Archive for November, 2014

Reading Ramblings – December 7, 2014

November 30, 2014

Date:  Second Sunday in Advent —December 7, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8


Context:  Our hope is in the goodness of God, and his victory through his plan of Salvation as described in his Word.  Advent’s emphasis on personal examination and preparation might lead us to despairingly focus on our sinfulness and unworthiness, but this is not the intent of Advent.  Rather, we are to focus more firmly still on the good promises of God, with no illusion that anything within us or of us is able to sustain and deliver us those promises.  Either God is faithful or we are lost. 

Isaiah 40:1-11 — The Word of God proclaims hope to his people, people suffering under the effects of sin, effects that include death and persecution and chastisement from God himself.  The voice proclaims the coming goodness of God, the anticipated arrival of his blessing in full (vs.1-2).  No obstacle will stand in his way (vs.3-5).  What is to be our focus?  What is to be our message?  Can it be anything other than the goodness of God which is eternal and unchanging, unlike our fickle, sinful and death-ridden lives?  How could we ever hope in ourselves?  How fragile we are, and how transitory (vs.6-8)!  As such, we must always focus on the unchanging promises of God.  These promises are sure, and not even our own deaths can remove us from them (vs.9-11).

Psalm 85 — What God has done in the past He will do in the future.  The hope of ages past is the hope still for today and tomorrow.  God is not a blank slate with us, but rather has revealed himself to us through his work in time and space and history and geography, so that our hope might be grounded in him, rather than our imaginations (vs.1-3).  Our hope is for restoration.  In the midst of suffering of any kind, in the midst of joy and blessing we look for restoration, completion that exceeds our own limited imaginations and is defined by God himself (vs.4-7).  If we doubt God’s intentions, we should listen to his Word.  His Word assures us of his intent and exhorts us to live out our hope each day (vs.8-9).  As we do this, we begin to see the fruition of his promises.  While these experiences will be limited compared to their fullness in the return of the Lord’s Messiah, we begin to see them here and now, meeting each other tentatively, as though for the first time (vs.10-11).  But the Lord’s promise is that these first fragile meetings of his blessings in our world and experience will endure forever.

2 Peter 3:8-14— We wait, and we wait badly and impatiently.  We wait and imagine in our minds the perfect timing for our Lord’s return and grow bitter when God does not cede to our plans.  Who is God?  Are we, that He should do our bidding and jump to our snapped fingers?  Or is it we who must learn the disciplines of patience and gratefulness and receive the gift of peace that settles our hearts and minds as we await his perfect timing?  God will fulfill his promises in his timing, for his glory.  When that happens there will be no doubting or mistaking his power or goodness.

Mark 1:1-8— Mark begins and ends his Gospel with a strong statement—that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the Son of God.  Though Mark’s Gospel will accentuate the ambiguity of Jesus’ words and actions, the confusion of the crowds, the disciples, and the religious establishment, all of this is to be understood and experienced in the faith and trust that Jesus is actually the promised Messiah and Son of God.  While his initial disciples were often confused in how to interpret Jesus, the miracle of the resurrection from the dead clarified and distilled their understanding so that you and I, hearers and readers of their words, might best understand him.

Scholars tend to treat the first eight verses of Mark as the first major section of Mark, dealing exclusively with things pertaining to Jesus, but not yet involving him directly.  Mark begins with two quotations from Scripture, only one of which is literally from the prophet Isaiah.  Verse 2 includes a reference perhaps to the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) of Exodus 23:20, or else Malachi 3:1.  Verse 3 then draws on Isaiah 40:3, this quote being illuminated by the quote from verse 2.

Now that Mark’s hearers/readers have been reminded of God’s Word and it’s promise, we meet the Elijah-figure of Malachi 4:5 in John the Baptist.  He looks and acts and sounds like the Old Testament prophet Elijah, though he is not Elijah reincarnated.  Rather, he carries on the prophetic work of Elijah in calling God’s people to covenant faithfulness and repentance.  To do so, John adds a new element—the element of baptism, something heretofore unknown in Jewish practice.  For John, baptism is the first step towards repentance, towards a fundamental change of heart and mind away from self-centered sinfulness and towards obedience to God.  He carries out his ministry along the Jordan River, a river thick with symbolic meaning and memory to the people of God as the way they were brought into the Promised Land under Joshua nearly 1500 years earlier.

