Friday, December 28, 2007

Rome, Luther, and River Idioms

I have heard a new idiom thrown about when talking about good Lutherans who abandon the purity of the Gospel and enslave themselves to the error and sophistry of Roman Catholicism so that they can be a part of a Rome that no longer exists. (Heehee... how's that for inflammatory language?) People say that John Q. Public swam the Tiber. Since the Tiber is a river in Rome, I guess that the metaphor fits. In fact, you can see the Vatican from the bank of the Tiber River.

With this idiom in mind, I would like to point out that Rome has had a long history of drowning their own citizens in the Tiber or at least disposing of their corpses by throwing them into the river. The king Tiberinus Silvius was drowned in the river. That is how the river got its name. It is a river for killing people and getting rid of dead weight.

I would also point out that the Tiber is prone to rampant flooding because it refuses to stay within the limits of its banks. The river is also very difficult to navigate safely by boat. Another problem with the Tiber river is that the bottom is filled with sediment from constant silting and the level of muck at the bottom of the Tiber rises with each passing year.

William Shakespeare wrote a really good passage that assocoated the Tiber River with the heart of Rome. I find it to be very apt for this metaphor. In speaking to commoners who were blindly celebrating Caesar's dictatorial rise to absolute power by defeating Pompey, Marullus and Flavious admonish them for their ingratitude for Pompey's sacrifices and victories. How wonderfully this applies to those who return to their Caesar, the Pope, and betray the holy work of the Reformation!

Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climb'd up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome:
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks,
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood? Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.

Go, go, good countrymen, and for this fault
Assemble all the poor men of your sort;
Draw them to the Tiber banks, and weep your tears
Into the channel, till the lowest stream
Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.

-Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act I Scene I

Which brings us to another important Roman river: The Rubicon. The interesting thing about this Roman river is that scientists and historians have discovered that the Rubicon abandoned its original riverbed long ago by meandering off course. The Rubicon has a famous idiom as well. In fact, it is probably better known than the one about the Tiber. When someone passes the point of no return we say that they have crossed the Rubicon. To protect the republic from a coup, Roman Law forbade any general from crossing this river with his army. Julius Caesar violated that law in his attempt to seize control of Rome from his governmental peers, the Senate. When his fellow statesmen would not bow to his will, Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army and imposed an authority that was not his to assume.

The Senate backed a general named Pompey to defend Rome. When Caesar marched on the city, Pompey and the army abandoned the capital and waged a protracted war with Caesar in various places throughout the Empire. Caesar not only fought Pompey, he hunted down and violently engaged anyone who opposed his absolute rule. Pompey was eventually defeated and the Senate that had previously supported him turned to Caesar and voted to elect him dictator for life. At that moment, the ideal of the Roman Republic that had liberated the people from the absolute rule of the ancient Etruscan kings was cast aside. Rome lived on for many centuries after that and they continued to flourish, but Senatus Populusque Romanus had become an empty motto; the Roman Republic was no more. Rome was no longer Rome. Like the Tiber and the Rubicon, she had left her riverbed and flowed in a different direction.

Like Senatus Populusque Romanus, The church of Rome has a motto that no longer means what it once did: catholic. Rome stopped being "universal", "useful to all", and "all-embracing" when her Caesar tied Rome's authority to the rulings of the government and not the ideals of her people. Like the dictatorial empire that she grew up with, she still called herself Rome, but she was not what she once was. In both cases (the civilization and the church) her rulers had severed the legacy upon which she was built. The great Cincinnatus would not recognize this new way of doing things in Rome. She was no longer a state which adhered to common principles. After the rise of Caesar, she was now a state which interpreted and invented principles in an unending progression of trends, reforms, and initiatives.

So when you decide to swim the Tiber, be sure to remember that your new Caesar, whose office was created when his predecessor first crossed the Rubicon and betrayed all of Rome, was never intended to be the absolute authority of the Empire. There was a time when the consuls, co-consuls, senators, citizens, and slaves all lived under the rule of law which was above all men. Final authority was reserved for Rome herself. That was Rome before individual Romans started attempting to invent the rule of law from the authority of their chairs and by the seat of their pants. Rome, like her rivers, has become full of dirt.

I'd like to contrast those two Roman rivers with another river. The Danube River is the longest running river in what is now the European Union. It spans east and west by stretching from western Germany to the Black Sea. It is much longer than the muddy Tiber or the tiny Rubicon. For centuries the Danube stood as the border for the Roman Empire. It was the river that marked the limits of Caesar's domination over the earth. Even today the Danube is a vital source of drinking water that gives life to millions of people. Geologist agree that the Danube River is very ancient. In fact it is even older than the Rhine.

It is true that the Danube has become far more shallow than it used to be, but it has maintained its course through the ages. Why? The foundation of the bed of the Danube is solid limestone; not shifty sand like the Tiber and the Rubicon. Give me a shallowing but solid Danube over those muddy, wandering rivers that are filled with Roman bones any day of the week.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Priest Analyzes Western Theology

Fr Alvin Kimel, a catholic Anglican, has written a soul searching post about the western faith on his blog: Pontifications. (Lutherans might chuckle at the ironic name choice: Pontifications. Hehe... at least four jokes/snide remarks about the dogmas of the papacy are on the tip of my tongue right now.)

This is a rare glimpse into one man's honest look at a theological issue that is kept free from all of the dogmatic mumbo-jumbo and sectarian posturing. In addition to striking a fatal blow to the heartless doctrine of double Predestination, the author asks some interesting questions that we should all be asking about works-righteousness and making bargains with God. Interestingly, he identifies this sinful doubt of God's infinite love as the motive that spawned the "quid pro quo transactionalism" that Luther addressed in the Reformation. [For those who do not know Latin and have missed all 17 seasons of Dick Wolf's Law & Order: quid pro quo means "something for something".]

I am sure that Fr Kimel probably would never put it this way, but he correctly points to the fatal error that plagues all Christians: the desire to be self-justified through appeasement under the Law rather than simply embracing the free gift of the Gospel by faith alone. Fr Kimel writes a better argument for Sola Fide than I ever could. This wise priest then asks a million dollar question: "To what extent does this transactionalism still shape the spiritual lives of Catholics and Protestants today?" I would love to hear some of your answers to that question!

Incidental references to purgatory aside, this is a post that is definitely worth your time. The title is Disbelieving the Predestinarian God. Here is a sample:

Why do Western Christians fear God? Might not it be because the God who saves and damns in absolute, inscrutable determination still haunts our imaginations? When confronted with such a deity, we will always urgently ask the question “How can I get a gracious God?” Hidden deep below all conscious thought lies the knowledge that perhaps, just perhaps, God has abandoned us, abandoned “me,” unto perdition. And so God himself becomes our enemy. The holy Creator becomes Satan!

