Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Incarnation Is The Reason For The Season

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 
(John 1:14-17 ESV)

Alas, another awkward first Sunday in January is upon us.  That Sunday where people think we Christians are completely and totally nuts for still saying Merry Christmas and singing Christmas hymns after New Year's Day.  But as this festive season of Christmastide concludes and perhaps some dust has already collected on some of the very gifts we just received on December The 25th, it is best that we remain vigilant about having received the greatest gift of all despite our culture's desire to be over and done with "Christmas" on December 26th.

The Incarnation, sadly, is something we have to militantly try to remain thankful for, just like many of other blessings we receive in our lives that we grow used to, so the good things we have become less and less good to us the more we benefit from them.  Indeed, in this world of Sin and corruption thankfulness is a thing that turns heads.  Echo the words of St. Paul that you are learning to be content with whatever your station is in life and you can expect at least a few double-takes.  Why?  Because we are far too used to a fallen world where good things never last.  Those gifts we unwrapped on Christmas Day will age just as we do, and perhaps wear out, or perhaps we might change such that we can't make use of them anymore, like if we received a piece of clothing that's a certain size and our size changes later on.  Please don't hate me just yet.  I didn't say which way our size could change, and will be glad to leave that as open speculation.  :-)

But amidst our surroundings of good things either becoming less good because of age or because of our failure to appreciate their goodness, the Incarnation of Christ, that gift that we have to work to appreciate because such an idea doesn't seem to resonate with us, remains true, despite our failures and shortcomings.  This Word who became flesh and dwelt among us took on our humanity, came into this world in a humble manger, wound up in the Biblical "land of bondage" in the flight to Egypt, and continued His path to the Cross on our behalf.  He is the Good Shepherd who willingly lays down His life for us His wayward sheep.

Our culture likes to separate Baby Jesus from the Agnus Dei, the Lamb Of God who takes away the Sin of the World, much as they like to separate the manger from the Cross, but just like our assorted shortcomings in appreciating the glorious gift of the Incarnation that doesn't fall apart with age and isn't dependent on us remaining a certain way forever in order to be a proper gift for us, this greatest gift of all to us and for us is still what it is despite anything we do, and this Word made flesh is still who He is and is still for us, despite anything we do.

So go ahead on these remaining days of Christmastide and continue celebrating.  Sing another hymn.  Enjoy another evening by the fire.  Watch another Christmas movie.  Let our culture say what it wants about our celebration of Christmastide.  This Word made flesh for us who is our Good Shepherd is more than worth celebrating.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Merry Christmas.  Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Born To Die - The Scandalon Of The Cross On Christmas Day

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
(Philippians 2:3-11 ESV)

Born to die.  If you want to kill someone's joy, bring up something morbid like that.  If you want to kill it even further, bring up something like that around Christmas.  With how we've commercialized, holly-jolly-ed, and greeting-card-ed the living daylights out of the birth and nativity of our Lord and the 12 day celebration known as Christmastide you will most certainly strike a nerve by daring to bring up something as blunt as death, this time of the year moreso than others perhaps...

Yet in our Sin we try to tell ourselves somehow that our lives are something more than simply being born to die.  We entertain feel good thoughts of somehow being remembered for our life's achievements after we're gone.  We make up sayings like such-and-such age is the new such-and-such younger age, as if 50 could ever be the new 20.  We engorge our denial of our Old Adam's condemned sinful mortality via various things to try to stay young as long as possible, even so far as getting ourselves sliced up under a surgeon's scalpel, and we rejoice in life-extending medical technology that so far has only extended the part of our lives when we're elderly.

At the end of our grand marathon to run away from the Truth though, we face the daunting reality, that we truly are slowly being consumed by what some would call "creeping decrepitude" and that the curse of Sin and Death truly does reduce us to merely being "Born To Die."  "The wages of Sin is Death" means nothing short of that, and many things that Scripture calls Sin only accelerate us on the path to our graves.

We truly bear the mark of the first Adam.  Fortunately for us, we also know of a second Adam.  A man you may have heard about sometime this holiday season.  A man named Jesus.

Indeed, this time of the rolling year is perhaps when our culture can stomach the concept of the Messiah the most, so long as Jesus remains within the confines of who they think He should be.  It's almost as if the Baby Jesus were a separate person entirely from our Lord and Savior with how even our suffering servant prophet, priest, and king has been caricatured much like St. Nicholas eventually was morphed into Santa Claus.

