Thursday, July 31, 2008

Preparing for Death - Part 1 "Proper Perspective"

Pastor Hall recently referenced a fascinating post on the topic of preparing for death. As a Soldier who is faced with war, this topic is one that I consider daily (if not hourly on some occasions.) I have spoken about this topic before, but it is time to do a series on a part of Christian life that is often neglected by modern sheep.

When considering all of my weaknesses, failures, and disobedience, it is a miracle of God that this bond servant of Christ has experienced success in any matter of Christian devotion. It is the Holy Spirit--working through the agencies of the Word with the Sacraments and the tutelage of church tradition--who has revealed to me the importance of preparing for a good death: my final moment of earthly faith in Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

We long-lived Americans seem intent on putting death out of our minds. We delay it. We surgically erase it from our faces. We push it back, ignore it's approach, and squirm at the mere mention of the inevitable event.

As a fellow Christian, my brother or sister, do you not realize that your religion holds death as its primary theme? Your first parents ushered death into the world by their sin in Eden. Your damnable sin condemns you to eternal death. Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of the Father, became incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was crucified on your behalf to free you of the curses of sin, death, and the devil. Purchased with nothing less than the divine blood of Christ, the Holy Spirit invites and prompts you to die according to your sinful flesh so that you might follow Christ and experience victory over death and enjoy eternal life in the blessedness of Heaven.

Your thesis is death. You, Christian, are defined by the death of Christ on the cross. After a lifetime of futility and failure, your ultimate triumph will come at the end of this sinful condition. Embrace it. Look forward to its approach. Live the Creed when it says, "I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen."

To have a proper view of death is to finally look at this life with clear vision. Having proper perspective and priorities leads one to look to what is to come. Read what St. Paul teaches on this matter (really deep stuff!):

"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. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again." [Philippians 1:19-26, ESV]

This is the true purpose driven life. This is the universal calling. The goal is to finish the race and keep the faith to the very end. We wage war against doubt and distractions with the intent of laying hold of the final prize. We let go of this life and commit it to the service of others as we look forward to the eternal life that is to come. There is emotional tension between the life of work in the church militant and the desire to enter the rest of the church triumphant.

In the coming days, I will share some thoughts and resources that have served me greatly in this area. A life spent preparing for death is not a wasted life.

Mission Complete

I am back from training. It was interesting. That is just about all I can still say without violating the "best construction" principle.

Being in the field with a 115°F heat index... Free
Eating all of the MREs that I could stand... Free
Learning everything that I did not want to know about my job... Free
Laying my hand in a fire ant mound during tactical training... Free
Spending an hour searching the grass for the cell phone that my buddy dropped... Free
Setting up a one man ambush that eliminated a whole enemy squad during night ops... Free

Having enough down time each day to pull these ziplocked books out of my ruck sack for Matins, Sext, Vespers, and Compline... Priceless!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Leave of Absence

I will be leaving shortly to train in my profession. I will be back in August. It is unlikely that I will have access to the civilian Internet during July.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day Gut Check

This Soldier would like to wish you all a happy and safe Independence Day.

Remember that the continued freedom of this great nation depends on two things:

1. The continued vigilance of a strong military who is dedicated to the ideals of liberty and to the mission of providing a common defense against all of America's enemies.

2. The continued vigilance of a well-educated, independent electorate who is dedicated to the ideals of liberty and the mission of providing for America's defense against all who would manipulate this system of government to undermine or pervert her.

As our brothers and sisters serve in despotic parts of the world, the citizens of the United States have a duty to ensure that the fundamental principles of liberty are preserved here at home. Far too many people are not even paying attention. Far too many people are allowing the elite in positions of influence to dictate what they know and how they feel about it.

Everyone has an opinion on Iraq, but most people cannot answer even one of the following questions:

(1) Where is Mosul located on a blank map of Iraq?
(2) What 3 provinces existed before what is now Iraq was unified under British occupation?
(3) What are a few fundamental differences between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam?
(4) What kind of political ideology did the Baathist party embrace? Who founded them?
(5) Why did the British imprison Khairallah Talfah (uncle who raised Saddam) during WWII?

Everyone has an opinion on the economy, but:

(1) Most people fail a 14 question test on the basics of finance.
(2) Most people cannot pass a basic economic test like this one.

So I ask: "Where are these opinions coming from?"

Clearly we are not forming them for ourselves. You cannot make an informed decision if your information is coming from someone who has already decided for you. If you look at the majority of "news" and "reporting" you will find that it is all speculation, polls, entertainment, distraction, and commentary. Come on! We are smarter than this.

"I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent."

