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Praying For Rain.

Handwritten sign on farm fence during Texas drought.

The hearings for cabinet and other important posts in the government goes on slowly.  The media is trying to make the nominees look stupid but if you are watching the hearings you get the impression that the committee members especially in the Commerce hearing have no clue what it is they are talking about and don’t really know what it is they are overseeing or what they have done over the years to muck everything up.  They seem stunned that the policies of the Clinton Administration led to the great housing meltdown and the terrible recession and that it was Government regulations that forced banks to evict 80 year old women over 27 cent mistakes.  Heads of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that I talked to years ago could see what the results of Government “help” would be and they were terrified.  Now when someone who actually worked to clean it up might move into government they have to be besmirched and vilified.

One of the saddest attempts to go after someone is the pathetic meandering “news” report that Sonny Perdue who is up for agriculture secretary actually, (gasp), publically prayed for rain.  Prayed and in public.  How pathetic is that?  Had he brought James Taylor out to sing and set the mood it would be considered urbane and smart I suppose.  Foreign policy based on ageing rock stars is cute if a democrat billionaire does it.  Praying in public is stupid to those same folks unless the prayer arises to them.  We need to understand that this is not a private religious issue.  We need to get it in our heads as Christians that for half of the country, politics is their religion.

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Last Twitches of Yesterdays World…..

That was the Israeli Prime Ministers reaction to one last shot from Obama against the only democracy in the middle east.  It is an interesting turn of phrase.  The last twitches of yesterdays world.  We are certainly seeing the last twitches of something.  We quoted Augustine a few weeks back as he compared the world to a dying man.

In 410 Rome was sacked by the Visigoths.  Augustine wrote his dying man image at that time.  Twenty years later he had time to rethink and remember the dying man image because he himself was dying.  The great city of Hippo in North Africa where he was the Bishop was being surrounded by the Vandals.  For months, as the Vandals approached, refugees had come into the city since it was the only city in North Africa defended by a wall.  Augustine as he approached the end of his life had the penitential psalms of David written down and fixed to the wall by his bed, so that he could read them.  Confession and absolution were important for him as they should be for us.  Care for the poor and needy and homeless was as well.   When refugees came into Hippo Augustine welcomed them into his church and home. It is from these displaced visitors that Augustine probably caught the fever which ended his life.  He did not live long enough to greet the invaders.  It took a long time for the city to fall.

For 30 of his 75 years Augustine watched the twitching of yesterdays world without knowing what the new world would bring, but believing that the “City of God” was the world to come.  Perhaps what the Prime Minister of Israel was noticing as the last twitch of yesterdays world was the natural result of what Augustine noticed about all the kingdoms of the world – “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?”

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Clarity of Luther – part 2 on Missions.

Luther gets bad press on missionary emphasis.  The canard has been that because of the State church and emphasis upon that church there was no vision of taking the Gospel around the world.

Even a cursory reading of the events of the reformation put the lie those ideas from a purely organizational standpoint.  Luther’s own words defend him as a missionary and missionary minded.  The following come from “Martin Luther’s View on Mission and Christianization”, by Michal Valco found in Oxford Research Encyclopedia.

In a letter to his friend and colleague Melanchthon when Luther was hidden at the Wartburg castle, Luther wrote, “For goodness’ sake, do you want the kingdom of God to be proclaimed only in your town? Don’t others also need the gospel? Will your Antioch not release a Silas or a Paul or a Barnabas for some other work of the Spirit? I tell you: although I would be very happy to be with you all, yet I would not be disturbed if the Lord deigned to open to me a door for the Word either at Erfurt or Cologne or anywhere else, since you already have a surplus [of preachers and teachers]. Look how big a harvest there is everywhere—and how few are the harvesters! You all are harvesters.  Certainly we have to consider not ourselves but our brethren who are spread out all over the country, lest we live for ourselves, that is, for the devil and not for Christ.”

