Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Devotion: His name is our name too

14 " 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

15 " 'In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.'
-Jeremiah 33:14-16

Usually at Christmas, we think of the baby Jesus, being born into the family of mankind, God incarnated in lowly flesh. But it's important to remember why He did it- not so that He could be in our dysfunctional family, but so that we could become a part of His, complete, whole, perfectly loving family. 1 John 3:1a declares "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"

When a child is adopted, they receive the last name of their adoptive family. You are no longer a John or Jane "Doe," unaffiliated, unclaimed, unknown, unassociated. Once adopted, you are no longer unsafe or unsaved.

Because Jesus was born on Christmas, and died for our sins on Good Friday and defeated sin, death, and the Devil on Easter morning- we are adopted as God's children. Christ isn't really a last name, it's a title- it means "anointed one." To be anointed means to be set aside for God's special purpose. To be "Christians" (little-Christs) means that we inherit that same purpose, the purpose is sharing God's love and the good news of His forgiveness through Jesus- our purpose is to enlarge the family.

Having the right name can make all the difference. In the movie "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" a group of New York teenagers spend all night trying to find the club that their favorite band will play. Most people have to stand in lines outside, few get past the bouncers- but Nora can get her friends in every time. The reason is because she's the daughter of a famous music producer with lots of connections. Her name gets her perks.

In Jeremiah 33, God promised a new branch in His family tree and He gives us His name as our new name- "The Lord is our righteousness." Without Jesus, none of us could ever be holy or worthy to be set aside for His purposes, let alone be His child. But once adopted, He no longer sees our own lack of righteousness, He IS our righteousness.

This Christmas, remember the Christ part of the holiday's name, because it is also OUR name if we are adopted into His family. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"

Know someone who's adopted? Pray for them this Christmas.

Are you facing an unplanned pregnancy? Adoption is a beautiful choice. Give your baby the gift of life and the gift of a loving family who're looking for a child to love and care for.

Got love and resources to share? Be like Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth, consider adopting or becoming a foster parent. - Lutheran Family Services of Iowa - Christian Adoption Services

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Iconography

Here's a little exercise in graphic design I gave myself today that put me in the Christmas spirit. Feel free to right-click and download or save as any of these graphics and use them for whatever print or web media you like. I plan on adding versions for all four weeks of Advent, plus one with the white Christ candle int he middle for Christmas. I saved these as PNGs at about 150 dpi. I'll be happy to email any of them to anyone who's interested too. While I personally like the ecumenical purple, just let me know and I'll be glad to send you some in LCMS Advent blue if you prefer. They're supposedly transparent, so they should work on whatever colored background your particular blog, Web site or email happens to be. I think they'll look pretty much like they do here on paper.

I know, doing pro-bono work is a bad business model, but it's the season of giving, right? If it's important to you to give and not just receive, you can always look for the PayPal donate button on my cartoon blog.
Above is my first design, an Advent Mandela- sort of the traditional Advent wreath only viewed from directly above.
This year, instead of an Advent calendar with little drawers to pull out, we opted for a devotional Advent tree, separate from our family's main Christmas Tree. It has 26 numbered mini-stockings on it for our girls to find surprises in after we read devotions.
I think my favorite of the 4 designs is this Advent "Menorah." I guess I've always been fascinated with Christianity's roots in Judaism. It may also hearken for some the Kwanzaa candles too. But even if neither of these other faith traditions come to mind, the half wreath might suggest an elliptical full-Gestalt wreath. Plus I love the organic looking wick and flame on this one.
I call this one my Advent graphic-equalizer for you stereo-philes out there. In our house we use a crystal bar with four tea lights in it rather than a traditional evergreen or holly wreath. I miss the crown of thorns symbolism, but with out busy family it's hard to keep the table tops clear- especially with all the gift wrapping this time of year.

The absolute certainty of Grace

This scene from 'the Hammer of God' really shows how it's not about me, it's all about Him. There is nothing we can ever do to be saved or to be good- it is only what Jesus came to do that matters. A tremendous gift to remember this Christmas, is the gift of being rescued, like a worthless tin can on a trash heap that God recycles into something He can use again.

This is an excerpt from Swedish theologian Bo Giertz's novel, 'the Hammer of God'-

This scene is when a new curate (vicar, intern) first meets his rector (head pastor, supervisor). The intern is zealous about a revival going on in Europe and a bit prejudiced of the boss he's just met because he had a glass of cognac with his supper. This conversation takes place 3 nights before Christmas.

