Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Watch Hogans Heroes as I did for a huge chunk of my child-hood and you may see a resemblance between Col. Klink and I.
Klink is not worldly wise, un-like his adversary and at a disadvantage because he naively respects and trusts people.
Among many members of his “captive audience”, Klink's authority is disputed and his words, however firmly pronounced are ridiculed and disregarded.
Although he has an easy smile and and a timidity born of a subconscious awareness of his own inadequacy, Klink acts like a stupid man who is easily and regularly out-maneuvered by his adversary, Col. Hogan.
Theologically, Wilhelm Klink represents the overstretched clergyman, trying to maintain a church from which no one “escapes”. While Col. Hogan, on the other hand represents the uninhibited anti-Christian “world” that lives by situation ethics and makes constant lying and breaking the rules seem glamorous and even heroic.
Like Klink, I find myself to be the impressively uniformed but intellectually impotent guy with a position that is almost more than he can handle (despite delusions of gallantry), who ends up the hapless and gullible foil of the suave and cunning Col. Hogan.
From the world's perspective, I am (at best) the straight-laced unpopular martinet to his uninhibited and popular rogue. At worst, I am the bad guy, through a combination of my association with an unpopular institution (the church) and my own incompetence.
Friday, December 11, 2009
What we can agree on is that none of us “knows it all” and that all of us are missing something. Unlimited striving to attain further knowledge and understanding is something unbelievers and believers alike should be doing as human beings. Humility before the vast expanse of the unknown is a good thing. Arrogance is inconsistent with any claim to truly seeking knowledge. This is why atheists need to stop posturing as “know it alls” and admit that they are missing that sense of the reality of spiritual things that believers are getting by the billions, through all times and places.
Am I saying that atheists aren't “spiritual”? Yes. That is my argument. They are such materialists that they have utterly excluded the possibility that they will ever receive the spiritual “signals” that God is giving other human beings. As Jesus would put it, atheists have “blasphemed the Holy Spirit” and committed “the unforgivable sin”. This is because atheists have switched off their access to the only Gospel that can save them and committed themselves to not listening to only voice that can describe to them that world of God that human brains have been hard-wired to contemplate.
Ironically, of course, atheists claim to be the ones who are using their minds and would accuse believers of closing theirs and “committing intellectual suicide”. What seems to be the case, however, is that the atheists are refusing to use their whole brains, by never letting their thoughts go to that part of the brain that God designed to grasp the transcendent. They are closed-minded and proud of it! Just look at their popular arguments, in print and on YouTube etc. They claim they can rip to shreds anyone who claims that human minds should be open to the spiritual. To them, religious certainty and even spiritual openess are equivalent to the absurd willingness to see some “spaghetti monster in the sky”.
But are the things to which believers minds are open nothing more than celestial pasta, or “dragons on the street” or other hallucinations we are accused of foisting upon the world? No. Atheistic attempts to impune religious belief as ridiculous are but their own sad attempts to justify the closing of their own minds.
The question still remains: Who are really using their heads and who aren't?
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Epiphany” (from the Greek ἐπιφάνεια) means “appearance", "manifestation") and is a season beginning next month that celebrates the occasions when the divine nature of Christ was revealed at various times in the Scripture. Epiphany commemorates such things as the star of Bethlehem and the miracles and transfiguration of Christ. Such things made Christ's identity as God visible during an earthly ministry when His divine nature was usually invisible.
Before Christmas, I again led a Bible Study for a group of blind people. As always, they were a wonderful group with whom to share Christian faith – and you know what? They didn't have a problem with God's invisibility! They didn't have a problem with angels being invisible, Heaven being invisible, all evidence of God's existence being invisible to them – because, as visually handicapped people, everything was invisible to them.
Their faith brought home once more to me the fatuous foolishness of the argument of today's atheists that we believers should be ashamed of our God because He is normally not visible. They say “they don't see the evidence of God” and the burden of proof is with us to show that God is real.
Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3.8). Invisibility is part of the realm of faith, but, having said that, faith must “take a number”, because it is but one of countless invisible realities that we live with every day and believe in, at times staking our lives upon, despite not being visible to our eyes.
How many natural (and man-made) phenomena are invisible to you, yet you don't doubt their existence? We use wireless internet – and that signal, like other man-made television, radio and other waves, criss-crossing all over us all the time is invisible. Add to that all natural cosmic radiation and waves and you have a huge amount of reality that is invisible. Now, what about all those things that are too small to see the electrons and protons of atomic physics without which our life would be impossible? Their nature, in addition to being invisible, is largely theoretical!
