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Archive for February, 2015

Remember Me………….

in remembrance

Worship is a human response to God’s work and mercy in our lives.  It is also an active receiving of God’s good gifts.  In our worship God is the actor giving what we need for life in this world and life in the world to come. It is also recognition of who God is and what he has done and that requires remembering. The person and works of God that must be brought to mind as objects of adoration and wonder, but for all of our seeming work in the process it can only come about out of God’s own memory, in His promise that he has not forgotten us or the basis of His relationship with us.  That relationship is based upon His love for us expressed in mercy in sending His Son to take our sins away.  “He recalls His promises and leads His people forth in joy” we sometimes sing after communion.

God remembers us.  He remembers our sins no more.  When we remember God brings the promise into our “now”.

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Peace Like a River

peace like a river

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“The Nadir and Scoff of Good Conversationalists……..”

photo(7)

It must have been Robert Louis Stevenson who said that talk about the weather was the “nadir and scoff of good conversationalists”.  If he didn’t, he should have.  In my humble opinion however it is not the low point of a conversation to start with the weather but it may be if you end one there.  Weather is the great leveler because as we know He “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5.   Weather is the one thing that affects all of us, even the shut-ins, because for a time we all become shut-ins.  There is something elemental about 20 below.  It really can be deadly, and a few minutes outside without a hat and gloves and boots will bring that reality home.

Up here in the North country we like to say that 20 below keeps the riff raff out or some such nonsense.  We take to the old bromide that when it gets below zero it kills the flu bugs and we get healthier.  This is usually offered up by someone who has spent 3 weeks in the house sneezing, coughing, and the new craze, dabbing themselves with essential oils.  Although oil of cloves jammed up a nostril can be exhilarating, in the main I would forgo the experience.  The keeping the riff raff out phrase is usually offered by someone that has spent 6 weeks in Phoenix enduring the riff raff at the pool and the golf course.

What I have come to appreciate, although I don’t claim to understand it, is the decorating that takes place after Christmas, with the theme of weather.  Gone is the tree and the Chrismons and the wreaths of green and red.  In their place are Snowmen wrapped in  scarfs and wearing toques with  vacuous smiles under  carrot noses standing by a frosty trees and they are cute, but they convey a sad reality.  Step out of the warm confines of the living room and stand on the front porch, or venture out to start your car early in the morning, and you look pretty much like those snowmen.  Toqued and scarfed and dabbed up with oil the vacuous smile comes on in about 30 seconds although, if truth be told, it is not a smile but a rictus.

There is something beautiful about a birch forest in starlight under a blanket of snow.  “The woods are lovely dark and deep” has created more commentary than one would think 7 words would evince.  But in this corner of my home this simple decoration evinces that image without the cold.  My cat doesn’t mind sitting in the midst of this winter wonderland but if I throw him out into the real thing he will no doubt have some issues.  Interesting that we bring indoors the very images of the outside world the indoors is meant to save us from.

Anyway it is cold out there.  To all of you from the North country that have run away to Phoenix or Mesa or Palm Springs, I offer this invitation – since 20 below does indeed keep the riff raff out, when it gets to be 40 above we will welcome you back with open arms, a vacuous smile and probably with a toque on our heads.  Please forgive the smell of cloves, and we promise we won’t talk about the weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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God Will Invade

then the end will come

C.S. Lewis: “God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.

“God is going to invade, all right, but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else–something it never entered your head to conceive–comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choices left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side… That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.

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More on Progress.

progress

 

Chesterton is a hoot.

It is not merely true that the age which has settled least what is progress is this
“progressive” age. It is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what
is progress are the most “progressive” people in it. The ordinary mass, the men who
have never troubled about progress, might be trusted perhaps to progress. The
particular individuals who talk about progress would certainly fly to the four winds
of heaven when the pistol- shot started the race. I do not, therefore, say that the
word “progress” is unmeaning; I say it is unmeaning without the previous definition
of a moral doctrine, and that it can only be applied to groups of persons who hold
that doctrine in common. Progress is not an illegitimate word, but it is logically
evident that it is illegitimate for us. It is a sacred word, a word which could only
rightly be used by rigid believers and in the ages of faith.
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A Purposeful Reliance Upon Doctrine.

fateThis started out as a mercy blog and it branches off into other areas from time to time.  We started off a few years ago to define and study the connections and relationships that develop and exist, sometimes without us even knowing it in the North Dakota and Minnesota North Districts.  Mission Societies and other organizations that function sometimes outside of knowledge of the church as a whole are huge up here in the North Country and we are trying figure out how many of us out here are doing what and where so that we can measure outcomes and needs.

