Monday, January 29, 2007

 Kansas Day

Today is Kansas Day. Today Kansans celebrate the 145th anniversary of statehood. For more information the following sites provide pictures and history: Facts and Kansas Day in the Classroom.

Kansas actually does have a history. Most people at least know that it is a state known for being flat and the Land of Oz. There is more to know. If you are interested, the links above will provide some more information.

Throughout my lifetime I have lived in a variety of places in the USA. People ask me from time to time what I think of the places where I have lived. My response is that every place has its good points and its lesser points. They all are part of God’s creation and if a person is willing to see it, God has given each place its own special blessings. No matter where I have taken up earthly residence, I have enjoyed various aspects of the surroundings. Kansas certainly has many rich and varied things to observe and enjoy.

I am always amazed at the imagination of the Lord. In His creation He has included much for His children to discover and enjoy. Over all that He created for us He made the marvelous pronouncement that it is good. Moreover He proclaims that He created man in His image, including the desire to be creative. He has built into each of us a wondrous imagination from which we draw many delightful thoughts and from which we even bring forth good things for ourselves and to share with others. Our sin keeps us from enjoying God’s creative genius fully, but even in our corrupted condition, still we share in the joy of His creation even as we make new discoveries and make things that bring joy and benefits to ourselves and others.

So whether it be Wichita, Kansas or any of the other places where I have enjoyed the goodness of God’s rich and varied blessings, I have endless cause for giving thanks as I see our gracious God’s power revealed. I look forward to that glorious day when I no longer look through the glass darkly, but know even as I am known. (1 Cor. 13:12) Kansas Day certainly provides an opportunity to recognize what God has already manifested of His goodness, even if we see it through foggy lenses.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Year’s Resolutions

This year I told myself that I would not make any new year’s resolutions. Actually, I have never put much stock in the notion of new year’s resolutions. Nevertheless, this year I actually contemplated the meaninglessness of such resolutions and “resolved” not to make new year’s resolutions.
The funny thing is that even this “resolution” is one that I have been unable to keep.

I find myself continually confronted with my shortcomings, my sinfulness, my need for being set straight. Thus I find myself saying over and over again, “I need to stop this or that. I need to begin so and so.”

This is an ongoing battle. This is why the Holy Scriptures direct us away from our own resolve and our own efforts to the one who always fulfills His promises. The Scriptures direct us not to rely upon our own reason and strength so that we turn in faith to what God has fulfilled for us in Christ crucified. To this end God has provided for us specific means by which we are turned back to Him in faith. First is the preaching of His Word, which we also are informed is Jesus. This is why St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that he judged to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The second means of faith is holy Baptism, where God joins us into Christ and all that He accomplished for us by His suffering, death, and resurrection. Then, bringing us to renewal of the unity of this faith He has provided the Sacrament of His Holy Communion.

Through these God takes the burden from us entirely so that we do not need to resolve anything for ourselves. Through these God removes the fear of failure, for through these He joins us to His perfect fulfilment of all righteousness. Since He has already accomplished this for us, we have nothing left to resolve to do for ourselves. Rather, we are set free to live in His holiness. We are free to rejoice in His goodness. We are free to bask in His love, which fills us and overflows to those whom we therefore love even as God loves us.

Nevertheless, I know that throughout this day and the coming year I will continue to say, “I really need to do this and to stop doing that.”

The truth can be almost comical at times. For the truth reveals that the more that I tell myself that I need to change, the more that I focus upon what I should do or stop doing, the more that I do what I should not do and the more that I fail to do what I should be doing. The very fact that I focus upon what is wrong increases my temptation. St. Paul summed up the seeking of right living in Rom 13:8-10:

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Yet even this is something that I cannot do by my own resolve. Love is of God as St. John tells us over and over in his epistle. If we want to be loving, the place to look is not to ourselves and our desire to be loving, but to God. When we look to Him and see what He has done for us in Christ, then we truly know love and live in love.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The US Constitution vs the Supreme Court

Proclamations of Life and Death

This Sunday is observed by many as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, in response to the anniversary of the infamous Roe versus Wade decision of January 22, 1973. Those who honor life as sacred hold that unborn babies are living human beings who need protection from having their lives ended.

In the Roe v Wade decision, an overturning of many years of legal precedent and a new approach to the role of the US Supreme Court was established. In this decision precedent and even the very language of the Constitution were overthrown.

