radio Super. Note: he’s the one WITHOUT a proper hat!!

“Surely God is the strength of my soul/Your love defends me, Your love defends me/ And when I feel like I’m all alone/ Your love defends me, Your Love defends me.”- Matt Maher

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.”- Exodus 14:14 (NIV)

“It is the nature of love to bind itself.”- G. K. Chesterton, A Defence of Rash Vows

In January of 1953, when I was eighteen months old, my parents purchased their first home on West 89th Place in Evergreen Park, IL.  As a result, they moved a little over three miles southwest from their apartment at 65th and Maplewood.  Located in the Marquette Park neighborhood of Chicago, their building nestled closely with other apartments and brick bungalows.

Due to a severe attack of gastritis at fifteen months, it took another two months for me to walk unassisted.  However, as Mom wrote in her account of my early years: “Once you started, you ran everywhere.”  Perhaps that’s one reason they made the major financial commitment to home ownership in spacious Evergreen Park.  I needed freedom to roam the suburbs!

In the story behind “Your Love Defends Me,” singer/songwriter Matt Maher offers the following observation.  He states that our society finds itself increasingly less and less capable of sitting still.  Thus, what people do at any particular moment defines them.  Furthermore, we live in an age where everyone’s fighting for some type of cause.  Yet, to achieve that cause, we must do the exact opposite.  Like the Israelites facing the menacing Egyptian army near the Red Sea, God wants us to stand over there and wait.

That requires commitment, the foundation of intimacy.  For without commitment, there’s no trust.  And without trust, we lack intimacy.  In addition, since God created us in His commitment-making, commitment-keeping image, we’re drawn to commitments.  Yet, the very idea frightens some people.  Because they perceive that commitment limits freedom.  In truth, commitment paves the pathway to freedom.  Therefore, when you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to a noble calling of God, He releases His power in your life.  You find yourself.

Finally, as John Ortberg encourages in I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me, God remains faithful:

“Because of grace.  Because God is a commitment-keeping God, and at the cost of the cross where Jesus died, he keeps his commitments to us — even when we fail, even when we fall down, even when we don’t keep our commitments to him.”

So, when you’re unable to do the “next right thing,” seek God- the strength of my soul.  As you reach the end of yourself, stand over there.  Be still.  Declare what God’s strength will accomplish.

The sustaining face of God

Former 4th graders Gayle Christmas and Stacey White with Mr. H and wife Vicki at St. Paul Alumni Reunion.

“When we genuinely, happily serve in unacknowledged ways and places . . . we find the sustaining face of God.”- Sara Hagerty, Unseen

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and you life is hidden with Christ in God.”- Colossians 3:2-3 (ESV)

My anticipation and excitement grew daily as the weekend of the St. Paul Alumni Reunion drew closer.  Since St. Paul Lutheran Church and School (Dorchester) in Chicago called me to my first teaching position in 1974, I treasured the opportunity to reconnect with a very special place and time.

At the Friday evening meet and greet, as well as the picnic on Saturday at the school, I forged new friendships with four students from my original 3/4 class.  My wife Vicki and I also toured the school.  And for the first time in 43 years, I stepped into my assigned classroom.  Right at the top of the stairs.  As I stood there, I found it hard to imagine that 32 children actually fit in that room!

Most noteworthy, blessings overflowed as I talked with my former students, amazed at the strength of their relationships, maintained and rooted in faith over 4 decades.  Furthermore, the alumni encouraged me through their welcoming spirit and resolve to see St. Paul continue as a beacon of light and hope.

St. Paul established it’s roots in the Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago in 1889.  Under the sustaining face of God, St. Paul remains one of two Lutheran elementary schools still operating on the South Side.   In addition, St. Paul’s vision statement proclaims their calling a “light for the community, providing active support through praying, caring, sharing, and outreach.  Hence, over the past 128 years, St. Paul’s roots still endure, anchored deep in the knowledge of God’s love.  As a result of this hidden, underground growth, St. Paul’s branches bear fruit in and out of season.

