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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Chopped and Lowered?

AFTERNOON light played tricks with my elderly eyes as I strolled through the late summer fair. As part of the car show in a nearby small village, I saw a really nice ‘49 Mercury. The beauty sat in some partial shade created by the sun's rays filtering through the trees.
 However, the car's subtle paint tones wandered according to the changing light that flickered beneath the leaves. This caused me to have some trouble discerning the color. As a pastor, I thought at first it was like an Advent season’s violet candle. Another view made me think of possibly a Lenten purple clergy stole. No matter the color, however… I simply found that the car was indeed beautiful.
 Styled quite a bit from the factory original, the two-door sedan's top was chopped. Its ride height was also lowered so that the car hugged the ground. I thought the height was just about perfect… low enough to look good… but high enough to drive in polite circles. The custom Mercury was very, very clean. De-chromed nicely, the body dated its builder as a mid-‘50s aficionado. Dual Appleton spot lights, dual engine exhausts, and quad bullet tail-lights told boldly its emphatic message. The car was an unapologetic ‘50s Saturday night cruiser.

 Knowing that a stock Mercury flathead V-8 had originally spun beneath the nosed hood, I mused somewhat about the prospects of its being high performance. Quite Trinitarian in my Christian theology… I wondered if three Stromberg, 2-barrel carburetors perched on top of the original 95 horsepower flathead V-8 engine.
 Being occasionally radical of mind, however, I also daydreamed somewhat that just maybe… maybe… there would be an original Arden-Merc hidden in there. Serving up much power back in the day, that engine design originally fomented by Corvette pioneer Duntov was an overhead-valve-conversion (OHV) for flathead V-8 Ford engines. Designed mostly for marine use, the Merc’ conversion in later years had found its way into more than a few custom cars.
  Rather an afterthought, Mercury began as a registered trademark of the Ford Motor Company, launched in 1938 by Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford. Edsel had originally marketed the vehicles between Ford’s regular, entry-level models and its luxury Lincoln cars. By this tradition, Mercury soon became an automotive brand well-known for one-upmanship.
 The brand was named for a fleet-footed Greek god. The name "Mercury" is derived from the rapid messenger of the gods who was written of in Roman mythology. So in keeping with the ancient myth… during its early years the Mercury was especially known for a few tidy performance enhancements. The cars often possessed a few more inches of engine displacement, a higher compression ratio and throaty dual exhausts... all to make the speedy Merc’ a car to own.
  The Mercury brand continued in production until 2011, when the badge was eventually phased out. In an austerity move common in that decade, FoMoCo refocused its marketing and engineering efforts. This is what will likely make an older Merc more valued as time rolls on.

Harder Find?
 As a minister, I found it rather interesting that such planned reductionist trends in American car manufacturing paralleled the social natures of other human endeavors. For example, we historically know that many mercurial political powers leaned toward blending the rich diversity of the world’s ethnic populations into a more acceptable mash… somewhat like mixing the attributes of Ford and Mercury together. We know that in the last few decades these political progressives wanted to merge my own Christian beliefs among a myriad of other religions.
 You see, the thinking of mechanical and social engineers changed just after the WWII era. Like updating from the old flathead Ford and Merc engine to overhead-valves in ’54 was key to gaining horsepower and mastery in the car business, so too our society was thrown into a new melting pot. Where once such tyrants as Adolf Hitler sought to purify themselves a master race by selectively breeding Aryan descendants... and eliminating persons or races they considered as undesirable… the new post-war social dynamic seemed to think that we races should forcibly be mixed together.
 Today, using the tools of abortion... mass migration, loose border controls, and other jaded thoughts... work to manipulating the population. Their ideas reflect a “Throw them all into a pile, and control them" bias. This they hope will cause an social evolution into a progressively more serene and well-behaved world.
 However, the only problem with this modern, progressive manufactured thinking is that while the principle may describe reasonable and cost-effective car making, it does not translate well toward the blending of the children of God. Where the political realm attempts to blend religions, the traditional Christian church vehemently disagrees.

