Monday, October 29, 2007

Good Things Happening While Suffering Goes On

Often, I think, all of us wonder why it only seems like there are bad days. I’m not talking about just getting a little depressed, but rather after looking at what’s going on around us, thinking everything seems to be falling to pieces or getting really, really bad. Again, I think, all of us wonder why the suffering just doesn’t seem to stop?

Too often in Americanized Christianity, folks are told that if we just have the right kind of faith, God will bless us with prosperity, large savings accounts, and the best of health. All that’s required of us to eliminate or greatly reduce suffering, the canned script proclaims, is the faith to believe we can have such a faith to.

Here’s one for ya, have you ever wondered what the ramifications would be if the suffering did stop? Think about that very carefully for a second before you answer.

Both the missus and I both have a parent with oncological concerns. So with that in mind, imagine my delight in reading the following bit of commentary on Psalm 110 from Dr. Luther:

You would like to ask some questions here. Why does God peek through his fingers so long and allow so many enemies to become so strong and mighty and rant and rage against the Christian, so that there is no end? Could he not defeat them or make an end to all of them at once, that they cease to exist, or just suddenly make them vanish?
Answer: this shows only that we have a God who is for us and all of Christendom. For if he would have quickly thrown to the ground the Roman Empire or his other enemies in the beginning all at once and destroy them into ashes, where would there have been room for us to remain for us were we not yet born? Or if he were to do it now, where would the ones remain who should yet be baptized? But (says Hebrews 2), the saints before us would not be complete without us nor would they come to glory after us, although this work has already been established for a long time and the judgment has been rendered and has gone out in the presence of all the enemies.

What comfort even suffering can become when looked through the Christological lens. Christ suffered and defeated death, once and for all the saints. However, at no time are we promised by our Lord that all will be peachy and that we will not endure suffering. But rather we are promised that our time of suffering is limited only to this side of eternity.

Let’s look at Christ’s words as he sends out the apostles in Matthew 10:16-23, 34-39.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Wow, if that’s what’s in store for those who will feed his sheep, what does he say about the sheep themselves? In Luke 9:23-25 our Lord tells us:

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?

And in John 15:18-16:4 He speaks of the world’s hatred and the coming persecution:

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them. “And these things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.

St. Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth writes that he has an infirmity that was causing him to suffer. Did God relieve his apostle of his suffering? No He did not. . Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

So what does all this mean? Well, we are to believe God’s Word when he says all are made heirs of heaven by Christ’s work on the cross. But we also need to remember that our reward by undeserved grace on the account of Christ is on the other side of eternity. Our time of suffering on this side of eternity is short but there will be suffering. Suffering began with Adam and suffering will end when Christ returns.

And the while, when all this suffering is happening, whether it be an inoperable cancer or a hip bone that for some inexplicable reason started dieing a few years back, babies are being marked with the cross of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Sunday after Sunday our Lord feeds his suffering sheep through His spoken Word by His called and ordained servants. And with own Body and Blood, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, he feeds those same sheep. Through the hearing of this Word, Christ’s church grows.

And as long as Christ’s Church grows we should rejoice even as suffering goes on around us! If we keep our focus on Christ and His gifts, our suffering may not be pleasant, but it certainly becomes more tolerable.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Not Posting, But Sitemeter Is Clicking Away

I’ve been busy again this week so I haven’t had a lot of time to post. I have several things I’ve been working on, but they just need to be tweaked a bit before I put them up.

One of those things happens to be fun stuff with my favorite Madison Avenue marketing program, er, movement, Ablaze!. However, it’s really hard to poke fun at folks who think that being on fire to count critical mission moment events when it seems half of California is burning. Well, thank you west coast for ruining my happy fun time.

With that being said my Sitemeter is just clicking away with folks searching for ways to put out fires (truth be told this has always been a popular search) and pictures of said wildfires. So again, thank you California. In spite of my lack of posts, you're still coming through for me.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lutheran Carnival LXI

Lutheran Carnival LXI is now up and running at House, M.Div.. The post submitted by yours truly even garnered a comment by the theological curmudgeon. Which post? You'll need to go visit to find out.