And how many historical realities are invisible to you? Did you see the local water authority test your drinking water for safety before you poured yourself a glass? How do you know it's safe? And, looking further back, do you see Alexander the Great conquering his vast empire. Do you see America's founding father planning to build a new nation? Were you there to “see” anything that took place before the invention of the photograph? Are you sure the great-great Aunt you had really existed, since you have never seen her? Yes it is absurd to doubt facts of history that are “invisible”. By the same token it is absurd to waste one nano-second doubting the realities of God, let alone jeopardize your eternal salvation, just because they are invisible at the moment. Temporary invisibility really is no big deal!
Instead, this Epiphany and always, thank God that He sent His Son to be our Redeemer and Savior. For He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1.15-16).
Friday, November 13, 2009
To die for. That is they way people sometimes describe something worthy of the highest possible price. But we exaggerate by that expression, because death really is too high a price for a human being to pay, if you think about it. If Momma's lasagna really was “to die for” and you died – how could you enjoy a single serving because you'd be dead? Ultimately physical death is too expensive a price.
Is there price that is too high for even God to pay? You may be surprised to hear that the answer to that question is 'yes'. A bit further on in today's Epistle we are told ...”it is not angels He helps but Abrahams's descendants”. Why not help angels who sinned? You don't hear any preachers asking that question, but that does not mean it is not a good question. And this is the answer - redeeming fallen angels would be too high a price to pay, even for God.
Why too high a price to redeem sinful angels? Because God designed angels to taste only one kind of death for their sins – eternal death. Remember how Jesus tells us that God created eternal damnation ”for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25.41).
If God were to show His redeeming love for any angels that sinned, and tasted their death, He would have had to be banished from Heaven never to return. You see why that would not be practical as a demonstration of redeeming love on the part of God's Son. The price would literally be too high even for God.
So God created a creature that He could afford to redeem and forgive by paying for their sins Himself. God created us, creatures created capable of two deaths – the eternal death that the devils die, but also physical death – a death that God's Son could taste without Christ having to be forever separated from His Father.
So the author to the Hebrews tells us, “Since the children have flesh and blood (another way of saying human mortality), He too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps but Abrahams's descendants.
For this reason he had to be make like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (verses 14-18).
Notice is says “He had to be made like His brothers”. This is the way it had to be. Realistically, God could not make atonement for the angels that sinned, but He could make and it was fitting to make, creatures for whom He could make atonement and that is what God did.
And as He created us to be redeemed and as He carried out His loving plan to demonstrate His redeeming grace, mercy and love by means of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the angels of God who had not sinned sang for joy and still find God's demonstration of love toward us endlessly delightful.
Even now, scripture tells us, the holy angels, archangels and all the company of heaven are focussing their praise on the fact that Christ “was slain and by His blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5.9).
Hebrews says to us, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers”.
The author to the Hebrews invites us to contemplate the wonder of the fact that it was for people like us that our Savior came. People powerless over their lot in life. People whose lives are, at times, filled with toil and pain. People who fear death. But people whom the Son of the living God has made to be His brothers through paying the ultimate price.
'...we see Jesus (he writes), ... he suffered death, so that, by the grace of God, He might taste death for everyone.'
How remarkable (by virtue of His incarnation and humiliation) to be able to say of the Son of God, “He understands the taste of death”. He knows what it means to live in conditions that are far below what they should be. And it's not just that He understands from afar, as if He has some kind of intellectual knowledge, almost like a academic analysis of suffering. He's not like some politicians who claim to "feel your pain," when you can bet that they really have no clue.
No, Jesus left the glory of heaven to come and live among human beings as a man. He who created all our material universe by the word of His mouth, became part of this creation, being made "lower than the angels" that He might redeem humans.
You see, He didn't just come here to understand our plight; He came to do something about it. And “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” caused Him to suffer in order that He might be the perfect Author of our salvation.1
He knows suffering. He knows pain. He knows anguish, disappointment, grief, sorrow and rejection. "He was stricken by God, smitten and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4b_5).
Whatever you have suffered in this life, He knows it. He experienced all that you've suffered and more. For the last time I checked, there wasn't anyone of us who had been whipped, beaten, stabbed, and nailed to a cross for even our own sins, let alone the sins of other people.
Jesus endured all of that so that you might never have to know the eternal agony of hell. Dear brother or sister, you don't have to fear death. You don't have to live as though the current state of your existence is the way things always will and must be. Your Savior wants better things for you. He wants a better life for you. He wants to meet you in His house, at His table, to fill you with Himself, and to give you a peace that passes understanding as a brother would ideally want to do for his brothers.
