Archive for September, 2019

God Sent Me

September 18, 2019

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes, and in all manner of unexpected timings.

The woman who slipped into the door of our Bible study classroom this evening, for example.  She must have just come from some sort of exercise class, wearing leggings and a tight sort of spandex workout top thingy.  I’m not a fashion expert so I don’t know the terms for these things.  Age is difficult (and dangerous) to surmise with a woman, but I’d put her anywhere from 40-ish to her early 50’s.  A thick Russian accent but good English.

Wednesday night Bible studies are mostly for a small group of ladies in an addiction recovery program.  Others have come and gone but don’t last very long.  These ladies have time on their hands and a mandatory weekly Bible study requirement to fulfill.  We have another woman who has been coming recently, a nonagenarian living in the retirement housing next door to our church.

So to have a complete stranger show up saying God had sent her to my Bible study was unexpected.  She stayed, she participated.  We talked after.

From Moscow originally but I get the impression there have been more than a few stops since there.  In our local area for over a dozen years.  Christian, but dissatisfied with the Bible studies she attended in any given place.  She worships at the Mission but says she hasn’t really connected with anyone there, a situation no doubt accented by her admitted shyness.

I gave her my card and wrote down our worship time and the other weekly Bible study opportunities.  She was pleased and surprised to learn there are three separate, different Bible studies each week.  I hope she’ll come back.  She elaborated that a friend told her while she was lamenting the lack of a good Bible study in town that this church was where to go for Bible study.  I’m wondering who that friend is and how they know about us.

She exited the building about 10 seconds before me.  As I locked the door, I glanced to see where her car was.  I didn’t see either her or her car.  I peered around, up and down the long parking lot towards the sidewalk.  Maybe she walked, lived in the area close by.  Curious, and she couldn’t have gotten out of sight so quickly.

Maybe….

The idea flitted through my head briefly.  Would it be beneath God’s dignity, during a time of professional weariness, to send an outsider with a word of encouragement?  Certainly not, but to speculate on angelic visitations seemed a bit premature.  But still, where did she go?

A second later I heard a car door.  As I peered further I saw a car parked on the other side of our church van, all but invisible behind the larger vehicle.  I’d be lying if I said that a small part of me wasn’t disappointed.  But the larger part of me was grateful.  A real flesh-and-blood visitor might come back.  Might tell others.  Might…might…might.

The near future is never very certain, but the recent past of this evening was a nice reminder that miracles come in different forms and accents.

Weekly Devotion

September 18, 2019

Amos 8:4-7

We would never trample on the needy, would we? Or consider being unfair in a business transaction? We’d never intentionally shortchange somebody, or use rigged weights and balances? We never chafed at the blue laws that used to limit or ban certain types of business on Sunday mornings?

So we just step by Amos, pass on to other, more interesting readings. Certainly the Gospel lesson (Luke 16:1-15) or the Epistle reading (1 Timothy 2) grab our attention. Certainly these must be more relevant, either academically or practically?

Amos calls religious and political leaders of his day to account for their attitudes about materialism and wealth, attitudes that easily blind them to their moral failures and more importantly, to the identity of those they are defrauding as fellow children of Israel, fellow members of the covenant community of God. They have instead become means to other ends – personal profit or comfort. Amos can see these things more clearly because he is an outsider – from the southern kingdom of Judah God calls him to speak truth to power in the northern kingdom of Israel. Perhaps it is his otherness which allows God to speak against what everyone else just viewed as business as usual.

Personal piety can be very, very cold to those around us. As members of a culture and society driven almost entirely by profit and materialism, we need to be cautious not just to be honest in our dealings with others, but also sympathetic and empathetic with those in need and those displaced in the vast system of buying and selling. These are children of God! These are people Jesus suffered and died for! If they merit his precious blood, they deserve at least our concern, both in personal interactions and on their behalf in our society.

What’s Good For You

September 17, 2019

A lovely article about politics in the great state of California.

Reasons cited for parental reticence on vaccinations include complacency, the inconvenience of accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence in vaccines’ effectiveness.

