“See How They Love One Another”

Love— a big topic! The word is often misunderstood, misused, abused, twisted. And yet in the current debacle of love (in both the church and the world), there is a genuine love based on truth. What we in the church can do is to hold to that perfect balance of love and truth, sacrificing neither.

Competing views of Love

If someone is claiming to love, but twisting Scripture to support a false view, then we have to speak truth, calling a spade a spade. If abuse is happening in the name of love, then we can be sure that love is not part of the environment, no matter how loudly someone shouts about it being “Biblical love.”

True love described by Paul is the heart of what love looks like, acts like, and speaks like.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CSB)

As Christians we cannot let the world determine love; Scripture does that sufficiently. The people without faith can see problems in the world, even in love problems. In light of the great needs in the world, one suggestive, even tempting quip, is heard: “Let the Christian churches show their love for the hurting, refugees, persecuted.” There is some truth to that, but not the totality of the problems nor the solution of the problems. In other words, many can see the problems with love, but can’t offer a viable, sustainable model of love.

The starting point for Christian love is not the entire social mess in the world. Yes, the needs are pressing, but we cannot let that dictate what love is and looks like. Rather, the as we look at 1 John, we discover love that begins within the Church and moves outward, not the other way around.

1 John Speaks to the Church

This short post is about beginning in the local Christian congregation. If we cannot love those in our own congregation, then what can we offer the world? People will see our congregation and say, “If that is love, I want no part of it!”

John’s first letter proposes a different agenda for the Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament: “love for one another.” Given the atmosphere, attitudes, language among  Christians (at least in the U.S.), now is a good time to reflect on what John faced and wrote in the first century.

John minces no words about love in the life of a Christian—specifically love for other Christians:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers and sisters. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:14-15 CSB)

How is love in our congregations? A real problem for Christians is when our love for others is feigned, and ultimately love is replaced by indifference. What does “cooling love” sound like? In the tone of dialog. In the descriptions of others? Of course, we may not always outright reject brothers and sisters in the faith in the congregation or attack them. We don’t have to. We are too subtle for that.

 How do we move beyond the superficial love?

John writes:

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16 CSB)

Jesus showed exactly what perfect love is. He sacrificed his own life, not for good people, but for sinners, like you and me. He loved in words and in deeds, all in truth. So John asks the first century Christians (and us!) to consider that in our love of other Christians.

If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him—how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18 CSB)

So the pattern for loving our brothers and sisters in faith, the very people we meet at worship, on the street, in our homes, is Jesus himself. As you read through the Gospels notice how Jesus loved— openly, freely, deeply. None of his love was based on what the person could do for Jesus, but because most of all the people needed to be loved, uncoditionally. And Jesus could do that—and did that.

John concludes this chapter with a summary of the thoughts above, with one specific addition.

Now this is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps his commands remains in him, and he in him. And the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he has given us. (1 John 3:23-24 CSB)

John adds that we know the Christ and his love remains in us: the Spirit who is given to us. Notice then we not only have the example and reality of Christ loving us, we have the Spirit leading us to live in Christ, to love in Christ.

Such description and hope mean that love is the central aspect of our life together in Christ. God continues to nurture our love by means of God’s Word (John 8:1-32), God’s forgiveness (Matt. 18:15-20), the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-29), and the daily reminder of our Baptism in Christ (Romans 6:1-7). Our actions reflect that love as Christ remains in us.

Thus, Jesus’ love transforms us so that we see the real problems in the world, not just the visually identified problems. Thus, in the church we see the heartache, abuse, neglect, despair, the broken relationships in our midst and respond with both the truth of God’s Word and the perfect love of Jesus as the solution. We speak with one another not “as if we loved them,” but “because we do love them.”

May the observation from a second century pagan become a tribute to God’s love in our midst: “See how they love one another.”

