Archive for August, 2016

Theological Reading

August 23, 2016

My denomination’s seminaries publish theological journals each year.  I do my best to fit them into my reading queue.  Some are more interesting than others, but I think it’s part of my responsibility to stay aware of what our academic and theological leaders are saying.  If you’re interested in reading along, you can access  current issues here.  These are from my alma mater.  Enjoy!

Burning Bridges

August 22, 2016

Odds are that at some point in your work life, you’ll leave your place of employment.  Fired.  Quit.  Retire.  Whatever the reason, the uniform issue is that you need to take steps to preserve for yourself and then eliminate from your work device(s) data that is personal in nature.  This article gives some good tips on what to do and how to do it, and also provides the standard caveats – don’t take data that doesn’t belong to you, and ensure that you don’t delete anything that company policy requires you to save.

Reading Ramblings – August 28, 2016

August 21, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 28, 2016 ~ Lord’s Prayer Petitions 2&3

Texts: Ezekiel 36:22-30; Psalm 103; Revelation 21:1-4; Luke 17:20-21

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism ** Praying for the Kingdom of God to come and for his will to be done are somewhat synonymous. God’s kingdom is precisely the place where his will is completely and perfectly done, and we pray that his kingdom would come in fullness here, among us as his people, and also on the Last Day. The second and third petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are bound up intricately with the first petition, the hallowing (making holy) of God’s name. This, too, is part and parcel of the Kingdom of God that we pray would come in fullness and perfection, beginning with our own hearts and minds.

Ezekiel 36:22-30 – This passage comes in the midst of a series of prophecies, first against other peoples and lands who have abused the Lord’s people (some by his plan, as a chastisement to his people), and then to his own land and people. God prophecies his rescue of his people and his full restitution to them, so that his name might be hallowed throughout the earth and by all peoples. The picture of God’s kingdom here is beautiful – He will gather his scattered people (v.24) and make them clean by washing them in water to cleanse them, a foreshadowing of baptism(v.25). They will receive new hearts and spirits (v.26), as well as God’s own Spirit (v.27), whereby they will be caused to obey God’s Word. Verses 28-30 describe the abundance that God will bestow upon his people through the land. The Kingdom of God is a place of abundance, of peace in the Lord’s provision.

While this prophecy certainly is fulfilled in the short-term return of God’s people from exile in Babylon, it is also a prophecy that will be fulfilled completely in the day of Christ’s return. Ezekiel is one of the many people of God taken into slavery and exile in Babylon, and it is there that he is called to prophecy the hope of return to God’s people.

Psalm 103 – A beautiful hymn of praise to God, describing his various praise-worthy attributes, all of which are part and parcel of the Kingdom of God. Verses 1-2 are a general call to praise and worship, while verses 3-5 detail the Lord’s blessings to the individual worshiper. Starting with verse 6, the Lord’s blessings and attributes are dealt with on a larger scale, forming a summary of Old Testament history from Moses on. Verses 15-18 contrast the everlasting nature of God with the brevity of man’s life and man’s eventual return to the dust from which God called and formed him. Verses 20-22 are a final conclusion of praise and a call to praise, because God truly is worthy of that praise, as described in the psalm. The power of God within his Kingdom is absolute, so that we need never fear anything.

This is a psalm appropriate for us to sing as well. We place our hope and trust in God in all things, knowing of his great love for us in his past deeds, namely sending his Son Jesus to die and rise again for us.

Revelation 21:1-4 – One of the most memorable descriptions of the Kingdom of God that we look forward to! We are bound not for eternity in heaven, but for a new heaven and earth, reunited in holiness and perfection as they were in the early days of creation. All forms of chaos (the sea) will not exist in this perfect, ordered kingdom. The new Jerusalem (Zion) is depicted in beauty and splendor and grandeur, something that would not have been said of Jerusalem in John’s day, either as a bastion of pagan, Roman forces or as a devastated and destroyed city (after 70AD). The most marked aspect of the Kingdom of God is that it will mark the re-establishment of perfect relationship between creature and Creator, so that God will once again dwell with his people as He first did with Adam and Eve. No sin, and therefore none of the repercussions of sin, will exist in that holy time and place.

Luke 17:20-21 – We look forward to the fully visible, palpable, and final Kingdom of God in the return of Jesus Christ. But we also experience the actual realm and reign of God in our hearts. Washed in baptism, we are God’s holy people, adopted through the sacrifice of the Son of God and his resurrection from the dead. So in a very real sense, we don’t only look forward to the Last Day and the permanent establishment of God’s kingdom – it also exists here and now, in our own hearts and as we gather for worship. It is no less real and actual than it will be on the Last Day, despite the fact that we can’t see it, and are more prone to focusing on the sin that remains in us for the time being.

