Sunday, December 30, 2007

Your next president

The following is not about theology. So you have been warned. : )

What I'm doing is going out on a limb, and predicting who will be the next president of the US.

You will likely know in a month (probably less) if I'm very smart. Or if I have made a complete fool out of myself. So here goes.

A year and a half ago, in this posting on another blog (as well as in an op-ed piece in a local newspaper), I predicted that Hillary Clinton would win her senate race in 2006 (she did, but that was kind of a no-brainer) and that she would not be elected president next year. I stand by that prediction.

The bottom line is that since 1960 -- 47 years ago -- we have not elected a president from outside the southern or western US.

We have also not elected a sitting senator since 1960.

Think about it: this is a strong pattern in American presidential elections, one that has held for the lifetimes of most of those who will be voting next year.

My prediction: on Jan. 20, 2009, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas will become president.

I don't support Gov. Huckabee. I disagree with him on some significant areas. But he is the only candidate running who fits the pattern for electability in post 20th/early 21st century America: he is a Southern governor. The only others who come close to the pattern are former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson (who doesn't seem to have generated much excitement) and Texas representative Ron Paul, who is running an uphill battle because Americans seldom elect Representatives to the White House.

Slideshow of the exhibition on the prodigal son

I mentioned yesterday the exhibition at the Museum of Biblical Art of art around the theme of the prodigal son in Luke 15. I just found this slideshow of a few of the pieces from the exhibition. It's not as good as the real thing, but if you're in Bangkok and not quite able to get there, it's a good preview.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Back from New York!

OK, so now I'm back from our annual visit to my wife's family (thanks, Phyllis!) in New York. We got back in safely about 2 hours ago. Now a couple of thoughts for the new year.

First, for those within visiting distance of New York City, consider visiting the Museum of Biblical Art's exhibition of paintings centering on the theme of the prodigal son. It's a fine, enjoyable exhibition of probably 3 dozen art pieces, ranging in time from medieval to contemporary, and well worth the visit. Suggested donation is $7.

Secondly, if you've never enjoyed opera -- or if you haven't enjoyed it in a while -- consider taking in an opera in 2008. Oh, it's easy to make fun of this wildly extravagant art form. It's big and overdone and often over the top, and it's usually performed in a foreign language, but the learning curve is not steep, and I enjoy it immensely.

The reason I mention it now is that my son Matt and I were privileged to see the Metropolitan Opera's performance of War and Peace. It's all of the above: a cast of probably over 100, overdone with a huge stage -- including a live horse on stage! -- it was all in Russian (with English subtitles) and lasted 4 hours and 15 minutes.

Tickets for seats there start at $105. But because I am cheap, we bought standing room spots for about $25. Now I am a big fan of standing for such things (church, too, but that's for a different day) but standing for over 4 hours (with a 20 minute intermission) was almost too much for me. But it was still a wonderful night, and a great performance and I have loved almost every one I've seen. (We saw Mozart's Die Zauberflute last year at the Metropolitan, and saw a local performance of Madama Butterfly this Spring).

My wife does not share my tastes. But I trust she will come around. Maybe you will, too.

Some giving suggestions for the new year

OK, so you're burned out from giving and buying and everything else at the end of this Christmas season. But here's an article with some helpful suggestions about giving. I don't agree with everything this guy (Gary North, at garynorth.com) says, but I do agree with these thoughts. Giving to the huge, "name" organizations is not for me. Here are his ideas, and a couple of suggestions for giving:

"When looking to make year-end charitable
contributions, I ask myself this question:

What organization is doing a really good job that
either has little publicity or is very new?

The reason why I ask this is so that I get more bang
for my bucks. There are large organizations that will not
miss my donation. There are small ones that will put the
money to unique uses that would not be funded otherwise.

That's why I don't give to United Way or the Salvation
Army. These are large, successful organizations that will
meet their budgets without me. But some small, struggling
organization really does need my money. It is not well
known. It is on very few people's list to send $50 to.

For them, a $1,000 or more donation makes a
difference.

I give from after-tithe money, which goes to my local
congregation.

A good choice is any outfit that has made a big
difference in your life or the life of someone close to
you. Ask a relative about such an organization.

One that I give to sinks water wells in African
villages. One well will provide water for 1,000 people
for decades. That's a gift that keeps on giving.

http://www.garynorth.com/snip/420.htm

Another great project is Plumpy'nut. It's a peanut-
based food given to starving children. The food doesn't
require refrigeration. It's high in protein. It's cheap.
Mothers walk for a day once a month to get a container. It
saves lots of lives. It's a new product.

http://www.projectpeanutbutter.org"

Monday, December 24, 2007

The road less taken

Robert Frost's seemingly simple take on life. And yet not simple. Like many of Frost's poems, Road is darker and far more complex than it initially seems. I was reading it yesterday, and was struck again by what it means to us all.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Off for a few days

I'm taking off for a few days for Christmas.

May you have a joy-filled Christmas week, and a happy 2008!

Friday, December 21, 2007

How did our mystery song get into the LSB?

Yesterday I talked about Lift Every Voice and Sing, song 964 in the Lutheran Service Book.

So how does a song in which the gospel is not preached, which doesn't mention Christ, which gives nothing of the law, and is written by a self-described agnostic get into a Lutheran hymn and service book -- especially one published by an ostensibly conservative group like the Missouri Synod?

It's easy: Lift Every Voice is a favorite among one of the special interest groups which populate the LCMS. This particular group are the Black Ministry folks. Distinguished, of course, from Lutheran congregations which happen to have a majority of black congregants.

We note from yesterday's posting that Lift Every Voice experienced a revival of interest in the 1970s, and this probably explains even further how it got into LSB. Black pastors coming of age (or coming into the ministry) in the 1970s would have been exposed to it. And because the musical and cultural tastes of individuals are often set in stone in their late teens and 20s, these pastors grew to love Lift Every Voice. And when their particular special group got polled for "What songs would you like in the new book?," Lift Every Voice was a natural.

As a song, Lift is not all that bad. It's a bit generic, and it's starting to wear its 20th century quality a bit thin. But there's nothing wrong with it. It's fine to sing at a community function, or a school, or a rally. But it doesn't belong in a hymnal. Especially when certain folks who helped compile it are among those who regularly criticize other church bodies for their hymnody.

A few months back, I quoted a Primitive Baptist who said, "Hymns are small sermons." He was correct. Which means that as with all sermons, a hymn should preach a clear message, should properly distinguish law and gospel, should set forth Christ, and should bring us to the cross. Lift isn't the only hymn in LSB which fails to do these things. But it's an obvious example of one that got there in spite of its obvious faults.

Tomorrow: why Lift is a micrcosm of the problems in the LCMS.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The identity of the mystery song

The answer to my mystery song quiz is "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (LSB 964). The author is writer and professor James Weldon Johnson.

Check out your hymnal and see if you can -- without coming to it with preconceived ideas -- find the gospel in this hymn. Or the law preached lawfully. I can't.

Here's some information on Lift Every Voice, from Wikipedia:

"Lift Every Voice and Sing — often called "The Negro National Anthem" — was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and then set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1900. It was first performed in public in the hometown of Jacksonville, Florida as part of a celebration of Lincoln's Birthday on February 12, 1900 by a choir of 500 schoolchildren at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson was principal.

Singing this song quickly became a way for African Americans to demonstrate their patriotism and hope for the future. In calling for earth and heaven to "ring with the harmonies of Liberty," they could speak out subtly against racism and Jim Crow laws — and especially the huge number of lynchings accompanying the rise of the Ku Klux Klan at the turn of the century. In 1919, the NAACP adopted the song as "The Negro National Anthem." By the 1920s, copies of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" could be found in black churches across the country, often pasted into the hymnals.

During and after the American Civil Rights Movement, the song experienced a rebirth, and by the 1970's was often sung immediately after The Star Spangled Banner at public events and performances across the United States where the event had a significant African-American population.

In 1990, singer Melba Moore released a modern rendition of the song, which she recorded along with others including R&B artists Anita Baker, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Brown, Stevie Wonder, Jeffrey Osborne, and Howard Hewett; and gospel artists BeBe and CeCe Winans, Take 6, and The Clark Sisters. Partly because of the success of this recording, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing was entered into the Congressional Record as the official African American National Hymn."

All of which is fine as is. But what's this song doing in the Lutheran Service Book? I'll put forth my guess tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More on our mystery song from LSB

A few more hints about the song I've mentioned: written by a self-described agnostic, written to commemorate an anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday.

Unlike the canonical book of Esther, the song does mention God. (But given that the author is agnostic about this God of whom he speaks, what might this tell us about the God who's invoked?)

There's no church.

No Christ. Of course, no gospel. As we might expect, pure law.