"Yes," says our culture, "Let us keep the Baby Jesus as the cute little smiling baby with a halo around His head.  It'll make for some cutesy greeting cards for religious loved ones and keep Jesus within the confines of who we want Him to be."  Fortunately for all of us, the story doesn't end there.  

As our text points out this morning, even the "cutesy baby in the manger with the halo around his head" had already completed a massive act of divine humility just to be born in that manger.  Here was God The Son, not considering his glorious and exalted status with the Father as something to be grasped, but willfully giving it all up to be born under very lowly circumstances in a manger in Bethlehem.  "Nails, spears, shall pierce him through," sings the Christmas hymn What Child Is This.  Indeed, the manger should be a symbol of humility to us much like the Cross and points toward the Cross right from the very beginning, that the Good Shepherd would lay down His life for the sheep, willingly, for us.

Much like us, Jesus was born to die, not because of any Sin on His part, but to forgive us of ours, to take our place on that hill, to be the one instead of us crying out, "My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?!!"  The God Man gave up His status to come live among us, for us.  He experienced our suffering and the sickness of what we deal with each day in this life, for us.  He was born under humble circumstances, for us.  He walked the path to the cup He was to drink so to speak, for us, and the Good Shepherd willingly gave up His life for us wayward sheep, for us, and rose again on the third day, for us.

There is much Law and Gospel to be found in the phrase "Born To Die."  The word of the Cross remains as scandalous as ever, even at times when people are allegedly celebrating our Savior's birth.  Yet as Scripture teaches it is still Good News and the Power Of God to those of us being saved, that we may echo some more lines from What Child Is This and truly sing, "Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary."

Merry Christmas, and Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Maverick Returns

Grace and peace from a Lutheran At Large this holiday season as I bring this blog back from certain doom with some notable changes beginning with the background graphics to match the Advent and Christmastide season which starts very shortly.

The end of my last pastor's tenure at the LCMS Lutheran church I was previously involved with shouldn't have been like the end of an era in my life, but sometimes life throws things your way that you don't expect.  The following months have become a total perfect storm of turmoil and upheaval at home, work, and everywhere else.  From technical problems at work to landlord problems at home and an overall feeling of hopelessness everything finally boiled over with me eventually moving a few towns away to be closer to work, putting me too far away from my former church to remain involved and now closer to another church that I could go say hello to, though with a similarly long trip because the synod has no presence here.

In the meantime, I've quietly blended in with the local Catholic community at a Catholic church within walking distance and remembered why I'm involved with the descendants of the Reformers in the first place.  My last Catholic Mass attendance was as a little kid being dragged to a small stuffy parish where I was expected to sit down and shut up in the cold wooden pews, not having a clue about the liturgy, nor was I being taught anything about Christianity except that going to church is good for you so just do it.

Nothing has changed apparently.  The liturgy was still intact but they swapped their big shiny church organ for a band off in the corner, though they still sang nearly all hymns, but instrumentation is but a minor detail compared to what I've seen among these folks.  For the first time ever I've seen more conviction from the people in the pews than the people running the service.  There was plenty of kneeling, crossing oneself, etc., but nobody cared whether or not I was Catholic or even Christian for that matter - including the priest!!!  No seriously, he just said, "God bless your week" even though he'd never seen me before.

Little wonder mainline Christian tradition struggles so much when there's this much autopilot going on.  It's not like Catholicism is doing exceptionally well around here to begin with.  Two of the three parishes with schools around here have closed their schools in the past decade and I know of one parish where one priest hits the road between four different churches every Sunday.  I can't say I blame the people for not having zeal.  This all ties back to medieval doctrine about merely attending Mass being good for you spiritually.  It was folks like Luther that spoke up about Christians actually having a clue what they were doing even when they weren't clergy.  Now I get to see the rotten fruit of this stuff firsthand while simply trying to make peace with a dark time in my life that drove me away from liturgical historic Christian worship for many years.

With this much kiss-assery I might as well be in the ELCA.  This is right in line with mainline liberal places that are just happy to see you and tippy toe around ANYTHING that could possibly offend you.  I'd rather be involved with folks with conviction that will tell me when I'm doing something wrong.