We see this kingdom most clearly in worship, as together we focus our hearts and minds and senses on the worship of God, just as He is worshiped in perfection in his Kingdom at this selfsame moment by all the saints who have gone before us. Christ is present bodily in Holy Communion, the Holy Spirit is at work in and between the gathered believers. Theologians have described worship, and particularly Holy Communion, as the moment in which the veil that separates us from the fullness of God’s kingdom is thinnest, as we emulate imperfectly those perfect acts of worship that occur ceaselessly in God’s presence.

Those who act as though joining with other people in worship is something optional and unnecessary, when it is the center of our lives in Christ. Where else is the Kingdom of God so clear, the hope of glory proclaimed so fully? No congregation is perfect, but Christian worship binds us together in the communion of the saints as no other moments of our week do. Some see worship as the least important aspect of their week, the first thing to go when schedules get tight or we get tired. But we would be better served to jettison Christian worship last, so that we might be fed with the Word and Sacraments of God as citizens of his Kingdom that is here and now as well as there and then in the day of our Lord’s return!

SB1146 Update

August 19, 2016

The bill I blogged about earlier this summer, that would have put massive restrictions on religious schools throughout California in terms of their ability to dictate codes of student conduct in line with their doctrinal stances, has been rescinded.

Instead, the bill’s author is pushing for California religious schools to have to report to the State when they expel a student specifically in regard to their sexual orientation or behavior.  I still don’t see why this should be required, if the schools do indeed have a valid exemption, and their codes of conduct are clearly stated and communicated to students via their website as well as pre-enrollment documentation.

This is a huge – albeit undoubtedly temporary – victory by those who value religious freedom in education and oppose efforts to impose state-endorsed ideologies.

Marked

August 18, 2016

Were I given to tattoos then this article might not be so interesting to me.  But since I’m not, I find the subject strangely appealing.

I have always seen tattoos and other body modifications as part of personalization, a desire to articulate one’s own uniqueness or originality.  But I would be far more drawn to the idea of making myself in solidarity, deliberately choosing a marking that has been worn by many, many other people for hundreds of years.  Something that says less about who I am separately, and more about who I am together with others.  Who we are together.  Who we have been made to be together.

I guess I’ve already been marked then in my baptism.  A mark that can’t be seen yet, but one day will be perfectly obvious to everyone, myself included.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Kiwi Fan

August 17, 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a new drink recipe, so here you go!

  • 1.5 oz Bombay Sapphire East gin (or other good gin)
  • 1 oz Midori melon liqueur
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1/2 kiwi for muddling
  • 1/2 kiwi for decorative slices
  • 1 egg white

Peel the kiwi and cut it in half.  Muddle (smoosh) 1/2 of the kiwi in some sort of covered container or shaker.  You really need some sort of covered container or shaker for this, because the egg white will froth up when you shake it and result in a thick, frothy head for the drink.  Add the remaining ingredients except for the sliced kiwi and shake vigorously.

Pour the resulting liquid over ice into a glass and then decorate the rim of the glass with kiwi by cutting the other 1/2 of the kiwi into thick slices.  Make a slice halfway through each slice, up to the middle, and then slide the kiwi slices onto the rim of the glass.

This has a sweet, melony flavor from the Midori.   While gin isn’t my favorite liquor, the taste is well masked by the balance of the lemon and the kiwi with honey.  It’s also a beautiful drink, with a light green hue and even a faintly green foamy head.

 

Native Cuisine

August 16, 2016

This article made me hungry, and happy.   It’s always good to be reminded that we didn’t invent food or flavor or cuisine – it’s part of being human and every group reflects that in some way.  It must be fascinating to recapture some of the native cuisine and approaches to cooking that were once so second nature!  And delicious!

What Next?

August 15, 2016

Yesterday in Bible study we had a great discussion.  It’s a common theme I hear with new Christians – how do we make sense of the reality of sin and temptation remaining in our lives even though we have put our faith in Jesus Christ?  What is the proper way to deal with these two realities at war in us?

It’s a question St. Paul deals with in Chapter 7 of his letter to the Roman Christians roughly 2000 years ago.  Go and read Romans 7:13-25 right now.  Read all of Romans, for that matter, but this passage is relevant to yesterday’s discussion.  Paul addresses the issue and offers the solution, but it isn’t the popular solution.