-Thomas Jefferson
Letter to Francis Hopkinson
March 13, 1789

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Converts - Part 4 "When did I become Lutheran?"

This is a loaded question that is full of intellectual meat.

While some bean counter will tell me that I became a Lutheran when I joined the LCMS, I tend to disagree. You see, I am a rarity among converts. I did not even really know anything about Lutheranism until long after I left charismatic anabaptism. Why did I leave charismatic anabaptism? I started to read the Bible. When I read the Bible with discernment, I found Scripture that explicitly contradicted many of their teachings. I left because they were teaching false doctrine and I could no longer stomach it.

A few years later, I worked past my dissillusion and decided to find a church that did not teach false doctrine. A few years of sulking was not a transition from one church to another. It was a conscious decision born out of years of objective research that measured many Christian and several pseudo-Christian faiths against Holy Scripture and church tradition on a level playing field. I resolved to find the truth and join the faith that best agreed with truth.

At the conclusion of this journey, I selected Lutheranism. I then searched for Lutheran churches and Lutheran church bodies to find the one that was the most faithful to what I had been reading and what I had come to believe.

My confession. When I set foot in my current congregation, I had to take several trips back to my car to bring in my stacks of theological books and research notes. I held up my copy of the Book of Concord and told the pastor, "This is what I believe. Do you teach and follow this book?"

So I ask, "When did I become Lutheran?"

If I became Lutheran when I confessed Lutheran doctrine then Lutheranism is objective truth that can be believed and understood--not just corporately--but individually as well. If Lutheranism is true and objective, then it needs no followers to be the correct confession. That is why I selected it. I knew nothing of controversies, synods, and church politics the day that I joyously declared, "I am Lutheran!" for the first time. I did not know how many problems there may be in actual practicing Lutheranism... but I knew truth when I saw it. At that point, I could not be anything that disagreed with the truth. I should have realized that the ideal of Lutheranism is always practiced by people who are very much sinful human beings. No perfection on this planet, no perfection in any Lutheran church either. I get that now.

For me, the truths that are expressed in Lutheranism are objective and imperative. As much as my heart grieves for you, the fact that you attend a whacked-out congregation that is only pretending to be Lutheran has no bearing on the validity of my confession. I confessed Lutheranism long before I joined a corporate body. I confessed it the day that I discovered that I could no longer commune with my family. I confess each day that I learn about a new horrible problem (both real and perceived) within the church body that I am in.

I confess the Book of Concord. My copy of the Book of Concord has my signature inked just below the list of original signatories. That is a very personal and intimate thing for me. I do not confess Lutheranism because I am Lutheran. I am Lutheran because I confess Lutheran teaching. I am Lutheran because I agree with the teachings contained in this book and that is what people call people who agree with this book.

If extremists on either side of my Lutheran denomination tear it apart, and cause it to schism, I will still confess the teachings of the Book of Concord. If a day comes when my Lutheran church requires me to go against the confessions, I will rebuke her and confess Lutheranism. If I should be stranded on a desolate island for the rest of my life, I will still confess Lutheran doctrine and practice. Real Presence is objectively true. Justification by faith alone is objectively true. As far as the validity of truth is concerned, what the rest of you guys do or think is irrelevant.

If a group calling themselves the "Purple Zamboni Church of Lower New Brunswick" takes up the Book of Concord and begins to follow it confessionally as the founders did, then I will encourage the LCMS to follow their example. If my Lutheran church does not listen, I will leave and join the PZCLNB... and start to lobby for the Zamboni-ists to pick a better name.

Do I confess Lutheranism because I was born Lutheran? No.

...because I like everything I see happening in Lutheran church bodies? No. I don't.

...because Lutheranism is the rebound faith that I fled to? No rebound here.

...because my pastor is a good guy? No. (he is, but that is beside the point)

...because I like Lutheran music and liturgy? I hated it at first.

...because I like Germany and Scandinavia? Never been to either locale.

...because I was witnessed to by Lutherans? No, modern Lutherans are horrible at this.

...because I think that Lutherans are better Christians than other Christians? They're not.

...because Lutherans have all the answers? No. Lutheranism thrives on paradox. Lutheranism can only tell you what it has been told by Scripture. Lutherans have the fewest answers of any Christian confession. They don't know squat because they don't make stuff up when things do not make sense.

I confess this confession because no one has been able to show me where it is objectively false. I confess it because I firmly believe that it is the true explanation of God's Word and stands apart as superior against all other human opinions. I confess it because of the human speculation and opinion that it lacks. I confess it because it is the clearest path to my Crucified and Now Risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Nothing will come between me and this true expression of Christianity... including Lutherans.