Monday, August 30, 2010

The Problem with Blogging

My son is always after me to blog more often.  In principle, I think that would be great.  In practice, by the time I have formulated my blog entry in my mind, my need to express myself is often satisfied.

I recently realized one of my biggest problems with blogging is the "So what?" factor.  I have read so may things that people blog that leave me wondering why they bothered.  What was the point?

It is like Facebook or Twitter.  I have trouble understanding the point, unless the point is for someone to say, "Dig Me!!!".  I was raised in the time when one did not pursue shameless self-promotion just for the sake of being noticed.  I remember telling a joke once in the presence of a couple of older acquaintances,and the joke sounded like I was bragging - that was the joke part of it.  One of the older women, an old German lady, simply spoke the German phrase which translates "Self-praise stinks".  That was my upbringing.   Even when one did promote themselves, it had a purpose - like getting elected or making money.  Waving my arms (so to speak) and yelling for people to notice me just to be noticed for a moment seems shallow and pointless -- and when I am done, it makes me feel more insignificant than ever.  Imagine!  I have to behave in this silly fashion to get anyone to pay me any mind.  Embarrassing!

I wish that when people were to take the time to write something, they would have a purpose for it, a goal other than being noticed, or mere self-expression.  I imagine, however, that my wishes perfectly fit my mother's favorite adage, "Wish in one hand . . ."

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Second Chance!

It came in the mail today.  Emblazoned across the front of the envelope, "Here's that second chance you hoped for!".  It came from an insurance company.  I was suspicious from the get-go.

It was an offer to sell me some life insurance!  It started, "Why didn't I get more life insurance when I was younger . . . and when it was cheaper?"  Yes, it was in bold green!

I couldn't help laughing out loud and reading the ridiculous thing loudly to the neighborhood.  It was over 95 degrees out, with high humidity, so I had a very small audience, mostly squirrels, and my dog, Martin.

I did not buy more insurance when I was younger because I could not afford it then.  Since I lived this long, it proved to be a wise lack of investment.  All of those years not paying for that insurance!  I feel silly about the stuff I did buy.  Wasted money so far.

My mother always said life insurance is a bet that you are going to die before your spend too much on the insurance.  The insurance I have is the sort that pays you back after a while, like an investment, if you don't die and use it up.  I can justify something I can use later.  The last thing I am looking for right now is more life insurance.

But a good laugh?  Thank you Mutual of Omaha!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Superhero Problem

We have read it in the comic books often enough.  The villain tells the superhero that his weakness is that he cares about the little people, or that he has this set of rules that tie his hands that the villain is always prepared to ignore.  We have that problem as those who battle for the truth in the church and in society.  We have guiding principles.  The adversary is often fighting the battle with the 'victory at all costs' mentality.

There seems to be very little point in fighting for the truth and all that is right if we are willing to do wrong in order to achieve the victory.  Those who are on the other side of the battle, however, appear to be willing to say whatever they need to say in order to win, or persuade, or whatever their goal is at the moment.  The problem is apparent, but not real.

Greater still is the problem of the impatience of the one fighting for the truth.  All too often, we want to win the whole battle in one grand effort.  The adversary, on the other hand, is all about the long game.  They work on the plan of incremental gains.  They push and pry and argue and do whatever they are willing to do to gain just a little.  They want to gain a foot-hold.  They want to gain tolerance for their error.  They want to gain a point on the public approval poll.  They do not need the whole enchilada at any one point, because they know that if they get an inch here and now, and then another inch later, that eventually they will win the entire field.

People who stand for the truth are trying to hold their territory.  If they lose a little bit, they take comfort in what they still have, and soon appear to forget where they were and how much they have lost.  I heard an evaluation of the last convention of the LC-MS that acknowledged that several bad things happened, but that they were not as bad as they could be, and some were tempered in the process so that they could be good, in the right hands.  If you are trying to rally the morale of the troops, that may be a reasonable argument, but it is a losing argument.  "We may have lost this much, but forget that and look at what we still have."  If your goal is to lose more slowly, that attitude makes sense.  If your goal is to win, it makes more sense to always remember what has been lost, and aim to win it back.

Standing on the truth is not a passive task, it is a fight.  The enemy must be engaged at every point and nothing can be sacrificed.  The Statement of the 44 in 1945, "the Chicago Statement", serves as a great illustration of the principle.  When it was issued, it created a firestorm.  Most pastors recognized it as false doctrine and something was radically wrong.  After a period of controversy, a compromise was arranged.  President Behnken, unwilling to see the Synod split on his watch, permitted the signers to formally withdraw the statement without repudiating it, without acknowledging that it was wrong, without repenting, and without any charges.  It was as if they said, "Let us pretend that it was never sent out in the first place."  Peace, of a sort, was restored, and the Synod did not split - except for those few conservatives who acknowledged the reality that the Synod had formally corrupted itself and withdrew.

