August 31, 2006

Hab 3:2-19 / Job 28-30 / Tidbits

The seasonal canticle for August to reread today is Habakkuk 3:2-19, for which the previous comments are here. This time reading it through I was struck by two things. First, I thought the end of verse 2, “in wrath remember mercy”, was an interesting prayer. One might think of wrath towards God’s enemies and mercy towards His faithful people, but Isaiah 54:8 suggests the wrath could be directed at those otherwise normally faithful people. Of course, God's anger toward us is turned away on account of our faith in Jesus Christ.The second thing that struck me was how the Divinely-inspired writer in verses 17-18 describes horrible conditions but nevertheless rejoices in the Lord. Sometimes we probably forget to praise the Lord even under good circumstances, let alone bad ones. Philippians 4:4-7 surely teaches us to rejoice always and to find peace and tranquility by thanking God and presenting our petitions to Him. Habakkuk seems to have learned those lessons well!

Today we read Job 28-30, which comes in the midst of one long speech of Job’s (from chapter 26 through chapter 31) but is nevertheless broken up into several parts. Chapter 28, a so-called “interlude on wisdom”, is regarded by some as the book’s third major section. Under that same breakdown, the book’s fourth major section consists of monologues by Job, Job’s “fourth friend” Elihu, and God Himself. As that section is further broken down, the first subsection is Job’s call for vindication (chapters 29-31), in which today we hear of Job’s past honor and blessing (chapter 29) and his present dishonor and suffering (chapter 30). Some regard chapter 28 as a wisdom poem by the author of the book and not as words from Job’s mouth, but either way the poem speaks both to the futility of “mining” for wisdom and of trying to purchase it with that which is obtained by mining and to the only place true wisdom can be found: the fear of (or belief in) the Lord (see also Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). In chapter 29, Job recalls what to him were the good times of his life, and in chapter 30 he remembers the not-so-good times. Job is judging as human beings judge and not as God judges, however, and we tend to do the same. Although Job did not realize and we often think otherwise, God is no further away during what we think are bad times than during what we think are good times. Because God has not answered Job on Job’s timetable, Job thinks God has treated him unjustly and ignored his pleas for mercy. How easy it seems to understand and accept what is going on in Job’s case but how difficult it is to understand and accept what is going on when we are in Job’s position.

Tidbits today are wide-ranging. Three Florida abortion clinics are back in business despite charges against their doctor. ... Two economists say legalized abortion doesn’t reduce crime. ... As President Bush says social security solvency is one of the domestic priorities for the rest of his term (you can watch the video here), this piece a reader sent in suggests fewer babies being born is to blame for the insolvency. ... After a group of ministers endorsed the Republican candidate for governor in Ohio, his Democratic opponent said people don’t care which candidate is more “religious”. ... Turkish book publishers have rewritten children’s classics with Islamic elements. ... Polish officials want Roman Catholic churches there to announce the names of convicted drunk drivers in their Sunday services. ... And, a reader sent in this unusual travel advisory of sorts for those hiking the Swiss Alps.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 30, 2006

Job 25-27 / Folos / Tidbits

(Psalm 85 is appointed on our reading schedule again today, and my previous comments are here. I’ll just say the rain falling as I read the psalm and prepared this entry seemed to me to fulfill verse 12.)

A shorter reading today, as Job 25-27 completes the book’s major section on dialogue and dispute both by completing the third cycle of speeches (chapters 25-26) and taking us completely through Job’s closing speech (chapter 27). We finish the third cycle of speeches with Bildad’s third speech (chapter 25) and Job’s “reply” (chapter 26). Bildad’s short speech in chapter 25 does not really add anything to what he’s said before. Job’s reply to Bildad in chapter 26 is dripping with sarcasm directed at Bildad alone as Job goes into a poem about God’s power, which ends with the recognition that we know very little about God. (Note that the third friend, Zophar, who in 20:2 had previously indicated his frustration with Job doesn’t even speak this time around.) Job’s closing speech in chapter 27 readdresses the three friends, continuing his plea of relative innocence and anticipating the final destruction of the wicked, including his friends in the number of the wicked. Job reminds his friends of their agreement that the wicked deserve God’s wrath, and he does so with a poem about God’s judgment and punishment of the wicked. (You may note that the book of Job presents one long speech of Job’s from chapter 26 through chapter 31, but there are indicators of divisions in the text, and the outline we are following does break the book down as I am indicating.)

Some quick Biblog folos today in response to yesterday’s post. A reader wondered whether the soccer player who made the sign of the cross would have gotten in trouble without the obscene gesture. I wonder if he would have gotten in trouble for the obscene gesture if he hadn’t made the sign of the cross, although I did see a number of players do so during the World Cup. (Officials clarified the punishment Tuesday.) And, in response to the piece marking the decline of bells in towers, a reader commented, “How sad to build a church tower to mark time! A bell is a reminder of the eternal.”

Tidbits today begin with the “most-wanted” leader of a polygamist sect that broke away from the Mormons in custody. ... A controversial British bishop gets himself banned from two pulpits for “swearing” in them. ... Domestic violence between same-sex couples is said to be getting state governments’ attention, but this report on the same topic got a serious(?) refuting here. ... California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger angers conservative activists by signing a gay-friendly bill. ... The International Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem cancelled for August due to the war with Lebanon is rescheduled for September. ... Columbia is now officially one of the nations practicing legalized abortion. ... Using controversial words President Bush used not long ago, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum says the War on Terror is really a War on Islamic Fascism and Iran, but a Virginia group is encouraging Christians to pray for the salvation of Islamic terrorists. (You can find a PDF of the group’s free prayer guide here.)

I pray the Holy Spirit is working through your study of Job, and you can find the latest Q&A on that book here. Thanks to the person who submitted the question; y'all are welcome to! God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 29, 2006

Ps 84 / Job 22-24 / Folo / Tidbits

Psalm 84 may be one of the most discussed psalms we’ve had in the Biblog! My original post is here, and it prompted a folo you can find here. More recently I referred back to the psalm and that original post in some related discussion here, which prompted two more folos here. Today I direct our attention to verse 2 and comment just briefly on its mentions of the psalmist’s soul, heart, and flesh. Some could take these three words and insist that human beings are to be divided three ways, not just two ways, such as body and soul, which is taught in passages such as Matthew 10:28 and 16:25-26. Similarly other passages in Holy Scripture, such as Luke 1:46-47 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 could be taken to suggest human beings have spirits, souls, and bodies. The two-part division is the usual division, and we tend to interpret passages that might otherwise be taken to suggest a three-part division in light of those that teach a two-part division. So, in the case of Psalm 84:2, we see the soul as the mention of our spiritual part, and we see “heart” and “flesh” together as referring to our physical part. In the Luke verse I mentioned, “soul” and “spirit” might be taken as interchangeable words for the spiritual part (as in other cases of parallel constructions), as also in the Thessalonians verse I mentioned, where Paul can be understood as emphasizing the whole person, not distinguishing parts (or as emphasizing progression but still not distinguishing parts). (Yet another possibility is that instead of translating “whole spirit and soul and body” we should translate “whole spirit, both soul and body”.) Regardless of how we are broken down, we know that God has redeemed or forgiven our whole beings and will fully sanctify our whole beings so that we will be with Him in all our fullness for eternity by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Job 22-24 begins the third cycle of speeches in the book’s major section on dialogue and dispute. We hear Eliphaz’s third speech in chapter 22, and we hear Job’s “reply” to Eliphaz in chapters 23-24. That communication between Job and his friends is breaking down is more evident later in this third cycle of speeches, but we sense sharper tones even in today’s reading. On the basis of Job’s suffering Eliphaz in chapter 22 now also accuses Job of gross sins, just as people in Jesus’ day and today are so quick to think that people who suffer more are worse sinners instead of realizing they should repent. Eliphaz calls Job to repentance, but he wrongly supposes both that Job is very wicked and that by repenting Job will become wealthy again, when in fact one living in repentance is part of living under the cross and may well not be blessed with material goods. Job’s reply in chapter 23 expresses confidence that if he could only find God he could get a fair hearing and be acquitted on the basis of his faith in God (the “terror-fear” of 23:15). In chapter 24, Job describes the injustice of the world and calls for God to judge the wicked and uphold the righteous in God’s time.

The Biblog folo comes after a link in yesterday’s post told of Katherine Harris criticizing voters for electing non-Christian candidates to office. The linked piece mentioned Harris’ own apparent problem with illegal campaign contributions, and a reader emailed the comment, “People who want to run on the ‘Christian ticket’ should be more careful about their sources of funding!”

There are some wide-ranging tidbits today. A new study says giving birth to an unexpected child is better for teenagers than having an abortion, and South Dakota women who have had abortions want to see voters uphold the state’s ban in November. ... A New York State professor allegedly once denied a promotion for expressing conservative views has now been promoted. ... The American Family Association is up in arms now over a profanity-laden “9/11” documentary that's reportedly aired before. ... The Trinity Broadcasting Network reportedly cancelled another show over concerns it might offend Muslims. ... City officials confiscated a Jesus statue from the yard of a Greensboro, Georgia, man, saying it was like a car on a post. ... A soccer player is disciplined for making the sign of the cross, which officials essentially equated to an obscene gesture. ... And you might say the bell is tolling for bells.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 28, 2006

Ps 83 / Job 19-21 / Tidbits

Today our lectionary schedule directs us again to Psalm 83. My previous comments provide a little background and a good overview of the psalm, but I wanted to direct your attention to verse 14 and its context. In the NIV, verses 14-15 read: “As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm.” (The KJV, ASV, and NASB translate “setteth (or sets) the mountains on fire”.) The psalmist is praying that God would destroy His enemies with His terrifying, all-mighty power; by asking that the enemies be “set ablaze”, the psalmist is not praying that their hearts be ignited with the Gospel. The Bible and thus geneuine Lutherans do not speak that way. I’m not saying that the Bible and Lutherans have no regard for those who do not yet know Christ, but we do not expect some great revival to set everyone on fire for the Lord. Would that such might happen, but our Lord Himself prophesies that it will not. Instead, we trust that God will work through us, as we faithfully live in our respective callings, to show His love to those with whom we come in contact and then create in them faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. (For more on “tongues of flame” and the trademarked Ablaze! movement, see the “From our Pastors” column in the June 2006 issue of our parish newsletter, Grace to You.)

Job 19-21 finishes the second cycle of speeches in the book’s major section on dialogue and dispute. First we hear Job’s “reply” to Bildad (chapter 19), then we hear Zophar’s second speech (chapter 20), and finally we hear Job’s “reply” to Zophar (chapter 21). In chapter 19 we come across one of the sections of verses I think makes reading Job so worthwhile. Job is rebuking his friends for their taking on themselves the role of God in tormenting him. In Job’s topsy-turvy world, as in ours, it can appear that friends are enemies and enemies are friends. God has not wronged Job as Job accuses in 19:6, but Satan, who has accused Job before God, is Job’s enemy. We might even say that Job thinks of his three well-meaning if not sometimes misguided friends as enemies; we might also think friends who rightfully admonish us to be enemies. Job’s pleading with his friends reaches a climax of its own in 19:21-22, and then come somewhat ironic words in 19:23-24 (ironic in that they were recorded and in a sense do live forever). Job’s words in 19:25-27 may express hope for more of a defender or advocate but he got—and we get—that and more in Jesus Christ, Who is also our Redeemer who pays the price for our sin with His own precious blood and innocent suffering and death. (There’s a lovely setting of this text in Handel’s “Messiah” and a later one in our hymnal [you can hear the tune in this audio file and find the the hymn’s words here].) Job confesses that there will be a bodily resurrection and that he will see God for himself even if worms have destroyed the very eyes he will use. Job now warns his friends that they should fear that same judgment day. Job’s warning prompts Zophar’s speech on what Zophar sees as the short-term joy of the wicked and the prosperity of the blessed. Zophar in some sense wrongly sees himself as living proof that his material blessings related to his moral goodness. Job argues the reverse in his reply to Zophar, saying that the wicked prosper in this world. Job describes both good and wicked going down to the grave and being similarly destroyed by worms—so the world judges that faith in God is unnecessary if not even counterproductive. The real distinction between those who live at peace in God’s presence for eternity and those who will be set ablaze for that same eternity is not known to everyone until the last, great day.

Just a trio of tidbits again today. Katherine Harris, currently one of Florida’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, says the separation of church and state is “a lie”. ... The Archbishop of Canterbury now says gays must change their behavior to come into the church. ... And, U.S. conservative Episcopalians might be able to hook up with the Russian Orthodox church now.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 27, 2006

Job 16-18 / Tidbits

(These comments may help as you reread Psalm 82 today.)

Job 16-18 continue the second cycle of speeches in the book’s major section on dialogue and dispute. We hear Job’s “reply” to Eliphaz’s second speech (chapters 16-17) and Bildad’s second speech itself (chapter 18). Job’s reply to Eliphaz in chapter 16 criticizes his friends for their long and unhelpful counsel, and Job again addresses God and describes Him as a ferocious enemy. Again, if we judged only on the basis of our experience in the world we would have to conclude God is our enemy, but, when we learn of Him in the person and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in Word and Sacrament, we can say with Job that our advocate is on high and believe that ultimately we will be vindicated in the heavenly courtroom (16:18-21). As Job’s reply to Eliphaz goes on in chapter 17, he again criticizes his friends for their unenlightened and unwise counsel. In chapter 18, Bildad’s second speech expresses some resentment at Job’s characterization of him and the other two friends and again holds forth the idea that the wicked do not prosper but are punished in this life. Certainly we would disagree, seeing many unrighteous people thrive in the world around us. The challenge is always for us to trust that God’s justice will be revealed and carried out in the end: that the unrighteous will eternally suffer from the absence of God and that those who believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will thrive for eternity in His Presence.

Tidbits are just three today (slow-news weekend?). Fire damaged a historic Russian Orthodox church undergoing restoration. ... Jews for Jesus is being sued by a New York rabbi turned comic. ... And, a North American Muslim organization gets its first female president.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 26, 2006

Ps 81 / Job 13-15 / Tidbits

Today we reread Psalm 81, and to these comments I add what follows. Verses 11-12 made me think back to what we discussed about obduracy a few days ago. God brings us to faith without our doing, circumcising our stubborn hearts in the waters of Holy Baptism, but once He has brought us we can certainly turn away, hardening our own hearts again. He repeatedly calls us to repent, but ultimately He can do what He describes here: give His unrepentant children up to their sins (see Romans 1:24, 26, 28). What a contrast, though, is what God gives to those who do repent: the forgiveness of sins for Jesus sake, especially in the Sacrament of the Altar, of which we are reminded with “finest of wheat” and “honey from the rock” of verse 16. The “wheat” in view seems to be that of the manna in the wilderness, as the “honey” seems to be that found in the clefts of rocks where Canaan bees built their hives. The verse also reminds me of Isaiah 25:6-7 (part of that which I have chosen for the Old Testament reading in my funeral service), which points to the great banquet of heaven of which we have a foretaste in the Sacrament of the Altar and which reminds us that ultimately body and soul enjoy the bliss of eternity there.

Today Job 13-15 continues the major section on dialogue and dispute by both finishing the first cycle of speeches and beginning the second cycle of speeches. Chapters 13-14 conclude Job’s first “reply” to Zophar, and chapter 15 is Eliphaz’s second speech. As you read chapters 13-14 be sure to note a few things. Job no longer seems to appreciate the counsel of his friends, and he is a bit sarcastic with them (for example, 13:5). In 13:17 Job calls his friends to pay attention to the words that follow, which he addresses to God (13:20-14:22). And, we are reminded to be careful what we ask for, because Job will have his direct dialog with God and to some extent regret it. I think we all would do well to remember 13:15 and make its words our own: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (KJV; the NIV and NASB are similar, and the ASV, though different, still seeks and expects God’s deliverance). Despite such a bold statement of faith, Job’s continues to express pessimism and frustration that God does not immediately deliver him. Lutheran funeral liturgy draws on the opening two verses of chapter 14. Verse 4 speaks of our inability to save ourselves (see also 15:14), but we must be careful to avoid interpreting verse 5 in some fatalistic way. Job does recognize in 14:13-17 that God can resurrect people, but his faith is wearing thin. In chapter 15, Eliphaz’s second speech suggests his patience has worn thin with Job. Watch as Eliphaz rebukes Job and in 11-13 identifies his and the other friends’ comfort with God’s comfort, but remember that the three themselves have hardly been fair to God. Eliphaz tries to convince Job that the wicked do not prosper, and in the process Eliphaz avoids answering Job’s concern that the “innocent” sometimes appear to suffer. Ah, how we all long to be wise and understand the ways of the world, but, oh, how we must end up saying, as Job essentially does, what St. Paul says in Romans 11:33-36.