I was just having this discussion earlier today with an old friend who works in a gas station that's run by some Muslim folks and has read bits and pieces of the Quran and found some morality here and there, though I was quick to clarify that religion is not the only place one can find moral exhortation.  Even civic duty has some semblance of "doing the right thing for society."  I also mentioned St. Paul talking about Jew and Gentile in Romans about the "law written on our hearts" that we know as whatever conscience we happen to have.

Still though, it's kind of a shock to see the organization that ticked me off as a little kid operating in such desperation mode around here.  I know Pope Francis is trying to lighten things up but I have a hard time believing that what I've seen in this area since moving here is the same organization that wagged fingers in my face as a little kid and told me to sit down and shut up.  Almost a toothless lion of sorts.  Either way, I do know of course that Canon Law still is what it is, maybe in some filing cabinet somewhere in the Vatican at least.

I'm actually curious now just how long I can slip under the radar before people start asking me questions.  Perhaps I'm simply being passed off as either a marginal Catholic or an E&C.  I don't know though.  Worse comes to worse, there's always the "hear the words of Christ in the liturgy and then listen to a sermon when you get home" approach.  :-P  I'd rather not do that though.

As for this blog, it has been heavily theological in years past, but the overarching theme is one of response to what I'm dealing with as a Christian, which has included a lot of theology.  There'll still be some theological overtones, but I have no delusions of replacing a good seminary anytime soon.  :-)

Blessed Advent, Merry Christmas, and Vivamus Sub Umbra Crucis.  :-)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

End Of An Era

My church is now pastorless, I feel spiritually homeless, and it seems like no matter where I look Christians seem to be directionless.  :-(

First, my now-former pastor accepted a call to a bigger church while the dual parish ministry I've been involved with for the last few years faces a rough few years ahead.  The satellite congregation fell into the pit of the mainline churches similar to what my Dad and I used to make fun of on public access TV back in our more ignorant days - just a few old folks sitting in the back, except this one apparently constitutes 40 percent of the parish's total funding.  I'm sure it was a promotion the pastor was glad to take while things remain uncertain around here.  It's still better than my local Catholic parish though, where the priest hits the circuit between having Mass at 4 different churches in the area, and this is Rome we're talking about, who traditionally has the most money?  (Or had, as it appears to be around here.)

Even so though, while our local church president continues sounding off about the lack of local evangelism, and rightly so, it's not just our congregation that has this stuff going on.  Seems like no matter where I look these days churches are just doing whatever they can to continue to exist.  Big rock shows instead of traditional liturgy, high charity involvement to attract people of a more goody two-shoe persuasion, family programs for single parents to get a break from the rough life of trying to work while raising their kids,  political XYZ causes on both the American left and right wing, but St. Paul's idea of "knowing nothing among you except Christ and Him Crucified" apparently isn't a thing around here.

20 years ago in 1995, DC Talk came out with what was arguably their biggest Christian Rock hit of all time, Jesus Freak, with its "fight the power" line of "I don't really care if they label me a Jesus Freak.  There ain't no disguising the Truth."  I used to resonate with that line versus the surrounding culture in my high school.  Now I could agree with that in church environments.

Psalm 127 mentions "unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain."  It's time even so-called Monergists started believing this again.  The Church is called to proclaim Law and Gospel, and the Holy Spirit is the one behind any growth.  Lest we forget, in 1 Corinthians where this is illustrated Paul planted and Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  As one evangelist I heard famously quipped, if the Holy Spirit grows the Church, and the Church faithfully proclaims God's Word and still goes under, then it's God's problem, not ours.

Outside of these internal issues, the things I've mentioned before have made me feel like a complete and total failure not only as a Christian, but as a human being trying to build a life for himself.  I continue to be alone most of the time outside of work, feeling the brunt of "it is not good for man to be alone" but the very Church whose convictions are responsible for a large part of what I'm going through is more than content to continue going through the motions and making excuses for all of this.

Enough is enough.