That gets tough sometimes and folks think that we are trying to control and manage when we are really looking for ways to communicate and collaborate.  The fear that I have is that in some areas the work of mercy gets moved to the rear and sometimes forgotten of denigrated.  There is a lot of hand wringing out there that mercy work takes away from our chief work and that is Gospel proclamation.  I had hoped that we had moved beyond that sad and paltry position but it is still there.  There is also a kind of gloomy “che sarà, sarà” approach that borders of fatalism.  Somewhere between a morbid view of mans action and a constant “trimming and fidgeting” with policy and alignment there has to be a way that we can all move forward.

We must have a “purposeful reliance” upon doctrine. I have seen too many times in my ministry where I or the folks that I am working with use Biblical language to justify a course of action but we never really relied upon that doctrine to inform decisions or ideas.  When problems arise we are disconnected from the doctrine and floating free from its ability to inform our actions.  We become people who, as Luther once said, are saddled with the “furious worry over penalties”.  We can become arrogant when successful and worried when things go wrong.  My doctrine tells me that I am not “condemned to success”, as Oswald Bayer says, and even though I cannot see through the “web of motives” behind my actions, and fail to foresee, let alone predetermine their results, that should not prevent the concern and the basic needs of our neighbors….from showing me plainly enough what I ought to do.[1]  Justification by faith tells me that my silly and sometimes shabby efforts are the way that God “rustles around in this world”.[2]  It is not an excuse to be silly and shabby, it means that I cannot claim any totality or perfection and sometimes not even any success in what I do.

[1] Oswald Bayer, Living By Faith, Lutheran Quarterly Books, Grand Rapids 2003 page 38

[2] LW 45;331

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Courage Is Grace Under Pressure.

grace under pressure

Mark in the Gospel lesson this morning says that the Spirit “drove” Christ into the wilderness.  Matthew and Luke fill in the details but it is interesting image.  Same word is used later when Jesus casts out demons and drives the money changers from the temple.  Jesus being driven for a direct confrontation with the devil.  He handles them with aplomb and dignity and reliance upon His Father.

Ernest Hemingway once said that “guts” was “grace under pressure”.  Luther might have said something like that as well. For Hemingway it was style.   For Luther  grace was the leading of God though trials and tribulations and the response of those called by the Holy Spirit.  Because of God’s grace, His people could afford to be gracious. He said in a sermon “Thus are those men of God who are led by the His spirit. After they have been taught the discipline of the outward man, they neglect it and look upon it only as a prelude. They are now ready to offer themselves for any real task the Lord may have chosen for them. And when God leads them through sufferings and humiliations they know not wither, they cling to no favorite plan of their own, but still submit all things to the Lord. Thus their work will be without a name at the beginning, because they are not leading, but being led.”[1]

[1] Elmer Carl Kiessling,. The Early Sermons of Luther and Their Relation to the Pre-Reformation Sermon. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1935. 141

 

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In the Beginning Was the Word…………….

John 1Words mean things.  Jesus is The WORD.  When preachers preach the word, they are preaching The WORD.  When preachers preach the word it bears with it the WORD.  “The Word is the manger and the swaddling clothes in which Christ is laid”, Luther said.  From the word comes other words that define the doctrines that the word bears to us.  Doctrines like justification and sanctification are couched in words that try and bring home to us divine truths of what Christ has done and still does to save us.  Declaring us righteous and making us holy are the ways that God brings us the benefits Christ won for us on the cross.

