Archive for July, 2016

Reading Ramblings – August 7, 2016

July 31, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: 12th Sunday after Pentecost ~ August 7, 2016 ~ Apostle’s Creed, Second Article

Texts: Job 19:23-27; Psalm 130; Galatians 3:10-14; John 1:1-5

Context: ** We continue in our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism. **

The Ten Commandments guide the Christian in how to live their life, but begin with commands to love God above all things and honor his name. But who is this God that is above all other gods, and whose name is holy? The Apostles’ Creed answers this question based on God’s self-disclosure in Scripture. Each of the three articles of the Apostle’s Creed deals with one person or aspect of the three-in-one God described in the Bible.

Job 19:23-27 – Job is considered to be one of the oldest books in the Bible, or at the very least, one of the oldest experiences/time frames described in the Bible, roughly on par with the time of Abraham and the Patriarchs. It presumes a time when there is no priesthood and when fathers as heads of households offered sacrifices on behalf of their family, which puts Job well before Exodus (circa 1400-100 BC), and therefore before the migration to Egypt at the end of Jacob’s life, roughly 400 years earlier.

Job suffers greatly. He is presented with various suggestions on how to cope with his suffering. His wife suggests that he curse God and die (Job 2:9). His friends suggest that Job has somehow failed to live as God expects and is being punished for it. They urge him to make restitution to God so that God will be nice to him. Job refuses all of these options, instead insisting that it is only God who can explain his suffering. Halfway through this amazing book, Job cries out for a redeemer, for one who will stand with him to vindicate him. So sure is Job that this redeemer does exist and will come for him, that he wishes his petition to this redeemer were written indelibly for the generations to follow and see. His hope is confident, and not even death itself will put an end to that hope. Job’s hope is that even after he is dead, he will see this redeemer with his own eyes. It’s a stunning message of hope and confidence in the Good News of Jesus, God’s redeemer for creation, and in the resurrection we are promised through Christ.

If we wish to settle for Jesus the Moral Example or Jesus the Kindly Teacher, we miss greatly the mark. In the midst of our darkest moments and deepest despair, we need Jesus the Redeemer, the one who rescues us, and from whom not even death can separate us.

Psalm 130 – A beautiful expression of hope and faith in our redeemer God! The speaker cries out in despair and woe. Only the Lord can hear her pleas for help. She does not claim righteousness as her leverage for God’s attention – she is just as sinful as everyone else. Yet she also knows that the Lord is forgiving. It may sound strange that forgiveness should be a reason to fear God, but consider the implications. If we need God’s forgiveness, it means a) we are not righteous on our own, b) we cannot make ourselves righteous or adequately atone for our sinfulness, c)there are repercussions to our sinfulness, therefore d) God must either forgive or we must all bear the consequences of our sin. God is not to be feared because of his mercy and forgiveness, but rather because the need for mercy and forgiveness from him clearly show us our broken and hopeless situation, left to our own devices.

So the speaker waits for the Lord to answer, most immediately in the situation or adversity in which the speaker finds herself, but most importantly with forgiveness. He is her only source of hope. She ends with an exhortation to the congregation around her to likewise place their faith in God alone.

Galatians 3:10-14 – What a beautiful extrapolation and summation of the core issues for Job and the psalmist! Under the Law we can only be condemned, as we are unable (and unwilling!) to keep it perfectly. Jesus comes to fulfill the Law on our behalf, delivering us from the condemnation (curse) of the Law, and freeing us to live according to the Law without fear. Our sin is forgiven. When we fail to keep the Law we have forgiveness rather than condemnation. While the Law remains valid and binding (mercy and forgiveness do not invalidate the Law, but rather by definition acknowledge and uphold it!), it no longer serves as a source of fear to the person in Christ. Rather, through Christ the blessings of God are made available not just to a limited chosen people, but to anyone and everyone who will receive them.

John 1:1-5 – John begins his story of the Good News of Jesus Christ not with Mary or Joseph but rather with the creation of the universe. Jesus is eternal, one aspect of the God through whom creation came into existence. Genesis describes God the Father speaking creation into existence. John describes Jesus as the Word of God through whom creation comes into existence. Jesus begins to be good news at the beginning of all things, as the means by which all things come into existence. So his salvific work in his incarnation is a reasonably continuation of that Good News. The Good News of creation continues with the Good News of recreation, a restoration of creation to the perfection it possessed at the beginning. Is there any part or aspect of creation that this Good News does not apply to? Of course not – just as every single aspect of creation has it’s genesis in the Word of God, so every aspect of creation has access to the hope in the Word made flesh.