Tidbits today begin with California’s State Supreme Court upholding the death penalty for two gunmen who opened fire on a church there in 1989. ... A federal circuit judge overturns two Waco ordinances used against anti-abortion protesters. ... Supporters of the “morning after” abortion pill aren’t resting on their laurels: they want to make it so younger women can get the pill more easily, even though researchers aren’t sure it’s safe for them. ... While Americans think religion has less influence on society a new poll says they still think the United States is a Christian nation. ... The president of the American Psychological Association (APA) that has declassified homosexuality as an illness says it has no problem with psychologists that want to help people deal with unwanted homosexual desires. ... A rich Puerto Rican preacher claims to be Jesus reincarnated (doesn’t Jesus still have His own flesh?), picking and choosing what parts of the Bible to keep (such as the part about giving offerings). (You should be able to find the NBC News video piece linked off the Today Show page.) ... And, Rob Reiner (remember “Meathead” from “All in the Family”?) says Mel Gibson can’t have healing over his anti-Semitic DUI tirade until Gibson admits “The Passion of the Christ” was anti-Semitic, too. (I'm sure Archie would have an appropriate reply.)

God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 25, 2006

Job 10-12 / Folo / Abortion pill / Tidbits

(Psalm 80 is appointed again today, and you can find the previous post on it here.)

Job 10-12 continues both the major section on dialogue and dispute and its subsection of the first cycle of speeches. Today we finish Job’s “reply” to Bildad (chapter 10), read all of Zophar’s speech (chapter 11), and begin Job’s “reply” to Zophar (chapter 12). In Job’s reply to Bildad that we read in chapter 10, we see how, based on his afflictions, Job has a false impression of God as angry. Apart from God’s revealed love and forgiveness for us in Jesus Christ we would be forced to make the same conclusion. Questioning God like an adversary in court, Job says God created him (the poetic description of verses 8-11), but Job wants to know if it was in order to oppress him and somehow gain pleasure from that. Job thinks God is so unjust that he will be afflicted by God whether guilty or innocent (19:15-16). In 10:21-22 Job sees death as an end of gloom and darkness, but that is his near despair talking, for later he will confess faith in a bodily resurrection. Like Job’s other two friends, Zophar in chapter 11 says Job’s sins are responsible for his afflictions. Again, none of them know what we readers know from the prologue, just as we do not know the specific circumstances of our own afflictions. Zophar condemns Job unfairly. For example, Job has not “mocked” God as Zophar says in 11:3. Similarly, there is at least a subtle distinction between God and Job’s claim that Job was “blameless” and Zophar’s claim that Job said he was “pure” (11:4), which Job had not said. Still, Zophar says God has dealt more leniently with Job than he has deserved (11:6), and Zophar anticipates how God will answer Job (11:7 and verses following). Zophar’s position later in the chapter borders on a theology of glory: that if we believe in God everything will be rosy. Indeed, everything will be rosy in eternity, but things in this life go the way of the cross, where victory is hidden in suffering. Job’s reply to Zophar begins with some sarcasm (verse 2), and Job speaks of how God no longer answers his prayers and how his friends judge him as a result. I think there is a bit of rebuke to his friends as Job appeals to creation for witnesses that God does what He wills (12:7-12). Then, in 12:13-25, Job confesses how God is in control of all and acts in ways that somehow seem erratic to us. Truly the inner mysteries of God are beyond our ability to know, but thanks be to God both that we have His revelation of salvation trough faith in Jesus Christ who died for us and that that is all we need to know!

The Biblog folo comes out of the follow-up discussion yesterday about the Church and its mission as it relates to “extinction”. A reader had pointed to problems with churches in Europe, but I suggested that closer to home we had problems understanding the church’s mission and linked to a piece calling for volunteers to pay their own way to teach English in Hong Kong and Macau. An email suggested potential problems with teaching by Texans, followed by New Englanders, followed by Californians, compounded with tonal differences in native languages. (The same reader pointed out that even the two years of residence required by the Peace Corps was not enough.) Another email referred to these trips more as vacations paid for by congregations and their fundraising. While the concerns of those emails are certainly valid, I spell out my original concern that the mission of the Church, the saving of souls, is best served by pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments, through which the Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. While there may be some restrictions as to just who is allowed in some mission fields, we ought to be more concerned about sending much longer-term Synod-funded missionaries ordained for Word and Sacrament ministry than untrained pay-your-own-way volunteers to teach English for six months. Sending “real” missionaries is one of the purposes of the Synod, according to its constitution, and I wonder how much of that purpose could be accomplished by all the airfare and housing costs for the six-month teams of 20.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday approved over-the-counter sales of the controversial “Plan B” or “morning after” abortion pill for those older than age 18. Let’s at least be honest and call what the pill is supposed to do what it actually is: aborting a conceived life. You can see in the linked items that most call the measure a “contraceptive”, but going “contra” the “(con)ception” after the fact is too late. The Plan B high dose of regular birth control pill hormones can keep an egg from being released but is also intended to keep a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in the uterus, and that is more an abortion of created life than a measure to prevent conception of the life. So, claims that wider use of Plan B will reduce “abortions” are part of a shell game—while the actual number of abortion procedures might be reduced the number of aborted lives might actually increase if promiscuity increases as some expect. Now, not everyone agrees, of course, and one’s definition of “pregnancy” may well depend on where you get your information, whom you believe, and what your agenda is.

I have just a few tidbits today. This isn’t your typical clergy sex scandal. ... Alabama democrats are expected to remove a gay primary-winner from the ballot today. ... Ford Motor Company’s chairman and CEO says the company will undergo “radical changes”, but this report says nothing about stopping support of the homosexual agenda. ... Here’s an honor Austin probably didn’t want any more than the one UT got earlier this week. ... And, these fairytales aren’t the kind you want to read to your children at bedtime.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 24, 2006

Ps 79 / Job 7-9 / Folos / “Holiday” sales / Tidbits

Psalm 79 is appointed to read again today, and there’s an overview of the psalm here. Also worth remembering is that praise of God is never a bargaining tool, a bribe, or a reason for God to keep His promises. Notice in verse 9 on what the psalmist bases the request for help; the promise of praise in verse 13 is a result, not a reason for God to answer the request. As with the psalmist’s praise, so too with ours: God does not “need” our praise, and the primary reason we gather in Divine Service is not to praise Him but to receive His forgiveness, paid for by Jesus’ suffering and death and offered freely to us in Word and Sacrament. Our praise and emotional response can and should come as a result of God’s forgiveness, but they are not the main reason we are there. That understanding is the Scriptural and thus Lutheran theology of worship, but you will find a lot of other people out there have quite a different understanding of worship, often because they have different understanding about salvation itself.

Today with Job 7-9 we continue the first cycle of speeches in the major section on dialogue and dispute, continuing Job’s “reply” to Eliphaz (chapter 7), hearing Bildad’s speech (chapter 8), and beginning Job’s “reply” to Bildad (chapter 9). (I’m sorry the reading assignments spread the speeches across more than one day.) As Job’s reply to Eliphaz continues in chapter 7, Job addresses some of his comments to God (such as verse 7). Job in 7:20 complains that he has not done anything to merit the kind of suffering he’s experiencing, but we remember that breaking even the smallest commandment, as it were, would merit eternal death if not for God’s forgiveness. Job in 7:21 seems to think, as people today often do, too, that forgiveness should remove temporal suffering; in fact, sins are forgiven in Christ, but sometimes consequences of those sins remain, or God uses afflictions to lead us to repent. Bildad’s speech in chapter 8 suggests he thinks Job is a hypocrite, which we might, too, if we didn’t know from 1:8 and 2:3 what God thinks. Where Eliphaz drew on wisdom he said was revealed to him, Bildad appeals to a wisdom tradition passed down to him, what appears to be a poem in verses 11-19 applied to Job in 20-22. Verse 21, incidentally, expresses thoughts found elsewhere in Job and in the Psalms and is an example of good laughter. Job’s reply to Bildad in chapter 9 suggests Job knows he’s sinful but still thinks he hasn’t done anything deserving of what he’s getting. Verses 5-10 are a beautiful hymn of God’s greatness, but Job nevertheless complains about God, seemingly forgetting God’s goodness and justice and proceeding to mischaracterize God. Yet, Job does not curse God or give up hoping in Him; Job perseveres in faith, even if his perseverance isn’t always pretty. Job’s call for an arbitrator or mediator (sometimes translated “umpire”) in 9:33-34 is important (back in 5:1 Eliphaz had seemingly suggested there wasn’t such a person). “Stay tuned” for more on just Who fits the bill, as our reading of Job continues.

We have six Biblog folos today. First, based on yesterday’s reading of Psalm 78 I commented that we do not pass along God’s saving deeds and statutes in order to save the Church from extinction since the Gates of Hell do not prevail against Christ’s Church. An email brought the following comment.

True, but if people neglect to pass it on, it may be “extinct” in a particular place. It may not be “extinct” in Europe, but it’s sick! If Christians do not replicate themselves, by mission or reproduction, the Muslims will have Europe. They will not be “tolerant” as the present population has been, by and large (omitting the matter of cartoons).

We must always carefully distinguish between the invisible aspects of Christ’s Church (such as faith in the heart) that escape our human perception and the visible aspects of Christ’s Church (such as the pure preaching of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments) that we can detect. (Note well there are not two churches, one invisible and the other visible, but there is one Church with two aspects.) One of the problems some people have with the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” is that it can be taken to blur the line between the Church as the Holy Bride of Christ and church bodies that people see as full of hypocrites, torn by schism, distressed by false teaching, etc. Church bodies in Europe (as if we even have to look that far) may well be sick and in danger of ceding their lands to Islam, but Christ’s Church still is not defeated. Their church bodies may need mission or reproduction to survive, but the survival of Christ’s Church does not depend on us. (Our mission is done out of concern for people’s souls, and if there’s any doubts even our Synod has lost sight of what real mission work is, see here.) Yes, the existence of Christ’s Church in any one place or at any one time may wax and wane (maybe even be “extinct” in that place at that time), but we should expect such. Dr. Luther warned that Germany might lose the Church as punishment for its disregard of the Gospel and Sacraments, and with full rhetorical force our Lord asks, “When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 KJV).

Second, regarding yesterday’s reading of Job 4-6, the Biblog post suggested “to some extent we are wrongly predisposed to hear Job as the ‘right’ position” despite the fact that God rebukes him in the end. A reader emailed the following comment.

Well, true, but if I had three friends who sat and said, “You must have done something to deserve it.” I might say something intemperate, even if they were right. Perhaps especially if they were right, since we’ve all “done something to deserve it”; the friends were no less guilty than Job.

Yes, we are all by nature sinful and unclean. Yet, when someone goes off and accuses God of injustice without recognizing his or her own sin, someone else has to try to help them see the truth. Properly distinguishing and applying law and Gospel are never easy but nevertheless need to be done. Too often, like Job, people respond intemperately (and to some extent impenitently) to those who are trying to help them.

Third, yesterday’s post of a tidbit regarding the upcoming meeting of Episcopal leaders and its suggestion that Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, was only “first among equals” and “has no direct authority over the internal life of the Provinces that make up the [Anglican] Communion” prompted the following comment.

Very interesting! I understood “Episcopal polity” to mean “top down” rule in the church, from all I've been reading pro & con. From this article, it would seem that the Archbishop of Canterbury has a lot less control over his denomination, than [LCMS President Dr. Gerald Kieschnick] thinks he has over our “congregational polity” Lutheranism, with his arbitrary CCM rulings.

My understanding of the inner-workings of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church may not be completely accurate and reliable, but I think the “Episcopal” name and polity applies more to what is termed the U.S. “Province” that is a part of the global Anglican Communion than to the communion itself. Of course, even the pope is supposed to be a “first among equals” but nevertheless at least tries to exercise a great deal of control, with more or less success. Archbishop Williams may yet get involved in the dispute over “primatial oversight” (maybe equal to “ecclesiastical supervision” in LCMS terminology?), but it sounds like for now he is trying to let the Episcopal church resolve its own problem. Yet, for some of the conservatives within the Episcopal church the incoming bishopette, who is going to be at the meeting next month, may be part of the problem. I’m more amazed by the fact that a limit seems to have been reached with the very latitude and comprehensiveness of the Anglican Communion that was supposed to make it such an excellent vehicle for modern ecumenism.

Fourth, yesterday’s tidbit about a Roman Catholic priest fighting a parking ticket he received while administering Last Rites prompted a reader to email suggesting the priest read Job and asking if the Irish were not running the NYPD anymore. I was more struck by the suggestion that since everyone else was parking in an ambulance zone that he could, too.

Fifth, yesterday’s tidbit about criticism of President Bush’s support for over the counter sales of the so-called “morning after” or “Plan-B” birth control pill prompted email. Apparently not every registered pharmacist wants the responsibility of verifying identification for and then counseling women 18-years-old or older. (I know when I worked at a package liquor store and waited tables I didn’t want the responsibility of carding people to determine who was over 21 or not, either.) One pharmacist said this pill should not be available at all but, if it has to be, then doctors need to be involved. The pharmacist also said “Plan-A” should be abstinence, which doesn’t cost a dime, and, if that doesn’t work, then, instead of destroying God’s work, the responsible parties should put the child up for adoption. I won’t argue with those points; it’s too bad President Bush, the FDA, and the rest of America don’t see it that way.

And, finally, yesterday’s tidbit belief in Darwin being a reflection on the state of science in America prompted a reader to email about an article with more insights into the state of science.

An article by Paul Johnson in The Spectator (November 2005) says that the American scientific establishment rabidly supports Darwinian evolution, to the point that “they will not debate on TV or public platforms with those they dismiss as ‘pseudo scientists’” (creationists, proponents of Intelligent Design). Refusal to consider other ideas says to this author that “the Darwinian fundamentalists are wrong, know they are wrong, and are scared.” He goes on to cite examples where the “Establishment” was proved wrong, such as the scientific theories of Lysenko in Russia, the Australian who said peptic ulcers were caused by bacteria and was cold shouldered until he and another Australian teamed up to prove that “Helicobacter pylori” was the villain and cured it with antibiotics, and others. He concludes that, “Science is just as liable to error as any other field” and should be more open to those who question “the prevailing orthodoxy.”

Whether science or theology, one’s refusal to engage in public discourse about a matter is a certain sign of the weakness of the position. (Hmm, and LCMS leadership doesn’t want the Synod’s wrong positions identified from the Divine Service’s pulpit or the Bible Class’ podium.

A reader emailed that the American Family Association (AFA) already is up in arms over ads for “holiday” sales. Apparently Sam’s Club’s advertisements are referring to “holidays” instead of “Christmas”. The reader isn’t so quick to blame Sam’s Club, rightly pointing out, “There are a lot of ‘holidays’ between August and New Year’s Day.” Instead, the reader points a finger at the AFA.

Instead of complaining that secular commercial establishments don’t recognize “Christmas” why doesn’t an organization like AFA work among Christians to promote the realization that what Sam's Club does IS NOT “Christmas”? A less commercial and more religious celebration of the birth of our Lord would be better for all of us. Boycott Sam’s Club, if you will. (I’ve been doing it for years.) Do something more real than throw money at the stores at “Christmas”! Oh, yeah! AFA wants “a little donation” to spread their message. Talk about making money off “Christmas”!

I certainly add my “Amen” to the call for promoting the religious aspects of the holy-day.

Tidbits today begin with judges overturning a Missouri ban on suggestive billboards. ... A federal judge gave a victory to conservative students’ speech at Georgia Tech University, while the Philadelphia Phillies are accused of welcoming gay advocates but turning homosexual opponents away. ... A federal judge refused to get involved in a conflict over homosexuality between conservative Episcopalians and their liberal Connecticut bishop. ... Planned Parenthood in Connecticut reportedly has succeeded in requiring Yale medical students be trained in abortion. ... A Chicago politician is suggesting making their county a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, as an illegal immigrant remains holed up in a Chicago church hoping arguments that her American-born son shouldn’t be deported will keep her here. ... Violence in Israel isn’t keeping families like this one from emigrating there and trading iPods for IEDs. (iPods are personal digital music players, and IEDs are improvised explosive devices.) ... And, news Wednesday that housing sales were slowing is said to mean sales of something else will pick up.

There's a new Q&A here, and thanks for the questions, comments, and links. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 23, 2006

Ps 78 / Job 4-6 / Tidbits

Psalm 78 is appointed for reading again today, and the earlier post on it is here. This time I reflected on our desire to tell and teach the next generation, children, even those yet to be born. You might have noticed what they are told: God’s deeds and statutes (confer Acts 1:1). The praiseworthy, powerful deeds and wonders are His saving acts of deliverance, and the decreed statutes are His covenantal law and commandments. (We need not worry that in this sense law seems to come after Gospel.) Both need to be told because knowing of God’s salvation without the resulting obedience brings the curses for unfaithfulness that subsequent generations experienced. God’s deeds and statutes were told to the psalmist’s generation, as they have been told to us, and his generation was to pass them on, and so are we, even if we do not have children or godchildren of our own. Why do we pass them on? Is it because as is so often said “the church is one generation away from extinction”? Rubbish! Christ’s Church will never be extinct, for the gates of hell cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Rather, we tell and teach the next generation, children, even those yet to be born, because the love of God in us moves us to share His love with others over concern for their souls! For the same reason we care not only for “children” but for all people whether or not they know God’s deeds and statutes. Remember that the greatest of the deeds of deliverance are the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that when, by grace through faith, we are redeemed by His blood the good works of keeping God’s covenant should come naturally.