But even if the hard predestinarianism is pushed into the theological and homiletical background, it continues to do its insidious work. If we are unsure, even to the tiniest degree, that God wills the good of every human being—if “I” am uncertain that he wills “my” good—then we must find ways to negotiate with him. Hence the rise of that quid pro quo transactionalism that often characterized late medieval spirituality and church life, against which Martin Luther so powerfully protested. To what extent does this transactionalism still shape the spiritual lives of Catholics and Protestants today?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jumping Up and Down Like a Kid

After a beautiful morning mass, we went to my parent's house to continue the celebration of Christmas. I pulled open a box that my parents had given to me and found three CDs in it:

"O Sing Unto the Lord"
"Te Deum"
"Through the Church Year"

I have been completely blessed by a Kantorei Christmas. What a wonderful morning!

Many thanks to our beloved Pastor McCain for telling us about these treasures.

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!

Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.

The LORD has made known his salvation;
He has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. [Psalm 98:1-3]

Hail the Incarnate Deity!

All glory and honor and power and might be unto Almighty God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let His Triune name resound for the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!

Merry Christmas to all for we are blessed beyond all imagination!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christ's Nativity: Word and Sacrament

Location is important. Lots of people this time of year draw meaning from the lowly birthplace of Jesus: the eating trough in a stable. This low beginning is used to underline the fact that the King of the Universe humbled Himself and descended to man.

Our fathers agreed, but also saw a sacramental character in the nativity of Our Lord. They looked at the event and location of Christ's birth as typological references to the Sacraments of the Altar and Baptism.

Here is a baptismal expression of the nativity:

"Although, therefore, that infancy, which the majesty of God's Son did not disdain, reached mature manhood by the growth of years and, when the triumph of His passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased, yet to-day's festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary; and in adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life. For the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body."

"Although every individual that is called has his own order, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time, yet as the entire body of the faithful being born in the font of baptism is crucified with Christ in His passion, raised again in His resurrection, and placed at the Father's right hand in His ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity." -St. Leo the Great

Here is a eucharistic expression of the nativity:

"He found that man had become a beast in his soul and so He is placed in the manger, in the place of fodder, that we, changing our animal way of living, may be led back to wisdom that becomes humanity stretching out not towards animal fodder but to the heavenly bread for the life of this body." -St. Cyril of Alexandria

HT: Our beloved Pastor Paul Alms at Incarnatus Est

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Myth Alert! Everyone Loves the Same Jesus

Don't think that we need to know or recite the Athanasian Creed? It is an important defense against heresy that you should arm yourself with. It is the only way to defend against the many false Jesus look-a-likes that are floating around. Sure, it is easy to know that the Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong about Jesus being an angel, but how do you know that the crypto-trinitarian error of the Latter-Day Saints is wrong? How do you know that they are in error? What makes them no different than other churches who are Christian but just have errors in doctrine and practice?

No matter what politicians and newsmen will tell you, the LDS faith is not Christianity. It wasn't Christianity when it was revealed to fallible men several hundred years ago and it remains a heretical belief system to this day. Here is a current LDS Statement of Faith by President Gordon B. Hinckley. You should read it with a copy of the Athanasian Creed in hand. They claim to have a Godhead, but it is not our Godhead. You will see that their Godhead is a unity of purpose of distinct individual beings; an alliance of individuals. They believe that the three persons are three beings that are one in the sense of their same purpose and cooperation. I have provided and important excerpt that draws the distinction between the LDS heresy and the one, holy, and apostolic faith (heresy is presented in red):

Three Distinct Beings

And so I believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

I was baptized in the name of these three. I was married in the name of these three. I have no question concerning Their reality and Their individuality. That individuality was made apparent when Jesus was baptized by John in Jordan. There in the water stood the Son of God. His Father’s voice was heard declaring His divine sonship, and the Holy Ghost was manifest in the form of a dove (see
Matt. 3:16–17).

I am aware that Jesus said they who had seen Him had seen the Father. Could not the same be said by many a son who resembles his parent?

When Jesus prayed to the Father, certainly He was not praying to Himself!

They are distinct beings, but They are one in purpose and effort. They are united as one in bringing to pass the grand, divine plan for the salvation and exaltation of the children of God.

In His great, moving prayer in the garden before His betrayal, Christ pleaded with His Father concerning the Apostles, whom He loved, saying:

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (
John 17:20–21).

It is that perfect unity between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost that binds these three into the oneness of the divine Godhead.

Miracle of miracles and wonder of wonders, They are interested in us, and we are the substance of Their great concern. They are available to each of us. We approach the Father through the Son. He is our intercessor at the throne of God. How marvelous it is that we may so speak to the Father in the name of the Son.

I bear witness of these great, transcendent truths. I do so by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ.


Someone may say that this is just one Morman's personal opinion. They are wrong. Here is the official statement of the LDS church:

The Church's first article of faith states, "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." These three beings make up the Godhead. They preside over this world and all other creations of our Father in Heaven.

The true doctrine of the Godhead was lost in the apostasy that followed the Savior's mortal ministry and the deaths of His Apostles. This doctrine began to be restored when 14-year-old Joseph Smith received his First Vision (see Joseph Smith—History 1:17). From the Prophet's account of the First Vision and from his other teachings, we know that the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit (see D&C 130:22).

Although the members of the Godhead are distinct beings with distinct roles, they are one in purpose and doctrine. They are perfectly united in bringing to pass Heavenly Father's divine plan of salvation.

Not Helping

I learned a lesson last night about marital conversation:

If you are a husband; and

If you and your wife are talking in bed; and

If your wife is terrified of bugs; and

If your conversation causes you to mention the word "might" in a sentence; and

If your wife humorously replies, "Mites are just critters that live in the woods";

DO NOT turn to her and say, "They also live in matresses like this one."

Watch Your Mouth

You frequently hear Christians say, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth” [Eph 4:29]. The Clintonian question always comes up, “Define 'unwholesome'?” We always want to qualify Scripture and our subjective interpretation of terms makes for a great escape hatch. We all become expert defense lawyers as we look for the loopholes in the syntax. Profanity hits most of us where we live and it is a low blow that really convicts our conscience. As a Soldier, I am the chief of sinners in this regard. This is a temptation that I fall on all the time.

People have different levels of what is appropriate and what is not. Some people consider some words okay as long as it is not “mixed company”. My sainted grandmother followed the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” rule. To her, being rude was almost a form of cussing. If you get a bunch of people together and run down a list of borderline words, they will not all agree on which are clean and which are dirty. If you ask people like Howard Stern, there is no limit at all. How do we know what we are allowed to say?