Individual Customs!
You see, we Christians distinctly relate that each person is baptized as unique. Through the Holy Spirit our Lord Jesus saves us from futile universalistic thinking. God speaks and embraces our individuality. Our Lord knows our name! By this knowledge, we Christians find ourselves more unique than a ’49 Merc with purple paint job, spotlights and bubble skirts.
 Don’t be fooled by any demonic voices that call for religious “diversity”. These fools hope that social upheaval over time will bring a homogenized peaceful, bubble that they can control. While we Christians surely welcome human diversity, we see this as a word describing a person’s race, ethnicity and nationality… but not our religion.
 Please note that I believe that religious diversity is not a methodical long-term aim of the Christian church. While we accept the freedom of any person to claim allegiance to a particular religion, diversity is not our evangelical calling. We see that we are to be diverse as God’s individual children, but are called to witness as Christian in faith. Our witness declares the radical claim that Jesus shows the only Way to properly worship God. As our Lord Jesus said to his disciples.., 

 “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”
 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.”  (John 14:1-7)

 Consequently, just as we cannot duplicate the mystique of an old Mercury, no one has replicated those radical, scandalous words. By scriptural authority, Jesus made it clear to Christians that the social scientists are wrong. There is only one Way to get to heaven!

 Consider this! Sin clings to humans like a rust spot eating away in the right-rear lower fender of a vintage ‘57 Mercury two-door hardtop. No matter what rust-proofing you use or what color is painted over that original bright yellow... the rot will one day show. The cure for our spiritual rot is to know that Jesus is the Way… the only Way. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins against God, and he is thus the only Way for us to be redeemed from decay.

 We need to be reminded that this scriptural message shall not become obsolete like a Mercury Cougar. You remember the Cougar, don’t you? It was the ‘60s Mercury imitation of the Ford Mustang. While being the same in size as the popular Mustang, the grill of the Cougar retrieved the mustachioed-look of its 1947 ancestor. Yes, the Cougar snarled with the same engine selections of the Mustang, but a few extra dollars spent bought the owner a little more glamour. However, as owners found out, it still had some of the same sinfulness. Even while heavier beneath the sheet metal, the car still sported the same fuel tank explosion dangers of the Pinto, Maverick, and Mustang car lines. Hit in the rear, the Mercury Cougar could be a rocket on the highway to hell.  Thus the eventual demise of Mercury on the world automotive stage should be a sign for us. Mercury’s demise emphasizes that money cannot buy success in obtaining the best that God offers us freely through his Only Begotten Son.

Parked Or Rolling?
You see, as chopped and lowered by sin we Christians find ourselves standing out among other sinners. God favors Christian car show strollers, for through Jesus Christ he reveals to us wandering fools that the world is a very dangerous place. Why we are so favored is not quite understood, but just know Jesus warned his disciples repeatedly that the world’s sparkle would disappear before his return. That is exactly what the final days of his earthly ministry demonstrated. Before his death upon the cross because of man’s unbridled quest for short-lived polish and sparkle, our Lord told his followers that in the world there were powers at work rightly to be feared. As the centuries rolled forward from the days of Roman Empire, many of his disciples were persecuted and killed.
 Because of this ancient church history, we Christians should realize that we live in a world that has little parking space for us. We sit idling noisily in the staging lane like a high-performance 427 cid, OHV engine-equipped Mercury Comet. We seem ready to vault out onto the drag strip to proclaim our Lord as king of all.