Job 4-6 continues the book’s first major section, that of dialogue and dispute, by beginning the first cycle of speeches with that of Eliphaz (chapters 4-5) and Job’s so-called “reply” (chapters 6-7, although today we only read through chapter 6). As Job is part of the “wisdom literature”, you will likely notice an emphasis on “wisdom” throughout. Still, we must use great care as we read these speeches, for, although they contain some elements of truth, the speakers obviously did not know what we readers know, that is, God’s greater purpose in allowing Satan to afflict Job. There were aspects of God hidden from them and aspects of God revealed to them, and there are aspects of God hidden from us and aspects of God revealed to us. Precisely why we suffer is in a sense hidden from us, as why Job was suffering was hidden from him and his friends, but God has revealed to us that in general our suffering comes from His good and gracious will and serves His good purposes for us. Reading chapters 4-5, I think Eliphaz might have a little “works righteousness” in him, directing Job in 4:6 to his own piety and not to God’s promises. Eliphaz rightly understands that we all deserve to be destroyed, whether or not that knowledge came to him by special revelation (4:12-16). Presumably the statement about angels charged with error (NIV, NASB; “folly” KJV, ASV) refers to the devil and his followers being evicted from heaven. Eliphaz does rightly see that God is righteous in His discipline and that God’s discipline is a blessing for the person receiving it, although we can imagine how Job heard those words. Reading chapter 6, the first half of Job’s next speech, note how Job recognizes how his previous statements must have sounded (6:3) and how he reacts to his friend’s words of comfort (6:5-7, 14 and verses following). I also marveled at his wanting to die faithful to God rather than continue suffering and risk falling away from the faith (6:8-10), for he senses that he cannot endure the suffering indefinitely on his own (6:11-13). Overall I think to some extent we are wrongly predisposed to hear Job as the “right” position, for he was the one said to be “blameless and upright” (1:1) and from our own experiences of suffering we so sympathize with his position, but God is going to rebuke him in the end. Still, where his friends are somewhat fixed on the whys and hows of Job’s situation, it is Job himself who recognizes that the key is his relationship with God; he wants to make sense of the suffering he is experiencing in light of God’s revelation of Himself. Job does not want to, nor will he, give up faith that God will again be friendly toward him on account of that faith. So, too, for us.

Tidbits today begin with Episcopal officials saying a meeting next month isn’t going to be about what people have been thinking it would be. ... The State of Massachusetts is reportedly trying to invalidate religious claims. ... A New York City priest unsuccessfully fought a parking ticket he got while administering Last Rites. ... Pro-life groups say President Bush’s support Monday of the so-called “morning after” pill is inconsistent with his recent veto of embryonic stem-cell research. ... Candidates for office in Alabama don’t want to make it clear what their positions are. ... A Vatican official who opposed creation was removed from his post, and low belief in evolution is being used to suggest the United States is behind in science education. ... And Americans think of themselves as spiritually stable but don’t let their faith impact their lives.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 22, 2006

Ps 77 / Job 1-3 / Tidbits

In re-reading Psalm 77 today, you might want to re-read these comments and then join me in the following reflection on verses 6b-9. The psalmist wonders if he has done something to make God reject and ignore him and permanently withdraw or withhold his mercy and compassion. Such thoughts can be terrifying! We do believe that a point can be reached, as it was with Egypt’s pharaoh at the time of Moses, where God further hardens the heart of a person, who has already hardened his or her heart, to the extent that the person won’t be repenting in faith. In other words, we believe that “the day of salvation” is limited and that people should repent while they hear the call to faith. Unlike with pharaoh, however, I think that we would say for most people the “day of salvation” is the entire time they are alive, but there’s no guarantee of that. This discussion about stiff-necked and hard-hearted obduracy usually comes up under the heading of Election, where we caution against two extremes: a false security that one cannot fall from faith and anxiety that one has fallen. I don’t necessarily want to get into the entire teaching of Election right at this time and place (you can read more about it, especially in article XI of the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, by following links from here). Suffice it to say that God wants all to be saved and that based on His Word and Sacraments, especially in this case individual absolution, we can be sure that we as individuals are included in that “all”. Afflictions like those the psalmist suffered and those we suffer are determined and decreed by God to conform us to the image of His Suffering Son and work together for good since God has called us according to His purpose. In general I would say that if you are worried whether you have reached the point where God has abandoned you, He hasn’t.

Today with Job 1-3 we begin reading the book of Job. As usual, you can find some introductory comments in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and available as a PDF here). If you haven’t already, you might also read an article about Job printed in this month’s edition of our parish newsletter, Grace to You, which article is reproduced online here. The one other introductory comment of sorts that I wanted to make is that what are sometimes called “dialogues” that we will encounter are more like independent speeches than an actual conversation, that is, they do not necessarily respond to what has been said before.

With all of that introductory information behind us, let us turn to today’s reading of the prologue (chapters 1-2) and the start of the first major section, dialogue and dispute, which begins with Job’s opening lament (chapter 3). (You might know that a “lament” is a more or less formal expression of grief or mourning.) As you read chapter 1, remember that, like the psalmists, Job’s being “blameless” does not mean he was “sinless”. Also, notice how Satan lives up to his name of “the accuser”, suggesting Job only believes because God has bought his faithfulness with blessings. At first, God permits Satan to afflict everything Job has but not Job himself, which Satan obediently does. Note well 1:21 and 1:22. We use 1:21 in our funeral rites, and 1:22 is an important admission that God is ultimately in control of all things, even what we might think of as “bad things” that happen. In chapter 2 Satan comes again before the Lord to accuse Job, and this time the Lord permits Satan to afflict Job himself but not to take his life. Note well 2:9-10, as Satan tempts Job through his wife but Job gives a very profound answer, again faithfully confessing God’s sovereign reign. Much is sometimes made of the fact that Job’s friends sat silently with him for a perfect number of days and nights before speaking, and we all probably can learn that there is something to be said, as it were, for sitting silently with those suffering and grieving, though ultimately God works through deed and word to provide comfort that people need. In chapter 3 Job comes about as close to cursing God as he can without actually doing so, cursing instead the day of his birth and wishing that he at least had been stillborn. (For a little more on 3:8’s “Leviathan” see here.) How often we feel what 3:26 well expresses, but, as there will be for Job, so there is also comfort for us in the forgiveness of sins that is ours by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Just a trinity of tidbits today. Supposedly pro-life President Bush Monday morning said he supports the “over the counter” sale of the so-called “morning after” pill. ... Here’s what happens when people forget Sunday School is an extension of parents’ responsibility. ... And, they’re gearing up for the filming of the next “Chronicle” of Narnia.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 21, 2006

Ps 76 / Est 7-10 / “We’re in power now” / Folo / Tidbits

In addition to my previous comments on Psalm 76 I make two other comments today. First, structurally speaking, Psalm 76 has an opening in verses 1-3 and a closing in verse 11-12, with verses 4-10 serving as its main stanza of praise. The center of that main stanza is verse 7, which leads to my second comment. Wow! (Stop there for a second and re-read v.7.) Wow! Witnessing God’s devastating judgment and resulting wrath on an enemy surely leads to the recognition that God alone is to be feared with terror and that no one can stand before God when He is angry. Yet, surely the demons know that and tremble (James 2:19). What we need to know and believe is that God alone is to be feared with faith and that He makes it so we can stand before Him clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone.

We conclude the book of Esther today, reading Esther 7-10 and thereby both finishing the section on the feasts of Esther (chapter 7) and reading all of the section on the feasts of Purim (chapters 8-10). The section on the feasts of Purim can be further broken down in the king’s command on behalf of the Jews (chapter 8), the establishment of Purim (chapter 9), and the promotion of Mordecai (chapter 10). There’s high drama in the palace in chapter 7, when Esther finally makes her request and identifies Haman as the man behind the plot against the Jews. You might notice the irony that Haman, who plotted against the Jews when the Jew Mordecai would not bow down to him, now himself falls before a Jewess, Queen Esther, in an effort to save his life but only seals his fate in the process. In reading chapter 8 I marveled at how the king issued another supposedly irrevocable decree under his seal completely contrary to the previous one without revoking it; potentially confused governors would simply follow the more recent order. (Maybe modern church politicians take lessons from this example of conflicting orders?) Chapter 9 ostensibly explains why Jews in the rural areas observed the feast of Purim on a different day than Jews in Susa, and later Jerusalem. (Presumably there were more enemies to kill in the city; see 9:13-15.) Chapter 10 tells of Mordecai’s prominence, and, although no one I read suggested it, I suppose Mordecai’s rise to power could have helped pave the way for Nehemiah to be in the right place at the right time for God to use to bring about more reconstruction in Jerusalem; remember Mordecai’s pivotal question to Esther back in 4:14. To what position or place and for what purpose has God brought us in our times?

Reading Esther 9:1, I was struck by the expressions “the tables were turned” and “the Jews got the upper hand”. At first I wasn’t going to say anything, but I reconsidered after reading something in one of my sources, and the more I reflected on it the more I felt compelled to comment. The Divinely-inspired author of Esther certainly highlights the turn of events for Haman and for the Jews by balancing the account in 3:1-4:3 with that in 8:1-17, both in structure and vocabulary, although the sides and outcomes are obviously reversed. We cannot deny that Xerxes, perhaps at Esther's or Mordecai’s prompting, gave the Jews the right not only to defend themselves but also to kill their enemies, if only for the one or two days. Assuming our unmentioned God is behind the move, what to modern eyes might be an “evil” is no greater than that of the other wars waged at God’s behest by the Old Testament nation of Israel. Of course that kingdom was at least supposed to be a theocracy, but then God can also work through other means, as He did through Assyria and Babylon to chastise Israel and Judah.

Fast-forward to more modern times, perhaps especially to Israel’s recent “hot summer” war with Lebanon (or whatever they decide to call the month-long/still-continuing conflict): while there’s no denying society’s and even Christianity’s sins against Jewry, Jewry itself certainly can “sin” when the tables are turned and it has the upper hand. I said yesterday that I reject parallels between Haman and Hitler, but I also do not condone what is usually regarded as anti-Semitism. Our “church father” Martin Luther’s name has certainly been besmirched with the charge of anti-Semitism, in defense of which there are any number of excuses (though some are just that, while others go the way of correctly interpreting and putting into context what Luther said). We certainly do not blame the Jews of any day for killing Christ but recognize our own sin therein. At the same time, however, we also must not fail to recognize and confess that religious Jews are outside of the Kingdom of God, even as some ethnic Jews have saving faith in Jesus, the Messiah Who has already come. Ethnic if not religious Jews to some extent remain God’s chosen people, and we pray for their conversion, as we pray for the conversion of all those outside of the Church.

Finally, we might use our disgust over the ideas of “turning tables” and having “the upper hand” to remember that there are those so-called liberals and so-called conservatives within our own church body who, when the pendulum swings, use the tactics and methods of their opponents. Concerned about potential attacks from so-called liberals after they had lost a battle, I was once told by a so-called conservative not to worry because “We’re in power now”, and let’s just say I wasn’t very comforted. I seem to be constantly reminded of the question and answer between Joshua and what may have been the Pre-Incarnate Christ (see Joshua 5:13-15): the Lord’s forces fight neither for us nor for our enemies; the real question is whether we are with and for the Lord or against Him. Synodical leader, seminary professor, pastor, or layperson—we all must submit ourselves to the Lord and His cause, not try to use Him as a pawn (or even a more-powerful queen) in our own petty struggles. We all must live every day in sorrow over our own sin and with faith in Jesus Christ, Who lived, died, and rose again to save us from our sin.

On a much lighter note, today’s Biblog folo comes after I commented in yesterday’s post that some might balk at second-hand clothing. A reader’s email told of a number of acquaintances who did not. In reply I pointed out that I had said “might”, and I “confessed” my own purchases at Austin’s Second Looks and other such stores, still recalling hand-me-downs in some cases approaching ten years out of style mingled with new clothes in my closet and dresser when I was growing up.

Some Sunday-paper-type think pieces are mingled among today’s tidbits. Pope Benedict pleads for the release of a Roman Catholic priest reportedly abducted in Iran and being held for a large ransom. ... A South African court rules in favor of life, while in this country the FDA either has not made up its mind about the so-called “morning after” pill or it’s at least trying to put on a good show. ... Here’s a bigger-picture view of that stolen Jesus portrait and the varying Ten Commandments rulings. ... Here’s some analysis about the controversy over the Leviticus 18:22 billboard in New York. ... This ruling in the case of departing Presbyterian congregations trying to keep property held in trust for their church body should have no impact if there’s ever a split in the LCMS, since its congregations are supposed to be autonomous. ... U.S. Episcopal bishops will meet next month to try to resolve difference splitting their church body, while some conservatives in their church body find other ways of training their pastors. ... And, two tidbits I’ve been trying to bring you but can't seem to find whole stories on are Satan getting his version of the “Jesus Seminar” and Roman Catholic priests in South African being told they can no longer moonlight as witch doctors. If no one in the forest is listening hard enough to hear the sound, does that mean the tree didn’t really fall?

Thanks to the person who asked the question for this new Q&A. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 02:04 AM

August 20, 2006

Ps 75 / Est 4-6 / Tidbits

When I read Psalm 75 this time I was really struck by the statement in verse 2: “I choose the appointed time” (NIV). While I make reference to the Lord’s timely judgment in my previous comments, I wanted to meditate a little more on that particular statement (providentially the thought also relates to today's reading in Esther). One commentator translates “I will seize the moment” and specifically rejects the “when” connection made by such translations as the KJV, ASV, and NASB. The Hebrew expression moed can mean appointed time (including religious seasons), meeting, place, sign, and even the place where God met with His people. Outside of time by His nature, God set the universe in motion, creating time as we think of it (Genesis 1:14), and He also set such times as when birds migrate (Jeremiah 8:7). While in this case psalmist is clearly referring to the time that God will judge, I was moved to think about God’s other actions in “time”, such as His sending His Son at just the right time to redeem us from our sins (Galatians 4:4). And, we can and should carry over God’s timely intervention to each and every occasion in our lives, for He is in control and knows our needs, how much we can bear, and just the right time to answer our prayers in the way that is best for us. And, of course, we all know when and where we can meet with God to receive His most precious gift of forgiveness.

Reading Esther 4-6 today we continue the section on the feasts of Esther, entailing Mordecai's persuading Esther to help (chapter 4), Esther’s request to the king and her first banquet (5:1-8), and the king “sleepless in Susa” (5:9-6:14). Chapter 4 opens with Mordecai learning of Haman’s order to kill the Jews and taking on the clothing and behavior of one mourning. The 30 days Esther refers to in 4:11 seem to be unrelated to the time periods given in chapter 2 before Esther was elevated to queen. Mordecai’s challenge to Esther in 4:14, “Who knows but that you have come to [this] position for such a time as this?”, is a challenge to each of us to consider God’s hand in our lives and the things that He can accomplish through us in the times and places where He has put us. The hanging Haman planned for Mordecai, like that done to Bigthana and Teresh back in 2:23, may actually have been impaling on poles (corpses might later be hung in exhibition after being impaled), and the height of 50 cubits (75 feet) may have been achieved by placement atop another structure, such as the city wall. The coincidences gain significance in chapter 6, and God’s hand in all of what was happening is clearly implied. There’s irony in Haman’s lack of specificity about just who was going to be killed somewhat coming back to him with the king’s lack of specificity about just who was going to be honored (not to mention Haman’s arrogance in assuming it would be him). You and I might balk at vintage or second-hand clothing, but the king’s “used” robe being placed on Mordecai meant that Mordecai had the king’s favor, and to some extent also his power, stature, and honor. Incidentally, while I would expect Jews to associate what was about to happen under Haman with what happened under Hitler, we should not: the Old Testament faithful Jews are to be equated with the New Testament faithful Christians. The race of Jews that Hitler attacked is not the faithful remnant of God’s people. One other thing, you may want to reread yesterday’s post regarding Haman’s background, as I revised it upon better evidence mid-day Saturday. Tomorrow: what happens to Haman and how all of this was remembered (there’s a television tease for you).

Tidbits today begin with U.S. Government officials saying they won’t forcibly remove a supposed-to-be-deported immigration activist who’s taken sanctuary in a Chicago church. ... This is almost like President Bush doesn’t know who attacked the democracy in Lebanon. ... Gay marriage is plowing ahead in South Africa. ... A federal judge in Oklahoma says a Ten Commandments monument outside a courthouse there can stay. ... A former Cleveland Roman Catholic official is indicted for taking nearly $800,000 in kickbacks. ... Here’s encouragement to embrace singleness, but apparently women shouldn’t say, “Jesus is my boyfriend”. ... And, somewhat continuing a chocolate theme started yesterday, a reader sent in this link, to which I replied “If that’s the Virgin Mary, I’ll eat it!” (You really don’t want to get me started on these sorts of “signs”; I’ve quoted Dr. Luther’s statement from the Lutheran Confessions on such “enthusiasm” here before.)