[more to follow]

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Forty Years—Changes in Life

Forty years ago this month was a monumental time for me and my wife. I was in the Navy, had just been picked up for regular Navy, had been selected to attend Naval Postgraduate School (Monterey, CA), and we were making plans to move in August. We also had begun the application process for adoption. All of that was put on hold, though.

naval_postgraduate_school

That all changed during February 1977. After extensive tests I was diagnosed as insulin-dependent diabetic. I began taking insulin shots once a day. My diet, which wasn’t horrible, changed. I wasn’t overweight, but they put me on 1200 calories/day. My weight went from 165 to 149 in the first month. Eventually they had to move my calorie intake to 2200 cal/day.

gettyimages-98550998-diabetes-ballyscanlon-opener

The first Navy lawyer I spoke with said that I would be out of the Navy within 3 weeks—get prepared. My doctor was much more supportive; he advised me to go through a medical board evaluation. Over the next 6 months I went through 5 medical boards (each at a higher level) to see what my status would be. Each board reversed the previous board’s decision. So first board (NAS Miramar): recommended full unlimited sea duty in the Navy. The next one (don’t remember specific command): No dismiss from Navy immediately. Back and forth for 6 months.

In mid August the final medical review board met in Washington, DC, consisting of five members: three line officers and two medical doctors. The vote: 3-2 approving me for full unlimited sea duty. That meant I was the first person in the Navy to serve on unlimited sea duty while still taking insulin. Many were shocked, although my wife and I had trusted whatever decision would be from God, we were relieved.

So how did we celebrate? Had a great evening out. We began packing for our move to Monterey at the end of the month.

Oh, I also had another kidney stone! Yep, when the Intelligence detailing officer (the one responsible for assignments) in DC called me, he had to call the hospital. He was shocked. He said something to the effect that why would I mess up all that everyone had done by ending up in the hospital??? Ah, sir, that was not in my plan of the day!

We moved a week later. I drove the moving truck, and apparently it helped the stone move, because that first week of orientation at NPGS I was back in the hospital (Ft. Ord Army hospital). Surgery was not successful. But the stone finally shot out two days later at 1 AM in the hospital. Got out of the hospital and began classes at NPGS that week.

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The Rest of the Story

In 1980 I was serving at Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic (FCTCL) as intelligence instructor. By this time God was moving me to consider seminary. In late December 1980 my wife and I agreed that I should do so. However, I had to serve another 1 ½ years because of NPGS commitment.

In the first week in January, 1981 I forgot to take an insulin shot. I checked the urine and it was ok. I went another day, and then another. I was due for a doctor’s check up (every month since Feb. 1977) that next week. He ordered the usual blood tests and my blood sugar was normal. The Dr. said, well, we might consider dropping your amount of insulin (I wasn’t on a real high dose to begin with). With fear and trepidation I told him I have not taken insulin in 10 days. I was prepared for the slap on the back of my head. Instead, he was enthusiastic and wanted me to go two more weeks, checking urine every day.

So in January, 1981 was my last shot of insulin. I have been insulin free since then, and blood sugar tests throughout the past 36 years have been normal. While I was still in the Navy I had to have monthly checkups. If the doctor was new, he began researching my records and claimed that they must have done the tests wrong initially. They wanted to explain how this could happen medically. My reply was: I think God healed me. Every doctor said, “That’s a lot more believable than anything I can do in explaining.”

That dramatic change allowed me to start seminary in September, 1982, without the worry of insulin and the complications of diabetes.

concordia-seminary-st-louis

Yes, a lot has happened in the last 40 years. Thank God for all of that.

Nostalgia in music

I have been a country music fan my entire life. We received our first 78 record player in 1951. A few months later we got a record Lefty Frizzell, “Mom and Dad Waltz.”

images

I was not quite 3 years old and could’t read. But I loved that the song so much that my mother placed a large X (in pencil) so I knew which side to place up to listen to the song. I played it so often, I knew the words by the time I was 3, and sang my heart out. Note: I am not a good singer, but at age 3 who cared? That song began a 65 year love of old (now) country and bluegrass music.

