Archive for April, 2016

Programming & Competition

April 29, 2016

First, this brief commentary on the role of programs at church in this day and age.

Programming is all the stuff that people do at church.  Game days, communal dinners, VBS, that sort of thing.  Anything other than worship and Bible study I consider programming.  The term programming implies that leadership at some level gets together and says we think that people should or would come and participate in this so lets arrange for it to occur.  From that perspective, I’m not a big fan of programming.  I’m more a fan of people gathering together to say we’d like for this to happen so we’re going to do it.  It’s still programming of a sort, but more grass roots.  That’s just my preference.

But regardless of the direction the initiative is flowing, the commentary is appropriate.  People are busy.  They have lots of options, and the role of church activities needs to be re-evaluated.  Particularly they need to be re-evaluated if we’re going to think in terms of competition.

The Church does not compete with anyone or anything.  The Church is the body of followers of Jesus Christ.  It exists to nourish and sustain those believers, and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.  It exists, by historical self-definition, to offer the Word and Sacraments of God to the people of God.  It exists to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations through baptizing and teaching them.

It does not exist to entertain.  It does not exist to fill people’s time.  Can it do these things as well?  Certainly!  And at many times and in many places the Church has met the social needs of God’s people as well as their spiritual needs.  But these functions are secondary, and we dare not confuse them with the primary reason the Church exists, regardless of what additional roles the Church has played throughout the course of our lives.

Many people have fond memories of youth groups, campus ministries, couples clubs, young family support groups, and any number of other programs through their congregations.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but they aren’t necessary, other than that God’s people felt that they wanted the Church to provide those things and so participated in them actively and enthusiastically.

Now, this doesn’t seem to be the case in a lot of places.  Social and athletic and health interests can be satisfied by a plethora of other organizations that tend specifically to these goals and interests.  That isn’t competition to the Church.  The Church doesn’t need to outdo these other organizations and service offerings.  This is not how the Church protects or serves God’s people!  A youth camp doesn’t have to be a Christian youth camp.  A sports league doesn’t need to be a church league.  These are luxuries that we are free to indulge in when we have the opportunity, but they are not the reason the Church exists.

The Church needs to do what it is created to do.  Share the Gospel.  Share the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament with the people of God.  Teach God’s people how to live in a culture that is less and less Christian oriented or guided, how to remain faithful followers of Jesus Christ at a secular youth camp, or in a secular softball league.  That’s what the Church really needs to take seriously.

After all, NONE of those other organizations pursues the primary purpose of the Church.  NONE of those outside groups exist to share the love of Jesus Christ.  They exist for completely different purposes and reasons.  In which case we aren’t competing with these other organizations at all.

Still Not Funny

April 28, 2016

A painful but true bit of perspective to start your day, particularly if you have kids in college or anticipate having kids in college.  I blogged about this issue a few months back, but it seems to be getting only more true, and less funny.  If you think that sending your kid to college is the way to broaden their horizons and expose them to a diversity of ideas that will improve their thinking as well as their character, you should probably be watching the news and reconsidering this rationale.

There are bright spots here and there, signs that the efforts to destroy free speech and free thought in the quest for some illusory and dangerous “safety” will not be totally capitulated to.  But they are few.  Unless people are willing to stand up for their actual rights, rather than caving in to demands for fear of hurt feelings or economic damage, things are only going to get worse.




Wet Bar Wednesday – Jack Rose

April 27, 2016

A month ago I wrote about the Irish Jack Rose – not surprisingly, the Irish version of a Jack Rose.  I was pleased to discover a bottle of applejack at my favorite liquor store, and decided that tonight I would try the American version of the drink.

  • 2 parts applejack
  • 1 part lemon juice
  • 1 part grenadine

Mix the ingredients together with ice or pour over ice.  I substituted sour cherry juice for the grenadine, and some recipes indicate that you can use lime juice instead of lemon juice.  I thought this was a tasty drink, appropriately with some apple undertones.  Not comparing the Irish version with the American version side by side, I imagine that the Irish version is a bit sweeter.  In any event, enjoy!