The defining role of Jesus is the Redeemer. The one who rescues you and I from our sinfulness. If He isn’t this, then He isn’t anything ultimately very helpful. I remain in my sin and I have no hope. Don’t sell him short. Don’t cry out for anything less than all He offers you! Don’t presume that you only need a hand up or a bit of a push or a few useful tips to making your life happier and less stressful. He offers you life in the midst of death, hope in the midst of turmoil, restoration, peace, joy.

Looking Forward

July 30, 2016

As a Dad, I of course love my kids.  I anticipate with joy each day of their lives ahead of them.  I’ve marveled as they’ve grown from ideas to bumps in a belly to wriggling, pooping aliens to wobbling toddlers and laughing balls of wonder and enthusiasm and into kids on the edge of adolescence and adulthood.  I look forward to watching them grow and launch into the world.  I pray and hope the best for them, and want to do a good job of preparing them to be the best people they can be.

So says any decent father, ever.  No big deal.

But all that being said, I think I’m probably a bit overly realistic, too.  I love my kids and think they’re amazing, but I don’t necessarily think they’re going to be President of the United States (remember when that was an honorable thing to aspire to, the pinnacle of possible achievement as a citizen?).  I don’t think they’re going to be elite movie or TV stars, or top athletes raking in scholarships and then endorsements.  I don’t presume that they’ll have their names engraved in history.  I could be wrong, and I certainly will be happy to admit that if I am.  But my assumption is that my  kids are going to grow up to be ordinary people.  Regular folk.

I wonder if that’s a common parental assumption.  I was flipping through the latest Costco magazine and the opening advertisement was for some sort of children’s nutritional supplement or vitamin or something.  A young child with Einstein-like hair was smiling, gazing presumably into his bright and amazing future.  The tag line was something to the effect of how this product is preparing all the little Einsteins of the future.

But all of their customers’ kids are not going to be Einstein.  It reminds me of my favorite quote from The Incredibles – an exchange between a super-hero mom and her super-hero son about not using his super powers.  She  tells him that everyone is special, to which he sulkily replies “Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Every child is a future Einstein.  Every pee-wee football player is destined for the NFL.  Every clever kid is the next Robin Williams.  Every kid that can sing is the next Taylor Swift or whoever.  Nothing but the stars, baby!  Nothing but the top!  Every single one of you all crowded there at the top.  Sound great, doesn’t it?

But what makes Einstein remarkable and an inspiration is that not everyone can be him.  Not everyone was as brilliant as he was.  Most people weren’t.  Most people still aren’t, which is why he’s still a big deal.  Not everyone is as talented as Leonardo da Vinci.  Not everyone is as talented as a top musician, or as skilled and inventive as Thomas Edison.  That’s not the way the world works, by and large.  Most of us are going to fade into obscurity beyond the small circle of friends and family who know and love us.

Which understandably is not a cheery thought.  It can easily lead one into a bit of a funk.  I realize that as a Christian, it’s easy for me to interpret the world and life this way through my faith.  Of course we all die.  Of course the world is going to hell-in-a-handbasket.  Of course Christians are being persecuted.  Of course the election is depressing.  What else should we expect?  We have an enemy and he’s dedicated to our destruction.

Which is why I was reminded of this essay recently, a reminder that my faith is not one that justifies pessimism or fatalism in a passive way.  Yes, we have an enemy that hates us.  Yes the world and the people in it suffer because of this enemy.  But we have a hope in Christ that sustains us and strengthens us, the glass of the hurricane lamp that allows the light within us to continue to shine regardless of how the tempter blows around us.

My hope for my children is not an opportunity for exploitation by the business interests of this world, however.  I have a hope for myself  and  my children, but it isn’t a hope that is going to be increased by buying every product and service that promises to craft them into the champions of tomorrow.  I’m pretty sure Einstein wasn’t taking multi-vitamins or nutritional supplements.  Edison didn’t graduate from Harvard.  It is not the world that makes me or my children exceptional, but rather the God who created us unique in all of time and space, and has promised to gather us to himself through the gift of his Son, Jesus.

