Thursday, June 24, 2010

Give Peace a Chance & The Lutheran Difference

A laughed yesterday when my three-year-old appeared for Vacation Bible School with his new shirt: “Give Peas a Chance.” It had a nice pea (the vegetable) on the front. Frankly, it is a shirt that was much better suited for his older brother, for whom anything green was anathema, but that’s another story…

So, the New Testament reading for today in The Treasury of Daily Prayer is John 20.19-31, which includes this:

" On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”" (John 20:19-23, RSV)

When the Lord Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection He did not speak words of condemnation to those who had—in one way or another—abandoned Him. Rather, He spoke words of forgiveness: “Peace be with you!”

This forgiveness—the declaration of God that the punishment for sin is paid by Christ and that His merit is applied to those who believe in Him—this forgiveness is the heart and center of the Christian life. It is forgiveness that gives true peace, that rest of soul which is confident—come what may—that one is secure in God’s love and care.

Thus, at the center of the Christian life is how forgiveness comes. Shall we obscure the work of God and credit ourselves—even in some small way—with the faith that grasps the Gospel message of Christ’s forgiveness? No!

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." (John 1:12-13, NIV)

It is God’s work that we have forgiveness and peace, and God uses “means”—things outside ourselves (Luther used the word “alien” to describe this for-us-from-the-outside aspect of faith.) to give forgiveness and life to us by His Word.

Thus, we come to my little summary of “The Lutheran Difference,” my attempt to speak to the essence of Lutheran theology in a way that is not a caricature but rather opens the door to the beauty of the Christian faith and, in particular, the Lutheran confession thereof.

I put it this way:

The Lutheran difference is characterized by an absolute, unrelenting focus on forgiveness…and the means by which Christ promises it.

I have found this difference to be profoundly peaceful, as—in the midst of my own sins and failures—I find my hope and confidence totally outside myself, in Christ’s Word and sacraments. In these God comes to me with the forgiveness, peace and hope that only the Creator and Redeemer of the cosmos can provide.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath

At the recent Northern Illinois District (LCMS) meeting of 2010 LCMS convention delegates, NID President, Rev. Dan Gilbert, encouraged the delegates to prepare for the convention prayerfully. In particular, he encouraged the reading of and meditation upon Proverbs.

It just so happens that much of June in Concordia Publishing House’s Treasury of Daily Prayer is in Proverbs. (For more information about the Treasury, or to purchase, click here.)The Old Testament reading for June 15th is Proverbs 15.1-29, and there is a lot of meat to chew on in this proverb.

"A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit." (Proverbs 15:4, ESV)

I struggle with this. I tend to have a quick, hot temper, reacting sometimes impulsively. I have been—prayerfully—trying to work on this in recent years. Prayerfully beginning the day has been a good help to me. There are days—even as a pastor—where I just rush into my day without having made plans to pray beforehand. This is foolish, and leads to expressions in word and deed that lack wisdom.

"The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly." (Proverbs 15:14, ESV)

I have done much better on this is recent years, gathering information and seeking to understand before I speak. As I look back on my life I had a wonderful teacher in my early professional years, when I worked as a Legislative Aide for Michigan State Representative Glenn Oxender of Sturgis, Michigan. Glenn was as fine a Christian man as I have ever met, gentle in soul and always seeking knowledge and understanding.

"A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention." (Proverbs 15:18, ESV)

Isn’t that the truth! How often, for example as a parent, have I created strife by letting my temper get the best of me, but when I am “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1) much contention is avoided.

"The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway." (Proverbs 15:19, ESV)

Laziness, as a parent, husband, wife, or worker, leads to nothing but more trouble and difficulty. It’s sure easy, though!

"Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed." (Proverbs 15:22, ESV)

This is an interesting verse for me, especially in my Chicago context, where I face a decent amount of pressure—sometimes subtle and sometimes not—to do much business autocratically and “behind closed doors.” This verse does NOT say, “Committees of the whole are best.” It DOES say that plans are best made with a good deal of advice and—by context—from a good variety of people.

"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things." (Proverbs 15:28, ESV)

Following this counsel, though wise, of course, often leads to difficulty. There have been times where something was said or done that I knew demanded a response, but in seeking to be temperate and not say or do something I would regret and that would be spoken without knowledge, I chose to let the immediate situation take its course. In a couple of these situations that has put me in the position—as I see now—of not defending someone’s reputation (an 8th commandment violation).

This last point gets us back to the very beginning: prayer. Not giving adequate time to prayer at the beginning of the day, or during times of intense discussion, can lead to all sorts of unnecessary trouble, so I conclude with the “Prayer of the Day” for June 15 in The Treasury of Daily Prayer:

O God, the giver of all that is good, by Your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Friday, June 11, 2010

NBA Finals a Fun Diversion

There’s nothing overtly theological about this, but—as I’ve said before—I’m enjoying these 2010 NBA Finals. I posted on Facebook during the first half, “I’m rooting for the Lakers, but I think the Celtics win this one tonight.” Turns out I was right, with the Celtic bench offering up inspiring play.’s Ian Thomsen recorded a funny exchange between game four’s heroes, Nate Robinson and Glenn Davis:

Boston was up 70-64, the Lakers were calling timeout with 8:22 remaining, and Davis was screaming like something not quite human while Robinson jumped on his back with both arms around his trunkish neck.

"You were on my back?'' asked Davis at the news conference.

"You didn't even notice,'' said Robinson. "We're like Shrek and Donkey. You can't separate us.''

"You shouldn't have let us two get up here,'' said Davis to the audience of reporters.

It will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond in game 5…

Read more:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on Competition after Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals

For the most part, I care little for the NBA or MLB regular seasons, as there is typically a lack of intensity, but I really enjoy playoffs. Sunday night’s Lakers-Celtics game had a surprising conclusion (a Celtics win in LA), and passionate, skilled play (Rajon Rondo is sometimes a wizard with the basketball.). There is also in these series’ a chess match of sorts between the coaching staffs. Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach, gets a chance to match up with Phil Jackson, perhaps the NBA’s best all-time coach. Rivers would probably tell you “it’s all about the players,” but don’t believe a word of that. These men like to compete, and I love to watch it all play out.

This will sound odd given the above, but the winning and losing has always been less important to me than the opportunity high-level competition provides to expand individual and corporate abilities. Andrew Bynum’s team lost on Sunday, for example, but he gave a passionate and skilled performance. Reports the next day suggested he thinks that was a waste, but it certainly won’t be a waste in the long-term and—Who knows?—what he and his team mates and coaches are learning about his capabilities may well help turn the series in LA’s direction.

Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard thinks this may be an “epic” series (Ballard "epic"). I sure hope so. The b-ball on TV may drive my girls crazy, but in an odd sort of way it is fuel for my soul: the opportunity to turn away from my personal and work challenges and watch people who are the best in the world challenge each other to be better. I love it.