Mimic Nostalgia

Over the decades I have listened to recordings of it. I have listened to many who have tried to mimic the sound of Lefty. But it still doesn’t quite make it. When the internet came along I checked out this song very early. Loved it again like 1952.

But mimic nostalgia leaves me feeling a little disheartened. Obviously I have to ask myself, can I ever listen to Mom and Dad Waltz apart from Lefty himself? For several decades I decided I couldn’t.

Nostalgia, New Again

About two weeks ago I as I was listening to Jamie Lin Wilson (superb singer I heard live in back porch series a year ago), I noticed another singer with her: Brennen Leigh. Excellent singer. And then found out she had recorded some of Lefty’s songs, including Mom and Dad Waltz.

Of course, I listened! I purchased through iTunes immediately!!

As I listened there was something intriguing about her voice and song choices. Yes, it was nostalgic but her voice also is contemporary. And she didn’t try to mimick. Rather, she has a voice that rings true, brings out the soul of the song in her own way. She is spot-on in her singing, in her instrumentals (great guitarist). Listening to her sing the song was like going back 64 years and capturing that moment for me.

Not often I write about music, but this song has a special place in my heart. And Brennen Leigh reignited memories and joy. Thank you.

Mom and Dad Waltz by Berennen. Check out many others that she sings.

Family Reflection 2016

This photo is of my great grandfather (Joseph Brown) and great grandmother (Jenny Smith), married June 29, 1900. My parents married on June 29, 1946. Joseph and Jenny had 11 children, and Jenny died at age 37.

Joseph Brown and Jenny Smith wedding, June 29, 1900.
Joseph Brown and Jenny Smith wedding, June 29, 1900.

Jenny Smith’s parents (Emma Cooper and Sam Smith) were married in 1870.

This photo is a Jenny Smith’s Cooper grandparents (photo may have been taken at the 1870 wedding of their daughter, Emma Cooper).

Cooper's my great-great-great grandparents. Photo most likely taken at the wedding of Emma Cooper and Sam Smith in 1870

My grandmother, Gladys, is on the far left in this photo below.

Joseph and Jenny Brown with  8 oldest children.
Joseph and Jenny Brown with 8 oldest children.

Gladys and Paul Carlson were married June 29, 1932 (second marriage for her).

Wedding of Paul Carlson and Gladys Brown, June 29, 1932
Wedding of Paul Carlson and Gladys Brown, June 29, 1932

And my parents were engaged on June 29, 1946 and married September 29, 1946.

Wedding, Arthur Shields and Phyllis Staley, September 29, 1946
Wedding, Arthur Shields and Phyllis Staley, September 29, 1946

And then this happened.

Wedding: Richard Shields and Cindy Mischke, February 20, 1971.
Wedding: Richard Shields and Cindy Mischke, February 20, 1971.

And yes, it got down to -40° that night. Good thing we got married at 1 PM, it was 10° above zero!

And our younger son …

Our younger son
Our younger son

met this beautiful lady.

Our wonderful daughter-in-law
Our wonderful daughter-in-law

And together they have five children. Is that why he is sleeping at work?

She is more than a DIL to us, she is like our own daughter. Love her so much, just as we love our sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Love is the story of our family.

English style in translation

In my morning reading the text was Isaiah 6:1-7:9. I have read it many times. But today I read the text in the ESV. One verse stood out as awkward English.

Isaiah 6:11

Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,

The bold words are the ones in question. It seems like something is missing, i.e. “cities lie in waste” or “cities lie wasted.” The exact same phrasing occurs in ESV at the following places:

Isa 33:8 

The highways lie waste;
the traveler ceases.
Covenants are broken;
cities are despised;
there is no regard for man.

Isa 34:10 

Night and day it shall not be quenched;
its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
none shall pass through it forever and ever.

Other English Translations

So I checked Isaiah 6:11 in other translations (none of ~30 translations I checked had what ESV has).