I would be interested in knowing how the World Health Organization gets the statistic of 2-3 million lives saved via vaccines.  I’ll also point out how it’s a bit misleading to quote a global vaccination statistic rather than a national one, or even a state one.  I wonder if those are accessible, and if so, why they weren’t cited instead?  I’m assuming the numbers are lower (logically) and not as compelling.

I’m not anti-vaccinations per se, but I am deeply suspicious of global and national documentation regarding them.  I’m suspicious of a field that seems intent on criminalizing or delegitimizing any opposition or concern over vaccinations.  And I’m very opposed to the idea of the government forcing me or my children to have things injected into our bodies without being given the right of refusal or even the right to say which vaccinations we do or don’t want.  The State of California passed vaccination legislation a few years ago to make vaccinations mandatory, but provided  no opportunity or mechanism for public awareness or education about what vaccinations were being mandated.  A list was published at the time of the currently mandated vaccines, but it was  also clear that  list could  be amended by a committee at their discretion, and no mention was made about consulting constituents for their agreement.

That’s a recipe for potential disaster on a scale far exceeding a measles outbreak – which was the non-lethal illness that prompted the forcing through of  mandatory vaccination laws and now laws excluding religious  and philosophical objections and actively trying to cull or investigate doctors that might have some good reasons for providing medical exemptions.

I’m grateful for the benefits of health science, but vary wary of the government insisting I partake of the alleged benefits.  I’d prefer that to be listed as a reason as well, rather than lumping people with vaccination concerns together with the  woman throwing used feminine hygiene products at our lawmakers.  Questioning authority is not necessarily crazy.

Dangerous Grace

September 16, 2019

Here’s a good (thought-provoking) article challenging the latent notion in most Christians that the faith is primarily about them doing good things and not doing bad things, rather than about the perfect and final act of Jesus Christ on their behalf.

Reading Ramblings – September 22, 2019

September 15, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 22, 2019

Texts: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113; 1 Timothy 2:1-15; Luke 16:1-15

Context: The lectionary readings pit one of the most challenging of Jesus’ parables against a strong Old Testament defense of the poor and critique of the rich who prey on them. While the reading from Amos and the psalm are straightforward enough, everything gets complicated by the Gospel lesson. Is Jesus commending dishonesty? What is He attempting to convey? The problem can in one way be solved by where we focus – do we focus on the dishonesty of the steward or do we focus on the grace and mercy of God? There are linguistic cues between this parable and the Prodigal Son parable, which is more obviously a portrait of the great mercy and grace of God. This should guide us as we try to untangle Jesus’ words for this week!

Amos 8:4-7 – The bulk of these verses comprises paraphrasings of the sayings and actions of the dishonest. These dishonest are part of God’s people, but they are abusing their brothers and sisters in covenant community for personal gain. God’s Word to these people, which is referenced in verse 4, is finally revealed in verse 7 (and continues in the following verses). While the dishonest may feel like they’re getting away with things, God will hold them accountable in his time. In between we hear the thoughts of these wicked merchants. They lament the harvest festivals and weekly Sabbaths (the day of rest) when buying and selling is forbidden. They make no money on those days! And their goal is to make money dishonestly, by rigging the weights so that the grain they are purchasing from the poor farmers is said to weigh less than it really does – reducing the price they need to pay to the farmer. Meanwhile the weight measuring out the payment is rigged so that fewer coins appear to be worth more. The farmer is cheated on both ends of the transaction! Those reduced to poverty by such wickedness will then be forced to sell themselves into slavery or servitude, settling for the most basic of payments that barely keep them alive! Surely, God watches over all of his creation and nobody will escape his judgment when they cheat the poor (or in any other sinful act, thought, or word!).

Psalm 113 – This psalm calls God’s people to praise him and his name (v.1). His name is to be blessed forever as well as all day (vs. 2-3). Why God deserves such praise and blessing is elaborated a bit in the following verses. First of all God is above all nations and rulers, all earthly powers of any kind, and his glory overshadows even the heights of the skies and heaven itself. There is, in fact, no one who can compare to God in any respect, seated as He is on high in glory and splendor to look down on all of creation. But God is not simply transcendent (vs. 4-6), greater than any other power but infinitely removed from creation. God is immanent as well, involved in the affairs of creation. And his power is exerted on behalf of those we might be inclined to pass over or ignore as unworthy or any help, or even beyond any help. God reverses their fortunes entirely! This is why God deserve praise – He does what we can not or will not do for one another.