It invokes memories of a particular ethnic group.

Later: which song I'm speaking of. And a likely reason why it's in the Lutheran Service Book. And what its inclusion in LSB tells us about the current state and future of the Missouri Synod.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

When Christians bought pardons and didn't give to the poor: theses 44 & 45

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. 45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives his money for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The buying of pardons: theses 42 and 43

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

The agnostic songwriter: another clue

My mini-puzzle started yesterday, when I asked you to guess which song in Lutheran Service Book was written by a self-described agnostic.

Another clue today: the song was written to celebrate an anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. (Not, it should be noted, the birth of Christ or one of the saints).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

True contrition -- and liberal pardons: theses 40 and 41

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

What song was written by an agnostic?

December is nearly always busy. My work is busy, and then there's all the wonderful stuff with church and parties and such. So that explains my dearth of postings in the last week or so. But I will endeavor to do better.

Here's a puzzle for you. More clues will come, God willing, tomorrow.

Which song -- I will not use the word "hymn" to describe it -- in Lutheran Service Book was written by an agnostic?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

When the Pope correctly speaks God's word: theses 38 and 39

This is one of those toughies among the theses. Here Luther puts forth the debating point that when the Pope proclaims God's forgiveness, it's true: he proclaims that God in Christ has forgiven the sins of the whole world.

Of course, it's not just the Pope who speaks that forgiveness: any priest who speaks the gospel to a sinner does the same thing.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation in the blessings of the Church which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and the need of true contrition.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Mormonism is all about

As the Mormons try harder and harder to portray themselves to the non-Mormon public as just another mainline Protestant denomination, it's important to know some of the things that make them different. While I'm willing to stretch the concept of "church" a ways, there are lines and boundaries and the Mormons are outside of those lines.

This is an interesting cartoon synopsis of Mormon teaching.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus

While I'm on a semi-rant about methods of preaching, I'll point out another issue with the church-as-classroom.

Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us." This can especially be said about churches.

Build churches without icons, and we forget that we are -- per Hebrews 12.1 -- surrounded by the saints of God.

Build churches without a crucifix, and we forget the cross.

Make a baptismal font insignificant, and baptism will become -- to us, not to God -- insignificant.

But the problem I address today is pews. Go into 99% of churches in the US, and one will find the following structure: a pulpit facing rows of pews. Which looks like a variant of a lecture hall. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, people (preacher and congregation) begin to imagine that they are there for their weekly dose of religious instruction.

Most of our eastern brethren realize that it's quite improper for us to sit in the presence of a king. Especially the King of kings. But sit we do.

Remove the pews. Provide seats around the side so the frail or elderly or tired or nursing mothers or whomever can sit down when they need to. But most of the congregants can and should stand.

Remove the pulpit. Let the preacher stand in Christ's stead in the midst of the congregation and proclaim God's word to God's people.

More about the sermon tomorrow.

What Christians have: thesis 37

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What happens if you write a sermon out?

I know that writing out one's sermon is a cherished idea. I suspect it starts with homiletics class, where we wrote the sermon out in advance, so the professor could critique the sermon. The problem is that guys keep doing writing them out. And woe to those who deviate from the written sermon. Supposedly, this is a path to rank heresy.

The problem is not with the written sermon itself. It's what it does to the preacher and the preaching style. We all know those guys who talk in a perfectly normal voice over coffee but develop a stained-glass voice for sermons. Not an interesting, beautiful voice, but what they hope to be A Holy Voice. And what they do is end up sounding pretentious.

I honestly think that pulpits are also part of the problem. It's not uncommon in Missouri Synod circles to mock those who preach outside the pulpit as "chancel prancers" or the like, but let's objectively look at what preaching from the pulpit suggests. It looks like a lectern, and is likely to make the preacher think he's lecturing. And the congregation becomes -- rather than the sheep being fed by the shepherd -- a group of students, dutifully hearing their weekly dose of religious instruction.

And a church is not a classroom. A sermon is not a lecture. Celebration of the Eucharist shows that we are giving forth life, and faithfully -- per the Augsburg Confession -- giving and receiving Christ's Body and Blood is one of the best ways to reinforce that church is not -- per Melanchthon -- a "heavenly academy."

More tomorrow.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Those pesky "letters of pardon": thesis 36

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

cf. John 1.11-14: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

Should preachers write their sermons out?

Been doing some non-theology reading recently (as I said earlier, it's good mental cross-pollination, and helps us stay fresh), and this book has me intrigued with the discussion of the differences between oral language and written language.

The vast majority of the world's languages have never been written out. Those of us who speak one of the world's big 20 languages forget that. At least I do. But most language is a spoken thing, ever-changing, ever growing and fluid.

McWhorter speaks at some length about how our language changes when we write it down. We imagine that it doesn't, but it's almost always vastly different. Which leads me to the question of the day: should preachers write their sermons out?

A sermon is a preaching of the gospel. It is not a religious discourse, a lecture, or a holding forth on issues of contemporary interest -- though it might incidentally be any or all of these. But the primary purpose of preaching is to proclaim the word of God to those who hear.

Some sermons are wonderful. We're all heard those that spoke immediately, crisply and succinctly to what we needed to hear. And we all know the duds. Those without direction, without a point, hard to listen to, and even harder to remember.

I've begun to wonder if writing out a sermon can be the first step to irrelevance. I shouldn't use the word. It's a 60s buzz word, when an irrelevant sermon meant one that didn't address the Vietnam war. But I mean irrelevant in the broader sense of the word, a sermon that doesn't connect the gospel to those who hear.

There are horror stories. C. F. W. Walther -- if I remember correctly -- mentions preachers in Germany who lectured on potato growing. And I distinctly remember a preacher who regularly recycled sermons. Which is not bad in itself, but please, please change illustrations that are dated or have no connection with the congregation listening.

Anything written out acquires an importance just by being written. We tend to think of it as A Learned Discourse. Something for a journal. Or at least a newspaper.

But the point of a sermon is NOT to preach something that people will read later, that people will admire, that someone will put in a collection of sermons. It's to give the word of life to dying souls. and I think that writing out a sermon tends to untether it from the reading that the sermon should be expositing.

More tomorrow --

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Is contrition needed?

Thesis 35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional licenses.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A cheap gift that keeps on giving

Some totally non-theological stuff. But since you're reading this on a computer, this is computer -- and other -- electronic suggestions that are useful for anyone.

"At this time of year, it's a real head scratcher on what to give anyone (including yourself!) Here is the gift that keeps on giving all year - a can of compressed air! This is often called dust remover. And the reason? ALL electronic equipment that dissipates heat, such as DVD recorders, televisions, appliances and computers are continuously accumulating dust and dirt internally through cabinet openings. Heat buildup is a prime cause of failure in all electronic systems. Think of any electronic equipment as an "unintentional electronic air filter." (Before using the canned air, attach the red tube supplied with it.)

Here's a slogan: "A cheap can of air prevents a $200.00 repair!"

* A computer's lifetime is often directly related to how HOT it operates, among other factors. Heat build-up dries out capacitors and causes power semiconductors to run at excessive termperatures. This shortens the lifetime of power supplies, video boards and processors.

To clean a computer, one only has to open the case. Many cases today are hinged and open like a book. Often no screwdriver is needed. In today's computers, there are no exposed line voltages anywhere inside any computer when the case is opened. Cleaning is best accomplished with the computer ON, not off. There is no need to physically touch or take a tool to anything inside the computer. It is impossible to have any effect on software by simply opening the case.

Here are the steps to clean your computer:

1. Spray the fan on the video board (and any metal heat-sink fins) to remove dust and dirt there, and also the processor. The CPU fan will blow out the loosened dirt. Heat sinks are usually silver, blue, green or black and stand straight out from the motherboard.

2. Use the canned air to clean accumulated dust and dirt from CDROM drives. This can be done from the front of the computer, with the empty drive tray ejected. Avoid spraying downward where the delicate head assembly located.

3. Spray the compressed air into the slots or holes on the power supply box. This is usually silver colored. A blast of dust and dirt will exit the rear of the computer with the air. Do a few short blasts until no more dirt exits the fan.

4. Finally, use the compressed air to clean out the cabinet interior and close the cabinet. The entire process takes about 2 minutes or less.

* To clean a DVD recorder (these run far hotter than simple players, and usually have a fan on the rear panel) eject the disk tray, and blow compressed air inside. The rear panel fan will help you and carry loosened dirt out through the rear of the enclosure. Avoid directly spraying the head asembly. This assembly will be located downward, near the center of where the disk tray will be when retracted. If mechanically inclined, you can remove the top cover. Note: Avoid directly blasting the delicate laser head assembly with compressed air. While open, the laser lens can be cleaned with a cotton swab and alcohol. Do not allow alcohol to contact the tiny tracking coils located near the laser. A film of dirt often builds up on the laser assembly.