So pessimism, no.  Realism, yes.  It’s difficult to balance and I undoubtedly do a lousy job of it.  But Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians as to the nature and source of our present reality and our future hope.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

I need to remember this as a Christian as well as teach it to my children, and I never noticed how beautifully super-hero mom’s discussion with her super-hero child also speaks to this:

Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.

Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.

The world wants us to fit in.  This means we are to go to work and spend our money.  It means we are to believe the advertisements and the slogans, the party platforms and the campaign promises, the hype and the glamour and the Photoshopping and the digital effects, as though the world is the fullness of all that we could want or hope for.  But we in Christ have been given something better.  Our dad has given us amazing power that makes us special – but the kind of special that anyone can receive and stand on level footing with us.  Our exceptionalism in Christ is not exclusionary, as opposed to the world’s exceptionalism that sooner or later requires the culling of the weak so that the strong might thrive.

That’s the exceptionalism I want and hope and pray for my children.  Not necessarily that their names will be written in the history books of the world, or that they’ll be viral YouTube stars or enjoy the praise and recognition of the world on the world’s terms.  Although if that happens, I pray my kids remember me and buy me nice things in my old age!  Rather, I want and hope and pray that their names will be found in the Book of Life, that their exceptionalism as unique creations of a loving God will be celebrated in his Glory forever, regardless of whether the world considered them much of anything at all.

And you won’t find that at Costco.


The Moral Choice?

July 29, 2016

People are broken and sinful.  Groups of people experience the compounded effect of their individual conditions.  Politics becomes a necessary evil, a necessary means of protecting oneself and seeking the ability to thrive while limiting my sinful inclinations to take the liberties and goods of others in order to enhance my own.  Politics is sinful, a continual tension of ensuring the rights of others so that I can have my own rights, a grudging willingness to cede some of my liberty in the process.  Politics can be terrible, such as in an tyrannical dictatorship, or it can be less terrible, but it is always shot through with evil because everyone who participates in it is sinful and evil.

Which makes the talk of ‘moral duty’ in voting for a particular candidate problematic for me.  The rhetoric of the presidential election this year is one of morality.  This is nothing new, but it certainly is accentuated.  Not only will I not vote for so-and-so, I do so because to vote for that person is morally reprehensible, and therefore everyone who supports that person is morally reprehensible.  The flip side of this is that I, in not voting for so-and-so, am more moral or righteous than those who plan to vote for them.  Both sides talk this way.  Both sides in the process marginalize not just the opposing candidate, but the opposing candidate’s supporters.

Let me be clear – there is no morally righteous option here.  There never is.  Never has been.  Never will be.  The only morally righteous person in all of human history is the incarnate Son of God, Jesus.  Voting for Hilary is not a morally righteous choice.  Voting for Trump is not a morally righteous choice.  Pick your candidate, but don’t presume that your choice represents your higher moral development than mine.  Don’t assume that voting against someone is a morally superior choice to voting for someone.  Both candidates have flaws.  Both parties have flaws.  Both platforms have aspects to them that are sinful and broken, even when they’re trying their best not to be.  We don’t know everything about either candidate – or about ourselves for that matter!  Humility is in order, not boasting.

At the root of all of this moral posturing is the rampant notion among Christians that it is possible at all times to live righteously, and it’s just a matter of discernment.  The assumption is that there will always be an option that pleases God, that causes him to pat you on the head and affirm your choice as righteous.  Is that what my choices do?  Is that why I do them?  I as a sinful and broken person and yet at the same time a holy and righteous saint of God, I’m going to be blessed with an option to live a righteous life by simply making the right choices, discerning the right road to take?  Is the moral high ground really mine to seize?

Choices must be made, of course.  I am blessed with the ability to help choose my political leader to some degree and I should exercise that choice to the best of my ability.  The fact that neither candidate is perfect or ideal, the fact that neither candidate is the morally superior or righteous choice does not negate the blessing I have received in my citizenship or the importance of me using that blessing.  The fact that I don’t like either option doesn’t mean that the morally righteous option is to choose neither.  There is no moral high ground here.  There never has been.  We are doing the best we can with what we have to work with.

But I may not always have a righteous option to choose.  Do I surrender the Jews hiding in my basement to the Nazis, or do I lie in order to protect them?  Either one is a sinful choice in God’s eyes, even if we as human beings would hopefully choose the latter option over the former one.  I live in a sinful world as a sinful person, and perfectly righteous options are scarce indeed.  My hope is not in perfectly choosing the righteous option in every situation.  My hope is in Christ.