Okay, let’s settle what constitutes profanity. The translation of the word in question can be “corrupt”, “corrupting”, “profane”, or “unwholesome”. The modern world has cheapened the meaning of these terms. FCC censorship does not determine the definition of profanity, the dictionary does. As an example:

pro·fane [ prō fáyn, prə fáyn ] (adj): 1. irreverent: showing disrespect for God, any deity, or religion; 2. secular: not connected with or used for religious matters; 3. uninitiated: not initiated into sacred or secret rites.

But the intent of the verse goes far deeper than that. The words that are being discussed in the passage are not just those that are inherently corrupt. It can also include those that are technically clean but are used in such a way that they lead us “to corrupt” ourselves and others (by even using ‘clean’ words that form lies, innuendo, gossip, complaining, sarcasm, etc.)

This understanding makes sense in the context of the entire passage that I quoted at the start of this post. Here is the full verse in context: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. [Eph 4:29]

The scriptural definition for what our language should sound like is even higher than the secular definition. The Bible restricts us to: “only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment.” Corrupt in this sense is everything that is not holy and edifying. That covers many of the clean words that are used to be rude, deceptive, or inflammatory.

We see this concept also covered in other epistles. For example, “Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” [1 Tim 5:13]

So the Bible teaches that the specific words that we use are not as important as how they are used and why we use them. This extends back to the Old Testament where the passage which contains what we call "The 10 Commandments" speaks several times about how our words have consequences. We also hear advice about watching what we say. We read, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” [Pvb 10:19-21]

This standard is so high that the Bible teaches that even the most proper among us speak corruption. We all fall short of God’s holy standard for what constitutes proper speech. We fail on a regular–if not daily–basis. As James says, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” [James 3:8]

Words… any words that might stand in the way of edification, love, and support are to be carefully controlled regardless of the specific terms that are used. As is so often the case in Christian life; it is not so much the “what”, but the “why” that counts.

So, Granny Baker was right all along. (…again!)

Macintosh is an Aberrant, Heterodox Sect

aberrant (adj): not typical: deviating from what is normal or desirable

heterodox (adj): disagreeing with established opinions: at variance with established or accepted beliefs or theories, especially in the field of religion.

sect (n): 3. close-knit group: a small close-knit group with strongly held views that are sometimes regarded as extreme by the majority.

There are alot of Macluthertosh guys out there who will disagree with me, but hey... your beef is not really with me; it's with the English dictionary.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is Physical Death a Punishment or a Gift?

"And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." [Genesis 2:16-17]

Obviously, God is warning Adam about more than just the idea of physical death here. The consequence of disobedience was both physical and spiritual death. Romans talks about this spiritual death.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." [Romans 6:23]

But let me ask an honest question: Is the physical death that comes along with our sinful state another punishment or is it a merciful gift from our Loving God?

My answer: It is not a punishment for a Christian who is covered under grace; it is a gift.

Imagine for a second the struggles and tortures of this sinful life without the merciful release of physical death. Imagine an eternity of Church Militant with no way to retire from your labors to the Church Triumphant. The thought is horrific for me. Death is a heavenly invitation for those who believe. As I struggle daily with awefulness of my sin and witness people victimized by the sins of others, I find myself increasingly looking forward to death like an overworked employee looks to Friday afternoon. If I am honest, I really do not want to be here. I now understand the apostle Paul when he admits the same thing:

"Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account." [Phillipians 1:19-24]

Dying is gain?!? As a fake Christian, I thought that Paul was either crazy or superhumanly brave. Now that I am actually living the cross-bearing life of a true disciple, I understand his point every day. The life of repentence is not a fun one. You would have to be crazy to want to continue. The Christian life on earth is the worst life that you can ever live. We should be so humble and so selfless that people should look at how we live this life with pity. Do you disagree?

"If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." [1 Corinthians 15:19-20]

...and now that my eyes are opened and I see how bad this life is, I completely agree with St. Paul when he quotes the prophet Hosea:

"When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." [1 Corinthians 15:54-57]

So is physical death a punishement for me? No, I almost wish for it. I welcome it with faith in the promise of the life to come. That fanatical dedication to my faith alarms most people. It is not healthy to think of death as a gift. But death--all death--is only to be feared as punishment by those who are still under the law. As a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, I am under grace; the victory of my death--all death--has been overcome by the work of Christ. What was once a punishment that haunted me is now the only thing that I have to look forward to. I am eager for the gift of physical death which will usher me into eternal life and the peaceful rest of being in the presence of Almighty God.

So how can I remain here if I want to die so badly? How do I go on and face this horrible existence when the alternative is so much better? What am I still doing here?

St. Paul gives us the reason. I am not here for me. My suffering and struggle is of no consequence and my personal gains here on earth will all pass away. I do not remain here for myself but because remaining here with you "is more necessary on your account." The life that I live is now for Christ and for others. Putting off the glory of heaven for the needs of others is the ultimate act of Christian service. I do not need to go to the trouble of inventing a selfish reason to continue to live. As long as there are people on this earth, I must stay until God releases me from my duty to them. I cannot leave this vast mission field yet when there is so much work left to do.

That is the true purpose of a Christian. That is what drives a man of faith and gives him courage and resolve to continue when all others fall away. That is why God's People remain here and do not lose hope regardless of the situation in which they find themselves.

Faith is stronger than courage.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Myth Alert! My Bill of Rights

Apparently, modern Christians know as little about the history of their government as they do about the history of the church. As the election year draws near, I hear all kinds of Christians saying all kinds of silly things about the U.S. Constitution and the Founding Fathers. I blame inept school teachers and lazy parents for not making people read or learn from first hand sources. I will endeavor to set the record straight. Let us start with the myth that the Bill of Rights was originally intended to guarantee individual citizens these freedoms… in particular the universal right for an individual to have "freedom of religion".

Originally, the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution (aka the Bill of Rights) applied in a very limited scope. Anyone who reads the "Federalist Papers" knows that. When these amendments were written, they were limitations that only applied to the federal government. The First Amendment did not universally restrict the governments of the states and only limited Congress from establishing or forbidding religion, speech, the press, etc, etc.

In short:

You did not have these rights objectively as an individual. The Bill of Rights just said that the federal government could not deprive you of these things. Your state reserved the right to decide what your rights were as a citizen and they could freely deprive you of rights "guaranteed to you" in the Bill of Rights.

Consequently, states were free to limit or control the exercise of religion, gun rights, habeas corpus, and free speech as they saw fit. In fact, there were many “state churches” in the United States that held an official religion for that state in those early days. Such an idea offends most modern Americans who believe that their view of America has always been the traditional view.