* Televisions (with picture tubes) are a somewhat harder to clean with compressed air with the cabinet on. Almost all televisions have the high voltage, heat generating section located on the left inside the cabinet (orientation - facing the television from the front.) Vents around rear, underneath and the rear of the cabinet can be safely blasted with canned compressed air. If there are no vents underneath, the sides or the top then there is no dust problem to be concerned with. This is often the case with smaller portable televisions. It's not recommended that you open the cabinet on a picture tube television unless you know what you are doing. However, television lifetime can easily be about 20 years (or until the picture tube itself degrades) if dust is removed each year. Television designs today are actually not as robust as old vacuum tube televisions. Those televisions were designed to run hot - solid state televisions are not.

* Microwave ovens, refrigerators and freezers - these too, can become plugged up with dirt from simple convection. These appliances generate far more heat than the largest television set. Compressed air can blow insulating dust and dirt out of hard-to-reach places, such as condenser fins. A vacuum cleaner can remove the dust bunnies that will come out from the process. This also reduces electrical consumption, as these appliances run longer to acheive the same temperature when there is more dust around the condensers. A microwave oven cooking causes a fan inside to run to remove heat from the magnetron. While the oven is running (with covered food inside for a load, do not run empty!) blow compressed air into cabinet openings. The fan will help blow loosened dirt out of the cabinet.

Canned compressed air is a cheap gift, around $6.00. Some cans are sold in packs or two or more. Don't worry about buying a particular brand or what nonsense is written on the label. All canned air has the same inert gas. The only difference between brands is the amount of gas (sold by weight) you get for your buck. Some companies offer tall cans with 20% more than the standard size, for the same price as the standard size can. A bonus can like that typically has 12 ounces. Depending on the amount of dust and dirt to be removed, one can of air can clean a computer thoroughly perhaps two or three times.

Merry Christmas from

www.data4science.net"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What benefits are given by the Pope's pardons? Theses 33 and 34

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these "graces of pardon" concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The rarity of true penitence: theses 31 and 32

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Angel Who is a Shepherd

What kind of an angel carries a staff?

In Judges 6, Gideon is carrying out some surreptitious wheat threshing, and an angel appears to him, promising good in spite of the very bad circumstances the Israelites found themselves in.

Gideon correctly realizes that this is no ordinary angel, because he fears that he will die (vs. 23). This angel, this "angelos," this messenger is the pre-incarnate Son of God, Christ our Savior.

This angel carries a staff, something that only a shepherd would have (vs. 21). The angel uses the staff to receive Gideon's offering.

In a few weeks, we celebrate the taking of flesh by this Angel, this Son of God, our Savior. These are precious weeks, a time to prepare our hearts for God who slept in a cradle.

Welcome to Advent.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

YourRedeemer.com

Our local congregation's website -- Redeemer Lutheran Church, Burlington, NC -- is at YourRedeemer.com

The site provides basic information about the church, and also includes a link to our news blog.

If you're close by -- or coming through for a visit -- we'd love to see you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Joshua and the flood prayer

In reading Joshua 24, interesting how Joshua recounts (4 times: in vss. 2, 3, 14, and 15) to the children of Israel that their fathers had "served false gods on the other side of the flood."

The specific meaning of "flood" here is of course the Jordan river, which brings to mind a whole host of associations with the baptism of our Savior in that same river, and the parallel extends down to our baptism, too: we're taken to the water, connected with God's Word, and we no longer serve the false gods, but after coming over the flood, we serve the true God, the God who deigns to put His name on us, and make us His own.

Which brings to mind the other association for liturgy and theology: Luther's baptismal flood prayer:

"Almighty and eternal God, according to Your strict judgment You condemned the unbelieving world through the flood, Yet according to Your great mercy You preserved believing Noah and his family, eight souls in all. You drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host in the Red Sea , yet led Your people through the water on dry ground, foreshadowing this washing of Your Holy Baptism. Through the Baptism in the of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin. We pray that You would behold us according to Your boundless mercy and bless us with true faith by the Holy Spirit, that through this saving flood all sin in us, which have been inherited from Adam and which we ourselves have committed since, would be drowned and die. Grant that we be kept safe and secure in the holy Ark of the Christian Church, being separated from the multitude of unbelievers and serving Your name at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope, so that, with all believers in Your promise, we would be declared worthy of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

About which Fr. Ryan Fouts has some interesting thoughts. Fouts doesn't connect Joshua 24, but his thoughts on the flood prayer are rewarding and worthwhile.

How to be sure that you're really sorry for your sins: theses 29 and 30

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

If you've heard this, raise your hand. : )

"If you are really sorry for your sins, God will forgive you."

This is an error that gets thrown out far more than we'd wish, that if we are only really, really, really sorry, God will forgive our sins.

The problem -- as Luther points out -- is that no one is sure his own contrition (or sorrow for sins) is sincere. Much less someone else's.

And so you have people going around and around and around, wondering if they were really sorry, or judging someone else, guessing that from their facial expressions or whatever that "they weren't really sincere."

This is especially true when the sin is deemed worse than others. Or when the person keeps repeating the sin.

But we don't know when we are sincere. And we know that even our sorrow for our sins can be clouded by the very sin we're sorry for.

What we remember (2 Timothy 2.13) is that even when we are unfaithful, God is faithful. Our sorrow for our sins isn't what merits forgiveness. Instead, it is the merits of Christ, who died and rose again for our sins. For those that make us sorry, and even those that don't.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Review: Thomas Sowell's 'A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles'

My review on Amazon:

"Have you ever noticed how it's easy -- after, say, 15 minutes of discussion -- to predict how someone will turn up on a given controversy? So, even though you haven't talked about immigration or taxation or abortion, you find that you can accurately give your new acquaintance's views based on other things they've said.

This book helps to explain why that occurs. Sowell seeks -- and it's a tough task -- to give a broad guide to understanding the wide visions that we all carry around, and with which we interpret the world and the controversies that happen around us.

Others have complained that Sowell oversimplifies. I would argue instead that Sowell's given task in this book is to make simple what can be an endlessly complex job -- to figure out why we usually end up -- predictably -- on a given side of a subject.

What's also good is that Sowell doesn't use the tired, unhelpful categories of "liberal" and "conservative" which in our time have come to be simplifying without helping. Sowell's simplifying, instead, gives a means of looking at the world that clarifies and in the end helps us think more clearly and -- perhaps -- more reliably when we evaluate problems of our time."

The mercy of hell

OK, so mercy is not the right word. But I don't quite know which word to use in describing what I'm talking about.

I start off with puzzlement. I'm puzzled by those who profess to hate/dislike/be offended by the God of the Bible (and there is no other God: any other representations are to a greater or lesser degree idols) and yet who still want to end up in heaven.

We don't know a lot about heaven. Or hell. We know that heaven will involve the praise of God, that we will sing there (one of the few skills from this life that we know will carry over to the next), we know that we will be with God and His saints -- but beyond that, we don't know a lot of details.

The Bible just doesn't say a lot about heaven. Primarily because, I suspect, most of what heaven will be like would be pretty incomprehensible to us. It would be like if I could (I'm stealing this analogy) take a not-yet-born infant and try to describe what the world is like: beautiful sunsets, the sound of an opera, the smell of a rose, the grace of friendships, the taste of fresh bread. All of this would make no sense at all to our hypothetical infant, because she would have nothing to understand these descriptions. So heaven: we have only the most limited ability to understand what joys will be ours. So the Holy Spirit through the biblical writers just doesn't bother. We'll know soon enough.

But we all encounter folks who have no interest in church, dislike talking about God, do not pray to Him, and do not hear His Word. And yet these same people will often complain bitterly about a suggestion that they will not be in Heaven.

The biggest question is why they would want to be in Heaven in the first place. They have no interest in even the little that we know about Heaven; why would they want to be there?

God could have made us robotoids, beings incapable of turning away, beings who loved Him because we had no other options. He did not make us so. Matt. 23.37 is sad evidence that God permits us to turn aside His love.

As we don't know much about Heaven, so we know little about hell, except that it is a place of torment and sadness. But perhaps hell is also the ultimate statement of God's respect (I can't think of a better word) for humankind. Because we as a race are given the ability to turn aside from His love, and those who turn aside from that love go into hell. Not because God hates them (John 3 forever refutes that dreadful idea) but because will not force these people into a Heaven that they don't want, a Heaven where everything about God that they have despised would be forced in their face for eternity.