"I just want you to know from the beginning, sir, that I am a believer," he said. His voice was a bit harsh.
He saw a gleam in the old man's eyes which he could not interpret. Was approval, or did he have something up his sleeve?
The rector put the lamp back on the table, puffed at his pipe, and looked at the young man a moment before his spoke.
"So you are a believer, I'm glad to hear that. What do you believe in?"
Fridfeldt stared dumbfounded at his superior. Was he jesting with him?
"But sir, I am simply saying that I am a believer."
"Yes, I hear that, my boy. But what is it that you believe in?"
Fridfeldt was almost speechless.
"But don't you know, sir, what it means to be a believer?"
That is a word which can stand for things that differ greatly, my boy. I ask only what it is that you believe in."
"In Jesus, of course," answered Fridfeldt, raising his voice.
"I mean- I mean that I have given Him my heart."
The older man's face became suddenly solemn as the grave.
"Do you consider that something to give Him?"
By this time, Fridfeldt was almost in tears.
"But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved."
"You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you gave Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy," he continued reassuringly, as he continued to look at the young pastor's face, in which uncertainty and resentment were shown in a struggle for the upper hand, "it is one thing to choose Jesus as one's Lord and Savior, to give Him one's heart and commit oneself to Him, and that he now accepts one into His flock; it is a very different thing to believe in him as Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief. One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor give one's heart to Him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks His walking cane through it, and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with Him. That is how it is."
Fridfeldt said nothing. Though it seemed sacrilegious to speak about the Savior in connection with such an ungodly thing as a walking stick, he saw that the old man's intention was certainly not sacrilegious. He felt this by the very tone of his voice.When the old man continued, his voice was gentler still.
"And now you must understand that these two ways of believing are like two different religions, they have nothing whatever to do with each other."
"And yet," he added thoughtfully, "one might say that there is a path that leads from the lesser to the greater. First one believes in repentance, and then in grace..."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Beware of claims of religious heritage

Source:, Wikipedia.

William Bradford was born on March 19, 1590 near Doncaster, in Austerfield, Yorkshire. At an early age, he was attracted to the "primitive" congregational church, in nearby Scrooby, and became a committed member of what was termed a "Separatist" church, since the church-members had wanted to separate from the Church of England. By contrast, the Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England. The Separatists felt the Church was beyond redemption due to unbiblical doctrines and teachings.
By comparison, Luther wanted to reform the existing church, other protestants wanted to break off from the Catholic church. Some cynical historians have said that the "Pilgrim" Separatists were to the Church of England (Anglicans) as the Branch Dividians were to the Seventh Day Adventists, or maybe like what the polygamous Fundamentalist LDS groups are to the Mormons. Not just a sect, but a radical, almost -like sect.
When James I began to persecute Separatists in 1609, Bradford fled to the Netherlands, along with many members of the congregation. These Separatists went first to Amsterdam before settling at Leiden. Bradford married his first wife, Dorothy May (d. December 7, 1620), on December 10, 1613 in Amsterdam. While at Leiden, he supported himself as a fustian weaver.
Signing of the Mayflower Compact, a painting by Edward Percy Moran, which hangs at the Pilgrim Hall Museum
King James I is the same guy who commissioned the King James Bible, that so many people seem to like more than Revised Standard, New International, or just about any other translation. Britain has had a great deal of political and religious strife between Anglicans and Catholics- "Bloody Mary," etc. Unfortunate that they couldn't embrace some sort of pluralism or evangelicalism between Christian denominations, huh? Take some time to study the English Civil Wars from Charles I and Charles II through the time of Oliver Cromwell and you'll find that Christians, not Muslims, Jews, or Atheists were the biggest threat to Christians in British history.

Shifting alignments of the European powers (due to religious differences, struggles over the monarchies and intrigues within the ruling Habsburg clan) caused the Dutch government to fear war with Catholic Spain, and to become allied with James I of England. Social pressure (and even attacks) on the separatists increased in the Netherlands. Their congregation's leader, John Robinson, supported the emerging idea of starting a colony. Bradford was in the midst of this venture from the beginning. The separatists wanted to remain Englishmen (although living in the Netherlands), yet wanted to get far enough away from the Church of England and the government to have some chance of living in peace. Arrangements were made, and William with his wife sailed for America in 1620 from Leiden aboard the Mayflower.
Puritanism was founded on the theology of John Calvin, and one of their major doctrines was predestination. Calvin believed that the grace of God was the only way into Heaven and that his grace could not be earned. But, whereas Luther taught that. we are saved only by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9) Calvin believed that God's grace was bestowed upon a select few, they and only they were permitted to be saved. We know that this is wrong because God does not want ANYONE to perish (2 Peter 3:8-9). Do I need to remind you about the Salem Witch trials, or the stockades or banishing Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson for conducting Bible studies?

