Archive for July, 2015

Boy Scouts and Stuff

July 31, 2015

As was news to me, the Boy Scouts of America recently revised their guidelines regarding whether or not adult leaders in the organization could be homosexuals.  If this is something that you or your congregation are involved with in one way or another here is an official statement from my polity on the issue.

I attempted to access an official statement on the issue on the Boy Scout web site, but while there was a banner link to the story, clicking on the banner/link did not bring up the statement.

Thoughts?  Seems like the whole line of being part of our larger community as Christian congregations keeps getting fuzzier and fuzzier.

Safe and Sound

July 30, 2015

We are safely returned from a month-long continental sojourn.  I plan to begin posting some pieces summarizing key aspects of the Academy that I attended.  Thanks for your patience with sporadic posting over the last week or two.  I’m excited to be back and planning for the future!

Battlestar Galactijeep

July 21, 2015

Until Netflix pulled the series a while back, we were enjoying catching up on the recent revision of the classic television series, Battlestar Galactica.  One of the premises of the show was that the titular spaceship, Galactica, was protected to a certain degree from hacking by enemy Cylons because all of the different systems on the ship were separated from each other.  There was no central computer network running everything.  While this was often cumbersome, it also protected the spaceship from hacking attempts that crippled and destroyed other starships with integrated systems.  A certain lack of convenience was the price to pay for greater safety.

Which is what immediately came to mind upon reading this Wired article.  I love Jeeps.  At least I used to.  The newer models don’t thrill me as much as they aren’t very distinct from other SUVs any longer.  Oh, yeah – and they can be hacked from long distance to give someone else dangerous control over the A/C system, the radio, the transmission, the brakes,and pretty much ever critical part of the vehicle, because all of those systems are connected and integrated and the entertainment system has an active wireless connection to the Internet.

I’m not a fan of increased computerization in vehicles, particularly Internet-enabled computerization, and this is why.  It’s hard to believe that nobody in development stopped to consider that someone would want to hack their vehicle, and would inevitably be successful.  If you have a new Jeep, better stop at your dealer to get that security patch installed, pronto!

Polite Polity

July 20, 2015

Meanwhile, in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, this.


Reading Ramblings – July 26, 2015

July 19, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2015

Texts: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 136:1-9; Ephesians 3:14-21; Mark 6:45-56

Context: God’s promises can be trusted.  He has a long track record of fulfilling his promises even when his creation does not deserve such goodness and love.  While God may not always act on our timetable, or the ways in which we would like him to, we can take heart that his promise of love and forgiveness and hope for eternity are fulfilled in the empty tomb of his incarnate Son, Jesus of Nazareth.

Genesis 9:8-17 – The rainbow has been hijacked as a symbol. Here we have the origin of the rainbow, and it has nothing to do with diversity or anything centered in what we want or like or think is proper. Rather, the rainbow is a sign from God. Specifically a sign from God and for God, to remind him that when the waters pour upon the earth, He has promised not to let them become an all-encompassing flood that destroys all life. Evil persists in mankind – the first flood did not destroy it nor was it intended to. Such evil persists in us that we may be inclined to suspect that God will put an end to us unilaterally, but He has promised not to. Grace persists in the face of our continued evil and rebellion. Judgment is deferred until the time appointed by God. But we are to look to the heavens for God’s sign of grace, as a reminder of his power and love and promise.

Psalm 136:1-9 – The opening section of this psalm calls us to give thanks to God based on his steadfast love that endures forever, as manifest in various acts of creation and identity. God is good, He is the God over all other so-called gods and Lord over all other so-called lords. How do we know that this is his identity? Because God is the creator of all things. The heavens and the earth and everything in them. As throughout the Old Testament, this is the proof of who is or is not God. If you created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, you’re God. If you haven’t, you aren’t god and need to comport yourself accordingly. In this case, that means to give thanks and glory and praise to God.

Ephesians 3:14-21 – Paul is in specific prayer for the Ephesians (v.1). He wants them to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit (v.16), so that they might remain firmly in faith in Jesus Christ (v.17), which will root and ground them in love (v.17), so that they might have the strength to comprehend the vastness of God’s love for them, and to know the love of Jesus Christ which provides the fullness of God. Paul then concludes with a hymn of praise to the God that he is praying to on behalf of the Ephesians, because this God is capable of doing far more than the simple things we ask for. It is this God that has given us his Son, the incarnate Son of God Jesus the Messiah, who has atoned for our sin and given us hope and joy and peace with God the Father through faith in God the Son as created by God the Holy Spirit. You and I pray for many things and rightly so, but we should always pray in the realization that God has already given us immeasurably more than we could ever think to ask for.

