Commentary: Should Lutherans take ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’? | LCMS News & Information

I, too, have been enjoying all the videos of celebrities and politicians taking the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” It’s important for pro-life Christians to recognize that there are other ALS agencies we can support who do not condone the harvesting of stem cells from aborted fetuses. Read the excellent article below.

Commentary: Should Lutherans take ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’? | LCMS News & Information.

The Perfect Pastor

Last week, I read a blog post from a pastor on the east coast whom I respect very much, albeit from a distance. We don’t know each other but we follow each other on Twitter and he posted a most excellent post on introvert pastors and how they are often misunderstood. He considers himself an introvert, which does not mean that he hates people, but that he gets his energy renewed more from being alone than with people.  An extrovert gets their energy from people, rather than from being alone. It cannot be said that either loves or hates people more.

Still, this pastor brother felt the need to put up this well written post on introverted pastors because there is a tremendous amount of pressure on pastors (as well as practitioners of other “people work”-professions) to be perfect or, at the very least likable, which is often mistaken for perfect. The introverted pastor is already at a disadvantage because it’s not that he doesn’t love people. He just doesn’t get energy from them. He tends to lose it from them. Still, as far as pastors go, you can count on the introvert to have thought through every angle, every reason, for any decision or change in the Church. He’s also a great listener and bears many fantastic intangibles that many don’t consider when evaluating a pastor’s strengths.

I appreciated his article because I too am an introvert, although over the years I’ve grown quite comfortable in a crowd. Still, after the crowd dissipates, my exhaustion is the telling symptom of my continued introversion. My happy place? With a book and some music on in the background. No one else need be around. I love all the people I get to serve. It’s pure privilege to serve them. I just ask that they take my desire for alone time the right way. Just recharging. That’s all.

Last Sunday, it was my privilege to attend a call meeting at a nearby church that has had its challenges due to the previous pastor’s very serious illness and eventual death. Speaking on behalf of the District President, I opened the meeting with a devotion on Rom. 10 and I wasn’t one minute into the devotion and I mentioned that today we were not going to call “Pastor Perfect.” (It’s the language I use at all such meetings).

In short, there’s no such thing. There’s no such person. The narcissist in me would love to say that of myself when I stare in the mirror, but I don’t see him in the mirror either. Serving in District work now for 11 years hasn’t done anything to stroke my ego either. It has just given me more stages on which to fail and make mistakes. As a family man, I can be as inattentive to my dear wife and children as any father. At church, I can easily get to thinking in terms of “me” and “them” or “us” and “them.” In the District, it’s not hard to question the motives of this or that pastor, or the attitudes in any particular congregation. Pastor Perfect? Not me!

There is a lot of pressure on pastors in congregations to be perfect. Even more sad is how often brother pastors will take advantage of each other’s weaknesses. People often leave and join churches based on their notions of the respective pastors. The truth? They’re merely trading one imperfect pastor for another. Pastors come and go in congregations. Leaving/joining a church over the pastor can often mean lack of commitment to the congregation’s ministry in general. The same people also believe in perfect churches (and I’ve yet to meet one of them also).

Surely, the Scriptures show us why there is no such thing as a perfect pastor or a perfect congregation. But what we often miss is that they also teach a faith that is ultimately realistic about this truth. Where the Word takes root, there is little surprise when we see the sin and imperfection in others. It’s not cynicism. It’s realism. There are no perfect pastors. That’s real. There are no perfect congregations. That’s real. There are no perfect people. That’s real. But when we judge others for their lack of perfection, we ultimately cheat them and ourselves of the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

So God loved this world and sent His one and only Son to be perfect as His Father in heaven is perfect. His perfect righteousness made His sacrifice on our behalf perfect. In the forgiveness of sins, He is working His perfection in us. He defines that perfection as forgiveness, not as the world does by all of its fickle standards. We often assess our commitment to someone or something based on how perfect it is for us. Thank heavens God doesn’t do that to us! If He did, heaven would be empty.

In my humble opinion, the healthy congregation disavows this thinking and works with its pastor and each other the way God has worked with us. Love sees the imperfections, the flaws, the faults, and works with the other person in a way that still brings out the best in them. Congregations often give up the minute they realize the pastor wasn’t the Perfect One they expected him to be. Pastors do the same to congregations more often than we probably want to admit. Like husbands and wives who are committed “for better or for worse,” the imperfect pastor and congregation can still work together.