TREASURE our First Amendment right from officially government sanctioned religion and our right to the unrestricted free exercise of religion. Sure, pluralism permits false teachings to coexist with the truth. Jesus evan talks about this dilema in His parable of the weeds and the grain Matthew 13:24–30, 36-43

The next time someone starts talking about how America was founded as a "Christian Nation," remind them that that just means it was founded by sinners and hippocrites and by no means makes us perfect- nor should it mean that we should persecute or alienate peoples of other faiths or people of no faith.

Most importantly ask them which denomination Christian Nation America was founded on. Jamestown was Anglican, Plymouth was Separatist Puritan, Texas, Florida, California, and Louisiana were all Catholics, Pennsylvania had Quakers, Lutherans, and Jews. Utah, of course by Mormons.

Religion did indeed play an immeasurably important role in the founding of the United States, but so did geopolitics, imperialism, tobbacco, cotton, and slavery. And mammon- don't forget, money. After all, the London Company and the Massatchusetts Bay Company were corporations intended to make profits for their stock-holders after all. Money makes the world go round.

We should appreciate and recognize our religious herritage, but we should also be careful not to make too much of it of fall into the sins of pride and arrogance because of it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

O give thanks unto the Lord of lords, for His mercy endureth for ever.
~Psalm 136:3

A poem attributed to Plymouth Colonial Governor William Bradford:

From my years young in days of youth,
God did make known to me his truth,
And call'd me from my native place
For to enjoy the means of grace.
In wilderness he did me guide,
And in strange lands for me provide.
In fears and wants, though weal and woe,
A pilgrim, past I to and fro:
Oft left of them whom I did trust;
How vain it is to rest on dust!
A man of sorrows I have been,
And many changes I have seen.
Wars, wants, peace, plenty, have I known;
And some advanc'd, others thrown down.
The humble poor, cheeful and glad;
Rich, discontent, sower and sad:
When fears and sorrows have been mixt,
Consolations came betwixt.
Faint not, poor soul, in God still trust,
Fear not the things thou suffer must;
For, whom he loves he doth castise,
And then all tears wipes from their eyes.
Farewell, dear children, whom I love,
Your better Father is above:
When I am gone, he can supply;
To him I leave you when I die.
Fear him in truth, walk in his ways,
And he will bless you all your days.
My days are spent, old age is come,
My strength it fails, my glass near run:
Now I will wait, when work is done,
Until my happy change shall come,
When from my labours I shall rest,
With Christ above for to be blest.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown

Linus van Pelt: In the year 1621, the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving feast. They invited the great Indian chief Massasoit, who brought ninety of his brave Indians and a great abundance of food. Governor William Bradford and Captain Miles Standish were honored guests. Elder William Brewster, who was a minister, said a prayer that went something like this: 'We thank God for our homes and our food and our safety in a new land. We thank God for the opportunity to create a new world for freedom and justice."
Patricia 'Peppermint Patty' Reichardt: Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Johnny Poppin 4B; Do we know Him? How do other's know if we know Him?

3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
-1 John 2:3-6

I wanted to say some more about this passage because it dawned on me that I may have only been seeing it from one angle. There's another angle that I think is simpler and more profound.

I was asking, "how do I know Him?" The verse says that if we obey His word, then God's love is made complete. If I say one thing and do another, I'm a liar when I say that I know Him. So, I had asked, "how do I obey His commands." I stand by my last post, that God's ultimate command is love.

But what about from the outside? How can others tell if we know Jesus?

Same answer; LOVE.

Last night Campbell Brown was mediating between two Catholic priests who were arguing and seemed totally contemptuous of each other. Evidently an American Bishop had told a member of the Kennedy family that he could not receive Holy Communion because of his political stance on abortion. One priest felt that this was completely appropriate and consistent with church law. The other pointed out that Pope John Paul II had administered the sacrament himself directly to Italian lawmakers whom he knew full well favored pro-choice legislation.

The battle was heated and unpleasant, so say the least. Neither of these supposed men of God appeared to have much love for each other, let alone for anyone who disagreed with each one's point of view. Oh, I know that the anti-abortion argument is that"Thou shalt not kill" is one of God's commands, but "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matthew 5:22)

If looking at a woman lustfully is tantamount to committing adultery, isn't holding such disdain, anger, and hatred for your philosophical or political opponents tantamount to murder?

This incident on CNN reminded me that following the Protestant Reformation, Europe was plunged into a period of almost continuous religious conflict and civil wars. Christian hating Christian, Christian maligning Christian, torturing Christian, slaughtering Christian, all in the name of Christ and defending right doctrine.

Evangelicals like to make a big deal of the Pilgrims coming to America seeking religious freedom- but they never seem to recall that they weren't being persecuted by atheists or Muslims or Jews, the Puritan Separatists were escaping King James I (as in the King James Bible!).

