Archive for August, 2016

Make Advent Great Again

August 31, 2016

I would vote for this.  In a heartbeat.  After this election year, it seems like a great way to properly celebrate and anticipate the coming Church Year!

Wet Bar Wednesday – Whiskey Flip

August 31, 2016

My wife really enjoys Pisco Sours.  Which means that we end up with an egg yolk that the cheapskate in me doesn’t just want to toss out.  My go-to solution has been the oddly-named Marlon Brando’s Pueblo Flip.  But I wanted to try something different.  My mobile bartending app, Mr.Bartender, listed a variety of options, including the whiskey flip.

As a refresher, a drink with ‘flip’ in the title means that it incorporates an egg somehow. Almost always uncooked.  Sometimes just the yolk.  Sometimes just the white.  Sometimes all of it.

  • 1.5 oz whiskey
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tsp powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp light cream
  • 1.5 oz nutmeg

Add all the ingredients to a shaker.  Shake vigorously with ice and strain into a glass (or serve over ice, whichever you prefer).  I only used the yolk, not the whole egg.  I used whole milk instead of light cream.  I didn’t have nutmeg.  I subbed honey for powdered sugar.  Adaptability, baby.

It’s a sweet drink, and I won’t say that it’s one of my favorites.  I generally avoid creamy-style drinks, they’re just not my thing.  But it might be yours, and if so, enjoy!



Believing Is Easy?

August 31, 2016

I met with a guy today who is in the process of returning to the Christian faith.  That’s how he thinks about it.  That’s how we often conceptualize it.  A process.  Laborious.  Time-intensive.  Nerve-wracking.  Uncertain.

Why is that?

As with many people, he talked about wanting to know that God was really there for him, that Jesus died for his sins.  He was raised in the Church and wandered away from it as so many do.  Now he wants to come back.  Wants to find God.  But God hasn’t gone anywhere, and coming back to church is easy – at least as easy as forming any new pattern of behavior.  So what is it that we’re getting at when we talk about the process of coming back to the Christian faith?

I think this is where Luther’s Small Catechism can be so helpful.  I take it for granted, having been raised in the Church, never having left it.  It’s so simple and easy. Elementary.  Creed. Commandments.  Prayers.  Sacraments.  But to someone who hasn’t had these things, who abandoned them, they become anchors.  The means by which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus Christ.

I don’t think it’s a matter of wanting to have faith and then waiting to see if the Holy Spirit gives it.  You hear the Gospel.  Do you want to believe it?  Do you have anything keeping you from believing it?  A particular doubt or issue?  No?  Then great!  Believe and act on that belief every day of your life!  If there’s a particular issue keeping you from faith, then you need to deal with that issue.  Figure out if it’s really something that keeps you from believing or not.  Find out if it prevents you from belief and acting on that belief, or whether it’s something that you hope to find out an answer to someday but it doesn’t prevent you from believing.

Most of our daily lives consist of doing things that require faith and trust.  I have faith when I get on the freeway that the other drivers are going to do what they’re supposed to and we’re all going to get to our destinations safely.  Or at least I am.  This despite the fact that over 35,000 Americans died last year in traffic accidents.  I still persist in my belief that I will get to my destination safely.  I act on that belief multiple times a day.  My life is at risk every single time.  Yet I believe.  I get in the car, turn on the ignition, put on my seat belt, and pull out into traffic.  Not even statistics can cause me to waiver in my belief that I will arrive safely.  I might not, but I certainly assume that I will.

I suspect that this is the essence of faith.  Not a process, but a grasping hold of the promise of Jesus.  Trusting that it is true and just as importantly, acting and living as though it is true.  I really am forgiven.  I really do have hope.  My life really does matter.  So does yours.


Safety Smarts

August 30, 2016

A fantastic letter from one university to incoming students that clearly defines university expectations in terms of the free exchange of intellectual ideas, regardless of how unpleasant some may find them.

It continues to puzzle me how everyone can assume that college and university should be prerequisite for literally everyone, yet students are increasingly unable and unwilling to handle anything on campus they don’t agree with.  Rather than equipping students to overcome these emotional or psychological hurdles, universities and colleges just accommodate them.