The decision was based upon a new interpretation of Amendment XIV, which amendment is quoted below:

(Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9, 1868.)

Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

(Amendment XIV has 5 sections, but section 1 is the one utilized in the argument for the Supreme Court’s declared decision.)

The argument is that this Amendment guarantees a right to privacy in the due process clause. However, this argument demands deliberate ignorance of the intention of this amendment. This amendment intends to insure “All persons” their right to protection under the Constitution from being deprived by any State of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This amendment first guarantees citizenship rights, then rights to all persons living in the USA. What rights are protected? The rights of Life, Liberty, and Property are protected. These are protected from two plainly prescribed perspectives. First, the government is never to deprive any person of these rights without due process of the law. Secondly, the protection of these rights is declared as the duty of the State governments, and that such protection is never to be denied to any person within its jurisdiction.

It is very interesting to note the priority assigned to each of these rights by both this amendment as well as the Fifth Amendment. Life is first, then liberty, then property. This is both logical as well as practical. If a person is not guaranteed life, then liberty and property are meaningless.

Therefore, this amendment binds every State to its obligation to apply protection to every person equally. Life is to be protected above liberty and both are to be protected above property. Thus, when one person’s life depends upon depriving another person of liberty, Life prevails under the US Constitution.

In 1973 the Supreme Court decided that this order that is plainly stated in two amendments, as the Declaration of Independence also clearly articulates, should be overturned so that one person’s liberty of privacy was made to be more important than another person’s life. Moreover, the prejudicial discrimination that both amendments are intended to prevent is actually mandated by the Roe v Wade decision. Prejudicial discrimination by a specific group, defined by gender, is declared to be right and legal against another group that has no absolutely no voice of its own. And this prejudice is of the most extreme nature, leading to the extermination of the weaker and defenseless group.

Is this not the very kind of tyrannical decisions and actions that led to the July 4, 1776 “Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies”? Consider the first half of the second paragraph:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Has the USA become that from which it separated itself? If one group is allowed to extinguish the lives of another group without due process of the law, who will be safe?

Who has the final say in these matters, a government appointed group of judges or the citizens who depend upon the clear declarations of the Constitution? Without the Constitution to protect them the founding fathers went to war to obtain for future generations what they themselves did not have. With the Constitution speaking on our behalf, can we not speak out for those who are being deprived of their lives by the very judicial branch that is created by this Constitution? How long shall the citizens of this nation permit the helpless to be overpowered by the whims of those who count them as an inconvenience? How long shall we deny that unborn babies are people who deserve the protection of the States in which they live?

Certainly no one wants to have the Government deprive anyone of the right to privacy without due process of the law. But does our beloved Constitution not have the priority right in declaring that life must be protected even at the expense of privacy? Is this not especially valid when due process is preserved, as it is when a State passes laws to protect a person from being counted as non-human and without the right to life?

It is amazing to note the cause of changing from protectors of life and liberty to tyrants who dictate who lives and who enjoys liberty. The founding fathers acted from the belief that the Lord is God over all. They based their Declaration of Independence as well as their Constitution upon this belief. Those who have overturned this have done so on the rejection of the Lord as God over all in favor of the belief that a person is god unto himself. It is undeniable that the two different beliefs produce different perspectives regarding one’s attitude and actions toward others.

Monday, January 15, 2007

“I Have A Dream”

In the United States today was celebrated as Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday. Martin Luther King, Jr. is celebrated as a civil rights hero, with his most famous speech being his “I Have A Dream” speech. Both the text and audio/video are available at “I Have A Dream”.

This speech resonates for many people both in the USA as well as throughout the world. It addresses the aguish of heart that people experience because of many forms of abuse that exist throughout the world. Injustice is hard to bear. Shouting out against the wrong that is done to a person seems like the right thing to do. “My people have been wronged!”

Of course, the real reason we cry out in most instances is because we ourselves have felt the injustice in some way directed at us. We often stand by and shake our heads at the injustice that we see until it impacts us personally. What we often really mean to say is: “I have been wronged.” It is much more effective, however, if we cry out for an entire people. Thus we do not cry out about the injustice toward ourselves, but cry out about the injustice done to an ethnic group or a race of people.

Dr. King concludes his famous speech, saying:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

This does indeed sound like a noble and wonderful dream.