Bad Pastor

April 27, 2016

Mea culpa.  I am a bad pastor.

Yesterday was Call Day for our denominational polity.  I’m often asked in different circles how one becomes a pastor.  The answer depends a great deal on which Christian tradition you’re a part of  – if any.  In some circles, you simply start preaching and this fact validates that you’re a pastor.  I don’t have any problem with that, per se.  The Holy Spirit works in diverse ways, I sincerely hope!

However in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the way to become a pastor is generally much more dictated.  Typically, you complete an undergraduate degree, and then apply to seminary.  Seminary is a kind of school that specifically prepares people for ministry – Christian or otherwise.  Again, types vary, I’m sure.  But for us, that means you will relocate (traditionally and still generally speaking) to one of our two denominational seminaries – either in St. Louis, MO or Ft. Wayne, IN.  There, you will engage in theological study for two years, including four major branches of study – homiletics (preaching), exegetics (study of Biblical texts in the original languages), history (Christian/church history), and systematics (the study of doctrine).  Then you go away for a one year internship called a vicarage, where you are the understudy of a pastor in a congregation, and you gain experience in applying the skills and topics you have been studying the past two years.  Then you return to seminary for a final year of coursework, hopefully intended to polish rough edges and provide final useful preparation for full-time ministry.

All of this culminates in the spring each year on Call Day.  On Call Day, students receive either their vicarage assignments or their official Calls to serve as a pastor of some sort, somewhere.  Generally, nobody knows in advance where they are going, so there is a lot of build-up and tension and excitement and anticipation.  There’s a big traditional church service first, which culminates in the announcement, one by one, of where each vicarage or Call candidate is going.  Considering that many have spouses, children, and other family and friends around them, it’s a pretty exciting thing.

To a point.  Or maybe for others.  But because I am a bad pastor, it isn’t that big a deal for me.

Most of this is personal.  I didn’t attend either my undergrad or grad degree graduations.  One was too big, and the other I was already out in the field as a pastor.  I did have my Vicarage Call service, but I already knew where I was going.  I’m probably not emotionally wired for it – I try to take things in stride, and it takes a lot to get me really worked up about something.

My Facebook friends who either are pastors or are deeply involved in the Church were posting links yesterday to the live streaming of the Call Services, but I don’t have an interest in watching them.  I’m happy for those guys, but I worry a bit – beyond my own emotional cauterization – about the big deal the Church makes about new pastors.  Yes, it’s a lot of work to become a pastor.  But it’s a lot of work to become an engineer, or a doctor, or many other lines of work.  Yes, the role of pastor is unique.  But so is the role of mother, or teacher, or librarian.  Pastors are an integral part of the Church and have been from the beginning, but I worry that we emphasize them more than we do the many other vocations of people in our congregations.  Vocations that are every bit as valid and important as the role of pastor.

I want to lift up and honor all of the various vocations that God’s people fulfill, whether compensated or non-compensated, tenured or non-tenured, part-time or full-time, minimum wage or maximum wage, cubicle or corner office, home or office, humble or glorious.  All of these vocations are necessary, masks of God, as our last apologetics speaker talked about, through which God reigns and orders and blesses his creation.  We have to take all of these vocations, all of these masks seriously.  And we need to exhort one another constantly to do the best we can in those vocations.  Our neighbors depend upon it, and it honors God when we show love for our neighbor in these ways, even if our neighbors don’t see it that way.

So I’m glad for the guys who are headed off to new experiences.  I’m glad for their congregations and pray they’ll be a blessing to those people.  And I pray that they will lift up and honor the vocations those people perform, that they will remind them that it isn’t more important to be a pastor than to be an IT professional.  We need them both, and we need both to do their jobs faithfully as empowered by the Holy Spirit.


Food Guilt

April 26, 2016

If you haven’t been made to feel guilty enough recently about all your shortcomings in open-mindedness and inclusivity, here’s yet another aspect of your life to repent of – your taste in foods.