Mark 6:45-56 – Once again the disciples encounter drama on the Sea of Galilee, just as they did back in Mark 4. Once again it is Jesus that provides them with protection via his presence. But here Jesus does not begin the trip with them. Seeking some personal prayer time Jesus sends the disciples ahead of him over the Sea of Galilee, so that when He concludes his prayers late in the night/early morning the disciples are out on the sea and having troubles. This time the wind is against them but we aren’t told anything else. This might be why Jesus at first is going to pass them by – they aren’t in jeopardy as they were in Mark 4, they’re just being slowed down. Perhaps He intended to suprise them by already being on land by the time they made shore.

But that plan is changed when the disciples see him and cry out in fear. Jesus is walking on the water so it isn’t a far-fetched conclusion to assume that He is a ghost or other non-corporeal apparition. After all, mere mortals do not walk on water! If the disciples were not terribly alarmed at their slow rate of progress, they are alarmed at seeing a ghost! So it is that Jesus changes course to intercept the boat. He calms them down with his words, but doesn’t need to say anything this time to the wind for the wind to calm and allow them to continue at a more suitable pace. We are told that the disciples are astounded, which is different than the terror they have in Mark 4:41. This time they are not afraid, but neither do they understand. Mark links this to their failure to comprehend what it meant that Jesus had fed thousands of people that day with just a few loaves of bread. Instead, their hearts are hardened, and the implication is that they have hardened their own hearts. They don’t simply lack understanding, they refuse to understand, refuse to connect the dots that would enable them to understand who Jesus is.

Refusal to see Jesus for who He is would be a dangerous situation to be in. We might recall a certain Egyptian pharaoh who also hardened his heart against the signs of God’s presence, to devastating effect. But Jesus does not smite or punish or even speak harshly to his disciples. Despite their refusal to believe or to understand, Jesus meets them with grace and peace.

We don’t often hear about the disciples asking Jesus for anything. But the crowds have no such reticense. They likely don’t understand Jesus to be the Messiah, but they understand that, at the very least, He is a healer. They come from far and wide to encounter Jesus and to receive his healing power. They do not refuse to see him for at least the healer that He is, while the disciples won’t even allow themselves to connect that many dots.

Noah and his family likewise depart the ark likely no wiser than when they entered. It doesn’t take long for Noah to be drunk and naked and his son to be mocking him to his brothers. Sin remains engraved in our hearts. But God grants Noah and his family grace, just as Jesus grants his disciples grace. The water that destroyed the earth and likely terrified Noah and his family remains a terror to Jesus’ disciples and to us today as we encounter great lakes or rivers or oceans and are quickly reminded of our insignificance in the face of such power.

We should have that sort of awe and reverence for God as well! Yet we can also approach him in confidence and love, not only because of God’s promise to Noah and the rainbow in the sky, but also because of God’s promise to Eve fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God who comes to crush the serpent’s head and to endure the serpent’s fangs and poison. Jesus’ victory over death in the empty Easter tomb allows us to come to God the Father in awe and reverence but also love and confidence and joy, knowing that He fulfills his promises to his creation, and that includes us.


July 19, 2015

Walking around Paris, it’s easy to reflect on how new America is in comparison to parts of this ancient city.  We anticipate later this week viewing some of the ruins of Roman buildings a stone’s throw from Notre Dame that date back to before the birth of Christ.  That’s a lot of history in a small area, something we can’t match in the States.

But what struck me most is the nature of some of the history.  On the high-speed train journey from Strasbourg to Paris we mused about the horrors that Europe has endured.  Passing quaint little towns nestled in the rural clefts of hills it is hard to believe that just 70 years ago or so that land was enemy occupied.  Bizarre to realize that the enemy is the economic partner Germany, and the border between these two countries is virtually invisible.  No papers to check.  No documents to produce.  Stranger still to think that these two countries have been in various wars with one another for centuries, yet now we live in a brief era of peace that seems so natural as to conceive of yet another war as a virtual impossibility.

