Lutheran Satire continues to produce golden videos that “Teach the faith by making fun of stuff.” Enjoy!
There is a heart-warming scene in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit near the end of the book where Thorin Oakenshield lies dying from wounds he received during the Battle of the Five Armies. As he dies, Thorin shares his last words with Bilbo, a simple hobbit who had proved to be a faithful companion and friend to Thorin through some very difficult times. And his last words had nothing to do with how Bilbo had helped the company escape from capture by three trolls, or from a cadre of giant spiders, or from being locked in an elvish dungeon. Thorin commended Bilbo for his love of hearth and home:
Thorin and his company of dwarves had grown weary of their exile from their homeland, having been driven out of the Lonely Mountain by the terrible power of the dragon Smaug. And the dwarves longed for their home and for the inheritance of wealth that had been stolen from them, an inheritance that they wanted to regain. But somewhere along the way, somewhere in their travels, the value of the wealth the dwarves sought to regain overtook the value they placed on regaining their home. And only here at the end of his life did Thorin’s fading eyes regain their sight. It wasn’t gold and jewels and the vast comforts that the Lonely Mountain afforded that held life-sustaining value. It was family and friends sharing life around a common table, however slim the fare might be, that was the true treasure worth pursuing.
Many of us, if you can allow me to extend the Hobbit analogy, have retaken the Lonely Mountain and have failed to see that the comforts we have are always best when shared with others. We like to think we value “…food and cheer and song…” as much as the next person, but we rub elbows with people at work, in our community, in our churches, and even next door who are lonely… strangers to the warmth of our tables and our companionship. And a dear lady in the church I serve reminded me of this when I asked for prayer requests one time. She simply said, “We need to watch out for the lonely.” That was a few weeks ago and her words have been my constant companion. Those words make me wonder: who do I see on a regular basis that may wrestle with loneliness? Who might see the craziness that gathers around our family table as a taste of medicine for what ails them? Who would feel warmly remembered by receiving a hand-written note from me, an impromptu phone call, or an invite to grab a cup of coffee some evening? Where do I see the lonely and how can I participate in bringing them Bilbo’s “…food and cheer and song…”?
And then I remember that it is the LORD himself who points us in this direction. The 68th Psalm speaks to us along these lines (emphasis mine):
A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing… (Psalm 68.5-6 NIV)
The LORD is the original champion of “…food and cheer and song…” For what else are His redeemed children called to do but to gather each week to feed at His table, to remember the glad news of life conquering death, and to sing our hearts out alongside people of all walks of life? And while the LORD trains us to love and value “…food and cheer and song…,” the back doors of our church sanctuaries can be a cold reminder for those that wrestle with loneliness that they are departing fellowship to re-enter isolation. So maybe – just maybe – we can begin to do as my dear sister asked a few weeks ago: to watch out for the lonely. And once we see them, how do we invite them into the food and the cheer and the songs of our lives? We may be the kings and queens of our own Lonely Mountain, but do we have the heart of a simple hobbit from Bag End? Are we willing to reflect God’s good work of setting the lonely in families and leading in song those who have been set free?
Yesterday, I had the privilege of baptizing another covenant child, and as I have done on many occasion, gave the child’s father an opportunity to pray for his son after the waters of baptism and the Triune name were applied. The prayer that I post below is the prayer that father prayed (with names removed). Even now his prayer for his son moves me to tears.
Father, I thank you for the opportunity to witness, firsthand, your kingdom moving forward. For we believe, in faith, that you have marked [our son] as one of your people, a part of your Church. I know we have yet to see the faith in his life, but we are trusting in you to take his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh. I pray that his faith would not be one born out of crisis, but that his trust in you for salvation would be like the air that he breathes… that long before he can express it, your saving grace would work in his life. We look forward to the day he can put into words the great work you have done in him.
Father, I thank you that children are truly one of life’s greatest blessings, not life-accessories for selfish adults, not burdens to be endured by exhausted parents, but blessings in the purest sense. For they are blessings that can, in turn, be a blessing to a dark and dying world. So, to that end, I pray for [our son’s] physical health, that you would keep sickness and injury from him so that he may care for the sick and the dying. I pray for his strength, that you would make his body continue to grow strong so that he may be a defender of the weak and the abused. I pray that you would continue to fill his life with those who love and care for him, so that he may be an advocate for the unloved and the forgotten.
Lord, your word tells us that to whom much is given, much is required, and, as parents, we have been so richly blessed. So, I ask that you enable us to be the mother and father that your word calls us to be – that we would not neglect to teach our children your word, to discipline them according to your law, and to love them as you have loved us. Also, as I have just asked you to bless [our son] with great blessings, so I trust that you will use him in mighty way to advance your kingdom – that everywhere he goes the darkness would run and hide for fear of your bright light that shines through him.
We are trusting in you to do all these things. I pray them all in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Today, as the family stays home from church and missing the fellowship of the saints, I am reflecting on our experience last Sunday. Last Sunday was the first Sunday of my sabbatical where I have no ministry responsibilities, and my family and I chose to worship at North Lexington Baptist Church here in town. We arrived and found what could probably be found in so many small town Christian churches, a warm and inviting congregation trying to leverage their gifts and talents with limited means in order to enact and enhance the worship of the Triune God. There was nothing splashy yet nothing seemed half-hearted either. There was the older gentleman who, once finding out where our home church was, thanked me with what appeared to be deep earnestness for our church’s monetary gift to NLBC in support of their program that gives food away to the less fortunate of our community every Tuesday. Then there was the lady who is my waitress every Friday morning when I meet a few guys for breakfast. She knows we are a group of Christian men (playfully calls us all a “bunch of heathen”), and so we both give and receive prayer requests with her. Seeing her worship in her home church environment with that same twinkle in her eye was a real gift because it helped remind me that she’s the same woman on Friday mornings as she is on Sunday mornings. No pretense. No facades. Just another Christian woman presenting her body as a living sacrifice and seeking the smile of the Father in Christ.