“Of missions among foreigners he wrote, God gathered a church in the world not only from the one family of the patriarchs but from all nations to which the Word made its way . . . For I have often stated that it is quite credible that when the patriarchs were teaching, many of the heathen flocked to them, for they saw that the patriarchs were godly and holy men and that God was with them, and therefore they heard and embraced their doctrine”. (WA 12)

The Lutheran Hymnal (the old one) has one hymn that emphasizes Luther’s missionary heart.

“May God Bestow on Us His Grace”
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546

1. May God bestow on us His grace,
With blessings rich provide us,
And may the brightness of His face
To life eternal guide us
That we His saving health may know,
His gracious will and pleasure,
And also to the heathen show
Christ’s riches without measure
And unto God convert them.

2. Thine over all shall be the praise
And thanks of every nation,
And all the world with joy shall raise
The voice of exultation;
For Thou shalt judge the earth, O Lord,
Nor suffer sin to flourish;
Thy people’s pasture is Thy Word
Their souls to feed and nourish,
In righteous paths to keep them.

3. Oh, let the people praise Thy worth,
In all good works increasing;
The land shall plenteous fruit bring forth,
Thy Word is rich in blessing.
May God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit bless us!
Let all theworld praise Him alone,
Let solemn awe possess us.

Hymn 500
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Ps. 67
Author: Martin Luther, 1524
Translated by: Richard Massie, 1851, alt

 

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The Clarity of Luther part 1

In talking about a great new book called “Reading Romans with Luther” (CPH 2017, R.J. Grunewald) I made the statement that Luther sometimes needs to be clarified but he was also stunningly clear most of the time.  He says for instance, that under the papacy in his time “faith was kept under the bench”.  What hockey mom can’t understand that?  Faith in Jesus as Savior was kept under the bench and never used in the game.  It was there somewhere but pretty much kept in the bag.

Luther also said “Christ wants our whole disposition to be so stripped down that we are unafraid of being embarrassed for our faults and also do not delight in the glory and vain joys of our virtues.”    Luther said that our hearts are an “idol factory”.  This is amazing stuff, and if we have any self awareness, which by the way, is also a sin, we cannot help but see how true this is; that we make idols of everything especially our ability to create idols.  We worship our work, or vacations, our “lake time”, or sports and on and one we go.

Those who continually disagreed with Luther got an earful because they were not arguing with him but with the very Word of God.  Those who tried to use human reason against God’s revelation might get something like this –

“For you are an excellent person, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp.”

Try keeping those images out of your head today.

 

 

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Clarity and Luther.

CPH (Concordia Publishing House) has done another great service for the church in the publishing of “Reading Romans with Luther”.  The author RJ Grunewald explains the themes in Romans and organizes his book around these themes.

There is a certain amount of intimidation that I find in reading both Luther and Paul.  They leave you with the impression that they have received  the height and debt, the length and breath, and all the fullness of the love of God  whole and entire in one moment of revelation.  Paul had the Damascus Road and Luther had the Tower experience.  They get what Paul called the “mystery” and the multifaceted variegated “economy” of God to save us.  At the same time you realize that both of these men were steeped in the Scriptures every day of their adult lives and there was no nook or granny of the Bible that they had not investigated.  What unlocked everything for these brilliant men was God’s forgiveness of the sinner for the sake of Christ apart from works of the Law.  In their love for the Word their explanations tumble over one another and gush forth like a torrent.  To have a book like this is interesting and fun.  It is a commentary on a commentary on a commentary.  Grunewald comments on Luther’s commentary on Paul’s exposition of the justification of the sinner.  This is a great little book and written like a devotional.  It simplifies and clarifies things that might be daunting and brings more clarity to a theologian who was pretty clear to begin with.  Do yourself a favor and get it.

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The Popularity of Baptism.

I’m getting some mileage off of a picture of me holding a baby just after I applied the water of baptism.  Someone told me that I can write a lot of blogs and never get a response but a picture of a baby being baptized “goes viral”.  That is as t should be.  Baptism is the foundational event of our life and not to be taken lightly.  God claims us in baptism and makes us His.  We did nothing except die and get buried.

