Sexual Harassment and the Christian Sexual Ethic

Over the last few weeks observers have been amazed at the deep scars upon this land that have been revealed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.  The whole entertainment industry has been in uproar as a seemingly endless parade of rich and famous male gender types have been accused of systemic abuse and harassment against much lesser paid movie and TV stars – who happen to be women.

What I find curious is that the voice of the church has been almost completely silent amongst the loud headlines and the accused’s frantic stampede for the exits.  I suppose it could be that no one really cares about what the church and scripture has to say.  Maybe we think the church doesn’t have anything more to add to the discussion?  Or, perhaps, the church just feels it had better not touch any issue that has anything to do with sexuality.  It is too risky.  It will only highlight the sinful weaknesses in our own lives, and bring on the hecklers and haters.

But, truly, is this NOT the time to say something?  How can we not say anything to our own congregational members – if not to the world at large?   If we don’t apply God’s Word and will to these events today, we are inviting continued confusion in the future.  The beautiful purpose and life that God desires of us will be totally lost.

So, what SHOULD the church say?  The scripture in this case, is quite easy to understand.  The Christian Sexual Ethic can be summed up as such:  Any sexual anything outside of the bonds of marriage is incompatible with the will of God.  It is sin.  Expression of our sexuality within the bonds of marriage is beautiful and Godly.  Expression outside of marriage is absolutely prohibited:  pornography, homosexual relationships, adultery, rape, incest, pre-marital sex, etc.,  And yes, sexual harassment in the workplace is sinful on so many levels.  Foremost: it misuses, for evil purposes, a beautiful gift of God!

Why is this such a difficult issue?  It is so hellish because of our Old Adam.  We must purposely and vigorously guard our hearts and our sexuality with every tool given to us by God.  Unfortunately we are up against the terrible devices of Satan –  insidious work centered in the very industry that has now shown its true, sinful, colors:  the movie and television business.  The perverted entertainment of sex and the objectification of women is everywhere in our lives as we are drowning in the 4 hours/day average of screen time.  We have presently become so enamored with its evil that we don’t even notice it.  More than that, we enjoy our sin!  No one connects all these dots and discerns that we have bred ourselves monsters who gleefully destroy the lives of others so they might obtain their sexual fantasies.  And yes, I am NOT talking only about the Harvey Weinsteins of the world… I am talking about US.  What has become plain in the national discussion, for instance, is that sexual harassment is a daily reality for so many women in this nation.  That reality dovetails with the fact that this year I have officiated at only ONE wedding in our church (and there are none planned for the foreseeable future).

When we connect all these dots, the clear picture emerges:  We, as a nation, are closing in on completely rejecting the Christian Sexual Ethic.  We have lost the ravishingly beautiful reality of the Bride and Groom of heaven.  We have replaced it with the filth of the sewer.

May it not be the case for me, you, or the holy Bride of Christ!

“Come quickly, O Lord Jesus!”

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MacBook Pro Review

IMG_7983I haven’t blogged in many months… thought maybe I would share something different than my usual…

Back earlier this summer I was faced with having to replace my aging and failing 2011 MacBook Pro (15 inch).  It was awful thinking about a replacement.  I really didn’t have the money for an expensive Apple machine, and yet I couldn’t get my mind around anything else.  The new iPad Pros came out and so for a long time I thought about trying to use an iPad as my main computing device… but the reality was that I really couldn’t go that rout yet.  I am sure I would LIKE that iPad, but for all the software I use and the hours and hours that I spend at the keyboard, I knew it just wouldn’t be enough.  Computer it had to be…  but could I really spend well over $2500 for a 15 inch replacement?  I wasn’t sure I would “get along” with a 13 inch screen, but it really was all that I could afford, although I ended up buying the bit more expensive model with the “Touch Bar”.