Walking towards the backside of Notre Dame we found the Memorial des Martyrs de le Deportation.  An unassuming area at the eastern tip of Ile de la Cite, it is dedicated to the 200,000 French who were deported by the Nazis during World War II and died.  A mile or so to the north, on an otherwise unassuming concrete wall, was a plaque commemorating the fact that 11,000 children – many under the age of three years – were deported with the complicity of the Vichy French government (there is a picture of the plaque we saw here, but you have to scroll down this sports teams’ page to see it [in French]).

Seventy years ago, and yet the French now live peacefully with the Germans, exchanging economic and political benefits as well as tourists.  It’s hard for me to comprehend.  It has been one hundred and fifty years since the closest event in our history – the Civil War.  Yet in some ways we’re still bitter with one another, those scars still only scabbed over rather than healed.

Here in Europe, because of a simple change of political leadership, a force was unleashed which devastated the continent.  A force that systematically rounded up and murdered millions of people because they were different, because they didn’t agree with leadership positions.  Governments murdered their own citizens.  People who had lived for generations were suddenly uprooted, the enemy, disposable, deprived of their humanity and then their lives.  Neighbors with grudges exacted their revenge as informants.

As Americans we tend to think of all this as something that happened over there.  We came, we fought, we kicked ass, we went home.  We are by and large oblivious to the fact that it could happen here.  We are too busy with our comfortable lives, and so disenchanted by the options available to us, to pay much attention to politics.  Yet 80 years ago or so a man legally and publicly elected to office unleashed upon his own people and two continents a bloodletting of epic proportions.  Other changes of power, perhaps less legal, but more devastating, have ravished the former Soviet Union and China and Cambodia and any number of other places.

If we believe it can’t happen here, we are blind to the signs of such a thing building.  Blind because it has always been someone else, somewhere else.  Blind because we have always considered ourselves the cavalry that rides in to save the day, rather than the damsel bound to the railroad track in need of saving.  We don’t have the cultural or historical metaphors to warn us if, or more likely when, we begin down a road that leads to self-destruction.

Here  there are reminders everywhere.  Plaques.  Memorials.  American flags on the tops of hills in the middle of nowhere, grateful reminders and salutes to the foreign troops that, once upon a time, gave their lives to free the lives of the French.  Everywhere there are reminders of the depths of the depravity that lurks in each human heart.  And this continent’s recorded history – much older and deeper than our own – says that even such memorials have not been and will not be enough to prevent something similar from happening again.

It is an unfortunate reality that it is far easier to give one’s time and money to building and visiting somber memorials to the atrocities of human history than it is to live our lives so that such memorials will not be necessary.

Open the Church

July 19, 2015

Today is the first Sunday that I haven’t been in church since embarking on this adventure.

The first Sunday we attended an ELCA-equivalent church with our German friends in Ulm.  I couldn’t understand a word of it but they were relatively liturgical so I could somewhat track the flow of the service.  Last Sunday I visited the Anglican chaplaincy near the University of Strasbourg.  But I already told you about that.

Today we are in Paris.  I’ll begin by admitting that getting to church today was not a priority, and I don’t feel bad saying that.  And neither should you – upon rare occasion.  Church is a blessing of God, not a law.  Sometimes it’s OK to take a day off.  I won’t yell at you.  Just don’t let the one Sunday become two, and then three, and then however many.  Don’t do it too often or you begin to forget the many gifts that God gives you in Word and Sacrament ministry.

But every now and then, by all means, skip.

We talked about trying to find a Lutheran church in the area last night but were both exhausted from two weeks with many wonderful people.  So it was that, to quote the Beatles, “there were bells on a hill but I never heard them ringing”.  Not until rather late in the morning at least.

So upon gathering enough senses I decided to investigate what Lutheran churches there were in Paris.  I won’t ask you to venture a guess.

Zero.  None.  Zilch.  At least according to Google maps.  There is a Trinity Lutheran Church in southern Paris but it isn’t Lutheran, it’s ecumenical with a Baptist preacher.  In all of France I could only find listings for a total of three Lutheran churches, and I didn’t bother to check if the other two – in the same town on the German border – were actually Lutheran or not.

