Living Apologetics
Living Apologetics

Reading Ramblings - April 27, 2014

Date:  Second Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2014

Texts: Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Context: The season of Easter continues for seven weeks, until Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover.  The Gospel reading continues to focus on the events after Easter morning, while the other readings flesh out the implications of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for you and I today. 

Acts 5:29-42 — This reading picks up in the weeks after Pentecost, as the body of believers continues to grow and spread, facing the Jewish authorities with a problem they thought they had gotten rid of in crucifying Jesus.  The disciples who were once timid and fearful for their lives are emboldened by the Holy Spirit, willing and able to teach and testify to the Son of God even if it means suffering.  Suffering—while we don’t search it out—is not our ultimate enemy.  Life involves suffering, and in this situation the suffering is on behalf of the Gospel, so that the disciples are able to give thanks and glory to God for their suffering. 

Psalm 148 — This psalm of praise is rooted in the reality of God’s creative power.  All creation is called to praise God because He is the maker of all creation.   Such praise would be difficult, however, were not creation to be restored to the glory it enjoyed prior to the fall into sin in Genesis 3.  This psalm anticipates the response of creation once again, when all things have been restored to their proper glory and function, a direct result of the death and resurrection of the Son of God, to be fully realized in his Second Coming. 

1 Peter 1:3-9 — Peter begins his letter in praise of what God has done through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the good will of God the Father to bring people to faith in God the Son through God the Holy Spirit, thereby granting them forgiveness, grace, and the eternal life that flows out of proper relationship with the Creator.  We are to rejoice in this, even though we do not experience it fully yet.  Suffering is not the disproof of God’s intentions towards us, rather suffering is an opportunity to have our faith grown and strengthened.  Our eyes are fixed on the day of our Lord’s return, trusting that God will do what He has promised to through Jesus.  Jesus’ resurrection is our proof and evidence of God’s promises, and so we can endure the suffering of this life (as the Apostles endured their suffering in Acts 5) knowing that Jesus is victorious over every power that sets itself in opposition to him.  We may suffer and even die at the hands of those powers now, but those powers possess no real power at all because Jesus has conquered even death itself. 

John 20:19-31— Jesus has instructed his disciples to go to Galilee to meet him there.  However He does not keep them in suspense.  Easter evening He appears to them in Jerusalem as they met behind locked doors.  The fantastical reports of the women, and later of Peter and John, are now substantiated firsthand for all of the disciples except Thomas. 

Jesus’ message is powerful.  Peace.  Instead of fear and uncertainty, they are to receive peace.  Instead of huddling in fear, they are to be sent.  We often think of peace and peacefulness as a lack of activity whether positive or negative.  But here peace is equated with carrying out the Father’s will as directed by the Son. 

They go empowered for their work, further adding to their peace and confidence.  They receive the Holy Spirit so that they are able to pronounce forgiveness to people.  No longer is forgiveness attained through the blood of animals.  The blood of Jesus has bought forgiveness once and for all.  Jesus is therefore able to delegate that authority to his disciples.  To this day the most important work of the Church is announcing forgiveness of sins to those who place their hope and trust in Jesus the Messiah.  This is serious work.  If the Church does not do this, the implication is that people remain in their sins.  They have no forgiveness, no peace, no hope. 

Sometimes we are inclined to relegate the blessings of Jesus’ resurrection to the end of our lives.  We look forward to the Get-Out-of-Hell free card, and the promise of eternal life.  But the implications of the resurrection are to be enjoyed here and now as well.  We have forgiveness.  Grace.   Not just for those things that we know of that we’ve done wrong.  Not just for those things we’ve done wrong and have overcome.  But forgiveness here and now, where we stand.  As we come in faith before our Lord and plead our weakness, our brokenness, our hopelessness apart from him, we are assured of forgiveness and grace. 

What a blessing this is to the troubled heart and mind!  And how easily we dismiss it almost before we consider it.  How easy it is to let our minds wander during Confession on Sundays, and to let the words of Absolution float over our heads while we check out what so-and-so is wearing today.  We hear it so often, we begin to quit thinking about it. 

Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel message, and the Church must always remain the place where no obstacle is placed in the way of forgiveness.  Where repentance is taught, modeled, and received, and where forgiveness is announced and assured and embodied.  This is Christian freedom!  Not the freedom to indulge our sinfulness without fear of repercussions, but the freedom to let go of our past sins and guilts and to begin new lives in God’s grace.  Lives where we can be sent as agents of forgiveness and grace to the people around us. 

 

The Day In-Between

In-between times are hard.  Even a short period of in-betweenness can feel as though it stretches out for eternity.  How to fill the time, speed the clock hands faster from one event to the next anticipated one?  As a child life seemed a constant avalanche of in-between times.  Adults were so slow, time was so slow, and there was so much good stuff waiting ahead if only time would move faster!

As an adult, I don't have many in-between times any more.  It seems as though I'm wondering how the time passed so quickly, how I could already be at the Next Big Event.  I haven't even finished cleaning up from the Last Big Event.  If only the steady gaze of the digital clock would blink a bit more often.

Easter Saturday is one of those rare in-between times.  Not as though there isn't plenty to do, but it's a breathing space between the ruckus of the past week and the celebration tomorrow morning.  After mad-dashing everything, Saturday seems oddly out of step with the mayhem of Holy Week.  
For the disciples of Jesus, of course, this was a day of mourning.  Their rabbi and friend was dead.  The one they thought was going to usher in a fabulous new era for God's people was publicly executed by the very foreign power they had hoped He would displace.  What had gone wrong?  What had they missed?  What could all those amazing healings and feedings and resurrections and teachings have meant, if He could so suddenly be gone from their midst.

And if it could happen to him, the same people who saw to his death would have no trouble bringing about the disciples' deaths.  

Through the blessing of hindsight, today is not an in-between day of fear and dread.  I don't have to hide out behind locked doors for fear of being arrested.  I know what tomorrow brings.  I know the end of God's Story, even if I'm vague on the particulars of future chapters of my own story.  I know what happened on the cross.  I know what happened at the empty tomb.  I know that by faith, I'll be in that great family reunion snapshot of Revelation 7.  

In-between, I have a lot to do.  I've been blessed with a lot to do.  People to love and be loved by.  Scraped knees to clean.  Intellectual rabbit-holes to dive down over coffee or tequila.  Good news to proclaim, both to those who already know it but are as prone to forgetfulness as I am, as well as those who may never have really heard it before.  There's no shortage of things to fill my days, and perhaps the biggest struggle I face is remembering that these things are important and have meaning, precisely because I'm in-between. 

For those who don't believe or don't know that this is in-between, I can't imagine how frustrating things might be at times. We put so much time and effort into so many things that don't matter in the long run.  Working with older adults, I recognize this.  So much money and time and effort going into things that we let slip from our hands in the final moments without a second thought.  

Each day has to have meaning then.  If this life is in-between the glory of the resurrection and the Promise of the Son of God's return in glory, how to find meaning?  So many people struggle with this it seems.  So many young people who should be anticipating lives full of excitement and joy instead are numbing themselves with alcohol or drugs or any number of other things in an effort to fill the gaps, to pass the time.  Except that they don't seem to be passing the time towards anything.

Without a larger narrative, without a firmly set place in a large story that is unfolding gradually but surely to a definite end, what's the point?  Why bother working?  Why bother loving our neighbor?  Why bother with anything other than intermittent moments of numbness or pleasure?  What's the point of going on?  It would seem that many people - perhaps an increasing number of them - are realizing that without God, there isn't a point.  The only honest alternative is to face an utter meaninglessness of life, as this  very good essay (with thanks to Gene Veith's excellent blog and reference) point out.  

The Christian life can struggle somewhat with all of this as well.  We can become confused and distracted.  We know that this is an in-between time, but it's the only kind of time we've every known.  Maybe it is all about the nicest car and the biggest house and the hottest spouse and the perfectly educated and trained children.  Maybe those things are important, even if it means missing out on the smaller, less emphasized in-between moments of community and time together and looking out for those around us.  