Anyway, how have I liked it?  I definitely DO enjoy this machine.  I have no significant complaints.  Here are my main points:

I love:

  • How small and light it is.  The other day someone thought I was carrying an iPad it is so small.  I still find it wonderful to pick it up – remembering every time I do how heavy my old 15 inch machine was in comparison.
  • The keyboard.  I just treasure typing on it!  I have no idea WHY I can SO look forward to touching these keys!  I have had ONE key stick down and become non-responsive.  Amazingly I looked on youtube and found out that if you turn the computer upside down and tap, the key comes free!  That was all it needed and I was happy again!
  • The Tack pad.  Apple definitely has the best track pads in the industry.  I have no desire for a touch screen because the trackpad is SO big and wonderful and responsive.

I don’t love:

  • Using an adapter to hook anything up to the computer.  Eventually I suppose I will get new hard drives and accessories that will use the USB-C port, but I don’t have money for them because I spent it all on the computer!  lol.  Until I have money again I have to use the adapter I bought for about $80.  Blah…
  • The small screen real estate.  Yes, the screen is beautiful, but I still do miss the 15 inch screen I had.  It is always a difficult choice:  Do I want to sit in the living room couch and live with the 13inches?  OR do I sit at my desk with my large extended monitor that will be SO much easier to use?

Other Notes:

  • I found a nice leather case on Amazon for $20.  Best $20 I ever spent.  It looks CLASSY and does a nice job protecting the computer surfaces – as well as providing good grip.
  • The Touch Bar is OK, but really not a huge help.  If you are considering a purchase and want to save money, it might be a good way to purchase a cheaper model without.  I just haven’t trained my eye yet to notice the Touch Bar when it is useful!
  • The speed is fine.  I certainly have had no hiccups in performance.
  • The battery life is NOT as good as Apple claims, but I am still happy with it as it is much better than my 2.5 hours I could get on my old machine.  Usually I don’t really have to start paying attention to the battery level unless I am working it past 4 hours.  And it charges quite fast.  Even a few minutes of charging will give a nice boost in power.

Am I glad I bought the 13inch MacBook Pro?  Yes.  Would I recommend it?  Yes.  The combination of trackpad, screen, and KEYBOARD makes it a JOY to use.  I still am not happy about how expensive it is, but my reasoning and comfort in spending that much money is that I should get MANY years to use out of it.  Even if it lasts only 4 years, that means I will spend about $1.50/day to use it.  Considering how much work I get done on it, it is a STEAL!  But SHOULD mention that buying it at Best Buy afforded me 12 months of free financing.  Without that I wouldn’t have been able to make the purchase.  I am chipping away at it!

Trump – For Better or Worse

After a couple days of letting the election of Donald Trump soak in, here are a few of my thoughts (though there are many more.)

I am no political prophet of today or the future, but I do think seriously concerning the issues before us as a nation and as Christians. When I was a kid I delivered two (and sometimes three) different newspapers every day – but only after I had read them. And as I delivered them I listened to news programs on my little battery radio. Today I actually buy the local newspaper and read it every day – as well, I feed my news junkie status by surveying all varieties of news outlets on the web – from every political viewpoint. I consider it part of my pastoral call to understand the world and to be able to apply the wisdom and promises of scripture to the lives of my congregation. Not that I imagine anyone thinks much of it. We all have our “opinions” and long gone are the days when anyone considered a pastor’s voice anything more than one more in the wilderness.

So… for whatever infinitesimally small importance it is, here is my voice in the wilderness:

  1. The campaign and election of Mr. Trump has accentuated and defined the growing cultural, educational, and economic divisions in our nation. Looking at the electoral maps you have to ask “Why ARE the cities blue and the rural counties red? Why DID the establishment vote for Clinton and the dis-enfranchised working class vote Trump? Why DID most LCMS pastors vote Trump? Trump had “tremendous success” in tapping into our nation’s divisions and giving voice to many who felt they needed a champion. Obviously it is a good thing that all people have a voice… but it is tragic when the cacophony is so loud and obnoxious that we can’t hear or listen to each other.
  2. It is so ironic that this fabulously rich “insider” businessman, would be able to become the champion of the disenfranchised! (It is also mind blowing that the man that demonstrated a life almost thoroughly without reference to the Christian faith became the champion of so many Christians.) Why couldn’t any of the other dozen Republicans running for the nomination succeed in that better than Trump? Isn’t the Democratic Party supposed to be the champion of the disenfranchised? Perhaps it was a trick in the unconscious psyche of those left outside? “If I vote for Trump maybe he will make me successful too.” Everyone wants to be on the “inside”, don’t they? Now the question will be if President Trump will be able to fulfill his promises to those who voted for him.
  3. Key to Trump’s triumph was most certainly his ability to tap into the fears of a nation that is facing incredible demographic change. One thing is common to all human societies in general throughout history: We love to be homogenous and we distrust people who are different from us. No matter what we try to convince ourselves of here in America, our ideal of the melting pot really doesn’t work very well. The attractiveness of our ideals do not end well when the muslim refugee from Syria moves in next door to us. What are we to think about this as Christians? Even Christians are conflicted. We are all damnable sinners as we consider what it means to actually love our neighbor. There are no easy answers as loving our neighbors often brings trouble.

The choices in this election were not good. Neither candidate was worthy of the office of Presidency of the United States (that is why I wrote in a third party candidate). I truly believe that in reality, our leaders are a reflection of our nation as a whole. God only gives us the leaders that we deserve, and I see this whole election as God’s judgement on us. It is today as it was in the Old Testament when the people of Israel wanted a king to rule them. God warned His people what an earthly king would do to them, that a king would rule unjustly and subject them. They insisted anyway – and God finally gave them what they wanted. In this nation we do not have righteous leaders because we are not a righteous nation.

But now, dealing in the reality of that judgement, having elected Mr. Trump, I do believe all Americans need to support him as the President Elect and graciously give him a chance to lead. As President Obama stated, Trump’s success as President means the good success of this nation. Even he shook hands with Trump as they met in the White House and began the treasured tradition in this nation of an orderly change of government. As Christians we can be hopeful that good things might come from this election. We are to be hopeful people because we know that we have an amazing God who can make good come out of bad. Can we be hopeful that the efforts of President Trump would undergird and support our Christian values as basic to the moral fabric of this nation? Yes we can – in spite of his (and our own) failure to demonstrate those values in his (and our) own life. May it only be that in winning any battle we don’t lose the war.

Even as I truly do hope for the best and desire to support a President Trump, I am doubtful of his success. The character flaws that this President Elect owns opens the way to exceedingly dangerous situations – for our country and the world. Someone said to me that they hoped that the office of the presidency would make him a better man. It could be. I earnestly pray for it. But in Mr. Trump’s case, I am fearful that the position of power will make him a worse man, not better. I hope and pray that my judgement of his character is wrong.

I think there is one promise about the next four years that is sure: For better or worse, this nation is in for a wild ride. We asked for it. We got it. We had better be up for it. I am just praying that the Lord God would provide a cushion of saving grace at the end if Trump’s victory train ends up derailed.

The Pope Crashes the Reformation Party!

The major newspapers are picking up on the visitation of the Pope in Sweden, Oct. 31, 2016, as the Lutheran World Federation observed Reformation Day.  He joined the Lutherans in a special prayer service.  It was certainly quite the gesture by the Pope to take a day that has historically highlighted division in the church, and help change it into one which would move us toward healing and unity. “Such a refreshing thing to see!” we all want to say. Most certainly we all must believe and strive for Christian unity, as our disagreement and our division is sinful and stains the Gospel.

However, as much as it should be the goal of every Christian and Christian church to be united in our teaching and doctrine, there is reality we must contend with. Because of our sin, we find that we live in what might be seen as a variety of theological and sociological realities. True healing between Lutherans and Catholics is literally inconceivable (here on this earth.) The only way that there can be true unity is if Lutherans and/or Catholics renounce their teachings and doctrines… The Catholic Pope and Martin Luther knew that way back in days of the Reformation almost 500 years ago. Unfortunately it is still the same today.

