Friday, January 20, 2012

Food for Thought:

Is it possible genuinely to respect a view or perspective while rejecting it and opposing it? If a view or belief or perspective is genuinely respected, will it not be accepted as valid and true?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pollsters and Decepticons

Many people throughout the world have been exposed to the “Transformers” movies, cartoons, toys, and action figures. The Transformers are a divided race of autonomous robots, split into warring factions called Decepticons and Autobots. Can you tell them apart?

These are their symbols:

The truth is that both are decepticons. They both work through deception. They both hide who they really are when they deem it to be expedient. They change their very shapes for the purpose of concealment while they pursue their agendas.

They can be distinguished from one another, however, through several attributes that cannot be hidden. They differ in the color of the light of their eyes, one red the other blue, matching the color of their life spark. They differ in the shapes of their heads and appendages, one very sinister and animalish the other softened and more anthropomorphic. Moreover their ultimate agendas and interaction with others, especially with humans, differ greatly.

When a pollster calls our house, I assume that I am being contacted by a Decepticon. I know that not all pollsters are Decepticons, but I almost never hear from the honest ones. And the ones that are commonly reported in the media are nearly always Decepticons.

The Republican Decepticons won’t even talk to me anymore. They call and ask for my wife, by name. When I tell them that she does not want to speak with them but that I will speak with them, they hang up. They already know who I am and what I will say. I don’t change my form or appearance for the sake of expediency, and I don’t allow myself to be polled in a manner that misrepresents me.

Most polls are absolutely deceptive in their design. For example:

“Do you agree with Obama on healthcare? Yes or No.”

In some parts yes and some parts no. This is not a valid yes or no question. It is designed so that it can be interpreted in ways that completely misrepresent my opinion.

“Do you believe that all Americans should have health insurance? Yes or no.”

Yes, I believe that with the current abusive health care costs that all Americans should have health insurance because the system is designed so that those who pay cash are overcharged exorbitantly. But I do not believe that all Americans should be forced to pay for health insurance and I especially do not believe that those who take the responsibility should be forced to pay for those who do not.

“Do you believe in climate change? Yes or no.”

Yes, of course I do, you idiot. It changes constantly, moment to moment. It changes daily. It changes weekly. It changes seasonally. It changes annually. It changes cyclically. It changes with solar flares. It changes locally. It changes regionally. It changes from day and night. It changes globally. But do I believe in the Algorist propaganda? That is an entirely different matter.

When pollsters call, I first ask whom they represent. If they will not tell me then I refuse to partake of the poll. I usually give pollsters a chance to ask a few questions so as to learn the type of questions. If the questions are rigged, I end my participation. Very few pollsters prove to be honest. Most whom I encounter are Decepticons.

Often these polls have far reaching impact. The interpretation of the results are used by many. Usually those who use these interpreted figures do not investigate to learn the basis of the interpretations, but rather, simply use the interpretations in accord with their own agendas.

Is this honest? No. But it also is not always deliberate dishonesty, or at least, it is not always planned dishonesty. We do not always evaluate our own motives to determine whether or not we are being honest, and so we proceed as if honesty can be presumed from ignorance.

Christians are notorious for this. Taking a minimalist view toward the doctrine of the Bible has led to horrible dishonesty and misrepresentation of that doctrine. Who can even count the number of different Christian religions who ultimately profess to believe in the same God, even though they interpret the words of the Bible differently from one another, usually differently than they actually stand written and apart from their proper context, and to very different ends?

Many other religions are misrepresented from their actual writings and doctrines as well. For example, I know a very nice Muslim gentleman with whom I have occasional conversations. From him I have learned some very disturbing things about the USA’s actions in Iraq. Yet this man is glad for the good things that the USA has done as well. He simply openly acknowledges the other things as well. But regarding Islam, when I responded to some of his comments about what the Quran actually teaches, his response was that one has to read between the lines. In other words, he picks and chooses, interpreting the religion according to what he considers to be expedient, just like most Christians. So he is really no more Muslim than most Christians are Christian.

In case you are wondering, this does all relate to the issue of the Decepticon pollsters.

I recently read a blog post entitled, “Comparing Least Religious Countries With Most Religious - Do We Need Religion to Thrive as a Society?” If you wish to read it, you’ll have to find it for yourself, because the article is not my focus. Rather, the quoted poll interpretation is my focus. The intent of the article is very plain from the title. Reading this article led me to investigate further. Of the countries reported by this Gallup poll is Estonia, a country of which I knew nothing. So I decided to learn about this country that Gallup reports to be the world’s least religious country, listing it as only 14% religious.