NAS (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate,

NKJV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long?”
And He answered:
Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant,
The houses are without a man,
The land is utterly desolate,

HCSB (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And He replied:
Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants,
houses are without people,
the land is ruined and desolate,

NIV (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,

NET (Is. 6:11)

I replied, “How long, sovereign master?” He said,
Until cities are in ruins and unpopulated,
and houses are uninhabited,
and the land is ruined and devastated,

NLT (Is. 6:11)

Then I said, “Lord, how long will this go on?” And he replied,
Until their towns are empty,
their houses are deserted,
and the whole country is a wasteland;

I have studied the issue of English in translation in many contexts. I think that translations such as God’s Word offers a good example; the translation team had a full time (qualified) English advisor. The task of this advisor was to examine both written and oral choices and offering editing changes. Any of the above translations provide adequate good English style for this text.

Recommendation

I would recommend that the ESV translation team revisit these three Isaiah texts to produce a more meaningful English rendition.

Dogs and me

A little different focus today. This past week a couple of vivid memories of our dogs came to mind.

My life with animals and especially dogs was important when I was growing up. We lived on a farm, so cows, dogs, and cats, occasionally pigs and chickens. I love dogs, always have. I have never met a dog that wasn’t my next new friend.

Even the very first one, a German Shepherd, was my friend, and we played together a lot. When I was 3 (1952), I moved his chow bowl, and he didn’t like that. So he bit me on the upper lip. I still remember going to the doctor in town to get my lip sown. That is also why a moustache will never work for me, it’s a bare spot on my upper lip.

Sparky was our next dog. Sparky was almost the perfect, dog, my best friend ever. Great hunting dog, but he loved to play with us boys—a lot! In November 1959, my father and brother were away deer hunting for the week. Someone gut-shot Sparky, but didn’t kill him. My mother told me I had to shoot Sparky to avoid the continuing suffering and slow death. So as a 10 year old I discovered what it was like to lose a close pet, yes, even my friend. My heart still aches when I think of that day. It has been 57 years ago this past week, and feels like yesterday. I will try to find a photo of him.

Then we found a poor little dog, just a few weeks old, abandoned in the country. Lady became the soul mate of Sparky. Not a hunting dog, but the best companion, and despite her size, the best watch dog ever. She was the first dog my father ever allowed into the house. And we were all happy about that, even my father!

This is a photo of me with Lady in 1968.
This is a photo of me with Lady in 1968.

I miss all three dogs.

Because we have moved 28 times in the last 45 years, it was not practical to have a dog. But I sure wish I could find another Sparky or Lady.

How about you? Do you have fond memories of dogs, a special dog?

Church in the Midst of Turmoil

In the midst of much public angst, fear, etc. over the past week, accusations have been flung at Christians, specifically Evangelicals, about what should be done, changed, etc. In this post I will address that topic. But more, there is much about what Christians say and do, especially relative to the elections and who is elected/not elected, than has been addressed.

Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical

I use all three of these terms, but not as identified by a church body or movement. That may cause confusion, so let me explore this a bit. When I teach hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) I repeatedly point out that one key is looking at the referent of a word, i.e. what is it referring to, pointing to.

Definition: catholic 

When the word is capitalized (Catholic) it refers to the church body that is headed by the pope and headquartered in the Vatican. In my references to that church body I use the fuller title, Roman Catholic Church (RCC).

When the word is not capitalized (catholic) then it carries the basic sense of “universal.” Historically catholic referred to the universal Christian church, that is, believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of location or affiliation. It also meant that the Christians were identifiable by the confession they publicly professed.

I am catholic, in that I confess the Christian faith, and as articulated in the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Athanasian).

Definition: orthodox

Like catholic, when Orthodox is capitalized it refers to a specific church body (or a group of church bodies: Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc.). When the word is not capitalized, orthodox carries the basic sense of “straight praise” (literalisticly) which came to indicate “straight doctrine.”

