"Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony?" (Job 28:29)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

New April MotorSage Article!

CHOICES NEED be made when you become an adult in modern society. While we find that some are often made for us when we are children, and are yet good ones... sometimes they are not. When we choose, that decision can affect us and our loved ones as well. Too frequently, however, we were not even made aware that a choice was needed.
Often the choices we make, the roads we take, or the books we read determine the course of our life and have influence on others. Click here to read this month's MotorSage article about choices made.

Choose this day whom you shall serve!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sheepish Shipping!

WE GATHERED them into pens rather easily. We didn’t even need the help of the owner’s sheep dog. The herd went through the maze of gates in stockyard pens located to the east of Minot, ND. I worked there regularly. Each morning at dawn, I would point the gunsight-like bead within the hood ornament of my ’57 Ford hardtop toward the stockyard feedlots. You see, in those days during the mid-60’s I drove trucks around the state and far beyond. I fed livestock. I watered them, and I drove trucks to haul them both to and from the yard… so that they could be sold to the highest bidder.
 Depending on the sale, cattle, pigs and sheep would be the load. Some of these animals would be a problem depending on the species. If loading cattle, a person could get trampled in the trailer or a bull could get temperamental. If getting ornery, cattle could butt or gore. In those less than kinder days, my boss taught me to sparingly use a prod to direct stubborn cattle, to get them up the chute and into the truck. At times, even a rope threaded through the ring of a bull’s nose was used to help in getting a belligerent loaded into a truck. One thing for sure… with cattle, you never turned your back to even peaceable dairy cows.
 Conversely pigs, whether boar or sow, were usually easy to herd. They seemed to have a near biblical, innate fear. Normally they only became dangerous when gathered in a herd where sows with piglets were cornered. This danger became especially perilous if you fell down amongst the load after they were in the trailer. Contrary to uninformed opinions, pigs are very fast. If they come at you in a trailer, injury would certainly be in the mix as you'd become torn up and trampled. It was during such a violent pig attack that I quickly learned to climb the inner wall of a livestock trailer.
 Sheep were unique as I remember them. They were skittish and fast, often so quick that they would jump over one another whenever being guided through the yard and into the trailer. When loaded, even more so than any other animal... they had to be packed in very tight. This made it less likely they would jump from side-to-side, over one another in response to sudden noises during their journey. An engine backfire or tractor-trailer with open stacks passing in the opposite direction would make them all frightened. They'd scare and move. They, in herd fashion, would go to from one side of the trailer to the other. The resulting load shift could cause me to do an inadvertent U.S, Highway #2 lane change. Load shifting and a capricious sideways North Dakota wind would alter my routine trip into a daunting trek.
 Of such conditions was one trip from Minot to Grand Forks on a bright Easter weekend. A small pen of sheep was due to go east on Saturday morning, so that they would be rested up for a show and afterward be sold at auction. The owner had paid several men handsomely to have his prize winning ewes culled and groomed… like they were to attend an Easter morning worship at Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church.
 There were just a few prized-sheep making that trip, so my boss let me use his pickup truck to drive the several hundred miles to Grand Forks. I looked forward to the journey in the "Little Red One". I found that in its being smaller than the larger, green GMC straight truck, the shiny red Chevrolet pickup was more easily packed to get the few sheep loaded tightly. I loaded the little truck, checked the bed’s wooden side racks and gate, and filled up with gas from the old hand-cranked fuel pump. I then put on my mirror sunglasses and pulled out onto Route #2. We headed eastward into the sun.
 The trip was pleasant. I was driving leisurely with an Easter weekend warmth… and the sheep were docile. I listened to country music on the AM frequency radio until I passed through Devil’s Lake. There the music faded in and out. I had gone too far to pick up the steady line-of-sight AM radio transmission from back home. Then, just as I sought a new, closer radio station… the engine coughed. The power quickly fell off. I shifted down to third gear. Next the engine backfired loudly, and it died.
 When that final great death noise happened, the formerly quiet sheep in the rear of the pickup truck went berserk. They jumped. They bleated loudly. They fell, squirming around in their own droppings. Before I could even cause the truck to come to a complete stop, they each looked like a cruddy, drunken man who’d gotten thrown out of a local bar after an all-night party with Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.
 I soon found that the engine cranked, but it wouldn’t start. It spun all too easily because there was no compression. Like a church without the Holy Spirit’s breath, there was no fire. The timing chain had broken. I now think of the Christian irony. There I was broke down in a hellish red-colored truck in Devil’s Lake… and the sheep were in a panic. It was worse than being a Norwegian Lutheran visiting a pietistic Swedish church.