Should I seek to live as righteously as possible?  Of course.  But to assume that in every situation there must be a righteous option that will maintain my illusory perception of personal righteousness is a dangerous path to go down.  Dangerous because it leads me to think that I am righteous at some level because of something inherent in me rather than Christ in me, and dangerous because it can lead me to justify all sorts of abuses and atrocities against those who disagree with me, who are therefore morally inferior and therefore somehow not entitled to the same respect and liberty that I am.

The marginalization of any people is only accomplished when they are placed on a lower moral plane than their oppressors.  It is not simply enough to disagree.  It is not simply enough to be different.  Oppression and tyranny and genocide ultimately depend on the moral unsuitability of the victims, as defined and dictated by the oppressors.  Do you think it’s coincidence that Jesus commands us to love our enemies?  To do so presumes that we can see each other as creations of the same Father God, creations whom the same Son of God died to redeem, and whom the same Holy Spirit of God seeks to draw to faith.  Loving our enemies prevents me from assuming myself morally superior to them.  I can give thanks to God for the gift of faith that I have received and that my enemy has not, but I must also pray that they do receive God’s Holy Spirit and the faith He instills.

So vote for Hilary if you want.  Vote for Trump if you want.  I trust that you have some good reasons for doing so, even though I may not agree with you.  We are free to disagree vehemently – so be it!  We can do so as friends or associates or at the very least fellow human beings who see things differently.  But I won’t dismiss you as a morally inferior person for your choice, and you’d best not do the same with me.  I will pray for you, and I hope you’ll pray for me.  I’ll pray for Hilary, and for Trump, and I hope you’ll do the same.  Whether you think they’re righteous or not, whether you think they’re the best candidate or not, as a follower of Christ you are required to pray for them, and you need to take that privilege and obligation seriously.

Now I just have to figure out how to follow this advice while driving.

Reading Ramblings – July 31, 2016

July 24, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 31, 2016 ~ Apostle’s Creed Article One

Texts: Genesis 1&2; Psalm 19; Romans 8:18-25; John 1:1-5

Context: ** We continue in our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year, in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism. **

We begin treatment of the Apostle’s Creed. Some scholars doubt that the apostles actually composed this creed, though what might considered the Creed dates back in one form or another to the middle of the second century. Places in the New Testament make reference to a confession of faith, and as far back as we have record, candidates for baptism needed to make a confession of the faith they were entering into. Regardless of the exact nature of the origin of this Creed, for well over a thousand years it has been a standard confession of faith which summarizes the core doctrines of Christianity as derived from Scripture. It is fascinating this confession does not address most of the issues which divide Christians today – views on the Sacraments and the precise nature of saving faith.

The First Article deals with God the Father in his role as Creator of heaven and earth.

Genesis 2 – Having provided an overview of the seven days of creation, the second chapter of Genesis provides more specific detail about the creation of humanity as man and woman. God is intimately involved in this process, shaping the soil, breathing life into the form of man, giving Adam work to do in naming the animals – and in the process allowing Adam to discover that he was incomplete. God completes humanity in the creation of woman, and gives them the only warning necessary – to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The first three chapters of Genesis are foundational to a Biblical, Christian understanding of the world. God creates everything good, but the capacity for that goodness to be ruined is already in place.

A consideration of God the Father should raise the question – why did God put that tree there in the garden, knowing that Adam and Eve would eat of it? Scripture doesn’t answer this question directly, but theologians typically respond that the capacity for disobedience is a prerequisite for free will. If Adam and Eve are to be truly free – free to return love to their Creator, they must have the option and ability to not return that love, to not be obedient. If Scripture is the story of a good God pursuing creation and redeeming it for recreation, and if the end of that story is the glorification of God as truly good and wonderful and merciful, then we must assume that capacity for sin – and all the suffering that has resulted from the Fall – are necessary.

Psalm 19 – God as the creator of all things is inescapably pointed to by creation. It boggles my mind that people can look at the beauty and grace and grandeur of the natural world and assume it’s simply the result of a cosmic accident! The psalmist assures us that the testimony of creation as to the Creator should lead us to revere God’s revelation of himself to us as perfect and beautiful. The God capable of creating such beauty, and providing such hope in the midst of our sinfulness is a God whose Word can be trusted for our own good, so that we should seek to conform to it and strive to avoid contradicting it.