It’s a big world.  And while there are plenty of folks that seem to want to champion a uniformity of experience and thought under the guise of radical individualism, the reality is that you have to deal with thoughts and ideas and people you don’t agree with almost every day.  If you’re going to be considered an educated person, shouldn’t you have a means of at least coping with this reality?  For decades the progressive/liberal element has championed this very notion on college campuses.  Bucking a conservative culture, college campuses became the place where radical ideas could be shared and promoted with less censure.   Now that they are more firmly in control of those environments, proponents of those radical ideas  seem eager to stamp out any dissension or shield people from ideas that might be challenging – ideas that were once far more status quo than the current batch of ideas and ideologies.


The Line is Drawn

August 29, 2016

You should read this.

You may read it and completely agree with it.  You may read it and be aghast at what he says.  But I believe the core of the article is true – you will either agree or flee, but you will not have the option of remaining indifferent, uncommitted, or politely non-expressive on the matter.  Not for much longer.

The issue of LGBT integration into every aspect of our cultural life is moving full-steam ahead.  Remember the whole all we want is the right to marry and it doesn’t affect any of the rest of you line?  How’s that working out for you?  What are your kids being taught in school (whether kindergarten or university level?)  What do you see on television every night?  What do you hear media figures and celebrities touting and talking about?    Welcome to the new world order.  You will agree.  You will support.  You will defend and extol this new inclusiveness, or you will be outed as a bigot, a sexual racist.  A hater. You will be ostracized.  You will be punished.  Socially.  Economically.  Politically.

You as an individual.  You as a congregation.  Yes, you.  You will be watched.  Photographed.  Reported on.  You will enjoy the same pressures that have been brought to bear on Chik-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby (both of which endured the pressure and showed that you can resist it successfully, by the way).  The way people talk today about racists and KKK members?  That’s how people might talk about you if you continue to attend a church body or congregation that rejects the LGBT agenda, that insists on standing firm on Biblical revelation rather than the current winds of societal change.

The author is wrong in some respects.  He cites all the areas of our culture where allegiance to the LGBT agenda is a fait accompli.  And it is true that by official decree all of these areas of public life – corporate life, political life, educational life – by and large conform to the LGBT manifesto.  However it doesn’t mean that all of the individuals within these arenas are agreeing and supportive, but it means they don’t have the option of expressing their disapproval.  Not if they want to keep their job.  This is not a grass-roots cultural revolution as much as the leaders of it want to paint it that way.  It is very much a top down insistence that this is the way things are going to be and those who disagree are going to be sorry.

Likewise, his assertion that churches and congregations who reject the LGBT agenda are doing so against the wishes of their members is not completely accurate.  There will always be people who disagree with the larger doctrines/policies/practices of their church body.  But it isn’t as though denominations are holding their members hostage.  There are certainly enough denominations and congregations who have changed their doctrinal stance on this issue to accommodate an influx of like-minded people.  I’m not aware of any statistical data that supports this as happening, however.  And I’ll also point out that the reverse is equally true – in congregations and denominations that now support the LGBT agenda, there are members who disagree.

But churches are the one place where you can still speak aloud your disagreement and disapproval.  But be forewarned.  We won’t be allowed to in peace.  Be prepared for people to show up on Sunday mornings with cameras and microphones.  Be prepared to be recorded in what you say, for grainy, low-resolution screen shots of your face to be posted on blogs and web sites.  Prepare to be outed.

Freedom of religion as a Constitutionally protected right may withstand this assault in a technical sense, but that won’t change how your neighbors look at you.  How people start avoiding your place of business.  It won’t affect how your kids are treated at school when your name shows up on the grapevine as one of those people who disagree, or whether or not your child gets into the school you hoped she would.

You want to bring more people into your congregation?  Plenty of folks will be happy to try and make sure that never happens.  Will be happy to deface and defame you online or in picket lines out front.  Freedom of speech, baby.  Grow your congregation?  Most congregations will struggle to keep the people you have now.  And that will get harder and harder if the people you have now are still working, still raising a family, still trying to make ends meet.

And if your congregation participates in any federal or state program, receives any kind of tax-payer funding?  Forget about it.  You’ll lose that funding pretty darn quick if you don’t change your doctrinal tune.  Every religious organization should hopefully be preparing to lose tax-exempt status.  Every religious organization should hopefully be preparing for the day when tithes and offerings are no longer tax-deductible.  It’s not a matter of if but when, and I’m betting heavily that it will be a lot sooner than many folks think.

