Archive for January, 2017

Close Calls

January 31, 2017

A good reminder of the difficulties Christians face in many parts of the world.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Colliding Worlds

January 30, 2017

Last night we sat around our dinner table as we do most every Sunday night, the surface littered with snacks and appetizers and the air filled with conversation.  This particular night was pretty small – only two people joined our weekly Happy Hour.  But these two people were very busy.

One is a politically conservative man with a degree in business administration.  The other is a politically progressive young woman with a degree in the sciences.  They were energetically engaged in an argument over the issue of banning immigrants from our country.  Not surprisingly, the argument echoed much of the rhetoric we read in the headlines and on social media.  Protection and caution vs. mercy and love, as though these two things are mutually exclusive somehow.  While passionate, I appreciated the way these two debated – out of mutual respect rather than mutual derision.

And as with the clash of emotions elsewhere, nothing was accomplished.  Neither one had convinced the other, both remained steadfast in their position.  Although parting amicably is in and of itself an admirable things these days, it isn’t helpful beyond that.  Afterwards my wife and I sat and talked about the evening, trying to determine how we might have guided things towards a more helpful direction.  Not in terms of topic, but in terms of process.

Despite the clear warnings of our Founding Fathers, we’re saddled with a two-party system that is intent on gaining and maintaining power.  Both John Adams and George Washington had pointed warnings against such a system.  As we see, such a system ultimately bogs down into competition.  Neither side is really all that committed to solving the problems facing our nation.  Each is too focused on how to regain control and hold on to it, hoping to prevent minor policy changes or enact minor policy changes without addressing the big issues because doing so might backfire and cause them to lose power.  Add to this  a system where our elected representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives have no term limits, and you end up with a system where members primarily focus on getting elected and re-elected.

So despite a plethora of needs in our country, these things aren’t ultimately going to get dealt with because both parties are more interested in staying in control or gaining control.  That’s what matters!  Promises are made about how to fix things but of course, as we know, those promises are rarely kept, and poorly implemented even when they are.

Last night’s discussion aired out a lot of ideas on both sides of a complicated issue.  But what it didn’t accomplish was a solution.  How do we balance security with mercy?  If we can rule out both poles of the issue as untenable, how do we find a middle ground?  How do we find an actual solution that addresses both sets of concerns and goals?  If we don’t learn how to do that again, there’s no hope of accomplishing much of anything.

We can quickly outline our basic starting points – national security and the moral obligation to help those in need – and then move on to how do we find a solution that addresses both starting points.  Imperfectly, obviously.  Both sides will have to give a bit, and the solution will undoubtedly be ultimately unsatisfying to both sides, while still accomplishing some of what both sides feel is very important.  I don’t know many people who advocate for national security because they hate refugees or Muslims and have no desire to help people in need.  I know very few people who advocate for more open borders and more generous refugee programs because they hope that they and the people they love will be hurt and harmed by any of these people.  The two sides are not mutually exclusive, in other words, and the issue is mainly one of prioritization.

Perhaps this is what we can try to foster in our Happy Hour discussions.  Practical ways of moving forward so that these practical suggestions could be what people begin communicating instead of simply regurgitating polemical rhetoric ultimately aimed not at solving problems but controlling elections.  I’d much rather see that sort of thing on my Facebook feed, and it’s something far more valuable to our society as a whole.





Reading Ramblings – February 5, 2017

January 29, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, February 5, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 58:3-9a; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; Matthew 5:13-20

Context: The theme of the righteous person predominates the readings today. God calls his people to obedience and exhorts them to true acts of sacrifice rather than ostentatious shows that glorify themselves and help no one. The Psalmist describes the beautiful life of the righteous person who glories in God and his Word above all other things. Jesus is that truly righteous and upright man, but rather than clinging to these blessings for himself, He exchanges them for our sinfulness, conveying his righteousness and all the blessings therein to you and I through faith.

Isaiah 58:3-9a – God paraphrases the laments of his people who wonder why He has not responded to their good works and answer their prayers (v.3). However God’s response is telling. It is not that He hasn’t noticed, it is that He has noticed far more than they thought He would! He noticed not only their fasting, but their mistreatment of their hired hands (v.3). He noticed not only their fasting but the foul temper their fasting put them into (v.4). Such good works are not good at all, and certainly don’t merit – in and of themselves – the benevolence of the Lord. Is this what the Lord desires?

Hardly. What the Lord desires is that his people would love one another as much as they claim to love him. If they wish to show devotion to God, then they need to take seriously justice and mercy, care and love for even the lowliest. Devotion to God looks like clothing the naked and feeding the hungry and housing the destitute. Such acts of devotion are certainly pleasing to God, and will bring God into his people’s midst even before they can call out to him.