John preaches from lesser to greater.  People have come to see and hear him, but his intent is to prepare them for someone even greater than himself (impressive considering the wide appeal he is described as having here).  John is not interested in self-promotion, but clearly sees his role as one of preparation of God’s people.  Does this mean that John consciously is aware that his is the prophesied role of Malachi 4:5?  It is clear that John does not completely understand the person and work of Jesus, or at least is prone to moments of doubt, as in Matthew 11:1-6.  It is also not necessary that John understand fully his own role or Jesus’.  John is faithful to his vocation as God has called him to it.  As with the prophets of old, it seems as though John is aware of the truth and meaning of his actions and words perhaps in a limited fashion.

The one who comes after is greater than John in power.  What John does partially, this one will do fully.  What John does somewhat symbolically with water, this one will do actually with the very Spirit of God.  As such, we can expect that the impact of this other one’s work will be more lasting than the work that John begins in his hearers, yet the two are related.  Without repentance and a broken heart, one cannot hear the good news of the Kingdom of God coming near.

We might consider our Advent preparations in this light.  The Word of God calls us to repentance, illuminates our need for salvation.  The Law convicts us that we are rightly to be declared guilty before a holy and perfect God.  In this state we can hear the Good News of Jesus, the forgiveness offered to us not on the basis of our good deeds, but rather because of the full and perfect obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.  This is where our hope is, this is the source of the life-giving Holy Spirit of God who enters and sets about doing fully what we could only attend to half-heartedly at best—becoming obedient sons and daughters of our Lord and King.

A Great Case

November 29, 2014

The first part of a great presentation that summarizes the powerful strength of the Biblical witness.  I hope to be studying with and under this man – and other equally great thinkers – next summer in France!

Set aside an hour and listen to this talk.  He clearly and concisely lays out the argument for the validity of Scripture as a testimony of Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure.  Great information to have stored away mentally if you encounter someone who thinks that the Bible is unreliable or otherwise to be ignored as a historical document.


November 28, 2014

We have our ideas about how things should be.  The tighter we hold to these ideas, generally, the more unhappy we are likely to become.  Sometimes those ideas are hard to shake.  Other times, when we let go of them, we find out that there are much better things waiting for us.

All of which pertains directly to Thanksgiving Day leftovers.  I love a good turkey & stuffing sandwich.  But those can get boring fast, as leftovers go.  Over the past couple of years we’ve developed a tradition of making an American version of a Vietnamese soup, pho.  I first had the Vietnamese version of this dish years and years ago back in Arizona when a friend took me to a great little Vietnamese place when I had a cold.  The soup was delicious.  It’s basically beef broth with rice noodles and a variety of meat bits cooked in the broth soas to be very tender.  You add bean sprouts, basil, mint, jalapenos, and a variety of sauces to flavor it the way you like, but it’s great just plain as well.

Now on Thanksgiving evening I clean off the remaining meat from the turkey bones, then throw the bones in a crockpot overnight covered in water.  They simmer for twelve hours or so and make the most fragrant turkey broth you can imagine.  This becomes the base for our turkey pho.

The problem is that most of our kids don’t really care for the traditional rice noodles.  Solution this year?  Make our own Italian-style noodles.  One of our recent international students, an Italian woman from Switzerland, taught us how to use the noodle cutter that has been unused but often ogled over the years in our kitchen.  The kids love doing this, so we put them to work.  We made the dough up in our KitchenAid, and after I kneaded it for a few minutes, the kids set to work pressing out the noodles and cutting them.

Turns out that they’re great in the pho, and we don’t have to listen to complaining from the kids about the rice noodles.  Our tradition has been skewed, but I suspect it’s slightly better for the skewing.  I pray your day-after-Thanksgiving was equally filled with good leftovers and memories!

Happy Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

Today is a busy day.  Family and friends to meet and greet.  Food to prepare.  Perhaps travel to accomplish before you can relax for a bit, or maybe not really relax, what with kids racing around and all the blessings and challenges of being with family and friends and food.  Perhaps some of you are already planning your shopping strategy for later this evening (really?!) or tomorrow.