And then the pastor of NLBC declared the Word of God from 1 Corinthians 1 to the congregation. It was during his preaching that my tears kept trying to get away from me. Again, there was no great showmanship. There were no new and deeper insights into the preached passage. But here was a man, called by Christ through His Church, to break the bread of life each week so that the flock could be fed. And feed us he did. There, in the middle of our worship, Christ was meeting His saints by the power of His Spirit through the Word. We were encouraged, warned, reminded, rebuked, promised… and I had nothing to do with any of this. The closest thing to control I had was the steering wheel in our mini-van on the way to the church. This was pure receiving. Pure gift.
This event has exploded in my mind this past week multiple times, not because of any outwardly extraordinary elements we found there but because the fact that Holy Spirit attends the ordinary means of grace is extraordinary indeed. In one sense, people are quite ordinary. But people filled with the Holy Spirit who are drawn together in fellowship across church traditions through participation in worship become extraordinary. In one sense, human speech is ordinary. But human speech uttered in a sermon grounded in the inspired Word, delivered to repentant people is extraordinary. But such is the pattern of a God who raises the dead and who invites broken vessels to be His extraordinary power clothed in the ordinary.
(awesome photo taken by Josiah Sink and shamelessly poached from his FB page)
Yesterday, I received this story from a lady associated with the 40 Days for Life-Winston Salem prayer vigil currently underway outside the Winston Salem Planned Parenthood clinic. I have received permission to share this story and have left it unedited with the exception of changing the names of those mentioned and inserting links to those organizations specifically mentioned.
A young couple with another lady parked in the top lot and walked down the steps while I was praying but they came back up pretty quickly chattering pretty loud and I hollered across the street to see if they would like some help. They didn’t hesitate-they all came right over. It seems that “Jim” & “Sally” are homeless and their friend named “Maggie” brought them for a pregnancy test. I don’t know where Maggie came from-she said she was trying to help them-maybe from a church. Anyway, they live in a tent in the woods and Sally thought she was pregnant and PP wanted to charge this homeless couple for a pregnancy test so they left. I gave them the list of pregnancy centers with directions to Salem PCC & Birth Right and also a pamphlet for Room at the Inn. Jim said “if you can get her off the street that’s great, I’ll stay if you can help her.” They were very grateful and drove right off to go to the pregnancy care centers and Maggie took my cell phone number. I assured them of our prayers and told her to call if there is anything else we can do, that we have a large network of folks willing to help. Please pray for them! As they drove off, I was praying the mystery of the Rosary of the Nativity of Our Lord from the Holy Scripture and I thought how they could relate. They went for help at a place that is supposed to be an advocate for poor or low income women and families (or so they say), and they were turned away-there was no room for them at the non-profit, taxpayer funded “Inn” of Planned Parenthood without $$$$$! Thankfully I had a pamphlet for Room at the Inn of the Triad who takes them in for free and is run on Christian charity-as well as the pregnancy centers. Again, please keep Jim and Sally in your prayers and their unborn child if she is indeed pregnant. Pray that Jim finds work-he said he was looking-pray that Sally gets the real healthcare she needs.
This story helps reveal two things:
- The Church’s pro-life stance is full-orbed. She cares for not simply the unborn children but the pregnant mothers as well, regardless of their socio-economic status or religious affiliation (notice that the lady telling the story didn’t check to make sure the homeless couple were Christians before offering her help).
- The idea that PP somehow cares about serving poor women in under-privileged circumstances is a sham.
In part 1 of this brief series, we have examined how the LGBT symbol of the rainbow flag is a sign of their community’s pride in their identity, whereas the primary symbol of the Christian community is a symbol of shame, depicting the death of Jesus, the necessary sacrifice given because of who Christians know themselves to be. In part 2, we learn that the Christian community also has the rainbow sign in its repertoire of symbols. And while the rainbow of Noah’s day was symbol of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises, it was also a symbol that God is a God of war who lays aside his war-bow in the sky to remind us of why the flood judgment had to fall. The rainbow reminds the Christian of his humble position of being saved by grace and that the judgment of God is inescapable except aboard the one vessel that has absorbed the wrath of God.
So in this final installment, we will look furthering the reality that God is not some soft, toothless, grandpa-in-the-sky and how it is reinforced when we look at the two places in the Bible where the rainbow appears again. Continue reading
I find it fascinating what symbols communities rally around. Many of the African-Americans that were freed from slavery in our nation sought solace in music, giving us such rich deposits such as the blues and negro spirituals. The blues were an act of cultural rebellion where their deplorable life-circumstances were described, but described in song. It was as if they were saying, “This life is oppressing me but I refuse to let it steal my voice.”
And with the recent Supreme Court ruling last week, we are seeing the LGBT community rallying around their symbol, the rainbow flag. The rainbow flag’s original purpose was simple. According to its original designer Gilbert Baker, “We needed something that expressed us. The rainbow really fits that, in terms of: we’re all the colors, and all the genders and all the races… It’s a natural flag; the rainbow is in the sky and it’s beautiful. It’s a magical part of nature.” And while it seems that the goal of the rainbow flag is still to represent inclusion, the word that is heard most often from both the media and the LGBT community is “pride”. There are gay pride marches and LGBT pride parades and t-shirts and bumper stickers and… And regardless of one’s convictions about homosexuality or the various gender issues at hand, the one thing that comes across strongly is that the LGBT community wants to display their pride in their identity.
But there is another community that was once a minority. Continue reading