Today the false theology of that horrendous schismatic document is the orthodoxy of the Synod.  It may have been "withdrawn", but the leaven of the document has percolated throughout our Synod.  The spirit of compromise with false doctrine and of the political solution to a theological problem has also infected the Synod, becoming our standard operating procedure.  During the Seminex years, Jacob Preus was also unwilling to see the Synod divided on his watch, and he found political solutions to his theological challenges.  Afraid that the walk-out by students at the seminary and pastors in the field would decimate our Synod, Preus invented an amnesty program of his own for the Synod, and allowed those who had rejected the theological stance of our Synod to simply sign a piece of paper and re-enter the ranks of our roster, preserving their false theology's place in our church body, and providing them with employment.  The ripple-effect of those compromises are still rattling the Synod, as the hand-wringing about the recent elections in many quarters demonstrates.  We are a house divided because we have compromised with the adversary rather than standing firm and holding the line and fighting for the truth.

Another troubling aspect of the problem is that those who fight for the truth seem to grow weary and want to lay down their arms, set aside the battle and focus on the more pleasant aspects of their confession.  The adversary never rests, however.  He just looks for the unguarded door by which he may enter anew and raise the battle again.  Meanwhile, the old battles are never really quite over.  The advocates of error always believe that they are right, and when their opinions are not able to dominate, they seem to seek out teaching posts where they can spread the infection of their ideas to a new generation.  Our age does not understand the principle of destroying error.  Once it is rendered relatively powerless in the estimation of the leadership, practitioners of error are tolerated, and we grant them tenure at some institution, and promote them through the system as though their error were a personal peccadillo of no real consequence, and the stage is set for them to enable the next uprising.

Superheroes in the comic books always seem to leave the job not quite finished and thereby set the stage for their arch-enemy's eventual return.  It makes a great plot point for a story writer, but for real life it simply ensures more division, more struggle, and more pain.  The world of comic books is a pretend place of no real consequence.  The battle for truth in the church and society is of lasting consequence and bears very real results in the real lives of real people.  We cannot grow tired and rest.  The Leader of our cause will decide when it is time for each of us to rest.  Until then, there is always a need to be vigilant, watching for the encroachments of the enemy and taking the battle to the adversary. Oratio, meditatio, tentatio - prayer, meditation, and temptation - make a theologian.  We need to stand firm and always contend for the faith - every little bit of it wherever it is tested or challenged.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I was participating in an on-line discussion of stewardship  when I realized that the thread sounded like a "giving of money" thread.  Stewardship is a whole lot larger a topic than just that one aspect.  Stewardship is the use and management of all the blessings with which God has blessed one.  How one deals with life and all it contains -Stewardship - will be determined by either the Law or the Gospel, even among those who do not share the Christian faith -- only theirs is always Law (self-imposed).  In most Christians, it is a little of both. 

God gives us all He gives us for His purposes, not merely for our own.  How one deals with life, time, talents, treasures, and so on is determined by whether or not one believes that assertion, and, if so, what one believes God's purposes are - and particularly His purposes in them and for them as He blesses them.

The difficult thing to keep in one's head is that God knows.  He knows - always and everywhere - where you are and what you have and what you are facing and what you need, and so much more.  When one believes the Gospel, they can act as though God knows - looking to see what God has set before them to do and what He has given them for the accomplishing of that task - or those tasks.  Unbelief leaves one only with the use of stuff for one's own purposes and advantage, which almost never works out quite the way one imagines at the start.

God gives us abilities.  Then He gives us a place in the world and circumstances in which to live.  He sets work before us, and pleasures, and duties and opportunities, and the steward then must determine what there is to do, and what they are capable of doing, and what resources they have to do those things.  They must decide - or remember - who it is they serve.  We then go about life - giving ourselves to God (or not) by how we deal with our neighbor and how we manage the things God has given into our stewardship.  Good stewardship is not necessarily giving a lot of time, or money, or both to the church.  That might be part of it, but some who may do those things might be terrible stewards - if they do it reluctantly and because they feel coerced, for example.  Some might give boldly to make themselves look good.  Their foolishness may be useful to a church budget, but it is not good stewardship.  Some people deny their families time or money for the sake of the congregation, proving themselves to be poor stewards, while others deny the church their participation or gifts, using their families (for example) as their excuse, also proving to be poor stewards.

Stewardship is to be measured by the Master, not by one's fellow stewards.  Do you live out what you believe in a consistent manner?  If so, you are probably a faithful steward.

When it comes to the plea for giving money, I always tell my congregation "The Lord loves a cheerful giver."  If you want to do it, then do it.  If you don't, then don't.  That same principle applies to any service in the Church.  If there are not enough faithful stewards around to support a congregation, the congregation will not last.  If there are enough who hunger for the Word, they will find a way to support the congregation's needs in terms of time, talents and treasure.  The focus needs to be on the Word, and not on perceived needs.  God can stretch a little a long way, and He can burn through a fortune in no time flat. 