Just this week a 400 lb car bomb partially exploded outside the Policing Board headquarters in Belfast, Ireland- even though they've had peace agreements between Christians and Catholics there for ten years now. Someone thinks it's more important to be right and destroy those who are wrong, than to be patient, kind, protective, hopeful, or trusting (1 Cor 13:4-7). They may think that they know God, but are they REALLY following His commands?

Yesterday I posted my comments on a verse in the Christmas carol, Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel;
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.

A friend of mine commented on that post on facebook with the lyrics of Irish band U2-

"And the battle's just begun
There's many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, sisters, brothers, sisters
Torn apart

The real battle's just begun
To claim the victory Jesus's won

Sunday, bloody Sunday.."

What I learned the other day about hauling grain at harvest is that if the tractor driver wants to just do his own thing, it can be disastrous. If I moved away from the combine to feel safer or more in control, the farmer couldn't empty his corn tank into my wagon. If I sped up to get done faster, grain falls short of the wagon and money is wasted. If I get too close to the combine, we could have a potentially fatal accident with our huge machines. I have to match speed and hold a constant, and appropriate for the grain drop to hit the wagon just right.

Sometimes we take our eyes off of Jesus and the love and forgiveness of the Gospel because we're busy examining and scrutinizing the moves and motives of everybody else. How well do they measure up? How well do they cut the mustard? It becomes so important to us that everyone follow each letter of the law perfectly, that we forget what the spirit of the law really is. It's a forest/trees thing.

Don't get me wrong, I do it to. We're so zealous to defend and enforce the truth, that we forget that the truth has set us free. Swedish theologian Bo Giertz does an eloquent and touching job of illustrating this with the main character, in his book "The Hammer of God," the young pastor stirred people up to follow God's rules and live pure and chaste lives- but he fails to really show them how much God loves them or to lead them to either love God or love one another.

I realize that this devotion has gotten a little long, so just let me wrap it up and bring it back to our original question. How can others tell if we know Jesus?

To answer- more song lyrics:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

By our love, by our love

And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we'll spread the news that God is in our land
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

By our love, by our love

And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christians, and Americans need peace among themselves and love for one another

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, Come, Oh, Come Emmanuel
Translated: John Neal, 1818-66
Hymn # 31 from Lutheran Worship
Author: French Processional
Tune: Veni Emmanuel
1st Published in: 1854

1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NRSV)

12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

One of the things that weighs on my heart this Thanksgiving is how politically divided we are. Families can barely talk about important issues because progressives think conservatives are anti-intellectual and merely following the talking points that they get from FOX NEWS and conservatives think that progressives aren't even Christian and are being mislead by some anti-American, foreign born, Muslim antichrist.

Even our Christian denominations are struggling with schisms over immigration, abortion, and gay marriage.

Let us pray this year that, yes, God's truth prevail, but also that wounds would heal and egos and agendas be set aside so that we might focus on what His most important commands, His command to love Him with all our strength and all our hearts and minds. The command to love one another as He first loved us. The command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Enough anger and vitriol and judgment and condemnation. Enough division and struggle! Let there be peace, let there be love. O come, Prince of Peace, come to our hearts and our homes and our congregations. O come to our nation, and bring peace on Your wings!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

USE peace, don't just have it

"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal." -MLK

Call me crazy, but I don't think Dr. King is just talking about accomplishing civil rights with civil disobedience. I tend to think that it's applicable to parenting, teaching, coaching, and any interactions which we have with others- even driving!

Think about it, getting defensive, getting even, getting your own way- these all escalate tension and cause stress.

Calm and warm is more likely to set others at ease, even calm them down so that people on both sides of any disagreement can see more clearly and move forward without crashing into one another.

Something to keep in mind next week when we all spend an inordinate amount of time with our dysfunctional extended families, right?

Before you think he's just some bleeding heart liberal, or that he was some kind of new-ager, under the influence of Hindu gurus like Ghandi- be sure to see what Jesus says in Matthew 5:38-48.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

JohnnyPoppin' 4; You think you know Him?

3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
-1 John 2:3-6

It might be that it took me a long time to write on this passage because it had to incubate. What are His commands? The 10 Commandments? The 613 laws (same # as seeds in a pomegranate) that the Pharisees prescribed for their followers?

It might have took me a long time because I struggle so much with my own walk. I feel inadequate to write with any authority on these verses because I am such a miserable sinner myself.

Bottom line, God doesn't demand nearly that much. I don't think He really demands perfection either. But He does want to complete you. What kind of obedience is He looking for?
Matthew 22:37-39
37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'

John 13:34
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
And what does it mean to walk as Jesus did?

