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God Has No Office Hours

I have a stack of old notebooks from classes and I love to look through them and try to remember things that I learned.  I have a notation that I found wonderfully illuminating.  A forgotten prof from my Senior college day years ago says that the Old Testament figure, Job, was complaining that God “needed to keep office hours”.   Opposed to the inspiration of Luther’s great hymn “”, Psalm 46:1, Job would say that God is not an ever present help in times of trouble. He looked for God but could not find Him. He cried out to God but no one answered.  In Job chapter 24 he goes on a rant about God as an absentee landlord who missed out on the groaning of the dying, the mourning of the families of those who are murdered, and yet God seemed to give the godless strength and security.  A Mighty Fortress  indeed!

Job, as the old professor said, wanted God to keep office hours.”Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, And why do those who know Him never see His days?” (24:1)   When we are suffering or sad or depressed it is sometimes hard to remember that God never slumbers or sleeps and that His eye is on the sparrow and that all His promises are “yes and amen” in Christ.  Office hours aren’t needed but a sense of our own sinfulness that fails to see the guiding hand of God in all things would be helpful.

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Apotheosis, Heroism, Self Loathing and Racism.

Lincoln as a monkey holding the Emancipation Proclamation

So this is what I get with my morning coffee on October 11, 2017 ….

“A college of Oxford University banned a student Christian group from appearing at a freshman fair out of fear it would lead to “alienating” students who practice other religions. The Christian Union of Oxford’s Balliol College was initially banned by an event organizer who felt students might feel “unwelcome” due to what he calls the Christian religion being “an excuse for homophobia and neo-colonialism,” The Times of London reported.  I wish they would also have reported that Oxford was the home of two of the greatest writers and Christian apologists in history.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were Oxford dons and spent years I guess making freshmen feel unwelcome.  The next step would be to ban Frodo and Bilbo, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe from the memory of man.

We just celebrated Columbus Day, or uncelebrated it as “Indigenous Peoples Day”.  I was visiting with missionaries in the Dominican Republic a few years ago and asked about the Dominicans idea about Columbus and found that he was a hero.  Why?  Because he is considered to have brought them Christ?  Reading stories from the U.S I read that the Dominican is full of self hatred and racism because of that kind of attitude.

I am greatly interested in history and am fascinated by the felt need to remove monuments, especially the ones from the Civil War.  I am also fascinated by the apotheosis of Abraham Lincoln.  Many who praise Lincoln now would have bitterly opposed him in his day. He was called an ape and a gorilla. He was the ugliest man in America. His wife was criticized as were his children. He was called a buffoon and a liar. He was not fit for the office and its supposed dignity. There was criticism of his Gettysburg address at the time. His home paper said he was” falsifying history,” another referred to it as the “President’s silly little speech,” and still another accused him of “using soldiers’ graves for political oratory.” The Chicago Times said: “The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances.”  Lincolns fascinating “better angels of our nature” speech was challenged as being “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of ease and grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.”  That was from the editorial writer at the Jersey City American Standard.  We know of course that editorial writers are paragons of ease and grace and non obscurites.  Our modern day feminists must have learned their history from their early sisters like Elizabeth Cady Stanton who said that if Lincoln were reelected she would pack her bags and move to the “Fijee Islands”.  We don’t know if anyone ever pointed her in that direction or gave her a spelling lesson.

I have been thinking about these things as we approach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of the 95 Thesis.  One of my heroes he has been called a drunkard, a wild boar, an anti-Semite, and a mentally ill foul mouthed bully.  He has been studied and psychoanalyzed to the point of absurdity.  He has been vilified and the subject of such obloquy that one expects to see horns coming from his head in the Cranach woodcuts.  He is also considered that outstanding of a figure that everything we see around us is in some way connected to his actions.  As Eric Metaxas has written in a recent biography, “Luther’s writings and actions so altered the landscape of the modern world that much of what we now take for granted may be traced directly to him, the quirky genius of Wittenberg.”