But it’s good to remember that this holiday exists for a reason, a reason that was put to paper by a man embroiled in one of the worst crises in American history.  A man who could have been well-justified for bitterness and anger, for calling his supporters out to mock or demonize or belittle those who opposed their goals and agendas and platforms and methods.  He would have been justified for self-promotion and stirring the pot of national angst and agony to serve the interests of his own personal ambitions or the collective hopes of his party and constituents.

Instead, he chose to give thanks, and had the audacity to suggest that every single one of us has good reason to give thanks, regardless of the challenges and struggles of our particular situation.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Wet Bar Wednesday – Chocolate Cranberry

November 26, 2014

We aren’t hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, something I’m sad about but willing to work with because there are some good reasons to join with others this year.  Part of my preparation has been considering different Thanksgiving-themed drinks.

My initial thought was to infuse some vodka with fresh sage, and then combine this with pureed celery & onion for a sort of stuffing-style drink.  My wife wasn’t very enthusiastic about that so I decided that maybe it was a little too strange (though I’ll have to try it someday).  Instead, last night I combined 100% cranberry juice with Godiva’s chocolate vodka.  The vodka is sweet, the cranberry is quite tart, and you’ll need to adjust the ratio to reflect your preference on that sweet/tart spectrum.

  • 1 part unsweetened cranberry juice
  • 1 part Godiva Chocolate Vodka

Stir together and add ice (if so desired).  Enjoy!

Art Tuesday

November 25, 2014

I love the process whereby Scripture is translated into visual arts, and particularly the cultural crossovers and adaptations that take place just as the Gospel itself is translated linguistically.  An artist that I think is a beautiful example of this is Sadao Watanabe.  I first remember running across some of his work at the library during Seminary.  Tragically, I didn’t spend much time in the library and so I couldn’t appreciate the prints as often as I would have liked.

You can see some great examples of his traditional Japanese printmaking techniques just by Googling his name using Google’s image searching feature.

Get Thee to a Library

November 25, 2014

A great find – a first folio of Shakespeare’s works discovered in a small French library!


November 24, 2014

Change makes me itchy.

I suppose this is true for many people.  We like what we know.  We can plan and predict based on past experiences.  The familiar is comfortable, new and different is, well, uncomfortable.  Like a new set of clothes that you have to adjust to, the way the collar rubs against your neck in an unfamiliar or stiff way.  You know that within a short time the new clothes will not be so new, and they’ll be as comfortable as your old ones.  But those first few times wearing them are awkward.

We’re changing clothes at our church this Sunday.

Metaphorically speaking, of course.  We’re changing something that ought to be every bit as important as clothes, perhaps even more so – we’re changing hymnals.  If our congregation was not by and large so good-natured and easy-going I would be terrified.  As it is, I know there will undoubtedly be a few grumbles here and there, some fumbling, but otherwise, people will adapt.

But initially I’m the one who has to adapt.  The spreadsheet I maintain to map out what songs we’ve sung and when has to be set aside, and a new spreadsheet created with the new hymnal hymns and numbering.  The web site I’ve relied on to help me determine if the tune is familiar enough to warrant singing the hymn has to be set aside and I have to find out if there’s a site that does the same thing for this new hymnal (The Lutheran Service Book, or LSB).

So this week is itchy and uncomfortable.  But I look forward to this hymnal becoming as comfortable and familiar as the various other ones I’ve used and led from through the years.  Sola Dei Gloria!

Reading Ramblings – November 30, 2014

November 23, 2014

Date:  First Sunday in Advent —November 30, 2014

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

Context:  The Church year begins with the season of Advent, a season of expectation, anticipation, reflection, and preparation. This dovetails well with the conclusion of the last few weeks of the last Church year in looking forward to our Lord’s return. We begin the year as we end it, waiting.  However what we wait for is different.  We do not wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise to his Old Testament people—we have already received that in Jesus Christ.  Now, we live and wait as people who have received those promises in full, but who wait only for the appointed time when this is obvious to everyone—including ourselves.