As always, thanks to those submitting links, comments, and questions--like the latest one answered here. God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 19, 2006

Est 1-3 / Tidbits

(Hopefully having read in Kings and Chronicles about the exile will help you as you reread Psalm 74 today; my previous comments on it are here.)

Reading Esther 1-3 today begins a new book for us. The background information on this month’s reading has some introductory comments about the book (online here or as a downloadable PDF here). Although the book is one of two in the Bible that bears a woman’s name, Queen Esther, like Ruth, is not thought to have written the book. Rather, a Jew living in Persia likely recorded the events, perhaps even modeling the account on that of Joseph in Genesis, some time after they happened and maybe even before the returns to Judah led by Ezra and Nehemiah. Conflict, deliverance, and rest are recurring themes in the book of Esther, and they help us realize how applicable this book is even to us today, who in some ways couldn’t care less about the Jewish festival of Purim, providing an explanation for which is thought to be one of the reasons for the writing of the book. Although God is not explicitly mentioned at any place in the book, His rule is certainly assumed. Scholars say not explicitly mentioning God is a literary device that all the more makes it clear that God is in control of all the events that might be otherwise regarded as just coincidental. The book can be divided into three sections corresponding to the feasts of Xerxes (the Persian ruler), the feasts of Esther (who becomes his queen), and the feasts of Purim (the Jewish festival that celebrates the events the book narrates).

Today we completely read the section on the feasts of Xerxes, which tells of the deposition of Queen Vashti (chapter 1) and the elevation of Esther to queen (2:1-18). We also begin the section on the feasts of Esther, which tells of Mordecai uncovering a plot against Xerxes (2:19-23) and Haman’s plot against Mordecai (chapter 3). In chapter 1 it may help you to know Xerxes was Darius’ son and that the provinces or “satrapies” covered territory from India to Cush (the upper Nile region in Egypt). We heard of Susa, the citadel and city that served as the king’s winter home, back in Ezra 4:9 and Nehemiah 1:1. Media, where the Medes were from, on maps I have anyway, is further east of Persia, taking in more of what we know as modern-day Iran. (If you are not already familiar with the reference, you will become familiar with the expression “laws of the Medes and Persians”.) Queen Vashti, who is known by the name Amestris among Greek historians, was the mother of Xerxes’ son Artaxerxes and apparently returned to some influence as queen mother when he reigned later. Her behavior in this case set a bad example for women everywhere, and the king’s advisors were worried about its impact. (I’m sure modern-day feminists have a field day with what they must regard as a "patriarchal" account.) As you read chapter 2, note that Mordecai’s ancestor Kish may well be Saul’s father of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1), which anticipates the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Amelekites of which we read in chapter 3. Both Mordecai’s name and Esther’s name were likely their Gentile names, with possible origins in the Babylonian pagan pantheon. Don’t miss the time marker at the beginning of chapter 3. According to Jewish tradition, Haman’s ancestry goes back to Agag, king of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:20), with whom the Israelites were at perpetual war (Exodus 17:16). If true (and not all scholars think it is), that background would surely be part of why Mordecai would not bow down to Haman, for we see from Holy Scripture that Jews were willing to bow down to people. Regardless, Haman represented a threat to the Jews throughout the kingdom. Haman, who had been promoted without a reason stated, uses his position to deceive the king, possibly to wage another battle in his ancestors’ war against their ancient enemy. How God saved His people—tomorrow!

I have some wide-ranging tidbits today. Israel has reportedly broken the cease fire in Lebanon, and former President Carter says even Israel’s original attack was unjustified and blames President Bush. ... A Canadian provincial judge rules “abortion on demand at taxpayer expense” is “not good enough”. ... The battle continues at the United Nations where some fear vague language could make abortion an international right that would trump U.S. law. ... President Bush recently signed a bill some say advances gay rights. ... A U.S. military judge orders the Navy to turn over emails in the case of that chaplain who says he’s in trouble for praying in Jesus’ Name. ... That controversial portrait of Jesus in a West Virginia high school was stolen. ... And remember “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”? Here's a weird case of life imitating art.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 18, 2006

Ps 73 / Ne 10-13 / Folos / Tidbits

As we read the psalms the first time through during the first half of our Daily Lectionary year, I was repeatedly struck by how many of them, like Psalm 73 spoke to the “envy” (v.3) that we often feel toward unbelievers who seem to be better off than we are. While the Hebrew verb qana can refer to negative zeal for what someone else has, the same verb can refer to positive zeal for what oneself has. There are lots of Biblical examples of the negative envy, such as Rachel’s zeal for what Leah had (Genesis 30:1) and Joseph’s brothers’ zeal for what he had (Genesis 37:11), and there are also Biblical examples of positive jealousy, such as God’s zeal for His people (Exodus 20:5) and Jesus’ zeal for God’s Temple (John 2:17, fulfilling Psalm 69:9). Like our Lord, we are to be “jealous” to keep worship and doctrine pure (Psalm 119:139) and not “envious” of what the wicked have. Psalm 37:1, for example, tells us not to envy the unbelievers’ short-lived apparent prosperity, and today in Psalm 73 we hear how considering the ultimate end of the wicked helped the psalmist stop envying them. (You can find my previous comments on this psalm here.)

Reading Nehemiah 10-13 today we finish the book. Rounding out Nehemiah’s first administration, chapter 10 finishes the section we began yesterday about Ezra’s preaching and the people’s response, chapter 11 tells of the new residents of Judah and Jerusalem, and chapter 12 gives the lists of priests and narrates the dedication of the wall. Nehemiah’s second administration is dealt with in chapter 13: the abuses while he was away, his return, and the reorganization and reforms he carried out. Chapter 10 contains the list of those signing and the provisions of the covenant renewal we read of yesterday in 9:38. Note the prohibition of intermarriage in 10:30 and the provision for the service of the Lord in 10:32-39. Anticipated back in 7:4, chapter 11 tells how Nehemiah populated Jerusalem by the rural people’s casting lots and taking volunteers; those who moved into Jerusalem reportedly had their houses provided for them. (Some people had been living in the city for 90 years, but not as many as could live in the city given its size.) In chapter 12 note the antiphonal or responsive singing of the psalms, the way some congregations sing or chant the psalms even today. Where Nehemiah’s first period of leading the people ends on a high note (if you will pardon the pun), things did not go so well while he returned to the king and someone else, perhaps his brother Hanani, ruled. After Nehemiah returned to Judah, he addressed the violations of the covenant renewal provisions that were occurring, including excluding unbelievers from the religious assembly and intermarriage. We in the Church are the Bride of Christ, Who gave Himself up for us and made us holy by washing us with water through the word in order to present us without stain, holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27).

With the end of Nehemiah the historical narrative of the Old Testament history more or less comes to an end. Tomorrow we begin the book of Esther, which took place during the same time as Ezra-Nehemiah. Then we turn to the “writings” of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Continuing to look ahead, the remaining “major” prophetic books of Jeremiah and Lamentations are connected with the time before the exile (although Lamentations may be more properly regarded as one of the “writings”), and the “major” prophetic books of Ezekiel and Daniel are connected more with the exile itself. Following the completion of the major prophets we turn to the minor ones. Most of those prophetic books are variously from work done in Israel and Judah before their exiles, in canonical but not chronological order: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. The namesakes of the next books, Haggai and Zechariah, worked during the time of rebuilding of the Temple after the exile, and the last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, is thought to have ministered during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Incidentally, as we move through the readings appointed during the month of August we are between two-thirds and three-quarters done with our year of reading. We will finish in November with the Gospel according to St. Matthew, and maybe some time we can talk more about the time between the end of the Old Testament accounts and the beginning of the New Testament accounts.

There are two Biblog folos today. A tidbit in yesterday's post about the outgoing head of the U.S. Episcopal Church apologizing to Hiroshima for the bomb that ended the Second World War prompted a reader to email the following comments.

When I hear about Hiroshima, I think of Dresden. When was the last time you heard anyone apologize for the bombing of Dresden? Its bombing destroyed many landmarks, including ancient churches. There was no particular military target in Dresden; its bombing was a reprisal for the bombing of London early in the war. The bombing of Dresden occurred when the war was essentially won; and it was a fire bombing which killed untold thousands of civilians. (The city was filled with refugees fleeing from Russian troops, so nobody has any idea how many died.) The bombing of Hiroshima ended the war, which, had Hiroshima not been bombed, would have cost many more lives on both sides than died there. Dresden has no such excuse.

One of those churches destroyed was the Frauenkirche, the restoration of which nearly one year ago, some sixty years after the bombing, was dedicated. The Frauenkirche, incidentally, was one of the inspirations for Our Savior Lutheran Church’s building in Houston (use the “To the Glory of God” link on this page).

And, again speaking of WWII, a reader emailed asking for more about the Holocaust cartoons, but then before I could look for them emailed back with a number of related links. This one is supposed to be to the cartoons themselves, and this one to other nations’ cartoon commentary about the Middle East situation. And then there’s this one to a controversial anti-Israel cartoon that doesn’t seem to be part Iran’s exhibit. (If you can’t get to some of these links, as I couldn’t at first, you might keep trying; the site may be experiencing heavy traffic.)

Tidbits today begin with a federal judge ruling that a Bible monument in Houston must go, and that ruling makes others say persecution of Christians in the United States is approaching China levels. ... The State of Missouri is going to fight a judge’s ruling that it take prisoners to get abortions. ... Mel Gibson avoided the media frenzy, entered a plea, and got probation for his recent driving under the influence. ... German prosecutors are going to be closely scrutinizing Madonna’s concert this weekend. ... Willie Nelson’s a universalist if this is any indication. ... A reader emailed this link wondering if the real goal was conservation or surveillance. ... And, during these times of stepped up airport security it helps to have a sense of humor, and I think more than just blood donors can appreciate this cartoon a reader emailed.

Thanks for all the emailed comments, links, and questions. The latest question has been answered here. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 17, 2006

Ne 7-9 / Real Church-leadership / Nature’s victims / Tidbits

(Remember to read Psalm 72 again today; these comments might help.)

Nehemiah 7-9 continues details of Nehemiah’s first administration among those who returned to Judah from exile in Babylon. Today we hear the complete list of exiles (7:1-73a), and we begin the account of Ezra’s preaching and the people’s response (7:73b-10:39, although today we only read through chapter 9). The list of returnees in Nehemiah 7 is similar to that we read in Ezra 2, although there are some minor differences, most ascribed to errors in copying manuscripts. (Remember that we believe, teach, and confess the original copies, or autographs, of the books of the Bible to be inspired and inerrant, not the subsequent copies or their translations.) Chapter 8 tells of Ezra reading to the assembled people from the Torah and of the Levites instructing the people in its meaning, perhaps translating as necessary from Hebrew to Aramaic. (Remember that Ezra, the spiritual leader, and Nehemiah, the secular leader, were contemporaries, with Ezra having led the second return some 60 years after Zerubbabel’s leading the first return and with Nehemiah having led the third return a dozen or so years after Ezra’s group.) The people recognized that the judgment they (or at least their ancestors) had received was just, but they were told not to grieve but instead to celebrate with joy their reception of the Word of the Lord. The reading was likely part of their observing the Feast of Tabernacles (as stipulated in Deuteronomy 31:9-13), which the author says had not been celebrated so joyfully since the time of Joshua. (Funny how people who are just receiving a part of their permanent inheritance often appreciate it more than those who have had it for some time.) In chapter 9, after the people confess their sins and worship God, the Levites pray (or Ezra prays?) a beautiful prayer. The prayer recounts God’s creating everything, calling Abraham, delivering His people from Egypt, giving the people His Covenant and feeding them, forgiving their repeated rebellions, and even not exterminating them when they ignored the prophets—in all, quite a “rationale” for the actual petition that seems to come in verses 32-37. The people “remember” God and ask Him not only to “remember” them but also to make Himself present in contemporary proclamations of His law and sacramental distributions of His Gospel—much as we celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar more than just “in remembrance” of Jesus (the theological concept is much richer than just “remembering” what happened yesterday). By Jesus being present in Word and Sacrament in our “contemporary” Divine Services He gives us the forgiveness of our sins that He paid for on the cross “with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”.

From where do you think real Church-leadership comes? A posted link apparently led a reader to this link that I had also seen about Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois teaching leadership. The reader emailed the following comment.

In a lengthy article one short sentence suggests that God might be able to do something! God probably got equally little attention in the whole forum, and this is the guru our Missouri Synod leaders look to for guidance.

Yes, instead of looking to God’s Word and our Lutheran Confessions and trusting God to gather His Church as He has promised, many look to others who do not share our beliefs and even to secular methods as if we must do something to make the Church grow or as if God’s “methods” can’t do it. In my dissertation work on The Book of Concord recently I was struck by the following statement from the Formula of Concord’s discussion of free will.

… it is true that both the preacher’s planting and watering and the hearer’s running and willing would be in vain, and no conversion would follow, if there were not added the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, who through the Word preached and heard illuminates and converts hearts so that men believe this word and give their assent to it. On the other hand, neither the preacher nor the hearer should question this grace and operation of the Holy Spirit, but should be certain that, when the Word of God is preached, pure and unalloyed according to God’s command and will, and when the people diligently and earnestly listen to and meditate on it, God is certainly present with his grace and gives what man is unable by his own powers to take or to give. We should not and cannot pass judgment on the Holy Spirit’s presence, operations, and gifts merely on the basis of our feeling, how and when we perceive it in our hearts. On the contrary, because the Holy Spirit’s activity often is hidden, and happens under cover of great weakness, we should be certain, because of and on the basis of his promise, that the Word which is heard and preached is an office and work of the Holy Spirit, whereby he assuredly is potent and active in our hearts (II. Cor. 2:14ff.). (SD II:55-56, Tappert, 531-532)

Maybe that means we should trust God’s promise instead of a counter on a webpage? (For more on the Lutheran Confessions click here.)

A reader sent this link to a story about nature’s victims, how plants and animals “suffered” in the recent Middle East war. As the reader’s subject line suggested, nature does suffer as a result of human sin; St. Paul’s statement of this reality in Romans 8:19-22 is the classic passage. The reader asked if NBC noticed that Israeli bombs hitting a Lebanese refinery polluted the Mediterranean’s waters and beaches, and I would have to say apparently at least not in that piece. (In the piece I was struck by the idea that “nature” was “set back”, as if there are not repeated cycles of growth and development.) If readers want to accuse NBC of a pro-Israel bias (something I thought when Brian Williams went to Israel to anchor coverage early in the war but never went to Lebanon), readers might be comforted knowing that CNN has been accused of a anti-Israel bias.

Tidbits today touch on wars, law and order, and religion. As if we didn’t have enough modern war matters, the outgoing leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church has apologized to Japan for the bombing of Hiroshima (here’s the whole homily), and, as anticipated recently, Iran has started its exhibit of Holocaust cartoons. ... A U.S. federal judge ruled a Virginia city councilman cannot open meetings in Jesus' Name because such prayers are government speech and cannot advance a religion (I guess they can’t really be prayers, then). ... People in Boise, Idaho, will get to decide for themselves if they want a Ten Commandments monument in a city park. ... A West Virginia school board at least agrees to let others fight to keep a portrait of Jesus hanging in one of its school’s halls. ... A discrimination lawsuit filed by Christian schools against the University of California System moves forward. ... The settlement in this case didn’t decide the key question whether people are free to choose their own medical treatment or lack thereof. ... Here’s a side of the airport security crackdown I hadn’t thought of. ... What appeared to be Batman and Superman were stopped for drunk driving in Scotland. ... Despite global population concerns a top church official in India calls for church growth the old fashioned way. ... And, in this "back to school" week, yesterday's Memorial Moment points how what a difference a "classical" education makes.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 16, 2006

Ps 71 / Ne 4-6 / Folo / Tidbits

As you re-read Psalm 71 today, I refer you to these comments and make just a couple more. I was again struck by the psalmist’s confession of life-long faith in God, even “from birth” (v.6), which goes against any idea that one has to reach a certain age (of assent, discretion, accountability, etc.) before one can believe. (Similarly David confesses in Psalm 51:5 that we are sinful and in need of forgiveness from the moment of conception.) David was no doubt circumcised when he was eight days old, but he may have believed before that, as we know from Holy Scripture that even babies in the womb can have faith. God does not forsake his newest children, nor does He forsake his oldest (verse 18), even if the kind of healing or restoration they want is not the kind they get. God’s redeeming us through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross guarantees us eternal life with Him, far better than healing in the here and now that will not last forever. As we wait, we are comforted (v.21) knowing God is not far from us (v.12); He promises to be with us always through His Word and Sacraments.