Yet if we drill to the core we have a simple objective that he wanted – to give to all the freedom of the Gospel won for us by Christ on the cross and for the church to “teach how we are to become free from our sin, obtain a good conscience, and win a peaceful and joyful heart. That is what really counts.” Luther’s Works Vol 40.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hung Be The Heavens With Black..

An Early Artists Impression of “Anfechtung” – The oppressed lying in bed with friends standing by while demons and imps torment and tease and recite all manners of sins and vices.  One even has a white board presentation.

Winston Churchill called it the black dog. C.F.W. Walther the first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had it so bad his congregation packed him up and sent him to Germany on a slow boat for a vacation. Luther had it so bad at one time he told his friends had it not abated when it did he honestly believed that he would have died. Luther called it “anfectung” which has no English equivalent. But if one reads the history books about these gentlemen it seems that they were suffering from what we today call clinical depression. Luther believed it was an actual physical, mental, attack by the devil. In a society where people run to therapists and counselors because they’re worried their friends are talking bad about them behind their back, or that they won’t be invited to the latest and newest concert, we might have a hard time grasping what Churchill and Walther and Luther went through. For those who suffer from true clinical depression they will tell you that no amount of counseling, talking, joking, helps. Even the concern of friends sometimes makes matters worse which reminds me of Job.  The three friends who came to visit him are worse than useless. The youngest of his counselors, the fourth, Elihu seemed to help some because he called for repentance, but Job was suffering from something that came from God and could only be fixed by God.

Everything seems dark and gloomy say those who experience this malady.  It is as if everything is slipping away.   Luther believed that the only way he was snatched out of it was because of the prayers of his friends.  He was convinced that it was a spiritual and physical assault of the devil and who can say that is not the case.  If the followers of Jesus trust his mercy and grace they must also remember that “the old Satanic foe still means deadly woe”.  He know he is lost and wants to reap destruction.  He wants the followers of Christ to be in the shadowlands.

There will be sadness and sorrow.  The sentiments of Bedford in Henry VI at the death of Henry V are well taken.  “hung be the heavens with black”.  Yet we believe that the Sun of Righteousness will arise and take us “from this vale of tears to himself”.  Until then – pray for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his mortal state he needs the vision of immortality. Job felt thwarted and frustrated. He looked for God but could not find Him. He could not share the conviction of the psalmist that God was always available (46: 1). In sheer disappointment he insisted that God should set up a schedule of office hours, “Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, And why do those who know Him never see His days?” (24:1) Job was not the only one for whom the office doors seemed locked. When the dy-ing groaned, God did not hear; when the murderer waylaid the poor, God did not seem to care; when the godless waxed strong, God gave them life and security (24: 12,14,22). With these others Job went forward, but God was not there; he went backward, but he could not see God.

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The Limits of Protocol and Place

Luther At Worms

Human beings seem peculiarly prone to getting hung up on protocol and “place”. The stark disagreements between the church of Jesus day and Jesus who was the fulfillment of everything their church longed for, was over protocol and place. Questions of Jesus authority,” who he thought he was” and the fact that he was doing things they believed were breaking their protocol and law seem from our vantage point to be “suicidal folly”.

So much of what passes for political compromise, and by partisanship today, has more to do with protocol and place than they have to do with good governance. Much debate today and equally as much legislation seems to be “suicidal folly”, in Barbara Tuchman’s words, (“The March of Folly”, Random House 1984). The political concept of “kicking the can down the road”, may be equally as damaging as the idea that those in power can do anything because of protocol and place.

As we approach the 500 anniversary of the Reformation it is interesting to read all the ideas of historians as to why the ruling authorities of Luther’s day seemed to bull headedly march to their own destruction by never considering listening to what Luther said. “Who do you, a mere monk think you are?” “Do you think you know more than the popes and councils and the church”? That hit a nerve because Luther asked himself the question and it bothered him. The question of protocol and place went away with his stand on Scripture. Luther might err but the Scripture cannot. His mind could be changed by Scripture but not by those sought to bind conscience by protocol and place.