According to this article, white Americans are basically racist when it comes to food.  We claim to like a broad variety of cuisines and tastes and influences, but we refuse to pay for them, relegating them to a substandard industry where they are forced to compromise to keep prices low while still making ends meet.  This results in non-authentic cuisine that is not reflective of the rich diversity of the cuisine in its native culture, which further reinforces our cultural stereotypes of the food.  A vicious cycle predicated upon our stupidity as consumers and our racist tendencies as human beings.

All of which is fascinating and, in various ways, I’m sure somewhat true.

However the article seems woefully one-sided in evaluating the nuances involved in this subject.  Primarily, it performs a basic form of racism itself, where it presumes that the guilt and decisions in this arena are completely in the realm of white Americans, and completely ignores the economics and priorities and choices of the people running ethnic restaurants.

The article makes no mention of how pricing of food in countries of origin affects the way restaurant owners price the food when they come to America.  If you come from a culture where the majority of people don’t pay for extremely expensive food, those assumptions about pricing will likely translate to your new culture – at least initially.

There is no mention about how a newly-arrived entrepreneur might need to price things more affordably because they can’t afford to fail.  Finding financial backing to launch a high-end, ritzy Chinese restaurant might be difficult for an emigree – in part because of stereotypes here in America, to be sure, but also perhaps due to a comparative scarcity of capital.  If your goal is to move to a new country and establish yourself with a reliable source of income, how risky do you want to be?  Do you set up shop quickly and sell food as cheaply as you can to build a large customer base?  Or do you hope that your understanding of your new culture is adequate enough to successfully launch a chic, boutique, upscale dining experience?

Who is the restaurant owner trying to cater to as well – Americans or a smaller ethnic population base within the larger culture?  Is the Chinese restaurant owner hoping to lure in other Chinese, or Americans?  How does this affect pricing, as discussed above, based on the pricing of food those other Chinese diners might expect from their own lives in China?

Basically the article ignores completely the role of the ethnic restaurant owner, and focuses solely on the white American consumers as the cause of problems and challenges.  Midway through the article the expert briefly admits that there is a natural, human tendency to like what we know, what is part of the dominant culture in which we are born and raised.  “It’s important to point out that this is all probably part of the natural ethnocentricity of a people.”  In which case, all cultures and all peoples are guilty of liking what they like because they were born and raised with it and because it is what they are most familiar with and because they are less familiar with other types of food and cooking.  And if this is the case, perhaps it isn’t something to feel guilty about, but rather to recognize as inevitable and probably at a base level, good.

The assumption that we all ought to be blank slates open to uniform and wide-ranging shaping and influencing is problematic on so many levels, yet forms the basis for most of our cultural self-critiques these days.  The upshot seems to be that we are bad people as white Americans, yet we are guilty of nothing more than the average Chinese or Indian or French person in this particular respect of food preference.  In this article the assumption is that we ought to be willing to pay more for ethnic food and we’re racist because we won’t.  Perhaps we ought to start questioning why we pay so much for certain kinds of food, and whether that’s really necessary or wise.



Digging in the Dirt

April 25, 2016

A report on an archaeological find just outside the Temple Mount area of Jerusalem.  A fortress erected by the Greeks during their possession of Jerusalem roughly 167 years before the birth of Jesus is being excavated, and in the process, a historical discrepancy might be settled.

The fortress of Acra was reportedly destroyed, as per the Jewish-Roman historian Titus Flavius Josephus, immediately following the success of the Maccabeean revolt in 164BC.  However 1 Maccabees indicates that it wasn’t destroyed, but was rather maintained for some time by Simon Maccabee.  Thus far, the archaeological dig supports the latter assertion, as there is no evidence of a hasty, short-term destruction or dismantlement.