Luke 9:23-24
23Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

I recently learned a skill that made walking with Jesus and "as Jesus did" mean a lot more to me. My brother-in-law taught me how to haul corn. Having to drive a tractor up beside a combine and keep pace with it so that it can empty it's tank into the wagon you're pulling isn't very easy at all. Walking with, or how and where Jesus walks isn't always easy either. You have to keep up, but not move ahead. You can't be too close, or too far- other wise you could crash or you could lose corn. You have to be in sync with the driver of the combine. You have to know where he;s going and what his intentions are.

Sound too hard? Not really. The real keys to following along side a combine with a tractor and wagon is practice and experience. Hills, curves and bumps all make it more challenging. The real key to walking with and like Jesus, is to stay in touch with Him. Reading your Bible regularly, rather than leaving it on the shelf helps you stay in tune (like the graphic I used at the top of this post, the Bible is our user's manual, after all). Speaking and listening to Him in prayer helps keep you in tune. Exposing yourself to Bible study, devotions, or good teaching is a good way. Being involved in Christian fellowship is yet another way.

Above all, it's all about love, love for God and love for others. THAT's what Jesus did, what He does, and what He would do. Next time you see of hear about "WWJD." Remember, He loved, He loves, and He'd love. Let God complete His love in you, obey His commands- love Him and love others.

Also, sometimes if you're in park and can't seem to get it back into gear, it helps to pop the clutch.

JohnnyPoppin' 3; I write this so that you will not sin

1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Why did John write this letter? "So you will not sin."
There were some controversies in the church already, and some false teachings going around. Being not just one of the original 12 disciples, but close to Jesus personally, John wanted to inoculate or vaccinate early believers from being misled. There are always people out there with wrong or misleading information.

It could be that they're simply mistaken or that they're motivated by profit, power, or fame, or for whatever reason, they may actually want to corrupt or destroy God's message of forgiveness. John wrote these letters to protect his readers from lies and/or mistakes that could cause them to sin. Ah, but he also assured them (and assures us) that if/when we mess up, we have an advocate, a defense attorney, someone who has the ear of God the Father- Jesus Himself. No matter how badly we've messed up in our lives, He has paid for us.

Wouldn't it be great to have Warren Buffett or Bill Gates show up and pay off all your credit cards and loans and mortgage and offer to pay your bills from here on out? To be totally debt-free through no doing of your own? That's exactly what we have from a spiritual (though not financial) point of view. Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice that makes us right with God.

And not just us. He died for everyone for all time. Granted, if anyone rejects His forgiveness, He isn't going to force it on anyone. Skeptics complain that if there really is a loving God, why doesn't He just save everyone? Well, hate to burst your bubble, but He did! Unfortunately, people don't believe it, don't accept it, deny it and refuse it- even ridicule and belittle it.

That's my explanation in a nutshell of a sad aspect of society's reaction to the Gospel- Here in these verse though John isn't talking to all people, he's talking to fellow believers and he's reminding them that Jesus- not anyone else, and especially not ourselves is the atoning sacrifice. THAT is the core of the Gospel, the basis of Christianity.

Some of the heresies, the false teachings John wanted to warn his readers about claimed that Jesus was just another human and not God's only begotten Son, and some of them taught that anyone could become "godlike" if they just got in touch with their inner light. But only Jesus is the light, and any light we receive is from Him. We can become "Christ-like" only through Him.

But again, in the book of 1 John, John wants to help his readers avoid these errors, but in verses one and two, he's also assuring them that if they fall prey to these false teachings but realize their mistake, God who is faithful and just will forgive them because of what Jesus did on the cross.

Friday, November 13, 2009

JohnnyPoppin' 2; Let's be honest ...

"5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives." -1 John 1:5-10

I think one of my favorite things about the liturgy in the Lutheran church is when we admit that if we claim to be without sin, we're deceiving ourselves... and that if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive us and cleanse us.

Here John lays it on the line, "Hey," he kind of says, "if you think you're perfect and that you don't need Jesus, you're fooling yourself."

Martin Luther knew he found a profound truth when he discovered Romans 3:23, where Paul tells us that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ALL. No matter how smart, how old, how wealthy, how important or powerful. Everyone gets selfish and short-sighted sometime. No matter how young and seemingly innocent, no matter how gentle or well intentioned- every single human being on Earth has thought, said, or did something that damages their relationships with God and with others. We all try to be our own gods.

Once we admit that and get it out in the open, we can move on without pretense and pretending. We're all equal at the foot of the cross, we share our vulnerability and guilt. It's like the way addicts humbly approach their brothers and sisters at an Alcoholic's Anonymous (AA) meeting- "Hi, I'm John, and I'm an alcoholic..." then they can share their story, questions, concerns, ideas, or opinions.

