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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Maker

Guest speaker at our Reformation festival was Dr. Bill Weinrich, one of the grand old guys at one of our seminaries, a former native Ponca Citian.  One of the other speakers at our fest gave a speech on evolution and how Christians can talk about controversial topics.  I asked him why pastors don’t speak much about some of the strong political issues of our time, not the politics, but the issues and what a Christian should think. 

Weinrich got up and did just that.  Here’s my notes. 

In the early days of the church, Bill said, the Greek philosophers thought of the origins of the earth as created by a god who found some amorphous matter and formed it into the earth.  Why did they want to believe that?  They wanted to think that the god was subject to limits and rules which they could find out.  If they found the rules, they could plan.  But the Christians argued that God simply created the universe.  The Greeks hated that thought.  Why then, God was arbitrary and chaotic, and it was no good to plan or think logically.  Which came first, the nothingness or the god?  No, the Christians continued.  He didn’t create from nothingness.  He spoke His word and brought it into being.  “And God said, ‘let there be light…’” This means that there are two central questions.  First who is this God and what is he like?  Second, what did He intend by creating things?  The answer according to Christians was that He was the living God, the God who imparts life.  He “makes” things and gives them life.  And His word says He made us in His image.  Why?  Well, that is what He does.  He is living and gives His life to the universe and to us.  He doesn’t just make things like a carpenter makes things (adding order to the matter).  He brings them forth from nothingness and makes them live. 

So? We are to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind, says the Shima. But sin entered the world.  And so God made His Son.  He is a Father because He made a Son.  “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son.” “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver (Greek word is “maker”) of life.” God gives us life and asks us  “be fruitful and multiply”, i.e., to give life and procreate.  That is His intent for humanity.  So when people say that gays should marry, they don’t do so to give life.  The relationship, no matter how loving, is sterile and barren. It doesn’t do what God asked us to continue.  It ain’t from God.  We have this thing called marriage and Jesus insisted that it was instituted by God of one man and one woman (Matt. 19:5).  And so we have that as a definition of marriage and society also deems it has to be of an adult consensual age and not between close relatives.  All that is make it procreate successfully. 

God is merciful.  Though we don’t deserve even a second look because of our sin, God came after us.  The Jewish first commandment is “I am the Lord thy God who has brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  God saves through His mercy and comes after us in love.  Jesus, we confess, was true man, but in fact he was the only true man.  He was what we are supposed to be.  Trusting and humble and completely attuned to His Father’s will.  And with a mercy big enough to save the whole world.  On the cross, Jesus didn’t just save our sins like some sort of cash transaction, but they became part and parcel of who He was. He took our sins upon himself.  And yet staring death in the face at a point blank distance, He did not waver but confessed his trust, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Only a God begotten, true man would speak that way, because that is a mercy and humility that only God could fulfill.  And so the God of Life gave His Son life and raised Him from the dead. Please note, it ain’t God the Father if there is no resurrection. It would have to be some other nature. And so too, we must strive to look death in the face and commend our spirit to God. 

Hence Luther objected to indulgences as fundamentally against God’s nature of Grace.  People in Luther’s day were saying that man was made in the image of God, had great talents, could speak the words of God unlike animals and all sorts of other wonderful things.  Humanism. Luther countered, “and they all died.”   If you are incapable of something, if you are flat on your back and someone comes and lifts you up, what do you say?  You say, “It was done for me.” And so God has saved you, not from your deserving it, but it was just done and you accepted it in faith.  Grace alone.  And He put faith in our hearts to say “It was done for me!” Faith alone.  And then it relies entirely on the living God who speaks.  Scripture alone.  It all follows from the nature of who God is and what was His intent.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Losing America, Getting it back

Somehow the Supreme Court has managed to not just legalize same-sex marriage, but to force it on all of us.  Two ordained ministers in Cor d’Alene, Idaho are being fined by the state for refusing to marry gays in their chapel.  From there it isn’t much of a leap to demand pastors marry gays in their churches. Yeah, except that it violates Matt. 19:4-5 and Leviticus 18. 