This is the in-between time.  It isn't pointless.  We are directed by and towards not just something but someone.  Our meaning is inherent, not store-bought.  It is infused into our selves and everything and everyone around us.  Perhaps this in-between time is a gift to rediscover and remember that very thing, to better prepare us for who is coming.  How will you spend your in-between day, and your in-between life?  






Covenants

I've been playing phone tag the past couple of days with someone interested in possibly joining us for worship.  I like those sorts of phone calls, but they're also a source of angst.  People that call with questions about possibly coming to church are sort of an interesting situation.  If they're calling a Lutheran church, they have some sort of clue (usually) what it is that they might be dealing with.  In other words, they didn't call the community church up the road or another denomination.  They called the Lutherans, which indicates a familiarity with Lutheranism.  But if they're calling to ask more questions, then there are agendas at play, most likely.

It might have to do with worship style.  It might have to do with whether or not we're "confessional".  Today, it had to do with whether we're affiliated with Reconciling in Christ.  I didn't have time to look it up, so I simply said that no, we weren't, but that we welcomed all people to worship.  Which is true.  I don't care what your affiliation or persuasion or point of view is, everyone is welcome to join us to hear the Word of God.  

When I was able to look up RIC afterwards, it confirmed my hunch.  It's an organization committed to furthering the support of alternative sexuality lifestyles in the Church, and particularly the Lutheran church.  You can join the organization by signing a covenant with their organization.  I was curious, and read through it.

Paragraph 1 - nothing very problematic here.  I can affirm everything in this paragraph.  However, I find it interesting that it avoids a lot of key Lutheran language, particularly terms like confession and repentance and forgiveness.  It emphasizes reconciliation - what does that mean to this group?  Reconciliation means that something was separating us from God - what is that thing?  It's sin, of course.  And sin is a state of being contrary to God's intended state of being for us.  It requires acknowledgment of our guilt, confession of it, repentance and the desire to live anew, and acceptance of the forgiveness of God.  Christ calls us to repentance and into forgiveness and grace.  None of that is indicated here, though.  It sounds as though Jesus' primary concern is that we be honest with ourselves about who we are and live that identity out as honestly as possible, without considering whether that identity may not be pleasing to God or not.

Paragraph 2 - Again, good stuff here by and large, but again vague and non-specific.  Equality in Christ comes through confession and repentance and forgiveness.  It comes through recognizing that Jesus came to die and rise again for us because we are sinful and that it is our duty to identify our sinfulness and seek to die to it each and every day.  We can only come to the foot of the cross in that mode - in acknowledgement that He is our Lord and therefore He dictates what is and is not sinful.  We do not.  We are one body at his table only in this spirit of confession and forgiveness and grace, not aside from it.  God's welcome extends through confession of sin and repentance, not aside from it or without it.  

Paragraph 3 - Reasonable still, though dangerously vague.  Is my church welcoming and inviting?  Of course!  Do I want anyone and everyone to come through our doors to hear the Word of God?  Of course!  But they're going to hear the Word of God, and that may shock or offend them, as it often shocks and offends me.  Which drives us back to confession and repentance and forgiveness.  I am not free to include people that refuse the Word of God as the source and norm for their definitions of right and wrong.  As such - 

- people of every background and heritage are welcome, because God is the creator of all peoples, languages, skin colors, accents, etc.  

- people of all sexual orientations and identities are welcome to come and hear the Word of God, which will guide them into evaluating their orientations and identities to see if they are in keeping with the Word of God.  

- people of all relationship arrangements are welcome to come and hear the Word of God and what it has to say about their arrangements and whether or not those arrangements are pleasing to God.  If those arrangements are not pleasing to God according to his Word, then inclusion into our community of faith will involve honest efforts to change those arrangements, supported and encouraged by our community.

- people of all abilities are welcome to come and hear God's Word.  Faith is not an intellectual exercise that requires a certain cognitive level. 

Final Paragraph - Follow not just in the steps of Christ, but in his words and teaching, which include the words and teaching of all of Scripture.