I found another article entitled Estonians least religious in the world. I share this one because it quotes the question that was used to reach this determination. I will quote the first three paragraphs from this article:

     Five EU members figure among the world's top 10 least religious countries, with Estonia leading the list, a new poll has shown.

     Just 14 percent of Estonians answered positively to the question: "Is religion an important part of your daily life?" according to a poll released by Gallup earlier this week.

     Estonia is followed by Nordic countries Sweden and Denmark, where 17 and 18 percent of those asked answered positively to the same question.

The question presented to those polled was:

“Is religion an important part of your daily life?”

From this Gallup then determines that 14% of the people of Estonia are religious! What a Decepticon move!

How many different ways can this question be understood or misunderstood?

Is this the same as asking people whether or not they count themselves as being religious?

How can anyone know how people would have responded if they had been asked, “Do you consider yourself to be non-religious?” Or how about, “Do you consider yourself to be a religious person?” Or how about, “Do you consider religion to play any role in your life?” Or how about even, “Do you consider religion to be important in your life?”

This Gallup question was designed to allow for the interpretation that was presented. It was not designed to be objective and to obtain data that truly represents the issue being evaluated.

At a person could very easily reach a very different conclusion. On the first page of the site, one of the currently highlighted articles is Tallinn Christmas market praised as one of the best in Europe. From the following featured photograph, would one assume this to be promoted as a secular or non-religious festival?

On their Estonian Culture page one of the highlighted links is Religion in Estonia with this featured photograph and information as the link.

Again, from that page on their web site:

Religion In Estonia

Since the 16th century, Estonia has been a predominantly protestant (Lutheran) country.

According to them, this predominance has survived the attempts of the Soviets to discourage all religious activity.

Short of a total ban, the Soviets did everything possible to discourage religious activity during their occupation of Estonia. Open believers were banned from most senior jobs.

Services are held in English every Sunday in the Lutheran Holy Ghost Church in Tallinn.

Here the tourism industry seems to take pride in the religious activities of their people, advertising it as a point that they want visitors to notice. They openly declare their country to be a “predominantly protestant (Lutheran) country.” They say that it has been this way since the 16th century.

Does this cause one to wonder about how honestly Gallup’s question and interpretation represent reality? Do Gallup’s question and interpretation honestly reflect how Estonians view themselves and desire to be represented? I certainly do not get that impression from their tourism web site.

Perhaps people should take into account the ways of the Decepticon pollsters before forming conclusions like the one suggested by the title of the article that moved me to take up this investigative endeavor: “Comparing Least Religious Countries With Most Religious - Do We Need Religion to Thrive as a Society?”

Even if the pollsters were not Decepticons and the people of various countries were as nonreligious as the Decepticons present, would that actually lead to the conclusion that the centuries of religious influence on people and their views and their ways has been erased? Has the influence of the teaching of the Ten Commandments been completely eradicated in the United States by the agenda of the activist judges who have removed them from government schools and other public places where they were displayed and even taught? Is it really true that what we have today in the way of morality can be counted as a non-product of the centuries of religious activity and influence? Even if the majority of people now counted themselves to be nonreligious, would that necessarily mean that the positive and beneficial views that they hold do not have ties to the influence that the religious have taught previously?

From the other perspective, does the obvious hypocrisy of many who counted and do count themselves as religious negate what has been taught through their religions? Who can honestly examine the Ten Commandments and not count their precepts to be good? Who can hear the doctrine of “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and not see how that benefits society?

Anyone who has ever heard of the Christian faith has heard this doctrine as well as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What would you expect the results to show of a poll asking: “Does atheism teach love for neighbor?” or “Does the removal of all religious influence lead to more kindly relations between people in society?” And if your poll showed that the majority of people held one of these views, would it mean that it was so? Or vice versa?

It is amazing how blindly we can pursue a presupposed notion. In this particular connection, do people completely forget history? When people look to polls and even statistics regarding wealthy and powerful nations and societies that migrate from their previous following of religion and the ideals of that religion, do they forget that this has been the pattern displayed throughout history? Have not all of the nations begun as the poorer nations who looked to religion and the established precepts? As these goodly precepts promoted peace and unity the nation prospered, even when in some the precepts were not all good. As the prosperity and power increased, the people became less and less convinced of the necessity of devotion to their religion. Eventually the nation or civilization no longer resembled itself and the unity disintegrated and it fell, only to start over again as a poor and powerless people who focused again upon the precepts of religion. With one exception, new gods and religious systems were established. In the one case, each time the people returned to the same God and Scriptures and instead of inventing a new religion, returned to the constancy of what had been passed down from generations before. That religion has circumscribed the world.

