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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Christian Alignment?

As Christians we are called by our Lord to go forth in unity. This mandate requires us to work together for the sake of gospel proclamation, a task that our past history reveals has been difficult for us. Our wheels into the future have not always been steering toward the same direction. We must then ask ourselves what can this mean for us and our message to the world around us.
 To illustrate my pastoral concern here, I borrow from my previous career field, Please note that a few decades ago various automobile manufacturers produced vehicles which contained race-bred innovations. As example, you'll find that the famed Audi brand… of historic Auto-Union legacy... once advertised a new passenger car steering system. Its appearance was marketed during the late ‘90s. That wondrous engineering caused all four wheels to steer the car.
 Aptly named “Four Wheel Steering” (4WS) by many, and also entitled “All Wheel Steering” (AWS) by others…the new steering systems caused the vehicle’s rear wheels to turn and help change the motivational direction of the car. The dynamic result was a better handling vehicle and much, much improved tire wear. In these vehicles, the rear wheels responded away from their traditional straight ahead position and worked in concert with the front wheels in order to take steering action. The change in rolling direction altered according to the driver’s steering wheel position and the speed of the car. At low speeds, the rear wheels turned slightly in the same direction as the front, and at high speed… they would turn opposite. The fervor for the improved concept even found its way into such as the domestically-produced Pontiac and Chevrolet high-end vehicles.
 Unfortunately, the 4WS idea did not endure beyond a year or so of production in a few special models. Apparently increased manufacturer costs, more frequent wheel re-alignment requirements, higher maintenance and unforeseen repair complexities would not economically compute. This proved true even when the option was restricted to the more expensive vehicles.
 I bring this example to your attention here for a reason, however, so to introduce a recent conversation about an alignment quandary for the Christian Church. Recently, I found myself informed of apparent parallel mishap. The problem was noted by me in conversations held during regional meetings in my own denominational expression.
 Now, let me first present that I strongly favor coordinated, ecumenical church steering that should be always aimed at the proper evangelical mission of the Christian church. However, history reveals to us that even from our spiritual beginnings, we’ve not always been rolling forward together. Protestant Reformation-era tumults and more recent divisions over human sexuality and child birth... highlight our gross wanderings from center. As humans we sinfully come by this scattered penchant naturally,. but this should not be our future course for the Church.

Are We Being Historically Hypocritical?
 Experts in biblical study point out that even the first apostles and disciples had differences in their over-the-road steerage. This was exemplified by the arrival of the “Hellenists” faction to see Jesus during his ministry, and also the inherited religious jealousies of the Hebrews. This tension is evidenced thoroughly by such writings as the following…

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. (Acts 6:1)

 We also see that many difficulties were experienced by Saint Paul in Galatia and Jerusalem as he strove for acceptance over against Peter, James and John. These also speak of early discord.
 Railing against such behaviors, we read the scriptural admonitions from Paul to the churches…

… for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men? (1 Cor 3:4)

 In keeping with the Spirit of common faith, therefore, we Christians are to instructed to first take our disagreements directly to one another and attempt reconciliation. Failing that, we are told to point out our misalignment to the elders, and let them decide the future track to be taken. Thus, we of the church yet try to motor ahead. We look toward rightfully and collectively declaring both the Law and the Gospel to the world around us.
 However, reconciliation is not always forthcoming... and a particular entity may be declared by leadership as unyielding and apostate. The offender then becomes an outside, evil force standing in opposition to the scriptural mandates given to the Church. Of such apostate definition is my stance made against the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). My claim as a Lutheran pastor rests in proper opposition that their penchant toward the ordination of LGBTQ ministers, who exist in dubious “married” relationships… and also their rather rampant endorsement of pro-choice politics and funding of abortions through their clergy medical insurance... run counter to scriptural mandates.
 Given this, though my expressions tendered about these two issues have lessened somewhat over the last several years, several recent regional meetings heightened my hearing of latent road noise. Within that meeting it was said that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh (PA) was planning to participate in a joint 500th Anniversary Celebration of the Protestant Reformation… alongside the local SWPA Synod of the apostate ELCA.
 Now to me, if accurate… what this means is that for the apparent sake of furthering ecumenical dialog with that apostate entity, the pro-life Catholic Church is going to sweep both the ELCA’s egregious polity toward pro-choice abortion and its scripture-contrary ordination praxis… far beneath the church's alignment rack.
 Please realize that both of these rank specifications listed, I see as providing gross directional confusion in the public square. Disagreements over abortion, for example, publicly wears the church’s witness down and strips the tread right off our evangelical tires. Therefore, in concern for our direction, I contacted the Catholic Diocese about my objection. I have also messaged anti-abortion advocate Father Frank Pavone concerning the apparent deviation from proper steerage. So far, I have only received his tentative response that he would check into the situation.