Psalm 112 – Technically, the lectionary only calls for verses 1-9, but it seems silly to ignore the last verse. Psalm 112 pairs with Psalm 111 and describes how the blessings of God work themselves out in the lives of the righteous person. In Hebrew it is an acrostic with each line starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For the person who makes delight in the Lord and the Lord’s word the center of his life, his life will reflect the perfect blessings of God as he aligns himself with the will and purpose and work of God.

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 – Paul has reminded the Corinthians in Chapter 1 that fancy rhetoric is not what matters, not what saves. Only the unlikely, foolish message of Christ crucified and resurrected saves. Paul deliberately let the Gospel speak for itself without adornment or embellishment – a very unusual approach in a culture that valued good oratory skills above all other skills. Paul wanted to be sure that as the Corinthians came to faith, they came to faith in Christ and not simply in the rhetorical flourishes and argumentative embellishments of Paul.

However there is wisdom to be conveyed by Paul, though it is a wisdom unlike any other. It is a wisdom revealed by God himself pertaining to the future glory of those He calls to himself in faith. The Corinthians as well as Paul are privy to this wisdom, and they need to remember that it is this wisdom that they should cherish and nourish among themselves rather than falling to bickering and infighting about trivial matters such as who baptized who (1:10-17).

Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to unity by reminding them who they have been made in Christ and what they have received from God the Father – nothing less than the Spirit of God that dwells within them to enlighten and guide. How can they be concerned about other trivial issues when this is their new identity? When the power and Spirit of God reside within them? How could there possibly be division among them who share the Holy Spirit?

Rather than glorying in the prestige of one apostle or evangelist over another, the Corinthians should attune themselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. They are to see not just in themselves but in one another people who have been transformed by the Gospel so that they share through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit the very mind of Christ – understanding his good and perfect will and the enormity of his work on their behalf.

Matthew 5:13-20 – Jesus is preaching about the inbreaking kingdom of heaven (4:17) and has just characterized the citizens who make up that kingdom here and now. These citizens will be rejected and persecuted by the world, but this is to be no bother to them. What the world sees as useless is actually valuable salt that preserves and flavors and enhances all of creation. His hearers are light in a dark world, not in and of themselves but in their reflection of God’s light in their lives.

Christ does not call his disciples to an easier path. His teaching is not a setting aside of the stringent requirements of the Law and they are never to mistake it as such. Christ has come to fulfill the Law in full – every last jot and tittle. Every nuance and shade must be fulfilled perfectly in his life, so that His sacrifice will be perfect and unblemished. This obedience is made evident in Jesus’ preaching and teaching that embodies the perfect life of sacrifice that God outlines in Isaiah 58. Jesus will shatter the yoke not of the Roman Empire but of sin and death, He will feed the hungry and welcome all to him no matter how lowly or questionable.

Jesus is the perfectly righteous man described in Psalm 112. But rather than enjoying the blessings and benefits of his righteousness, He trades them for suffering and ultimately death on a cross, so that He might convey those blessings to you and I. We are the benefactors, we who are not obedient, we who are not the perfectly righteous persons that God desires. We are made righteous in and through baptism into the death of Jesus. We are made into salt and light in a bland and dark world, reflecting imperfectly the perfect light of our our Creator, our Redeemer, and the Sanctifier at work within us.

Watch those Permission Slips

January 26, 2017

I remember having to get parental signatures from time to time as I was in school.  I remember needing their signature to watch Zeffireli’s Romeo and Juliet in freshman honors English.  I might have needed a permission slip to go and see Elie Wiesel speak as part of the Historical Society.

Permission slips seem to have evolved and changed a bit since then.  Hopefully you’re reading them carefully and asking good questions before signing them.  Otherwise, your kid might come home with missing teeth.

This strikes me as pretty weird, but is a good reminder of the increasingly central role that public school has come to play in our society.  Not just educating kids but providing them with food and health care as well.  We’d best be paying attention to this massive institution if it’s going to keep expanding power and presence in the lives of American families!

Respectful Disagreement

January 25, 2017

I’ve followed with curiosity the flurry of Executive Orders from President Trump in the early days of his presidency.  By and large, he is making good on some of his major campaign themes and promises.  I assume these promises are part of why people elected him president in the first place (and yes, despite Trump getting fewer votes than Hillary, he still counts as the elected president, just like four other presidents before him).

I’ve refrained from commenting on all of this until now, based on a post from a colleague with a Lutheran spin on all of this.  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) issued a statement condemning Trump’s Executive Order to begin construction of a physical barrier along the US border with Mexico.  LIRS has worked for nearly a century to assist those in need in the midst of physical relocation.  While I applaud the scope of work that LIRS engages in, I vehemently disagree with their press release objection.