As an example, Massachusetts did not disestablish its official church until 1833--more than forty years after the ratification of the First Amendment. The state had been officially Congregational until 1780. Massachusetts then moved to a system that was "more fair" which required every man to belong to a church (any church), and even permitted each church to tax its members. This system continued until it was abolished in 1833. It should be noted that the state of Massachusetts continued to have official establishments of religion in local areas for many years after that.

The Supreme Court upheld this understanding of Constitutional Law in Barron v. Baltimore (1833) which stated that freedoms granted by the Bill of Rights were restrictions upon the federal government alone (specifically the 5th Amendment in that case) and that the rights listed did not restrict the operation of state governments.

Other states had official religions:

Connecticut was officially a Congregational state until 1818
Georgia was officially Church of England state until 1789
New Hampshire was officially a Congregational state until 1790
North Carolina was officially a Church of England state until 1776
South Carolina was officially a Church of England state until 1854
Virginia was officially a Church of England state until 1786

It was also this Constitutional understanding that pro-slavery states used to forbid the printing of abolitionist literature and ban the peaceful assembly of anti-slavery organizations prior to the American Civil War.

This view of the function of the Bill of Rights had changed by 1868 with the ratification of the 14th Amendment. That is after the American Civil War for those of you who are fuzzy on the timeline. The authority of the Bill of Rights over the states was further cemented by the Gitlow v. New York decision (1925) which bound states to the First Amendment limitations of the federal government in the Bill of Rights using the 14th Amendment. These developments effectively overturned Barron v. Baltimore and reserved the restrictions listed in the Constitutional Amendments to the state governments as well. So the free exercise of religion at the individual level was not a product of the U.S. Constitution, but rather of the 14th Amendment which became law many decades later.

What does this mean? That means that the country that you live in now is not the one that the Founding Fathers created with the U.S. Constitution. The freedoms that you have always considered to be inalienable rights that are immune to all government intrusion were not originally afforded to you by the Bill of Rights, but rather by the addition of the 14th Amendment. Prior to the 14th Amendment, the Constitution offered you no assurance that your basic rights were protected from the actions of your individual state.

Thank God for the 14th Amendment and those "liberal judges" who deviated from strict interpretations of the Constitution in order to correct a tyrannical system that watched as citizens were deprived of individual liberty.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gregorian Child Care

This morning, I found out that my 6 month old nephew loves to hear the Te Deum. He spent nearly an hour in my arms listening to me sing it. He would watch every phrase and then close his eyes and then open them at the start of the next phrase. He would stare intently at the words being formed and would smile each time that the melody swelled.

I am not one of those guys who is quick to read alot of spiritual meaning into these kinds of events, but I am going to go ahead and jump to the conclusion that this little tyke has good taste in music.

When watching other people's infants, I have found that Gregorian Chant is a valuable tool for men to use when calming and putting children to sleep. The deep tones that rumble in the chest when the melody plunges can be a very calming sensation for little children who are being held. I have yet to find a child that this does not help with. Parents are often quite amazed at how quickly their fussy babies go to sleep. They claim that I have some kind of gift.

Really it is just three things: plenty of body warmth, long and slow twisting motions, and a few Ambrosian hymns.

Of course this is all anecdotal evidence to support my theory, but I particularly recommend this hymn from the Brotherhood Prayer Book "Service of Compline" as a lullaby for fathers. This song even puts me in the mood to go to sleep.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my dad reading the Bible to me in bed. There is nothing that prevents bedtime from being a theological teaching moment... at any age.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Worship Wars

I am an ultra-liturgical nut.

After decades playing some of the most modern praise music one can imagine, my personal tastes have swung to the opposite extreme in the spectrum. My brain isn't just trapped in a previous century... it is in the last millennium. When I hear "traditional music" I think of the Liturgy of St. James and hymns that were written using neumes and cheironomic notation. When I hear "contemporary music" I think of anything that was written after the invention of the modern musical staff... say 1500 AD or so. I want real candles. I want to see genuflections, chanted readings, and incense censors. My wish list is very long and very old.

But my personal tastes do not matter. It is not my duty to force them into places where they are not wanted. I will educate and expose people to my passion--even encourage the adoption of my passion, but I must never forget that it might be only my passion. I am not here to cause stumbling blocks. I am strong enough in the faith to do without some of my personal tastes, but I know that many of my brothers and sisters are not. So even though my wishes might even test the limits of some of the most conservative among us, I am perfectly content to be a very moderate Lutheran when it comes to corporate practice. Why? Because I know where my place is in the pecking order of the church: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

It is not necessary that specific ceremonies be universally practiced or observed in a uniform manner. The essence of the church is no more than the Gospel preached in its purity and the Sacraments properly administered.

In case you haven't noticed, there is an attitude of disrespectful, smug contempt on all sides of "the worship issue". For all of those who love their particular tastes so much more than their brother that they treat human inventions with more esteem and care than actual people, I present Romans 15:1-7:

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” [Rom 15:1-7 ESV]

From Living Body to Gruesome Corpse

Many people complain that there is not enough unity in the Body of Christ. Their main concern seems to be a unification of the church. While this is an admirable goal, they are willing to sacrifice the truth in order to achieve it. Jesus Christ is the Word; His truth is central to the life of the church. A body without the head is nothing more than a decapitated corpse. A unified, headless corpse may resemble a living body in many ways, but it has no life. It is dead.

What a Child Taught Me About the Nativity

It always amazes me how the tiniest children seem to have a greater understanding of Christianity than I do. I have read many books and listened to many sermons. Despite my efforts, my friend's three year old continues to humble me with her simple faith and deep theological understanding.

I have talked about this little girl before. This particular story stems from our attempts to set up a nativity set together. Everyone knows how a nativity set is supposed to look. Here is a diagram of how I have always done it:

Mary is the red figure and Joseph is the blue figure. The Baby Jesus faces out so that we can see his face. The shepherds and magi flank the scene as if they are coming to see the Christ. The angel is usually over the manger scene or off to the side. The goal is to make the presentation as cinimatic as possible for those who come to look at it. That is how I have always done it. Looking back on it now, this way seems pretty staged and unrealistic.

What a simple lesson I have been taught by a mere child! When I let this little girl set up my nativity set, this is how she decided that it should be arranged:
Mary stays put, but Jesus is turned around so that the two figures are looking at each other and making eye contact. Doesn't this make sense that Mary and her child would be so intimate on that first Christmas Eve? Showing the connection between the Theotokos and her Child had never occurred to me. I do not know if she did this on purpose, but Joseph does not stand next to Mary. He is on the opposite side as if to be apart from the union between mother and Child.

Most importantly, she put all of the other visitors (to include the angel) right next to the manager. This looked horrible artistically, but it was theologically perfect! They were all crowded around tightly and she spent considerable time and effort in getting each of them as close to Christ as possible. No one faced out like the way that I have always done it. They all faced inward; pointed at the Baby.