I know there are times that you don't believe that. I know there are times when you wonder where He is and why He hasn't intervened to rescue you from your circumstances. I know there are times when you wonder if He really cares or if He is even there at all. You feel angry. You feel confused. You feel abandoned. You feel alone. You feel unloved and unwanted. I know you do.
All I can say to you, in the midst of your struggles, is wait. Scripture says: "They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). God works in His own time, and though it may not seem so at the time, He always comes through. The only question, during any test of faith, is 'will we come through'? And when we don't, God is there to forgive us for our shortcoming, sins and lack of faith.
To comfort us who so often feel alone (unnecessarily I might add) God's word reminds us, “Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those (like us!) who are being tempted”.
This is all part of what you might call the way we live now. We may never know why we suffer the way we do. We can never be sure when to expect the Lord to open His hand of blessing, or for how long. (And certainly, He is not bound to our circumstances. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, He can bless us even if we're still in the fire.) But there are two things we can always count on: 1) nothing in this life ever stays the same, and 2) Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Amen.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
The “Guy Fawkes Day” shooting rampage at Fort Hood on the 5th of November, on top of thoughts of Veterans' Day, Remembrance, two ongoing wars in central Asia, and this week's catechesis I presented to my students on the “5th Commandment” make up a cluster of things this week that have motivated me to say something about the theology of lawful killing.
What we have in the person of Nidal Malik Hasan, is a very confused soldier such as the one depicted by Telli Savalas in the film “The Dirty Dozen”. In a prison cell he tries to rationalize his murders with an allusion to the Bible and says, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”, but he adds that “God doesn't say who will be his instrument”. That is where he is wrong, of course. Unless you happen to be a biblically illiterate pacifist, you will recognize that the biblical God has clearly established who will be his instrument of retributive justice and who will “turn the other cheek” and forgive.
The instrument of retributive justice is government, acting on behalf of God and on behalf of all of us as a community. Responsibility for retributive justice is not given to individual citizens to execute on their own behalf. The ones who are told “judge not, lest ye be judged”, “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, “forgive seventy times seven times” and so forth, are private individuals, not government, not the police and not the military. Officials acting publicly, on behalf of the rest of us, are told to judge, are told to avenge and (yes) are told to kill.
Since we humans have contaminated our world with sin and evil, God, out of love for us, established the concept of a justice system to prevent us from being overwhelmed by crime. He ordained that a “sword” be placed in the hands of those who represent our community and serve as officers in government. St. Paul says of such an earthly governor, that, ”...he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13.4).
In his teaching on the 5th Commandment in his Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes, “...God and government are not included in this commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”). ... To punish evildoers, God has delegated His authority to the government ...what is forbidden in this commandment is forbidden to the individual in his relationship with anyone else, but not to the government” (181 – p.379 in CONCORDIA, McCain ed.).
Christians, acting as private individuals may not “take the law into their own hands”. We are to offer our personal forgiveness perpetually to offenders in every case and then let our community take vengeance if needed. If our community judges that a criminals have forfeited their right to live among us, offenders will be banished to prison cells or to a scaffold, but individual Christians will not deny criminals our personal forgiveness, even as we require a judge to pass sentence and an executioner to carry out his vocation.
There is no contradiction in this. It is the vocation of public officials to punish criminals and it is the vocation of sinners to offer their personal forgiveness to all others even as we expect God to forgive us our trespasses and sins (Matt. 6.15). The same applies to the apparent contradiction implied in the phrase “we come in peace – shoot to kill” It may indeed be the case that members of a “peace-keeping force” may have to “fire a shot in anger” precisely in order to carry out their vocation of providing a peaceful environment for the rest of the community.
The same goes for warfare. If you know nothing else about “Just War” theory, you can tell by the words “just war”, that it may be proposed that there is such a thing as ethical, moral and lawful killing on a large scale as in war-time. You might even use a phrase like “state sponsored hate”, if you like, as long as you understand its context in the legitimate execution of justice in a world where there is “a time to love and a time to hate” (Ecc. 3.8). In terms of Judeo-Christian civilization you might say that everything from Joshua and the Battle of Jerico to Operation Iraqi Freedom is state-sponsored hate. Call it righteous indignation, properly channelled, according to the rule of law.
Indignation, however, is not always righteous, as we know – even on the part of states and communities. Earthly authorities are ordained by God to represent Him but they frequently and notoriously abuse their position. Such abuse, however does not discredit the principal of government any more than the concept of a police force is discredited because the Nazis had a gestapo.