Neutral is not an option.  You will either conform, or you will be relegated – at best – to the cultural rubbish pile, along with the KKK and the Westboro Baptists (both of which deserve to be there, in my opinion).  At worst, you’ll find yourself squeezed in every manner possible in order to eliminate your congregation.

In all of this, the Gospel will continue to be preached and shared.  The Church will not die.  But the public face of the Church will be a lot smaller, and the churches that enjoy prominence publicly will be those who have joined hands in promoting the LGBT agenda.  I don’t think those churches are going to grow based on their stance (again, I’m not aware of any data that would support such an idea), but at least they’ll be able to advertise publicly without a media backlash.

I was sharing cognac and conversation with a recent immigrant from Russia.  He chuckled as we talked about this topic, about how the Church in America has a lot to learn from those with firsthand experience at being partisan pastors and partisan Christians.  Unfortunately, I think he’s right.  Fortunately, there are people like him to help us down that path.

I hope that people will listen.



Reading Ramblings – September 4, 2016

August 28, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 4, 2016 – Lord’s Prayer 4th Petition

Text: Genesis 28:10-22; Psalm 104:24-35; Acts 2:42-47; Matthew 6:25-34

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism. ** The Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer moves us from petitions regarding God’s holiness and kingdom and power to more obvious petitions for personal care. It is part of our sinful nature that we see a distinction here, as though the holiness of God’s name should not be of equal concern to us as our need for food. God’s plan for our salvation includes provision for the mundane necessities of food and shelter, but these are small parts of the much larger picture, a picture which completely fulfills all of our needs not just for this day but eternally.

Genesis 28:10-22 – Jacob flees home to avoid being murdered by his brother Esau, who is angry that Jacob has stolen his birthright and blessing from their father, Isaac. He has left home, perhaps for the first time. And now he leaves home alone. He is vulnerable and keenly aware of it. So as the Lord comes to him in a mysterious dream, to promise him care and blessing, Jacob is still worried enough to make God a pledge the next morning – his faith and obedience in return for the blessing God already promised him without asking for anything in return. In our sinfulness we are prone not to take God at his word. He gives us good things daily, and the greatest of these is the gift of his Son, Jesus. Our prayers for the necessities of day to day life should never eclipse the reality that we are already blessed through Jesus. Our needs have been met, not just for today but eternally.

Psalm 104:24-35 – We praise God for his mighty works, his mighty creative works as well as his creative energies that give us food to eat each day. Our food is not something that we earn, that is provided to us by the grocery stores. It is a gift of God freely given to us. He provides for all our needs of body and spirit. There are those who would criticize God for allowing people to starve to death around the world instead of sending them food. Rather we should realize that God has provided all the food necessary to feed all of his creation, but it is our sinfulness which ensures that God’s largess does not reach all those who need it. God is the source of all things – life itself as well as all that is necessary to sustain life. Therefore He is to be praised!

Acts 2:42-47 – God provides for our daily bread in many different ways. We tend to think of it in terms of enabling us to work to earn money to buy our food with. But there are many people who do not have this option (because of the sinfulness of humanity) and are completely reliant on others who give out of their abundance. The early Christian community was characterized by this sort of sacrificial love, so that the important thing was that everyone had enough, not that some maintained more. Of course we know from the story of Ananias and Sapphira that sin would infiltrate this generosity pretty quickly. Still, it is Christians who are the first to respond to the needs of others, whether bringing food where needed or helping those devastated by natural catastrophes. We give freely to others because God has so richly provided our daily bread. This generous spirit is not because we are such wonderful people, but rather because of the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit of God. He enables us and leads us to open our hearts and hands to those in need.

Matthew 6:25-34 – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount begins in Chapter 5 and continues beyond our current text selection. Jesus identifies the nature held by God’s people. He then begins to describe the life such blessed people live. It is characterized by what they don’t do (Chapter 5) – including being angry with others and lusting after others. Then Jesus continues describing (Chapter 6) the Christian life – not just a life defined by an abstinence of certain kinds of behavior but by deliberate types of behavior. They are generous, they pray, they don’t seek acclaim, they have their priorities straight, and they don’t worry.