Romans 8:18-25 – God created all things good, but Adam and Eve disobeyed the directive of God, plunging all humanity and all creation into sin and brokenness. But God continues his plan, and that plan includes creation being reborn, once again perfect and new, no longer shackled by sin. We tend to think of this anthropocentrically, but it affects all of creation, and creation longs just as we do for the perfect timing of God to come, and for all things to be brought to glorious conclusion and renewal. Creation did not ask to be plunged into sinfulness, but it has been – by God himself, who alone would possess the hope (not in a wishful, uncertain sense but in a firm anticipation sense) that creation would one day be freed from this broken condition.

John 5:19-24 – The work of the Father is not limited to creation, but to the plan of salvation that includes the Son of God coming into creation to redeem it. Jesus attests to the unity of will and purpose that He shares with God the Father. Jesus is not ad-libbing. He is not making things up as He goes along. Rather, He follows the Father’s script, copying what the Father does as the Father instructs him to. The relationship between Father and Son is one of love and obedience. This does not mean that Jesus as the Son of God is inferior to God the Father – though we are hard pressed to conceive of another image. They are united in will and purpose, so that Jesus willingly obeys the Father’s plan, despite the great pain and suffering it has caused in the Incarnation itself and will soon cause him in his suffering and death.

God the Father is the Creator. He continues his work of creation every moment of every day. The laws and processes by which the universe seems to function autonomously are at His will and command. He created them and is not bound by them. And He remains committed to his plan of reuniting his creation with himself. So it can’t be that we separate Jesus from the Father. It can’t be that Jesus eclipse the Father, because the Jesus we see is the perfect expression of obedience to the Father.

It is easy and natural to want one or the other – the more abstract God the Father or the more human God the Son. But they cannot be had or understood apart from one another, or apart from God the Holy Spirit. The main emphasis of the Apostles’ Creed is the unity of the Godhead – three distinct persons or aspects, yet still the one God of the Old Testament. Each article highlights what we can know and say about these persons of the Trinity, based on what God himself has revealed about himself to us in his Word.

God the Father’s love for the Son is also God the Father’s love for us. God the Son’s love for the Father is expressed also in his love for us. The love of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is directed not only internally between these three divine persons, but towards creation – all of creation – towards you and I. It is the good and perfect will of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that each person should come to faith, should receive the Good News of God’s rescue from sin, Satan and death, and so hearing, believe, and receive the benefits of God’s victory on our behalf. Not all will accept this Good News, it seems painfully obvious. But that does not make the news any less good, or the necessity of sharing it any less important.

Abortion Stances

July 22, 2016

Unsure where your faith/denomination sits on the issue of abortion?  Pew Research Center to the rescue!  Here’s a simple summary, and here’s the actual Pew article.  It isn’t an exhaustive report, by any means (as some of the comments make clear), but it provides a broad brush-stroke picture of where various denominations and faiths stand on the issue.

Law Abiding

July 21, 2016

One of the challenges, it seems, of Lutheran theology is finding the appropriate ways to talk about the Law.

It’s ironic, because I think that Lutheran theology is the most Biblical Christian theology regarding the Law.  We neither (on paper) hold that it must still be fulfilled (by us), nor that it is irrelevant.  It neither serves as a source of fear and condemnation, but nor is it an anachronistic throwback to primitive times that can be ignored now that we are more enlightened and/or redeemed.  There is a healthy balance, a respect for the Law and an insistence that it pertains to every single person in creation – Christian or otherwise, while at the same time recognizing that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the Law.

So why is it that we struggle for words that are encouraging enough and strong enough in regards to the relationship between Christians and the Law?  I sat through a session of very intelligent men and women struggling to make the Law sound important without losing the equal importance of the Gospel.  And for a denomination that prides itself on Law and Gospel distinction, it was not necessarily a shining moment.  All of the attempts to make the Law sound relevant and important and valuable sounded so very flat and unconvincing in the blinding light of the Gospel.

It must remain that way unless we can speak about the integrity of the Law with creation.  The Law is not an extraneous addition, something God thinks up after the fact to keep us in line.  The Law is consummate with, woven into creation.  It is the way the universe was designed to function.  What is the nature of perfection?  Well, it is the fulfillment of the Law.