 Seeing the hood raised on that little red truck in the middle of the prairie, a carload of nuns stopped after seeing my plight,. They were headed to Minot and they said they would let the stockyard crew know of my breakdown.
 They did as promised. Some four hours later… rescue came. The stockyard crew arrived with two trucks… an old Dodge army tow truck garnered from a Minot gas station… and another pickup truck that would replace my unfaithful ride. Today I can’t recall the make of that replacement truck, not because of my age, but rather that the image has stuck so brilliantly in my ministerial mind, The memory of the event crowds out everything else. The pickup was white… and not just pure white… but a scriptural “sparkling clean white” like no biblical fuller could bleach it.
 After a quick transfer of the sheep to the replacement white pickup truck, I headed with my burdens to Grand Forks. There the dirtied sheep were patiently washed, again groomed for the show… and generously fed.
 Now today I remember them after doing yet another Easter church service. I think about that bleating event… about how the sheep were handsomely cleaned with a near baptismal gown sparkle. They were made more than presentable… and then fed abundantly. I am reminded now because on that the very next day… I was in church. After walking through the week’s satanic lake of fire I found that I had been replaced. Jesus, my Lord had taken my place upon the cross. There with the congregation.... the herd.. I received grace upon grace. Having been baptized and partaking of the Holy Eucharist like the sheep of His pasture, we each knew such as the love of Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd. And He rose again. Thanks be to God.

 Click below to enjoy an additional video message!


Friday, February 26, 2016

Political Debate or Debacle?

CHRISTIAN DENOMINATIONS pose in wide array when it comes to participation in the political scene. Some comment on all issues and personalities. Speaking as such, many take a position that their denomination represents the voice of God, who rules over all creation. Second are those churches which, like my own denomination, participate in various degrees and comment as a dialectic with, and over against... against state conversations. These usually stress that we should speak from the pulpit concerning political issues, without mentioning or endorsing any individual politicians who are running for office. This is said to insulate clergy from criticisms voiced with those in a parish who support or disagree with a political personality, and also serve to preserve our tax-free status.
 Still other denominations denounce any association with the political realm, claiming that God has hidden behind an ethereal, spiritual fence, and uses such tools as birth, death, war, pestilence… etc. to influence the political outcome of any vaunted contest. They stay out of the election scene entirely. In example of this stance, one such clergy person has said, “The recent death of a Supreme Court justice in these United States demonstrates the subtle workings of the Almighty in the law of the land.” My response is, “Are we Christians then to keep our heads down to pray about court decisions, and merely guess the direction that Satan is taking for the people of this land?’ I think not. Personally, I reject this assumption. I think that the Christian is called through the Spirit to participate and accomplish God’s will in the world of politics. I find much in my own denomination’s history that makes my case, in that its founder, Martin Luther… spoke highly of political interaction.

Given this, the topic of this article centers around this past evening. My wife and I sat and watched the Republican presidential candidate debate. To be candid, please know that I have skipped watching several recent Democratic debates, simply because I have eliminated both of the socialist progressives running for office as worthy candidates. Historically, my educational studies have given me a very sour taste for any Marxist, Leninist, socialist or leftist conversation. The whole concept of a privileged few persons ruling through a large and mildly responsive government to reign on-high over an impoverished underclass… well… it smacks in character of Israel’s temple cult during the earthly life of my Lord. We know how that ended up. with whiplash and death presented to both sides of the fray.
 You can see from this, how a clergy person such as myself has an innate difficulty remaining silent on political matters. As to the Republican debates, this last was very revealing. Without mentioning names, I noted the central and most-favored business man in the running with dismay. This well-known candidate is a very public person who has enjoyed many years of close relationships with business, political and communications-industry personalities. Thus he knows how to work the camera. He performs with bluster, is dismissive... and applies plenteous sarcasm to influence the viewers. He blatantly rolls out an idea with grandiose generalities, tests the reception, and then forges ahead or backpedals depending on the response subsequent to his statements. If elected, because of this popular bombastic rhetoric style, I fear that his character is rather manic and will show far-ranging ill effect on our national character. I also fear that when challenged by the American body politic... or an international adversary, his method will become more sarcastic, sudden and dictatorial. An outsider somewhat to the inner political sphere, it may be that he will attempt to ride roughshod over due democratic process. His recent switching from liberal to conservative positions, I consider as merely a tactic to gain this high office. In Christian participation, his immersion in a rather liberal denomination has not been shown as deep. I wonder then if such participation is simply another tool used by his public personality for financial and societal gain.
 An example of this egotistic personality emerges historically from the Holy Bible. I offer to you a story of one incompetent rising to the point of great influence. Found in the Book of Judges, the tale is often known as the “The Bramble”. We read…
“When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you.
 The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’
 And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’
 And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’ But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’
 Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’” (Judges 9:7-15)

Given this story, and his performances in debates, I now ask whether this lowly “bramble” who has risen to national influence… will become an expedient political demagogue who stubbornly holds up his right hand to demean opponents and wrest power away from our democratic processes with his left. If so, his personality type can pose great danger in raising the political temperatures of both domestic and international negotiations. He may bluster, vacillate or push too far. His history and reaction to numerous business bankruptcies thus looms very large in my mind.