Isaiah 64:1-9 — Following Isaiah 63, which begins with a vivid depiction of the Lord coming in anger, transitioning to a recounting of the Lord’s history with his people, Isaiah 64 begins with longing for the Lord’s arrival, for him to come in power as He did in days of old. The first two verses assert that the Lord’s presence and power have natural ramifications, every bit as much as fire will light twigs and boil water. The presence of the Lord will cause creation to tremble and the nations to shake in fear. Verse 3 asserts that this is what happened in the past, transitioning to the current situation in verse 4 – God has seemed distant since those amazing days of the past. God’s nature doesn’t change (v.5), but his people have not been so consistent (vs.5b-7). The section ends with a plea for God’s mercy, for his steadfast love to win out over his short-term anger and chastisement.

Psalm 80:1-7— Verse 1 addresses God, describing him poetically as the one who dwells in glory over the Ark of the Covenant with it’s mercy seat of hammered gold in the shape of two cherubim bent over with their wings nearly touching. It is this God that is implored to move on behalf of his people, to save and restore them. God is unhappy with his people (v.4-6), but the writer appeals to God’s overwhelming character of love and goodness as the one source of salvation.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 — The theme of expectation in the last two readings extends now into the era of the Church. God has fulfilled his Old Testament promises, and in Christ we have received all things. There is nothing left to anticipate beyond his return. Here, everything has been received already – grace in Jesus Christ (v.4), enrichment in every way (v.5), confirmed testimony (v.6), spiritual gifts already received (v.7), the promise of faithfulness to the end (v.8). These are things already received, not anticipated. All that remains is for the reality of these gifts to be fully revealed and experienced in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (v.8). This is how we wait – not as paupers with nothing to show for our hope, but heirs in Christ already embellished with the gifts of God, and simply awaiting the day that what we already know to be true is fully and finally evident.

Mark 13:24-37 — In response to his disciples’ questions (13:4), Jesus prophesies about the things to come, both in the near term with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (vs.9-23), as well as those things associated with the Last Days (vs.5-8, 24-27).   The destruction of the Temple, the prophecy of which prompted the disciples inquiries, is associated with shorter-term historical events that will indeed happen before the current generation is gone (v.30).  The other events are not given a specific time-frame, and in fact are repeatedly implied to happen in the future.

Which naturally prompts many people to want to decipher Jesus’ words in order to know better when the End Times will arrive.  But Jesus is smarter than that.  His warnings describe the issues of his day perfectly as well as the issues of our own day. In other words, the time is right at hand, even as Jesus speaks. It has remained right at hand for 2000 years. Which leaves us in a posture of waiting without any certainty that the end is about to arrive.   Jesus addresses this directly in vs.32-37.

Whenever we would turn our attention too deeply to speculating on the exact day and hour, Jesus’ words in vs.33-36 call us back and to the proper emphasis – being watchful and ready. Jesus summarizes the law as love your God and love your neighbor. This is the business of those who wait and watch. We are not idle, but rather we are more than busy loving God through loving our neighbor. Whether Jesus comes this afternoon or in 1000 years makes no difference or change to what his people are called to do in watchful waiting.

We ended the Church year waiting and we begin the Church year waiting.  It is to be the consistent posture of our lives, in light of which we make our daily decisions and our plans for the future.  Everything is conditioned by the reality that Jesus will return at any moment, and yet that moment may not be until long after we have died and gone to wait with him in glory.

My hopes and fears and goals are conditioned by this expectation.  My joys are accented with this knowledge; they become foreshadowings of that greater promised joy.  My sufferings are tempered with this knowledge—Jesus is coming.  All will be set right.  Whatever persecution or affliction I must deal with, I deal with temporarily.  It will not last forever.  It does not have the last word.  The last Word is also the first Word, the Son of God made flesh for me, Jesus the Messiah.  His victory is already assured.  His resurrection is the proof of this.  I have only to lift my eyes to wait and watch and see this truth revealed, His vindication complete, and therefore my vindication complete.

Who Do You Trust?

November 20, 2014

Two interesting articles – the first more interesting than the second.

The Catholic Church in Kenya is alleging that a UN-sponsored tetanus vaccination program is also a cover for delivering sterilization hormones to unsuspecting women and girls.  Not surprisingly, the UN is denying it and now the government of Kenya is calling for an independent investigation – something that the Catholic Church has asked for repeatedly but been denied.

It seems like a typical case of he-said/she-said, however the irregularities of this particular vaccine, as noted in the first article, are very interesting indeed.