Building a physical barrier does not mean that there will be no way into the United States.  There are still plenty of legal entry points.  What it means is that entry will be controlled (at least in theory).  Refugees are different than illegal immigrants and drug smugglers, and I would expect that there are protocols for processing refugees at our borders, rather than simply inviting them to walk in wherever and whenever they like.  I am highly sympathetic to the notion that if we do not control our borders, what is the point of having them?  If we don’t have the right to determine who does and does not enter our country, are we really a country?

Yes, as a Christian I welcome my “new neighbors” and “embrace” them.  But I do so as they follow the laws of this country, and that begins with entering the country in a legal fashion.  The physical barrier is not an issue (or at least shouldn’t be) for refugees and immigrants.  It is intended to address illegal immigration and criminal activity (drug smuggling, human trafficking, etc.).  Yes, I am exhorted to love and care for my neighbors and I will gladly do so.  But there is nothing inherently unChristian about having rules and regulations that are actually followed regarding how someone becomes my neighbor.

If you’re concerned about appropriate help and assistance for immigrants and refugees (as I am), border control should not be your main concern.  Your main concern should be the policies that will be followed at the legal points of entry.  Talk with the people who live along the Mexican border and you’ll find that many of them are very disturbed and alarmed that the laws of our country that help protect them and their families and their businesses have been ignored, putting them directly in danger.  How are we loving and embracing these people as our neighbors?

I am saddened by LIRS’ statement.  I am glad that they are working to help people in need, but their press release is needlessly divisive and ultimately pointless.  Border control is not the issue – immigration reform and clearer refugee policies are the issue.

Realism as Policy

January 24, 2017

America has a long history of swinging back and forth between protectionist and more involved stances in the global community.  I imagine it would take a fair amount of work to come up with a comprehensive list of all the money that the United States currently (or in the last eight years) gives to various governments, groups and agencies in the international community.  As an average citizen, the net upshot of such massive government spending on overseas initiatives gives the impression that if we don’t do it, nobody will.

The reality is that there are other people out there, other nations even, who are willing and able to step up to the plate if they wish to see something happen internationally.  We don’t have to do it all on our own.  As proof of this, in light of Trump’s order to cut off Federal funding to any group that provides abortions or information on abortions the Dutch are stepping up to create an alternative fund for such operations.

Trump did not innovate this stop to funding for such organizations – it’s a conservative policy that routinely gets reinstated during conservative administrations and rescinded during liberal ones.  Considering the source of division that abortion is here in our own country, it strikes me as even more offensive that we are sponsoring it abroad through tax dollars.

I think that a critical examination of how our tax dollars are given away to other governments and international agencies and organizations is well-warranted.  Doubtless there are some programs that are necessary or even good to fund, but I also trust that there are plenty of others that really need to be scrapped as we seek to deal with issues here at home.  I’m not a hard-line isolationist, but if we’re truly facing the massive issues we are told we are in terms of infrastructure and health care, then we need to deal with these first before we spend our tax dollars elsewhere.


January 23, 2017

I have never subscribed to a YouTube channel.  I likely never will.  But were I going to, this might be the one.

I really enjoy this guy’s musings on weaponry, particularly the medieval stuff.  I have no idea if he actually knows what he’s talking about or not, but he makes sense.  I haven’t been able to find any hard information about him or about his background, even on his web site.

Until shown why I shouldn’t, I shall continue to find him mildly amusing and potentially enlightening!

Reading Ramblings – January 29, 2017

January 22, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany – January 29, 2017

Texts: Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: I’m continuing to focus my preaching on the lectio continua selection of 1 Corinthians. The readings during Ordinary Time link between the Old Testament and Gospel lesson, with the Psalm providing further commentary, while the Epistle remains a unit unto itself.

Micah 6:1-8 – The Lord asks for an explanation from his people. How has He wronged them, that they should pursue other gods and forsake their covenant relationship with him? He recounts his goodness to them in providing them with men and women to lead and guide them, to act as intercessors between them and the Lord. Moses, Aaron and Miriam are familiar figures. But the Lord also brings up Balak, the king of Moab who hired Balaam to curse the people of Israel in Numbers 22, and Balaam’s response, which was to bless rather than curse God’s people. The Lord has always looked after and cared for his people, yet his people have turned away from him, a charge lodged in Micah 3.

The response of the faithful follower of God begins in verse 6. How can he atone for his sin? What will turn the Lord’s righteous anger away from him and his people? Sacrifice would be the logical assumption, and the speaker proposes even outrageous amounts of sacrificial animals and oil. But Micah responds for the voice of the Lord – It is not sacrifice that the Lord requires and desires from his people. Rather, He desires obedience and the proper creature/Creator posture of humility love for all that the Creator has created.