Two things bother me.  One is that Christians aren’t upset.  To have government force belief and practice upon a faith—if that’s not a violation of the first amendment, what is?  Instead, Christians are apathetic or worse, they side with the secularists.  It’s not that this trend hasn’t been observed.  Barna measures poll respondents of many Christians.  There are 9 articles (Barna uses 8) that are known as orthodox Christianity—those principles taught by just about every Christian church in existence—salvation by grace, virgin birth, existence of hell, etc.  Yet in the polls, Barna notes that only 9% of respondents agree with these orthodox views.  A lot of people are more swayed by the Kardashians and the NFL than  our Lord, Savior and Friend, Jesus the Christ.

Maybe that’s my problem!  I can’t keep up with the Kardashians, nor do I care to. I’m a Norman Rockwell guy in an Entitlement World.  A Dietrich Bonhoeffer guy in a soft-Nazi world.  Or as Bonhoeffer asked a fellow pastor who came to visit him in prison, “Why aren’t you in here too?”  And the way I answer the Christian Apathy mystery is that I suspect that most folks haven’t crashed and burned as many times as I have.  Thus, there is little fear of God and besides, “do we still believe in a burning hell?!”

The second bothersome thing is that America no longer cherishes the Constitution.  We become just another nation of the Americas without our Constitution--another Argentina or Peru.  Our soldiers need swear on nothingness, let alone our politicians.  We scoff at property rights, and think that government rules over the people rather than “We the people, in order to form a more perfect Union.”  Buried at the core of this insolence is our loss of faith. For in the formative age of our Founders, it was considered that all men should be free to pursue their own relationship and destiny with the Almighty.  To step on another’s freedom risked challenging God.  Such a sense of destiny, known as the America Dream, made us work.  We truly did “ask not what your country could do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Now it’s just trying to find out what they qualify for.  The American Dream just means ease and money, not destiny.

The Constitution lost its luster when our schools began to teach ambivalence.  High school government classes went from being year-long to only part of a semester.  D’Tocqueville observed an America where everyone was talking politics.  Today, a lot of people refuse to vote or pride themselves in not voting.  You hear talk about how independent they are because no one running agrees with their hallowed points of view.  (That ought to tell you something is amiss with your views, right there!)

And so we lose our faith and our founding and descend into fascism of government dictates, multiplying rules and special privileges for the well-connected.  Then, we lose our economic luster and go from 3.8% growth from 1982-2000 down to 1.8% since.  This is but a symptom of the destiny we have lost.  But there’s a way out of this mess.  We must educate those who never bothered with the faith or the Constitution, a monumental task.  Revitalize our economics by de-regulating and reorganizing government bureaucracy, a monumental task. And we must reform entitlement with responsibility, a monumental task. 

But we have had big jobs before.  We are still the people of the self-evident truth.  And many of us find that here in our senior years we have yet another challenge to bring back America.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Inadvertent Rabble Rouser

We sometimes laugh that our careers have been lived on the edge, a couple of Rabble Rousers.  Of course these days, I just try to stay out of trouble.  But as I led a Bible Study the other night a name reminded me how I once roused a rabble rather humorously and without meaning to.  Stuff follows you around. 

We were reading about Dionysius a 3rd century bishop of Alexandria who wrote about how Christians rushed into a plague to nurse the sick while the pagans rushed the other way.  And then I remembered that weird teenage thing that happened to me.  In 1973 I saw old friend Ted Mayes who put his grin on and his finger in my chest and said, ‘So here’s the guy who got societies abolished at St. Johns.’  I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then he explained and we both had a laugh. 

In 1969 I was a freshman at St. Johns College.  Missouri Synod Lutheran colleges didn’t have fraternities since LCMS frowns on secret societies in a big way.  Instead they had Societies where you just joined and raised money for good causes, etc.  There were six societies at SJC, three for men and three for women.  Only one, the Demosthenians, was by invite only.  They were a group of big studs on campus, and I wanted to be invited like my roommate had been.  No such luck. So in a fit of sophomoric spite, I proudly declared myself GDI, an independent.  What I didn’t know was that the Demosthenians were a huge barb in the side of the faculty and staff of the college.  They had named themselves after a non-Christian, a failed Greek orator who committed suicide and called themselves “Demons” as a nickname.  Often they played practical jokes which bordered on vandalistic and they had a lot of beer parties down along the river.  Everything a rebellious teen loves and adults hate. 