There is an inherent problem, however, with this kind of a dream. The problem is, as Dr. King puts it, “I have a dream.” The dream is slanted from the person’s own perspective. None of us needs to dig very deeply to find how warped our own perspective is. Each of us always begins from the same point: with our perspective. We begin from our own point of view and our own experience. Then we look out beyond ourselves and if it fits with our objective, we begin to include others, too.

This might even be OK if not for one very important factor. We don’t have the power to bring our dream to fruition. We always have to cry out to a higher power than ourselves. In Dr. King’s case, and with all leaders of every civil rights movement, the cry is for the government to make the changes.

This always falls flat because no government has the power to change people’s hearts. The government can write laws and punish those who violate these laws, but such actions do not change people’s hearts. Injustice and hatred flow from hearts that are corrupt and selfish by nature.

There is one who has the power to change hearts. He actually takes up residence in the person’s heart so as to change its focus and to create it anew with a new and right spirit. See Psalm 51 for a fuller exposition.

The one who has the power to change hearts and make them new does not do so by organizing protest marches or though civil rights laws. He effects His miracles through sacrificing Himself in the place of those on whom the suffering rests. Those who are helpless look on as He takes their helplessness as His own. Those who are persecuted see Him take their persecution and bear it in His own body. Those who suffer injustice hear the false accusations leveled against Him. Those who have no where to turn for help hear Him cry out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken Me?” These hurting souls see and hear all injustice directed to this one person, who leaves no injustice unborn. He bore the stripes and iniquity of us all.

This one rose up from the dead in everlasting victory over all that is wrong. He overcame injustice not by attacking the wrongdoers, but by bearing their injustice in His own body. Carrying these evils to His own death, He left true freedom behind and rose victoriously to prove it. He continues to make this new freedom available in connection with Himself through special means. Those who are baptized into Him feast upon His Holy Communion and live free from the things that previously ruled their hearts and minds.

This is true freedom. This freedom is proclaimed every Sunday, even as it rang out in this Sunday’s historic readings, particularly in the ancient appointed reading of the Epistle, especially these verses and a few following verses:

     Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

     Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

     Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

     Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Rom 12:9-21 NKJ)

The power to live in this way is the power of a changed heart. No man can change his own heart, no matter how hard he tries. But with God, all things are possible. Not only are they possible, but He makes them real.

When this reality occurs and is realized in the person’s life, then the following words are much, much more than a dream:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Forgive My Witness

Today I surfed to a delightful article on the application of the guarantee that the work of the Gospel has been done. The article’s title is Musing on the Reformation. In this article the dear lady shares some wonderful accounts of opportunities for witnessing to this Gospel, opportunities that she enjoyed and utilized by the Spirit’s leading. The article is a delightful read.

After reading this article I find myself moved to address a very familiar statement of concern that this dear lady expressed. It is a statement that I have often heard in my own heart, a statement that I hear often from my beloved bride, and have often heard from other dear saints who carry an earnest desire to be effective in telling the good news of the Gospel to hurting friends and family. The statement was expressed in the article once as: “Sharing this with my husband that evening, I was “kicking” myself because I hadn’t thought to offer . . .”

A second time she says: “After he left, once again, I realized my short coming of not using the opportunities that our Lord gives me to the fullest potential. I should have offered him my newest catechism. Once again I prayed asking God’s forgiveness and another opportunity according to His good and gracious will.”

Isn’t it interesting that a person who is reaching out in love to another person with the only pure and holy love available in the world should speak of kicking herself and asking God’s forgiveness? This shows this woman’s sincerity in acknowledging her own great need for the precious Gospel of Christ crucified. It also demonstrates the depth of her love for those she encounters in her daily life.

Yet this tendency among Christians to kick themselves for not witnessing more effectively can also show a lack of understanding at a very important level. I know, because as I said above, I have heard this in my own heart many times and have heard it from many other dear saints as well.

Naturally, as our dear Lord teaches in the “Our Father,” we are to confess all sins as our own so that we may hear God’s absolution and be set free to live by His grace. We are to count our efforts, all of our efforts, even our most noble efforts, as unworthy of any praise whatsoever. We are entirely correct when we fall to our knees both in private and in public confession of our sins, saying, “O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, . . .”