 I have considered a more acceptable Reformation alignment as to our ministry for the gospel both at low speed and high. I would immediately prefer that the Catholic Church would forego its ecumenical participation with the ELCA… and not pursue any continued relationship. That being said, I would also offer that the NALC and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) should be more properly considered as church entities which roll forward in the proper scriptural direction.
 Collectively, to be sure, we need be concerned with holding the theological road tightly. In this effort, I pray that our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier... our God who guides the alignments of even the stars in the universe, may see fit to unfold our collective future unto His peaceful kingdom. I dare venture that future conversations held between our denominations should be re-aligned toward promoting life-giving family security, and not be an endorsement of growth resistant heresy. So it should be… and so I pray. Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Darkness and Smoke...

WE PRESENT you with an online opportunity to view and participate in key portions of our worship experience. We offer this to you for the sake of those who are home bound, or temporarily cannot attend a worship celebration at their home church. In no way should this be taken as a replacement for regular Christian worship in a traditional faith community... for there you rightly worship God, are supported and offer the love of God to others.

To view our video, click on the screen arrow below. Once the video begins, you can click on bottom right of the video screen to obtain the YouTube call out. Click on that call out if you wish to enable larger, or full screen ability.

You are just a steering wheel turn from attending a Christ-centered Lutheran church. Check below for one near you!


Monday, February 27, 2017

Ashes to Ashes!

WHEN RUMMAGING with a friend through a box of junk at a fire company car show last summer, I came across a memory keepsake from long ago. It was a sailing ship hood ornament, like the one that once perched on the nose of a favorite car. At the time, the symbol reminded that friends, cars and fire trucks mix, blended together in memory like ashes and water. This was a particular truth proved out during a mid-week reunion ride back in ‘61.
 The vehicle I rode in during that long ago night was driven through our hometown by a best friend. I was seated in the passenger seat of a faded, old black, ’40 Plymouth. The headliner was torn. The inside floorboard was littered by empty Coca-Cola bottles and crushed Winston cigarette packs.
 Worn with high mileage, the Plymouth had a flathead six-cylinder engine that smoked. It was definitely not a hotrod engine. However, the old six had once managed enough speed to make the dirty, old sedan suffer a few dents. Because of those dents, my buddy had cheaply purchased the high mileage sedan using cash money he’d saved from working a paper route. He bought it outright… an old police car.

 Though motoring through town in that near junk, however, I was glad just to be home on leave from military service. I was to soon thoroughly enjoy a reunion with friends. I felt that I needed those moments. My emotions had vacillated considerably as I got ready to head toward my next air base assignment.
 You see, after enduring a year’s worth of technical school in Keesler AFB in Mississippi, I had come home to find that my friend had gotten a driver’s license. Several years younger than myself, Harvey had been quite busy while I was away. In my absence he’d managed to quit high school, dated my sister… and had also tried to enlist in the Army. Thankfully, he failed at two of those three things. My sister strictly thought of him as a brother, so they quit dating. He also found that he couldn’t serve in the Army because of a previously unknown physical malady. This last was soon revealed as providential, in that Army troops were about to go into Cambodia and Vietnam. Still.., Harvey was disappointed about not being allowed to enlist.
 On that night so long ago, Harvey pointed the Plymouth’s sailing ship hood ornament westward along Main St. The road routed parallel to a wide creek that flowed through town. He slowed to about 30 mph as we approached the “S” curve at the entrance of the residential area. Then, rolling ahead just beneath the speed limit, he said to me, “Look high up in the trees as we go uptown.”
 I leaned forward and watched intently upward as we motored on. I thought we'd see an owl or raccoon in the trees. My sight was aided to some extent by a dent in the top surface of the car’s right front fender. The dent caused the headlight to shine up in the air like a beacon.
 After a moment or two, Harvey quietly shifted down to second. The old Plymouth contained a rather primitive MoPar combination… having a clutch and fluid coupling. The unit allowed the shift to happen while staying real quiet… even without tromping on the clutch pedal. The engine chugged the car forward slowly. The old six hardly clicked.