There is a story that pops up now and then about the absurdities of pomp and position and protocol and place. Tuchman mentions it too. Philip III, a king of Spain is said to have died from sitting too long near a hot brazier. Why? Because as king it was not his job to get up and move the charcoal heater. As king it was not his job to get up and move to another room. There was a protocol that one of his lackeys should come and do that and his place as king would not allow him to remove his royal backside to a different place. So he died. ,

 

 

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This is My Spot.

Sheldon Cooper has his spot.  He says, “”In an ever-changing world it is a single point of consistency. If my life were expressed as a function on a four-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, that spot, at the moment I first sat on it, would be (0,0,0,0)”.  It was on a couch.  Archie Bunker had his spot and it was a lounger in front of the TV.  People, especially athletes try and find a “sweet spot” on the court or the field.   Fisherman try and find a spot and many times the spot is not an easy one to stay on due to wind or waves.  Our spots are points of consistency.  Luther had his spot where he stood and said it was all he could do.  He was captive to the Word of God and that spot where he stood could be a scary place and a comforting place at the same time.  Our spots don’t have to be comfortable, just a single point of consistency.

The cat found a spot this morning.  I think this has more to do with comfort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kissinger at Minnesota North District Office

This is President Don Fondow, Kissinger Nyang’u, and Bob Wurl at the Minnesota North District Office in Brainerd.  Kissinger covered a lot of miles and visited with many people and explained the direction of Project 24 and the process of accountability and local ownership as well as the partnerships that exist with this operation.  Minnesota North District and North Dakota are partnered with the ELCK and LCMS and your supported is appreciated as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kissinger In North Dakota

When Kissinger was in North Dakota to explain and report on Project 24 and our work in East Africa he stopped at Cross Pointe Lutheran Church invited by Rev Mike Geddings who has been a Mary Okeyo traveler and has volunteered in Africa and lived in Project 24 centers.  One of Kissinger’s tasks is to organize catechetical competitions between the sites so that the children get a good Lutheran foundation and Biblical understanding.  The children learn and memorize the 6 Chief parts of Christian doctrine as found in Luther’s catechism and they put those things to music and dance.

The youth at Cross Pointe returned the favor and videoed their memorizations of the Apostle’s Creed.

 

 

 

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Why Not Do Something

There is always the refrain about “doing something”.  We send people to Washington to do something.  Something bad happens somewhere and the government should do something.  These calls for action are not always thought out well.  Usually something needs to be done because someone called someone to do something in the first place.

There is an interesting quote from Luther that is ubiquitous.  It is mentioned in a sermon and in a note someone made at Luther’s dining table that while he and Amsdorf and Melancthon drank beer the Lord smote the papacy a mighty blow.  It had to do with the preaching and the power of the world of course, and how God uses human beings as weak as they are to do his mighty saving work. They may be running around like chickens with their heads cut off and yet God is the one doing the work.  Elijah in the cave comes to mind.

The real nature of what Luther was talking about was the nature of change and reform.  Human beings will rush to “do something” tear something down, change this or change that and the deeper issue is that it usually denoted a lack of trust in God alone.  Here is the full quote –

Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit wine and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and stars have been worshiped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky? Such haste and violence betray a lack of confidence in God. See how much he has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all. Had I wished I might have started a conflagration at Worms. But while I sat still and drank beer with Philip [Melanchthon] and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.

 

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So Let It Be Written

There is an amazing line in Cecil B. DeMille’s movie, the 10 Commandments. Yul Brynner playing Ramses , the Egyptian pharaoh.   In his anger with Moses he says that that name should be stricken from all public records, all history, all public documents, all monuments and obelisks etc. etc. To back up his decree he says an amazing statement. “So let it be written, so let it be done “. I remember being a Smart Alec young man at the time and thinking that if you put in your official records that Moses name has to be stricken from all official records when do you strike the name from the first official record and how would anybody know what to do?

This is an important idea. In the Bible your name is a big deal. In salvation history when God wants to save people and use them to further his message of mercy and grace, He changes their names. Moses was very shrewd and tried to ask what God’s name was in the conversation with the burning bush. In pagan cultures like Egypt if you knew the name you could manipulate it and ultimately destroy the individual who had it. We practice the form of witchcraft when we decide to take away a name, or promote a name.  We see it all the time when people we have never heard of suddenly are said to be “stars”, programs that have not been aired are called “hits”, and politicians that haven’t done anything are “up and coming”.  There is a kind of public alchemy that takes place as we witness the rise and fall of many.