Here is a bit of the connections we have up here in the North country.  Vice president of the LCMS Herb Mueller was baptized in North Dakota and has strong connections here.    This is from a blog entry on “Witness, Mercy and Life Together”

The best way to express it is, “I am baptized!” It’s a present reality. Speaking
historically, of course, one can say, as I do, personally, “I was baptized,” in that
it actually happened on Holy Trinity Sunday, May 31, 1953, at St. Andrew’s Lutheran
Church on the North Dakota prairie some four miles north of Niagara, North Dakota,
at the hand of my father, then pastor of that congregation. Though it happened
nearly 60 years ago, however, it is still a present reality, so “I am baptized.”

It was not something I did. It happed to me and it has shaped reality for me ever
since. My parents brought me up in the faith, teaching me the Word of God. The Lord
Jesus has brought into my life so many people to show me His grace (my wife, Faith,
being the most important) and to flesh out for me what it means that I am baptized.
All of this is pure gift of God in Jesus! All of this comes from living each day in
the God-given confidence, I am baptized.

How does our Lord’s apostle put it?

Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized
into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order
that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too
might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like
His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His (Romans
6:3-5).

Let’s parse this a bit. You “have been baptized.” It’s a gift. It happened to you.
It is essentially God’s doing, no matter what age you were when it happened. What
happened? What did God do? “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into
death…” It happened to us. God buried us with Christ. Why? So that “as Christ was
raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of
life.” This brings the great promise for all so united with Christ: “if we have been
united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a
resurrection like His.” That’s what we are called to believe. All of us have to die.
But in Jesus Christ, God is in the business of raising the dead. In fact, this is
the only game in town. This is what God does – He raises the dead, in Jesus, all who
are united to Him.

 

 

 

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Hypocrites – a Definition

I quite watching the orgies of self congratulation and narcissism that mark the award shows from Hollywood and the music industry, and I don’t miss the political harangues from gated community, limousine chauffeured, fools who spend their lives pretending to be someone else.  I do however remind myself that when Jesus in the Gospels goes after the religious leaders of the day and calls them “hypocrites” the word really means “actor”.  Enough said.

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Revisiting the Terrible Ifs.

The Goeben

I was remiss in my blog about the terrible “Ifs”.  I should have explained where the quote came from because it is extremely important.  It came from Winston Churchill’s diary and his views of an event that took place at the very beginning of the first World War.  Historical events are notorious for “ifs” after the fact.  We live with the results of history always after the fact, and to recreate the chain of events and come to a different conclusion is the stuff of science fiction and that is why it is so entertaining.

The accumulations of the terrible Ifs took place because of the escape of a powerful German battleship in the Mediterranean and her arrival in Constantinople that brought Turkey into the War on the side of Germany.  Turkey was a part of the Ottoman Empire which was a symbol of Islamic expansionism but by the 1900’s was considered “the sick man” of Europe.  About the time of the beginning of WWI Turkey was on the rise thanks to the leadership of what were called the “young Turks”.  No amount of rising would help them shed the titles and sobriquets given them by the British.  Churchill called it “scandalous, crumbling, decrepit, penniless Turkey” and according to British Lord Gladstone they were the “one great anti-human specimen of humanity”.  The mess that would become the Balkans and the fuse that lit the war at Sarajevo was laid at the door of the “Turk”.  Because of the mutual dislike between Britain and Russia and Turkey the first thing the Germans did was to make sure the Turks were on their side.  So they sent a battleship called the Goeben.  She was chased around the Mediterranean and Adriatic by the British Navy but escaped by a series of miscommunications, misunderstandings, and sheer bureaucratic stupidity and so Turkey entered the War and Russia was cut off from any ability to get out of a warm water port.