So, please stop by, say howdy, and give Rev. Gregory House a big thank you for doing such a great job! And would somebody please tell Rev. House what a table of contents is for…

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Killer Search

One of the things I love about Sitemeter, aside from the fact that I can track dolts who think they can comment anonymously while railing against the same, is seeing how folks find my site. Lately, search engines have been directing people my way when they type in the usual “How to put out a fire,” “Ablaze!”, and “National youth gatherings.” All of that is expected of course given the singular focus of this blog.

But yesterday somebody typed in “5 ways to kill a man what does psychopath refer to?” into Google and I came up as hit number 2 of 58,100 possible sites. The reason I was even in the queue was because of my post entitled ”The Death Of Captain America And The Church Growth Movement” (sort of timely considering the preceding post) where I wrote “Alienation is one of the quickest ways to kill readership whether the character be a Harry Potter or a Steve Rogers.” Uh, for that sentence I'm the second hit?

My only question is who the heck enters “5 ways to kill a man what does psychopath refer to?” and expects to get a good answer from Google? Wow, fallen world indeed.

A New Captain America

The Quesada continuum is at it again. A while back I wrote a short little piece on Marvel Comics asinine idea that it would be good to kill off Captain America. With the idea that controversy creates increased sales, Steve Rogers was gunned down by his super spy girlfriend on the steps of a New York courthouse. For the benefit of a short up tick in sales by curious people wanting to scoop up collectors’ items, a character that had been created in 1941 was sacrificed.

To be honest, Captain America 25 was sold out all over the country by 1pm the day it came out. Before the doors even opened at the local comic book shops, issue 25 was all over Ebay, sometimes bundled in groups of ten by distributors (who supposedly had no prior knowledge of the event but had the fortune of ordering oodles of extra copies) for all to cash in on the biggest score since the death of Superman back in the early nineties. Every news network, including the cable channels, featured stories of the demise of the comic book legend. The Q-continuum succeeded in creating the necessary buzz and when all was said and done, and the sales numbers were added up, Marvel declared “mission accomplished.” Oh joy.

But the sales numbers are now back to where they were at before the death of Steve Rogers. The brief extra traffic into the local comic book shops was no different than people slowing down to catch a look at that an accident on the side of the road; a sick fascination with death no different than what we see every day on the way to work on the local interstate

Comic books geeks everywhere were sure that this was merely a short term screw up by the Marvel editorial staff. There was always hope that the body lying on the slab was merely that of a shape changing Skrull or even a Life Model Decoy (just a fancy name for a robot). There was a time at Marvel when dead meant dead, but there was always the possibility of an out as long as there was imagination. But the Q-continuum has other ideas and very little in the way of that whole imagination thingy.

Last week the continuum released its newest vision for Captain America. With a new outfit, the living symbol of America now gets to carry guns and knives with an updated costume designed by Alex Ross. No longer carrying only his defensive and iconic shield, this new “captain” has the weaponry to be relevant in the world in which we live today. Marvel editorial staff won’t say who this new Captain America is but they promise that it isn’t a resurrected Steve Rogers. I could only find one sketch released by Marvel where this new “captain” wasn’t clutching a pistol. Again, oh joy.

Yep, in an effort to try to get those one visit customers to come back one more time, they’re at it again. This proven to fail business model, where the faithful readers who month after month, support both Marvel and the local shops, are being throw aside for the sake of buzz which will only provide short term gains at best. Instead of writing great stories of a beloved character that will keep folks coming back for more, the continuum has created a new character for the masses.

Does anyone at Marvel really think that this is a good idea? The New Coke model has been tried over and over with identical results, failure. The idea that if we just get ‘em in the door they’ll want to stay is flawed insofar as that those who are passionate about a character are alienated and shoved aside to make room for, the less or not at all invested, newcomers. By making the local comic book shop unrecognizable to the fans, what does the continuum think these new non-fans are going to be attracted to? How long will Marvel take to write stories that will actually be part of the novice’s canon, one month, six months, a year or two? How long will it take for the stories written for these curious newcomers to become imaginary stories or just part of an alternate reality? Will those who were only marginally invested to begin with, stay when Marvel shoves them aside to make room for more non-fans by throwing out their canon?