Perhaps there is a group of churches that we are in association with, but if so, they don’t describe themselves as Lutheran.  Hard to believe that we could have so little presence in someplace so close to where the Reformation began.  Comparatively speaking, at least.  I’m all for the mission efforts of our polity (though don’t get me started on what I think of their current mechanisms for this), but I hope that someday we come back to the Continent, missionally speaking.

Fin – Part 2

July 18, 2015

This morning I completed the examination component of the coursework I’ve taken over the past two weeks.  It was an essay examination.  We were given nine questions to write on, and we had to choose six.  The questions ranged the gamut of the coursework and reading material.  Hopefully I will score well enough to merit three credit hours of graduate-level credit.  Might come in handy if I ever proceed with a second Masters.

In a few hours we leave Strasbourg and head to Paris.  I’ve lived in Strasbourg for a couple of weeks now, almost.  It’s amazing how adaptive humans are.  Adapting to a new place and a different culture, surviving in the midst of a different language and different customs.  Learning where to buy food, where to wash clothes.  The basics of reality don’t change.  Vacation is often glamorized as an escape from the tedium of routine, but perhaps that’s more true if one can afford the luxury of doing away with routine all-together.

The next week and a half will be a lot different in terms of people and focus as well.  I’ve been with other people non-stop since leaving on July 1.  97% of the time was spent with people other than my wife.  While meeting new people and being with long-time friends and family is good, there’s a great need at this point to be away from all of that, all of them.  I won’t have the academic focus that I’ve had for the past couple of weeks.  I told my Elders that this was my continuing education for the year and I wasn’t lying – it has taken a lot of energy to attend this Academy.  Months of reading in advance preparation, the mental stamina to keep up with some very intelligent people.  It has definitely been work, even if work in a more exotic locale than normal!

This next week will hopefully be more relaxed, a time to just be.  We don’t have strong ideas and goals for our time in Paris.  Recuperating from our respective journey thus far is paramount.  I’m sure we’ll see plenty of things along the way, but we prefer to, as much as possible, just be in someplace different.  To learn how to get by.  To watch people living their lives and recognize that while locations and history and language and culture may change, people are essentially people.  We all need to accomplish the same basic things to thrive and survive.  It isn’t possible to escape these things fully, only to divert the effort involved to other people, or modify it and change it into forms we aren’t used to.

The streets and shops I’ve grown to know so well in the past two weeks will be forgotten within a few months or years, unless there are particular reasons to recall them and embed them more firmly into memory.  Hopefully I’ll remember the evening spent in a hot apartment eating cheese and pizza and potato chips, drinking an Italian wine in France with in Italian woman who is a Swiss citizen, my wife who is an American born in New Guinea, and a French-Brazilian woman who grew up mostly in Africa.  Hopefully I’ll remember laughing together as we sought to communicate without always having the right words and language.

Hopefully I’ll remember talking with a young woman struggling as her world-view was challenged, trying to come to grips with views and ideas antithetical to what she had been taught and personally experienced.  Trying to cling tight to the promises of God despite the fact that culture less and less conformed to the ideas of Scripture.

Hopefully I’ll remember lunching with a pastor from Jamaica, trading witticisms with a lawyer from Kuala Lumpur.  Enjoying tarte flambe and wine with an opinionated woman from Florida.  Places and views and history all tend to fade away, in the end, and what I remember most are the things that seem so insignificant, that might happen anywhere, but happened only because for two weeks I was here and not at home.

I am profoundly humbled at the opportunities I’ve been given.  I pray to be a good steward of them as I move on to a time of rest and relaxation in the City of Lights.

Book Review: Tractatus Logico-Theologicus

July 18, 2015

Tractatus Logico Theologicus

by Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, Wipf & Stock Publishers 2013

If you had to get just one book by Dr. Montgomery on the topic of evidential apologetics, this should be it.  Not that this is easy reading, mind you.  It isn’t.  But it is the distillation of what he has written across dozens of books and multiple decades.  It is concise and specific, and not entirely without humor.