Her reasoning for bunching them up was simple. She told me, "You can't see Jesus when you are so far away from Him."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Pacifism Reality Check

"Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi." -George Orwell

"Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one [meaning World War II]. In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me.'" -George Orwell

People and nations fall into about eight general categories in this fallen world:

1. Tyrants and thugs who violently force their will on others to further their goals.
2. Defenders who are willing to violently stand against tyrants and thugs.
3. Pacifists who have the luxury of not being geographically close to tyrants and thugs.
4. Pacifists who are protected by defenders so that they can remain pacifists.
5. Pacifists who have yet to be faced with a real test of their pacifism.
6. Pacifists who abandon their pacifism when they are attacked by tyrants and thugs.
7. Pacifists who grant tyrants and thugs the freedom to kill and dominate people.
8. Dead or subjugated pacifists who were ravaged by tyrants and thugs.

Pacifism--like so many Utopian pipe dreams--tends to crumble each time that it is truly put to the test. Pacifism is only a good thing when war is somehow avoidable. Pacifists who have any sense at all understand that things are not so clear when pure theory meets pure evil.

Pacifism goes against common sense, justice, and self-preservation. It fails because man's sinful nature is set against such noble idealism. This is evident in the telling words of the radical pacifist Ammon Hennacy when he said, "Being a pacifist between wars is as easy as being a vegetarian between meals."

The tested pacifist will witness more evil, oppression, and injustice in his lifetime than any peace-loving soldier.

New Look

BOLL now has a new look.

The old look was prettier, but it was squished and hard to read. It also had some technical glitches that were annoying. After spending a month trying to get it to work, I gave up. I think that this layout is much cleaner. The post format is simple and the work space stretches from window edge to window edge. I am not a blogging Pietist who pushes for style over substance; I go with what works.

If you hate this new look, shoot me an email or leave a nasty comment. I probably will not do anything about it other than restate the above reasons for changing it, but I always like to encourage the cathartic experience that comes with venting your opinion to someone who is pretending that they are listening. It is good for the soul.

Also, the topic labels have now been posted as an "Ordinary" (hehe... liturgical jokes are funny) on the main page of the blog for ease of use. It is under the title Here's a Shovel to Help You Dig. Hopefully that will help you sort through the enormous mess that I have made.

In all seriousness, let me know if there is any way that I can further improve this thing.

My Campaign

I know that the next convention for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is a long way off, but I am going to announce my campaign early so that I can get plenty of traction.
Along with supporting Lutheran Luciola's campaign against our hideously pale official color, I am going to push hard for the creation of an official synodical theme song. I already have one in mind. I think that it should be:

"Stuck in The Middle With You" by that great Scottish 70s band, Stealers Wheel.
You can watch the video of them performing this song on YouTube by clicking here.

I dare you to read the lyrics and tell me that it's not perfect. That great hit from the summer of 1974 (when I was -7 years old by the way) works on so many levels that it makes me laugh out loud. I hope that you will all support me in this. A Stealers Wheel reality check could be just what this synod needs.
Even if it gets approved, I am sure that there will be arguments about what it might mean.
Is the song about the clowns and jokers at our conventions?
Is the song about the clowns and jokers in our beloved synod?
Is the song about the clowns and jokers in Lutheranism as a whole?
Is the song about the clowns and jokers in the heterodox sects of Christianity?
My answer to each of those questions is...... yes!

Equal Time: Rome is Also Wrong

It has occurred to me that my blog bashes on the errors of Protestants too much. Well... maybe it is more like I do not bash on the errors of Rome enough to make it sound fair. Lest someone assume that I am secretly a papist on the verge of signing my soul over to the Holy See, I will begin to outline my take on the well-beaten horse of Roman Catholic error.

Here is a comment that I made over at Past Elder. If you have not read Past Elder's blog, you are missing out on an intellectual titan. This man is brilliant and I encourage you to study his writings as this student does. Here is my comment:

[The Immaculate Conception of Mary] is just one of those cases where the Church ruins its credibility by participating in speculation and guesswork. Christianity is not about speculation, it is about the truth. When you are willing to speak authoritatively about things that you cannot know for sure (and have no proof that you got it anywhere other than your imagination), people are less likely to trust the other things that you have to say.

If you have a friend who tells you lies, guesses, and facts with the same amount of conviction, it is foolish to trust him on anything. I think these kinds of dogmas promote unbelief rather than combat it.

For example, the greatest damage that has ever been dealt to the true doctrine of Real Presence in the Eucharist is the speculative philosophy and superstition that surrounds the dogma of Transubstantiation. That kind of guesswork pushes people to reject all mystery in the Lord's Supper because Rome makes the belief look idolatrous and credulous.

Rome proves just how far she is out on the radical fringe of Christianity when she makes liberal statements like "theology is a progressive science" to support their new and different Gospels. As Lutherans, we wrote the book on pointing out Roman error (literally), but the truth does not play favorites with people who are wrong. We walk that narrow road between the errors of the Pope and the errors of Protestantism.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Myth Alert! Childish Arrogance

Children always think that they are the smart ones. It is one of those things on this earth that is about as dependable as gravity. Children are often too proud to listen to those who are wiser and more mature. Their excuse? No one can be as wise as they are. The world is full of adults who used to be children who believed this myth. Life usually teaches them the truth.

What is sad is when Christians behave like children and think that they know better than previous generations. This self-righteous arrogance is what gives birth to wheel reinvention and the rising din of the echo chamber. This is a horrific plague that tortures and sickens vast expanses of the modern church.

You see this all the time. The blessed virgin Mary is regularly presented as some clueless, poor waif that was totally oblivious to what was happening to her. The Apostle Paul's inerrant preaching in the epistles about gender roles is regularly presented little more than understandable sexism that sprung from the barbaric time in which he lived. The disciples are regularly portrayed as clueless fools and cowards compared to modern Christians. As Pastor Weedon so wisely points out here, even John the Baptist is assumed to be weak and ignorant. The self-righteousness and arrogance that gave birth to these slanderous claims is so thick that it makes me sick to my stomach.

