Saturday, November 26, 2016

Backing out of Trouble

It is hard to step out into the internet without bumping into a cat video. For your entertainment pleasure, here is a compilation of cats with their heads stuck in things.

My favorite thing about this clip is how the cats think they can back out of something they are stuck in. Watching the clip we can easily see that the cats could walk backwards for a mile and still have that potato chip bag on their heads. 

I wonder if God watches "clips" of humans in bemused trouble. Does He shake his head and whisper "silly children" under His breath? If this is true, then I personally have been the source of much laughter. 

Cats have one excuse for getting stuck in things. They are curious and want to have a sniff-map of their world tucked away in their heads for future reference. Any new object in the territory needs to be explored and categorized. 

I have no such excuse for the problems I cause myself. 

Oh, I have plenty of reasons: pride, gossip, idleness, to name a few. But, I have no excuses. God did not create me to sin. He created me perfect and from my conception I have been fine tuning my ability to get myself stuck in my own sin.

This verse in Amos draws a picture of how we walk from one sin induced trouble to the next. We walk blindly into trouble and our attempts to escape the consequences of our sin are in vain.
It is darkness, and not  light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the  house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a a serpent bit him. 
Amos 5: 19, ESV

The intent of the verse is to show how we cannot elude God. He will find us in our unrighteousness no matter how we try to backpedal our way out of it. 
We may try to blame others, but God stands before us with the truth.

We may try to claim an excuse, but God stands before us with the truth.

We may resort to denial, but God stands before us with the truth.

We sit in a darkness of our own making. 

But, God's pursuit of us is not limited to holding us accountable for our lack  of righteousness. God seeks to return us to the Light, by making us, once again, righteous.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. Micah 7:8, ESV

We may put our heads into one bag or box after the other. We may try, in vain, to extricate ourselves from our humiliation. We may disappoint again, and again, and again. Each time our Heavenly Father gently picks us up and removes the darkness of our own sin with the blessed forgiveness offered by our Savior. 

We are sinful. We are silly. We are His precious children.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Who is behind the media?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever  is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9, ESV

Regardless of your political leanings this has been a tiring, discouraging, and worrying election cycle. Instead of talking about issues, problems, and possible solutions, we have been forced to contend with twitter statements and what passes for information on other social media. It has been a process that proves without a doubt that we are all sinners in a sinful world. We can do nothing about the problems of the world if we depend on a political party, candidate, or ideology to accomplish that task. 

We are ALL sinners. We are ALL wrong. We are ALL motivated by our selfish desires. And if we cannot admit this and repent before our Savior, then we are not only ALL liars, but we are also doomed. 

As I read through the wonderful words from Philippians posted above, I cannot find anything in these verses that apply to our current situation in politics. This is what is so discouraging and worrying to me. A while ago, I stopped posting political opinions on my favorite social media site because I saw what was happening and did not want to be sucked into the filth. I began this blog post shortly after seeing a horrible article posted both by a good friend from church and a former student – two people I hold dear. The words in this shared post were not anything these two people would have allowed their children or friends to say – yet the fact that the article agreed with their political stance seems to have made it somehow okay. 

This “article” was full of name-calling, assumptions of motivations, divisive language, crude and vulgar language, fear, unsubstantiated claims, finger-pointing, and gossip. 

It ended by gloating “We’re right.”

But as Christians we know we are never right. We cannot be right because of our political beliefs. We cannot be right because of our associations with a congregation or a political party. We cannot be right by our own doing. We can only be made right through the sacrifice of our Savior; through forgiveness, mercy, and grace. The name calling is the accurate name of “sinner,” the vulgarity is found in our hearts, the fear is of our just punishment, and the only blame rests with us. 

If, as Christians, we want to be salt and light in the world, we need to repent from our participation in the media frenzy of this past election. If we have used name-calling and gossip or the other tactics listed above, we need to repent. Or, if we have looked the other way while friends or strangers have posted, tweeted, spoken, or otherwise pushed some of this filth, we need to repent. 

And we need to be better at discerning manipulation from what is good. I am  not talking about political opinion, but rather the tactics used to argue and rant.