Hell is a sad and terrible place and Jesus -- who speaks of Hell more than anyone else in the scriptures -- never speaks of it except in the saddest of tones. Sad because those poor creatures who end up there perhaps spend eternity knowing why they are there, and despising the Creator who made them capable of joy -- joy which they away from -- here on earth, and there in eternity.

Prayer and the power of God: theses 26-28

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Church politics

I have strong political opinions (don't get my wife started) but I try to maintain this as a politics-free zone, just because while our faith and politics influence each other, it's very easy to become sidetracked by politics.

Which is what this post is about. I generally go on the assumption that when I can't quit thinking about some political matter, I'm being sidetracked from what I should be doing. And a temporary obsession with politics should be a wake-up call for me to get back to what God has called me to do.

Same with church politics. It's no secret that I'm unhappy with the LCMS, but when I get irritated by someone (or some thing) in the Missouri Synod, I need to get back to the callings God has given me: as a Christian, a husband, a father, and in my work.

Earlier this year, I made some suggestions of things you can do for the church. Those were numbers 1 to 5, here's
the last 5. When we become angry over church politicians, I would encourage doing these things first, and perhaps as an antidote to fretting over church politics. Not that the politics isn't important. But what you -- yes, you -- have been given by God to do is often far more important. Do what God has given you. And let God worry about the other stuff.

belated Thanksgiving greetings

So, I hope everyone is having a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. For those of you here in the States, of course. I've been outside the States for Thanksgiving once. It was kind of weird. My son did study abroad in Seville, Spain in 2003, and we all went to visit him that Thanksgiving week. We were on our way back from Seville, and had a couple of days in Madrid, and on Thanksgiving morning, my wife and daughters got hit with the urge to do Thanksgiving. I thought this was a bad idea, as it is very difficult to duplicate iconic foods of another culture. But there's a market for that sort of thing, and Planet Hollywood was offering a Thanksgiving menu for the innocents who happened to be abroad that day. So we ate there. I refused to do the Thanksgiving menu, knowing it would be wretched, and not being the biggest fan of Thanksgiving food in the first place. And the food was pretty bad, but we were surrounded by other Americans, and that somehow seemed reassuring. And we were together with those we loved which was the most important thing of all, and that makes even mediocre food seem OK. (Proverbs 15.17: "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.")

Sunday, November 18, 2007

If you're bored with theology

I was reading physicist Peter Woit's blog this evening. (And no, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, I'm not a physicist, or anything approaching one; I try to read different areas sometimes to avoid the inbred quality that sometimes occurs in theology and philosophy).

He mentions in passing that he hadn't posted for a while because there hadn't been a lot of news in the physics and mathematics fields.

I have no such excuse. There is always something going on every day in theology. Every day, folks. Because in theology we're dealing with the big pictures of God and man and the universe. And when we look at theology from that perspective, hey, it even makes the things our friends over there in physics write about seem kinda small. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, if you're bored with theology, you're bored with life. Keep thinking. Keep growing. Keep asking the questions. And keep finding the answers.

The remission of penalties for sins: theses 23, 24, and 25

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

Why was the sky bright at the time of Christ's birth?

When I was a child, I wanted to be an astronomer.

I was the nerd out there with the telescope. I sat out in the winter cold looking for comets. And I read about, dreamed about, and thought about the heavens much of the time.

But that career was not to be. Because I realized early on that my math skills were not sufficient for astronomy. (Most people who check "astronomer" as their job title finish an undergrad degree in physics, followed by graduate degrees specializing in astronomy. Physics requires math. Lots of math).

But every year around Christmas, I'm reminded of my interest in the heavens. I'll talk later about the star of Bethlehem. But today, I'd like us to ponder a line from Away in a Manger, in which we're told that "the stars in the bright sky/look down where He lay."

Some versions omit "bright," but it's in the original. And what "bright" brings to mind is an astronomy term called "Olber's paradox," which asks the question, "Why is the night sky dark?" Very briefly summarized, the paradox says if the universe is infinite, there should be stars at every point in the sky, and the night sky should be at least as bright -- probably brighter -- than the daylight sky. But it's not bright.

We do not know who wrote the first 2 stanzas of this hymn. I suspect that whoever the author was meant to say by the words that the sky around the birth of Christ were bright with stars -- a "brightness" that most of us seldom see, much less appreciate, given that most of us live in light-polluted areas.

Here's a summary of Olber's paradox. I got a book in the mail yesterday which deals with the question as well. It's Edward Harrison's Darkness at Night: A Riddle of the Universe. I'll review it here when I'm done with it.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Why do we want new members?

Most of us are in relatively small congregations. I sure am.

And while we pay lip service to avoiding sheep stealing, the reality is that in any small congregation (big ones, too, for that matter), our hearts flutter a little when a visitor arrives. Especially a local visitor.

Why's that? Well, the best construction is that we want to fulfill our Lord's command, that we want to preach the gospel to all nations, that we want to bring the good news of salvation to all.

And most congregations genuinely want that. The question is why we get such joy when someone arrives who is a baptized Christian, someone who has heard and trusts the gospel. And the reality is that our reaction is sometimes a selfish one.

Selfish because a newcomer is another potential giver, who will help out with the perennial money problems. Or someone else who might teach Sunday school, help out with VBS, whatever.

It's not wrong to rejoice when someone uses their gifts and talents in God's service. That's a good thing, and there is genuine joy in service to God.

The problem arises when we are too quick to take on a newcomer, someone who might be coming to us because of a conflict at another congregation, someone who might be angry with their pastor or someone who's just tired or bored with their church, and we offer a change.

I think pastors need to be sensitive to this. Because people will not tell all the details. They will flatter a new congregation, telling them that they are better, more faithful, whatever. It's good to probe a bit. And if there's anger, if there's bitterness, if there's unforgiveness back at the old church, that person needs to get it resolved. I'm not saying they should be discouraged from joining. But joining without resolving the old conflict only guarantees that the old wound will fester and become infected.

Encourage anyone in such a situation to forgive, and receive forgiveness, and ponder whether they really need to leave. If they really do need to move on, receive them joyfully. But part of confessing the church means that we respect and love our brothers, even if they have done this person wrong. It doesn't mean condoning wrongdoing, but we are one with our brethren. And this is part of acknowledging that brotherhood.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More on the meanings of words

Writing earlier about word meanings brought to mind something I read a while back, about "gay" coming to mean "homosexual."

Seems that this isn't a recent development, and that as far back as the 1850s -- at least in London and New York -- "gay" had already taken on a connotation, one which fully developed in the 1960s.

(I also suspect that this was a town mouse/country mouse thing for a while, so that those in New York might have heard this connotation decades before those in, say, Raleigh might have).

I remember very plainly the last time I heard "gay" used publicly in the old sense. I was at chapel at Moody Bible Institute in 1975. (We were still required to attend chapel 5 days a week then). A speaker -- one who was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and whose name I'll withhold to protect the guilty -- said something to the effect that summer was on the way, and it was time "to take out our gay clothing."

Snickers went through the audience. Some laughed out loud. I remember the look on the guy's face: he obviously didn't have a clue why people were laughing.

Words are tough. Meanings change, and sometimes quickly.

Teaching about words

A thoughtful reader asks in regard to my post about "fatherland":

"Why is it, whenever someone taints a word, that we jettison that word rather than re-teach its original context? It seems like we are compounding the wrong when we choose to avoid such terms rather than draw the fire out of them through proper usage. Observe how people are treated when they use the word niggardly, and the term has nothing to do with race."

As a language nerd, I'm sympathetic to this argument. But I just don't think it works. Not in real life.

Let's imagine trying to re-teach "fatherland." In the first place, the problem isn't with the definition itself, it's with the connotation of the word. Teaching people what they "should" hear when they hear a given word isn't easy. I know what the meaning of the word is, I know the German meaning of the word it's derived from, and it still sticks in my craw, and always has.

It's like with "gay." I've heard arguments that we shouldn't cede the word to mean "homosexual," but it's a lost cause. And on one level, we should have pity on homosexual activists. Because now the word "gay" has come to mean -- for those 20 and below, which likely means it will retain this meaning for a very long time as these folks grow into adulthood -- something like "dorky" or stupid. So my daughter will say, "He's so gay," and I jokingly ask, "Meaning 1, 2, or 3?" 1 -- the older argument, as in bright, colorful, cheerful, 2, homosexual, or 3, loser.

Or "propaganda," which was another casualty of WWII. Prior to the 20th century, it had more of a meaning like we think of "advertising." But that is no more.

Words are funny things. Their meanings are more fluid than we like to imagine. I'm a big believer in holding fast to meanings, and carefully defining words. But in the end they mean what they mean, especially when it's a term in common usage.