With Nehemiah 4-6 we continue to read of Nehemiah’s first “administration” among the returned exiles back in Judah and Jerusalem. Chapter 4 tells us of opposition to rebuilding the wall, chapter 5 tells of social and economic problems, and chapter 6 tells of the wall being rebuilt despite continued opposition. (Chapter 3 yesterday clearly was a listing of the builders of the wall and a summary of their responsibilities not a narration of the building process.) As you read chapter 4, remember Sanballat was introduced back in 2:10 and was governor of Samaria, and note in 4:9 that in order to protect the wall the people prayed for God to help them and also did something for God to bless. As chapter 5 details the hard economic times for the people and Nehemiah’s solution and self-sacrifice, note that lending and borrowing themselves are not forbidden, but the usurious interest on what is lent or borrowed. As chapter 6 tells of the rapid completion of the wall despite the continued opposition, note with the people in the surrounding nations (6:16) that God had blessed the work and that He also blesses us in our vocations and faithfulness to Him.

The Biblog folo today comes from links in yesterday’s post related to the Israel-Lebanon war prompting three emails. First, an email pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor piece the comment of an apparently Lebanese man who observed that if Israel is going to negotiate a prisoner exchange anyway it could have done that before bombing southern Lebanon for a month. Indeed, and his news sources must be better than mine, as I didn’t hear about the agreement to exchange prisoners until later on Tuesday. The second email, regarding comments by Dr. James C. Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, pointed out the hypocrisy of the so-called evangelical community, noting their support for Israel being behind U.S. support of Israel’s actions against Lebanon. The third email commented that most of the Israelis are not ethnic Jews or religious ones, although the religious ones seem to make the laws of the land. (Maybe the links about the Middle East war or maybe link about the Navy chaplain’s ongoing struggle prompted a reader to send in this link.)

Tidbits today begin with a California bill that reportedly could affect Christian colleges in the state, presumably even Concordia University—Irvine. ... Pope Benedict has given a wide-ranging interview on topics such as the role of women in the church, Lutherans, and the Middle East conflict. ... The Middle East Council of Churches says Israel can’t be trusted to keep the ceasefire, while in this country Churches for Middle East Peace ask the U.S. government not to supply more weapons to Israel. And in Israel, a woman was saved from injuries in a Hezbollah rocket attack in a most unusual way. ... An American researcher says Islamic terrorists are simply holding to the basic teachings of the Quran. ... The Muslim man accused of the recent shooting at a Jewish community center in Seattle (or his lawyers) apparently changed his mind a bout his plea, and the Tennessee woman accused of killing her pastor-husband got out of jail, but not quite for free. ... To help us “think” cool, a reader sent in this link. ... And, here’s some happier news from the sporting world, also sent in by a reader.

Thanks as always for the comments and links, and remember I always welcome questions about the readings no matter where you are in the Bible or on the schedule. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 15, 2006

Ne 1-3 / Confession / Folo / Tidbits

(Here are some good comments on today’s reading of Psalm 70.)

With Nehemiah 1-3 we begin the next book in canonical order (you might want to refer back to these comments and links from when we started Ezra). Nehemiah led both the third return to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile and the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. The book that bears his name is often divided according to the two periods that Nehemiah was a leader of the people, even though the second period is addressed in only the final chapter. Concentrating on his first “administration”, today we read of Nehemiah’s hearing of and response to what was going on in Jerusalem (chapter 1), his journey to Jerusalem (chapter 2), and the builders of the wall (chapter 3). The disrepair of the wall and burnt gates deeply affects Nehemiah. (Some commentators speculate the state of affairs in 1:3 came as a result of the events told in Ezra 4:7-23, though we are not told there that the walls were being rebuilt at that time or that they were further destroyed and the gates burnt. Other commentators identify the description as the result of the original destruction in 2 Kings 25:1-21 and explain that Nehemiah had perhaps hoped that, after all the time that the exiles had been back, things might have gotten better.) Notice how Nehemiah’s prayer confesses personal and corporate sins (1:6-7), and reflect on how often your own prayers include such confessions. (I was taught at one point in my life that every personal prayer should follow the ACTS formula: Adore, Confess, Thank, Supplicate.) Nehemiah also recalls God’s promises (1:8-9) and so asks Him to be faithful to them. As a cupbearer, Nehemiah was a trusted official of the king, charged with tasting potentially-poisoned drinks before the king consumed them, but the king’s response does seem disproportionate to Nehemiah’s position. Clearly God granted Nehemiah success with the king, as we read in chapter 2, although we also hear of opposition from the leaders of Samaria. Once in Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the situation and motivated the officials there to rebuild the gates. Chapter 3 tells us who all was involved in the process and of the celebratory milestones in the process. We note that not just people from Jerusalem but from all of Judah helped rebuild the walls. The kind of restoration the Lord brought about through Nehemiah reminds us of the restoration God brought about through Jesus, restoring our relationship to God that had been destroyed by our sin and making it so we can receive His forgiveness by grace through faith.

I talked a lot in Monday’s post about repentance, and, as I worked on my dissertation that day I was struck by a statement about Romans 10:10 and confession in the Lutheran Confessions, specifically the Apology (or “defense”) of the Augsburg Confession’s article on Justification.

Paul says (Rom. 10:10), “Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved.” Here we think that our opponents will grant that the mere act of confessing does not save, but that it saves only because of faith in the heart. Paul says that confession saves in order to show what kind of faith obtains eternal life, a faith that is firm and active. No faith is firm that does not show itself in confession. (Ap IV:383-385, Tappert, 166)

The reformers seem to be responding to a claim by the Roman Catholics that Paul is talking about the need for confessing sins to a priest. The reformers do not deny that the confession Paul is talking about could be confession to a priest, but the reformers emphasize that the act of confessing does not save but faith in the heart saves. This application of the Romans 10 passage to confessing sins to a priest might bother us if we forget that confessing the faith and confessing sins in some ways are the same thing. When we confess the faith we also confess who we are in relationship to God: sinners in need of forgiveness. Moreover, privately confessing to our pastors sins that trouble us is always done for the sake of the individual absolution we receive for the sake of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection to save us from our sins. (For more on the Lutheran Confessions, see here.)

The Biblog folo today comes after yesterday’s post linked to a picture of butter sculpture at the Illinois State Fair. Thanks to a reader who emailed, we have links to information about butter sculptures at the Minnesota State Fair (here and here [a Word.doc]); and my “air-conditioned venues” was an understatement—try a 38 degree see-in refrigerator! And, I found this piece about state fairs as Americana, which pleasantly reminded me of the Illinois State Fair’s husband calling contest, which the Illinois TV station where I worked usually included in its coverage of the state fair. Of course, we also had our own Heart of Illinois Fair right in Peoria, and we usually broadcast whole newscasts out there live.

Tidbits today begin with that Tennessee woman accused of killing her minister husband stuck behind bars because of trouble with her bonding company. ... While Israel is continuing to kill people despite the cease fire (heard on NPR and buried deep in this story), everyone’s claiming victory in the Middle East, but I think the only real victors are the Christians whom the war transferred to the Church Triumphant. ... Dr. Dobson has spoken out on the Middle East conflict, but I’d ask him why “millions of Christians” love the Israelis more than other unbelievers and why God would give that unfaithful nation a victory like He gave His faithful people of the Old Testament. ... President Bush Monday signed the plan to save the cross on San Diego’s Mt. Soledad. ... Emails are presently at the center of the case of an embattled Navy chaplain who says he’s in trouble for praying in Jesus’ Name. ... Some candidates for office in Arkansas say Intelligent Design is okay with them. ... And, if this is any indication, teaching evolution is the least of our educational worries.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 14, 2006

Ps 69 / Ezr 6-10 / Folo / Tidbits

Psalm 69 is appointed again today, and my previous comments on it are here. Somewhat anticipating comments I make below, note verses 10-11 in the psalm, in which the psalmist says his repentance draws scorn from unbelievers. The psalmist does not say that he won’t repent because of such ridicule, nor does he blame God for needing to repent. The psalmist is apparently repenting over some public distress, such as the condition of the Lord’s House (verse 9). The whole notion of individual sin, let alone societal sin, needing repentance (sorrow and faith) is foreign to much of the culture in which we live. While those modifying their Sunday services to make their congregations more likely to grow and I both might remove corporate confession and “absolution”, we would no doubt do so for different reasons—they because they think sin is “a downer”, and I because I know it was not the original practice. Absolution most properly speaking is that forgiveness which the pastor effects for an individual penitent after hearing his or her individual confession, general or specific. And, of course, the pastor is exercising authority entrusted to him by the Lord Jesus, Whose life, death, and resurrection made such forgiveness possible.

Ezra 6-10 completes the subsection we began yesterday, telling of the first return from exile and rebuilding of the Temple (chapter 6), and it takes us all the way through the next major section, telling of Ezra’s leading the second return (chapters 7-8) and reforms (chapters 9-10). Supposedly about 60 years pass between the two returns, during which time Queen Esther lived and ruled in Persia, but we won’t read her story for a few days, after we also read the second half of this “book”, that is, Nehemiah. Ezra 6 tells us of the process that led to Darius’ response and of the response itself, ordering more than the completion of the Temple but also the funding of the rebuilding from his own treasury. When completed, the people celebrated both the Temple’s dedication and the “corporate” Passover. Though not as grand or well-appointed as Solomon’s Temple, the Temple built at this time is actually said to have lasted longer, with gradual repair and reconstruction until it was completely replaced under Herod’s leadership with the Temple known in New Testament times. You can see and hear the “fast-forward” at the beginning of chapter 7, and you might note in 7:8-9 the four months it took to make the return from exile. Ezra was given considerable authority in spiritual and secular matters, as the documentation included in the chapter shows. Chapter 8 lists the genealogies of those returning with Ezra, as well as telling more details of Ezra’s return to Jerusalem, including a repentant fast. Chapter 9 tells of Ezra’s special concern, at God’s direction, of course, about believers in God marrying those who did not share the same faith. (Various “justifications” are given for these marriages, but the bottom line is that they violated the Lord’s command in such places as Deuteronomy 7:1-4.) Ezra’s prayer in 9:6-15 mixes second-person address to God and to the people listening, but the point is nevertheless clear that they should repent and strive to avoid sin, especially the one of mingling their blood (which threatened the Messianic line) and risking temptation to idolatry and God’s judgment the likes of from which they were just recovering. Chapter 10 tells how the people responded to Ezra’s prayer with a sorrowful confession of their sin and a renewed commitment to keep the Covenant. The consequence for those who had married pagan wives was a forced separation or possibly an annulment; Scripture is silent about whether either the Jewish men or the pagan women married again. (We will soon read, however, that Ezra’s contemporary Nehemiah had to deal with the same problem.) We also do well to remember that while we should not have mixed marriages today, the recommended course of action for those who do so marry is different now that the Messiah has come (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-24).

Today's Biblog folo comes in connection to a tidbit about Lubbock’s mayor asking for prayers for rain, in the process referring to God as “the man”, and my comment on his request in Sunday’s post. A reader to email the following comment.

I don't believe “the Man” (the feminists must love that!) is counting prayers and saying “when one hundred more people ask, I’ll do that”, but surely group prayer is not a bad thing? And, a whole city's recognition that God is in control can’t be bad. Our congregation prays for our sick, our birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

I’m sure not every person thinks that the more people who ask God for something the more likely He is to grant it, but many do wrongly think that. Requests for prayer like this one in Lubbock often come from and perpetuate such false understandings. Group prayer is not a bad thing, if everyone is united in faith in the God to Whom they are praying. I don’t think the linked piece said the whole city recognized the one, true God is in control, unlike when we pray in church. To be sure, congregational prayers within the Divine Service for our various needs are commanded, and we each are also invited to pray in our own lives, of course. We also recognize that God answers every prayer and that we should be “really thrilled” whether the answer is “yes”, “no”, or “not right now”, depending on the unsearchable wisdom of God that knows what is best for us and works together for the good of those in His Church. Lubbock’s day of prayer sounded to me more like Cyrus and Darius in our reading of Ezra or the syncretistic leaders of Israel before them, trying to get everyone to pepper their own gods with prayers, hoping one of those gods might bring prosperity to the land—the buckshot approach instead of a single bullet. (All such thinking is a far cry from something else the Lutheran Confession say is “evident”: that, apart from the one God, “there is truly no god in heaven or on earth” [LC I:19].) Can you imagine any elected official—the mayor of Lubbock or the President of the United States—asking only Christians to pray, since only Christians have the God Who can actually answer prayers?! Furthermore, if memory serves, our older prayers and practices in such dry circumstances also confess sin, but you didn’t read of the mayor inviting anything of that sort to happen (for example, he offered no explanation that I have read for why people might fast).

I have fewer Tidbits from a slow-news weekend. “Healthcare workers” in Belgium are complaining they can’t get the drugs to kill their patients. ... A Belgian neglect case could cause trouble for home-schoolers in the United States. ... Election officials rule a question about a constitutional amendment against gay marriage can’t go on the ballot in Illinois, while a judge in Arizona lets a similar question go to that state’s ballot. ... There was an interesting story on “Dateline NBC” Sunday night about a Pentecostal preacher who gave up on the idea of hell and more or less lost his congregation. ... And, I guess this must be one State Fair activity done in an air-conditioned venue.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 13, 2006

Ps 68 / Ezr 1-5 / Flee false teaching / Tidbits

In addition to my previous comments on Psalm 68 and verses highlighted there, I draw your attention to verse 11, which is used by G. F. Handel in Part II his oratorio, The Messiah. Movement #36 is a bass solo based on verse 18 of this psalm, and then comes #37, a full chorus piece based on verse 11: “The Lord gave the Word, and great was the company of the preachers”, which is a rough equivalent of the KJV and NIV (certainly not the ASV or NASB in the sense of “preachers”, although women can, do, and should sing God’s praises and teach their families). Part II continues with #38, a soprano solo based on Romans 10:15 (itself based on Isaiah 52:7), and #39, another chorus but based on Romans 10:18 (itself based on Psalm 19:4). Though often omitted from performances of The Messiah, together the four movements teach well three things: the Office of the Holy Ministry being God’s gift to His Church (essentially identical in our Lutheran Confessions with the distribution of His Word and Sacrament), what should be the people’s reaction to the preachers, and a phase in the completion of the Office’s task. (You can both listen to a few seconds of a movement for free and buy the whole movement here.)

Today for us Ezra 1-5 begins a new book (or the first part of what at some point was one book together with Nehemiah). You can find some details about Ezra in the background information for this month’s readings (online here or as a downloadable PDF here). The story continues where Chronicles left off, and the author of this book (or these books, Ezra and Nehemiah) may even have been the chronicler. Today we read of the first return of the exiles (chapter 1), the list of returning exiles (chapter 2), of the restoration of worship at the Temple (chapter 3), of opposition to rebuilding (4:1-23), and the beginning of the subsection on the completion of the temple (4:24-5:17). As you read, notice especially God’s grace both in fulfilling His promise to return the people to the land (working through others to accomplish it) and in being present with the people at the temple (even as He is present for us today through Word and Sacrament in the Divine Service).

A few explanatory comments and highlighting notes may be helpful to you. Notice in 1:1 that the nation in power changed from the Assyrians, who took the northern kingdom of Israel captive, to the Babylonians, who took the southern kingdom of Judah captive, now to the Persians (think of the land, anyway, of modern-day Iran). You see in 1:2-5 how Persia’s leader, Cyrus, treated people in his kingdom better than his Babylonian predecessors, including trying to please the gods of the people instead of taking them to his own temples. We do not think the Ark was among the items returned to Jerusalem, especially since it isn’t listed in 1:9-10. In 2:2, Zerubbabel is the leader of the first group to return (of whose account today we read nearly all); the Nehemiah and Mordecai named in this passage are not the same as those we will read more of later. The returnees to Bethlehem are important (2:21), as Jesus’ ancestors may well have been in this group. The genealogies of the Temple workers are also important, of course, and the reference in 2:63 is no doubt to someone who could determine the Lord’s will regarding those whose family background was not known. In chapter 3 we see how sacrifices resumed, even before the Temple was built (of course, the sacrifices were made outside the Temple building itself, anyway). The Temple being built at this time was not as grand as its predecessor, which 3:12 tells prompted some to weep (they must have been pretty young at the time of the exile 70 years earlier or pretty old at this time). Chapter 4 summarizes various attempts to slow or stop the rebuilding of the Temple, not all of which necessarily happened precisely at this point in the narrative. The work did stop for a time, however, and if you stick to the schedule you will have to wait until tomorrow to see how Darius replies to Tattenai’s letter included in chapter 5.

As I was working on my dissertation studying things the Lutheran Confessions said were evident and clear, at least rhetorically, I was struck by the following paragraph from the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope that says it is understood that we should flee false teaching.

The errors of the pope are manifest, and they are not trifling. Manifest, too, is the cruelty which he employs against the godly. And it is the clear command of God that we should flee from idolatry, impious doctrines, and unjust cruelty. Therefore all the godly have weighty, compelling, and evident reasons for not submitting to the pope, and these urgent reasons are a comfort to the godly when, as often happens, they are reproached for scandal, schism, and discord. On the other hand, those who agree with the pope and defend his doctrines and forms of worship defile themselves with idolatry and blasphemous opinions, make themselves guilty of the blood of the godly whom the pope persecutes, detract from the glory of God, and hinder the welfare of the church by so strengthening errors and other crimes as to impose them on all posterity.