Lest you think that Lutheranism is immune to this total contempt for those who have come before us, or that it is a relatively new problem; look at this foolish, adolescent diatribe disguised as a paper from Lutheran Observer penned by Rev. Benjamin Kurtz:

"The Fathers--who are the 'Fathers'? They are the children; they lived in the infancy of the Church, in the early dawn of the Gospel day. John the Baptist was the greatest among the prophets and yet he that was least in the Kingdom of God, in the Christian Church was greater than he. He probably knew less, and that little less distinctly than a Sunday-school child, ten years of age, in the present day.....who then are the 'Fathers'? They have become the Children; they were the Fathers when compared with those who lived in the infancy of the Jewish dispensation; but, compared with the present and advanced age, they are the Children, and the learned and pious of the nineteenth century are the Fathers. We are three hundred years older than Luther and his noble coadjutors, and eighteen hundred years older than the primitives; theirs was the age of infancy and adolescence, and ours that of full-grown manhood. They are the children; we are the fathers; the tables are turned." [Benjamin Kurtz, "The Fathers", Lutheran Observer November 29, 1849 (original emphasis)]

It never ceases to amaze me how people today can have such a low view of the men and women who met Our Savior Jesus Christ while he walked this earth. I am mystified how people will blindly trust modern men who speak recklessly as if they were prophets, but throw a jaundiced eye at the very saints that the Bible says actually spoke with members of the angelic host. I cannot help but laugh each time that a progressive radical tries to tell me that they know more about the early church than them men who were there.

It would be funny if it was not so sad that fat, lazy, safe, over-stimulated Americans presume to teach each other about finding purpose and courage. We dare to use ourselves as examples on how to deal with persecution and suffering rather than calling upon the bold, heroic testimony of the saints and martyrs who, in the days of Rome's persecutions, pulled the lions on top of their bodies to prove to the witnesses that Christ had removed their fear of death. We who shudder at the thought of not having climate controlled houses dare to talk about the struggles of poverty. We who worry about what our friends might think of our religion presume to talk about persecution when death squads all around the world continue to violate and kill Christians every year. The arrogance is sickening.

By the same token, it is perplexing that modern Lutherans would presume to know the essence of the Confessions better than the very men who wrote them.

For all of our achievements, it is folly to believe that man has progressed beyond the sinful, weak-willed creature that he has been since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Is man more enlightened, cultured, or wise than in previous centuries? Does the modern man murder less, serve his neighbor more, or even bother to think more often? Clearly not; if anything, he is becoming worse! Historical ignorance is what fuels the confidence in our abilities.

"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18

Have we forgotten what it means to be a disciple and a servant? Do we even know what humility means anymore? We act as children who presume to know better than others. While the Fathers of the church are not to be obeyed and believed as though their pious opinions are equal to the divine revelation of God, the other extreme is equally horrific and perilous.

What's in a Preposition?

I need everyone to sanity check my exegesis here. Am I reading to much into this? First, I look at Romans 3:27-30:

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

Question: What is the difference? Why the selection of two very different prepositions here?

The circumcised are saved by their faith. The uncircumcised through their faith. To me, the implication of this passage from Romans about circumcision and faith has a typological similarity to Mark 16:15-16:

And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

This looks like two sides of the same beautiful coin. On the one hand you have those who were divinely adopted that are saved by faith. On the other hand you have those who were divinely converted that are saved through faith.

Is this an exercise in hair splitting? I'd love to hear some thoughts on this.

Rejoice! A Man Begins to Recant His Heresy!

Pastor John Hagee is the radical preacher that I called a heretic during Thanksgiving dinner earlier this year. He is the one who said that Jesus was not the Messiah and never claimed to be.

God be praised! Pastor Hagee has started to recant some of his false doctrine and blasphemy. He has released a statement that appears to be an attempt to clarify and retract many of the errors that had scandalized Christ's church. Unfortunately, the release was still filled with arguements that reveal the geopolitical fanaticism that often blinds Pastor Hagee.

But there is hope! In the release, he has said:

"God could have sent His Son to earth as the reigning Messiah the Jews were expecting. Instead He chose to send Him as the suffering Messiah, who submitted to the Cross, and I thank Him every day that He did."

That is a huge step in the right direction. He has also resolved to attempt a correction of his heretical book, In Defense of Israel. He promised:

"In the expanded Chapter Ten, I will make the same point with language that does not hide my own perspective on the matter. The primary change will involve how I use the word “Messiah.” In the expanded version, I will clarify the clear distinction between the “Suffering Messiah,” the Lamb of God and the “Reigning Messiah,” the Lion of the Tribe of Judah!"

Hopefully, Pastor Hagee's effort at a rewrite will cause him to recognize the problems with his "clever" word play. He needs to do more than just try to fix a hopelessly bad chapter; a pig in a dress with lipstick is still a pig. While many Christians have good reason to remain cynical about Pastor Hagee and many will view his retraction as incomplete and politically motivated, I remain optimistic that the Holy Spirit is working to bring this man to repentance and truth.

I pray for the day when this man's noble fight against the sin of antisemitism will stop coloring his theology. I pray that Pastor Hagee will put his crusade for the Jewish people in the proper perspective and turn his full attention to preaching what is primary: Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Messiah, who takes away the sins of the whole world; the Eternal King of the Jews and the Gentiles.

More from Pastor Hagee:

"I am deeply grieved for any confusion my writing may have caused the body of Christ. It was never intended. I trust this letter and the expanded edition of In Defense of Israel will clarify what I believe. I also hope that we can return our focus to what I had anticipated to highlight all along, the fact that we Christians must shift from condemning the Jews for what they missed to thanking them for what they gave."

Clarification is always good. Hopefully, this turn around will continue. Pastor Hagee still has a long way to go from this point before he reaches anything that looks like pure doctrine. Still, it is the first good news to come from the extreme fringe of the heterodox sects in quite some time. Maybe this won't be the last that we have heard from Pastor Hagee. Maybe we will start to hear other heretics recant and begin to return to the truth. Joel Osteen perhaps?

HT: The Heresy Hunter

Monday, December 10, 2007

Post Labels Added

Labels have been added to all previous posts in order to help readers navigate the blog. Feel free to use this shovel to dig through all the mess in order to find what you want.

If you have any ideas for labels that I should add, send your suggestion to me via email. If there are posts that you think should have their labels redefined, send your suggestion to me via email.

In fact, if you have any ideas or advice that would improve this blog.... you guessed it... send your suggestion to me via email.

My Favorite Advent Hymn

This year, I heard a beautiful hymn for the first time. It is now my favorite for Advent. The words are wonderful. The tune is haunting and well suited for the flow of each verse. At first, I wondered why this carol was not more popular. As a musician and singer, you would think that I would have heard this ancient song before. This song is superior in every way to many of the more popular Christmas carols. I couldn't figure out why this one fell into relative obscurity for those who are outside of the practices of the traditional western rite church.

After singing this hymn a few times, I realized the reason. There is pesky Real Presence language in verse 2 that would have make it unsuitable for memorialist Christians. They don't like to sing songs that remind them that they do not follow ancient teachings of the church. This would explain why my fundamentalist background never brought me near this piece.

If you have not heard someone sing this hymn, you have missed out on one of the treasures of Christianity. Here are the lyrics. You need to hear someone sing this hymn if you have never heard it!