Senatorial Twins? Nah!
Attacking the former’s lack of political experience, and sounding alarm concerning his past wanderings in both personal and financial life across a wide political sphere, stands two present Senatorial members. Each person running is well-versed in political maneuverings in spite of their youth, but only one is considered as an outsider. Each is of a member of a minority race, though this I do not see as detrimental in any way… and rather speaks well of them. They argued heatedly with each other over past political positions favored, the outcomes and predictions. These subjects raked over the coals ranged widely from immigration, healthcare, foreign policy and other assorted topics… some of which have already spawned past injuries and failures. The factors that firmly combined their talents seems to be their common ancestry, religious affiliation, and present political office... aside from being joined in attacking their common “bramble” bush opponent. Their collective advantage for us, however, may lay in their youthfulness and bravado. They bring a reminder of the brashness of young King David, who stood up against giants in his own time. Those who know scripture may remember the political intrigues and wars that brought King Saul to disgrace and David to reign. I ask then, “Given the influence of the recent administration, are these similar times as those in David’s day?” I ask you, “What was God teaching Israel in that process?”

Experience and Graceful Healing Spurned!
Finally, the last two candidates struck a favored cord for me. First was a mid-state governor who is a veteran master at governmental dealings, economics and international affairs. Given the experience that the individual possesses, it would seem that he would be a prime candidate for the Presidential office. But alas, he has not been polling well. Why so? Is it due to his late entry into the fray? Is it that he is too old line politics in practice in the age of the young and millennial voter, despite the “outside of DC” candidacy? Or is it that he does not shine bright enough to reflect the spotlight of ratings for the communication networks? Regardless, it seems that his talents are not valued as they should be.
 And finally, we have another outsider that could have easily been missed entirely from conversation. He was greatly ignored by the media… possibly because he is a political newbie. His presence gives us warning, however, for my Lord came as an itinerant, healing rabbi out of the hinterlands. He is a noted healer from the medical community, and enjoys a great deal of respect for his past accomplishments. However, he was almost entirely shut out.
 This last candidate’s complaints that he had been ignored and dissed during debates echoes truly with me. The number of questions he had been asked was negligible, and the time given to highlight his presence was severely stifled. He has been criticized for not wading in, to slice his way through the political clown act. Out of respect, I ask instead “Why was he being ignored? Why did not the commentator provide an equal time? Is it that corporate communication or political giants don’t want him there? Is it because he is very religious, practicing in his life a love of God and neighbor? Or is it that he is from the medical community, and has little political experience. I answer this last charge, in that many of our most influential persons within government are doctors, and not lawyers. Talent is talent!
 This last candidate has a demeanor of quiet strength. During the debate he noted again his dismay at being ignored. He made rather humorous umbrage against the network powers for his being overlooked in questioning. He even stated once that he wanted to be picked on! This made me, as a Christian voter… sit up and listen. This is a nation that was built upon the willing backs and sweated brows of quiet ones who had endured quite enough. Is it time that we notice another… a quiet outsider who speaks clearly and applies needed healing procedures quickly? For me it seems that a spectacular combination could be present right in front of us if we can fan away the fog of unruly dart throwing. Could it be that a platform that includes the steadiness of this last candidate and the experience of the governor, would guide this nation to controlled, and not cancerous growth... toward the healthy future in a perilous world?
 But know this, dear Christians! I am reminded that as a clergy person, I am not supposed to have a political expression. However, I strongly suggest that issues important to the Christian church and the freedom of religion are at stake. Recent legal concerns about Christian social agencies and abortion drugs, denominational resistance to same-sex marriages, and loss of church taxation exemptions are at issue. My suggestion for us then is.., pay close attention to the political landscape, pray to God for guidance... and then plan to support and VOTE for your favored candidate!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pastoral Potholes?