Fans want good stories to read. As long as the story is true to character and well written, the true fan will be back month after month shelling out a hard earned $3.99 for a single issue. Killing off your main character is stupid all by itself. Replacing that same character with someone or something that no one can recognize, is so far beyond dim-witted it defies description. The Quesada continuum has decided that they would rather reject and kill the Captain America most of us grew up with for a new character for a few interviews and public attention by the national media and all at the expense of those of us who grew up with Steve Rogers. The Quesada continuum has decided that not only is Steve Rogers disposable, but so are his fans.

I guess at the end of the day it could be worse, Quesada and company could always do something really moronic like change the color of the incredable Hulk from green to red.

Now aren’t you guys and gals glad I can get off topic every now and then….

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Great Weekend!

Wow. I only had about five hours with the missus this past weekend. Because of a meeting that I didn’t actually receive an invite for until five days before it was scheduled, (even though the meeting had been planned well over three weeks before) my Saturday was ruined.

Sunday’s Divine Service as well a pretty well attended Sunday school class took up the morning of my remaining “day off.” I didn’t leave the kirch as my drive home, with the cost of gas being what it is, would have dipped further into my wallet as well as leaving me stuck in my truck for another hour and a half. I already spend too much time in said truck so I just hung around.

But hanging around allowed me to wash my truck which has been the blunt of many a pigeon jokes at work. The extra free time gave me a chance to exercise my artistic side and work on a requested desert scene. I then laid out the basic groundwork for a “little country church in snow covered mountains” scene that my missus has asked for. Yep, that turned out to be a productive day. But does productivity equal a great weekend?

Nope. I would have been just as content catching up on some reading while telling the wife to keep it down as her favorite football team can't hear her if they are, quite literally, a thousand miles away, no matter how loud she yells at the TV screen.

What made it a great weekend was the Sunday evening Bible study with our youth group. There are few things more awe-inspiring than seeing a group of teenagers actually becoming engaged in an argument on the canonicity of the book of Revelation. (Uh, just so we all are clear, Revelation is in the canon. If you don’t believe me, just look in the table of contents it’s there, really.) To see them excited about something other than Gamespheres or Xcubes was the really a treat. And watching them all have fun and not minding playing Apples to Apples even though we had purchased the “Bible” edition was too cool.

Our youth group participation had fallen in recent years for a variety of reasons. It’s not always easy getting them to “give up” their weekends. As a congregation we have to compete with every sports activity ever conceived, parents that think that church activities are just one more thing, as well as our ongoing battle with a society where absolutes are considered small minded and should be discouraged. It has been and will always be an uphill battle going against our culture.

But slowly and surely the youth are starting to come back and give the group another try. Very, very cool. By offering a consistent gathering where the Bible is the core of our study followed by great food and games that don’t treat the kids like they’re idiots, they are returning. And they are having fun to boot!

And finishing the evening by dropping in over at LongEyeMoose’s place for a twelve year old single malt, well, that was just icing on the cake.

Monday, October 08, 2007

One Of These Things... Part Deux, The Answer

I just about forgot to give my answer to the second of the One Of These Things posts. I’ve been a little busy on the vocational side of the house here in the haut south. I was only home for two weeks last month and clearly my posting suffered. So I’m back now and hopefully I’ll be able to post with a little more frequency.

The one picture that is not like the others is picture number four. While some folks thought the first One Of These Things was really a trick question, it was this post that I was having a little fun. In the first three pictures, three different Christian bodies, (as in denominations, but none of them Lutheran. I just don’t believe this a Lutheran vs. everybody else issue.) are at least talking about Jesus.

A number of folks seem to think that my criticism of the national youth gathering was focusing on what they were doing. Nothing could be further from the truth. My criticism was of what the focus of the national youth gatherings seemed to be. Nearly everybody that either I talked to personally or who commented on my comments brought up the fact that the highlight of the gathering was the emotional impact of the event. One of the kids in my youth group had said they enjoyed the national gathering precisely because didn’t remind them of church. I’ve said ad nauseam that I have trouble supporting events that say purport to be church but has to be explained as church. At the end of the day I wasn’t criticizing what the kids were “doing” but where their focus was.