John is saying that once we own up to our responsibilities- "Hi, I'm Ted, and I'm a sinner..." we are able to move on and learn and grow and share together.

Notice what else John said? I emphasized parts of the verse above by making them bold.

In the Gospel of John, John 1:1-14 John first refers to Jesus as the light. Jesus calls Himself the light of the world in John 8:12 and 9:5. When a converted believer says "I have SEEN the LIGHT!" That doesn't just mean that they see the errors of their ways or are enlightened, it means that they have encountered the God that loves them in a real and personal way.

John tells us that if we come into the light- if we stop hiding and burying our heads in the sand but come and walk and talk with Jesus, He will accept us, in fact, He will forgive us and clean us from the wrong we've done and the mistakes we've been carrying around.

We don't have to be like vile cockroaches or disease-ridden vermin that scatter when someone turns on the light. We can be safe and comfortable with Him and He will help us to become safe and comfortable with each other.

We can be in meaningful community with God and each other. Like recovering alcoholics who feel most comfortable and least judged, most able to be sincere and vulnerable with their sponsor and their fellow AA members- we can have deep and powerful relationships with God and with other believers.

And guess what? It's a lot easier to see things as they really are- and to walk around while avoiding obstacles and injuries when you're in the light.

So open up God's Word, set a side some prayer time to spend with Him, and for cryin' out loud, go to that youth group meeting, that Bible study, that fellowship or that church service and see what it's like to connect in a meaningful way with other sinners.

Know what? The more time you spend with "the Light" (Jesus) the more you'll start to reflect His personality, the more like Him your character will become. It's called reflecting His glory. Remember what the band Smashmouth says, "You'll never shine if you don't glow!"

Me ka pule,

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Johnny Poppin!

Reflections* on the epistles of the disciple whom Jesus loved.

"We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us," (1 John 1:3a) Click here to read 1 John 1:1-4

I would like to begin taking a look at three of my favorite books of the Bible, John's letters.

They're not sure who specifically John was writing to. Most of Paul's letters are named for the cities where the churches the letter is addressed to was at; Romans, Corinthians, Galations, etc. Most scholars do think he may have been living in Ephasus and he wanted to address some controveries brewing in the early church and warn readers about some false teachings that were going around.

All 3 "Johannin" letters are written in a fairly personal mannor. I think that 1 John 1, verses 1-4 really demonstrate this. Keep in mind who this is, the Apostle John. This is the same guy who wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. He was one of the original 12 Disciples, the one whom Jesus felt close enough to that He asked him to take care of His mother Mary when He was on the cross (John 19:25-27).

There's even some speculation that this John was a younger first cousin (not to be confused with John the Baptist) or even a half or step-brother. James & John were called the sons of Zebadee and the "Sons of Thunder." James went on to become an elder of the early church in Jeruselum.

In the opening 4 verses of this letter, John is making it absolutely clear that he's not just another preacher or evangelist. He's not telling us this stuff to hear himself talk- or to make money or get famous. He knew Jesus personally. He saw and heard and experienced this stuff. He wasn't just on of the 12, he was part of the inner circle of Peter, James and John- arguably one of Jesus best friends here on Earth.

This was personal. And his credentials are unimpeachable.

And why did he write First, Second and Third John? Why am I writing this?

"So that you also may have fellowship with us" and "to make my joy complete."

John wanted other people to know Jesus, to know the Word, to know THE Life (Jesus calls Himself the "life" in John 14:6. To be in fellowship is to be a companion, sharing an experience. It's a deep and meaningful form of friendship or association.

Our church's youth group is called Lutheran Youth FELLOWSHIP (LYF). Think about J.R.R. Tolkien's epic "the Fellowship of the Ring." They were a band of brothers, pledged to the same mission and virtues, and pleadged to each other.

John wanted to expand the family of God. And he wanted to offer a more fulfilling life in the here-and-now, but more importantly eternal life in fellowship with God.

I can't seem to get kids to attend high school Bible Study on Sunday mornings and I have too many of my own family and professional obligations to be able to give them the time needed to be the adult leader of their LYF. That puts two big obstacles in the way to our being in fellowship together in God's Word. But I still have this burning in my heart Jeremiah 20:9 to share God's love and my reactions to what I read in the Bible. So here I am. Sharing with whoever you are, reading this on my blog or on facebook.

I'm not making money on this. I'll never get famous doing it. I wasn't one of Jesus' best friends in Galilee 2,000 years ago, but I can tell you what I believe He's done on my own life and how I believe He reveals Himself to us today. That's personal. Unlike John, my credentials may be relatively impeachable, but I hope you can see that my motives are honest and genuine.

