The Catechism Teaches

The book I’ve been using this month for my daily devotional time (Be Thou My Vision by Jonathan Gibson–Book Review) includes a reading each day from one of the Reformed catechisms. I’m finding that to be a good exercise, and one that I would recommend to others. I had my husband (a Lutheran pastor) write an article about the why the catechism is important for teaching us the basics of the faith. It follows below.

A major concern for Luther and other Reformers was the level of ignorance about the basics of the Christian faith amongst lay people. This led to a number of different catechisms throughout the newly established Protestant churches. Luther published his Small Catechism in 1529. It was meant for use in the home where the father would teach his family and servants the fundamentals of the 10 Commandments, the Sacraments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Office of the Keys and the Apostle’s Creed. There was a short explanation of each of these topics.

Luther also wrote a Large Catechism which expands the teaching on the fundamentals and was intended for use by pastors and more educated adults. Both the Large and Small Catechisms are included in the Book of Concord, the Lutheran confessional documents.

Over the years the Small Catechism became the basis for confirmation studies and Luther’s goal of having it taught in the home fell into general disuse. This change led theologians to add more detail to the explanations as a teaching vehicle.

The Catechism itself spurred governments to expand free education so their people could read and understand them. In the 18th century the Danish/Norwegian king asked Erik Pontoppidan to write a detailed explanation of the Catechism which was then used as part of the public education in that realm. Pontoppidan’s work remains the basis for newer issues of the Catechism to this day.

P.S.(a note from Joan) In case you are interested in the origin of words, as I am (probably another English major trait), it comes from a Greek word, which simply means to teach or instruct, especially in a face-to-face manner.

For more about the Reformation see these posts:

How the Reformation Changed the Environment

The Importance of The Reformation

A Book of Questions — Luther’s Catechism

The Word Teaches

Of course, the best teacher, aside from Jesus Himself, is the Bible, the Word of God. In Isaiah, we read:

so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

That means if we’re serious about being teachable Christians, we should be reading the Scriptures regularly, if not daily. When we read, it’s helpful to use a commentary or a study Bible that can put the Word into the proper historical context, explain what those words would have meant to the original hearers, link the words to other references in the Bible, and so on. Of course, you also need to make sure the commentary you are using is a good one. Ask your pastor for suggestions,or check out what is available at Concordia Publishing (, a safe source for Lutherans.

In addition, read slowly and carefully. Think about what stands out for you, and how it may apply to your own life. Bible study is not only about book learning, being able to spew out facts and information — it’s about allowing it to transform our lives.

Currently I’ve been using a tool called The M’Cheyne Reading Plan. It was developed by a 19th Century Scottish minister, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, (sometimes spelled McCheyne) who lived from 1813-1843. It takesreaders through the New Testament and Psalms twice a year, and through the rest of the Bible once each year. There are approximately 4 chapters per day in this plan. If you would like to give it a try, you can download a copy from this site:

Tomorrow, I’ll be posting more about what the Word has been teaching me. Stay tuned!

For more about Bible study see:

The Greatest Bible Study

The CSB Worldview Study Bible

Study Resources for Ladies

Prayer for a Teachable Spirit

Divine Spirit, illumine to me the words of the Lord. Show me the wealth of glory that lies beneath the old familiar stories.

Teach me the depths of meaning hidden in the songs of Zion. Raise me to the heights of aspiration that is reached by the wings of the prophet.

Lift me to the summit of faith that is trod by the feet of the apostle. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. Amen.

George Matheson (27 March 1842 – 28 August 1906) a Scottish minister, hymn writer and author).

For more prayers see these posts:

Martin Luther’s Prayer about the Word

Prayer to the Holy Spirit #2

A Prayer to be part of Christ’s Victory

Martin Luther on False Teachers

When the devil sees that he cannot hurt the cause of the Gospel by destructive methods, he does it under the guise of correcting and advancing the cause of the Gospel. He would like best of all to persecute us with fire and sword, but this method has availed him little because through the blood of martyrs the church has been watered. Unable to prevail by force, he engages wicked and ungodly teachers who at first make common cause with us, then claim that they are particularly called to teach the hidden mysteries of the Scriptures to superimpose upon the first principles of Christian doctrine that we teach. This sort of thing brings the Gospel into trouble. May we all cling to the Word of Christ against the wiles of the devil, “for we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

Martin Luther

For more quotes by Martin Luther see:

Martin Luther on God’s Word

Martin Luther on Sin

Martin Luther Quote #2 on Facing Challenges

Teaching Myself

This year at Christmas a friend of our daughter gave us a little sign as a gift — it says “Be Kind.” Then another friend wrote us a New Year’s letter in which she suggested that we all make 2022 the year of “being kind.” Maybe that’s a coincidence, or maybe it’s what I’ve learned to call a godcidence — something God is trying to tell me. At any rate, I’ve decided it’s a great idea and so this year I’m going to make a special effort to be kind.