I’ve not read Ludwig Wittgenstein, but perhaps I should.  Montgomery has ordered this book after Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Philosophus, and obviously has a great deal of respect for the man’s philosophical contributions.  Montgomery, in 200 pages, attempts to rationalize why Biblical Christianity is the one true religion.  He organizes his argument into seven major theses:

  1. The characteristic most fully shared by the religions of the world is their incompatibility with each other.
  2. To determine which religious position, if any, is worthy of credence requires serious attention to Pilate’s question:  What is truth?
  3. Historical, jurisprudential, and scientific standards of evidence offer the touchstone for resolving the religious predicament by establishing the truth claims of Christian proclamation.
  4. The historical validation of the Christian faith yields an inerrant, perspicuous and univocal written revelation.
  5. The perennial dilemma of man (corporate and personal) as to the meaning of existence finds its resolution in Christian revelation.
  6. Whereof one can speak, thereof one must not be silent.

Each section theses is further broken down into supporting theses and sub-supporting theses.  This is not easy reading.  There will be sections and pages where you have to read and reread a single statement to understand it.  Each statement builds upon the previous so it is imperative to have a decent grasp of one before moving on to the next.

Not easy reading, but eminently worthwhile.  If you’ve ever had someone ask you – or perhaps you’ve asked yourself – how is it that Christians (and Muslims, and Hindus, etc.) claim to have the exclusive on divine revelation, here is your answer.  It is simpler than you think when you boil it all down, but you can’t boil it down until you’ve really come to grips with the full volume of the argument.  It is also helpful when trying to explain to someone who has no religious affiliation or background why beginning with an evaluation of Biblical Christianity makes sense as opposed to randomly starting with any other religion.

Fin Part 1

July 17, 2015

It is finished.

I completed the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism, and Human Rights this afternoon.

For the last week and a half I’ve been privileged to study apologetics – the intellectual defense of the Christian faith – from a variety of truly impressive characters.  Men of accomplishment and renown, but more importantly, men of faith and trust in Jesus Christ who have put their God-given gifts into academic and legal vocations.  In turn they have lectured over the past two weeks in their areas of expertise – philosophy, law, human rights, physics, and biology, to name a few.

Nobody ever talked about evidential apologetics to me prior to falling into this circle and beginning aggressive reading on the topic in the last year.  Nobody ever took the time to put together a cogent argument for why Christianity should be taken seriously – far more seriously than any other religion in the world – based on evidence.  At a certain level I tacitly had to agree with the many people who claim that there is no way to really make sense between the world’s religions.  You are – more than likely – what you were born into and there’s really nothing objective to demonstrate a greater degree of likelihood in one than another.  Seminary never talked about it in this way before.

Who should come to this?  Anyone with a desire to appreciate and understand better the goodness of our God who has not left us bereft of evidence and support for our faith, and who calls us to follow him not in blindness but with good reason.

Particularly if you have university-aged kids or grandkids, consider sending them to this.  There were at least three undergraduate students attending with me, in addition to a doctoral student.  This class is fantastic in preparing and equipping young people with the knowledge and skills to refute the inane blather that passes for truth in many secular circles these days.  I’ll be incorporating a stripped down version of this material in the Confirmation class I’m teaching.

Adults of any age and vocation should consider coming here, particularly if you interact with a diverse set of people.  This course will better equip you to interact with your friends, neighbors, family, and colleagues in a thought-provoking way.  There were multiple lay-people in the course with me, and several couples.

But not everyone can get here.  I understand that.  It’s expensive, and if not for the generosity of so many people, I would not have attended.  But there are plenty of good books to read to help make sense of the majority of what was presented the past two weeks.  I’ve reviewed many of them the past few months, but I’m happy to provide a more specific reading list to anyone who is interested.  In other words, while this academy is great, it is not the only way to learn this stuff, and nobody should close their eyes to it based only on cost.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn, and the opportunity and obligation now to pass on what I’ve learned to others.  To argue with even greater passion, I hope, for the truth of Biblical Christianity.  I can’t wait to get back home to begin teaching and talking and reading further, continuing to grow in my appreciation and awareness of the goodness of God in human history and geography.

I’m grateful to those who made this learning opportunity possible; to the generous individuals who help provide scholarships that pay 1/3 of the tuition.  For Ken who graciously covered the remainder of my tuition.  To my congregation and their love and care for me and my family, and their generous gift that enabled us both to come to Europe both for edification and personal growth as well as for leisure.  For grandparents who generously looked after our children during our absence.  I am deeply blessed, humbled by the gifts of God in my life that continue to flow and pour out and, I pray, fill the lives of those around me.

Thank you.