If you're interested, keep reading. It may be sporadic (I won't say- look for something every Thursday) it could end up being every other day or every other week, but I am going to make an effort to write about all 3 books. Sometimes it will end up being about this long- hopefully it will usually be a lot shorter.

Bookmark and that way you'll be able to read all of these reflections whenever they are posted and whenever you have time.

Me ka pule**,

*Reflections: I don't hold a ThD or a Master's in Religion, Doctrine or Theology or anything like that. I'm just a layman in whom God's Word burns (Jeremiah 20:9) so don't think of this as an expert, deep-academic Bible Study per se, think of these as informal devotions or personal responses to John's letters meant to share and hopefully encourage you to read God's Word for yourself and nurture a personal relationship with Jesus.

"Me ka pule" is Hawaiian for "in prayer." I figure it kind of fits with the whole pirate theme of this blog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The Marine stood and faced God,

Which must always come to pass.

He hoped his shoes were shining,

Just as brightly as his brass.

'Step forward now, Marine,

How shall I deal with you?

Have you always turned the other cheek?

To My Church have you been true?'

The soldier squared his shoulders and said,

'No, Lord, I guess I ain'.

Because those of us who carry guns,

Can't always be a saint.

I've had to work most Sundays,

And at times my talk was tough.

And sometimes I've been violent,

Because the world is awfully rough.

But, I never took a penny,

That wasn't mine to keep...

Though I worked a lot of overtime,

When the bills got just too steep.

And I never passed a cry for help,

Though at times I shook with fear.

And sometimes, God, forgive me,

I've wept unmanly tears.

I know I don't deserve a place,

Among the people here.

They never wanted me around,

Except to calm their fears

If you've a place for me here, Lord,

It needn't be so grand.

I never expected or had too much,

But if you don't, I'll understand.

There was a silence all around the throne,

Where the saints had often trod..

As the Marine waited quietly,

For the judgment of his God.

'Step forward now, you Marine,

You've borne your burdens well.

Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets,

You've done your time in Hell.'

~Author Unknown~

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.

  • Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.
    • Called or uncalled, God is present.
    • This is actually a statement that Jung discovered among the Latin writings of Desiderius Erasmus, who declared the statement had been an ancient Spartan proverb. Jung popularized it, having it inscribed over the doorway of his house, and upon his tomb.
    • Variant translations:
      Summoned or not summoned, God is present.
      Invoked or not invoked, God is present
      Called or not called, the god will be there.
      Bidden or unbidden, God is present.
      Bidden or not bidden, God is present.
      Bidden or not, God is present.
      Bidden or not bidden, God is there.
      Called or uncalled, God is there.
    • The axiom I share with people who claim to be atheists is this; you may not believe in God, but He still believes in you!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Pray for our troops and our vets

Those of us who haven't served in Iraq or Afghanistan have no idea what it's really like. Having your gun malfunction, the constant threat, the constant stench, placing bodies in plastic bags for removal...

I guess I've been thinking about this a lot lately, with a few current students enlisted already or considering signing with the National Guard, and scores of former students in the Guard or other branches of the military.

I was reminded of it again when President Obama gave a speech last month at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
"Your dedication to duty is humbling. Your love of country is inspiring. The American people thank you for your service. We honor you for your sacrifices. And just as you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you.

That's the message that I offered to the inspiring Gold Star families I met with a few moments ago-families who have made the ultimate sacrifice and whom we honor. And that's the message I bring to you and all our forces, families and veterans-around Jacksonville and across America.

You've made the most profound commitment a person can make-to dedicate your life to your country. And perhaps give your life for it. So as your commander-in-chief, here's the commitment I make to you."

Many of us share his sentiments. No matter how divided we were on the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq, we are can remain united in our unwavering care and concern for our service men and women and their families.

I take Luke 14:25-33 very seriously. Remember the concerns about "mission drift" and "nation building" when the U.S. committed troops to the U.N. action in Kosovo to help end the Serbian genocide of Muslim Croats in the former Yugoslavia? I sure remember Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld deflecting questions about managing the aftermath and rebuilding of Iraq after combat would end, before the invasion in February and March of 2003.

That's why I so appreciated when the President said,
"...while I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this-and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan:

I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That's the promise I make to you."
I don't care what you think of health care reform or stimulus packages, you can oppose the President with every breath you take- he shouldn't risk their lives unless it is necessary and they do deserve clear goals and adequate equipment. Even if you don't trust him to keep the promise, you can not disagree that it's a promise they deserve.

We've been in Afghanistan for eight years now and we still haven't caught Osama bin Laden. Some think he's dead. There are some who argue that we should get out of Afghanistan because most of the Al Queda forces we're pursuing are already in Pakistan instead. Some think we can't leave until we're absolutely certain that the Taliban can not return to power, others say that the Taliban was never our target, Al Queda was.