I like to think of myself as a kind person already, and I guess in many cases I am. However, like everyone, I have my prickly points — the things that push my buttons, that cause me to react in ways that are grumpy, irritable and yes — unkind. Here are a few of them:

  1. If I don’t sleep well — which has become a rather frequent, “age-related” problem, I can become easily impatient with my family (and just about anyone else with whom I interact).
  2. I’m a generally impatient person. I don’t wait well, and I can get feisty with others who lack my concern about punctuality.
  3. I have high standards for customer service (having worked for years in a job that demanded interaction with others) and am prone to being grouchy with anyone who doesn’t meet my expectations in that regard.
  4. I have trouble being truly generous with others (isn’t this part of kindness?) because I tend to be a worrier and that makes me want to conserve my time, talents and money, in case I am in need (guess what, being unselfish is part of kindness, too).

I’m sure I can think of other situations at well, but this is a starter. I’m going to be aware of my failings and try to behave differently– more understanding, less critical. I’m going to pray to be changed. I’m going to try teaching myself, with the help of God, to have a better, kinder attitude. What about you? What will you work on teaching yourself this year?

For more posts about kindess see:

Dare to be Kind by Lizzie Velasquez–Book Review

A Kind Word

The Kindness Crown

Teaching by Example, part 2

My grandfather was a great influence on my life. I recall going shopping with him one Saturday. As he parked the car in a tight space, he bumped into the car in front of his, making a slight dent. He left a note with him phone number and a promise to pay for any damage. He could have just driven away, but he told me that wouldn’t be right. He also owned a small grocery store and gas station where he allowed regular customers to charge their purchases and pay him on payday. He cared for his elderly mother, always giving her a gift of cash on her birthday or other special occasions–he said she never had any money of her own when he was growing up. When I was a teenager, he often treated me and other young family members to a free tank of gas when we stopped by. His actions taught me to value honesty, generosity, respect for my parents, and concern for other people. He didn’t lecture me about those things or turn them into strict rules I had to obey. He just lived in a way that inspired my admiration. I wanted to become the kind of person he was.

My own children are grown now, but I have been blessed to see some similar results in my life as a parent. When our daughter, Kate, was a teen, another parent commented on how polite she was.

“You must be a very strict disciplinarian” she said.

My reply was, “No, I just reat her with courtesy and respect, and assume she will treat others in the same way.”

Another time, my daughter, Beth, was complimented on being a good listener, and very thoughtful.

“I get that from my mom” she answered.

I’m not trying to blow my own horn, because I’ve also failed any number of times. Often my children were the ones who called me out when this happened! For example, I once advised one of my daughters to avoid a person who had hurt her.

“But mom,” she said, “doesn’t the Bible say we are to forgive severnty times seven?”

Whoops! Thankfully admitting our sins and asking for forgiveness is also something our children need to see and imitate. My point is this: for better or worse, our children will be influenced by the way we live. So, think about it. If you have your own children–or children with whom you regularly interact–what is your life teaching them?

For more about parenthood see these posts:

Modern Parents Vintage Values by Sissy Goff and Melissa Trevathan–Book Review

Change, Loss and Faith

eat, sleep, save the World by Jamie Sumner–Book Review

Teaching By Example

I recently wrote this article for the AFLC magazine, The Ambassador. It appeared in the January issue.

Years ago when my children were youngster, I read quite a few books about parenting, where I found all sorts of helpful advice. Here’s one insight I’ve never forgotten: children learn in three ways–by example, by example, and by example. Of course, that’s an oversimplification, but it draws attention to an important truth–our core values, our traditions, even our behavior, are more often “caught” than “taught.”