We need not think only of the pope, but of any other leader who—or church body that—associates with idolatry and false teaching. (For more on the Lutheran Confessions, click here.)

Tidbits today begin with more on President Bush’s “Islamofascist” remark (not everyone missed “the rhetorical bomb”, and I don’t think it is Muslims who are destroying the democracy in Lebanon or bombing Christians), and here’s a view that sees the terrorist threat as motivation to increase evangelism. ... Lubbock’s mayor is asking people there to pray for rain, but we dare not think the more people praying for something the more likely God will answer the prayer. ... A group of Christian doctors object to the FDA’s plan to make the so-called “morning after” abortion pill available without a prescription. ... A study says it’s easier for teenage girls to handle keeping an unplanned child than aborting one. (I guess adoption was not part of the study.) ... Roman Catholics are not the only ones with sex scandals. ... An ELCA pastor is pushing his church body’s policy on gay priests. ... And x-rated Muppets? That’s just wrong.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 12, 2006

Ps 67 / 2 Ch 34-36 / Folos / Tidbits

With all the stuff going on in the world today, as I reread Psalm 67 I reflected on the “nations” and “peoples” among whom God’s ways and salvation are to be made known and who are to praise God by being glad and singing for joy since He rules them justly and guides them. (My previous comments are here.) Our country of America, as much as we ask in prayers and song for God to bless it, is not the equivalent of the Old Testament nation of Israel, much less is the modern-day state of Israel. And, we ought not be looking for a God-ruled nation-state such as that Old Testament believers had. Three different key words are used in the Psalm: goy for nations in verse 2, am for people in verses 3-5, and leom for nations in verse 4. Although one commentator says the use of the three terms reflects the psalmist’s hope that all people of whatever relationship or characteristic will praise the Lord, I think there’s more to it than that. The goy-nations can be the ethnic, political, and territorial groups living around the Old Testament nation/people of Israel, but they can also be the “gentiles” or “heathen” unbelievers considered as lost national groups. Those who hear of God’s ways and are brought to receive His salvation then praise Him, to some extent, as individual am-people, though still united in the fellowship and unity of the faith. Finally, the individual covenant people are collectively regarded as those gathered into a leom-nation. With the New Testament, we also speak of the Church as called-out and gathered together by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament, although we know the majority of people will refuse to be gathered. Nevertheless, we live in a nation and are surrounded by nations of unbelievers whom we pray God will lead to saving faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. May our deeds and words witness well to the certain hope we have by that same faith.

2 Chronicles 34-36 finishes off the section we’ve been reading about the kings of Judah during the divided monarchy and thus also finishes off Chronicles. More specifically, we read of Josiah (34:1-36:1), of Josiah’s successors (36:2-14), and of the exile and restoration (36:15-23). As you read of Josiah’s reforms purging the land of the corrupt worship practices, notice again the chronicler’s concern with “all Israel” (especially verses 7, 9, and 21). We the remnant today hear the words of the Lord through the prophet Huldah and answer the call to be faithful and live every day in repentance. The mention of the Ark in 35:3 had not come up in previous study and searches, but, as one commentator on this verse points out, the verse does not need to be taken as referring to the Ark. Rather, the commentator suggests, the verse indicates to the Levites that they have not had to carry the Ark about since it came to rest in Solomon’s Temple and thus should instead serve the people. Under Hezekiah’s leadership the people had celebrated the Passover (2 Chronicles 30), but the observance under Josiah was more notable (chapter 35, especially verse 18) in a number of ways: in that it was observed on the proper date, “all Israel” participated, and that everyone apparently was properly purified. Judah may have been Babylon’s ally, which would explain why Josiah fought Neco of Egypt, who was at war with Babylon (35:20-24). As we hear in chapter 36, Egypt and Babylon would both exert influence over Judah’s throne and Josiah’s sons, changing their names reportedly to indicate authority over them. (There apparently are some questions about exactly how these last three kings are related to Josiah and each other.) The chronicler quite quickly deals with Jerusalem’s final days, although the references to the prophet Jeremiah reminds us that we hear more about this time when we read his works in September and October. (We’ll hear more of the story of the people after their return from exile tomorrow, when we begin Ezra, the next book in canonical order.) In some ways like the Good Friday Tenebrae Service (“service of darkness”), Chronicles does not leave us completely devoid of hope—like the candle returning to indicate the resurrection, the light of God’s faithfulness to His promise shines through and reminds us that no matter how dark our exile in this world becomes God will deliver us to our promised heavenly inheritance and the worship that has no end.

I have some longer and shorter Biblog folos today. First, a comment I made about the Passover in the August 10th post when we were reading of Hezekiah’s celebration prompted a reader to email asking for a clarification about the family meal versus the corporate celebration. When the Passover was instituted (see, for example, Exodus 12, especially verse 6), each family or group of families killed their lamb themselves, whereas later (presumably after the Levites were established in their responsibilities pertaining to the service of the Lord?) the lambs were killed for the individual families or grouping of families. Numbers 9 tells of the first celebration outside of Egypt, and Joshua 5:10 tells of the first celebration in the Promised Land, but neither says who killed the lambs or where. Nor do Leviticus 23:4-8 or Numbers 28:16-25 specify the common killers or place of the sacrifice, although Deuteronomy 16:1-8 does indicate a place will be specified later. One commentator in fact says the Passover as celebrated by Josiah was the first time all the lambs were sacrificed exclusively by the Levites (2 Kings 23), although Josiah’s comment in 2 Chronicles 35:6 certainly seems to suggest there was no innovation at his time, and 2 Chronicles 30:17 suggests at least some lambs were killed by the Levites at the time of the Passover under Hezekiah. Nevertheless, the festival had its corporate element, although, as the reader pointed out, it continued to be eaten in small groups, such as Jesus with His disciples the night in which He was betrayed. Of course, the admittedly smaller groups are still “corporate” in a sense, as is the Lord’s Supper even in the smallest congregation, especially opposed to it being “Just me and Jesus”.

The alleged illegality of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s de-recognition of Christian student groups linked in Thursday’s post prompted a reader to email about the University’s liberal reputation, about whether liberal equals “Christian bashing”, and about a potential fee discount to members of the groups denied funding. UW-Madison certainly does have a liberal reputation, and some of you have heard my “brush with greatness” connected with the infamous Viet Nam demonstration there during the late 1960s. Liberal positions to some extent have degenerated into “Christian bashing”, although the Democratic Party in this country is doing its best to court Christians. And, I’m pretty sure student fees must be paid by all, whether they use any of the services or not—as an undergraduate I paid four-years of fees for a new arena that was supposed to be done in time for my graduation but wasn’t, and as a graduate I pay for a publication that students handing it out always boast about its being “free”.

Another email from a reader highlighted the last paragraph to the piece linked in Friday’s post that gave a critique of President Bush’s previous “Islamic fascists” comment. On the same topic, another email spoke well of the fascism that united Italy’s divided provinces, at least until Mussolini joined forces with Hitler. That same email said using the term “fascist” today is name calling that could just as well be applied to Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld for their throwing U.S. weight around in small countries and allowing Israel to destroy a neighboring democracy. I’ll add that it will probably get worse before it gets better: a blurb in Friday morning’s paper said U.S. weapons may be going to Israel to help in the campaign against Hezbollah’s weapons. (Mainstream media Friday also discussed the comment, suggesting that the administration is trying to invoke the cause of WWII.)

Looking back at the post that contained my original comments on Psalm 67 and rereading its tidbits, I was curious about whether Iran ever had its Holocaust cartoon contest. To follow-up on that, I found this online.

And, in the “one link leads to another” department, a reader sent in a number of links, including two providing a “lose some, win some” motif. The first one about a federal judge appointed by “W” who ruled against a Band that claimed its free speech was violated when a high school rescinded its invitation to have the band play at an assembly because the band’s songs named Jesus Christ. The reader asked why a “religious” president should appoint such judges, but we should remember that the appointment process can’t guarantee how a judge will rule and that appointees must still get approved by the Senate that increasingly is challenging judicial appointments. In contrast to that “loss”, the second link told of a win: Kansas City officials dropping charges against a man who was preaching his faith on a public sidewalk. And, the third link drew attention to the beer-and-pizza-loving-bear. I won’t say what I had for dinner Friday night before I ate my “give a pint, get a pint” BlueBell ice cream, but I will say you can still give and get your pints at the Central Texas Blood and Tissue Center.

Tidbits today begin with the Supreme Court in India saying police there can arrest people for talking about Christianity. ... The Pope intervened on behalf of three Christians to be executed in Indonesia for killing Muslims. ... A Missouri community is being sued over trying to keep people from living together outside of marriage. ... Some 78 Texas Ford dealers ask the company to back off its controversial advertising. (There's more, including a link to the actual letter, here.) ... And, apparently not all plans to blow stuff up are bad; Washington D.C. area commuters have a chance to make a bridge go boom.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 11, 2006

2 Ch 31-33 / Fascists / Tidbits

(Remember to read Psalm 66 again; comments on it are here.)

As we continue to read about Judah’s kings during the period of the divided monarchy, 2 Chronicles 31-33 finishes the account of Hezekiah (chapters 31 and 32) and gives us the complete accounts of Manasseh (33:1-20) and Amon (33:21-25). Chapter 31 provides a good deal of information we do not find in 2 Kings, and the information is in keeping with the Divinely-inspired chronicler’s emphasis on the Levites and the Temple, somewhat indirectly encouraging the people who have returned from exile to give material support for the operation of the Temple. The end of chapter 31 summarizes the good of Hezekiah’s reign and God’s blessing of him. Chapter 32 tells of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah, threats against Jerusalem, defeat by the Lord, and assassination by his sons. Chapter 32 also tells of the contact from Babylon, which we, like the returned exiles for whom Chronicles was likely originally written, must hear in light of that exile for unfaithfulness. Chapter 33 tells how unfaithful Manasseh was, especially in comparison to his faithful father, but Manasseh repented and made some positive changes. Chapter 33 also tells of Amon’s brief evil reign. Hezekiah’s and Manasseh’s repentance are good reminders for us to live every day in sorrow over our sin and trust in God to forgive us for the sake of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection for us.

In what has been called a carefully calculated statement, President Bush said Thursday that our country is “at war with Islamic fascists”. The phrase struck me when he said it, and I did a little checking on the words “fascists” and “fascism”. The word “fascist” is of Italian origin and relates to a bundle or group; in the early 20th century it first came to be used to refer to the Italian nationalists that were opposed to communism, like the Nazis in Germany with whom the fascists later joined in World War II. Of course, our country itself was opposed to communism later, although we united with the Soviet Union against the Nazi and Fascist nationalists. Today fascists and fascism are generally taken as referring to “any form of right-wing authoritarianism” or “advocacy of particular viewpoint or practice in manner perceived as intolerant or authoritarian”. Such fascism advocates a respect for authority and is related to conservatism. While President Bush is said to have intended his comment to show that the many forms of violent extremism are part of one (Islamic?) movement against the United States, this type of use of the terms “fascists” and “fascism” has similarly been applied to Christianity. Christianity advocates the authority of God and His Word and is often perceived as intolerant. Although so-called radical Islam and conservative Christianity have different goals and methods to accomplish them, I think that we will increasingly find our country at war with us. (See here for Muslim reaction to President Bush’s comment and here for a critique of an apparently previous similar comment by President Bush and suggestion that there can be and have been Christian fascists.)

Tidbits today are hopefully diverse enough for you. That Florida abortion clinic where a baby, allegedly born alive after a botched abortion, was later killed has closed for good. ... The Muslim man who allegedly shot Jews in Seattle wants to confess, but his attorney is wondering if he’s competent to do so. ... Nearly two out of five Americans admit prejudice against Muslims, and that was before Thursday’s word of the latest terrorist plot. ... A majority of Kansas voters are said to have objected to intelligent design on the basis of wrong information. ... The pope himself will be dissecting Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in a seminar this September. ... I wasn’t the only one who did a double-take at Billy Graham’s recent comments. ... But, on any given day I could go with either of these bears’ choices.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 10, 2006

2 Ch 28-30 / Folo / Tidbits

(Anticipate the Heavenly Zion as you enjoy reading Psalm 65 again; comments are here.)

We hear about two of Judah’s kings during the divided monarchy today as we read of 2 Chronicles 28-30: Ahaz (chapter 28) and Hezekiah (chapters 29-32, although today we only read through chapter 30). The chronicler, who says something positive about a king if he can, can’t say anything positive about Ahaz. Instead, the kindness of the Samaritan soldiers, to whom victory was given by the Lord, is striking. Again we see Judah’s lack of faith in the Lord with the making of alliances, and this time the alliance with Assyria especially brings trouble and more unfaithfulness to the Lord. Hezekiah is quite a contrast to Ahaz, as Hezekiah was a faithful and reforming leader for God’s people. Hezekiah got rid of false worship and cleaned the House of the Lord not only literally, but he also made arrangements for proper music, worship, and the sacred meal. (Note that Passover began as a family meal in Egypt but essentially was a corporate celebration after that.) Incidentally, our historic series of readings in the Divine Service makes the connection between Hezekiah’s reformation and that of Martin Luther in 1517 by having us hear 2 Chronicles 29:12-19 as the Old Testament reading on Reformation Day.

I have one Biblog folo today. In Wednesday’s post on 2 Chronicles 25:10, I wondered why the dismissed Israeli soldiers were upset when they didn’t have to fight with Judah to earn their money. A reader emailed suggesting three potential reasons they might be upset: no plunder, insult, and unemployment. Being denied potential plunder probably fits the best, as they took plunder from Judah in 25:13. (At least one commentator agrees that the lack of plunder was the probable reason.)

Tidbits today begin with pro-gay events scheduled to take place in Jerusalem ultimately cancelled by the police. ... A new lawsuit wants Roman Catholic officials to give the names and locations of all the priests accused of molesting children. ... The University of Wisconsin-Madison is accused of illegally derecognizing Roman Catholic and other student groups. ... A California teenager loses an effort to get to wear to school a t-shirt critical of homosexuality. ... A reader sent in this link to a piece critical of television news. There’s little here I, as a former TV news producer, haven’t heard before, and, while I don’t disagree with everything the writer says, he does seem to be ignorant of the allegations that the main broadcast news organizations have a liberal bias (even NBC, which he says supported the Bush campaign and should biased in favor of President Bush). ... Along the same "liberal media" lines, media coverage of the Seattle Jewish Center shooting raises questions for some. ... And try for yourself to put a "best construction" on Billy Graham’s comments regarding whether Jews and other non-Christians can be saved—sounds to me like works righteousness and universalism. (See page 6 on this link.)

Thanks as always for emails with comments on the readings, links, and the like. Don’t forget to send questions, too. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 09, 2006

Ps 64 / 2 Ch 25-27 / Cause of the war / Tidbits

My previous comments on Psalm 64 were quite short, and today I add a few more thoughts. In verses 5-6 the plotters wrongly think that no one is aware of what they are doing (in the retelling of the indirect question “them” really is “us”, as marginal readings in the KJV, ASV, NIV, and NASB all suggest—so the plotters, not the snares). The plotters think that God does not know what they are up to, but verses 7-8 indicate the opposite is true: God is aware of their plotting and will bring destruction on them so that the very evil they wanted to bring about to the psalmist is brought about unto them as judgment. In the sense that God knows our sin, too, we can find this idea troubling, but, as we repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins He won for us, knowing God knows what we are suffering and what is plotted against us is comforting.

Today with 2 Chronicles 25-27 we read of three of the kings of Judah during the time of the divided monarchy: Amaziah (chapter 25), Uzziah (chapter 26), and Jotham (chapter 27). Like with most of the kings, the chronicler begins the account of Amaziah with the good things, including his dismissing soldiers hired from Israel. (I don’t know why the soldiers were upset—they got paid and didn’t have to fight!) Yet, as with so many of the accounts of the kings, the chronicler then tells the bad things, such as Amaziah’s unfaithfulness with the gods of Edom and God’s resulting punishment by way of Jehoash. Uzziah’s account is similarly divided into good and bad. You may remember Uzziah’s name from the dating of Isaiah 6:1 to Uzziah’s death, and that record of heavenly incense might be intentionally dated to the death of a king who thought he could burn incense in the Temple. Finally, the account of Jotham’s reign is relatively positive. Human kings and leaders, of course, rule imperfectly, but the king to Whom all other kings point, the God-man Jesus Christ, truly rules over us perfectly and for our benefit in His Church.

What’s the cause of the war between Israel and Lebanon? A reader sent in this link to a piece I had seen, commenting on being struck by the last two paragraphs linking the war to “World Pride” in Jerusalem. I won’t completely discount the possibility that God prompted the war as judgment on Israel for “World Pride”, but I think rejecting His Son, the Messiah, got Jerusalem destroyed once, and, since the rejection continues, so the judgment can, too.

