De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te, Domine.


Christ's Charge to Peter by Raphael, 1515. In ...

Christ’s Charge to Peter by Raphael, 1515. In telling Peter to shepherd his sheep, Christ was appointing him as a pastor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land!  I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me.

O Lord, you know;

remember me and visit me,

and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.

In your forbearance take me not away;

know that for Your sake I bear reproach.

Your words were found, and I ate them,

and your words became to me a joy

and the delight of my heart,

for I am called by Your name,

O Lord, God of hosts.

I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice;

I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,

for you had filled me with indignation.

Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable,

refusing to be healed?

Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,

like waters that fail?

Therefore thus says the LORD:

“If you return, I will restore you,

and you shall stand before me.

If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,

you shall be as my mouth.

They shall turn to you,

but you shall not turn to them.

And I will make you to this people

a fortified wall of bronze;

they will fight against you,

but they shall not prevail over you,

for I am with you

to save you and deliver you,

declares the Lord.

I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,

and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”  Jeremiah 15:10, 15-21

When I was younger I was terrified by God.  For a year?  Two?  Longer?  I woke up each morning terrified that God would send me to hell and I went to bed at night the same way.  That is where this blog’s title came from.  Somewhere in there I memorized Psalm 130 and would repeat it to myself silently and pray it to God over and over.  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope;

My soul waits for the Lord

More than watchmen for the morning,

More than watchmen for the morning.”

Eventually the terror went away, although I continued to struggle with recurring fears that I was never really a Christian.  I was fooling myself.  Didn’t I know what I was really like?  For a long time I thought that the solution to those doubts was to attempt to humble myself more and not apply the Gospel to myself until I had improved.

Gradually, more recently, I have gotten the confidence that during these times of accusation when Satan gives me a million reasons why I should not apply any Gospel promises to myself–or if I am going to apply the forgiveness of sins to myself, at least I should not be too bold about applying to myself the promises God gives to faithful preachers of His Word–I have come to tentatively believe that I must take hold of all of Christ’s promises.

It is in fact true that I am a jerk, and I have been harsh with my congregation and my family.  It’s true that I have been an unfaithful preacher and deserve to be damned.  I am not aware of having preached false doctrine, but I am aware of failures in preparation and constant uncertainty and failure in properly applying law and Gospel.  I could go on.  I have had besetting sins that have dogged me my entire adult life.  Because of them I questioned whether I should be a pastor at all.  I don’t spend that much time anymore asking about my worthiness.  But that’s not always because I don’t doubt it but sometimes because I just refuse to think about it anymore.  Like many things I’m too tired anymore to think about it.  That isn’t faith; it’s numbness.  I do however, find myself asking if I feel like doing it anymore.

I used to think, “I’ll never leave this congregation until I die.  Unless God really really wants me to go somewhere else.”  And I used to think, “Until the congregation has been established in the Word of God in its purity I will not leave.”  And I still often think that God will turn things around and vindicate me and His Word.

Many good things have happened, too.  God has done wonderful things, even if very few people see it except me.  But I am quick to forget those things too.  How quickly I forget the wonders He has done.

I went to a council meeting tonight.  And council meetings are never fun.  And at almost every meeting in the past few months I said to myself, “Why do I go anymore?”

[...]

Essentially I’ve quit trying to lead the church in any kind of human way because the opposition was too much and I couldn’t accomplish anything between opposition and apathy. But apparently that isn’t enough either, because much of the council really doesn’t want to listen when I speak from God’s Word either.

There was one kind of crying from the depths when it was my own soul that I was terrified for. Not that I pretend to be as concerned about the souls of those who fight me as I am about my own. If I were more concerned about them, undoubtedly things would be better.

However, I continually wrestle with anger because I am despised and opposed on a near constant basis.  I wrestle with anger because people essentially deny that I have been sent by God. Or they want to be agnostic about it, and about whether or not what I am preaching is God’s Word. I wrestle with self-recrimination for my anger with them and with the thought that I am probably a worse sinner than any of them. I struggle with fear whenever I had to do or say something that people don’t want to hear. I feel, at times, great anger that those who are supposed to help me are free to retain a comfortable distance and leave it an open question as to whether I have brought these troubles on myself by my own sins or whether I’m suffering as a servant of God. Like the guys who put a sponge up to Jesus’ lips and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”

And none of this turmoil is new; this has been the office I was called to since I began.  In fact, before I began.  The fight started when I was a vicar and my supervisor brought me in front of the elders to get screamed at because I didn’t understand how Christ’s blood was immediately gone when the individual cup empties were thrown into the trash—yet at the same time present from whatever time they were consecrated for shut-ins to whenever they were consumed.  (That’s a whole different post.)  You would almost think that if I had just played ball then—now—I’d be a good, caring, pastoral pastor.  And I have played ball more than I should have.  There have been other things I probably should have ended immediately.  If I was going to get hell the entire time I was a pastor anyway, I should have cleaned it all up right away, but I thought I was bearing with the weak.  But if all hell was going to break loose anyway, did it really help anyone?  Or did it just help the weak stay weak?

Despite all this, I still love the ministry. I have a certain pleasure in the pain also, because I know that God destroys my sin and foolishness with the cross. I’ve seen this happen. What kind of Gospel would it be if no suffering went with it? Did it cost Jesus anything to save me? Am I supposed to have the high privilege of being his minister and speaking His Word that rends the mountains and comforts the lost, and not taste anything of His cross?

Here has been my struggle for so much of the time I’ve been a pastor: not knowing where my sins end and someone else’s begin; feeling that I have no right to call upon God to defend me, vindicate me, lift up my head in front of those who accuse me and attack me…because quite frequently I think that my accusers may be right. They are certainly at least partly right.