Adam and Eve in paradise before the Fall, let’s run through the checklist:

  1. Did they have any other Gods other than the one true and only God?  Nope.
  2. Did they misuse God’s name?  Nope.
  3. Did they remember the Sabbath to keep it holy?  I’m assuming so!
  4. Did they honor their parents?  Inasfar as God was their direct ‘parent’, yes!
  5. Did they murder anyone?  Nope.
  6. Did they commit adultery?  Nope.
  7. Did they steal?  Nope.
  8. Did they lie?  Nope.
  9. Did they covet?  Nope.
  10. Did they covet anything else?  Nope.

Some might argue that some of these aren’t actually applicable – there wasn’t anyone else around to commit adultery with or slander.  That’s a rather technical nit-picking.  By and large Christian theology is united in saying that prior to the incident with the Forbidden Fruit, Adam and Eve were perfect.  They obeyed the Law perfectly, and would continue to do so even as opportunities to violate the Law came into existence.  Their perfection was one of essence, not opportunity.

For the Christian, this is who we are as well.  Simultaneously vile sinners and holy, perfect saints, as St. Paul beautifully argues in the middle of his letter to the Romans.  This means that we sin and break the Law – most of us are pretty conscious of that.  But it also means that each of us is perfect and never violates the Law, a condition conveyed to us through the perfect obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.  It is a present reality for every Christian even though we plainly keep sinning.  It is the only reality that will persist when Christ returns.  Our sinfulness will be stripped from us, and we will see finally and clearly the perfect sons and daughters of God that the blood of Christ has made us.  We will be fully obedient to the Law.

Not some new, foreign law, but the Law of God as revealed at Mt. Sinai.  Obedience to the Law now for Christians is not a matter of avoiding God the Father’s wrath – that was sated in the sacrifice of the Son of God.  Rather, obedience to the Law – imperfectly and haltingly – is movement towards the new creation that already exists within us, waiting to be fully revealed.  Obedience to the Law is not awkward or contrived – it becomes natural because it is who we are already in Christ, and who we will be perfectly and eternally with him in glory.

The Law is good!  In Christ it no longer condemns but it continues to point the way, the way to a destination we have already arrived at but will only fully recognize when our Lord returns.

Wet Bar Wednesday -Aloha Bubbly

July 20, 2016

At our last Sunday evening open house/happy hour, one of the guests requested a glass of white wine.  We don’t drink much wine any more – it makes my wife sleepy and while we enjoy a nice riesling, we’ve acknowledged we’re never going to take the time to try and develop our palettes to appreciate a broad range of wines.  We have a few bottles on hand, so we opened one to pour our guest the requested glass.

But I hate to waste stuff, so I decided to look for some cocktails that might work with a sweet white wine.  Hence, the Aloha Bubbly:

  • 1 part white wine (sweeter is better)
  • 1 part pineapple juice
  • 1 part club soda (to top)
  • strawberries to garnish (optional)

Mix the wine and pineapple juice in a glass over ice.  Top with club soda and stir.  Add the fruit if you have it on hand or want to make the drink a little snazzier.  The club soda makes it a very light and bubbly drink, and the white wine and pineapple juice pair well together so that neither is too overpowering.  It’s a great summer drink that is light and won’t overly impair your faculties or your appetite.  This would probably be a really good option in a punch bowl as well.  You may find, depending on the kind of wine you use, that you need to add some sugar or simple syrup to make it a bit sweeter.  Modify according to your taste buds and enjoy!

Costs and Benefits

July 19, 2016

How do you stop terrorists?

There are lots of ways.  Those opposed to gun control in the US are using the Nice terror attack to argue that gun control advocates are missing the point – the tool doesn’t matter, but rather the intent.  Even without guns, people will still kill other people.  But the desire to try and keep people from killing others is a good one.  The question becomes how far do you take it?  Do you ban guns?  Certain kinds of guns?  Certain levels of ammunition?  While perhaps an important discussion, it doesn’t solve the issue of people killing other people because they don’t need guns to do that.  Can we stop them if they’re using another tool?

Turns out, probably.  But how comfortable are you with what is necessary to do that?

Are you comfortable with your local or state or national government installing devices that blind, deafen, raise the temperature of a person’s skin, or otherwise disrupt what a person is doing, on the off chance that someone is going to be in range of one of those devices and doing something they shouldn’t?  Are you comfortable with someone being able to stop your car from driving by pressing a button?