For me this is where things get interesting because from the word that bears the WORD all other words derive their meaning.  If they do not they can and do become meaningless.  Progress is a word like that.  What does progress look like today?  By almost any measure what accounts for progress today is going backwards from what was once considered progress.

G. K. Chesterton was a writer and a Catholic who used words like weapons and understood the fact that words mean things….here is what he said.

“Progress, properly understood, has, indeed, a most dignified and legitimate meaning. But as used in opposition to precise moral ideals, it is ludicrous. So far from it being the truth that the ideal of progress is to be set against that of ethical or religious finality, the reverse is the truth. Nobody has any business to use the word “progress” unless he has a definite creed and a cast- iron code of morals. Nobody can be progressive without being doctrinal; I might almost say that nobody can be progressive without being infallible— at any rate, without believing in some infallibility. For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress.”

 

 

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Project 24, Minnesota and the Kingdom on the Right

On the right fondow House

Kurt Daudt is the Speaker of the House in the Minnesota Legislature.  He is on the left.  He is one of the original Project 24 guys and was there at the project’s inception and also helped put video production together for publicity on a second trip.  Our Kenyan friends were prophetic and they told us that they believed that Kurt would be a “high  politician” one day.  At that time Kurt was a county commissioner.

Rev. Don Fondow is the president of the Minnesota North District of the LCMS and he spoke the invocation at the legislative assembly.  I don’t know if he was able to bang the gavel or not but he gets to do that in his District conventions.  Pastor Fondow is partnering with Project 24 and the LCMS to work on Project 24 and build a center in Kenya along with the North Dakota District (North Dakota voted in their convention for a modified approach).

On the right is Deb Kiel, a member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Crookston and she will probably get a 6 degrees of separation article here someday.

Right here we see in action the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms that is often reviled by some but amazing in it’s simplicity and Biblical fidelity.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison explains it like this.

“We stand and bear witness to the genius of Luther’s two-kingdom doctrine. Religion and government are distinct. “Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts to hold property . . .” (Augsburg Confession XVI 1–2). “The Gospel does not introduce laws about the public state, but is the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of a new life in the hearts of believers” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI 58). “Therefore the two governments, the spiritual and secular, should not be mingled or confused” (Augsburg Confession XVIII 12). Governments do not possess authority over the mind and heart, and certainly not faith. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). We seek no Christian government per se. We seek governments that recognize the basic and universal dignity of all people, the right of free speech for all people, and the right of freedom of faith and worship for all people and all religions. Such freedom guarantees the free course of the Gospel.”

Take the time to thanks God for the elected leaders of our country at whatever level who trust in Christ and serve their country in elected offices and fulfill their vocation in God’s world.

 

 

 

 

 

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Martyrs and Mercy and Lent.

blood of martyrs

I had forgotten if I ever knew that Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546.  Wednesday night as we observed Ash Wednesday we would also have commemorated the death of the great reformer.  Matthew Harrison the President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, took the dual opportunity of February 18, 2015 to speak about the events taking place in the mid-East and here at home and the issues of martyrdom and Islamic militancy.  Tertullian of Carthage wrote the famous quote about the blood of martyrs not far from where Coptic Christians were recently murdered by ISIS.  President Harrison remarks on martyrdom, the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms and leaves us all much food for thought.  You can read his whole article on http://wmltblog.org/2015/02/the-blood-of-the-martyrs/

Here is the last few paragraphs of this fascinating article.

“By all accounts, Christianity in America is following the path it has taken in Europe. Luther, whose death we commemorate today (February 18), prophesied that the Gospel is like a passing rain shower, which comes for a time and then leaves. He correctly foretold that after a time in Germany, the Gospel would leave, and they would have Islam. That is coming true today, even as many German Muslims are converting to Christianity. The reason the Gospel passes away, according to Luther? Thanklessness (Luther’s Works, 23:261). On this Ash Wednesday, and during this Lententide, may the horrid events of the past days in Libya and beyond, remind us of what a precious treasure the Gospel is and the freedom to believe and act upon it as we see fit. Lord, have mercy upon us, and grant us ever thankful hearts.” Matthew C. Harrison Ash Wednesday February 18, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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