We are a culture and people given to worry. We are fixated on problems and worries and concerns. We are fixated about being taken advantage of. We are fixated on our safety and security. We are worriers. But in Christ, we are not to worry – at least not excessively! We are to trust in the love and provision of our God. Our worry does not change our situation, but our trust in God can change our attitude in the midst of our need. And we need to learn to discern genuine need for the arbitrary markers of security we have become accustomed to. Most of us have no just daily bread, but enough bread for the next week as well! We pray not just for the means to survive today, but rather are worried about stock performance and our 401K yields.

This petition is not only for food, but for all the necessities of life. God provides, we receive and give thanks so that God’s name might be glorified. The habit of prayer before meals is a wonderful way to remember that God is answering our prayer by providing for our daily bread!

What Are You Looking For?

August 26, 2016

The Pew Research Center has released a new study with details about what people look for most in a new church home.  The top two biggest factors in their deciding to become a part of a particular congregation?  The quality of preaching and the friendliness of members and leadership.  Location and style of worship were also important factors.  The study also showed that despite the availability of a great deal of information regarding churches online, people overwhelmingly relied on actually visiting/attending a church before deciding that they wanted to belong there.  The biggest single reason for looking for a new church home?  They moved.

Preaching and Listening

August 26, 2016

As an introvert, it’s amazing to me that for the last 20 years I’ve made a living by speaking in one form or another.  Teaching, consulting, preaching – all require that I be able to communicate to other people, often in large group settings.  So it is that I strive to craft my preaching around listening.  How to share the Word of God and which aspect of it should be shared is dependent on the person or people I’m with.  In seminary, we learned that an important theological answer to questions people often raise in conversation is Why do you want to know?

The answer to that question can help guide the answer I give.  Someone who asks whether abortion is a sin or not – straightforward question, right?  Well sure, but how do I want to respond?  I could respond about how it’s a sin, that it’s murder and that God has strictly forbidden murder.  But that answer isn’t the answer that someone who is struggling with the guilt of an abortion needs.  Of course it remains a sin, but what I want to emphasize is grace and mercy and forgiveness, because the pain and guilt is what is prompting the question.  It’s not academic curiosity, it’s a matter of a mother’s survival.

For this reason I’m instinctively distrustful of preachers who don’t listen.  We likely can all think of someone – pastor or otherwise – who loves to talk.  Who has an answer before you’ve finished asking the question.  Who has an answer or an opinion even when you haven’t asked a question.  Someone who can’t wait for you to finish talking so they can start talking.  That’s annoying.  But in the realm of God’s Word, I’ve learned that this can be very dangerous, and that it can be the sign of someone who has an agenda of their own behind the words they’re saying, even if those words are the Word of God.

This morning at the jail there was a man who joined us.  He was present a few weeks ago and I remembered him immediately.  He wanted to argue about baptism.  Or more accurately, he wanted people to listen to his teaching on baptism rather than mine.  He didn’t want to argue with me, he wanted people to listen to him.  He was back today.  And what I found interesting was that this guy was very talkative – again.  He threw around verses from Scripture either by quotation or referencing chapter and verse.  He spoke with conviction and by and large, I didn’t disagree with what he said.  But he clearly wanted the floor, and once he got it, would hold forth as long as he could.  I had to cut him off several times to allow others to talk.

What I found fascinating was that when conversation from the other guys led to an opportunity to actually study and walk through a section of Scripture, the talkative guy left.  As soon as we opened the Bible and started working through a passage (Matthew 18:21-35), this guy was no longer interested.  He was interested in his voice talking about God’s voice.  He wasn’t interested in God’s actual voice.

What a temptation it is to take pride in our own understanding and learning and insight into God’s Word, to the point where we won’t sit still to listen to the actual Word of God!  What a danger it is to insist that others listen to us, mistaking our voices for His!