I was vice president of our class and Ted was Prez.  Our Treasurer, I think was Pam Ochs, heard me proclaiming my independence and she decided she wanted to be one too.  But, she told me, everyone knows that GDI stands for “God Damned Independent” and the other girls didn’t like this label.  Did I know any early church father whose name started with a D.  “Ugh—Dionysius?” “Good, then we can be God’s Dionysian Independents,” she chuckled.  And so that year, the whole campus which normally divided itself into 3 groups, had about 40% of students who stayed independent.  And after that year I left to go to Kansas State and pursue a degree in physics. 

But, Ted related, the faculty, chagrinned over this rivalry and the Demons, decided it was the time to outlaw all societies—with almost half the students uncommitted.  “And you are the guy whose example gets thrown around all the time,” Ted said. “A promising Lutheran School Teacher who got discouraged over the atmosphere at the college.”  Whoa! That was hardly true, but good for an argument by the adults. Weird thing was that I learned about it ex post facto.  An absentee Rabble Rouser, no less!

Maybe this stuff runs in the family.  My seven-generations ago great grandfather was General Dan Morgan in the Revolutionary War.  October 7, 1777 marks the second battle of Saratoga at Freeman’s Farm.  Dastardly Dan re-wrote the rules of warfare. Prior to this, women were non-combatants and nobody shot at them.  But the women of the Hudson valley were tough women. [If the man of the house was felled in an Indian raid, the women grabbed the rifle and started shooting.] When British General Burgoyne brought merciless Hessian mercenaries with his army, rumors rose that the Hessians carried small pox. The women were ready to fight to the death for their families and farms.  So Dan posted them as sharpshooters and snipers behind trees and rocks.  The dumbfounded British and Hessian troups didn’t know how to handle this.  Burgoyne surrendered against an army that seemed to just rise out of the ground at Saratoga.  Subsequently, the French joined the war on America’s side, declaring us an independent country and the rest is history.

Okay, so once you get on Medicare, it may be cheap but not too smart to jump off a cliff.  I just need to learn to behave myself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gay marriage and then what

So the Supremes let stand the appeals court decisions about gay marriage, meaning it stays a state issue.  However, the upshot was that states with a gay marriage ban (over 30 of us) can’t say there can’t be gay marriage.  But since the state supremes and others rule that gay marriage is the imputed law now, we MUST have gay marriage.  Evidently you can no longer choose tolerance—“I don’t agree with you but go ahead and live your own life.”  Instead we MUST agree to gay marriage. And thus Appeals Court Judge Wiseman here in OK performed the marriage of the first two lesbians.  To not do this "would have been cowardly," she said.  Am I hearing this right? I always thought courageous stands were to do what you believed right, not to follow the crowd or notion of the moment.

And to me, the courage is to follow what my Lord, Savior and best friend, Jesus, said in Matthew 19 about marriage and what God said in Leviticus 18.  So why didn’t the Judge just say, “why don’t you guys find a Unitarian preacher or some other person to do this.” 

Okay, so do you have to perform gay sex to have one of these same gender marriages?  Can two brothers say they just want the tax advantages and thus get married?  Can three sisters?  Two women and a dog? You see where this is headed is that we no longer have a definition of marriage.  Is it love?  I love my boat! Is it just two people?  Those Mormons who hide in Utah canyons are cheering. Perhaps since boats and corporations can have personhood under the law, we could just marry all the ships in Carnival Cruises.  The bottom line is that we used to have a definition of marriage as two people, one man and one woman (recognizing that it was instituted to procreate) , mutual consent, and unrelated (recognizing that we don’t want inbred kids) and of legal age (to avoid child abuse).  But if all this goes out the window, we have nothing that really amounts to a marriage at all.  Which of course, is about where we are de facto with all the kids who have no dads.   America is slipping over the cliff and the people are just going to the mall or watching football.