Safety has costs.  Not just tax dollars, but costs in terms of personal autonomy, personal peace of mind.  There are ways of stopping people, but to be effective they have to be installed and operational and ready to use with the flick of a switch.  They might be installed with the intention of only being used against terrorists or other violent threats to the population, but they could always be utilized against the population.

Not happy with the protest that has gathered at an inopportune time?  Well, we could disperse them without hurting anybody.  Want to encourage people to avoid a certain area of town?  Well, we could make it really uncomfortable for people to be in that area.  If we’re uncomfortable with someone turning every-day items into weapons, should we be comfortable with actually installing weapons on our streets and buildings and other places?



July 18, 2016

The Paris attacks last year brought out an overwhelming wave of virtual sympathy and digital support for the French people.  Facebook was plastered with French flags over profile pictures.  The attacks in Belgium a few weeks later brought out less public support.  Attacks in Istanbul were virtually unnoticed recently, and now the attacks in Nice are also slipping by without any virtual attention.

I remember the first time I read Orwell’s 1984, wondering to myself how a population could be so easily manipulated, so easily numbed to the machinations of their leaders.  The enemy one week is the ally the following week and nobody seems to notice.  Orwell had a keen understanding for the human capacity for numbness.  To say that we acclimate or acculturate is too mild.  We grow numb.  There are limits to our emotional reserves and the depths of our moral outrage.  After a while, they’re exhausted and we plod along unable to respond and halfway ignorant to the atrocities around us.  A form of PTSD without bombs, perhaps?

We are numbed both to terrible things around us – the outrageous lies and frauds foisted upon us by political leaders who are well aware that they will no longer be held accountable for their blatant misdeeds – as well as to good things around us.  Christians accustomed to the cultural acceptance of Scriptural truths have been numbed over decades and centuries – at least in our country.  We presume that the Bible is true because culture accepts it and reinforces it.  But now that culture is no longer doing this, suddenly there are generations of Christians who are no longer certain that the Biblical truths are just that.  The biggest challenge (for the moment) is in the area of sexuality and gender.

With a complicit culture this never needed to be questioned – of course sexuality and gender were God-ordained and defined.  Of course people who, for whatever reason did not fit those definitions, were misguided or worse.  Of course God’s Word meant what it said.  But now that culture is in revolt, insisting that gender and sexuality are self-defined, that we are free to identify ourselves in myriad ways that are not linked in any way to our bodies or traditional definitions, many Christians struggle.  Maybe God’s Word is in error?  Maybe God misspoke?  Maybe God’s eternal truth isn’t so eternal, but rather a condition of certain eras and situations?  Maybe those truths don’t apply to us in a culture that now permits or even insists on active disobedience to those truths?

Jesus understood the cultural numbness that is inevitable in one way or another over time.  His repeated clashes with the religious authorities was to shake them from their numbness to God’s intentions in his revealed Word, to show them what God had always intended to do.  The numbed can get rather violent when their numbness is disturbed.  Likewise, as Orwell asserted, those who benefit from the numbness of the masses can get rather violent when that numbness is disrupted.

Numbness is hard to see.  Hard to recognize, at least if the numbness in others matches our own numbness.  When numbness is disturbed we are likely to find ourselves angry and violent, and we can expect others around us (and above us) to be angry and violent.  I may not be aware of the nature of my numbness and I may be astounded by the anger in myself and others.  I may be guilty or the victim of the violence that results from disruption.  My hope must remain in the God who gave us his Word – even when that Word is inconvenient or no longer widely respected.  My trust must remain there, the only place where the anchor holds fast despite numbness and manipulation.


Reading Ramblings – July 24, 2016

July 17, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 24, 2016 – The 10th Commandment

Texts: Exodus 20:17; Psalm 78:1-8; Colossians 3:1-4; Mark 7:14-23

Context: ** We continue in our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year, in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism. **

We conclude the Ten Commandments. For simplicity (and because I prefer the Jewish numbering/definition of the Commandments to the Western Church’s), I’m combining the Ninth and Tenth Commandments on coveting. Dividing Exodus 20:17 into two separate commandments makes absolutely no sense to me, but there you go.