1 Timothy 2:1-15 – Paul returns to his instructions to Timothy in this chapter. What is it the people of God should do? This section deals with worship, what Christians do as they gather together. While the words apply to individual or family life as well, they make the most sense in the context of larger worship. The people of god are to be praying, and their prayers are to include everyone, including their rulers. They pray their rulers do a good job of ruling, providing peace for a Godly, dignified life. This is the desire God has for all rulers, as well as the desire God has for his people in terms of how they live and how they pray. Towards this end God the Father sent the Son of God to be our mediator with God the Father, and his mercy through Jesus the Christ extends to everyone, so that we can never say that someone is beyond the grace and mercy and forgiveness of God, if they turn and seek it. Men are to be praying in a Godly fashion, and women are not to let the fashion dictates of the larger culture determine what is appropriate in Christian worship. Church is not a fashion show! Far better to be noticed and admired for good works that simply the ability to purchase costly baubles. Women are permitted and even encouraged to learn, but in humility. Women should not presume to place themselves in positions of authority over men. The rationale for this goes back to Genesis 3 and the Fall. While the natural order of man and woman in harmony was disrupted by sin, there is an order in creation, one that needn’t be exploitative or unfair, but a true difference all the same so that even women who are able to teach or lead should refrain from doing so within the Church, as a witness to the glory of God in creation. Women are saved in their own created identities, not by taking on or usurping the identity or role of men.

Luke 16:1-15 – There are a great many interpretations of this parable, but we’ll go with the one that keeps the plain sense of Jesus’ words intact and in harmony with his overall body of teaching and of Scripture as a whole. And to do so, as usual, the focus needs to be not on the steward (you and I) but rather on the rich man/master (God). It is the grace and mercy of the rich man/master towards the steward that should be first and foremost. Rather than throwing the man into jail immediately, or kicking him out of his position immediately, the rich man/master is merciful, giving the steward time to prepare for the judgment to come – a judgment already determined in terms of guilt (wastefulness) and punishment (being fired).

It is this span of time the steward relies on to prepare himself. And he prepares himself by relying on the merciful nature of his master. By cutting the amount owed by tenant farmers to the rich man, the steward ingratiates himself to the tenants, who, not knowing he has fallen out of favor, will presume he is acting on the rich man’s behalf, and perhaps has even lobbied the rich man on their behalf. Thus not only does the steward grow in the appraisal of the debtors, so does the master. The master could of course undue what the steward has done, but instead allows in his grace and mercy the stewards shrewdness to stand.

How clever and creative we can be about our temporal affairs! How carefully we study investment plans and evaluate which mutual fund or stock or bond would be best! How we compare the interest rates on our credit cards and bank accounts! We know the ins and outs of how to be wise and prudent with worldly things. How much more ought we to be diligent – not dishonest – in preparing ourselves for eternal things! And if we are willing to lie and cheat and be dishonest with mere money, a temporal possession with an arbitrarily defined value, how unsuitable are we to handle things of real, eternal value. If only we valued eternal things so highly, and set our minds and hearts on preparing to receive them!

Good Time Outs?

September 14, 2019

For those of you out there agonizing over whether or not you are – or have, or did – traumatize your child irreconcilably through the use of the dreaded time out method of punishment, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  Maybe.  The University of Michigan has released the results of a study that says, done properly, the time out method of discipline should not cause any lasting harm to children.  Maybe.

While this article doesn’t address or acknowledge whether long-term studies were done on the effects of spanking as a disciplinary methods, I find it curious that the list of criteria for making time out an effective form of discipline pretty much match corporal punishment’s ideal criteria as well:

  • calmness
  • consistency
  • positive environment
  • planning the process beforehand
  • making both parents and child understand it
  • avoid shouting

 

 

Life As We Know It

September 13, 2019

Another epic announcement this week about a potentially habitable planet discovered in a far off galaxy.  These come out every now and then and disappear pretty much just as quickly.  But I love this take on such announcements, which helps put them in perspective as to their usefulness.