I have a perfect number of tidbits today. Israel is said to be making it very hard for humanitarian relief to get to victims of its bombing (thanks to a reader for sending in this link; I heard something quite similar on NPR Tuesday evening). ... Made-to-order babies are said to be for sale in San Antonio. ... There’s political intrigue behind the death of a bill in Canada that would have made crimes against babies in the uterus a separate offense. ... The so-called “morning after” abortion pill is getting more green lights from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but the nominee for permanent chairman is getting more of a yellow light. ... The original plaintiff in a key abortion case is trying to get the original ruling in her favor reversed. ... A study that says homosexuality isn’t determined by birth order is said to have been ignored by the mainstream media. ... A threatened lawsuit nixes plans for a school with single-sex classrooms. ... Student activity fees at a Pittsburg university reportedly helped pay for a pornographic movie (I think that was happening when and where I was an undergraduate). ... A cross-shaped Katrina memorial is causing controversy in Louisiana (by the ACLU’s reasoning churches couldn’t be on public streets). ... Connecticut’s Supreme Court keeps a conservative group from getting involved in a gay-marriage lawsuit in that state, and among all the tirades against same-sex marriage there is a necessary reminder from Tuesday’s Memorial Moment about Christians’ need to take heterosexual marriages seriously (it should eventually be archived here).

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 08, 2006

Ps 63 / 2 Ch 22-24 / Folo / Tidbits

In my previous comments on Psalm 63 I said we can pray the psalm even though we are not in a literal desert. Lately more people may be feeling as if they are in a literal desert. In central Texas we have had it cooler than other parts of the country, but the weather has still been hot and dry, and I have reflected on the long periods of time people in the Old Testament went without rain (such as the 7 years of famine in Egypt when Joseph was ruling for Pharaoh and grain was scorched, as told in Genesis 41). Back in our time we are watching TV news footage of food ripening early and rotting in the fields, due to the heat and a lack of harvesters, and then hearing of increased produce prices as a result of those losses (not to mention the expected increase in food prices because of higher transportation costs). We certainly continue to pray that God would send rain and cooler temperatures, but we also pray those petitions according to His will. God knows our needs even before we pray, of course, and He does not let us suffer more than we can bear with His help. He also works all things together for our good, and I am sure our faith is tested as we, like the psalmist, confidently wait for relief.

2 Chronicles 22-24 today tells us about the reigns of Ahaziah (22:1-9) and Joash (22:10-24:27), both kings of Judah during the period of the divided monarchy. Ahaziah, Jehoram’s youngest but only surviving son, ruled briefly but, under the influence of his mother and her family’s advisers from the northern kingdom, unfaithfully. His mother Athaliah “succeeded” him on the throne and tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the Davidic line in Judah—the only break in Judah’s Davidic dynasty and a very real threat that Judah might have come under the rule of the northern kingdom. Chapter 23 tells how Jehoiada the priest revealed Joash, the surviving son of Ahaziah, and had him placed on the throne. We read a similar account in 2 Kings 11, but here again the chronicler emphasizes the roles of the temple officials and of the people. Chapter 24 tells both the good and bad sides of Joash’s reign, and it notes what brought about the change from good to bad. I was struck by the officials of Judah, perhaps the tribal princes or the regional judges, being part of Joash’s corruption (24:17) and by his own officials delivering the fatal blow to Joash for his murder of the prophet Zechariah, the son of the priest who had helped make Joash king (24:25). (Remember that the murder of Zechariah was the last murder of a prophet described in the Old Testament with Chronicles placed at the end of the Old Testament canon, and in that sense Jesus refers to Zechariah’s murder in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51.) The Divinely-inspired chronicler’s repeated examples of retribution remind us to live every day in repentant faith, grieving over our sins and trusting in God’s grace and mercy for forgiveness on account of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection for us.

Today I have two quick Biblog folos to yesterday's post. First, regarding the link to news of a manipulated photo from the bombing of Beirut, a reader’s email called the manipulation “silly” since “the facts as demonstrated in an unaltered photo are bad enough!” (Reuters, incidentally, found another photo the same photographer doctored.) And, regarding the link to a woman baking cookies in her hot car, a reader emailed to remark that usually eggs cooked on sidewalks or wings of airplanes go to the dogs and that people nevertheless sometimes leave children in their cars too long.

Tidbits today begin with a court being asked today to decide whether the Bible can constitutionally be characterized as “bigoted”. ... Voters today are deciding abortion battles in some states. ... A new poll says Americans are both liberal and conservative, depending on the issue. ... The “experts” agree that the lesbian child custody case with conflicting laws in Virginia and Vermont is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. ... Homosexual activists are reportedly refining their appeal to opponents of gay marriage and rethinking their general strategy. (They can market it any way they want, God's answer remains the same.)

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 07, 2006

Ps 62 / 2 Ch 19-21 / Tidbits

Psalm 62 can be well prayed by all of us, as my previous comments on it note. Today I might add that we can especially identify with verse 3, where David speaks as if to his opponents. There are some difficulties with the translation and syntax of the verse, as you can see by comparing the KJV, which makes the “leaning wall” and “tottering fence” David’s expression of judgment against his enemies, and the ASV, NIV, and NASB, which make those same expressions indicate David’s own condition. How often do we feel as if we are already in the process of coming to ruin and that no more blows are necessary to knock us down but that the blows nevertheless keep coming? David’s enemies were not going to be happy until he had lost the throne, and they even played the part of his supporters as they secretly wished for his end (v.4). Our chief enemy, the devil, also will not be satisfied until we abandon our faith, and he will use whatever means necessary to bring us to that end. Thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Continuing to make our way through Chronicles’ major section dealing with the kings of Judah during the era of the divided kingdom, 2 Chronicles 19-21 today finishes the subsection dealing with Jehoshaphat (19-21:3) and begins the subsection dealing with Jehoram (21:4-20). Chapter 19 tells us how Jehoshaphat, warned like his father Asa by Hanani, turned again to the Lord and administered righteously, although we read at the end of chapter 20 how Jehoshaphat later returned to the same sin. The beginning of chapter 20, however, tells how Jehoshaphat and all Judah turned to the Lord when threatened by the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites. My self-study Bible somewhat misheads this section “Jehoshaphat defeats” those enemies, for truly it was the Lord Who won the victory, as the surrounding nations realized (20:29). Jahaziel’s words in 20:15-17 are reassuring to us as we see Christ’s Church attacked on every side; we want to remember the battle is the Lord’s and its ultimate outcome is already decided. Chapter 21’s account of Jehoram is quite a turn from the faithfulness of his father Jehoshaphat, although Jehoram’s marriage into Ahab’s family may have been that which was arranged by his father (18:1). Edom, the very region that the Lord had given to faithful Judah under Jehoshaphat, is the first the Lord let rebel against unfaithful Jehoram. Libnah’s rebellion is likewise presented as immediate retribution for Jehoram’s forsaking the Lord. The prophet Elijah also communicated with Jehoram and told him of more consequences he and his family would suffer for his misdeeds. One wonders on the basis of 21:19-20 how much the people agreed with their king or were complicit in his misdeeds. As Pastor Sullivan pointed out in his sermon yesterday, we want to be ever judging our spiritual leaders on the basis of God’s Word to be sure that they are true prophets, and we can tell they are when they point us to the forgiveness Jesus won for us by His life, death, and resurrection and freely gives to us in His Word and Sacraments.

I have a perfect "seven" tidbits today. Apparently you can’t believe everything you see in war coverage. ... Muslims are divided over support for Hezbollah but trying to unite in opposition to Israel. ... A spokesman for liberal Muslims in Canada quits over death threats. ... Chinese officials move against Christians. ... Conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians commit to reformation but essentially do nothing. ... Here’s the latest claim that the miracles of the Exodus were just natural events. ... And, I’ve heard of frying eggs on the sidewalk, but this is ridiculous?

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 06, 2006

2 Ch 16-18 / Folo / Tidbits

(Comments on today’s appointed psalm, Psalm 61, are here.)

Reading 2 Chronicles 16-18 today finishes the subsection on Asa (chapter 16) and takes us into the subsection on Jehoshaphat (chapters 17-18), as we continue to make our way through Chronicles’ major section dealing with the kings of Judah during the era of the divided kingdom. Right away in 16:1 commentators point out a dating inconsistency, but I think we can explain it without damaging our understanding of the inspiration of the book and not let it bother us. I also wondered on 16:1 if the people in places such as 15:9 are the target of the action in 16:1, although it does seem to be more of a military siege in this context. Remember that the foreign alliance shows that Judah, or at least her king, does not believe the Lord will protect and deliver the nation, as Hanani the seer makes clear. As chapter 17 tells, Jehoshaphat removed the high places and Asherah poles, but they nevertheless returned and persisted, as we will see. The teaching of God’s Word in 17:7-9 is notable, as is the blessing of God on the faithful kingdom. Chapter 18 first tells of a marital alliance between Jehoshaphat and Ahab, and then it tells of a military alliance between the two, of which we have read a similar account in 1 Kings 22:1-28, and I reiterate my comments on that passage.

As more Biblical sites come under fire, today’s Biblog folo is in response to discussion in yesterday’s post about the bombing of Christians in Lebanon, a reader emailed the following comment.

Israel claims that Hezbollah targets civilians in Israel. The Associated Press numbers of Lebanese casualties, conservative compared to other estimates, make one thing clear: Israelis are the more efficient killers. But, they’ve been taking 20 “eyes for an eye” for decades. The hatred understandably increases. What is the real purpose of this current bombing of Lebanese (non Hezbollah) non combatants and of infrastructure, beyond destroying the only real democracy in the Middle East? And, why so few voices speaking up for the Christians attacked?

I think Israel would say it is trying to drive Hezbollah out of Lebanon, but in that country it is a democratically elected part of the government, and perhaps that is the problem from Israel’s perspective with real democracies, other than its own, in the Middle East: those democracies will likely be anti-Israel. (Maybe they will likely be anti-Israel because for most of “modern” history that land wasn’t Israel’s and the people displaced by the Jews have become refugees and probably now even voters in those other lands.) The Christians are truly caught in the middle, and faithful ones will recognize their suffering as the way of the cross and follow the way of peace as they wait for Christ’s return, unlike the Muslims and Jews who are trying to set up a kingdom in the here and now.

Tidbits today begin with a polygamist in Arizona sentenced to 45 days for sex with his underage “wife”. ... Vermont and Virginia are battling over jurisdiction in a pair of lesbians’ child custody dispute, which is surely going to be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, while in Indiana the state Supreme Court let stand a ruling for the unmarried and gays to adopt children. ... A bill is going to the U.S. Senate that would prohibit physician-assisted suicide. ... Doctors in Argentina refuse to perform an abortion on a raped mentally-disabled teenager. ... Canada’s Roman Catholic bishops are expected or hoped to get a scolding from the Pope. ... This summer’s heat reportedly has made a global warming convert out of Pat Robertson. ... A reader sent in this link to an article about teachers’ alternatives to the National Education Association, also mentioning other options with which the reader was familiar, although I think sometimes the unions can force teachers to be members, depending on the specific contract and state and local laws.

Sorry, but depending on when you read Saturday’s post you may not have gotten the "final" version. God bless your day, and may you let Him make it holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 05, 2006

2 Ch 13-15 / Bombing Christians / Folo / Tidbits

(Psalm 60 is appointed to be read today, and you can find my previous comments on it here.)

Reading 2 Chronicles 13-15 today we continue the final major section of the book(s) of Chronicles, dealing with the split of the kingdom and the successive kings of Judah, by reading about Abijah (13:1-14:1) and Asa (14:2-16:14, though we only read through the end of chapter 15 today). Abijah’s speech to Israel recalls God’s covenant with David and his descendants as the rightful kings and how Israel rebelled against God to worship idols, and Abijah contrasts Judah’s faithfulness in worship. God indeed demonstrated His faithfulness in the battle that followed, giving victory to Judah despite her being outnumbered 2 to 1. The chronicler’s account of Abijah is essentially positive, while the account in Kings is essentially negative—both are nevertheless accurate, for no doubt in Abijah, as in us, there are Spirit-worked good deeds, as well as evidence of the corruption of our fallen sinful natures. Asa’s reign began well enough, as we read today, but tomorrow we will find quite a turn of events. Asa had success while faithfully following the Lord and failure when he refused to turn to Him. Note in 15:9 how faithful people from the unfaithful nation of Israel went out to faithful Judah.

Israel is now bombing Christians in Lebanon, although a so-called Christian activist says Hezbollah is purposefully putting Christians in the line of fire. While that may be true in a case or two, that hardly seems to account for all the Christian targets. Meanwhile, the wife of one of the Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping "started" the bombing is touring the United States to show “the human side of the war”, but I doubt she will be showing how Christians are affected. I hear more and more complaints about the inaccuracy of the weapons and how “innocent civilians” are affected by the war (not that anyone is so innocent from God’s perspective that they don’t deserve death). Somehow we’ve gotten the impression that the "smart" weapons are so smart they can pick a target based on religion or political affiliation. You’d think at least Americans would remember what one of the so-called major architects of "modern" warfare, Union (*sorry*) General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), reportedly said: “War is hell.” The view that war is worse than hell was expressed by a TV show set in the Korean War.

Fr Mulcahey: Well, you know what they say, war is hell.
Hawkeye: No, war is worse than hell. Who goes to hell, Father?
Mulcahey: Well, sinners, mostly.
Hawkeye: Right. There are no bystanders in hell.

(My sister and I were such big fans that we used to be able to quote verbatim whole scenes from M*A*S*H.) I would hope that anyone I’ve catechized would answer Hawkeye’s question, “Unbelievers” and remember, although war is bad, that God is still present and that it only lasts for a short time, while hell is the complete absence of God for eternity.

I have one quick Biblog folo today. In the July 28 post a tidbit linked to this story about an ancient Greek text underneath a prayer book, and now a reader has sent this link to images, if you want to see them. (Thanks to the reader who sent the link.)

And, I have just a few tidbits today. An accused pedophile says his crimes were religious rituals. ... Pressure is mounting on Amnesty International to stay “neutral” on abortion. ... Irish lesbians are trying to use Canada’s gay-marriage law to force a change in Ireland. ... Episcopal bishops in California are trying to stop a conservative bishop from leaving the fold. ... And, as children get closer to going back to school, school officials are struggling to accommodate all the different religions' holidays.

God bless your day, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy by using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 04, 2006

2 Ch 10-12 / Folos / Tidbits

(Psalm 59 is appointed for today, the previous post on it is here.)

2 Chronicles 10-12 begins the final major section of the book(s) of Chronicles that deals with the split of the kingdom and the successive kings of Judah, although kings of Israel will be mentioned insofar as they impact Judah’s history. Still, the chronicler is concerned with “all Israel”, and tracing Judah’s history only makes sense since that country had the unbroken line of descent from David and since only its people had returned. Today’s reading is the chronicler’s account of Rehoboam. As we read chapter 10, we can see that the chronicler assumes people will be familiar with details about Jeroboam from such places as 1 Kings 11:26-40. We do not want to underestimate the importance of this split in the kingdom. Even with previous tension between the tribes and God’s promise to Jeroboam (which did not necessarily have to mean independence from Solomon), the real sin was the rebellion against God, His anointed leader and one place and way of worship. Also, on 10:19, you might notice that the “to this day” formula probably has been taken in by the chronicler from his sources (with no denial of Divine inspiration) and is thought to refer to a time before the exile, although it probably also could be said at the time of Judah’s return from exile (when Chronicles was presumably written) that Israel was still in rebellion against Judah, although Israel didn’t really exist anymore. In chapter 11 notice how the priests, Levites, and others from the land of Israel recognized Judah as the true remnant and were willing to make personal sacrifices in order to continue to be faithful to the Lord. Chapter 12 is a good example of the Lord’s chastening leading to repentance and deliverance with some consequences remaining to teach the sinners a lesson that might help the sin from happening again.

I have three relatively short Biblog folos today. First, in my post yesterday on 1 Chronicles 7, I commented on the 22-day religious festival in contrast to observances in our time, and a reader emailed wondering what people who want the Divine Service to only be an hour are going to do for eternity, commenting that TV football probably won’t be an option.

Second, yesterday I told how a conversation between Regis and Kelly showed how praying to the saints was still alive and well, but a reader’s email suggested they had their saints mixed up. The reader said St. Christopher was the patron saint of travelers and not lost things and that his day was dropped by the Roman Catholic church. Indeed, a little checking verified that St. Anthony of Padua is said to be the patron saint of lost things, although he is often invoked by travelers and that may be where the confusion came in. In the final analysis, of course, it does not matter to which saint you pray, as there's no assurance any them can really help with anything.

And, third and finally, in response to a tidbit yesterday about a measure to end abortion and other forms of the ending of life at its earliest stages, a reader emailed to comment, “It must be an election year.”