Enough is enough with all of this going on:

  • ... with pastors doing double takes when they find out I actually listened to their sermon and tried to make sense of it.
  • ... with Christianity being either some way to improve your life, some cultural or ethnic thing, or some family thing instead of anything related to Jesus.
  • ... with a synod who's more than content to squander their ace doctrines that could enlighten so many people out there much like Sola Fide opened Luther's eyes in his monastery days.
  • ... with congregations being apathetic and just along for the ride, including parents letting their kids just play with toys during the service then turning on their pastor years and years later when their kids grow up and become part of the "disappearing twenty-somethings" problem, even though Scripture and the Small Catechism both charge Christian parents with raising their kids rather than local clergy.
  • ... with religious organizations attaching political baggage to doctrine and practice such that unless you're in XYZ political party you can't ever really feel like you fit in there.  (Churches where you're allegedly not a Christian if you're not a Republican take notice.)
  • ... with Christians having an aversion to anything looking religious when Islam and even Wicca with their growing adherents and numbers show no such aversion to religious practice looking different from our culture.  In case everyone forgot, this is still religion I hope.  Of course it'll have some stuff that looks a little different.
  • ... with the doublespeak about supporting families but guys like me practically screaming, "I HATE BEING ALONE BECAUSE OF MY BELIEFS!!!" and being nicely told by happily-married Christians to just keep praying about it, as if we aren't already.
  • ... with people like myself feeling the need to turn formerly-theological blogs such as this one into a place to vent because Christians want to just continue supporting the status quo, which has done exactly what for the Church lately?  Landed it in a defensive position where church after church after church is in desperation mode just trying to stay on the map?
My family has a long and storied history of men ending up more attached to the message and teachings of Christ than any local congregations.  I was hoping to be the exception to that.  I now know that this history is not because of anything we've done, but nonsense around us.  

With this in mind, and things continuing to go absolutely nowhere for me, and local Christians being completely content for things to remain this way, I hereby conclude this blog, and consider my future in any church, anywhere, to be completely uncertain.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Christian Singles Sites - A Top-Down Non-Solution To A Bottom-Up Problem

As the videogame services these days would say, "DING!  ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED."  I tried the Christian singles site thing and have joined the ranks of Christian singles who are part of this ecclesial oversight/shortcoming of churches being too hands-off with "building strong marriages" until an already-formed couple shows up for premarital counseling.  Now folks can officially say that my perennial singleness isn't due to inaction on my part, but drags on because....... Christian conviction of course!

I built the profile, added the pictures, blew a month's subscription money which could have gone to much better things during the course of the last month..... and everything went exactly as I thought it would.  A near goose egg for results, because I made the decision to be myself, wave the Reformational flag and declare that Christianity is about the message of Christ and the Cross for me instead of some cultural or ethnic or family or childhood thing or whatever causes people these days to start tossing around the C-word to begin with.  Right in line with 1 Corinthians' description of the scandalon of the Cross, but should I have expected any less?

There was A single really good person among all the people who responded who did more than simply send me a one-and-done profile like.  We had a ton in common, Confessional Lutheranism being one of them, and she was beautiful, studious, into technology, had a very friendly personality, had a great family from her absolutely jovial discussions of her Christmas get-togethers over the past few weeks.  She was absolutely AMAZING.

...BUT she likes the Midwest, while my tech connections leave the Northeast as the place where I belong, plus if I ran away to the Lutheran Midwest where you can pick Lutheran churches like McDonalds, Burger King, or Subway that would just be Easy Mode versus taking a stand for God's Word in an area where there's hopefully more dialogue and apologetics and more people in the situation I was in before becoming Lutheran who could be liberated from the chains of the theology I came out of.

Aside from her, nada.  One-and-dones at the most (even from other supposed Monergists), and some profile views, but those really don't count because the site's algorithms cause people who click around the site to view some other profiles all on their own.  ...and of course a boatload of spammers with no pictures, some of whom got banned while I was poking around on the site.  Now let's cross our fingers that I don't encounter phantom billing when I try to cancel the subscription.

All things considered, this little experiment just served all the more to reinforce what I've already talked about regarding The Church's failure to follow through on their supposed support of "Godly marriage" prior to couples already being together.  Furthermore, it just shows that shunting everything off to these "Christian dating sites" is a complete non-solution to the problem.

Having recently read, and been disappointed by, Adriane Heins' Hello My Name Is Single (that book could've been a lot more Lutheran) and currently reading a more "nondenominational" book called True Love Dates I've stumbled upon a rather novel idea - Shunting Christian singles out of the churches and onto the Internet is a top-down non-solution to a bottom-up problem.