In a real sense, no one has tainted the word "fatherland." I do it myself every time I hear the word. It sounds Germanic, it frankly has a connotation of the Nazis, and there's not a lot I can do about that. I know it's an English word, and I know it is not intended in the slightest to remind me of the Nazis. Maybe it won't sound that way in 100 years. But I suspect there's a lot of people like myself for whom it's still a problem.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Jesus, Lead Thou On," LSB 718

This is a fine hymn. A good prayer, singable, and good words.

Mostly. I suspect I'm not the only one whose voice catches when using the word "fatherland," which has an oddly WWII German sound to it.

The English "fatherland" is translated directly from the German "Vaterland," and -- in German -- simply means "homeland."

Unfortunately, some of us singing it in English have a mental picture of the word alluding to Nazi propaganda, as here:

"Drawing from the Nazis' usage of the term "Vaterland", the direct English translation "fatherland" featured in news reports associated with Nazi Germany and in domestic anti-Nazi propaganda during World War II. As a result, the English word is now associated with the Nazi government of Germany (unlike in Germany itself, where the word means simply "homeland") The word is not used often in post-World War II English unless one wishes to invoke the Nazis, or one is translating literally from a foreign language where that language's equivalent of "fatherland" does not bear Nazi connotations."

A suggestion: congregations wishing to avoid unpleasant connotations might substitute (vs. 1) "to our father's land," and (vs. 4) "in our father's land." The meaning is not quite the same, but it's pretty close, and is a sweet and cherished thought rather than one that sticks in the craw. A quick perusal of other hymns so burdened indicates that a similar slight change could be made in them, too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Children of Men: how they filmed the birth scene

Those of you who've seen the movie (those of you who haven't, stop reading now: this is a scene spoiler) watched in awe as Kee gives birth. Here's how they did that scene so realistically:

Children of Men: the movie, and lodging in Bible times

One of the finest films I've ever seen -- and one of the most moving -- is Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Children of Men. I keep bringing this film up because it's a keeper on so many levels, one of those that you can imagine people profitably watching 50 years from now.

I've been commenting on the ongoing subject of Rahab's house, caravanserai, and other questions related to lodging of strangers in bible times. This is a time when Children of Men works for that, too.

The movie is not set in bible times: it's set in 2027 AD. But in the story when Kee gives birth, I think we get a picture (probably not unintended) of the dangerous situation when the Virgin gave birth to the Savior.

Not to knock Christmas pageants (my children have been in a number of them) but Christmas pageants generally portray the Savior's birth as a quiet, sedate affair, the worst problem being that Mary gives birth in a barn, where the only sound was that "the cattle are lowing." But Revelation 12.4 hints at the danger which awaited the Savior's birth.

3 more theses: on purgatory

20. Therefore by "full remission of all penalties" the pope means not actually "of all," but only of those imposed by himself.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope's indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.

Review: Thomas Sowell's 'Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality'

A review I posted today on Amazon:

"This brief (140 pages) overview of American civil rights remains important for understanding what has gone on in the struggle to have all Americans share in the rights recognized in the Constitution.

The focus of the book is the question of rhetoric (I might have called it "intentions") and reality. In other words, what's important in the struggle for civil rights? Is it that one is rhetorically correct, with "good intentions" or is it more important that concrete individuals share in economic, social, and legal improvement in their status in life.

The book is somewhat dated, as it was published in 1984. But its overall review of civil rights in America remains unchanged. Reading it now can be considered a snapshot of where civil rights were over 2 decades ago, but the differing visions of civil rights and how to attain them has not changed. Sowell is insightful, thought-provoking, and cuts to the chase, arguing carefully about his subject. Understanding America's continued discussion of civil rights is made easier by digesting what this book has to say."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rahab and the church

I've been pondering Rahab and her place in the story of the conquest of Jericho recently.

Since the primary story of the scriptures is about Christ (John 5.39, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me") searching for Christ in a given narrative is good. And although it's easy (my wife accuses me of this frequently) to perhaps see too much in the Old Testament stories, Rahab is a significant character, and I think her story tells us something. She's a type or picture to us. The question is what she's a picture of: I'd argue it's the church.

Notice how Rahab and the church are similar.

1. The church is made up of justified sinners. Rahab is specifically noted as not merely a sinner in general, but a prostitute. The only 2 New Testament references to her (Heb. 11.31, and James 2.25 both specifically mention that).

2. The church is saved by the preaching of the word. Joshua (in Joshua 6.17) calls the 2 spies who lodged with Rahab "messengers." I don't have an interlinear in front of me, but I'd bet that the LXX term there is "angelos," messengers, the same word often used in the NT for those preaching the gospel.

3. Rahab and her family are saved by being in their house, which is also a picture of Noah's ark: those inside are saved, those outside are not.

4. Her house is marked with a scarlet thread; we are buried into Christ's death in baptism, and thus marked with a scarlet mark as well.

5. Rahab confesses the faith: "for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Joshua 2.11) A confession is always a response to the preaching of the word of God, and -- per Matt. 16.17 -- such a true confession is never something we have contrived on our own, but it is a gift to us, something revealed to us by God.

6. Finally, Rahab and her family -- all of those found in the place of safety -- are rescued from destruction as they put their trust in God and His mercy.

Friday, November 09, 2007

OK, I have to admit ...

that I've been using a word I couldn't pronounce: caravanserai. Actually, it's one I've been thinking through (it figures somewhat prominently in another area of interest to me, Mongolian studies) for some time. I just didn't know how to say the word out loud.

So I thought this morning that it wouldn't hurt to find it out. Turns out it's pronounced "caravan-surry." I had been giving it a slightly different twist, calling it "caravan-sir-I."

This is the site I used to find how to say it.

Those in purgatory: thesis 19

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

more on the caravanserai

I am not suggesting that Rahab's house (per Joshua 2.1) was a caravanserai. What is fascinating is that a caravanserai (or something similar to it) would probably have been the place the spies would have been expected to lodge. The Jericho authorities would also likely have looked for them in such a place. But they were obviously watching Rahab's house as well, which we know from her tale to the authorities of the spies' escape.

This is a video which gives a picture of a modern-day caravanserai. This one was built in the 13th century, AD, which means it is centuries older than the situation we encounter in Joshua 2. But like many of the wonderful things on youtube, this one can give us a picture that helps our understanding.

Rahab helps the spies

The story of the sainted Rahab is one of those very interesting stories from the OT, and one that tends to get glossed over way too much. Probably because we are uncomfortable with Rahab's occupation.

Which is a prostitute. Since we are Americans, and since we all carry the burden of our Puritan heritage around on our backs, we are inclined to explain her work as something else. Innkeeper is the one I hear most often. Another is that she was a sort of a madam, which is our female version of a pimp, and sounds -- for some reason -- more palatable to our ears.

But the Bible will have none of it: James 2.25 confirms what Joshua 2.1 infers: she was a prostitute. And in Joshua 2, the 2 Israelite spies lodge at her house.

Which begs the question: what were they doing there? One very logical answer -- that they were using the establishment for what it was designed for -- is one we don't usually touch. It wouldn't be that unusual, given that they were likely young men, but the more likely answer is that young men going into a prostitute's house wouldn't raise an eyebrow. It's a perfect cover for spies, and that's what they were there for. Jericho was not that large a city; Kathleen Kenyon has estimated a population of 3,000, which isn't that large, and 2 spies -- who might not have spoken the language -- would have been obvious to the inhabitants of the city. Staying there would be a logical choice.

(Lodging for travelers was tough in biblical times. Many places described as "inns" would have been rough housing, with thievery and physical danger as part of the landscape. We tend to think badly of the apocryphal innkeeper from Luke 2, and he's usually imagined as a hard-hearted person who would turn away a full-term pregnant woman. He's also become a stock figure in children's Christmas pageants. The reality is that his giving the Virgin and her husband a place in the animal cave might have been the kindest alternative, given that the inn -- more like a variety of a Caravanserai -- would likely have been dirty, loud, and dangerous for the mother and her newborn Son. The link above is a fascinating overview of the caravanserai in the middle east in current times).

More on Rahab later.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Theses dealing with the state of the dead in purgatory

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

Luther's thesis on the penalty of purgatory: thesis 15

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Review: 'Language Death' by David Crystal, posted on Amazon.com

'Language Death' does a hard job well. The author seeks to show both the need for language preservation, and at the same time provides an overview of the process by which language preservation can be done.

The book started slowly for me: the first section is an argument in favor of language preservation, and a discussion of language death, and I found the arguments in favor of preservation to be a bit long and over-drawn. But then, I didn't need to be persuaded; I think language diversity is a good thing, and those not yet so convinced may need more work. But the book is overall well-done, well-written, and concise, and entertaining and thought-provoking as well.