And when they do, in mutual respect and love, great things happen. Pastors, don’t give up just because you just realized your congregation isn’t perfect. Congregations, ditto! Life’s too short to demand that sort of perfection. In Christ, God is doing amazing things every day through the same people who fail Him mightily every day. That’s love. That’s what it does.

Love always rejoices in the truth. It covers a multitude of sins. Love keeps no record of wrongs. This is what Christ has done for us. God grant us all the perfect perfection of the forgiveness of sins and love for one another.


They Can’t Take That Away From Me

4H_Clover_BeveledAnother Dodge County Fair has come and gone. I must confess, I wasn’t much of a county fair person until I married my wife. She grew up very active in 4-H and participated in both exhibit and animal judging. When we moved (back) to Wisconsin in 2001, our oldest son was four and discussions were already beginning regarding starting up in 4-H. Since our children have gotten involved in 4-H, I see what I missed as a child. For me, it’s pretty amazing to walk through the youth building up at the Dodge County Fair and see the hard work and excellence these young people have put into their projects. I enjoy watching it happen year after year.

Inevitably, though, someone will make a comment about some project or another to the effect that “a child couldn’t possibly have done that.” (Implication: the child’s parent must have done it for them). While I recognize that the possibility is always there, I would submit that if the judge does their job, he or she can sniff it out if the child is not giving very good answers to the questions being asked by the judge. In Dodge County, I would also submit that the youth/parents police the process to such an extent that such a forgery would be a very unlikely prospect indeed.

That doesn’t mean that the allegation will not still be made, never mind the great unlikelihood of it being true. This year, I heard it about the wedding cake that won the “Wilton’s Best” award. The Wilton company, maker of all good things in cakery, sponsors a special award every year. The girl who made this year’s winning cake has a long track record of great cakes now at the fair. It wasn’t a surprise to me to see her win it and I was happy for her. Moreover, I know her family and the suggestion that the cake was designed and made by anyone other than that girl is preposterous. Still, the allegation was made, quietly, but I noticed it…and I take exception to it.

You see, six years ago it was my daughter. She was a Cloverbud at the time, second year. She submitted a sewn article that was very well done. Jennifer had been teaching her the skills from a very young age, but Jennifer does no one’s projects for them. Despite getting good answers to her questions, it was the judge herself who told another judge that there was no way an 8 year old had sewn such a good article. (Thankfully, the other judge knew us and defended us, as did the county extension agent). Still, Rebekah got a Red (2nd place) for an article that could have gotten a Purple (Special Merit). (One month later, Rebekah won a national sewing contest in her age group hosted by Nancy’s Notions). At least, Rebekah was able to dust herself off and be successful again. Since then, she has had three articles go to the State Fair and pulled two special merits there as well.

The problem behind the problem, though, is what compels this article. The real problem with this accusation, especially when it is patently false, is the cynical attitude toward children that underlies it. And this cynical attitude toward children is the number one reason people are having fewer of them. Children are often defined by their limitations in our modern context. They are limited in their gifts and they are often viewed as financial liabilities as well. It’s really not a safe world for children these days. At the County Fair every year, I see a culture of people who are loving and encouraging toward children and do their utmost to help them succeed. Unfortunately, the people I hang with for five days every year are an overwhelming minority. Too many people today have no time for children.

The better standard is the one that sees children as having unlimited potential. They are, in essence, blank slates waiting for some adult who loves them enough to help them succeed to teach them how to do so. If we, who love our children, don’t get to them first, imagine who will eventually get to them. The time spent teaching our children how to sew or do any number of other activities is the time spent giving them something they will have for life. My prayer is that my children will look back on all they learned from their mother (and I, but especially her) and see how much she (we) loved them.

jesus-loves-children-colourfulThe Bible is not cynical at all about children. Children are a “treasure,” an “heritage.” Jesus bids the babies to come to Him. He sought them out to bless them. Jesus, in His incarnation, establishes our humanity as holy because He Himself is holy. This includes our childhood.

Whenever we have a family that is expecting a baby here at St. John’s, I try to make a point of getting to them before the birth to talk about Baptism, but there is a part of the discussion also dedicated to Christian parenting. All parenting that is Christian begins from the same premise: our children are a blessing of God to us. They are not a right for us to have. They are a privilege from the Creator to be loved and nurtured like all God’s blessings. They are not liabilities or limitations. They are the future.

