Be Careful What You Shout For

https://i0.wp.com/bringapen.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Be-Careful-What-You-Pray-For.jpg?resize=800%2C521The old saying, in its least religious form, was “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” Among Christians you hear it said this way: “Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.”

But in our increasingly polarized situation, the new adage might be: “Be careful what you shout for, you just might convince others never to give it to you.” Or, indeed, to take it away from you.

The past few days have been breathtaking in their importance for the abortion debate. Tough new laws restricting abortion in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri. (The WI State Assembly also passed one this week, although our new governor has pledged to veto it). All of this after what had to be, arguably, the worst media month in the history of the pro-choice movement. As positions polarize and as the anti-lifers continue to dig in their heels, the behavior and the opinions have gotten down right scandalous. A PAAlyssa Milano’s Sex Strike to Protest Wave of Anti ... state politician doxxing teenage girls and harassing older women who were praying for the end of abortion outside a PP Clinic in Philadelphia, Hollywood stars calling for “sex strikes” against their own sympathetic boyfriends on the grounds of protecting women’s rights, and the list goes on…

I’ve never been a big fan of shouting a position. Protest may indeed be a human right under the 1st Amendment, but that doesn’t mean it’s always effective. I suspect a factor in whether or not protest is successful is the volume with which it is carried out. Shouting loudly might work once, maybe even twice, but when it’s all you know how to do, don’t be surprised when you yourself become a victim of the “Chicken Little Effect.”

The “volume” I mean here is not restricted to taking it to 11 on the amplifier. Volume is whatever it takes to get someone’s attention. Here is where my old adage comes into play. Be careful what you shout for. Your shouting may indeed be making up a lot of minds. Your extremism, though, is not making those minds up the way you want them to be made.

I don’t think it coincidental that after such loud and extreme behavior so many states took the actions they did. I’ll admit it. If I was an AL legislator (or governor), the doxxing of those girls in Philly would have put my efforts into hyperdrive. Call it the political version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Or as Gabby Johnson famously put it in “Blazing Saddles,” “Ain’t no hornswagglin’ cricker cracker…” You get the idea.

Or, as it is in parenting a child, you don’t give the loudest child what they want and thus reward their volume. If newer, more restrictive, abortion laws look more and more sane by the day, it’s only because the media is giving all the time to the shouters. The shouters and their media cohorts are doing a FANTASTIC job of making the case for us.

TherListen to The Vanishing American Adult - Audiobook ...e’s much to be said for why children need to be trained not to shout, run off at the mouth, or seek attention through inappropriate behavior. It seems like almost an entire generation has not learned the lesson. That does not mean that we are any more likely to continue to give them what they want just because they know how to scream. “Chicken Little” applies to all people regardless of their generation and upbringing.

Maybe after we send them to their rooms, we can put the whole thing to bed. Wouldn’t that be grand? What would we say about all that shouting then?

PrairiePastor

Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust: Why Lutherans Receive Ashes on Ash Wednesday

Not all things “catholic” are “Catholic.”

Life Through Lutheran Lenses

Many non-Lutherans wonder why their Lutheran friends or family members wear ashes on their forehead at the beginning of Lent. Are they showing off? Are they trying to stand out? Is it some weird secret church ritual? What does it mean? Should I get them too?

There are three reasons why Lutherans go to church to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. First, the ashes remind people of their sinfulness. Second, the ashes remind people of their mortality. Third, the ashes remind people that they have been redeemed. Let’s unpack this a bit.

Since ancient times, God’s people have used ashes as a sign of humble repentance (e.g. Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Daniel 9:3: Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). This tradition was carried on by the early church and remains an important tradition today. When one willingly goes up to a pastor and receives ashes on his/her forehead, they are admitting that…

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#THEBETTERMESSAGE      Coming in Lent!

Heb. 6  Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.

In a world full of seemingly as many opinions, philosophies, religions, social constructs, and overall “positions” as there are people, one thing is making itself more clear to me by the day:

We Christians have the better message.

Let me state that again. We Christians have THE better message.

If that is true, you may wonder, why not just call it “the best message?” I’ll give a two-part answer to that. The word “best” seems to close off all discussion of the other options out there. It invites us simply not to consider them. The word “better” keeps all the other failed ideas out there in the discussion better so that we can see why the Bible’s message is THE better one. We should want to engage all other failed ideas out there if we believe ours is better.

The other part of my answer to the question, though, is that the word “better” is the term of preference for the preacher in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is not a letter; it is a sermon. It is a sermon about Christ. But the goal of the sermon is to help his Jewish Christian hearers to understand that in Jesus, they have the better message, the one better than all others. The word “better” appears no less than 14 times in the book of Hebrews (an average of slightly more than once a chapter). Peter, in his two epistles, uses the term in a similar manner twice as well. The early church made it their point to preach the Gospel as better than all other options.