RECENTLY A church mouse piped to us concerning a rather contentious congregational meeting. The gathering was recently held in a Lutheran Church located in Levittown, PA. During the time allotted, the congregation met concerning the calling of a new pastor. In keeping within the call procedures observed within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) the topic emerged as concerning the character expected of the new shepherd. As squeaked to us by our anonymous source, the meeting quickly became somewhat heated.
 As the meeting progressed, various factions wrangled over their portions of the human sexuality cheese. At issue was addressing the sexual persuasion of potential candidates to be applying for their pastoral position. According to denominational polity formed within the last decade, the ELCA has deviated from scriptural norms to embrace persons of LGBTQ lifestyles as candidates for pastoral leadership. Approximately eight years ago this inclusive action caused much disturbance within the Lutheran church. Resulting from that legislative decision, was the policy that ordained clergy within lifestyles that were not heterosexual, could live together in a “committed, monogamous relationship”. As we note here, the policy has not proven out as beneficial, for the chasm seems to be growing wider. In our opinion, the decision has caused the ELCA to stray far from traditional pastoral morality as portrayed in Holy Scripture. Consequently, the action was firmly condemned by other Lutheran expressions such as the more traditionally-grounded Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Lutheran Church in Mission for Christ (LCMC) and the recently-formed North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
 Within the meeting, the congregation knew that it had the organizational option of not interviewing candidates that were of LGBTQ lifestyles. However, the minority of traditionalists within the congregations who were resistant to the new policy soon found themselves challenged. The minority wanted to call a heterosexual pastor. However, a three-part addendum was suggested to be voted upon. This suggestion included the interviewing of a homosexual minister that is celibate, or a person who is of an unmarried homosexual couple living together in a monogamous relationship… or recognizing the marriage of a homosexual candidate.
 This addendum option was turned down because it was felt a passing 2/3 vote on the matter would not be possible.  However, to first test the base, they took a vote on the addendum by an unofficial show of hands. The original minority-held heterosexual position was kept.
 At this point a congregant spoke up to remind the gathering that it was scripturally wrong to accept homosexuality as a norm, speaking especially to the one who proposed the addendum… a person who is a deacon in the church.  It was at this time a point-of-order was called, because debate got quite heated. Apparently someone embracing the denomination’s apostate policies wanted quieter discussion and a refocusing of the conversation. According to our source, this restrictive attitude had also reigned during the earlier-held congregational discussion groups. In those events, like a cat playing with the mice, strict adherence to a pre-planned questionnaire was the only course tolerated. No discussion was permitted.

 The turmoil of that day ended as those who favored the possibility of homosexuality in the pastoral role walked out of the meeting. We are told the congregation voted finally to proceed with a call process which restricted candidates to those who are heterosexual, or at least LGBTQ and celibate. In this last, we wonder if the mandate would exist that the celibate candidate would need to vow maintenance of said sexual state.
 Subsequent to the outcome of the vote, the synodical representation said that the decision would be relayed to the local synodical bishop, but noted that heterosexual candidates were statistically scarce. We wonder now whether this was a statement warning about a perceived movement of heterosexual ministry candidates away from the ELCA, or a warning to the congregation that their decision was not favored… and thus a long time would expire before a candidate would be offered.
 At present, we see this as prelude to several other secondary issues. First we might wonder given the candidacy forecast, whether the congregation would change restrictions in the future in order to fill their immediate pulpit needs, or will they take a more daring corrective action and affiliate with a more scripturally-based denominational expression? Additionally we wonder, “What will they do if they are faced in the future… with the possibilities and challenges of performing gay marriage ceremonies?” If they are already in an apostate denomination that has chosen to embrace pastorates contrary to scripture, would the performance of such ceremonies not be the next logical step? Contrary to this, we may speculate and ask, “Is the congregation willing to refuse to do so, if it becomes possible to lose their tax-free status in a state or nation which now allows such marriages as uncontested?”
 Additionally, in belonging to the ELCA, the congregation already faces another moral dilemma even if they do call a heterosexual pastor. Before a new pastor is interviewed and called, the congregation should have already wrestled with the knowledge that the ELCA’s medical coverage willingly pays for the murder of any unwanted, unborn child through an abortion medical procedure. Already a portion of their every-week giving in the ELCA, is relayed to a national church body which pays medical coverage for this travesty.
In your reading of this congregational leadership seeking, therefore, we hope that you see the potholes placed in front of any congregation belonging to this mainline denomination. The ELCA has most certainly left the fold of traditional Christian expression. We wonder if ELCA Lutherans, whether leaders or laypersons, will yet allow their alignment of the faith to remain so skewed? Do these believe that a church should remain faithful to the central tenets of the scripture.., or not?