Interestingly, the poll that is quoted in the references above is from the Gallup article of February 9, 2009, What Alabamians and Iranians Have in Common.

A more recent report from 2009 is listed at the August 31, 2010 article Religiosity Highest in World's Poorest Nations.

The most recent report that I have been able to find is at Gallop Global Reports. To view it one must scroll downward and click on Religion. This report is dated 2010.

It is certainly interesting to observe that according to these successive reports the percentage who answered yes to the question has increased each year from 14% in the earlier poll to 17% in the most recent poll. While this should not be taken too seriously, especially on account of the nature of the question, it certainly does not support the conclusion that the country is becoming less religious and that the people are counting themselves less dependent upon religion in their lives. It does seem to indicate one thing: that those who are thinking of themselves as religious may now be answering in a way that would indicate that they think of it more in terms of daily importance rather than general importance.

But it is just a poll and a statement of opinions utilizing a very faulty system of data gathering and analysis. In my evaluation we would be better off simply to say “No” to pollsters and deal directly with one another as loving neighbors and brethren.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Christmas - Why as a baby?

Recently I heard a radio evangelist address the question of why Jesus was born as a baby. He said that it was so that we could relate to Him. He said that everyone can relate to a baby. They are cute. They are tender. They are helpless. They are . . .

While it is true that we all can relate to babies, having been babies ourselves, and finding them to be lovable and adorable and all that, is this really why Jesus came to us as a baby? Certainly it is true that we can relate to the babe born in Bethlehem. But is this the real reason that He came to us as a baby to be our Savior?

The Book of Hebrews makes a similar observation, but from a very different perspective.

     Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:13-16)

This observation is that since Jesus was born as one of us, as our flesh and blood brother, having been born just as each of us are and having endured all that we endure throughout our growing years and adulthood, we therefore can look to Him as our true high priest who has taken into account absolutely every need that we possibly can have. He carried all of our sin and all of our sorrow and all of our burden. There is nothing left that we must face on our own. We can be absolutely certain that the payment has been made in full and that our redemption leaves nothing for us to do for ourselves. And so, yes, we can relate to Him fully in every need and in every trouble and in every time of doubt and fear and hurt. But this is entirely different than relating to the cuteness of babies.

Quite the opposite of the notion of being able to relate to Him as a baby is the reality. His being born as a baby is actually a cause of offense and stumbling. His weakness and helplessness are a cause for rejecting Him as the Chief Cornerstone and the Savior of all. At least this is the case from the standpoint of human emotions and reasoning. Our human reasoning does not behold the King of glory and omnipotence, but rather turns to the emotional and sentimental desire to hold the baby and make him feel safe. Trusting in this babe as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind can only occur through the faith that God generates in us to make us believers.

So why then as a baby? Well, as Hebrews declares, so that He could be our true high priest and offer the perfect sacrifice for our redemption. He had to be born as one of us. He could not come to us as the Son of God apart from truly being the Son of Man. He had to come as both. He had to be born of woman so as to be our true brother. He had to be born of the virgin so that His Father would be God. He had to come as a baby because this is how salvation comes.

He had to come as our salvation in the very way that we receive salvation. He had to be born or generated from above. He had to come as a baby born of woman in which the choice and decision was not His own according to His humanity. According to His human nature, there was no action taken on His part, not even the act of believing.

This is exactly how the Scriptures teach that salvation comes to us as individuals. The birth of Jesus as a baby teaches us that we do not become children of God by anything whatsoever that we do. We are babes born from above purely by the will and action of our merciful God. He generates us through water and Spirit. He nurtures us with the pure milk of His Word that our mother, the Church, feeds us as we nestle in her bosom. Furthermore we are nurtured with His body and blood in the blessed Sacrament to be made full partakers of His Holy Communion and to be brought into the maturity of the unity of the one true faith.

Surely this explanation can be given more fully and completely with many textual references, but this is in short why Jesus came to us as a baby.

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TGIF - Weekends

Last night my wife sent me to Walmart to purchase some household ammonia. As I waited in the checkout line I conversed with the lady ahead of me about a couple of things. I talk with almost anyone who is willing to converse.

After paying for my purchase I told the cashier “Have a good evening.” She responded, “Have a good weekend.”