At present, I am working with the Board of Elders and the PPC to craft a vision for the next few years here at St. John’s around the theme: #thebettermessage. I even created this hashtag on Twitter a couple of years ago. Now the idea is, however, to make it the focusing principle of the work we do here. We have been given this better message. Now what are we going to do with it?

We will start casting this vision in Lent. The theme of our midweek series is #thebettermessage. We will be exploring the powerful way the Preacher to the Hebrews comforts his hearers with this better message and gives them strength to demonstrate to others that they have a better outlook and worldview and that the world can have this better message too!

I hope you will join us on Wednesday evenings this Lent. There’s Good News, the better message, for you! Don’t miss this opportunity to have your faith strengthened in the better message!

Sincerely, Pastor T.

Silence Is Golden

I’m not a doer of New Year’s Resolutions. I stopped around ten years ago. Like many people, most of my resolutions did not make it out of January intact. It dawned on me about ten years ago that our Lutheran, Biblical teaching explains exactly why this failure happens to most of us. The Law is limited in its ability to motivate. A successful change often only happens because of a change in the heart…and that requires both Law and Gospel.

The exercise of self-examination–the sort we often do at New Year’s–is a good thing, however. For me, this is a good time of the year to take stock and renew. I think most of us see it that way.

I have moved over to what I think of as 3 or 4 “themes” in my life I wish to concentrate on. The first one is usually the most important one and impacts the others quite often. My first priority theme for 2019 is “silence is golden.”

This is not a commitment to not talking! Although I do hope this theme means that when I talk I do so more positively and constructively. This theme isn’t as much about what comes out of my mouth as it is about what goes into my ears.

There is too much noise in our world today. All the noise is easy enough to see when one turns on the television. Recently, in a public place, I was subjected to a television tuned in to the day’s episode of TMZ, the entertainment show. It looked as bad as a 24/7 news channel in that its staff were busy arguing. About what? Brad Pitt’s new hairstyle? There may be too much arguing and noise on the news channels, but I will contend that a good old political argument still has more value than what I was seeing and hearing.

It doesn’t improve when you move over to social media. Our exhaustion with social media continues to grow for the same reasons. It may be in text form, but the noise is still very much there.

What should we fill our ears with? The apostle Paul leads the way. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). The word of Christ never ceases to astound me. One, because Jesus never seems to waste a word in His speaking. Two, because He understood the value of silence. At the manger, at the crowd who wanted to stone the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), and on the cross, Jesus is silent. (He is in many other places as well). He doesn’t argue or fill our ears with more noise. The noise is always trying to force us. Jesus’ silence and His powerful Word economy only invites us. His words fill the ears not with noise, but with the beautiful Good News, the most important thing we need to hear.

For me this theme will bring other good things. It will bring less time in front of screens, perusing social media, or idly listening to anything other than the Word…and probably music. It will also mean, God-willing, more peace, joy, and hope. We are not better for all our media saturation. We are better for hearing the Word of Christ.

I share this with you in case you are looking for more of what only the Word of Christ brings. My prayer for you is that you will have a 2019 of greater peace and joy. I hope you find it in the silence and in the Word of Christ.

Sincerely, Pastor T.

Chicken Little – Lesson To Learn? BIG

The simple story of “Chicken Little” is known to most of us. Running around yelling “the sky is falling” repeatedly when it isn’t hurts your credibility and makes you an untrustable character.

Or at least it should.

I’m not sure this moral to the story is true today. Today brings just the latest example. Brett Kavanaugh now has a #metoo accuser. Color me skeptical. Here’s why:

  1. Nothing was said about her during the hearings although her Senator claims to have known about it since mid summer.
  2. The claim was not brought until almost the minute of the confirmation vote.
  3. The accuser has now come forward, with such inexact details that she can’t even remember what decade the incident took place.

Now whether or not Kavanaugh becomes the next Supreme Court Justice matters not a bit to me. I see him as fairly similar to the man he is replacing, Justice Kennedy. I don’t think he will always be a party line voter on the Supreme Court. Maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s bad. Maybe it’s both. I am more of the mindset that it’s truly rare when only one person is qualified for any position. I can live with either outcome when the Senate votes on this. It might still be that she has a case. It’s just that at present there’s not much there to see.

But the larger implication I draw–the reason I mention the classic old story–is the implication of America’s incessant victimhood for our overall health as a society. My problem is not what’s happening to Brett Kavanaugh in particular, but that this sort of victimization in order to castigate happens all the time now. Kavanaugh may just be the most recent example of this.

As a Lutheran pastor, I walk a fine line here, but that’s also why I write this. I am not saying there are no victims. On the contrary! I have known real victims. I have had to help them deal with the residuals of the tragedies that have happened to them. I have had to recognize that bad things happen to people and these can create real victims. [Note: I will add that a real victim does not want to be one. If someone wants to be viewed as a victim, there’s my reason number one to have doubts].