However, in the aftermath of a ministry downsizing or vocation loss, we must avoid falling captive to the allure of living for the next big thing.  For the chief end of every human being is to glorify God.  Also, as Sara Hagerty exhorts in her most recent book, Unseen, the sweetest greatness begins as we’re rooted, made, and nurtured in secret.  Where God alone sees us.

Yes, Sara notes, great kingdom impact results from dramatic and observable actions.  Yet, we understand God doesn’t need us to do His work for Him or do it under our own power.  Most importantly, the foundational basis of kingdom impact comes from the cumulative moments we spend:

  • looking at God
  • bringing Him glory in private
  • letting Him shape our insides

In conclusion, Ms. Hagerty observes, these two kingdom impacts aren’t mutually exclusive:

“It is instead about a glory we can’t always measure.  It is the work that happens beneath the surface, deep in the soil of our hearts, that in time produces a great harvest of fruit and growth.”

All under the sustaining face of God!

Mighty Lord of all Creation

The Valparaiso University Chorale sings at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, 31 October 2017. Photo courtesy Valparaiso University.

“Mighty Lord of all Creation,/ Dearest Saviour, O how little carest/ Thou for earthly fame.

Thou whom all men would acclaim,/ Thou in Majesty the Highest,/ In a lowly manger liest.” – Grosser Herr, O starker Koenig, bass aria, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Barenreith  edition

“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and see, as it had been told them.”- Luke 2:20 (ESV)

On Tuesday, 31 October 2017, 107 members of VU’s Alumni Reunion Reformation Tour queued up in front of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany.  Since the German government declared this day a national holiday, Dr. Matthew Becker, our tour leader, scheduled our arrival one hour before the service started.  By 9:30 AM, no seats remained.  Latecomers stood in the aisles.  One crisp ring of the glockenschlag calls us to worship.  We rise.  Choirs, ministers, and liturgists enter.  Our mountaintop journey begins!

St. Thomas dates back to the 12th century.  Following 100 years of neglect, St. Thomas went through total restoration in 1990.  The church measures 76m (249′) long.  Also, the nave’s dimensions are 50m long (164′) 25m wide (82′), and 18m high (56′).

On 5 May 1723, St. Thomas appointed Johann Sebastian Bach as Thomaskantor.  He held this post until his death in 1750.  St. Thomas interred his remains at the top of the chancel steps.  People often lay flowers there.

Before Bach started scoring a sheet of music, he scrawled J. J. — Jesu, juva — at the very top.  Bach’s notation represented the simplest of prayers – Jesus, help me.  Thus, Bach’s cantata’s literally began as prayers.  In addition, as he completed each composition, he inscribed the letters SDG – Soli Deo Gloria – to the glory of God alone.  Through this inscription, Bach personalized one of the Reformation’s rallying cries.  As a result, His life singularly expressed that Latin phrase.  As Mark Batterson exhorts in All In, “no one can glorify God like you or for you.  Your life is an original score.”

To J. S. Bach, Pastor Batterson notes, the distinction between secular and sacred represented a false dichotomy.  Since all things were created by God and for God, no exceptions exist.  He’s the mighty Lord of all creation.  Therefore, the first tenet of the Westminster Short Catechism states: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

Furthermore, in Colossians 3:23 we read – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”  Soli Deo Gloria, then, is the why behind every whatever.  Thus, our prayers need to focus more on internal attitudes than external circumstances.  For all our circumstances present an opportunity to glorify God.  And while we tend to thank God for the things that take our breath away, Pastor Batterson encourages us to thank Him for every physical breath we take.  Hence, to truly worship and glorify the mighty Lord of all creation, He must dwell within your heart:

“Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,/ Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,/ A quiet chamber set apart/ For You to dwell within my heart.” – Lutheran Service Book #358, verse 14