Go ahead, click.  It’s fun.

Weekly Devotional

September 12, 2019

September 10, 2019

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

– Luke 14:26 –

We’ve all wondered about this verse. How can the God who gave us all of these blessings, these wonderful people and our life itself call us to hate them? Doesn’t the Fourth Commandment call us to honor our fathers and mothers? Is Jesus contradicting himself as the Word of God?

The quick explanation is that these people can be idols. We can make them more important in our lives than God. We can allow them to sway us from living the way the Holy Spirit calls us to. We might even be tempted to forsake worship or study or other aspects of our lives in Christ in order to keep the peace at home or demonstrate love for these people.

Many Christians would be equally quick to say they would never let this happen. They would never let someone else come between themselves and God and become idols. All well and good and true, I think. Except I’m not sure we really think about how these people could become idols. We aren’t going to make gold or silver statues of them. We aren’t going to worship them. When we make them tea for breakfast or dinner at night, this is not the same as offering food to an idol or a false god. This is how we think idols look and act in themselves and in our lives.

I suspect differently.

Elie Wiesel in his haunting book Night describes in multiple places how his experience living through the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis destroyed his faith and trust in God. Seeing the worst mankind could do to one another, and not seeing God step in to stop, to rescue, to save (at least not in the way Wiesel thought He should) meant for Wiesel that God could not exist. Not a good, loving, trustworthy God. Faced with the blackest sinfulness in mankind, Wiesel could no longer hold on to his faith in the God of the Bible. For Wiesel, apparently, the people around him and his own life were an idol he could not let go of in order to cling to God.

We do not have to be the victims of mass genocide to sympathize with him. How many of us have watched a loved one die, sometimes in great pain, and wondered where God is in that moment? A fleeting wondering. How many of us have wondered at one point or another why God continues to sustain our life when we are more than ready to leave, to be with our departed loved ones again, to finally have peace in eternal glory? Is that idle desire idolatrous?

It could be, if we allow it to grow. If we indulge it rather than returning to the Word of God in our lives and experiences, the Word that does not promise us an easy life or a painless life, but promises the eternal presence of God in and through these things. If we are unable to maintain the clear perception that the existence of sin and the sickness and death that spring from it are part of creation for now, the reason the Son of God came into creation in the first place, to rescue us and save us. If we reject the comforting words of God in favor of our pain and bitterness and indignation. Then these loved ones can become the idols that separate us from God.

Keep the gifts of God as that – gifts, not idols. And trust above all in the love of God through Jesus the Christ in those moments of suffering and loss, the assurance these pains are transitory. Dawn is coming.

In the Beginning

September 11, 2019

My denominational polity held it’s triennial national convention this past summer.  I studiously avoid these sorts of affairs, preferring to allow others more inclined and perhaps of a better temperament to go and represent our local congregations.  We had a brief report at one of our monthly pastor meetings from the guy who went on our behalf, and there wasn’t much to report.  At least, I don’t recall him mentioning this – our denomination has once again (first in 1932) affirmed the Genesis account of creation in Chapters 1 & 2 to mean a literal six-day creation process utilizing six 24-hour days.  This was based on Scripture’s use of evening and morning to indicate a single day.

To begin with, I lament the difficulty of even finding the full text of  resolution 5-09A.  The LC-MS web site has a variety of links, but none I’ve been able to find states the full text of the resolution.  This page describes the intent of the resolution, which is helpful. This page gives a sense of everything that happens on a day of convention, which is overwhelming but not what I’d hoped for.    Maybe somebody better informed (or with more time on their hands) can find the specific wording for me?

 

***** Edit – thanks to Doug for providing this link.  The precise wording was broadcast on Twitter during the convention, and final documentation is still pending from our Synod. *****

There was, of course, debate.

Opponents criticized the resolution for being somewhat vague, centering on the use of the word natural as an adjective for days – six of them to be precise.  If the sun (and moon) wasn’t created until the fourth day, how can we speak of 24-hour days with any certainty or preciseness?  This critique has been voiced by others critical of the LC-MS position.