Σιγησάτο παρα σαρξ βροτεία
[Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence]
Text: Liturgy of St James, 4th Century
Translated from Greek to English by Gerard Moultrie, 1864
Tune: 17th Century French Carol

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Happy Holidays

Get ready... I'm about to make some people irritated. It is time for everyone to take a moment to read my content warning. If your ego is a delicate lily, you might want to skip this one.

I prefer to say, "Happy Holidays" throughout December. I say "Merry Christmas" on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I guess that makes me a horrible Christian.

Before irate readers Google my home address to come drag me out for a public flogging, let me explain:

The word "Holiday" comes from the Middle English word holidai. It means "Holy Day". When you say "Happy Holidays" you are saying "Happy Holy Days". I refuse to surrender this pious greeting to a bunch of atheists and pagans just so that they can have free ammunition to further subvert Christ and His church. There are many Christian "Holy Days" through December and January today: The Second Sunday in Advent. Are they not worth fighting for? For most Christians, they are not even worth learning about. We don't celebrate. We don't fast. We don't attend church services. What do we do? We shop and visit relatives.

The entire season of Advent is one of holy preparation, but who cares about that? The argument should not be over the syntax of a particular greeting, but what constitutes a "holy day". So when I say "Happy Holidays" you assume that I am talking about Kwanza and the like? That just proves my point. "Holy Day" no longer means a thing to anyone. I am talking about the feast and fast days of Advent. We are the ones being secular.

Now there are Christians today who hate the phrase "Happy Holidays" because it is being perverted by the spirit of antichrist to take away Christmas. I think that we have played right into the trap. We don't defend the meaning of the word "holiday". We just abandon it and retreat. Instead of preserving Christmas as the DAY of Christ's birth, we diluted the entire season by focusing an entire month on only one aspect of the season: the actual nativity. Saying "Merry Christmas" on December 1st makes about as much sense as saying "Happy Easter" on March 4th. Part of the impact of Easter is the Lent that precedes it. Part of the impact of Christmas is the Advent that precedes it. Apparently, we are just going to give that up to preserve the "important" days. It is obvious to me that Christianity is in full surrender mode.

To be honest, this blame game of silly word play is becoming quite tiresome. American Protestants created this problem when they threw out the church year and made the public Christian life about two days [Christmas & Easter] instead of a cycle of 365 days of Christianity. If we had preserved the feasts and festivals of Advent properly, we might still have "Happy Holidays" and the atheists would have to contest against a solid month filled with many Christian festivals and observances. We handed victory over to the atheists and the pagans when we decided that the Christmas season was only about the historic birth of Jesus. We gave them Santa Claus when we stopped preserving the true Feast of St Nicholas. We gave them the word "Holidays" when we stopped informing people that the word is a religious term. We gave them a foothold to celebrate other festivals when we surrendered all of our feasts in favor of only one: Christmas Day. Then we took that day and cheapened it with all of the secular behavior and traditions that we participate in.

This isn't about the secular trend of the holiday season. This is about the secular trend of Christians. As the church becomes more and more like the world, the world will find it easier and easier to marginalize the impact of the church. The fall of Christmas is not a problem of the weakening culture but a symptom of the disease of secularism in the church. Every year I hear people desperately calling out that we need to put the Christ back in Christmas. How about also putting the mass back in Christmas?

"Christmas" is also a Middle English word: Christemasse. It is a contraction of the phrase "Christ's Mass" or "The Mass of Christ". How many churches today actually celebrate mass on Christmas Day? Ask around: How many churches in your town will have services on the 25th of December? Most Christians do not go to church on Christ's Mass Day... because the day that they spend a whole month defending with shrill voices and patronizing arrogance is not really about Jesus to them. It is about spending time with food, family, friends, and gifts. Now who is being secular?!?

For all of their barking and whimpering about people not knowing "the reason for the season", most Christians today have no clue that "Christ's Mass Day" is not just a family day. It is a celebration of the church. Where and how you spend the 25th is a hint at what you really think the day is about. If you are one of the ones who makes it a point to publically state how much you hate how secular Christmas has become, you should take your own advice and celebrate it as a Christian should. If you do not even care enough to celebrate Christ's Mass with His church, then you are part of the problem.

It almost seems like Christians these days just want to shout and blame instead of think and work. We need to change that. So when someone wishes you "Happy Holidays", might I suggest a different approach? Instead of angrily pointing a judgemental finger and shouting "It's MERRY CHRISTMAS!", try bringing up what the word "Holiday" really means. Why not teach them about Advent, Christmas, and the future coming of Christ? It is a teaching moment, not a fighting moment. Too often, we fight when we should love and preach the Gospel.

Happy holidais and have a merry Christemasse!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Defending Peace and Justice

“I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle: 'He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil'; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority: 'Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner'; and for this reason Augustine says: 'The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.'"

"Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says: 'A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.'"

"Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says: 'True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.' For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says: 'The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.'"

-St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica

Just wars are unfortunately necessary in this fallen world. Far too often, war is the only action that keeps justice and peace from being snuffed out by murderous tyrants. The number of lives saved by war is impossible to calculate. In case you forgot what today is:

December 7, 1941 - A date which will live in infamy

Almighty God, protect us from all evil; grant us peace and justice; protect those warriors who face the evil men who wish to slaughter and defile Your children; give them holy hearts filled with courage and discernment; empower them to defend the weak and the helpless. Lord, bring our hate-filled enemies to repentance so that we may all put down our arms and live in lasting peace. Amen.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pastor Claus...

...okay ...Bishop Claus would be more accurate and descriptive. If you have not learned about the real St. Nicholas, Pastor Weedon has a wonderful post about him. It is located here.

Every Christmas season, starting on his feast day (December 6th), Lutherans begin to talk about the real Santa Claus. Even churches who didn't give a moment's thought about saints or church fathers during the previous 11 months start talking about the mythology that surrounds this relatively obscure Myrian bishop.

Typically, you never hear a thing about theological titans like Augustine, Irenaeus, Clement, Polycarp, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Tertullian, Jerome, Thomas Aquinas, or Cyprian... but they were not graced with the marketing boon of becoming the icon of a holiday season that tempts us with sloth, greed and gluttony. Stores like Hallmark make loads of money each year selling sets of figurines of Santa Claus as he appears in the native garb of the various countries who venerate him. He is obviously an important political football all across the cultural community. December is his 15 minutes of fame and we fight over him with a bold zeal for history that is almost unmatched in the areas of perceptiveness and dedication. (For example: I remember the deafening silence on the part of most Christians who barely noticed this horrible rewrite of the Pelagian heresy.)

I guess that it must be all a part of that yearly battle to preserve Christmas from secular commercialism. You cannot open a Christian magazine or hang around after church without hearing about the truth of St. Nicholas, the truth of Christmas in general, and the importance of giving our kids the proper perspective. It is all one ideological package and Santa is usually the linchpin of the discussion. I wish that the modern church cared about presenting the rest of her rich history as much as she does about defending Bishop Claus.