My fear is that the real victims lose their credibility when everybody wants to claim to be a victim. I’ll use another example from the arts. In the movie, The Incredibles, Dash is arguing with his mother after he got in trouble at school. He argues that because his family has superpowers they are special. His mom responds that “everyone is special.” The young boy follows that comment up with some pretty good wisdom. “When everybody’s special, no one is.” Later on, the villain in the story uses the same logic. Credit this movie for exposing this logic as damaging! It truly is.

Call it the “Chicken Little effect,” if you will. If everyone’s a victim and shouting that loudly, then the real victims will not be respected, trusted, and ultimately, helped and nurtured through their traumas. Why should we believe anyone anymore? When everyone’s a victim, then no one is.

[Oh, and by the way, if they get away with it in the Supreme Court hearings, then who will ever be good enough to be on the Court]?

When Asia Argento, one of the actresses who came out against Harvey Weinstein, was later exposed for sexual advances to a 17 year old teenage boy, it put the lie to the conventional ideas about victimhood. Keith Ellison’s former girlfriend was apparently beaten by him, but is her victimhood touted about in the media the way Kavanaugh’s accuser’s is? No. We’re already as a society to that place of ultimate cynicism where we know we can’t trust anyone anymore, so we’re just picking the victims we want to believe. There’s not much room for sympathy there for someone who is a victim NOT by his or her own choosing. You know, a real victim?

As Christians, we have an 8th Commandment responsibility to put the best construction on everything, but this does not mean that the facts aren’t still important in determining guilt or innocence. If the facts reveal that someone claiming to be a victim is not one, we are not keeping the 8th Commandment by asserting they are. After all, if another party is involved and they actually are innocent, we have the same commandment to remember with them. In most of today’s victimhood allegations, it’s important to remember that two parties are involved. What sort of sympathy and care we should want to show to both sides can still only be determined by the facts. If we won’t do that much for both sides, then not only do real victims lose credibility, but we will fail to defend the innocent as well.

This game only has losers. It’s petulant, divisive, dangerous and, in my humble opinion, evil.

Image result for Good FridayConsider Jesus Himself. Truly innocent, He was crucified as guilty and mocked by His tormentors through the whole situation. And people say the Bible is irrelevant! I can’t see a story that is more relevant to today’s headlines than what happened to Jesus. If we make everyone a victim, then the innocent will truly get crucified along with the real victims who have lost our sympathy.

I’ll give a little suggestion. If the media says there is a victim, be careful. Such allegations, if false, can create new and very real victims. We owe it, in our love for the neighbor, to pursue our own facts about the case and not let some reporter mediate the story to us. Our job is not to assume there are no victims, but to find the real ones. In today’s mess of a society, that can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Love should never allow us to become that cynical. When you meet a real victim? Love them. When you meet someone falsely accused who is actually innocent? Defend them and care for them.

One crucifixion’s enough.

Hope Is Here

Matt. 24  32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

As I write this, it’s our second consecutive 70+ degree day. There was plenty of sunshine until about an hour ago, but it is still very nice outside. After a 100 year snowstorm only a couple of weeks ago, the earth is showing signs of waking up. Jennifer mentioned to me last night that it seems like we’re a month behind, but let’s not let lose our gratitude for this gorgeous weather.

The change from winter into spring, and then from spring into summer, has served as a symbol of hope both inside and outside Christianity. Those outside Christianity would do well to notice the cycles of the seasons and how well they intersect with the Bible’s “dying and rising” Law and Gospel message. Every year the earth dies its little death. Every year the earth rises to new life. Death and life, dying and rising, these are the most basic themes of the Law and Gospel message recorded for us in God’s Word.

For the Christian, this dying and rising is not limited to the seasonal cycle. It’s a daily reality. The daily meaning of our Baptisms is that we daily drown our sinful natures and a new man emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This daily gift of God is our greatest asset. God’s will is to put our sinful natures to death and that a new person, freed from the guilt, regret, and death of sin, would get a chance to live a new life TODAY. God does not want us burdened by sins He has forgiven. He gifts us with new life, a good conscience, and the freedom to pursue the good works He has ordained beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:8-10).

The world that does not know this wonderful news is consigned to death. By choosing not to hear the Word, the unbelieving world chooses its own fate. This is sad. Don’t you think?

We have the #thebettermessage. The only thing that holds us back is our own fears and doubts from not fully hearing this great message as well. We have hope, a hope for today, a hope for eternity. It’s already ours! Look anywhere else and will you find such a great hope? Peter writes that all Christians are to be “always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Christ is our hope and the world needs that hope. That is painfully obvious.

And Christ will return! As we look for that return, we let the beautiful and hopeful return of summer remind us, just like the fig tree in Jesus’ words above, that Christ is returning. He is at the very gates. This is not bad news. This is great Good News! Lord, come again soon! Deliver us to a new heavens and new earth!

Praying you are enjoying this first shot of warmth! God use it to bolster your hope in Him who is returning soon!

Peace in Christ,

Pastor T.