Barbra Tuchman in her great book “The Guns of August” wrote, “The cutting off of Russia with all its consequences, the vain and sanguinary tragedy of Gallipoli, the diversion of Allied strength in the campaigns of Mesopotamia, Suez, and Palestine, the ultimate breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the subsequent history of the Middle East, followed from the voyage of the Goeben”.  She understand the accumulation of the Ifs.  Churchill goes through his list in his memoirs.  One if leads to another.  Following the Ifs leads to interesting conclusions that can’t be refuted because we will never know.  I can say that if the Goeben had  been stopped in 1914 in the Mediterranean we would not be seeing our Navy harassed in the straights of Hormuz in 2017.  The entire structure of the Mideast would be different.

Now we think of our lives and the accumulation of the dreadful Ifs when our conscience accuses us.  “If” is the great enemy.  “If I would have said goodbye instead of slamming the door in anger they would have known I loved them before they died in a car crash”, was one I heard.  If I had brought my children to church and Sunday School is one I hear a lot.  If I had only …… you fill in the blanks.  Think of the “ifs” Jesus faced…. “If you are the Son of God”…

You can’t avoid the accumulation of Ifs in your life because of sin.  We can avoid their condemnation by the forgiveness we receive in the Gospel.

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Storehouse of the Snow.

Job 38:22

This is my parking spot at the Life Skills and Transition Center.  I remember God’s question to Job and wanted to say “yes I have.”  Then I looked at the word and it can mean “treasury”.  Have you entered the treasury of the snow has a different feel than storehouse for me.  A treasury is a place where something valuable is kept.  Looking at the context of Job 38 the idea of a treasure house of snow is that we can learn a valuable lesson in the snow itself.  Scientists have remarked about the endless variety of each crystal and that none are alike.  No two snowflakes are exactly the same.  Like the whole of creation snow is “fearfully and wonderfully made”.  Today we can make artificial snow and interestingly manmade snow has really bad looking crystals compared to the gorgeous diversity of the real stuff.
real thing
Man made
So what is the point?  People who live constantly with snow realize how infinitely variable it is and it is reflected in their language.  Folks who study such things have said that there is a huge number of words that the Inuit people have for snow.  Some claim hundreds and it has caused a debate that has gone on for a century.  “The problem is that words don’t merely match pre-existing things in the world. Rather, they shape and encapsulate ideas about things–how they are categorized (compare dog vs. canine), how we are interacting with them (compare sheep vs. mutton), how the word functions grammatically (compare the noun cow vs. the adjective bovine), and how we wish to represent our attitudes about them (compare critter vs. varmint). It was in connection with this point that discussion of Eskimo words for snow first arose (in the writings of two major 20th Century anthropological linguists, Franz Boas and Benjamin Lee Whorf). Unfortunately, their point has been pretty much missed by those who insist on counting.” (From Lexemes referring to snow and snow-related notions in Steven A. Jacobson’s (1984) Yup’ik Eskimo dictionary – by  Anthony C. Woodbury , University of Texas at Austin July 1991
You might also want to look at the new definition of “snowflake” as related to college students today in any urban dictionary.
We search for words to describe things that we see and understand and we really struggle with things that are beyond us.  Paul in Romans says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

So what is the point?  Well when it comes to really huge stuff like the universe – Job 38:31 or small stuff like snowflakes, God is God and you are not.

Or as Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary – For the humbling of Job, God here shows him his ignorance, even concerning the earth and the sea. As we cannot find fault with God’s work, so we need not fear concerning it. The works of his providence, as well as the work of creation, never can be broken; and the work of redemption is no less firm, of which Christ himself is both the Foundation and the Corner-stone. The church stands as firm as the earth.
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School of Mercy –

Luke 6:36-42

There is only one school in which mercy is learned and that is the school of Jesus. Here we are first taught to know our sinful self, to see the “beam” in our own eye. Then, however, we experience the Savior’s forgiving mercy to those who flee from self to His salvation. Paul’s self-estimate, “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1: 15), is repeated in perfect honesty by all pupils in the school of Jesus. With severity towards self there is coupled in them charity towards others. In thanks for mercy received the pupil follows in the paths of his merciful Teacher and Savior, seeking to show mercy with tongue, heart, and hands.  Victor Bartling

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