An earlier reviewer (who's also a buddy of mine) suggested that the book gives insufficient credit to Bible translators in the job of language preservation. I'd suggest that Crystal may have a slight bias against Bible translators, especially when he refers to the work done by Bible translators as being biased. I might prefer describing it as narrowly-drawn, rather than biased.

But having said all this, the book handles a tough task in a easy to read manner, and gives a good introduction.

"The smaller the love, the greater is the fear": theses 13 and 14

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

"Tests of true contrition": thesis 12

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

how small changes add up

Marion Wright Edelman is not speaking about the church here. But there's wisdom in this statement.

Remember this when you worry about your congregation. I don't suggest that you worry about your larger church body; you have enough on your plate in concerns for your congregation, though prayers for church bodies are certainly in order. But keep this in mind:

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The shroud of Turin

I am fascinated by those little artifacts of history that don't quite fit into our paradigms, little events and items that stretch our way of thinking and make us question our assumptions.

The "shroud of Turin" is one of those artifacts. The shroud has an amazing history, and there are numerous studies done about it. Whether one believes this was the burial cloth of Christ or not, the artifact of the shroud is worth pondering. Here's one of those factoids that make us think about the shroud and its relation to the gospel accounts. You can read here an article about Mozarabic rite, a liturgy used in 6th century Spain, which hints at what might be evidence for the shroud.

When Luther still believed in purgatory

As I mentioned yesterday, Luther was not the raging protestant some make him to be. In these 2 theses, he affirms a belief in purgatory -- which he later came to disavow.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Kieschnick: "I'm not a theologian"

This is another of Kieschnick's cliches, and it's a bit more subtle and a bit more difficult to deal with than even the "grandfather's synod" cliche. Like the other, it's a conversation stopper. It's a form of bragging by feigning humility. What we have is a synodical bureaucrats bragging [!] that he has little prowess in theology.

It sounds vaguely humble. It's anything but that. The simple response to this should be to request Kieschnick to immediately resign his position, because if he's not a theologian, he's not qualified -- by his own admission -- to do his job.

But we hear this cliche, and feel vaguely guilty. Guilty because by saying it, Kieschnick sounds humble. It's designed to stop the other individual from doing the theology that has to be done, because most of us feel guilty lording superior knowledge over someone who's admitted they don't know the field. So Kieschnick by this cliche is removing theology as a grounds of discussion about what's going on in the LCMS.

Again, cliches must be confronted. Hearing someone say this -- someone who should, like Kieschnick, know and do theology -- we should ask them questions such as, "That's a serious admission. What exactly do you mean by that?" and "Is it appropriate for someone who is not a theologian to head a church body?" and "If you're not a theologian, why are you in the position you're in?"

Defining terms, knowing how to logically discuss matters, and how to carefully think through the implications of an issue are important. Debate in the LCMS has become sloppy and trivialized. Confronting the cliche-spouters is a first step in cleaning up our confused discourse.

"This isn't your grandfather's synod"

Since cliches are used to stop conversation, they usually have a number of underlying assumptions going on behind them. Which ones are going on with this cliche?

1. The people addressed are those who are not new to the LCMS. It has no meaning to me: one of my grandfathers was a nominal Methodist, and the other a Southern Baptist. I didn't become a Lutheran until I was 23. No one else in my family is Lutheran. But the upper leadership of the LCMS is ingrown, and this is a good example of this very real problem. Those hearing this cliche are expected to have had family going back several generations who knew the LCMS as it was.

2. The second underlying assumption is that newcomers (I refuse to use the word "converts" when referring to those -- like myself -- who came into Lutheranism by adult instruction when we were already baptized Christians) are not welcome to the particular debate. This cliche marginalizes those without the extensive family connections that rule much of the top leadership of American (not just LCMS) Lutheran church bodies.

Cliches and synodical politics

I don't encourage church politics.

Like getting into a wrestling match with a pig, the end result is usually that both participants end up getting filthy, an outcome that the pig enjoys.

Far better than to fret about who's elected to this post, who's appointed to that, getting the "right" delegates to whatever convention, is to do your job.

I mean it. Do what God or the church or both have called you to do, pray without ceasing, and let God deal with church politics.

What I do is encourage folks to think about what is being said. Consider how the discourse is going.

Because when we don't think clearly, we're captive to bad ideas, and mis-formed thinking.

A good (bad, actually) example comes from Gerald Kieschnick. Kieschnick is widely quoted as saying, "It's not your grandfather's synod."

A lot of time, energy, and effort have been expended on trying to figure out exactly what this means. But I'm going to suggest that it has no meaning at all. And that's precisely why Kieschnick says it so often.

My day job is a nurse. And among the injuries and illnesses and damages to our bodies that we medical people deal with, one thing we see are scars.

A scar is a place where the body's tissue has stopped growing. In other words, when your body is injured and a scar ensues, that spot will never "get better." It will look like it does for as long as you live.

I think a cliche is something like that. A cliche is a phrase used when we've stopped thinking. We repeat a cliche without thinking, and those listening hear it without thinking.

Cliches are harmless enough most of the time. When they become harmful is when they're used to stop a conversation. And that's what I suspect the "grandfather's synod" comment is used for.

We hear it, and we don't know what to say. We hear it, and -- as it's designed to do -- it stops the conversation about events in the Missouri synod.

Like most cliches, it has no meaning. It's vaguely seen as a warning that Missouri must get up to snuff, must stop acting as though it's 1953. But what's dangerous about this silly cliche is that it provides no grounds for debate, for discussion, for trying to determine what the LCMS should -- or shouldn't -- be doing.

As I said, most cliches are harmless enough. When something's "dead as a doornail," we've heard it many times before, but it's just a phrase people say. But when cliches are used as means of stopping the conversation -- as Gerald Kieschnick is wittingly or unwittingly doing -- the cliche should be challenged.

When someone says it, or something like it, ask them: "What does that mean?," "What are you trying to say by that?, "What was 'our grandfather's synod,' and how does that relate to our current difficulties?" and "If it isn't our grandfather's synod, how does that change the way we do church in 2007?"

Works of penitence: theses 8 & 9

Some of our Baptist (and other) brethren would make Luther a kind of zealous protestant. But don't be so hard on them: lots of Lutherans do the same thing. Luther's theology developed; he learned and grew, and there were things that he at one point found acceptable that he came to realize were not acceptable. Theses 8 and 9 are firmly fixed within the world of late medieval catholicism. Note -- in thesis 9 -- how Luther views how the Holy Spirit works in the pope.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thesis 7: into subjection to the priest

"God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A music video about Rahab

A detailed explanation of the assassination of king Eglon

Dressing up as Bible characters for Halloween

As I noted earlier, some folks think the only way to celebrate Halloween is to dress up as a Bible character. So if you're one of these folks, and you didn't quite get around to making your costume until now, it's not too late. Here are 3 characters to choose from.

1. Ehud, famously known as the left-handed judge, was likely more famous among God's people for assassinating the Moabite king Eglon. Judges 3 tells the story, and specifically (3.15) says that Ehud brought a present to king Eglon. And quite a present it was! A cubit long dagger, but Ehud had an interesting way of presenting his gift, and Eglon probably didn't appreciate the gift too much, seeing that Ehud rammed it through Eglon's mid-section. How to dress as Ehud: yard-long (cubit, actually, but close) dagger, hidden on your right side. Use only your left hand, for effect.

2. Jael (from Judges 4), another famous assassin (you can see how my mind operates), killed a general by luring him into her tent to take a nap, and probably faked being a prostitute, as well. Once he went to sleep (Jael helped the sleep along by giving him some milk, most likely a kind of yogurt), she helpfully decapitated him with a tent peg. Costume: tent peg in one hand, milk jug in the other, too much lipstick and too much rouge.

1. Rahab: James 2.25 is quite clear. Jesus' ancestor was a prostitute. (Get the whole story in Joshua 2). Despite the efforts of some to rehabilitate the pre-conversion Rahab, there's no way to pretend she was an innkeeper, or whatever. If the Bible's not ashamed to call her a whore, neither should we. And if I need to explain how a woman should dress up as a prostitute, well, it's just a bit beyond the scope of this blog. : )

Thesis 6: "The pope cannot remit any guilt ... "

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God's remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

Why not post the 95 theses in batches of 10?

A friendly reader asks, "Why not post the 95 theses in batches of 10?"

Which is a good question. The gentle reader wonders if I won't drive myself insane. Those with whom I am familiar will suspect that the drive is not a long one.

But enough of that: there's a method to my madness.

As I mentioned when posting the first thesis, almost no one -- including Lutherans -- reads the theses. It's one of those things that we -- especially on Reformation day -- talk about as a concept, but we just don't take the time to read and ponder one of the most important documents in western civilization.