 Suddenly there he was! Revealed above in the darkness by the elevated headlight beam was the local constable. He sat high in a maple tree with his stop watch in hand. The local law enforcer was clocking cars in a speed trap.
 We rolled a block farther up the road, and saw a deputy parked in the old mill’s lot. Had we been speeding, using his Boy Scout flashlight the constable in the tree would have signaled his deputy to stop the Plymouth. We would have gotten a speeding ticket. The trap, you see, was a set up that would have made any character on Andy Griffin’s “Mayberry” television show very proud. As it was, the deputy only stopped us and inquired about the headlight aiming. He instructed Harvey to get it fixed.
 Now, some reading this may wonder how it was that a Boy Scout flashlight was so noticeable to me. Well, let me explain. You see, I remembered that the Army green flashlight had a 90 degree lens design. It had been setting on the desk in the constable’s office during November several years earlier. The light just sat there like a stoic witness when in answer to some parental maneuvering, that very same constable urged all of our gang into the military. The sentence was punishment given to us for Halloween mischief that we’d done. I snicker now, though that constable has long since died and his deputy has passed on as well. I fondly remember that event with nostalgic humor. In my mind’s eye I enjoy my recollection of the story once again. I am reminded of it every time I see an Army green, angle-headed flashlight.
 However, pitch black was the theme for that particular night. There was no moon shining, and the small town had very few street lights. The upturned headlight beam of that faded black Plymouth eventually guided the Plymouth erratically to a dim firehouse parking lot. There, waiting for us was the warmth of a grand reunion.
 On that night, Harvey got out of the Plymouth wearing my old black leather motorcycle jacket. I had given the weighty treasure to him when I went into the service. It had zippers on the pockets, zippers on the sleeves, and several zippers inside. I find it a bit odd that during that era, though we had many pockets in black leather coats, our cigarette packs were kept nestled in our upturned, white T-shirt sleeves. Why? That was just the way of things. These things were dictated as required just to be part of the group. It was the same look that Elvis Presley had when he toured. The only problem for Harvey was that he had red hair. Even when slicked down and adorned with sideburns, his hair color spoiled any “bad boy” effect.
 Black was the appropriate color for that night. You see, of the five cars that had already parked in the lot… almost all of them were black. However, quite different from Harvey’s raggedy Plymouth, all were shiny clean, dent-less and lowered. All had custom wheels. Wilson had hustled to the meeting in a black ’47 Plymouth coupe complete with spinner hubcaps. It ran a trick multi-carbed six-cylinder engine that barked loudly through home-made headers. That car blew off many small-block V-8s.
 Phillips drove up in a black ’49 Olds two-door coupe. The Oldsmobile harbored an overhead valve-equipped V-8 that would smoke the car’s rear wheels through its four-speed, cast iron HydraMatic transmission.