For the person who wants to assume that the Commandments have to deal with actions, the physical act of murder or adultery or theft, this final Commandment stands to correct us. The Law begins internally, not externally, with our thoughts and feelings, not the movements of our bodies. And it seems to me that coveting is a convenient word for those internal issues. Martin Luther in his Large Catechism asserts that this/these Command(s) are given “not for rogues in the eyes of this world, but just for the most pious, who wish to be praised and called honest and upright people, since they have not offended against the former commandments”.

Exodus 20:17 – We are not to covet – to overly esteem or overly desire – anything that isn’t ours. This focuses on the wrongful desiring of things that are not ours – a desiring that disregards the rights and protections of our neighbors so carefully delineated in the previous Commandments. Is it wrong to desire something? It depends on what it is and how we’re desiring it. Are we desirous of our neighbor’s husband? That’s problematic because he’s her husband, not ours, and we need to work against those inappropriate feelings. Do we really like the latest model of Ferrari and wish we could have one? That isn’t necessarily covetous, unless we’re specifically desiring the particular Ferrari of a particular person, wishing that it was ours and not theirs. We are not free – even in our hearts and minds – to seek after what belongs to someone else.

Psalm 78:1-8 – We as the people of God are called to tell the good deeds, the glorious works of God. It is our privilege to know these. We have heard them from those before us in the faith, but we are sometimes not so inclined to speak them, so that they become “dark sayings from of old”. What is it that we should talk about? How God initiated a relationship with his people, revealed his Word to show them how to live, commanded these things to be taught to future generations who would continue to teach it to successive generations. Why is this so important? “So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers”. The speaking of God’s great good gifts to his people in history and geography is a means of leading and affirming people in their faithfulness in him. The alternative is to look away from God’s goodness, to not trust him and to put trust in ourselves or one another or the false gods of this world.

Colossians 3:1-4 – Those who are in Christ should direct their thoughts differently. We aren’t to be led into covetousness by the advertisements and assertions of the world around us. We are to focus our minds intentionally elsewhere. Our minds are to be focused on what is coming, what awaits us – firmly anchored in our faith and trust based on what God has done in our past (Psalm 78) in Christ. This is where our hope is. It isn’t on the type of car we drive or the size of home we own or the tags on our clothes or the prestige of the restaurants we go to or the non-GMO labeling of the foods we buy (or don’t buy). Why? Because we don’t even know ourselves!

Our culture has figured this out. Advertisements seek to create a sense of lack or suffering in us that their products can fulfill. We’re sold drugs based on illnesses we may or may not actually be diagnosed with. We are always being told by the world who we are. But who we are is in Christ – it is hidden and no amount of earthly goods or services can reveal that to us. It can only be revealed in the day of Christ. It will be revealed in the day of Christ, and our glory will be revealed in his glory.

Mark 7:14-23 – We want to focus always on what we do. Show me what I’ve done wrong, we want to say. Pin me down and prove my guilt before I’ll accept it. And even then, I’ll come up with a reason that I think justifies me. Jesus won’t allow us such comforts though. He goes directly to the source of our sinfulness and it isn’t our bodies and our actions but rather our hearts. Everything begins there, whether it works itself out through our bodies or not. Whether anyone else can see it or suspects that it’s there.

Although covetousness is included in the list of offenses Jesus states here (since it is formally a Commandment), it also lines up well with the intent of the last Commandment(s). Our sinfulness isn’t defined by what we do, but who we are. We can’t help ourselves. We can discipline ourselves, so that our sinfulness rarely works itself out in a visible, observable way. This is good and important! But we can’t fully stifle the sinful impulse. The flare of anger that is the sin of murder. The flare of lust that is the sin of adultery.

So our attentiveness to external cleanliness is important in terms of the proper functioning of society, but if we think that it matters to God, we’re mistaken. God knows our heart. He sees the sin that nobody else does. All of our actions aimed towards justifying ourselves before God are therefore irrelevant. Worse than irrelevant – prideful, hypocritical, dishonest.

This leads Christians to assert that the Levitical dietary restrictions are renounced by Jesus. Not that Jesus did not abide by them, but that they are no longer binding on followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ teaching here, combined with Peter’s vision in Acts 10, lead Christians to say we no longer need to abide by the Levitical restrictions. This is confusing to many people – Christians maintain the Ten Commandments but we ignore most of the Levitical laws, particularly in regard to what we eat and how we dress. Those Levitical laws that Christians follow are linked in some way to the Ten Commandments and the witness of Scripture as a whole.