(If I were to guess at documents Luther wrote -- and he wrote a ton -- that would be considered pivotal in world history, I'd guess the theses, his Small Catechism, and Bondage of the Will. It helps that Luther opined that the last 2 were the only things he'd written that were worth reading).

Have you ever had this experience? Been in church, reciting the Creed, and you realize at the end that the entire confession of the catholic faith has emerged from your lips while you were thinking about a football game you were going to later that day? Or prayed the Our Father, and it took the "Amen" to make you realize that it was over? Or made a general confession without realizing what you've said?

I can't count the number of times I've done all 3. So here, I'm making myself read each thesis all by itself. When I think it needs it, I'll comment. But I'm giving myself -- and you -- the chance to read them, a bit each day. May God grant us to ponder them in the coming weeks!

2 Cheers for Halloween

Halloween gets a bum rap in certain circles.

You know the complaint: "Halloween is Satanic." Or that Halloween glorifies the demonic. Or that children should not be dressing up as demonic characters. Or finally, that children should not go door to door, begging.

Wrong.

Do you know why people dress up in Halloween costumes? Oh, I'm not suggesting that you should ask the kids coming to your door tonight. They do it because it's fun. And because people have often enjoyed dressing up in costumes.

But the reason why people began going about in disguise is because they were making fun of Satan. Making light of the demonic. Telling Satan and his minions, "Hey guys, the jigs up. You lost." And they did it because this is All Hallows, the day before All Saints, when we celebrate all the saints who have gone before us, all the saints -- known and unknown -- who provide inspiration and guidance and a good example to us who still plod through here on earth.

Can Halloween be used for bad purposes? Of course. So can wine, Christmas, Easter, chocolate, whatever. That these things are sometimes used wrongly doesn't mean we should get rid of them.

It likewise makes no difference that pagans, Satanists or other pathetic persons like Halloween. Who cares? As with anything else, these sad creatures are doing as Satan himself as always done, and because Satan do nothing without making use of God's creation, these people likewise mis-use Halloween. Just as they forget the birth of Christ at Christmas and just as they concentrate on bunnies for Easter.

So if folks want to have Noah's ark parties, or want to dress up as Bible characters, or want to have a church service tonight, that's perfectly fine. But they just can't make it a law. Because there's nothing wrong with dressing up and going door to door and getting candy tonight. Halloween's good. And I hope that you -- and those you love -- enjoy it. America's almost innate puritanism is always troubled when people have a good time. You're not going to make the puritans happy. If you did, they'd think that, too, was wrong. So just enjoy Halloween, eat too much candy, and remember that Satan lost. That's why we celebrate. God gives us all things richly to enjoy (I Timothy 6.17). So enjoy them.

The remission of penalties for sins: thesis 5

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

I think it's difficult for us to put our minds back into the way folks thought in 1517. (Actually, it's hard to do that for almost any time beyond a few years back). What Luther is bringing up for discussion here is the question of the Pope's remission of penalties for sins, in time and eternity.

Notice that he's not making a charge against the Pope: he says "the pope does not intend to remit." Luther is arguing against claims made in the Pope's name for the remission of sins by the hawkers of indulgences.

Reformation day

Hey, everybody -- it's Reformation day, and while everyone else is putting on costumes (not that there's anything wrong with that -- All Hallows is a holiday, too) take a moment and ponder what began 490 years ago today.

Never mind that the story of the posting of the theses on the door may have been apocryphal (there's no documentary evidence of it); what counts is that an insignificant monk in the (then) backwaters of Europe brought forth statements for disputation, and the disputation that began there has not stopped. Nor should it. We need to keep thinking about the church, about our faith, and about what all this means. Because in the end, it's the most important thing in our lives, because that faith and hope and love will continue for all eternity.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

True inward repentance: thesis 4

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Outward manifestations of repentance: thesis 3

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.

Repentance and penance: thesis 2

2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

"The whole life of believers should be repentance"

Luther's 95 theses -- arguably one of the most important documents in western civilization -- are often cited, but seldom read. People talk about them, but almost no one -- Lutherans included -- read them. So, in commemoration of Reformation day, I'm going to begin posting them. Here's number 1:

"Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite [that is, "Repent!"], willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The "emergency" office in the LCMS

I'm intrigued by how often the Missouri Synod tends to operate (in ecclesiology) as though it were in an "emergency" mode.

Emergency situations are by definition unusual, unexpected situations, temporary and short-lived in nature. Any discussion of ecclesiology in LCMS circles will inevitably bring up St. Augustine's story of the 2 Christians in a boat, one of whom baptized the other, at which point the baptized one absolved the other, and this is told to illustrate that in an emergency situation, the church may call, ordain, etc. without benefit of bishops and other useful ecclesiological strictures.

All of which is true, and all of which is irrelevant in our lives today. We are not in an emergency. No one -- no one -- in the LCMS lives under emergency situations now, at least not in a churchly sense. So why does the LCMS talk about such emergency situations so frequently?

I wonder if the emergency mode that the LCMS has cultivated for most of her 150 some years is owing to the beginning of the synod, when Lutheran emigrees were here, wondering if -- bereft of church structures in Germany -- they were the church or if they indeed had the church among them.

And one of the great contributions of the LCMS is the realization that the church was indeed among them, that they indeed had God's word, had baptism, had the Supper, and had the word of forgiveness in their midst. But can we acknowledge that contribution and get past it?

The catholic church has historically operated with bishops, defined as ministers of the gospel who often ministered to a number of congregations, shepherding and superintending the gospel ministries in those congregations. Bring up the idea of bishops in the LCMS, and most often we will be tiresomely reminded that the church doesn't "have to have" bishops.

Of course not. But it's irrelevant. The question is whether such bishops would help ensure the free course of the gospel in our midst. And if they would. why are we -- as a church body -- so terrified of such?

Is there abuse of power among some who are named bishops? Of course. Can the church live without bishops? Of course. The church can also live without hymnals, church buildings, and a lot of other things, but when such "unnecessary" things help give out the word of God in our midst, we use them.

Some in the LCMS like to pretend that various synodical officials -- specifically, synodical and district presidents -- are bishops. They are not. They are not by the very definition of the synod (except in the English district), and they are not in reality. We have chosen to call these men "presidents" and in the American context, calling someone "president" makes them into political officials. This is inevitable. Calling someone a president and expecting them to act pastorally is simply not going to happen.

(Likewise the Missouri conceit that all parish pastors are bishops is another situation that's true, but irrelevant. Calling them bishop is confusing, and goes against the consensus of the church. It would not -- in one sense -- be wrong to call each pastor "pope" but I don't see any arguments in LCMS blogs for that nomenclature).

A couple of isolated Christians in the gulag in Siberia are in an emergency situation. Isolated Christians shipwrecked onto an island without means of communication are likewise in an emergency. But American Lutherans in 2007 are not in an emergency. Recognizing that, and recognizing what in our history has made us cling to an emergency status would be helpful. And working to restore a pastoral hierarchy -- and calling such men "bishop" -- would be even more helpful.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Review: Edmund Schlink's 'Theology of the Lutheran Confessions'

My review from Amazon:

"A book on the Lutheran confessions (or any confessional corpus) can go wrong in one of 2 directions.

Such a book can be an unvarnished tribute, that sees no difficulties and no challenges in the confessions.

Or a book can be slam on the confessions, a slash and burn coverage.

Schlink walks a via media, managing to provide a critical (in the best sense of the word) overview of the confessions while at the same time standing under the confessions as a faithful student, learning, questioning, and helping the reader to do so at the same time.

This is a challenging, engaging read, and was helpful both personally and ecclesiastically. I highly recommend it.

I'd especially recommend the appendix, where Schlink works through some of the tough questions about the confessions and their engagement with the scriptures and the church fathers."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jesus and Aramaic

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been pondering some of the linguistic issues surrounding modern day Hebrew. I found this article on Wikipedia, and thought it a good overview of Jesus' use of Aramaic, and usage in the greater New Testament:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramaic_of_Jesus

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thanksgiving for rain

It's amazing how much you can miss a simple act such as rain.

Not just needing the water, as we all do, but how much you can miss the simple acts of watching rain through a window, listening to the sound of rain on the roof, and enjoying the freshness it brings to the air.

We're predicted to have an inch today, 1-2 inches tonight, and another inch tomorrow. It's not all that we need, but it's a start. And a cause for thankfulness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

prayers for rain

We -- in North Carolina, and most of the southeast -- could use rain. Lots of rain.

Likewise our countrymen in southern California are engulfed by fires, which would likewise be helped by seasonable rainstorms.

James 5.18, recounting the story of Elijah, reminds us that God gives rain. And God is the one to ask to bring healing, seasonable rains to our land.