Yet the God to whom we rightly confess our poor, miserable condition does not want us to remain on our knees. He does not want us to go through life kicking ourselves. Rather, He commands us to hear His holy absolution and to rise to our feet and to live in the confidence that His absolution provides. This is walking by faith. This is living a life of grace and this is the purest witness to the grace of God in Christ.

Our gracious God has provided Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar to confirm us in His grace, mercy, and peace. Moreover, as we come to the waters of regeneration and to the Supper of forgiveness and life and God’s Holy Communion, we witness to the true faith that God works for us and in us. This is assuming, of course, that we do so where these are not in some way compromised. If we find ourselves in a setting where we know that God’s means of grace are being compromised, then we need to change the setting. Otherwise we do indeed bring judgment both upon ourselves and upon any who observe and follow our false witness.

Now, returning to the matter of our daily seeking and utilizing opportunities for speaking the Gospel with friends and family, in what ways do we fall short? Do we fall short when the Holy Spirit causes us to recognize such opportunities and we act upon His leading? Do we fall short when we share what we have been taught from the Holy Scriptures? Do we fall short when we listen to the other person and respond with the compassion and love and concern that flow from our heart?

If the timing was right for sharing the point or resource that we later kick ourselves for not thinking of, would not the Holy Spirit have caused us to think of it then? This is assuming, of course, that we are actually following the Holy Spirit’s leading and not acting on our own volition. But why should we kick ourselves when after the witnessing opportunity ends we continue lovingly contemplating what else may be done in the name of Jesus? Is this really something that our gracious Father in heaven would have us count as sin so that we ask forgiveness?

I suggest that the thing for which we need forgiveness is that we forget whose work the Gospel is. When we begin to imagine that the Gospel is our work, then we begin to imagine that we have failed in our sharing. But when we trust that the Gospel is God’s work, we rejoice that He uses us in every small way, even in the ways which we do not observe.

When we truly count the Gospel as God’s work, I believe that we will continue to seek witnessing opportunities with ever growing excitement. When we think of additional things to say or do, rather than kicking ourselves we will give thanks to God for the gift of the new idea and pray for the opportunity to share the idea. Moreover, rather than imagining that we are the only ones that God can use to reach the people to whom we witness, we will remember: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:7)

Lutherans are generally very fond of saying Sola Deo Gloria, “Only to God the Glory,” yet we can be very resistant to permitting it to be so. This, more often than not, is our shortcoming.

The Gospel is GOOD NEWS! It is God’s Good News to us. Sharing in it and proclaiming it to others should not feel like a burden. It is a joyous thing. It is a wondrous thing. It is God’s thing.

Thank you to Sandy Hartman for her article Musing on the Reformation and for the delightful accounts of the Gospel at work in her life. May such Gospel joy belong to all of God’s saints.

Monday, January 08, 2007

One Lane Begins

Friday I had an appointment at the dentist’s office. Driving along my usual route I saw the sign displayed above. I had driven this road enough times to know the speed limit is 30. This sign is posted a block or two before the road narrows from two lanes each direction to one lane each direction. Apparently, someone removed the top bolt so that it swung upside down.

When I saw the sign, I thought, “Oh, good. They put up a sign indicating that the road narrows.”

In my mind I converted the sign into this:

Now, no matter what way the sign is turned, it does not say what my mind interpreted it to say. Nevertheless, this is what I did with what was before me.

As I continued forward I said, “WHAT?!!” I laughed about it and then thought about how a person sometimes does the same thing with the Scriptures. What is written is as plain as it can be, yet a person has something else in mind when reading the text and interprets the clear words of Scripture according to the presuppositions that he carried to the text. Sometimes the person quickly comes to his senses and says “WHAT?!!” Sometimes the person continues onward, insisting that his interpretation is correct. Sometimes, like with my faulty interpretation of the sign, the false interpretation of the Scriptural text may actually state something that is true, even though it is not stated in the text that is being read. Other times, and actually most times, it is just plain false and wrong.

With the Scriptural texts, Saints Peter and Paul give us a guide to help us in being certain that we are not imposing our own false presuppositions upon what we are reading.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

With these as our guide, when we turn the Scriptures upside down or inside out or whatever else we do to them, we will very quickly cry out, “WHAT?!!” Then we will approach the Scriptures with open hearts to hear what the Spirit says rather than interpreting for ourselves what He says. The Spirit always proclaims Christ crucified in everything that He preaches. If this is what we are hearing, we won’t drive off the road into a ditch, or worse.