Stop and think about what is happening to Harvey Weinstein. All of a sudden they (whoever they are) want to take his name off of all the productions he was a part of. They want to change the name of his company. Apple has decided to remove a production about Elvis Presley because it contains the name of Harvey Weinstein. This is amazing stuff. You hear marketing executives, movie stars agents, always telling their clients that they what? Have to get their name out there. It used to be said it doesn’t make any difference if the publicity you were getting is bad as long as people are talking about your name.

Weinstein was a cash cow who basically funded the Democrat Party and Planned Parenthood, Now the frantic rush to get rid of the money he donated because the recipients are ashamed of the name is getting embarrassing. His antics were known for years and accepted with a wink and a nod. People actually accepted and tried to explain away the acts, real physical acts just as they defended a certain President’s real acts. When another President comes along and is vilified for his words we enter into the rabbit hole again. The wife of a President that attacked his accusers and said they could not be believed now comes out and tells folks that when women say they have been harassed or raped they must be believed and she will stand by them. The women who tried to destroy the life of “survivors” now is their champion.  This morning she promised to give all the money that she took from Harvey and give it to charity.  “Yes, I took his money and now you see it and now you don’t and since money is fungible, abracadabra, I’m home clean and clear”.  There is today in the news a curt phrase that says it all but is only applied to a few – “complicit fraud”.

There is a kind of witchcraft going on that attempts to erase memory and rewrite history. The folks that reaped huge benefits from sexual predators suddenly want to become the champions of women and their rights to be free from the predation of the folks that they were enriched by. There is a press that will be willing partners in the deceit. We are now and always have been moral exemplars and champions of the downtrodden they will say, – “so shall it be written, so shall it be done”. NBC spiked a story on the predator a while back and they will come back soon, mark my words, to defend their good name and their frustration with iconic liberal predators who got away with egregious action, while still going after other folks for what they say. They will be portrayed as the guardians of democracy and free speech all the while arrogating to themselves the prerogative of what news they will cover and the definition of what news is. “So shall if be written, so shall it be done”.

As Christians we believe that there will be a final judgment and everything that has been concealed will be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ.  Christ has removed our guilt and taken our punishment and there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  There will be a name that is exalted and cannot be hidden and ignored.  Someday at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  “So it has been written – so shall it be done.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Leland Wendland – September 18, 1931 – October 3, 2017 R+I+P

This blog is about connections.  I have written about degrees of separation before and this blog shows how small the world is and how small the LCMS can be.  In 1976 I was sent to Helena Montana to vicar under Pastor Wendland.

My wife and I took two cars and a small dog and a home made trailer and travelled back roads looking for adventures.  We went from Missouri to Colorado and through Wyoming up to Yellowstone and the real adventure began.  Because we had a dog no one wanted to rent us an apartment and so Pastor Wendland found us a construction engineers place that was basically one room with a kitchen and bath.  He had some folks donate furniture – a couch that became a bed and a table with two chairs for the small kitchen and we were set.  I am not complaining because we got to keep the dog but that small house was the cause of endless stories and jokes that I don’t have time to relate right now.  Until we found the house we stayed with the Wendlands and their 7 children.  They were in the middle of refurbishing an historic home up on the hill in Helena and it was a fascinating place to be.  My wife and I and our dog were quite an addition to a very active and confusing domicile.

Pastor Wendland was a ball of energy that never seemed to sit still.  We went through three pots of coffee in the mornings as we figured out the day and who would do what.  The days were divided into hospital and shut in calls and visiting new people that were moving into town and sometimes helping them move in.  Helena was starting to go into a huge growth cycle and the church was growing as well.  Adult information classes were a large part of our life and took much time.  We spent an inordinate (I thought) amount of time in sermon preparation and looking at the texts that would come up each Sunday.  I preached every other Sunday but we both looked at and studied the text and worked out different emphasis and themes.  I finally figured out that the sermon is, in effect, the most important thing that a pastor does because that is the main thing he is called to do.