How do we do this? Of course, regularly going to church, Sunday school and Bible study are important. We need to learn the basics of the faith so that we understand what we believe and why. But this kind of knowledge is not enough. Polling expert George Barna reports that only 20 percent of those who attend evangelical Protestant churches have a biblical worldview. In other words, sitting in the pew doesn’t make you a practicing Christian any more than sitting in the garage makes you a car. The Bible warns that our faith is more than just intellectual assent to a set of doctrines. True faith results in Christian action.

The Apostle John wrote,

“Dear children, let us not love one another with words or speech, but in actions and in truth.”(1 John 3:18, emphasis mine)

And James echoed:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith, but has not deeds? (James 2:14, emphasis mine)

As Lutherans, we know that we are not saved by our works, but these verses make it clear that Christian behavior will be evident in the life of a believer. What I’m describing here is the process of sanctification, and it is a process. It doesn’t happen automatically when we are baptized, or join a church, or complete confirmation classes. It’s a lifelong commitment to being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ. If we mode this, our children will notice and remember it for the rest of their lives.

To be continued ….

For more on sanctification see these posts:

Trust God’s Process

Keep in Step with the Spirit

Everyday Faithfulness by Glenna Marshall — Book Review

Music Teaches, last installment

Music has a great impact on the lives of people all over the world. I am unaware of any culture, ancient or modern, that knew nothing of music. But we ought not forget as we ponder the music in our worship lives, that the notes are really the vehicle which carry the words of the hymn, as it were. It is the lyrics the edify, animate, encourage, and prepare us for eternity. “A Mighty Fortress” is musically powerful, but it is the lyrics that inspire us. The tune of “Rock of Ages” is, at least in my opinion, far less worthy that the words which teach us of our inability to contribute anything to our salvation and yet share the gospel promise that Christ has done it all for us.

When people claim that hymns are obsolete or too old fashioned for today’s world, I feel a sense of sadness because they are missing the teaching that comes with hose hymns. There are reasons why words written hundreds of years ago still move and teach us. Using them in the family will help us retain what God has inspired for His Church.

For mor hymns see:

An Advent Hymn

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus

Children of the Heavenly Father

Music Teaches, continued

Martin Luther was not only a lover of music, but a gifted writer of hymns and musical accompaniment. The German Mass he prepared for the new evangelical churches included hymnody by the congregation –something rarely used in Medieval Catholic churches. Luther believed that the recovery of hymnody was a teaching tool in which the power of the music and the words together would reinforce the teaching from the pulpit. Luther also urged parents to use hymns during their home devotions, and encouraged the use of hymns in schools, as well.

When our children were young, my wife, Joan, and I would include Christian songs in our devotions or time around the table. “Jesus Loves the Little Children” “Rise and Shine,” and others were among those we sang together, as well as Christmas carols during Advent. Sometimes we allowed the girls to choose the hymn for the day.

Once, as my wife was driving the girls somewhere, they were singing “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb.” Kate, our youngest said, “Some kids don’t know they are Jesus’ little lamb.” She felt sorry for those other children because she knew something they didn’t–something really important that everyone should know. That comment led my wife to begin a five-year practice of writing the Vacation Bible School programs for our congregation. That was a successful ministry that began with singing hymns as a family.

More to come ….

For more about Martin Luther and music see:

Martin Luther on Music #2

Why We Should Give Thanks for Music (according to Martin Luther)

Martin Luther on Music

Music Teaches

This article was written by my husband, and previously published in The Lutheran Ambassador, the magazine of the Association of Free Lutheran Churches, our denomination.

I once met a man who told me he was totally tone deaf. He said that music was, to him, nothing but noise. I felt really sorry for him because he was missing so very much beauty and joy in his life. Think what it would be like to never hear music as anything but an irritating intrusion into your day!

Most people love music and find it easy to remember tunes and words they hear many years ago. That’s why “oldies” radio stations are so popular. Even if they play a song we have not heard for years, the words will come back to us–although the lyrics might be relatively meaningless, like many of the songs from my long ago youth.

I wish that I could say I always loved hymns, but that would be untrue. When I was a teenager, I generally found them boring and seldom paid much attention to what they had to teach me. It’s surprising, then, that sometimes in life when I have dealt with difficulties or felt happy about something, those old hymns from my childhood would pop into my head. They are not necessarily the songs we sing in worship today, nor are they necessarily favorites, but they are there in the back of my mind and they still teach the gospel to me, even now when I am long removed from the church of my youth.

More tomorrow ….

For more about music see:

Music as Prayer

Music as a Dynamic

Music that Takes You Back