Let us look at these verses from Philippians and see what they teach us regarding our behavior in the political arena.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

This verse tells me to recognize that all that is good is from God. It also reminds me that gloating over a win in an election or even in an argument is not rejoicing in the Lord.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

The ESV translation uses the word “reasonableness” but other translations use gentleness, moderation, forbearance, kindness and patience of mind. None of these words apply to the past year. This verse reminds me to discuss differences with gentleness and patience. This certainly does not include making assumptions about the motives of political groups (they just want to take away your . . .) or to fall victim to unsubstantiated claims. I need to look for evidence, fact check, think carefully about my response, and to always consult scripture. 

Scripture does not usually take a political stance but rather it points us to what is good. For instance, the Bible does not tell us what to do about welfare, but there are many verses talking about justice for the poor. We need to ask God for guidance on what is the best way to achieve this justice.

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

This election process and its results have left me with fear. I am especially susceptible to this lack of trust in the power and sovereignty of my God. It is a good reminder to me that if I am listening to, or reading something that makes its claim by inducing fear – I need to stop that listening or reading. Most political garbage that I have read has tried to make its point with fear. Fear has been used to convince me that I need to follow a particular political party or vote for a particular candidate because the opposing side just wants to destroy our country or take away my rights. Yet, when I talk with a friend who sees the issue in a different way and supports a different candidate – I see nothing that garners such fear. 

Fear is effective click bait. 

Click bait is manipulation.

I am reminded I need to stay away from the promotion of fear. And I need to avoid, at all costs, getting my information from click bait, or other sources that do not support what they are saying. Chances are they are depending on fear to do the work of convincing.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The promise of this verse is so comforting given the divisiveness, crudity, and vulgarity of this election and the information floating around on social media. I am reminded that guarded hearts and minds are God’s desire for me. It is not good for me to indulge in anything less. So often, during this election, the “media” has been blamed for making a candidate look bad, for hiding real issues, and for sensationalism. We need to all accept blame for this. There is no evil media. When we tweet, post, blog, pass along negative information that gives our itching ears what they want to hear, then WE are the media. If we are being manipulated we need to repent, turn to God, and stop indulging in what can only be described as political filth.

We need to pray for discernment, now more than ever. We need to read our Bibles, cover-to-cover and when we get to the end we need to return to Genesis and read it all again. We need to worship God, be in fellowship, and participate in the sacraments. 

We need to turn to God and ask Him to keep us focused on what is good:

Finally, brothers, whatever  is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Dear Lord, let this be our political rant.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Life as a Dilemma

This fine young fellow is experiencing the Trolley Problem. His father has asked him to decide which way the train should go. One path kills one toy person, the other kills five. He simply moves the one toy person to the track full of toy people and with much delight pushes the train over all of them.

The Trolley Problem is an example of a thought experiment in ethics. The problem asks you to decide which is most ethical – allowing five people to die or causing the death of one in order to save the others. As is typically true of thought experiments there is no correct answer. 

We really do not need to be philosophers to invent a dilemma such as the Trolley Problem. We are self-centered sinners living in a sinful world. Our lives create ethical problems all around us. When we are particularly self-centered we simply ignore the dilemma in the name of “rights.”

One such dilemma is abortion. Abortion is an easy choice when we think we are granting freedom. It is an easy choice when we feel we are champions of human rights. It seems so right to allow someone choice over life decisions when we only consider the life of one person.

But abortion is not about the life of one person. It is its own trolley problem. Do we end the life of one baby in order to preserve the quality of life of one woman and possibly her family?

I suspect that abortion is rarely a thoughtless decision. It costs money, it may have health repercussions, it changes a woman’s life much as a pregnancy does. Yet, it is only possible if we forget the second life on the other decision track.

For many women who undergo an abortion, to not do this procedure would create much hardship. Some women feel they cannot afford a child, some do not want to make  this life change, some do not feel they can be a mother to a child  with a disability, some women are battling an illness that may take their life if their pregnancy continues. Abortion is not an easy problem. It only becomes an easy solution when we forget the life of the child.