The phrasing is all generic and vague enough that, if the intentions of this organization weren't more clearly obvious.  I could sign off on a covenant like this in good faith, but I strongly suspect they would not be at all happy with what I  preach and teach in this congregation.  Their people would definitely be welcome here to hear the Word of God, but they would find out that we take the Word of God seriously.  Sin is called sin here, whether it's gossip, cheating on your taxes, living with your boyfriend, or engaging in an alternative sexuality lifestyle.  

I doubt that the person who called will be coming to worship.  They would be taking a big risk.  From their perspective, the risk is not being affirmed and encouraged in a particular belief or lifestyle.  From my perspective, their risk is the same as mine every day - being confronted with the living Word of God that convicts me of my sin, drives me to confession, comforts me with forgiveness, and bids me to go and sin no more.  

That's a really big risk for every single person.  The most important risk and the most necessary risk in all our lives.  If God didn't spare his own Son for you and I, He is not going to allow us the luxury of claiming that sin is acceptable.  That's never a pleasant thing.  We all prefer to see our sin in less stark terms.  Which is why we need to hear the Word of God over and over and over again.  The only covenant that matters is the one written in Jesus' blood.  No other covenant matters, and nothing can be added to His.  








Wet Bar Wednesday - Tom Collins

I'm not doing much drinking this week, what with it being Holy Week and all.  The drinks will flow more profusely next week.  Or, more accurately, starting at about 1:00 PM Sunday afternoon.  Feel free to join me!

In the meantime, I checked with my default online drink database to see the most searched drink of the past week.  The winner?  

And before I tell you the winner, and hopefully before you go to the webtender.com link above, be forewarned:  people who drink a lot tend to give really rude, obnoxious, obscene, and offensive names to their concoctions.  Be forewarned.  Be VERY forewarned.  

However, the Tom Collins is innocuous enough.  The name of the drink dates back to at least the latter part of the mid-19th century, and was first reported in a drink book in 1876.  If you aren't sure what you're in the mood for, this is probably a good option for you.  

This is a light, refreshing drink that's great on a hot day.  Basically it's a sparkling lemonade with gin.  I'm not a huge fan of gin, but it's OK here.  I generally opt for Bombay Sapphire or Hendricks for my gin.  Both are pricier, but cleaner tasting (to me), and therefore more palatable.  Hendricks Gin is a very different sort of gin (made with cucumbers) that I find much easier on the taste buds for martinis and other gin-heavy drinks.  

  • 2 oz gin
  • 1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar (superfine is usually what is called for, so that it dissolves quickly & completely)
  • 3 oz club soda
  • cherry & orange slice to garnish
Put the gin, lemon juice and sugar into a shaker with a little ice and shake well (to completely dissolve the sugar).  If you prefer, you can substitute agave or stevia for the sugar, but you'll want to use less since they're sweeter than sugar.  Fill a tall (collins) glass with ice.  Strain the shaken mixture into the glass.  Top with club soda, garnish with the cherry and orange slice.  It's pretty to look at, easy to drink, and very refreshing.  Enjoy!





It's Holy Week

Things will have been a bit slow on the posting here.  I'll catch up.  Go to church.  Repeatedly.  That is all.

Children Playing with Guns

Or something along these lines.

In the rush to equip children with what once were the accoutrements of successful adults, we continue to display our own foolishness as adults.  

Consider the current fiasco between an alleged 14-year old girl and American Airlines.  Despite growing up in a completely post 9/11, security paranoid world, despite being part of a generation that takes technology for granted and is lauded as savvy beyond words, this girl apparently figures that a fun use of technology and Twitter is to send fake terrorist threats to airlines.  

Not all kids are ready to have cell phones and Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts, regardless of whether their peers do or they are legally entitled to by terms of service.  And even smart, savvy kids do stupid things sometimes, particularly when friends are involved.

I hope this scares the heck out of this girl, and I hope parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles and older brothers and sisters) everywhere continue to talk with the young people in their lives not just about the blessings and benefits of technology, but of the very real risks they run.  I hope this was just a typical prank.  If so, it would be pointless to ruin this girl's life with a criminal record.  But it highlights just how dangerous technology can be, and how carefully families need to consider the risks they offer their kids by turning them loose on it too soon.  