So we are at a decisive moment, some of us want a troop surge in Afghanistan, some of us want a long deserved standing-down of all U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile the President seems to be weighing both options and some balance in between.

And then came the tragedy at Fort Hood. Like everyone else, I was shocked and sickened. And when I read about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, I was saddened. Maybe because he is my age, but mostly because as an Army psychiatrist it was his job to listen to the stories of and counsel dozens of veterans returning from service who experienced Hell on Earth, many of whom suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And too because he felt harassed by his fellow soldiers because of his political opposition to the wars and because of his religion.

Don't think for a minute that I excuse what he did- it was heinous, cowardly, truly inexplicable and ultimately inexcusable. At best it was terribly misguided, selfish and counter-productive to the causes he claimed to stand for. At worst it was plainly evil. But it should bring our attention to the true spoils of war, the spiritual, social and emotional putrefaction that leads to such psychological break down.

It should make us pause and take to heart Luke 14:25-33 before we resort to military force, and do so only with the somber grief and caution of an Abraham Lincoln, and not the zeal and enthusiasm of a Kaiser Wilhelm II. What's more, I don't think that there is any shame or dishonor to re-evaluate and reconsider why we're in any war, or how we prosecute said war.

Unlike Iraq, we entered Afghanistan with no controversy or disagreement. Terrorists trained and harbored in Afghanistan attacked us on our own soil. Though not by Afghanistan herself or even my her own people (most members of Al Queda were Saudi). President Obama called it a "war of necessity."

Be that as it may, American men and women are dying there every month and enduring experiences which will haunt them their entire lives. They are being torn from their families and careers. We need to support them whether or not we support our government's sending them into harm's way. We need to support them whether we love or loath their Commander in Chief. And we need to support them and their families in thought, word, and deed, not just in word only.

Please pray for our troops and their families. 2010 will see the largest single call-up of Iowa National Guard units since World War II. Some will be 18 year -olds, others will be 40 year-olds. Many on their first tour of duty, and many on their fifth or sixth deployment. But don't just pray for our active-duty soldiers- remember to pray for our veterans too. WWII, Korea, Vietnam, First Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghan veterans (and their families) need to know that we value them, that we are grateful for their sacrificial service.

Here are some ways that you can make a difference:

  • There are 27,600 living vets just in Iowa. Consider writing a thank you card to one of the veterans at the Iowa Veteran's Home, 1301 Summit St. Marshalltown, IA 50158.
  • Remember to buy a poppy to support the VFW and American Legion
  • Visit and help them provide for troops and their families. Adopt a family this holiday season.
  • Consider supporting the United Service Organizations (USO) at
  • Most of all, pray for our troops and our vets. Challenge yourself to pray for them everyday between Veteran's Day (November 11) and Thanksgiving.
  • Wear black to work or school on Thursday, November 12, in honor of the victims and families effected by the Fort Hood massacre.
  • Observe a moment of silence and pray for peace at 11 AM on Veteran's Day (11-11-1911).
  • And no matter how you voted, pray for President Obama, that God would help him keep the promises he made at Jacksonville last month and that God would guide all of his decision making, but especially as Commander in Chief.

Incredible Poem

I wish I could take credit for writing this. I also wish I knew who did, but alas, it is just one of those anonymous email forwards (Pretty sure that the car sitting in the garage part at the end is a quote attributed to Garrison Keillor. Who knows, maybe he wrote this whole thing).

Whoever is responsible for it, it is one of the most convicting , humbling, perspective giving, and funny bits of gospel that I've ever read. I hope it makes you think, pause, consider your feelings and words, but most of all thank the Lord for His incredible love, grace, and mercy.


I was shocked, confused, bewildered
As I entered Heaven's door,
Not by the beauty of it all,
Nor the lights or its decor.

But it was the folks in Heaven
Who made me sputter and gasp--
The thieves, the liars, the sinners,
The alcoholics and the trash.

There stood the kid from seventh grade
Who swiped my lunch money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor
Who never said anything nice.

Herb, who I always thought
Was rotting away in hell,
Was sitting pretty on cloud nine,
Looking incredibly well.

I nudged Jesus, 'What's the deal?
I would love to hear Your take.
How'd all these sinners get up here?
God must've made a mistake.

'And why is everyone so quiet,
So somber - give me a clue.'
'Hush, child,' He said, 'they're all in shock.
No one thought they'd be seeing you.'

JUDGE NOT!! (Mat 7:1)

Remember...Just going to church doesn't make you a
Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.

Every saint has a PAST...
Every sinner has a FUTURE!
Now it's your turn... Share this poem.