Listening is such a crucial thing.  It can be difficult.  Time consuming.  Frustrating.  But how beautiful to just listen to someone, to allow them to express their heart so that the Holy Spirit might guide you in how to respond to them best!  What an amazing gift to give and to receive all at the same time!  I meet a lot of guys who know Scripture and are eager to tell me about it.  But what I value most in another person is someone who is anxious to listen.  If they’re willing and able to listen, then I better trust whatever they respond with.  If they’re chomping at the bit to direct me to a verse, then I suspect they haven’t really heard me.  They think they have.  They think they know what I’m talking about and how I feel and what I need.  But while they’ve been thinking through all of that, they haven’t been listening to me.

Take time to listen.  To give the gift of valuing what someone else has to say, and honor they’re showing you by saying it to you.  Trust that the Holy Spirit of God will be with you in those moments of listening, and will guide you in how to respond.  What to say or what not to say.  Particularly be careful of preachers who don’t listen, especially if they don’t listen to God’s Word.  They may not mean any harm, but sometimes that eagerness to talk can mask a deeper issue that either you or they or both of you should be concerned about.

Contradictions – David’s Census

August 25, 2016

The next on the list of alleged Biblical contradictions is the source for David taking a census.  2 Samuel 24:1-2 indicates that God prompts David to take a census, while 1 Chronicles 21:1-2 indicates that Satan prompted David.

This isn’t a contradiction if we understand the Biblical hierarchy properly.  God is at the top of everything – the uncaused cause, the umoved mover.  All creation is through him.  God and Satan are not equals.  Satan is an angel created by God, an angel who for reasons we aren’t privy to and by means we aren’t privy to, rebels against the sovereignty of God.  Satan remains a creation of God, so that even now in his fallen state, “even the devil is God’s devil” (to quote Martin Luther).

Can God utilize Satan to his own ends?  Yes.  As such, both verses can convey the same truth, viewed from slightly different angles.

Contradictions – Jesus’ Grandfather

August 24, 2016

On a fairly regular basis members of my congregation recommend books and other reading material to me.  I like this, because it lets me know what they’re reading.  Of course I have a list of books to read that is several miles long, but I’m always happy to hear of new things.  Sometimes, what is brought to my attention is an attempt to undermine Christianity, most typically through undermining the Bible.

So it is that I came into possession of a list of Biblical contradictions in a book a member is reading.  I’ve taken it on myself to start going through the list, item by item, to research the matter.  Is it really a contradiction?  Are there explanations that eliminate the contradiction?  I thought I’d start sharing them with you, in case you run across them someday as well!

#1 – Who is Jesus’ paternal grandfather?  Matthew 1:16 claims Jacob was Joseph’s father.  Luke 3:23 claims that Joseph was the son of Heli.  Sounds like a pretty major contradiction, doesn’t it?

Possibly, but not necessarily.

First, we need to determine if we’re pretty confident that we have a good translation of both texts and there aren’t reasons to suspect one or the other.  Yes, we have great copies of these texts and there is nothing in any of the copies to suggest that there was some early alteration of them, intentional or otherwise.

So now we need to deal with the genealogies.  Firstly, we note that Matthew pretty much starts his Gospel with Jesus’ genealogy, while Luke provides his later, between Jesus’ birth and baptism.  David’s genealogy begins by introducing Jesus as the son (heir) of David, while Luke’s genealogy begins with God the Father claiming Jesus as his Son.   Further, the genealogies are structured differently.  Matthew begins with Abraham and works forward to Jesus.  Luke begins with Jesus and works back to Adam.

It seems clear from these structural differences that the authors have different purposes in mind in providing them.  Matthew is intent on showing Jesus as the re-establishment of the Davidic kingship, an expectation of the Messiah.  Luke is showing Jesus as the new Adam, the Son of God who is without sin.

But, higgledy-piggledy, either Heli or Jacob was Joseph’s dad, right?  Of course.  Depending on what you mean by dad.  Remember that the Jews had a provision that if a man died married but without an heir, his brother was responsible to marry the widow and produce an heir for his dead brother.  This was the levirate law.  This was dictated for God’s people in Deuteronomy 25:5-6, but it is common in various places and times in human history.  This could be an explanation for two different names – one being the name of the actual man who fathered Joseph, the other being the name of the dead brother.  Since we don’t have any more information on either figure, it’s impossible to sort out.  But it doesn’t have to be a contradiction.  There are logical explanations for why two different men might be both considered to be Jesus’ paternal grandfather.