Some packed but wide-ranging tidbits today begin with Afghan officials deporting hundreds of North Korean Christians they say are undermining their Islamic culture. ... That University of Wisconsin professor has been told to tone it down, but he isn’t the only one alleging a government conspiracy behind the events of September 11—a book to be published by the press of the Presbyterian Church USA says so, too. ... Baylor’s controversial former president could be the new top man at Houston Baptist University, while other Baptist universities break with their state Southern Baptist Conventions. ... As debate continues over the so-called “morning after” abortion pill, there’s evidence the FDA made its earlier decision without all the facts. ... I wonder if the Ford Motor Company’s new Wall Street whiz will recommend trying to win back Christian markets boycotting the company over its extreme support of the gay and lesbian agenda, like this. (I've also got to admit that Ford does have one of the TV commercials I, too, currently dislike the most.) ... We’ve posted links to news of the so-called World Pride event scheduled for this weekend in Jerusalem, and a reader sent in this link to news of an internet petition drive to “Keep the Holy Land Holy” whose deadline is today. ... The audio and video tapes of Mel Gibson’s DUI arrest are not being released, yet, and President Bush reportedly said through his spokesman that he believes in the forgiveness of sins for all who seek it. ... Madonna’s planned concert “crucifixion” is being called a publicity stunt. ... A reader forwarded me an email with a headline suggesting that the rating for the proselytizing movie “Facing the Giants” was changed from PG to G. But, when I was unable to find a story on the internet confirming that fact, I read the email the reader forwarded more closely, and the actual text only said the the MPAA in the future will not consider religious content a trigger for higher ratings, but apparently "Facing the Giants" has other triggers. (Here's a story I could find.) ... And, for those of you for whom Wikipedia is the “Gospel” truth, this link a friend sent me about “Wikiality” is pretty funny, and it even mentions Lutherans.

I've posted answers here to two recently submitted questions on the readings, and thanks to those who submitted them. God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:15 AM

August 03, 2006

2 Ch 7-9 / Praying to the saints / Folos / Tidbits

(As you read Psalm 58 you may find these comments helpful.)

2 Chronicles 7-9 completes the chronicler’s account of Solomon’s reign, first finishing the dedication of the temple (chapter 7) and then telling of Solomon’s other activities (chapter 8) and of his wisdom, splendor, and death (chapter 9). Imagining a 22-day religious festival, such as we find summarized in chapter 7, may be hard for us; I remember during Holy Week one time a young child asking a parent if they had to go to church every day. Our TV dramas usually last one hour, so we seem to have come to expect the Divine drama to play out in the same time. The Lord’s address to Solomon in chapter 7 again would have special meaning for those who had just returned from exile and would want to keep such a disaster from happening again. Even in chapter 8’s treatment of “other activities” we find the chronicler still keeping an emphasis on Solomon’s perfectly fulfilling the sacrificial requirements, not that we should think Solomon personally made these sacrifices (see 8:14-15). In reading chapter 9 I reflected on the statement again that silver was of little value in Solomon’s day (9:20) but that people kept bringing it to him (9:21, 24). We may give more value to silver in our time, but the treasure that we want to hold priceless and that we know will last beyond this world is the forgiveness of sins and salvation given us by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Chrst.

Praying to the saints is still alive and well. I had “Regis and Kelly” on while eating my second breakfast Wednesday morning, and they were talking about a New York City woman who had left some invaluable photos in a cab and quickly needed to get them back. Kelly said the woman should pray to St. Christopher and went on about how that always works, like when she couldn’t find a pair of jeans. Making a related joke, Regis said there’s only so much St. Christopher can do. Of course, we don’t even know that St. Christopher can hear such prayers, and, assuming he can, the only thing he can do is pray God for us, which we can do ourselves. We properly honor the saints not by invoking them as if they were gods of Greek and Roman mythology with their various spheres of influence (such as St. Christopher and lost photos or jeans) but by remembering and imitating their faith in our sole Mediator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

I have five Biblog folos today. First, in yesterday’s post I asked whether the unborn baby killed in its mother’s womb by the sniper firing from the UT Tower in 1966 was counted as one of the “persons” killed. A reader yesterday emailed the following, referring to the letters to the editor section of the UT student newspaper, The Daily Texan.

According to today’s “Firing Line” yesterday’s Texan counted the unborn baby as the fourth victim of the sixteen killed by the Tower sniper. The letter goes on to say that the baby's “personhood” was unquestioned in 1966 but that in 2003 the Texas legislature felt it necessary to affirm by law that an unborn child was indeed a person. In between, says the writer, Roe v. Wade “set the national position of fetal rights to approximately that of pets.” (Charles Stokes, sociology graduate student, Daily Texan 08-01-06.)

I figured the baby was counted and that the news broadcast I saw was oblivious to the irony of it. As I pointed out to the reader who sent in that email just quoted, we saw in a tidbit linked Tuesday that some would even put their pets above human life.

Second, in Wednesday’s post I linked to the sad story of a sex scandal at an Austin congregation that has had sex scandals before. Later that day I spoke to a friend who attends there, and I told him what I maybe should not assume all Grace’s members know: pastors are sinners, too, and the devil will use whatever he can to put obstacles (stumbling blocks, scandals) in the way of people coming to faith or continuing in the faith. The good news for all of us, especially those who have the correct understanding of the Office of the Holy Ministry, is that the Gospel in all its forms does not depend on the holiness of the person proclaiming it now but rather the truth and power of the Word and Sacraments depend on the Person Who proclaimed it originally.

Third, what I thought was an insightful piece about the religious conflict in the Middle East, and therefore linked on Wednesday, prompted a reader to email concerns about a paragraph in the piece that called “the more extreme elements of the Christian Coalition [in this country] … our very own Taliban”. Well, I didn’t say I agreed with every word of the piece, but I would agree that what those in the Middle East and many in the so-called Christian right have in common is a faulty understanding of how the Kingdom of God that is the Church relates to the kingdom of God that we identify with the state. America is better off when it has Christians being faithful in their vocations as leaders of our democracy, but what America does not need is some sort of theocracy or church-run government. The tolerance we need everywhere in the world is not that which says everyone’s beliefs are truly equally valid but that which allows people to believe what they want and say what they want about what other people believe. Only in that kind of a pluralistic society, which at least theoretically we have in this country, could there really be peace in the Middle East. The problem is, of course, that the so-called radical Muslims—who are faithful to their sacred writings and generally how those writings have always been understood, in contrast to the so-called moderates who are not—they cannot, on account of those beliefs, live in such a pluralistic society the way Christians can on account of ours.

The fourth folo comes as another email on the same topic asked about Islam “rewarding” the killing of unbelievers and about the inter-religious killing of the Medieval and Reformation periods. A brother pastor and I were recently discussing the strength of an Islamic man’s sexual motivation for killing the infidels, and the brother pastor perhaps rightly suggested Christianity does not speak enough about our rewards in terms of our physical bodies or in the “sexual” language the Bible uses, such as that of the Church as the Bride of Christ. As for the inter-religious killing of history, to the best of my knowledge off the top of my head, the vast majority of the pre-reformation killing, such as during the crusades, was Christians versus the rest of the world. In the time after, and perhaps to some extent during, the Reformation killing could be described as between at least so-called Christian groups. I don’t know which of the pre- or post- numbers are greater. Without getting into the topics of justified wars and of the government bearing God’s sword, in general I would say killing now cannot be justified in isolation by what happened 500 years ago, 50 years ago, or 5 years ago.

Fifth, a number of emails about Mel Gibson, who was formally charged Wednesday, and some news coverage I saw of the matter prompt the following comments from me. To the extent that Mel Gibson is a Christian and has hurt Christianity but now asked for forgiveness, we want to forgive him. By no means am I defending what he did, and it sounds like he even had offers of rides from people who thought he was too drunk to drive when he got into his car. We do, as one reader suggested, praise God that no one was physically hurt. I am amazed at how the news media toss about terms such as “forgiveness” and “redeem himself” seemingly ignorant of their real meanings much less the larger context in which this story comes. Perhaps most ironic is a rabbi’s asking Gibson to be the guest speaker at his synagogue’s upcoming Yom Kippur, “Day of Atonement”, services. If Gibson would go in and speak about he was forgiven through the real atonement accomplished in the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, that really would be news!

Tidbits today begin with the story of a bill before the U.S. House that supporters say could end abortion in this country, while a women’s magazine celebrates abortion and a student columnist at Michigan State equates an unborn child with a parasitic tapeworm. ... San Diego’s Mt. Soledad is the president’s signature away from becoming a federal memorial. ... Kansas voters choose Darwin. ... Seattle officials charged that Muslim man with a hate crime for shooting Jews. ... The Internal Revenue Service is asked to investigate a Roman Catholic group in Missouri for political activity. ... In Pittsburgh a dozen women have declared themselves Roman Catholic clergy, and church officials have declared them excommunicated. ... And, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America drops nearly 80,000 members. (Roll cleaning or not, the names are still lost members.)

Thank you to those submitting comments, and remember I always welcome your questions on the readings (use the link on the left near the top of the main Biblog page and remember they are anonymous when posted). God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 02, 2006

2 Ch 4-6 / Tidbits

(After two days of seasonal canticles, we are back to Psalm 57 today; the previous post is here.)

We continue to read of Solomon’s reign in 2 Chronicles 4-6, with 4:1-5:1 finishing the subsection on the building of the temple and 5:2-6:42 taking us into the subsection on its dedication. Some of these details may again be familiar to you from Kings, but the chronicler does provide details that the author of kings did not, such as those about the bronze altar in 4:1. I am always struck by the multiplication of furnishings: the tabernacle only had one table and lampstand. The ark was brought to the temple apparently at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. Note well God’s presence in the temple by way of the cloud of His glory, as He had dwelt with the people in the wilderness. Reading Solomon’s prayer this time I am struck how he recognizes that all things are in God’s control and that God might withhold blessings on account of the people’s sin. Our general prayer in the liturgy reflects some of these same ideas. Imagine being one the recently-returned exiles (those to whom the book was likely originally written) and hearing 6:36-39. (For my previous comments on Solomon’s prayer of dedication, see here.)

I have a perfect ten tidbits for you today. The plan to make the so-called “morning after” abortion pill an over-the-counter drug is tying up the nomination of the new FDA chairman. ... An Argentinian woman is dying from cancer after refusing chemotherapy to save the life of her ninth child. ... Did anyone notice in all the tower-shooting 40 years later coverage whether the unborn baby killed in its mother’s womb is counted as one of the sixteen people killed that day? ... A British minister is sentenced to life in prison on 35 counts of abuse. (A congregation in Austin allegedly has a problem of its own again; the story I heard referred to the congregation’s foundation being shaken, and I guess that’s what happens in personality-driven congregations without a proper understanding of the ministry.) ... Ohio State Department of Taxation employees are threatened with discipline if they wish people a blessed day on their email postscripts. ... Atheists have reportedly made the Air Force remove references to God from a flag-folding rite. ... A lawsuit says universities shouldn’t force religious groups to take on members who disagree with the groups’ beliefs. ... Here’s an insightful piece about religious tensions at the core of the Middle East conflict. ... Mel Gibson apologizes again for his remarks after his DUI arrest, asks for forgiveness, and says he’s not an anti-Semite, but the incident is already costing him business. (I wonder if he thinks Jews are going to hell without faith in Christ and, if so, how many people would say that makes him anti-Semitic.) ... And, go figure: shock-rocker Alice Cooper is helping build a Christian teen-center.

Congratulations! Since we are into August now we are more than two-thirds of the way through the reading plan. God bless your continued reading and your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM

August 01, 2006

Hab 3:2-19 / 2 Ch 1-3 / Folos / Tidbits

We begin August with a new seasonal canticle, Habakkuk 3:2-19. There are just a few comments about it in the background information for this month’s reading (online here and downloadable here). Notice how the writer uses figures of speech to recall the Lord’s awesome delivery of His people from Egypt and other enemies. Those previous mighty deeds give the writer hope for delivery from the people’s present distress. We can truly pray these words as we think of ourselves and God’s Church in this world, but we know that our victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil is already won and given to us through Holy Baptism.

August also brings us to 2 Chronicles 1-3 and thus the “second half” of the chronicler’s book. (You can see here for 1 and 2 Chronicles’ introductory information.) Today we begin the major section telling of Solomon’s reign, going through the whole subsection telling of his gift of wisdom (chapter 1) and beginning the subsection telling of the building of the temple (2:1-5:1, although today we only read through chapter 3). The account of Solomon’s gift of wisdom may be familiar to you from 1 Kings 3, although the chronicler does add some detail and give different emphasis. The mention in 1:5 of Bezalel, one of those to whom the building of the tabernacle was entrusted, is significant, for the chronicler is in a sense portraying Solomon as the Bezalel of the temple. The palace that Solomon had built for himself is mentioned in passing in 2:1 and elsewhere, but the Divinely-inspired chronicler does not repeat the details of its construction. Notice in 2:5-6 that God’s greatness and inability to be “contained” in a temple does not keep Solomon from building the best one possible nor do they keep God from making Himself present in the temple, as He makes Himself present in church buildings today by way of His Word and Sacraments. Huram-Abi, mentioned first in 2:13, is cast by the chronicler as the Oholiab of the temple—Oholiab was the other person to whom the construction of the tabernacle was entrusted (on both see Exodus 35:30-36:7). In chapter 3, you might notice how the chronicler makes his way inward as he describes the temple’s various parts and then its various furnishings. The chronicler in 3:1 identifies Mt. Zion with Mt. Moriah, where God told Abraham to offer Isaac (Genesis 22:2, 14); it’s the only place in the Old Testament where this identification is made. (The mountain is also called Haram by Muslims after the “sacred” mosque presently on the site.) Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, as we have discussed, points to God the Father’s sacrifice, in close proximity to that mountain, of His only Son to save you and me from our sins and the eternal death in hell that we by nature deserve on account of them.

There are four Biblog folos today. First, on the reading of 1 Chronicles 29:21-22 Monday, a reader emailed the following comment and question.

I had wondered many times about the multitude of some of the sacrifices. The priests and Levites got a portion, that was clear, but then what? Now, it appears to me that the Israelites had a great barbeque(?) on these major sacrificial days and maybe a smaller meal when individuals/families brought animals for sacrifice?

I would think so, especially if the food was not kept in reserve, as we are led to believe that the needs of the priests and Levites were generally met by the offerings of the people, as is to be the case with congregations and their pastors today.

Second, in conection with my comment in Monday’s post about gatekeepers or doorkeepers possibly functioning as “bouncers” if needed, a reader emailed the following.

Lutherans? Heckling? We usually are joked about for complete lack of expression in worship (“Good sermon, Pastor. That joke was so funny I almost forgot myself and smiled in church.” For more, see Garrison Keillor!). But we have the structure in place for “bouncers” if such were ever needed; we call them ushers.

Yes, and in the incident I related to my friend of a Lutheran pastor having someone stand up and start shouting at him in the middle of his sermon it was the ushers who eventually escorted the man out.

Third, in that same discussion I linked back to some previous comments on Psalm 84, and another email suggested a number of reasons why the possible Levite author might not have been able to go to the temple (such as age, illness, not his turn). That David had multiple sets of workers serving in various capacities at the temple is true, but it not being his turn would just mean that he didn’t have to go. Age or illness might have been why he couldn’t go. Another possibility commentators raise is that David wrote the psalm when he was away from Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion and that that was why the psalmist didn’t have access to the temple.

Finally, regarding a link posted Monday about the movie “Facing the Giants” getting wider distribution and the controversy over its PG rating for proselytizing, a reader emailed the following.

What are they complaining about, other than it might have gone unrated? Do teens (I am supposing this is aimed at teens.) go to “G” movies? Aren’t “G” movies things like Mickey Mouse & Bugs Bunny? (Bugs should be PG, for violence, now that I think of it.) :)

Not everyone is complaining about the PG rating, and perhaps in part for the reason this reader suggests. The complaint is that the rating was stepped up because it attempts to persuade people to believe. Incidentally, I was never a Warner Brothers cartoon fan, in part for the reason this reader suggests.

Tidbits today are pretty wide-ranging. The Food and Drug Administration may yet allow the so-called morning-after pill to be sold without a prescription. ... A pro-life group alleges Arizona State University violated its First Amendment rights. ... Maryland’s state Supreme Court will expedite the gay marriage suit in that state, but after the November election. ... A British judge refused to recognize the “marriage” of two women “united” in Canada. ... Some Roman Catholic women in the United States are going to declare themselves priests and risk excommunication. ... The story of those Texas monks accused of sexual assault broke national as they pleaded “not guilty”. ... Ever wonder about the value of a human life? An Austin construction company was fined $43,000 in connection with the death of a worker on the SH-130 project. ... A group of animal activists says it’s better to sacrifice human life than animal life. ... Mel Gibson’s spokesperson denies the actor and director has entered a residential alcohol rehab program. (A radio report I heard said people won’t forgive him; I guess they didn’t get the message of “The Passion”.) ... And a reader (whom I thank) sent in this link to an interesting story that was on NPR.

God bless your day!

Posted by Pastor Galler at 12:00 AM