Yet–have I not preached God’s Word? I know that I did not come to this congregation wanting to preach what would be popular with the world. I had some vague idea that I could preach the pure word of God and still be a “success” (in human terms), as seemed to be the case for some gifted pastors I knew. But now I realize that I didn’t see what they went through in private. And that even these men who were immensely talented and would have been successful in anything they had done—they couldn’t avoid times where their “success” vanished.

My intention was to preach the Word of God with no adulteration. That was my oath. I have made errors in my practice but no one has shown me where my preaching was in error.  No one has tried.  In fact almost no one has spoken to me in person about any problems they had. The Bibles are on the shelves, but no one dares open them, since apparently the Bible is clear enough to serve as a reliable guide when the Church is in turmoil.

Those who have opposed me most have been unwilling to show me where I have erred and they have also been unwilling to receive my ministry as God’s word and work.  Those who cause me trouble don’t know that that’s how they’re supposed to treat their pastor (unless he is a false teacher, in which case they are bound to remove him or leave the church).   And they don’t know because they won’t listen.  “To what shall this generation be compared?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace, calling out, “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance; we sang a dirge for you, but you did not weep.”

When I cry from the depths, it is not so much that I fear that I will be damned, but frequently that I am overwhelmed by the seemingly endless opposition in the church and the seemingly unceasing problems in private. I am buffeted. The buffeting is from Satan.

That seems arrogant to me on many days and to everyone else it seems grandiose every day. The majority of the congregation does not realize that there is anything momentous in having God’s pure word preached; heck, the majority of the congregation still, after 6 years of preaching, doesn’t believe that it matters much whether you get pure doctrine or “mostly pure” doctrine.  I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had suddenly become angry at me because I said Moody Radio is heretical, or Baptists are in error, etc.  I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise, but so often you start to think “They’re probably right.  Why can’t I just be more positive?”

Also, I don’t really realize what is going on most of the time; I see myself not as God says that I am, not according to what God says my ministry is, but as I know myself to be. So I fail to appreciate the mystery that I proclaim. I fail to recognize the unspeakably great power that is at work when I preach this doctrine in weakness and poverty, a miserable, rotting bag of corruption and reeking ungodliness.

What happens is: Christ the Lord comes and rescues me and other sinners from Satan, silences his lying mouth, fills our bodies with light, and proceeds to give us His body and blood which justify wicked men like me.  Christ the Lord speaks through my mouth the Word that scatters Satan and his darkness.  He absolves sinners and raises them from the dead through my mouth.

Because this is so, because Christ my Lord became a curse for me and commands me to believe it, I have the right to call upon God my Father and say, “Vindicate me O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly generation!” “Strike my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked!” “Let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause!” “For Your sake I have borne reproach all the day long!”

I don’t pray these things against the members of my congregation, but against my enemies. And I do not always know who my enemies are. The Lord knows. He knows what things are my fault. He also knows when I have suffered for His name, and when I have suffered out of my own foolishness.

I bring my cause to Him without fear. If He humbles me, this is good. Nothing is better for me than to be made into a miserable, wretched sinner, and to cling to Jesus only, the Savior of sinners. And if I have wronged them–whereever I have wronged them–nothing is better for me than to admit it and repent. May God forgive me and humble me in front of this congregation wherever it is necessary and seems best to Him! May I be truly humbled so that I may be exalted in truth one day, instead of in my own mind or in the flattery of others!

And may God grant that wherever I have preached His Word and been opposed and suffered for it, that those who have done it would see that they have fought against Jesus, and be ashamed, and have the joy of His salvation restored to them.

But I am pretty certain that those who have repaid me for preaching according to the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions by slandering me, opposing me in secret, trying to drive me out or throw me out, by receiving me not as a servant of Christ but as an employee who can be told what, when, where, and how long to preach and teach–I am pretty certain that they do not know what it is to cry out from the depths. How many of them have borne reproach for the word of God? If you don’t listen to it and don’t know it, how can you be reproached for it?

Lord, look at this and come take matters into your hand.  Fight against those who fight against me.  Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”  Those who will not repent but who continually oppose Your Word, expose them and let them be handed over to Satan. Lord, let Your Word overcome Your enemies. Let it overcome all in me that opposes you.  Save those who in weakness and ignorance resist Your Word..

Let Your Word not be withheld to please men. Let it be preached in fullness with power. Let Your Word silence Your enemies and let me abide with it. Let Satan not take Your Word away from Your little flock, particularly Your sheep that You have gathered who are weak but who crave pure spiritual milk so that they may grow up in salvation. If it is impossible for me to do it, send a more faithful servant and do not let these little ones be destroyed or harmed. If you do not dismiss me, help me to care for the little ones, and also for the wandering sheep, and also for the ones who in Your mercy You want to bear patiently and bring them to repentance.

Let me not be exhausted or overcome by accusation or anger. Let me carry out this ministry in Your power and not my own so that I will be able to be steady and endure. Show me when I have sinned and need to ask forgiveness from you and your royal priesthood. Teach me to stand boldly on Your Word and set an example of patient endurance so that the Church may be encouraged and may see the fearlessness you are able to give.

O Israel, hope in the Lord,

for with the Lord is abundant mercy,

and with Him is full redemption.

And He Himself will redeem Israel

from all his iniquities.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit

As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

O Lord Jesus, strengthen the brothers in the ministry so that they may take refuge in Your justification and Your wounds when Satan hounds them.   Teach all your people to stand fast against his slander.  Help us to be patient with one another and nurture the wounded, but to oppose and not coddle Satan when he comes with lies and murder. Amen.

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