I am orthodox in that I confess the true, straight Christian doctrine (and praise/worship that reflects such) proclaimed in the Bible (as as expressed the creeds of the Christian Church.

Definition: Evangelical

Again, when capitalized the word, Evangelical, refers to a movement within the last 100+ years. Most of the rhetoric of the past 60 years about “Evangelicals” is used in reference to a conglomeration of people from various Reformed, Calvinist, and other Protestant backgrounds.

When not capitalized, evangelical has the historic meaning “gospel.” Interestingly, in Germany since the time of the reformation the Lutheran church was and still is known as the evangelische kirche, the gospel church.

I am evangelical as an expression historically meaning “gospel.” I adhere to the confession of the Gospel in all its purity, as articulated in the Book of Concord 1580.

Confusion and Caution:

These three words can also be used in a sociological way. That is, it might refer to many groupings of people who have the sociological identification as such, but are not theologically included in the terms. Thus, when each is used in a sociological way, then they might include Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc. However, when used in their historic theological understanding, the words do not apply to those groups.

I do not write this to cause problems but to note that using a word like “evangelical” (in a sociological construct situation) includes these groups which are not necessarily theologically accurate. For instance, I will never include these groups because I use the terms in their strictly theological sense.

Ministry in a Changing Social/Political Arena

What happens to the message of a Church/pastor when the social, political, economic situation drastically or subtly changes? The answer depends on how the terms above are used, sociologically or theologically? Sadly many churches/pastors don’t make that distinction. Is it any wonder that those outside the Church are confused when trying to provide an answer, demand changes?

Background:

With the election of Donald Trump as President, many are questioning how the Church can/should be changed or exhorted to respond. First, I would like to approach this from a secular standpoint. I served in the U.S. Navy 9½ years active duty and 4 years reserve. I served under four different presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan.

In fact, my final processing interview (May 1973) took place when the Watergate investigation was reaching its peak. I was asked how this changing environment would affect my service in the Navy. I answered that my oath is to defend the country and the Constitution. If the President were impeached, then the VP would serve. It would not change my service at all. Thus, over the next decade, changing presidents didn’t affect my work, my commitment to the Navy, the nation, or relationships with family and friends.

So what is the Church to do?

So when the Church is called out now for not addressing the current hot points, I think I need to follow a similar path as a pastor. Note that most of these calls are for Evangelicals to change, or become what the Church should be, etc. My first response is: I am not part of the Evangelical movement, never have been, even though I am evangelical.

Second, I have pastored at the time of six different presidents (Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump). Over the past 30+ years, my focus as pastor has been on proclaiming the Gospel as historically understood. That means that much of my ministry is to and with people who are broken, abused, outsiders, etc. I began using the term “fringe ministry” to summarize this approach, which I think reflects Jesus’ ministry. Not once did the national climate affect the message or my ministry.

From that perspective, I do not have to change church bodies. I do not have to reinvent myself for the current situation. It is not because I am insensitive to what people are experiencing. Rather it is because I have been in the trenches of what people are experiencing: brokenness, abandoned, abused, neglected. The Gospel I proclaim is not a new social construct, in fact, to be Gospel, it cannot be.

What many, or most, people do not realize is that my ministry has even happened. It has not received public acknowledgement. And for that I am extremely thankful. Such public notice could easily close doors to ministry to the broken, abused, forgotten people, not open doors. I have seen God work changes in peoples’ lives that demonstrate exactly where God’s heart is, and therefore where my heart is.

Church and ministry do not change for anyone or any political, economic condition. I think we can learn from our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world: that even extreme, true (not artificial) persecution allows the Church to still be the Church. No president, no congress, no political platform can change that.

So what is the Church to do? In my case, exactly what we have been doing in the past. Thus, I speak Law to expose sin, but most importantly I speak Gospel to bring forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, hope in Jesus Christ. And the Church responds in caring for others as well.