Reading Ramblings – May 1, 2016

April 24, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2016

Texts: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27; John 5:1-9

Context: The next to last Sunday of the Easter season, and the readings point us towards the purpose of the Incarnation and resurrection, the ascension and the promised return of Christ. We inherit the righteousness of Christ, which means that we inherit eternal life with Christ. The readings point us in various ways towards the blessings of that life, the outworkings of the resurrection as we close in on the end of the season of Easter in anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Acts 16:9-15 – The Holy Spirit continues his work of converting hearts and minds in Christ. Last week’s reading prepared us that the Holy Spirit did and does work in the hearts and minds of people we might not anticipate. As such, we should never be surprised when a conversation or encounter turns to matters of faith and we are able to share our hope in Christ. Sometimes this sharing will be natural, and other times, we might be led to rather extraordinary lengths by the Holy Spirit, as was Paul! But not before Paul was denied his desire to preach in Asia. We may have strong ideas about what God would like us to do, and yet God may have other ideas. We should trust that in all situations, God the Holy Spirit is with us and can and will work through us, whether in the ways we had envisioned or not.

Psalm 67 – This psalm makes use of the Aaronic blessing God commanded Aaron to give to God’s people in Numbers 6:24. Yet the psalm takes that blessing, which is a blessing on God’s people, and re-interprets it as a means of glorifying God. As God blesses his people, God’s name should and will be hallowed and praised. God’s justice, furthermore, will be a cause for people to praise his name. Some people struggle with the scandal of particularity, that God would work through some people(s) and not others. But Scripture doesn’t see it as a scandal. In such particular blessing, God will ultimately be praised by the nations of earth and all the peoples.

Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27 – The description of the City of God is impressive, to be sure. But the crowning glory of that city is the presence of God the Father and Son. In that new heaven and earth, the wisdom and rule of God will be everywhere, and will be the greatest glory to which all other glories are subsumed. Moreover, in this City of God, no unclean person will be permitted. Only the people of God, in obedience to God, will dwell there, receiving his care and attention.

John 5:1-9 – A man is healed. An unnamed man, one of many sitting around the pool of Bethesda, hoping not only for a miracle, but for the means to avail himself of miraculous healing if and when it should come. When Jesus poses him a question, the man thinks in the terms that he’s used to – he needs to get into the pool because of the angelic presence that stirs the water from time to time and enables healing. But he can’t make it into the pool in time – others beat him to it and receive healing.

Your translation likely omits v.4, which provides explanatory information implied in v.7 but not explicitly stated. The man considers healing in one form. What Jesus offers him is another source of healing in himself. Thirty-eight years of paralysis is healed with a word from Jesus (three words, in the Greek). The man is healed completely and immediately. His body is able to walk. His brain is able to coordinate his legs. He is able to follow the command of Jesus to not simply get up, but to carry his mat with him.

We are excited for the man’s healing, and rightly so! Yet despite his healing, this man one day dies. What the resurrection of Jesus promises is healing that is permanent, that is not temporary until we die from other causes. The healings in the Bible are to be seen as foreshadowing the perfect healing made possible in the obedience, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They are historical realities and important to the people involved (of course!), but they are also pointing towards the day of perfect healing described in Revelation.

We would do good to remember this in our own prayers and lives. It is good and proper and right to pray for healing, but healing is not our ultimate and greatest goal. Our goal is not simply to live as long as possible under any conditions and circumstances. Our goal is to live the days of our lives, whether few or many, healthy or ill, in anticipation of our life to come. As such, our prayers are for God’s wisdom in each situation, trusting that if healing is not granted here and now, that healing will come in the day of Christ’s return. If death comes rather than healing, death is not the end, the victor. We await life for eternity in a perfect state of body, mind, and spirit.

Paperback Writer II

April 23, 2016

Another great video, this time discussing the role of the early papyrus scroll, as opposed to the vellum or animal skin material used in medieval writings, which I posted about earlier in the week.



April 22, 2016

I close my hallway office door behind me.  Fourteen steps down the hall before the left turn and another seven steps to the side door.  I emerge in the bright sunlight of a Santa Barbara afternoon and pass by the playground.  Years and years and years ago it was part of a congregational pre-school, but now the children that scream and swing there are students with a separate Christian school that are tenants on our property.