Reading Ramblings - April 20, 2014


Date:  Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014

Texts: Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 16; Colossians 3:1-4; Matthew 28:1-10

Context: Properly speaking Easter is the most important day of the liturgical year.  Or any year.  While Christmas gets all the press, Easter is truly the pivotal point of the entire Christian story.  Without Easter, there is no Christianity.  Without the resurrection of Jesus as proof of his doings and teachings, He would remain another fascinating dead person.  Inspiring, enigmatic perhaps, but not a Savior.  We would have no hope, and we might as well sleep in on Sunday mornings because we would still be waiting for the Messiah.  Easter changes EVERYTHING. 

Acts 10:34-43 — What do we say about our faith to those who are outside of it?  Peter’s profession of faith here is a beautifully succinct example.  He speaks to the centurion Cornelius and his family.  He believes in God, but he does not know about Jesus.  He begins with what Cornelius and his family have undoubtedly already heard from their interactions with Jews.  He continues to what Cornelius may not know—that Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to many, but not everyone.  And he concludes by directing Cornelius to the Hebrew Scriptures for specific information about what God’s intentions through faith in Jesus Christ are. 

Psalm 16 — This is a psalm of faith and trust in the Lord.  On Easter Sunday we can well imagine Jesus himself giving praise to his heavenly Father using this psalm!  Truly, as Jesus himself knew, we have no good apart from God the Father.  While others may seek after other gods to meet their needs, those gods cannot help them.  In the Lord we are blessed beyond measure—not simply or primarily in this world and life, but in eternity.  Through our adherence to his guide for living, our lives are rooted firmly and cannot be shaken from our faith in him.  Even in the hour of death we can give thanks that the grave cannot hold us—He will redeem us from the dead to enjoy his blessings forever!

Colossians 3:1-4 — Because the Scriptures testify, as Peter told Cornelius, that faith in Jesus results in the forgiveness of sins, the faith the Holy Spirit creates in us really does make us into new creations.  We are set free from the mastery of sin, though not entirely from sin itself.   In the waters of baptism our sinful natures have been killed and we have been resurrected with Christ as a new creation.  Therefore, our thoughts should reflect this.  It would be unfitting to have been raised in Christ, yet allow our thoughts to constantly dwell on all the ways of thinking and being that dominated over us through sin!  We are to consider and focus on other things!  In doing so, we will find that our actions begin to change as well as we look forward to our final, bodily resurrection in Christ when He comes again.

Matthew 28:1-10— Guards and seals couldn’t keep the Son of God inside the tomb.  This is the single most important event in all of human history.  In the history of the universe.  Nothing since the creation of all things has had as much significance as the assertion that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. 

It is a mind-boggling assertion.  We have no way of explaining it beyond what Scripture tells us.  We have no way of duplicating it, and we have no other examples of someone raised from the dead outside of the ministry of Jesus.  If what the Gospels assert is true, then the implications of all that Jesus said and did prior to and after his death and resurrection are the most important message the world has ever heard.  If the Gospels are not telling the truth, nothing else that Jesus said or did makes any difference in the least.

Those who would like to find in Jesus a moral model, an ethical idol, someone showing us the way to live miss the resurrection entirely.   Moral teachers and ethical exhorters are not uncommon.  Nor are the messages of morality unique to Christianity (though Christianity gives them a unique authority).  If all Jesus did was show us how to live right, then there is no reason to place our hope in him.  It is his resurrection that makes all the difference.

His death and resurrection assure us that there is a God who loves us and cares for us, a God who welcomes us with forgiveness and grace.  We can know true peace in our lives, despite the maelstroms that may rage about us, because we know our future is secure in Christ. 

That future is also depicted as new life.  Physical, bodily new life.  Our hope is that even though we die, yet we will live in Jesus Christ.  While death may separate our spirit and body for a time, there will come a day when Jesus returns, and we will be reunited in body and spirit.  We will be whole in a way we have never been whole before—wholly and completely who we are supposed to be.  Fully human, but perfect.  Never to be afflicted with sickness or disease or aging again. 