Prov. 3:5-6 seems fitting: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Proof Is in the Pudding

Affirm was once a great organization of conservatives.  It was the outgrowth of a generation of battles fought in the Missouri Synod to hold the line against encroaching liberalism (as it was called back then).  Those founding men are gone.  So is the solid, conservative nature of Affirm.

I used to sit and listen to the war-horses of the battles of the '60's and '70's as they recounted their meetings and their strategy sessions and their valiant fight to hold Missouri to the confession of the faith.  I was in high school and college when they fought those battles, but I remember some of them, watching them unfold and starting to get involved even as a kid and young man still in school, so hearing about the meetings and the strategies and the inner-workings of the small army that fought for faith once delivered to us by previous generations was heady stuff for me.

I also remember hearing about how there was a very small group trying to position themselves to be "the next generation" in those organizations that fought the good fight.  Affirm was one such organization.  Once solid, as the leadership aged, many found themselves squeezed out of the organization as younger men with different agendas quietly slipped into control of the organization.  It is a sordid tale that should have been written, but all the primary sources, participants in the "good old days", have been called home to their Lord.  Those left in the organization are second, third, and fourth generation and would likely tell that story from a less reliable perspective.

The July 2010 Affirm issue is a working illustration of how far the once venerable organization has fallen.  A long time ago the Affirm group was invited to participate in developing what is now called the United List.  They no longer know how to 'play nice' with the others and so they are no longer invited to a seat at the table when the list is developed.  They now develop their own list, borrowing heavily from others, and malign the work of the good men and women who put together their recommendations as the United List.  Small wonder they are not invited to the table with such bitterness.  Affirm also plays fast and loose with statistics, proving the truth of the old adage that there are "lies, damn lies, and statistics".

The post-convention issue makes it sound like the chief player in the election of Matthew Harrison, other than Rev. Harrison, was Affirm.  There seemed to be no recognition of the hard work of hundreds of people and dozens of organizations working for a change in leadership in our Synod.  Nope, it was all Affirm!  They seem to think that the margin of victory was small - only 58 people!  Technically, 59 would have had to have voted differently, since a swing of 58 votes would have produced a tie, but I have seen elections where a swing of seven voters would have reversed the outcome!  The election was not nearly so close as they try to make it sound.  Frankly, I give the glory for the change to God, and thank Him, not the editor of Affirm, for the election results.

One of the more frustrating elements of their post-convention issue was the attack on the good men and women who issued the call to action calling themselves the "Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations."  In the attack, Affirm sounds more like an arm of Jesus First than a supposed conservative bulwark for our Synod.  Affirm accuses the signers of the letter of having an agenda to manipulate President Harrison.  A cursory reading to the letter, coupled with the date of its sending, would suggest to anyone minded to be honest about it that the work of this group began long before the convention and was set for release without regard for how the elections turned out.  Far from attacking or trying to manipulate President Harrison, they state quite clearly that their goal is to have a blessed and remedial effect on the Synod as she struggles with the pressures of our culture and society and "progressive" theologies afoot in the church today.

Clearly, the concerns of the ACELC group are not shared by the Affirm group.  Affirm categorizes any stance on theological issues confronting our church that does not match their own as "anti-synodical".  Apparently, they also hold the  attitude that by-laws outweigh confession of the faith, and that politics, not Scripture, should decide issues among us.  What was once called faithfulness is classed by Affirm as "right-wingers", and political unity and peace is preferred by them to standing up for the truth, referred to as "schismatic" in their brief diatribe.  The faith of our fathers is also critiqued in Affirm as "teaching and practice contrary to the Synod".  Affirm can say what it want to about who they are, the proof is in the pudding.  They stand somewhere besides on the historic confession of our Synod, as this newsletter makes painfully clear.

Sadly, Affirm takes the irrational position that the "Synod's appointed Dispute Resolution Process" actually works effectively for expressing dissent and accomplishing change.  They might have noted that during the convention, the egregious errors of certain CCM opinions were whitewashed and that the many memorials requesting that the convention reconsider them were set aside in favor of the impious fiction that it was misunderstanding of the CCM Opinion's words to take them to mean precisely what they said.  The "Process" was used to silence congregations, circuits, and entire districts as they pleaded that the mistake of CCM Opinion 02-2309 be vacated.  The resolution and its facile defense by the Committee Chairman, Lane Seitz - and members of Jesus First - showed the Synod that the vaunted "process for expressing dissent" was in reality a process for silencing unwanted opinions.

While accusing the members of ACELC of intending to break the 8th Commandment, Affirm actually goes ahead and does that very thing itself.  Affirms is not what it used to be, nor is it a voice worthy of being listened to for confessional guidance.  The proof is in the pudding.