 Believers should always be running and ready, but not naive about what to expect from the world around us... a world flagged down by sin. Consider those Christians caught living in lands afflicted by terrorists. These find that chopping occurs not to the roof of a Mercury... but to the saintly heads of those committed Christians. This is evidence to all that today we still live in the same world that hung our Lord Jesus upon a cross.
  Consequently, today we Christians must realize that any soul doing after-church wanderings on a Sunday afternoon is not to be hypnotically consumed by polished chrome, nor dazzled by sequentially-blinking Cougar taillights. We are to be wise in knowing that our faith shall endure and we need to express it openly. We are made secure in knowing above all that our Lord who has saved and preserves us... shall certainly return. Jesus Christ will come quickly… and when he does... his arrival shall be faster than the footfall of any faded Greek messenger. Thanks be to God!
   If you enjoyed this article, go to Amazon.com to obtain our book by clicking on its image at the top right of this page. As well, 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.

May the Lord place his peace upon you and yours!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Shepherds of Sheep?

RECENT TRAGEDY has struck America again from radical Muslim terrorism, but this time it was home-brewed. Regardless, the message brought said “death for the infidel”, and was yet issued to those persons who do not hold to their blasphemous stance. The most recent horror of note is the killing and maiming of many persons in a night club in the city of Orlando, FL.
 As our modern society attempts to make sense of this chaos, many prominent personalities have raised their voices. Some persons blame all religion. Others point to an American lack of sexual morality. Some pundits and politicians say that this occurred because guns can be gotten too easily, and we cannot ward off  future events because of inadequate gun laws. These last vocalize that we need to clamp down on what type guns the public can buy.
 Other voices herald opposition to this anti-gun position. They fear the loss of public defense if Second Amendment rights are further infringed, with questionable reliance on overburdened law enforcement being cited. These persons usually point blame instead at our insufficient anti-terror work, poor immigration policies, and lack of adequate border defenses as cause for alarm. Many talk radio and TV personalities have now jumped into the conversation, to the point of nausea.
 While some of these options do sound like a possible solutions to keep the number of assault deaths below the magic mass of  “four" persons... I criticize the policy that enumerates the number of “four” dead as to whether an event should even be called a “mass” terrorism. It is for sure that preventing any death of a solitary person by terrorism is the mass upon which we need to focus.
 We know that the carrying of personal armament may be the first candidate for the lessening of such as the event in Orlando. However, gun laws will not stop such horrors as the bombing that occurred at the Boston Marathon. Sure... we can more closely regulate gun permits, restrict the type of guns sold, and monitor some common bomb making materials... but both foreign and domestic terrorists know full well that effective bombs may be made from many and various household chemicals. We need to remember the lesson of scripture here! Even a small rock thrown or primitive club swung can be lethal. From the ancient ages we hear

“Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8)