It seems modern American Christianity, particularly the more evangelical elements, want to emphasize another solution, which is to focus on the Christian life as one of obedience to God.  Yes, we will sin, but we can and should sin less, and in order to do that you need to really have faith in Jesus!  You need to be totally sold out to Jesus!  You need to have stronger, firmer, more robust, better toned faith!  If you just had enough faith, you wouldn’t sin (so much, or in less-noticeable ways at least).  The dilemma that St. Paul and every other Christian struggles with, of the continued presence of sin in the lives of those redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, is resolved by your own personal dedication and effort.

Undoubtedly there are acknowledgements to greater or lesser degrees about the Holy Spirit as the strength and source for these changes in personal character and behavior.  But since it’s hard to quantify and qualify the work of the Holy Spirit in any given person, it ends up emphasizing personal will and choice.  Because if the Holy Spirit is in you, then your sin is your fault.  It’s not as though the Holy Spirit isn’t doing His work – you’re obviously the one who isn’t serious enough, resolved enough, faithful enough.  The Christian life becomes a new law, and if you aren’t living up to that law, then maybe you aren’t really a Christian.  Maybe you don’t really have faith.  Or your faith isn’t strong enough.  Suddenly the sin in my life is a reason for me to doubt my salvation, as though the blood of Christ wasn’t quite strong enough to bring me over from death to life.

I meet people all the time who are caught here.  They’re hearing their churches and pastors and mentors telling them to man up and live the Christian life, to reject sin and walk in grace and faith.  But any slip, any sin, is suddenly cause for doubting the whole enchilada.  You still struggling with lust?  Where’s your faith?  You still worrying about your estranged children?  Where’s your faith?

By these standards St. Paul is no saint.

But I think he is a saint, because his solution to the reality of sin and the sacred in one person’s life is different.  He doesn’t end his agonizing over his sinful behavior with a resolution to make tomorrow a better day.  He doesn’t end Chapter 7 by saying that he’s sorry for his struggle and he’s going to get out of the Holy Spirit’s way and live better now.  He doesn’t mention himself at all.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 Paul’s solution to the conundrum of sinner and saint is to focus not on himself, not on the sinner in him or the saint in him.  Rather, he directs his attention – and ours – to Christ.  Paul can’t do it, which is precisely the reason Jesus has died for him.  Even with the gift of God the Holy Spirit within him, St. Paul can’t live a perfect, God-pleasing life.  By his own admission he struggles – and more than a little!  Sin remains very real and close at hand constantly.  He is not assured of victory over that sin in the immediate future.  But he knows that he is victorious over that sin in Christ.  The victory St. Paul can’t achieve, Jesus achieves for him.  The victory is already in place, despite the fact that St. Paul is still sinning.

This is to be our focus as Christians.  Not on ourselves, but on Christ.  If I focus on myself I will always see and know my failures, because they are abundant.  I will never have peace based on examining myself in thought, word, and deed.  My only source of peace is to acknowledge readily that I am sinful in thought, word, and deed, and that it is for these sins that Jesus has died.  He is my peace.

I believe that if we focus on Him, our lives will change.  If we focus not on what we’re trying to do but what He has perfectly accomplished already, our lives will show this more and more each day.  It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus.  It always has been.   It always will be.  And that’s a good thing.  A necessary thing.  A divine thing.

Reading Ramblings – August 21, 2016

August 14, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 21, 2016 ~ Lord’s Prayer Intro & First Petition

Texts: Isaiah 63:15-19; Psalm 2; 1 John 3:1-3; Luke 15:11-32

Context: ** We continue our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism. ** We move from the Creed to the Lord’s Prayer. It is fitting that Christians should be instructed how to pray, since we are blessed to have the relationship of children to a loving Father. We can come to God in all situations and with all manner of concerns.

We are prone to come to God in prayer when we need something – when we’re afraid or worried, when we want healing for ourselves or someone else, when we want safety for ourselves or someone else. While such prayer is fine, it is rather limited in scope. Praying regularly and for a broader variety of issues and situations extends our eyes from our own concerns to the concerns of creation around us. The Lord’s Prayer guides us through a variety of petitions that direct our attention from the hear and now to the promised return of our Lord.

The Lord’s Prayer begins with an introduction, a specification of who we pray to. There are many so-called gods, but we pray to our Heavenly Father, and invoke his name prior to making our first petition, that his name would be hallowed.