Luther's explanation of the Lord's prayer also reminds us that one of the things we pray for in "Give us this day our daily bread" is good weather. In times of extreme drought such as this, we are reminded of God's providential care.

So, a prayer for rain. May we be reminded to pray and seek God's blessings in rain, and be reminded to thank Him for His care in the past, and to be thankful when the rains start again:

"O GOD, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom, and the righteousness thereof, all things necessary to their bodily sustenance; Send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I just think it's a bad idea to name a product 'The Titanic'

OK, so I'm on a roll. Another humorous take on naming. It's the first segment. (I know this initial picture is not the most edifying, but it really has nothing to do with what's on the video. I suspect whoever posted this thought it would get attention. No doubt it does).

How names are a problem

Those old enough will remember a diet product from the early 1980s that was unfortunately named "Ayds" and was pronounced "aids."



When the public health catastrophe with the same sounding name began to grab headlines in 1982 and 1983, the manufacturer of AYDS pulled the plug on the product. Sure, they could have kept the product going, tried to explain what it was, and tried to plug through the laughter that tended to erupt when someone heard the slogan "Lose weight with AYDS."

But they knew it was a lost cause. The name was gone, as far as being something people could use for a product.

I'm not suggesting that the name Lutheran is that far gone. No one laughs when they hear the word. But for us, the bigger problem is that they don't understand what it means. For a church body, that's a bad problem.

The problem with the name "Lutheran"

There's a strain in American religious life that wants to pretend that at some point there were no denominations. And whatever strengths these folks have, this assertion is nonsense.

The Christian faith goes back some 6,000 years, back to when God warned the serpent of a coming Savior who would crush the serpent down. And through some 4,000 years of Old Testament history, there were various "parties" within the faith. The New Testament times were no different: the Pharisees and Sadducees were nothing if not denominational groups. The council in Acts 15 dealt with what would be termed denominational differences, if the event had occurred in 1983. Even that church body (Rome) which is secretly admired by many non-Roman Catholics as being undivided is split on what are most certainly denominational lines: Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.

Which brings us to the name Lutheran. "Lutheran" identifies a certain religious party within the Christian faith. How we are identified is worth pondering.

For most Protestants (and most Roman Catholics), Lutherans are simply a Protestant denomination. Nothing more. Some Lutherans like to imagine that our Baptist brethren think we are "too catholic." Maybe a few make that fine distinction, but most don't.

Those who have more opinions about the Lutheran brand identify us in ways I don't completely understand. It's the Garrison Keillor, Lake Woebegone kind of humor. What that is in reality, of course, is identifying Lutherans with a certain variety of Germanic or Scandinavian culture which has become rooted in the American Midwest.

Does "Lutheran" in the end mean anything at all? There are liturgical Lutheran churches, and those that use "Pass it on" as an offertory. Those who subscribe to the Book of Concord, and those (the Lutheran Brethren, among them) who adhere to a vastly smaller confessional corpus. Those who commune with wine, and those who commune with grape juice. Those who believe the Bible, and those who don't.

In North Carolina, saying I'm Lutheran means some explaining. To Baptists (57% of the North Carolina population) I usually have to explain that I'm not ELCA, that my church body doesn't ordain women, and that we take the Bible seriously. Similar, but modified responses are given to Roman Catholics or whatever.

(Such explaining usually causes me to sin, because I end up bragging that I am better than others. See Luke 18.11-13)

Which brings me to the question that I ponder a lot: why do we use the name Lutheran? If the name has no meaning (and I obviously think it doesn't) why not use something more descriptive of the reality going on here? If I make this point, someone's always there to say that "Lutheran" means one who unconditionally subscribes to the Book of Concord, and I'm good with that, but we've got to understand that this distinction is lost on at least 75% (I'm being generous) of folks in Missouri Synod pews, and virtually 100% of everyone else. And if this distinction is lost on all but a tiny group, of what value is it?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Learning theology from non-theologians

Of course, my title isn't entirely accurate. I want to learn theology from the word of God, and from orthodox fathers who have listened to that word without preconceived notions about what the word "should" be saying.

What I like is to do reading that I call "cross-pollenization." So I read lots of stuff by people who aren't orthodox, maybe aren't Christians, in areas I find interesting.

(I don't read much in the way of religious stuff by non-orthodox writers. It's too dangerous. I am serious).

What I look for are people who will cause me to see my blinders, people who will make me think, people who will cause me to look around in the orthodox theology I cherish.

Here's a blog from one such. I've spent a while this morning reading his posts, and he's fascinating and good. I recommend it:

http://www.blog.sethroberts.net/

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kings and all in authority

This is a post to encourage prayers. Especially prayers for governing authorities.

We are commanded to pray for those in authority: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour." (I Timothy 2.1-3)

This applies whether we like the individuals (and it's plural -- for Americans it would include the president, members of congress, senators, judges, governors, mayors, among others) or not. Our preference for one individual is immaterial. God has placed them (per Romans 13) in power, and we should pray that they would do their jobs well, that God would guard them from evil, that He would guard them from bad advisers, and keep them from harm.

This also applies when we think the individual didn't get into the office legitimately. God has His purposes, and we are to pray for them while they are in that authority. If we want them out of office, we should work toward that end. But while they are there, it is a sin to not pray for them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

40 days without water

Ever gone a long time without water?

I haven't. Virtually free, abundant water is one of the blessings of modern civilization that most of us take for granted. If we could bring someone to 2007 from, say, 1300, I suspect that would be one of the things such a one would be most astonished by. But the Israelites knew about the need for water. There's an interesting water parallel to consider.

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses recounts to the people of Israel his (and God's) dealings with them. Twice, Moses mentions that he went 40 days without water (vss. 9 and 18).

Such an event is truly miraculous. Without divine intervention, no one can survive more than a few days without water. It's simply impossible: God has made us as bodies that consist mostly of water, and we will die quickly without it.

Food is another story. That Moses went 40 days without bread would be quite uncomfortable, but do-able. We have examples contemporary to our time of those who have fasted that long. They end up pretty skinny, and ravenous with hunger, but alive.

The parallel to Jesus' time in the wilderness is interesting. Matthew 4.2 recounts that Jesus fasted 40 days, and afterwards was hungry. The first temptation is a food temptation. And while most of us -- who have trouble going for more than a few hours without food -- think that hunger would be the most appealing temptation, if Jesus had been without water, liquid would be vastly more interesting, by comparison.

The 2 events are clearly parallels. What intrigues me is that there is no mention of Jesus going without water. Any argument that he did so is an argument from silence. Luke 4.2 specifically says "in those days he did eat nothing," but fails to mention water.

Given the silence here, I have to assume that Jesus drank water during His fast. But I wonder what's the significance of Moses going without it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Negative Evangelism, or, How God's word works in spite of our sins

If you can't do anything else, maybe you can serve as a bad example. Here's a story of a bad example in evangelism.

The Old Testament reading for Pentecost 20 is the introduction to the story of Ruth in Ruth 1. The story introduces us to Jesus' ancestor in the faith, and is also an example of one of the non "physical Israel" saints in the OT. (Ruth was a Moabite. Other examples in the OT are Uriah the Hittite, the faithful general who was murdered by King David, as well as the saints in Ninevah, recounted in Jonah).

What I want to focus on is not Ruth, but Naomi, her mother-in-law. Naomi (whose name means "pleasant") is the bad example. We read of Naomi's very bad times: her husband's death, and the deaths of her 2 sons.

We can look at Naomi from 2 perspectives. First, she deserves genuine sympathy, suffering through what is a horrible situation. But her reaction is not good. I would do no better, but while we are encouraged to patience in such sufferings, Naomi shows none of that. Instead, she whines, complains, and reviles against God, saying that God has "afflicted" her (1.21). She further encourages her 2 daughters-in-law to abandon the true faith, and return to their ancestral idol worship (1.15). Naomi is at least partly "successful" in her negative evangelism: her daughter-in-law Orpah leaves Naomi, and the faith.

But someone has done something right here. Perhaps Naomi or her husband or her sons, but someone has taught her daughters-in-law (especially Ruth) about the true God. Even Naomi here -- in her bitterness -- blesses Orpah and Ruth, asking that the Lord would "deal kindly with you" (1.8).

We sin daily, and our efforts at sharing our faith fail, often miserably. But God's word does not fail. That's the message of Isaiah 55, that God's word does what it sets out to do, in spite of our failures to say the word rightly.

Should we be kind, winsome, patient, longsuffering? Absolutely. And will we fail to do that? Definitely. Like St. Naomi, we will speak the word badly at times. And like her, we live under the forgiveness that the Savior promises.

The second reading for Pentecost 20 is from 2 Timothy 2. That passage closes with this promise that Naomi in glory clings to, even as we do: God abides faithful. He cannot deny Himself. (2.13).