I pass by the church van and kick the seed pod-thingies from the massive tree overhead.  I weave through two rows of parked cars, staff and visitor vehicles for the senior living center next door to us.  They’ve recently planted new roses and put in a fence, so I can’t take the shortest route down the small dusty hill, but instead have to walk a bit further to take four or five steps down to their side street.  I check for traffic both ways as not everyone obeys the 12 MPH posted speed limit.  I head right and up a short set of stairs and into an outdoor corridor for the senior living center.

The first door on my left I have thus passed for at least the last four years.  I remember it because the name on it is the same name as a famous celebrity who passed away earlier this year.  I always wonder, what if that’s his mother, living alone in this small, obscure apartment?  What an interesting connection that would be, a peculiar brush with greatness a far shade subtler than the culture of texts and pics and social media that swallows so much attention and time and money these days.

Sometimes the door would be open, and the screen door shut, and I could surreptitiously peek in as I walked by.  If I caught a glimpse of the person who lived there, would they resemble that famous celebrity?  There was never time to really get a good look inside, but I could see an easy chair and a coffee table, simple, tasteful.

What is their life like, I wonder?  Where have they gone, what have the seen?  Who have they loved and who have they lost?  Do their children – even the famous one – come to see them?  Do they see their grandchildren?  Do they paint or did they used to like to cook?  Where did they wish upon stars as a child, and what regrets shuffle a half-pace behind them in their small apartment?  Did they like to fly kites?  Did they leap out of bed in the morning or reluctantly force themselves to bed in the wee hours of the night?  Did they like it when their eyelids were kissed, and were they a hand-holder or someone who hates it because it makes your hand clammy and sweaty?

An entire life, a mini-universe bound together in this one person’s identity, and what an amazing thing it would be to explore, to bound through the nebulae and constellations, to see and smell and taste and feel for a bit what they have seen and smelled and tasted and felt, to experience a fraction of my universe through their experience of it.  To sift for possible overlaps and unknown correlations, while reveling in the uniqueness and vast, simple, differences of it all.

I walked by today and the name tag was off the front of the door.  Did they move?  Did they, like many others in that place who bide their time and wait carefully, finally get summoned from their waiting rooms into the Great Beyond?  A name plate gone from a door and a universe winks out of existence, more lost to me than if I had never know it existed there, just a few paces away, separated by a flimsy screen door and the iron portcullis of politeness and social convention and shyness.  A name plate gone from a door, and I mourn for all that I imagined could have been and all that actually was.  No further questions to be pondered, no further glimpses into the softly shuffling life of that faceless person who shared a name – and perhaps nothing else – with greatness.

An hour later I walk back, through the outdoor corridor, past the shut and nameless apartment door, across the road and up the steps and across the parking lot and through the side door and then seven steps ahead and then right for 14 steps to the key in the lock of my own door, which I quietly close behind me on billions of other universes leaving me alone – for a time – with my own.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Absinthe Flip

April 20, 2016

So I have this bottle of absinthe sitting here that I bought to make Sazeracs.  And since it’s only used as a rinse (or in my case, an atomizer spray), I don’t use very much of it up, and I’d like to find other uses for it.  I could do the traditional serving method for absinthe with water and sugar, but I was in the mood for something a bit more interesting.  Enter the absinthe flip.

  • 1 oz absinthe
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1 egg (raw)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar

Put all the ingredients in a shaker with some ice and shake the heck out of it.  If you don’t shake it enough, the egg won’t mix thoroughly and will come out clumpy and rather unappealing.  If you’ve shaken it enough, it should be a very smooth, creamy consistency.

I was surprised at the strangely tropical flavor this has, almost as though it had pineapple juice in it (my wife’s description).  Whatever the reason, it’s a tasty, creamy drink and a departure from the ordinary.  Plus, another excuse to stock absinthe.  Enjoy!