Worse still, is what happens when the government imposes religion on us.  If a gay guy gets insurance with a family plan so his partner has coverage, does that have to be honored?  If so, does it have to be honored, contrary to beliefs, when my church carries the insurance?  I once thought the first amendment protected against such things being rammed down our throat.    Worse still is the silence of the churches on politics, who dare not offend members (contributors!) who are carnal Christians and think loosely about how we should support all the gay folks by agreeing with them. 
Why aren’t we in the middle of what could be called a faith war?  There certainly is a War on Faith.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Always October

Nothing like watching baseball in October.  Looks like things in Kansas City have gone about as fur as they can go.  But if they keep playing like this, they will win the whole thing.  6 steals in a single game—wow! I used to joke that I had a hard time cheering on KC since I wasn’t a masochist and they only had two guys, Roy and Al. Well, and Billy Butler, so make that 3.  But this year they have a whole host of young guns and even traded for Aoki—anybody called ‘A Okie’ is OK with me.  What they play is what we used to call Whitey Ball in St. Louis—hustle stuff, named after manager Whitey Herzog.  The Royals call it their Dyson Ball.  Which is why they swept the Angels. 

I often watch a game and turn off the volume when Shirley goes to bed and I get tired of the banter of sportscasters.  So much of sports announcing is sugar-coated and designed only to feed the egos of old, converted jocks who show off their knowledge of the game.  But if you’ve ever played sports, no matter how much you know, it means nothing unless you can perform.  Some can, some can’t, some have other problems. So you never hear announcers say anything controversial, “He’s dumber than a brick but can sure hit the ball.  He’s got a bad attitude, a real coach-killer, but throw him the ball and he makes touchdowns right and left.”

With the TV on mute, I watched most of the Nationals game against the Giants.  Pitcher pitched a high ball up around the armpits of a batter and the ump called a strike. Batter got upset.  Another pitch around the armpits and another strike call which struck him out.  Batter got really ticked off, slammed his bat in the dirt and got thrown out of the game.  Manager came out and protested and he got thrown out.  Now all this time, I noticed that the usual manner of showing the strike zone box and the slow-mo of the pitch was never done.  But after all the eruption, they finally reviewed both pitches.  Being an undistracted deaf guy watching only the screen, I noticed something.  Somebody had defined the strike zone way up at the armpits, not mid chest as is the rules.  Sure enough, it showed both pitches were truly strikes.  Ahem!  So after all the ruckus, and by this time I had the sound on, the next batter came to the plate.  Same pitches, up high.  But interestingly enough, this time the ump called balls.  Hmm. 

When I was a kid in days of yore I hated the Giants.  Giants fans always noted that they had won more pennants than any other team except the Yankees.  But if you looked at this historically, they won about 9 out of 11 before 1921—the days of yore-yore.  I’d even root for Dodgers because they hated the Giants more than anything.  Nowadays the Giants play good ball but grow even better beards.  Must be allergic to razors.  You can tell they come from cool San Fran because only mad dogs and Englishmen have a lot of hair and play in the summer in Houston or Florida.  They have good pitching, headed by Bumgarner.  Good German name.  I had a friend named Bumgartner, which is what Bumgarner derives from.  That means you can’t even grow a tomato.

Washington had the Senators when I was a kid.  I didn’t understand, but newspapers used to call them the “Nats” (i.e., Nationals) because they thought “Senators” was too big a word for headlines.  (as a poor speller, I thought that calling a team the “gnats” was an insult.) So the headline would say, Nats stun Yankees.  Nowadays we know Senators as Presidential Wannabees and we also text.  If they had had these advancements in the 1950’s the headline could have been even shorter, “PWs stun NYY”.  Of course that would be a worse insult than Gnats.

And of course, if the Cardinals ever regain their speedster team as in the 80’s, they won’t be able to call it Whitey Ball, because that would be racist.