The reason that is important is that Christ and His gifts are objective rather than subjective. Nothing we do effects the gifts themselves. But if we look inward and make those gifts dependent on how we feel, we have taken our eyes off the prize, Christ.

With that being said, picture four “looks” like something we do in church every Sunday. But looks can sometimes be deceiving. The Unitarians in picture four do not preach Christ crucified as the only way to the Father. Instead the Unitarian congregations put forth a theology where the all paths lead up the same mountains, if such a mountain even exists, and espouse that week after week. So while pictures two through four look like church, the Unitarians rejecting the Way to the Father and embracing a generic more “loving” and inclusive god, are by their very confession not Church.

So again, the second post was the trick question. Most everybody got the joke, some unfortunately didn’t. Hopefully, this post will clear up my position just a little bit. We shouldn’t focus on what we do, but rather the focus should be on the Him who should always be at the core of the Divine Service as well as all our theology, the Crucified Lord, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Lutheran Carnival LX

Lutheran Carnival LX is now up and running at the Lutheran Carnival site. Please stop by, say howdy, and give Dan a big thank you for doing such a great job! The next carnival will be at House, M.Div. Posts are due by October 19. The Carnival is due up on October 23.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Absurdity Running Amok

I opened my email this morning to find a very enthusiastic person telling me about a recent “Mother Daughter Church Planting” seminar. (those are his quote marks, not mine) He included in the body of his email a link to (Dynamic Church Planting International) DCPI which provided the training material and promotes itself as
"Equipping leaders, churches and associations to impact the planting of one million dynamic churches to reach the world for Christ."

DCPI was founded by Paul Becker who recounts his special calling thusly:

My prayer retreat began on June 13-14, 1997. I spent the first evening and morning in a motel room near San Diego, CA, reading the Bible, and asking the Lord for His vision. On the afternoon of the second day, I drove to Palomar Mountain for a hike. I prayed that the Lord would communicate his vision for DCPI to me. As I walked along the Upper French Valley trail, the Lord impressed these words upon my mind: "Plant a Million Churches." I didn't hear an audible voice, but the words were very clear.

So Paul Becket founded DCPI and dedicated his life to growing the kingdom by starting new churches. Why start new churches? Well, DCPI puts it this way,

Our answer then must be church planting is critically important because it honors God and spreads His fame among the nations. Church planting reflects the light of His beautiful, perfect character through every dark corner of the planet. It brings praise to the One who came to seek and to save those who are lost....John Piper (in his book The Pleasures of God (Sisters, OR: Mulnomah Publishers, Inc., 2000), p. 110) put it this way: "The aim of missions [we might add, and of church planting] is to bring about the obedience of faith among all the unreached peoples of the world. But that is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal--even of faith and obedience--is 'for the sake of his name.'"

Anyhoo, this very enthusiastic mission minded person and his Lutheran (LC-MS) pastor went to the seminar to learn how to be more mission minded than they already are and bring about that obedience of faith that DCPI promotes. Believe it or not, there are a surprising number of organizations willing to come in, evaluate your process, and offer up suggestions as to how to increase your productivity so that you can reach as many folks as humanly possible

Included in the body of the email were links to three videos presented at the seminar as instruction and training tools. The three links were
1. 'Evangelism Linebacker'
2. "Mr. Back Pew Warmer"
3. "Harvest"

Recognize any of the videos up there? Of course you do! I posted the 'Evangelism Linebacker' video as an mission idea gone absurd. Apparently, “Mother Daughter Church Planting” seminar is taking videos to heart and showing them to get the troops motivated to grow the church for Jesus.

Boy, I glad some people are finally coming to their senses and throwing out all that old stuffy way of growing the church through preaching the Word purely and administering the Sacraments rightly. Just think how much more we could grow the church if only we used simple business models! If only…

Gosh, now my brain hurts! I can't seem to figure out which Earth of the multiverse I'm on!