 In a radio discussion of this recent Orlando event, host Howard Stern spoke of the recent murders. During the talk, he used the image of sheep that were trapped by wolves… and slaughtered. He raised the question of why some of the group being attacked did not charge their attacker, such as what was done quite unsuccessfully on the ill-fated airline flight on 9/11 in SW Pennsylvania.
 "Why indeed?" I echoed the same in thought. My initial reaction was that those entrapped were primarily of the LBGTQ community, and were thus thought by me to be not sufficiently masculine. This knee-jerk, unfair and incorrect conclusion insults both male and female persons, and was immediately trashed by the knowledge that it imposes a nasty stereo-type. My thoughts are now that it would be easier-said-than-done for any person when confronted with such massacre or even the possibilities of such. For this reason, the flight on 9/11 crashed and the night club attendees were slaughtered. I agree most certainly that we should not blame the victims.
 Stern’s use of biblical imagery of sheep and wolves, however, caused me to identify somewhat with his conversation. In my own mind as a pastor of a Lutheran church, his talk brought the remembrance of the killings in a Bible Study located in Charleston SC last year. Apparently their being murdered not by a terrorist, but a racist bigot, caused me to ponder deeply whether Christian congregations including my own need now to appoint armed guards.
"Do we really need to secure those that attend worship, prayers and biblical studies?" I am certain that discussions across the land on both social media and in many clergy meetings have had opinions voiced on this matter.
 While this thought does have some merit, for indeed the nation of Israel when besieged by war… posted armed guards to keep the enemy at bay... the tragedy brings me to tell of a fireside conversation that was held between a man and his son as they were attending a flock of sheep. They sat worriedly just before the outbreak of the U.S. Revolutionary War. The two men, who were Scottish by descent, were creek side while discussing the safety of their sheep.
 You see, for several weeks their flock had been blessed by the birth of many lambs. The problem had arisen, however, that wolves had smelled the blood of birth from afar. As a pack they then raided the flock both day and night. Sometimes the pack would just take a newly born lamb or two, at other times the wolves would also kill and carry off the carcass of a defending ewe.
 As the two men sat by that fire in the evening, the son asked what they should do. Firing a single-shot from a musket seemed to no avail. Even if the shot was true, the remaining wolves would often still kill before fleeing. 
 The father thought deeply… and then told of a method he'd remembered from an ancient story. He said, “Son, look at the stones around the fire. They are both round and flat… which should be used as a weapon?”
 The son looked at his father... and then the stones. He answered, “The largest round one. I could throw it using a sling... like old King David… it could injure or maybe even kill a wolf.”
 His father, after taking a puff from his pipe, said, “No son, being very heavy… the large one could not reach out far enough without putting you in great danger. He then bent over and picked up a smaller flat rock.
 "You want a flat one… like this jagged stone. Take it now and practice throwing it with your sling... but as before you do... rub it on the larger stones until its edge is sharp. That is the stone that will sail with a whisper and harm the strongest wolf.”
 The boy did as instructed. He sharpened and practiced. The day came too soon when another attack occurred, Then, as I recall this tale, from the slingshot the boy launched the sharp flat stone. The rock sailed fast… like a small rotating discus tossed by an ancient Greek Olympic contestant. The sharp edge had drawn blood from the young shepherd's finger, but the rock soared and struck the throat of the lead wolf. The rock killed the wolf dead in its tracks, just before the predator reached the quarry.
 Immediately the boy grabbed more sharpened stones from his sheepskin bag as the remaining wolves attacked the leader because of their blood lust. Several more wolves were thus killed by sharpened rocks and his father’s musket ball. Within minutes the melee was over and the shepherd’s flock was greatly spared.
 For many nights and years afterward, as the story is told, the young man would sit by habit near the fire at night with his aging father toking a sweet smelling pipe… and he idly sharpened flat rocks.
 As I consider this story, I now wonder why the church fired up by the Holy Spirit, hasn’t attacked the wolves of this world with the one prized, plain, jagged flat rock that it has been gracefully given. You see, the rock that is Christ Jesus has been with us from before the day of his Resurrection. Somewhat jagged because his message strikes deep at the jugular of human sin, we in His church have let our throwing practice become dull. Our effect has become blunt.
 You see, we ourselves have become too round and sluggish. We sit warmed by the fires of modernity, busy rolling donuts as we talk of liberal and progressive theology. We sit too heavily and inaccurately throw stones at one another. The wolves which attack the sheep, fear not the hands so soft that we bleed profusely when we try to throw against terrorism and theological error.
 For surely, as headlines and TV celebrities now show us clearly, packs of wolves grow bolder in the field. They use terror tactics developed from ignorance and hate. They prey on the weak minded and and enlist them after both sheep and lambs. These wolves care not whether their targets are black or white, male or female, gay or straight, docile or boisterous, Christian, Muslim, Jew or otherwise. In their quest for dominance, they wish to carry them all off by using murder or enslavement. I say to you then, "Arm yourself with the tools of defense in firearms and enter the battle warmed by the fire of the Holy Spirit."
 I say to you that gospel proclamation is the ancient gift given to the church at Pentecost. You see, I believe that for Christians, our most powerful weapon is the Word of God. Let the church arise from the fire and throw the mantle of God widely about ourselves like a protective fleece. Let us cast the Rock of our Salvation accurately against the evil One. Let us sharpen these our gospel gifts, and finally... pray fervently that our Lord shall look with grace upon our efforts.