 Our resident oddball, Stotsie… was indeed unique. Though an avid motorcycle fanatic in preference, he motored around on four wheels in a beautiful almost-black ‘48 Ford. As a club, they had let him float with the color as acceptable in a dark blue convertible, because he was a master at pin-striping.
 At the time, I offered up a description of a black Mercury that I’d sold down south before coming home on leave. I had to relinquish the car to another airman before leaving the base in Mississippi, because on service pay I was unable to afford an engine rebuild.
 As we talked on that glorious night, the choicest ride in the stable sat at the end of the line. We would occasionally gaze jealously at Bobby’s newer vintage black ’58 Chevy convertible. A guy older than the rest of us, Bobby had worked for a while at the nearby Greenwood Dairy. He could afford car payments. The beauty sat morose and dark in the dim light, hiding beneath a black rag top rather than white. The hood hid a stormy, four-barrel Carter equipped, 348 c.i.d. V-8 engine. I knew the big block could snort warnings to all in town through side lake-pipes. Ticking noises came from beneath its hood while parked there. The car sat relaxed and cooling.
 The guys leaned back leisurely against the fenders and sides of the old Plymouth to talk, since scratches from jacket zippers and jeans rivets couldn’t make the finish on the old car any worse. We talked for about an hour. We told hunting tales about John and Jack. The two mentioned were missing from the group. John was gone forever. He had died in an accident during my absence, so everyone had avoided talking about him at all. Jack was in the military service with me. He was the best pheasant hunter of the gang and was serving as well with the Air Force. The group talked about Jack’s shotgun collection, fast cars, recent house fires, and girls… until it was time to go to church.

 No, I’m not kidding you! We all went to church. However, before you graciously give us too much credit, consider that the best youth group in town met in the Episcopal recreation room on Main Street. That’s where community dances were held, and that’s where many girls went to worship on Ash Wednesday. So we slightly nefarious boys cleaned two-cent redemption soda bottles from the floor of that dirty black Plymouth and loaded up for church.
 Now there are some artists who believe that many symbols that we see work themselves out later in our lives. Today, as a minister, I think about that sailing ship hood ornament riding on the hood of that black, dented old car. Floating casually and somewhat mindlessly to church in certain sin… we boys were dressed rightly for Ash Wednesday in black jackets and heavy black engineer boots. While sinfully lounging together in church beneath a few candles, we were called to rise quietly and head to the altar. Indeed, everyone was invited to go forward to get a sign of ashes for human sin on our foreheads.
 In order to fit in, I got up from my seat. As I went forward, I was joined by Brenda, who went up the aisle with me. I had danced with her while we were still in high school. I remember hearing several years later that she’d gotten arrested in the ‘60s, while attending an anti-war demonstration in D.C. Back then, as we knelt at the altar together, she demurely held my hand as Father John put ashes on our faces. The ashes represented mortality… and stated human sinfulness.

 Since all of us were Christians gathered there, a sign was placed on all foreheads in the shape of a cross. Father John spoke a stark reminder as he rubbed hard so the black would stick. He said, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
 Sadly, those words spoken bounced too lightly upon our minds. The ashes of repentance and the waters of baptism were not yet mixed by wisdom. However, with the rust of age… those words clearly speak now to rattle our brains. As a minister today, I recall repeating them every year to both young and old.
 Almost all of my car club friends from long ago have now since died. Jack and I lost contact, and only recently heard from each other. This year I sit with ashes ready… mourning like old man Job as described in the Old Testament. I too shall sit in ashes this year as I am reminded of the deaths. I am reminded also of other Christians who have died before us, and those yet dying now for the faith. You see, on Ash Wednesday we are called to consider the futility of our sinful lives as we try to live outside of our Lord’s forgiveness. That’s why thinking of that constable sitting up in the tree looms large for me. I realize now that he was a sign shining in the darkness falling upon the road of life. He sat watching over the town. Somewhat like our Lord Jesus who died on a wooden cross… on a tree of sorts. That town constable had also deliberately climbed that maple. From there he could clearly see human sin... the sins that we often commit in trying to go faster, farther, longer, higher… in trying to willfully, progressively recreate the world and take undue credit for that which is already created.

 Just as that village lawman enforced the law, our God yet watches from on high. God gave us his Commandments. They condemned us so thoroughly that he sent his own Son into the world to save us. We need now only to learn to rail against Satan. It is the evil one who still offends our God, by attempting to hide the fact that Jesus paid our penalty. Gracefully through the Holy Spirit, Jesus shines his Light upon all of us. The Spirit reveals to us our salvation through Him. All this, so we can motor safely on into his future. I believe that is truly what Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent are all about. We are meant to remember past times and the darkness of our human sin… and recognize such signs as the light from a dented fender that once pointed upward, like the Way of salvation. The Truth be known… we are indebted to a man on a cross who was and yet is fully God, and willingly died for us as we crucified him on a tree.