Some day, I will be unleashing my children on the world. My prayer is that the world would be as blessed by their efforts as we were in receiving them from our good and gracious God. Just the thought of unleashing them on the world makes my work on their behalf today that much more special. I love nothing more than seeing my children succeed. It isn’t about me. It’s about them. And my only prayer is that these skills and talents they are developing and employing with success would be a blessing to others.

To define a child in terms of what you think they are not able to do is to limit society itself.

So to all the young people who did so well again this year at the Dodge County Fair I say, “Well done! Keep up the good work!”

They can’t take that away from you.

God Judges Me

I was born before ultrasounds, so my parents had to come up with different possibilities for naming me depending on what gender I would be. The story goes that they were in disagreement on my boy name. My mom wanted me to be “Tim.” My dad–whose name was Tom Torkelson–knew what fun people can have with such a highly alliterative name, so he advocated that I be named “Eric.” (By the way, I wouldn’t have minded being Eric, but I think I would not have liked Tim. There was a 2nd string running back for the Packers when I was a kid named Eric Torkelson, no kidding). The name “Dan” was a compromise. My mom says it was flexible. I could be “Danny” when I was young; “Dan” when I had matured;”Daniel” as an adult.

Yesterday, in a moment of boredom, I took one of those online personality quizzes. It was titled “Which Bible character are you?” Some of the questions and answers in the quiz were a little sillier than I prefer, but I did give my best answers to them.

I wound up as Daniel. Here’s how the quiz describes my character.

“Often accused of being telepathic, you sense catastrophes coming before they arrive. If only those around you would learn to listen to your premonitions. It almost seems magical how you sense things before they are exposed, but it is not magic. You are intelligent with a keen sense for details. You see things most people miss. Keep your eyes and mind open.”

Overall, that’s not a bad evaluation of Daniel the Bible character. I can do without all the references to telepathy and magic. Indeed, the ability to see what is coming down the road is not magic, but I would also say it’s not necessarily about intelligence either. Brain research is learning more about the part of the brain that has the ability to project into the future. We all have one. It’s more a matter of how developed it is in each of us.

Daniel, the Bible character, was one of those “smartest guys in the room.” Or maybe it is better said that he was one of the wisest. While Solomon gets all the schrift in the Old Testament for wisdom, both Daniel and Joseph, whose stories bear a lot of similarities, are underestimated for their wisdom. Wisdom is exemplified, indeed manifested, in Christ. In Solomon, Daniel, and Joseph, that wisdom probably is a keen intelligence tied to an abiding faith. In the end, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The name Daniel means, “God judges me.” Daniel was less concerned about the judgments of the people around him, including the kings for whom he worked. Some of those kings rank among the most barbaric in history. Daniel knew who his judge was…and he appealed to him alone.

If we can learn something from Daniel, it’s not the importance of being smart. It’s rather the wisdom that comes from faith; the wisdom that knows that the only judge worth appealing to is God. God is my judge, and in Christ He has judged me not guilty through the forgiveness of sins purchased and won for me on the cross.

There’s the Good News. Let people judge you as they will. It’s not their place to judge you at all. You have a judge and He’s so much more gracious and merciful than we are when we get to pretending we are the judge.

I guess I like my name. God is my judge. And that’s true of you too, whether your name is Daniel or not!

God grant you joy in His judgment of you, not guilty by the merits of Christ.

Pastor T.

Happy Together

Facebook is, for the most part, one of the banes of modern living. 95% of the stuff on my news feed I’d rather not see.

But this week, I got the nicest greeting on my wall from a very good high school buddy of mine. Steve and I bonded over our love of classic rock (him Eric Clapton, me the Beatles). We played in HS Jazz Ensemble and Pep Band together (him guitar, me sax) and we spent a lot of after school afternoons together bumming around in my car listening to music and talking about everything that interested us.

Steve now has met the love of his life. He’s marrying her next week. He now lives in Texas. He has been putting up pictures of him and his fiancee and I have to say, they put a smile on my face. They both look so happy.

And that makes me happy. Steve is a friend and seeing him happy makes me happy. Steve is also a Christian and seeing him look so happy over getting married makes this pastor’s heart delighted.

Despite what people say about marriage, that’s what God intended marriage for. The classic marriage rite talks about God establishing marriage “for the joy and edification of his holy people.”

God wants His people to find their joy in Him and His blessings. That’s why He gave marriage. For men and women to have joy in each other and the God who gave them to one another.

God’s richest blessings, Steve and Chelsea! I know I’ve never met you, Chelsea, but judging from how happy Steve looks, I’m glad God brought you together.