Terrorism, if it is state-sponsored, is an example of abuse of power by a government. This is because terrorism, whether conducted by governments, groups or individuals is not an ordered and measured use of force, but rather an abuse of force in which non-combatants, “innocents” and by-standers are more than collateral damage, but actually targets. Terrorists are not soldiers, but dastardly murderers who refuse to grasp the difference between lawful and unlawful killing. Terrorist acts may be intended to “send a message” but any content to that message is obscured and discredited by the abuse of violence involved in conveying it.
Major Hasan, a soldier, was NOT following our orders. Instead he acted as a terrorist, driven, not by legitimate government, but by a diabolical application of his fanatical Muslim beliefs. Yet, whatever the ideological basis, the methods yield the same deplorable results. Terrorism, we should remember, is nothing new – only the methods have changed through the years. Prior to the Irish sectarian bombings and Al Qaeda-style attacks in our lifetimes, terrorism was involved in violence from the barbarian raids in the dark ages to the carpet bombings of the 20th century. All were terrorism because they were an abuse of force and sinfully distant from any meaningful expression of retributive justice.
We are in the midst of a season of honoring soldiers – the living and the dead – who served and continue to serve our communities and our civilization by the calling that was given to them by God, through us. Let us, while we are in this world of sin and evil, contemplate the cross that these men and women have offered to take upon their shoulders out of love for their country and their God. And as we contemplate the differences between lawful killing, murder and terrorism, let us honor their service by wisely discerning those distinctions and thereby reflect God's mercy in His gracious dealings with us – in Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The word “holocaust” is a sacrificial term. In places such as Genesis 22, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “olah”, meaning “burnt offering” uses the word “holokauston” from which we get the word “holocaust”. And, although His sacrifice did not include being burnt, Jesus was nevertheless dying as a sacrifice and there was more than a little “anti-semitism” in the torment this particular Jew endured. Those Gentile soldiers relished the idea of taking their frustration out on all Jews by abusing one Jewish prisoner, calling Him the “King of the Jews.”
And where was God as all this was happening? That is the haunting question people ask regarding the 20th century “Shoah”. The answer in this case is that God was not indifferent as Jesus own personal “holocaust” went on. God was in Christ, the Messiah, reconciling the world to Himself, through the sacrifice His Jewish Son was making:
“...in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. ...For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.19-21).
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
You don't have to know much about brain function to know that sexual thinking is a "lower brain" function. Not to be confused with romance - transcendent thinking that makes use of higher brain function - mere sexualization involves very little thinking. And Brains tend to change over time based on habitual thought patterns. The more human thinking is habitually sexualized, the less higher brain function will take place out of sheer habit. By the same token lower thinking will become ingrained. The result is all around us and our sexualized society is getting "dumber and dumberer".
"You do that and it will stay that way", is a broadly accurate description of brain function.
Amid all that civilization stands to lose, a clear and worrying consequence of such lowered thinking is the tendency of our society to become less and less concerned with the things of God. I believe there may be a link here, too, between sexualization of human thinking and the loss of theology.
Even those attempts by some religions to historically link spirituality with sex are losing ground as people lower and lower their vision of what human life is about.
The Authorized Version of the Bible (KJV) suggests that God Himself may be washing His hands of those who have lost interest in theology, when the apostle St. Paul says, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind..." (Romans 1:28) To the Philippians he writes that, "many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Philippians 3.18-19).
What you “set your mind” on can put all of your thinking at risk of becoming foolish. And atheism is caused by foolishness. Long ago it was written, “the fool says in his heart, 'there is no God'” (Psalm 14.1) And “thinking themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1.22) Clearly the sophomoric and lame arguments against the biblical God by such new atheism champions like Oxford University's Richard Dawkins, and other best-selling authors, show that no citadels of civilization are safe from the onslaught of mental stupidity today. One is at a loss to say what is more remarkable: that otherwise intelligent, articulate and witty people advance such dumb arguments or that educated and thinking people buy them.
You decide. And then ask yourself how you and I can follow the advice of St. James and remain aware that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: ...to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1.27).
What makes it so important to guard our thoughts is that the eternal destiny of souls is at stake. St. Paul wrote to the Romans about the hazard of what I am calling “lower thinking” when he warned, “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8.5-8).
God will not accept atheists into Heaven. Even Christians can lose their faith depending upon how their thinking is being trained. As Jesus said, "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Luke 19.26).
Already you, reader, may feel your faith has taken some hits lately, even though you might not know why. But think about it. Burns happen when living tissue is exposed to extreme heat. The damage is done and healing is difficult or impossible. In a similar way Christian faith is at risk of real damage when exposed to the amorality and sexualization around us. Or “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?”(Proverbs 6.27-28)
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul" (1 Peter 2.11).
Recognize the enemy of your soul and then, ”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12.2).