I was a bit surprised. I realized that I don’t really think in terms of weekends. The common expression of “Thank God it’s Friday!” really means nothing to me beyond the everlasting blessing of Good Friday.

I am self employed, so Saturday is just another day. Sunday I prepare and preach and conduct the divine service.

This is not a good way to live. Wives and mothers often live this way, too. For many wives and mothers a day of rest only comes when they become too sick to get out of bed.

This is why the Lord established the Third Commandment: “Thou shalt remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” While that commandment was given in accord with the Old Testament, what it instructs us certainly still applies in accord with the New Testament. We still need a day of rest in the holy communion of the Lord.

What the Lord declares in the Ten Commandments is given for our good. He knows how He has made us and what we need. Without a time of rest we do not function well. That is why He Himself set the example, as our loving Father, ending all His work of creation and resting on the Seventh Day.

He truly is our loving Father. His commandments are given not to restrict us but to set us free from the bondage that we choose for ourselves. All of His commandments are given to set our hearts and minds free by restoring our thoughts and desires in accord with His holiness and His good and gracious will. Truly the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever!

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Fetal Cells Heal Baby’s Mother

I read a very interesting article today entitled: Unborn child just a ‘parasite’? Cutting edge science shows fetal cells heal mother for life. It is a very interesting read.

My mind immediately jumped to 1 Timothy 2:15. I don’t think that St. Paul was referring to this link between baby and mother in this context, but my mind jumped here nonetheless. But since St. Paul was speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is possible that the Lord was revealing something that we would not discover until a couple of millennia later. Even if this is so, it is not the primary point of the text. Still, it is an interesting thought.

Certainly this discovery would seem to provide a sense of explanation for the strong ties that mothers and their children have throughout life. Perhaps it also gives some information regarding why women have for so long outlived men. Perhaps also there is some explanation regarding why mothers tend to have such amazing stamina for long term care giving when everyone else in the family is sickly and weak. There are of course other factors, but this does leave one wondering about this particular one.

At the very least it brings to mind this wonderful passage from the Psalms:

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:12-16)

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Leaning on Emotions

This evening I heard on the radio a song/hymn and its authors being praised. The song is “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” It has as a Scriptural basis: “The eternal God is your Refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27

The song turns my stomach. I’ve heard it in a couple of movies before. It causes me to realize why so many people think that Christians are emotional boobs.

This song, while promoted as Gospel and comfort is 100 percent Law, without a word of the Gospel even suggested. I won’t post it here, but if you want to examine it, click here. But be warned, the music plays and it is the kind of sickly tune that refuses to leave one’s head.

The Gospel is not empty emotionalism. The Gospel tells us where this eternal God is found and how He is available. The Gospel tells us of the means of grace, through which this merciful God fills the emptiness that we feel.

This song purportedly was written to give comfort to two men whose wives died and left them grieving. If the text from Deuteronomy had actually been applied as it stands written, it would have been comfort of the greatest kind, rather than teaching that people should lean emotionally on imaginary arms that do nothing and cannot be felt or seen except as fantasy.

The text of Deuteronomy 33:27 is one portion of the great blessing that Moses pronounced upon the people of God to carry them forward in faith as they entered into the land of promise, the land where they would live in the safety of the true worship established by the Lord until the promised Seed would be born of woman to save them and all the world from sin and all of the consequences of sin, most especially everlasting death. Such words of blessing provide real and substantial comfort.

The entire Thirty-third chapter should be read and pondered, but even the last four verses are marvelous:

     There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places. (Deuteronomy 33:26-29)

These arms do not require one to lean upon them. They actually go before and defeat the enemy who would destroy through deception and false worship. These arms prepare the way for God’s people to sojourn in safety. And these last verses, spoken specifically to the tribe of Asher, are given in connection with the entire communion of the people of God. Special words are spoken to each tribe regarding their portion in the promised inheritance that would keep them united until the Messiah would come. It is all based upon the Lord’s faithfulness as it was displayed in delivering the people from their bondage in Egypt and in the giving of the Torah or Law upon Mount Sinai.

The patriarchs died in the comfort of these promises. In remembrance of these promises the Lord brought the people out of their bondage and to this land of promise. He provided for them through their journey, even after they disobeyed. He brought them safely to the border of the new land and now Moses proclaimed to them these final words of blessing. After leading them for forty years, he now blessed them one final time to prepare them for the new life that awaited them.