This problem of Christians being torn up about being alone is something that needs to start locally and start getting bigger from there.  (Bottom-Up)  Congregations are called "faith communities" by some and need to act more like it, as the Koinonia element of Witness Mercy Life Together would hint at.  If the demographics are wrong locally, the local church should reach out to other churches for the sake of their brother/sister in Christ.  Eventually, all other options having been exhausted, then online dating should arrive on the scene only as a last resort.

Instead, what we have is the Internet being the first stop for Christians who are all torn up with being alone, along with all of the baggage that comes with how people like to misuse the technology.  (Top-Down)  Furthermore, a lot of relationships begin as regular friendships as the two begin to know each other as people in addition to potential lovers.  How can that happen when the local church's first suggestion is to risk finding someone on the other side of the country or planet and shunt all of that out?

Plus, in the case of love being something that grows and goes through seasons, wouldn't a potential couple want to start off locally too?  The more one looks at this situation, the more it should be plain to see that the very community and friendship that should be present when one joins a church should provide the foundation for someone to not have to roll the dice with people who don't see eye to eye beliefwise.  It really all adds up to nothing but long term demographic trouble for the Church Militant.

Let's also not forget, I could end all of this very quickly and very simply.  Just stop being so darn Christian.  Hit up the local bar scene.  Try secular personals.  "Liberate my mind from repressive traditional preconceived notions about love" or something like that.  When one is in this position because of not wanting to ditch their conviction, you'd think that would be viewed as something positive instead of "yawn just keep praying about it" or some other turning-the-person-back-upon-themselves from some patronizing, condescending, usually happily-married "brother/sister in Christ" who could probably provide valuable input into what the hopeless single should do or do differently instead of just blowing them off.

Indeed, this is quite a hole we've dug for ourselves by not following through on this institution we allegedly support and want to show our culture that we can be better at than them.  Kyrie Eleison.  :-\  Hope my subscription cancels without a hitch.

As the old DC Talk song goes, "daily taking up my cross has brought its share of splinters."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Meanwhile At Friedens...

The polar opposite of what I encountered last Sunday where the pastor started with the texts and veered away to stuff in our time.  If you want to tie the Scriptures to our lives today, this is how you do it, by doing the inverse and making it so God's Word is what everything ties to.

One of various reasons why I added this church's Vimeo channel to the links on the right.  :-)

A Note On Preaching In The Age Of Google

After the main shock of last Sunday's disappointment wore off I decided to get a little curious and try to find who the pastor of the church I visited was talking about when he basically let the whole "tsunami survivor who clung to a tree the way we should cling to Jesus" thing hijack the sermon, so I ran that sentence fragment through Google...

Interesting.  The one missing detail in the sermon is that this person who "survived by clinging to a floating tree the way we should cling to Jesus" was actually a supermodel.  Hmmm....  so did that pastor have supermodels on his mind?  Almost sounds scandalous.  :-D

She does have an inspiring survival story though, but it's interesting how the whole supermodel thing was omitted.  Not going to get all tabloid-y or anything though about this.  :-)  This actually isn't the first time I've been able to use Google to unearth some surprises related to stuff preachers were preaching about either.  You'd think that this far into this millennium that people ascending pulpits would realize that it is very easy for people to look into what they're hearing these days, but apparently some folks need a little more time to catch up with that sort of thing.  ;-)

Let this be a good example of why it's not a good idea to allegorize current or recent events into sermons.  Plus, while this guy was trying to sound relevant, what about the people who run around like maniacs all week and maybe don't nerd it up on the Internet like I do and have an RSS program keeping several sermon podcasts at the ready in case what one hears on Sunday is an exegetical dud?  Though it shouldn't be this way, it's nevertheless the sad reality that a Sunday service may be the only place someone gets to hear God's Word rightly divided all week, so if the pastor decides to do something else...

By the way, the Enthusiasm thing gets even more hilarious now that this detail is added in.  So God allegedly speaks to us these days through supermodels clinging to palm trees during natural disasters?  :-D  None of the charismatics I've known over the years ever came close to anything as wild and crazy as that.  Right.  Enough joking here.  Bottom line - when someone goes to all the trouble to get a Master's Of Divinity degree they'd probably be better off sticking with the divine...  :-D