I find this hostility to the resolution and the theology behind it problematic.  Yes, the sun and moon were created on the fourth day.  Does that mean that God’s use of the word day throughout the six-day creation account is incorrect?  Did He misspeak?  Did He decide it was far too complicated for Moses in 1500 BC to understand anything differently so He just said days?  Would that mean God didn’t take into account our current scientific climate and assertions about the origins of everything that directly contradict Scripture on this particular point?  Was God incapable of maintaining a consistent 24-hour cycle without the sun and moon in place yet?

I find Mike  the Geologist’s certainty to be rather fascinating.  How is  it that you “know better”?  Are you that positive that a six-day creation is “nonsense”?  You presume that current understandings or theories of human origins  are superior/more accurate/more trustworthy than the Biblical account.  Would you then argue that the resurrection is not real because everybody knows better than that now?  Is it not possible that evolutionary explanations for the universe and our planet might be flawed –  unintentionally – and subject to correction down the line?  Is there a place for that sort of humility, or should we immediately jump to mocking those who prefer to take  God’s Word in this respect just as they take God’s Word for their forgiveness and hope of life eternally in Christ?

I understand this is complicated – and awkward – discussion.  And I agree, this is not necessarily the difference between heaven and hell in and of itself.  But if you suspect God wasn’t fully accurate or truthful with us in one regard, it’s not a big leap to think He wasn’t in other regards.  Or in no regards, because He isn’t really there.

 

Definitions

September 10, 2019

An interesting little piece on real estate and ministers.

I certainly admit to thinking ministers of Christ should think carefully about the decisions they make in regards to where they live – as well as most other areas of their lives as well.  This article raises some interesting questions that are not often asked (or reported on).

At some  point there was apparently an acceptable rationale justifying a 9000 square foot house for the residence of an archibishop.  Many people think that’s funny or unseemly now, but I’m curious as to the original rationale.  Was it an emphasis on the archbishop’s position and authority/influence/prestige?  And here I mean the office of archbishop, not the person who might happen to hold that office at a particular point in time.  Does real estate have a valid role to play in such a commentary?  I imagine a lot of those answers have to do with aspects of Roman Catholic theology I’m not familiar with, but I presume they exist.

It’s easy to point fingers and say that’s too ostentatious, that’s too big.  Except that those notions are acculturated in and of themselves and therefore not necessarily any better than the original assumptions behind building/buying the house.  I applaud the new archbishop’s commitment to “examine everything – including the home that I live in that the people of God provide me” in terms of Christian witness.  But I question a too-hasty, knee-jerk reaction that says any domicile over a certain size or monetary value is automatically inappropriate.

It all depends on how it is used.

There is a nod-wink later in the article to the parties hosted there.  That quote clearly seems condemning of the place and it’s at least occasional use, though the new archbishop specifically says his refusal to live there is not a condemnation of his predecessors.  Were the parties entertainment, as one might think of a wealthy person providing for amusement, or did they serve other purposes?  Does the Church necessarily need to hold meetings in a Denny’s?

Does the archbishop have a staff that supports him in his work?  Cleaners?  Secretaries?  Administrative assistants?  Do they live in the house as well?  Could the house be utilized for multiple purposes, or more appropriately perhaps, could more people live there than just the archbishop?

In other words, it’s easy to look at a price tag or a size or a zip code and pass judgment.  But judgment should take all aspects of the situation into account, both historically, for the present moment, and with an eye towards the future.  It could turn out that renting or purchasing another smaller place might in the long run by more costly than just living in the current building, especially if the current building could be thought of in terms beyond just one person’s abode.

To be certain, there are abuses of the collar and some of the other examples in the article seem to be good examples of this.  But size or cost is only one aspect of considering the appropriateness of a house – or a car, or clothing, or food – utilized by a minister of the Gospel.  Having a large space can provide other options if people are willing to explore and consider those sorts of things.  And I’d have to say if anyone is capable of doing a good job in thinking through sacred space or the use of space for the people of God, it’s probably the Roman Catholics.  I pray they have some good folks working on this situation, and that the resolution is definitely a reflection of the Church’s mandate to equip people (including clergy) to daily think through how to love God and love their neighbor.