I figured out early that Pastor Wendland had been in Minot, North Dakota at St. Marks and was the North Dakota District Vice President.  He was Pastor and good friend of my relatives and great uncles and aunts.  They were so close that when Pastor moved from Minot they hauled his stuff to Helena.

The connections get truly strange as I look at the fact that Pastor Larry LaDossor was in Montana where I met him and he later took the call to St. Mark’s.  The last time I saw him was in Spring Valley MN were he was attending a service and presentation I was conducting on LCMS Missions and Mercy.  I was invited there by John Edson a member of the Board for International Missions and knows Pastor Wendland because his brother in law is married to Pastor Wendland”s, daughter Beth.  The St. Mark’s congregation later called my friend and fish cleaning buddy Carlyle Roth to be their Pastor and Roth had been connected to the Pastor who confirmed me years ago.

It was through Pastor Wendland that I met an amazing theologian named George Wollenberg who was the Montana District President.  Through these two Pastors I learned about the need for Biblical reconciliation among Pastors and congregations as well as individual Christians.  We spent a day wandering the Custer battlefield at the Little Big Horn and discussing the history of the range wars.  Wollenberg invited me to do a paper at the Montana District Pastor’s Conference and I believe I was the first vicar to ever do so.  It was an honor but also the most terrifying event of my young life, and I had worked in a mine.  As I read my paper Dr. Wollenberg would reach into his enormous satchel and pull out books that I quoted from and check my footnotes.

Wendland was patient with a new vicar and endlessly interesting in his approach to ministry.  Like the Pharisees of old he would travel long distances to make a convert, but unlike them he was pure Gospel and mercy.  The illimitable condescension of Christ was a lodestar that led him to search and find the folks who knew nothing of that condescension and hence were doomed.  He cared for the folks in the church as well, but his true passion was finding the lost who had never heard of a Sheperd who died that they night live.

Patient with a vicar he had no time for pomposity and clerical bombast.  Bloviating from the pulpit was frustrating to him and this paragraph would probably have driven him crazy.  “Say it simple and treat the text with respect”, he told me.  “Jesus and Peter and Paul said it all a long time ago.  Preach it, explain it when you have too, but just preach it”.  What was the it?  Christ died for sinners and sinners are what we are.

He taught me how to fish for trout with marshmallows which I thought was insane, but he always had a full stringer.

He told me that I should not worry that he caught more fish than I did because when I got ordained I would be the guy in the group that caught the most fish.  That prophecy came true until I started fishing with other preachers.

He taught me how to crochet in order to calm down and keep the blood pressure low.  I made a giant grannie square and quit.

I don’t believe that I ever saw him just sit and relax.  He had to do something and that restless, fidgety, energy had to accomplish something, produce something, get somewhere or fix something.  Every waking moment and sometimes dreaming moments where fodder for a sermon and he was a great preacher.  You never left a Wendland sermon wondering what he was trying to get at.  Christ was the beginning and the middle and the end of every sermon and he distinguished the Law and the Gospel in masterful ways.

I heard that he was getting ready for the final journey and I remembered that his favorite hymn was “Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus”.  I recalled the  third verse from memory –

Let us also die with Jesus.
His death from the second death,
From our soul’s destruction, frees us,
Quickens us with life’s glad breath.
Let us mortify, while living,
Flesh and blood and die to sin;
And the grave that shuts us in
Shall but prove the gate to heaven.
Jesus, here I die to Thee
There to live eternally.

I was going to remind him of it but he was having trouble talking.  He told me he was proud of me and suddenly I had trouble talking too.

He died while John Edson and I were in St. Louis for a Board meeting.  We got a copy of the funeral and it was centered around this hymn.  We missed the funeral but we were working on what he was endlessly interested in and that is missions.  He would understand.  I will miss the man and the Pastor and the friend.  My prayers are offered for the family and the other vicars that he trained up over the years.

 

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