So, I'm not going to talk about him here. People have presented much better posts about St. Nicholas than I ever could. Before you get engrossed in the story of a man that we unfortunately know very little about, might I suggest that you consider my alternative point:

Bishop Claus is not the only pastor who bears gifts this season. As he does every month in the year by virtue of his divine call, your own pastor offers the two greatest gifts that you can ever receive: God's Holy Word rightly preached and the Holy Sacraments properly administered. While you are out amassing and hoarding earthly treasures, do not forget the priceless gifts from heaven that are freely offered to you in the Divine Service. Do not be so busy that you neglect church this advent.

Do not cheat your soul in favor of something as worthless and ephemeral as shopping or a social function. Every year we must turn down social engagements when they conflict with the schedule of our church. Lest one assume that I am suggesting something that I do not do myself; I will tell you all that, this year, I declined my invitation to see the Secretary of the Army in favor of a Wednesday night advent service. I say that not to get credit for my feeble dedication, but as evidence to support my effort to turn the tide of absolute apathy regarding what the priority of a Christian should be.

A dedicated Christian loves and cherishes the church and seeks her out at every available opportunity. A dedicated Christian will pay any price and travel any distance to hear the Word of God every single time that it is preached. This is not to merit favor from God by your attendence, but to protect you from the filthy desires of your sinful flesh and the deadly lies of the devil.

Listen to beloved Pastor Luther:

"Likewise those fastidious spirits are to be reproved who, when they have heard a sermon or two, find it tedious and dull, thinking that they know all that well enough, and need no more instruction. For just that is the sin which has been hitherto reckoned among mortal sins, and is called ajkhdia, i.e., torpor or satiety, a malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the hearts of many, that he may surprise us and secretly withdraw God’s Word from us.

For let me tell you this, even though you know it perfectly and be already master in all things, still you are daily in the dominion of the devil, who ceases neither day nor night to steal unawares upon you, to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against the foregoing and all the commandments. Therefore you must always have God’s Word in your heart, upon your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle, and the Word does not sound, he breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware."
[Large Catechism 1:99-100]

Saying that you are a dedicated Christian and being a dedicated Christian are two different things. Your faith is not another errand that is added to your "To Do" list and prioritized. Your entire life is to be one of repentance and slavery to Almighty God. The treasure that you eagerly seek is Christ and His eternal gifts which are freely given to you without price or merit. Everything else is done in view of that fact.

That is just my opinion as a simple layman, but I'll bet you a candy cane that Bishop Claus would agree with me.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How to Say Thank You

People often thank me for my military service. It is always nice to hear and I appreciate it. Here in Texas, this kind of thing happens all of the time. I almost never encounter people who are cynical or hateful while I am in uniform. As the situation in the Global War On Terrorism improves (just like I always said that it would), people who have been silent about their patriotism for the last couple years have started to thank me in public again. Just last month, I had a wonderful patriot offer to pick up the ticket for my wedding anniversary dinner. Yup, this part of the country makes a Soldier feel welcome.

As a matter of fact, I think that I can only recall one time that someone called me a murderer. He did not have the courage to say it to my face of course... he said it behind my back to my wife.

There are several different kinds of thank yous. They all come from different motives and perspectives. It doesn't take a genius to read between the lines regarding what the thank you really means. Once you've heard enough of them, you get really good at picking out differences. Obviously the one I appreciate the most is the one that comes from combat veterans. It is a great honor to have a hero tell you that you are doing a good job. I once had a WWII vet tell the Wounded Warriors that I was escorting that they were the real heroes. He said that the kamikazes in the Pacific were nothing compared to IEDs and child suicide bombers. This Iwo Jima vet told us that his courage looked pretty easy compared to what wars have become. He brought me to tears.

I also love to hear the thank you from members of military families or real patriots. You can tell by talking to these folk that they understand why my vocation is necessary. They may not have a full grip on what being a Soldier is like, but they know why they exist and what they are here to do. They understand that a Soldier's primary job is to efficiently kill the enemy and break his stuff; to cleanly end the fight for the sake of justice and peace. These people get it.

Then there are the thank yous that I could do without. First among these is the half-hearted guilt thank you. This happens when a real thank you is delivered and the person who is not really grateful does not want to be seen as unpatriotic. This is the guy in the grocery line who shakes your hand because he is not going to be the only one who didn't. This is the public official who supports the troops for the same reason that he has town hall meetings and goes to church: to get/stay elected.

Second is the very popular pity thank you. This happens when a person feels sorry for Soldiers and thinks that they are victims of the vast political machine that does not care about them. Frankly, this person insults my intelligence and ignores the fact that I volunteered. If all you have is pity for me, please just keep your thoughts to yourself. This person only sees me as little more than a pawn that is moved around the world to help rich people get what they want.

Third is the selfish thank you. This is the close cousin to the pity thank you and it comes from people who are just glad that you are going off to die instead of them. They say "thank you", but you hear "better you than me, bub." These guys are glad that you volunteered because that means that they probably won't be drafted anytime soon.

Finally, you have the fear thank you. This is the one that starts out feeling like a real thank you, but it reveals itself to be little more than worry about your personal safety. It usually comes out as, "You aren't going to have to go over there are you?" or "Gosh, I hope you aren't one of the ones getting deployed." These people mean well, but they don't understand the nature of a Soldier. It is my job to fight. It is my vocation to be ready to deploy into risky situations. If you are proud that I am a Soldier, please don't tell me that you hope that I will never do the work of a Soldier. We all want to avoid danger, but sometimes danger must be faced. If I am the man that this great country sends to go do that work, then so be it.

The best thank you is the one that takes sacrifice. Actions always speak louder than words. You can thank me if you want, but here is what I'd rather you do to show your gratitude:

1. Go visit a wounded Soldier and help their families visit them.
2. If you have a family member in the military, volunteer for the Family Readiness Group.
3. If you know someone who has just come back from combat, educate yourself about the symptoms of PTSD/MTBI and be ready to help us detect it.
4. Go find a family who has people who are deployed and help them with whatever they need.
5. Find the parents of a Soldier and congratulate them on a job well done. Give them the credit that they deserve.
6. Volunteer, donate, and become involved in the USO.
7. Get involved with the Wounded Warrior Project! These severally wounded veterans deserve your personal thanks alot more than I do.

In my book, until you have looked a severely wounded 18 year old kid in the face and told him (or her) "thank you" in person, you don't know the meaning of the words.

Sunt facta verbis difficiliora. It is one thing to say that you are a grateful patriot. Being a grateful patriot is another matter.