The centuries of waiting have been fulfilled. The promised King and Savior has come. He has gone forth and has carried our troubles and infirmities in His own body. He has faced death for us and has risen victorious over sin and death and the devil. He has ascended to the throne of God and rules on our behalf. And He has given us not only words to comfort us, but He has given us the Sacrament of water and Spirit through which He lifts us up from our sin death and joins us into His everlasting kingdom. He has given us the Sacrament of His body and blood through which He actually comes to us and gives us Himself to strengthen us and keep us united in Him throughout all our days and even unto everlasting life. When we face the death of our loved ones who have been washed into His Holy Communion of blessedness and life, we need not imagine some fictitious arms on which to lean in our minds, for we know that our loved ones are safe with Him and that we remain in His protection in His body, the Church, until our time of blessed departure comes.

Don’t sing any hyped up emotional nonsense to me. Give me the solid Law and Gospel by which I will stand unmoved upon the Rock. Sing to me “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “The Church’s One Foundation” and “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”! Sing to me “The Kyrie Eleison” and “The Sanctus” and “The Agnus Dei” and “The Nunc Dimittis”! Then I shall be truly comforted and you will have shown yourself a true friend.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Where’s the Law?

Today I received a surprise from an old friend. He made a statement regarding my sermons that was surprising to hear, especially from him.

Thanks for the sermons. But where is the Law? I know that you may seem surprised to hear me say that but I didn't see much about us being poor, miserable sinners and stand in need of God's forgiveness. The soul that sinneth shall die.

My friend has long teased me by calling me the “Sherriff” and “John Law.” This began in our seminary days together as I was known for asking the question of certain professors: “But where’s the Law?”

In some of our classes, especially those that were counted as the “practical” areas of study, some of the professors rarely if ever spoke of the application of the Law. They usually only spoke of the application of the Gospel, and that application was a weakened and general application that was quite non-specific, rarely if ever actually speaking of the cross and the reason for it. As a student, I sensed what was wrong and cried out. My own understanding of clear and effective preaching of the Law and Gospel together had a long way to go, but I recognized the false preaching of those professors who had forgotten the interconnectedness of the two.

As I have become more experienced I have learned more and more the importance that both be preached, but that the Gospel predominate in the sermons. While we sinners most assuredly need to hear our lost condition so that we despair of our own efforts at worthiness and trust the Gospel as the power by which we are brought back into God’s communion of everlasting life and blessedness, this hearing and receiving of this blessed Gospel is the object of the preaching. As I have grown as a preacher, I have learned that I need to preach so as to send people from the divine service with the glorious good news of restoration and reconciliation through God’s means of grace as what fills their hearts and minds.

This is a continual concern in my preparations. I remain continually mindful of the necessity of the prevalence of the Gospel over the Law in my preaching.

I take the concern of my friend very seriously. I take any criticism of my preaching very seriously. In the past I have had very dear friends who had turned to a different gospel blast me very harshly over the Law that they heard in my sermons. The Gospel did prevail in those sermons, but because of the altered perspective of my friends, the Law was all that they heard. This was on account of the fact that their understanding of what the Gospel really is had changed and so the entire message was received from their perspective as condemnation. They began to attack until finally denouncing me as a friend. But I was not the one who had changed, except that my preaching of the Law and Gospel message became more clearly defined.

This repeated experience from friends who migrated from the confession in which we previously stood together has been painful for me. So today, it was really quite surprising to hear from this friend that he did not perceive the Law slapping him in face. I have examined a couple of the sermons and found that of the two, the Christmas Day sermon was much less in-your-face with the Law than the Advent sermon, but that it was indeed proclaimed.

My conclusion on the matter is that first of all, I need to be ever mindful of the necessity that both the Law and the Gospel be proclaimed, and that it be proclaimed so that the person can hear both as applicable in that person’s life. Secondly, I conclude that my dear friend is indeed a dear friend for sharing this with me. Thirdly, since my dear friend seems to have heard the Gospel applied to himself, that indeed both the Law and Gospel were heard, but at least from his perspective that the Gospel came through so clearly that in the end the Law was hardly even remembered as hitting him.

I could be wrong about this last part, but if so, I am sure that he will tell me so. Moreover, he has done me a great favor by reminding me of the absolute necessity that the Gospel not be preached apart from the awareness of the pronouncement of the Law.

One final note: In my own daily walk my own brokenness and extreme need for the healing and comfort of the Gospel is felt so keenly, so sharply and powerfully, and my wife’s expression of her awareness of this in her life, most assuredly must impact my preaching. As Luther wrote to Melanchthon, before one can become a great preacher, he must first become a great sinner.

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