This is the ethical dilemma of our times. How can we call ourselves tolerant when our tolerance only extends to those who live outside the womb? How can we call ourselves ethical when we make it legal to kill those who cannot cry out for help? How can we call ourselves human when we care nothing for the lives of these infants? 

We have simply erased the ethical problem by erasing the existence of the life. We have decided that life begins when a woman decides she wants the baby. Life does not begin at conception, it does not begin at birth. It begins with the decision of a mother to want, to be happy, to accept. There is no science found here.
This makes no sense. It is a thought experiment that is resolved by making the decision to not think, to not consider, to not care.

This ignoring of a life does not seem to stop with the unborn child. Once we can make the decision to allow this death it becomes easy to encourage others to die. Those who have lives we do not wish to have should want to die. We do not have to decide for them to die; we do not have to do the killing. We will just let them realize their life is not valued and then they will want to die. We might work hard to stop some suicides, but look the other way for the self-induced death of those whose lives we no longer value. Death becomes a friend, or at least a solution, instead of the enemy we know it to be.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and  on earth  is named, that according  to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with  power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being  rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth ad length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19, ESV

When we think we can solve world problems we create more trouble than we can know or understand. We think we are intelligent. We think we are sophisticated. We think we can create a better world through philosophy, industry, or perhaps technology. 

We think this, but we are wrong.

We are the same as the toddler in the first clip. He does not yet have the mental capacity to see the problem his father has created with his toys. He does not know about death; he knows only about play. The symbolism is lost on him.

There is so much more that is lost on us! As advanced as we humans imagine ourselves to be, there is more about the world that we do not understand than there is information found archived on the internet. 

We cannot know God’s plan for our daily lives. We can only see His plan for our Salvation.

We cannot know God. We can only experience His love for us.

Through the power of that love we can read and study His Word, worship His holy name, and joyfully receive forgiveness and faith through the sacraments.

We can rejoice in the sacredness of being God’s child.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Wheat Ridge: Cats That Search for Narnia

 Cats That Search for Narnia

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6, ESV
The two cats that allow us to live with them are designated as indoor cats. This is not their choice, but is their best chance at longevity. A while back, my husband accidentally provided the cats with unexpected freedom. He released them into the garage from the house forgetting that the garage door was open. Quickly realizing his mistake, he rushed outside to find them sitting in the driveway seemingly stunned at their good fortune. The chase that ensued will be mercifully left to your imagination.
For quite a while after this, the cats would eagerly chase me down the stairs and beg to be let into the garage. They would clamor into the garage as if they were searching for the door in the wardrobe that led to their personal magical Narnia. Once they realized the door was not to be found, they would slink back into the house in feline despair.
As sinners trying to survive in a sinful world, we are constantly on the search for a magic fix to our lives. We look for the next diet, the next investment, the next political candidate, the next relationship that has the potential to fix old problems or bring joy to old lives. In that search, we hold tight to our doubts and are driven and tossed by the wind. Instead of searching the garage or the old dusty wardrobe, we search social media. We search in vain.
God has blessed us with many ways to make improvement in our lives. I certainly do not want to discourage anyone from making needed health-related changes. Yet, we need a way to search that does not randomly toss us from idea to idea. We need wisdom, and wisdom is found only in God.
Proverbs has a few things to say about wisdom. We are encouraged to be attentive to wisdom (2:2), that wisdom is a comfort (2:10), a blessing (3:13), and the path of righteousness (4:11). For those of us in a constant search for wisdom, the following verse sets us on the right course:
For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity. (Proverbs 2:5-7)
Wisdom is not found in the world. The wisdom we seek is not found in our abilities, in our striving, or in our desire to be wise. Wisdom is found in God and in God alone.
The verses from James remind us that not only do we find wisdom in God but that wisdom is centered in God. In this way, it is practical in our lives. God’s wisdom, found in our God-given faith, is integrated into every part of our life and learning. If we rely on ourselves to find wisdom, it will only elude us.
Wisdom is a part of faith development and faith development happens in the Word and Sacraments. God blesses our seeking, our surrender, and our immersion in the Word. He provides both the motivation to seek wisdom and the wisdom itself. We are blessed, indeed.