Isaiah 63:15-19 – This chapter begins with a terrifying description of God the Father as fierce warrior, waging war against those rebellious to him. In the face of such a grim visage, the author recounts the Lord’s prior acts of mercy to his people, how despite their repeated disobedience, He was a loving and forgiving father to them. This leads the speaker finally to a prayer for mercy here and now starting at verse 15. The mercy of God is not relegated solely to ancient history but is alive and well and active now. While nobody else may recognize us as followers of God, that is what we are and God knows this (v.16). We plead with God for him to return to dwell with his people, so that we might not stray and be prone to folly (17). The alternative is that his people continue to suffer, oppressed to the point where there is little to distinguish them from other peoples, once the Temple of the Lord is destroyed. Suffering should be brought to an end by the Lord coming not just in vengeance as in the first part of the chapter, but in mercy for his people as well.

Psalm 2 – This psalm works in tandem with Psalm 1 as an introduction to the psalter. The first psalm deals with the individual life of faith. Psalm 2 deals with the relationship of God’s holy nation, Israel, in context of history and the nations surrounding her. The first three verses describe these other nations, who do not know God and therefore presume that they and their gods are in control, that they can act against God and his holy nation in any meaningful sense. Verses 4-6 state the truth – God is alone God, and He scoffs at the pretentious assumptions of the unfaithful. Their plans do not trouble him and cannot alter his complete and utter power. While the nations rage in rebellion, they are helpless to stop God the Father from placing his King and Son on the throne not only of the nation of Israel but of all creation. This psalm was likely used during the coronation of kings, and verses 7-9 elaborate on the relationship between the newly crowned king and God. God has adopted the king as son, and obedience to God as his Father will bring the assurance of safety and security, victory against those who dare rise against him. The final verses are a warning to the nations to seek the good favor of God’s Son and King of Israel, before they find the God of all creation ranged against them.

1 John 3:1-3 – In his letter John has waxed poetic about the witness to the Son of God John and others have given, and the exhortation to walk in light in faith in that witness and revelation. He has reminded his hearers of Jesus as our advocate and warned them to be cautious of false prophets and leaders. Now he once again bursts into amazed praise at the goodness of God. How amazing is it that our Creator Father should be willing to call us his children! We, who once were arrayed against him in rebellion, slaves of Satan. God the Father has rescued us in order to give us his name, to make us part of his family. This, in turn, is the explanation for the suffering of God’s people in the world – we are foreigners. We no longer fit in to the world that serves the self and Satan. We are set apart in our identity as children of God. The world knows this, even though we are prone to being blind to it ourselves. We look and sound and all too often act like everyone else! But that will only be for a time. The time is coming when all creation as well as ourselves will see our true identity as God’s children. In anticipation of that day we strive in holiness each day.

Luke 15:11-32 – While this is typically known as the story of the prodigal son, it is clear from the opening verse that it is really a tale about a father. In the context of Luke 15 we know that Jesus is teaching and preaching about the nature of the kingdom of heaven, and the nature of God the Father towards us. The father in this story is generous and kind despite the rudeness of his sons. He is patient and concerned for their welfare at all times, even while the younger son is off doing his thing without a thought in the world for his father. The father welcomes the rebellious younger son home with joy, but also seeks after the prideful and hurt older brother. He assures them both of their place as his sons, a status that cannot be taken from them, even though they are free to reject it and live as though it were not true. The father is good and patient and kind and understanding – always. Far more so than any earthly father is able to be.

While we spend our time wondering which son we are, the greater lesson is that regardless of which of the sons we are – the selfish and rebellious younger son or the bitterly obedient older son, our father is the same. We may not be sure what our role is at any given time, but one thing we need never wonder about is whether we have a father or not and whether or not that father loves us. Neither of the sons are admirable, the father alone is.

It is this Father God to whom we pray. The only one worthy of our prayer, the only one capable of hearing and answering our prayer, and the only one who has already answered our greatest and deepest prayer in his Son, Jesus Christ. Whatever else we pray for, we pray for it in the light of redeemed children of the Heavenly Father, reconciled to him through faith in the death and resurrection of his Son on our behalf.

So it is that we should pray initially that everyone would hallow God’s name and treat it with appropriate reverence. It is appropriate that everyone would come to know the goodness of God and the holiness of God, holiness that is available to everyone who will receive it. This will be the case, ultimately. All people everywhere will acknowledge God as the one true God, and the only one deservedly called Holy and righteous. We pray that when that day comes, as many people as possible will make that confession joyfully rather than through gritted, rebellious teeth.

Gleaning Wisdom

August 13, 2016

If we had a youth group at our congregation, I would firmly suggest that they go to work doing something like this.  Helping to minimize food waste and get fresh produce to those who need it most and can afford it least sounds like a perfect community project.  Everybody wins!  It isn’t glamorous or easy, but what a big difference it can potentially make to so many people!