Psalm 15 – Who is the person who deserves to stand in the presence of God and dwell in his presence? Surely it is the righteous and blameless one, who is free from guilt of speech or action (v.3), and who does not admire the wicked but only admires God (v.4). The one who is perfectly obedient – this is the one who deserves to dwell on God’s holy hill.

And who might this person be? Is this psalm an exhortation to be this person, or a recognition that no one is able to fulfill these requirements perfectly, that all of us fail in one respect or another far more often than we like to admit? We would all acknowledge that the perfectly righteous person should enjoy God’s presence and favor, but there is no such person among us. Only the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, fulfills this psalm perfectly, being perfectly obedient in thought, word, and deed to the will of his heavenly Father. It is He alone who deserves, in and of himself, to dwell with God the Father on his holy hill. Yet his perfect obedience is shared with us, so that in our baptism, we are clothed with his righteousness, and his perfection is credited to us as our own.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – The Corinthians are aligning themselves with various preachers and evangelists, measuring one another by this and determining who is greatest. But Paul will have none of this. Do you enjoy your pastor? Are you proud of how your pastor preaches? He is nothing compared to the message he is charged with conveying, which is considered folly to the world yet is the source of life to those who trust and believe. It is the message that matters, that saves – not the messenger. It is only the message of Christ crucified and resurrected that has the power to kill and make alive again, so it is pointless to argue about who the greater preacher or evangelist is.

Furthermore, if you want to take pride in a particular preacher, then consider that this is his glory and not yours! It’s not like you are all that smart or wise! In fact, the world doesn’t consider you much of anything by the standards it prefers! Yet all the same, God has called you in faith to be His own. He has taken what is not impressive or wise or powerful and made you impressive and wise and powerful through faith in Jesus Christ. This is to God’s glory, rather than your own. You did not choose this or seek this, but rather God the Holy Spirit has sought you, to glorify God by saving someone who is not wise or impressive, solely through God’s grace and mercy, so that nobody might be able to boast of their wisdom or cleverness in finding God.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Sermon on the Mount contrasts the blessed in the Kingdom of God with those whom the world considers blessed. As a rule, the world does not consider blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness rather than their own pleasure or riches, the merciful or pure in heart, the peacemakers or the persecuted. The world is quick to bypass these people as weak or irrelevant. The world values power and riches, but the kingdom of God values proper relationship between ourselves and our Creator. The kingdom of heaven, in fact, requires this proper relationship, where we don’t seek our own advantage but rather submit to the will of our creator and trusting in his providence. Such behavior will invite persecution from the world – first as mocking and eventually as blatant exploitation. Such behavior is hardly new or innovative though, whatever generation it expresses itself in.

As followers of Christ our glory does not look like the world’s glory. We expect and even rejoice in persecution (while not seeking it out!) because this is one indication that we are remaining faithful to our Lord and Savior. We need only remain steadfast in our resolve, trusting that the Lord has us firmly in his hands despite our waving feelings and certainty, our sinful inclinations to flee or desert our faithfulness in order to avoid the suffering the world brings against us.

Contingency Planning

January 21, 2017

Space travel in and of itself is pretty cool and neat.  But what about if something goes wrong?  It turns out contingency planning in space can be a pretty curious area for consideration even though most people are never going to hear about it.  This article changes that, providing a glimpse into an important but not very cheery topic – what do you do with the body of someone who dies in space?  It’s an important question, but not one that has been completely and thoroughly thought out.

It’s an important consideration soas not to endanger or even inconvenience other crew members with bacteria or smell.  Though jettisoning a body out of an airlock – an interstellar equivalent to a burial at sea – may seem beautiful, the practical considerations of such an action – especially when instances are multiplied over time – is hardly as poetic.

Equally curious to me was the offhand comment about burning up trash during the re-entry of resupply ships.  Is it common practice to arrange trash on or outside a ship re-entering Earth’s atmosphere with the intention of that material being burned up?  Are there risks to this in terms of bacteria or other nasties floating about in the atmosphere and perhaps gradually working their way to the ground?  If not, is this another possible solution to mounting concerns about what to do with all the trash we generate?  Fascinating!



How Bored Are You?

January 20, 2017

Bored enough to watch snippets of videos people posted to YouTube without necessarily expecting (or wanting) anyone else to see them?  Here is the site for you!

This web site apparently mines YouTube looking for videos that have very few (if any) views, and are unnamed and definitely unedited.  Mom posting a clip of your volleyball game?  It’s there.  Random snippets of news conferences?  Duly noted.  It’s not riveting watching but there’s something appealing to the idea of seeing glimpses of the complete opposite of 15-seconds of Internet fame!