This is the message that we bear to the world.  Our message is not one primarily of morality and ethics.  Morality and ethics work themselves out in the light of the Gospel.  Our job is to preach Jesus the Son of God crucified and resurrected.  The message hasn’t changed since Pentecost, or since Peter preached it to Cornelius and his household.  And now as then, when that message is preached the Holy Spirit is already at work in the hearts and minds of the hearer. 

The Church has nothing new to bring the world.  The world does not need something new.  The church brings a 2000 year old message to the world.  It is the only message the world has ever or will ever need, the good news that in Jesus Christ, all things are being remade new.  This begins with the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth 2000 years ago.  It begins with Easter Sunday.  We live in the light of that glorious first Easter Sunrise, and all our lives should be a living out of that blessed refrain:

He Is Risen! 

He Is Risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

How Convenient!

A new study claims to have finally disproved completely that climate change in the last 100 years could be natural, rather than man-made.  

The study results line up in a more precise range of estimates given by another study conducted by the International Panel on Climate Change (although I think that this is actually the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).  It's interesting to note that the actual level of climate change reported, .09% since 1880, does not line up with either of the study projections.  I presume that this is because we haven't doubled the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, though we're closing in on that number.  However not everyone agrees with these measurements.  It isn't as though people haven't been talking about this stuff for a while, though.  Here's an interesting graph (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png)  that compiles - without judgment or filtering - data from ten different climate studies in the past 15 years or so.  

What I find humorous, and what ultimately makes the results of this study questionable, is the obvious bias expressed by the researcher against "climate-change deniers".  Not people who question the causes of climate change, but deniers.  Why would this study change deniers' minds?  What this study might do is cause people who are willing to admit that climate change is occurring to question their ideas about the reasons for the climate change.  Instead, the researcher gloats that this is a hammer-blow to deniers.  Curious.  






Costly Childcare

According to this report (as referred to in this much shorter article), child-care costs are now higher in a majority of the US than college tuition rates.  Child care rates for two children exceed median montly rent amounts in all 50 states.  

The result?  More moms are staying home to raise their children.  

Jesus' Wife?

So there's this text fragment where Jesus makes reference to "my wife" that has the academic community all up in a tizzy.  A Harvard scholar discovered the fragment a few years back, but based on some characteristics of the fragment (some possible grammatical errors and other peculiarities) it was presumed by some to be a forgery - a modern work attempting to pass itself off as an ancient document.

It's a tiny text fragment, but the use of the personal pronoun in reference to a wife has of course garnered a lot of attention.  Tests have come back that date the papyrus to around 800 AD, and analysis of the ink say it is consistent with ancient inks, and does not appear to have been applied recently (an idea Paul Maier has explored in one of his books).  

What does this mean?  Nobody is certain.

It means that the fragment may be authentic, dating to around 800 years after the life of Christ.  It comes likely from Egypt and the Coptic community there - Greek-speaking (and writing) Egyptians.  The material in the fragment appears to come almost word for word from another known document, the Gospel of Thomas.  

There is at least one scholar who is still convinced that the document is a forgery, craftily created to address one of the hot-button issues in the Church over the role of women.  

I'm not really that worried about this text fragment.  Firstly, it's 800 years after the life of Christ, and clearly not an original work.  We already know about the things that it says (although I find it interesting that not a single news source I could find actually provided a translation of the full text as it appears on the fragment.  Curious!).  For people who think that 20-30 years is a long time between events happening and recorded accounts to be written down (and these folks are NOT historians or else they'd know what a strange objection that is), this text ought to be completely irrelevant.  

Being the phenomenal and unique figure that He was (and is), Jesus obviously has spawned a great deal of writing.  We know about a great deal of this extra-Biblical material, and the Church has known about it and dealt with it for centuries.  If this new fragment says something contrary to the Gospels, so what?  We know that people were fabricating things about Jesus, and as if Jesus himself had said them.  They obviously didn't understand the impact that their imaginings would have on the faithful 1200 years down the road!  

So don't freak out.  This text hasn't proved anything other than that it may be very old.