There are those today who have hope that if we talk around the table long enough we can carefully craft a set of words that will somehow cover over the sins of division, as if the differences we have are not of substance, but only the result of misunderstanding and history. The ecumenical movement of today that attempts to bring churches together hinges not on coming to a consensus of Truth, but instead works to ignore or water down the teachings of scripture, counting truth as less important than “unity.” They will say “We agree on more things than we disagree, so lets just call us a happy family.” Sometimes that is good to do in our lives of of many varied opinions and values, but is that permissible when we deal in the currency of truth and the confession of faith?

Members of our churches should note that, although the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod regularly participates in theological dialogues with other church bodies, we do not consider Biblical Truth to be a price to pay for outward unity in the church. I know that most people caught up in their harried lives have little patience with what is viewed as silly arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I understand that. However… the reason for this well meaning impatience is that many people also have only a very basic understanding of Christian doctrine, and even less of an understanding of the scripture and the issues that confront the church.

It is true that there is no perfect church, and the LCMS does not pretend to espouse a perfect understanding of Scripture. We will all be surprised when we get to heaven at what we got wrong or misunderstood here on earth. We must be humble about these things. But I do pray that I GET to heaven to be surprised. If we follow the delusion of the world and decide that truth does not matter, the very real danger is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will become so corrupted and diluted that it will not retain its power to save. The Gospel saves because it is True, and it must not be compromised.

Praise God that despite our outward disunity, Christians of every denomination can still express the very profound and mysterious unity of faith that extends back to Adam and Eve and forward to the end of time and heaven above. This unity comes from the work of the Holy Spirit beginning in Baptism.  Ultimately there is only ONE true (invisible) church: the the church in heaven and on earth whose Savior and Head is Jesus Christ. Someday we will be blessed to know it truly without our sin weighing it down and corrupting it. Praise God.

 

Baton Rouge Disaster Relief

The following is what I wrote for the Eastern District LCMS in regard to our Disaster Relief trip (which we are still in transit back from at the time of this posting…)

EASTERN DISTRICT DISASTER RELIEF TO BATON ROUGE, LA.

Jesus teaches us in the parable of the Good Samaritan that loving God by loving our neighbor as ourselves is the privilege of each child of His. That love is shown in so many ways by Christians in their every day lives (in our families and to next door neighbors, etc.) But there are times when the body of Christ is hurting in extraordinary ways in distant places, giving the church at large ample opportunity to work together to bring the mercy of God to so many in need. Even in the New Testament church, God’s people sent money and representatives to far off destinations when people needed relief from their difficult circumstances. (1 Corinthians 16)

It is a great privilege for Christians even today to extend acts of love across great distances to those who are in desperate need of the grace and comfort of the Lord. The recent floods in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which damaged over 40% of the region’s homes (over 140,000 of them), gave Christians in the Eastern District, LCMS, opportunity once again to bless those in need. Eastern District Disaster Relief swung into action with the call of Rev. Benjamin Bahr (Grace Lutheran, Niagara Falls, NY). Rev. Bahr was formerly a pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Baton Rouge, a congregation now in the epicenter of the disaster.

Rev. Bahr was in contact with his former congregation leaders and members – and they pleaded “Come Now!” to help. An email blast was put out for volunteers and within 30 hours a wonderful team of six individuals from Grace (Niagara Falls, NY), and Peace Lutheran (Scranton, PA) was put together. Rev. Kristian Bjornstad, Eastern District Disaster Relief Coordinator, left early in the morning from Scranton, PA, August 17, 2016 with two of his congregation members: Susan Crosbie, a registered nurse, and (his father) Carsten Bjornstad. At the same time Rev. Bahr started out from Niagara Falls with Karen Kumm and her son Derrik Mahoney. They met in Akron, Ohio, all piling into the bigger van with the Eastern District disaster relief trailer in tow. They pushed on through the night to get to Baton Rouge by about noon the next day. They arrived to get their first work assignment that they tackled that same afternoon.

Over the next several days they were able to touch the lives of at least six families. They heard the accounts of their flooding experiences, sharing hugs and bolstered the difficult tasks of throwing much of each family’s material belongings out on the curb and gutting their houses bare. Beautiful Christian fellowship was had with many other volunteers from Texas and New Orleans – and even from as far away as Germany! At each place they worked they prayed with the survivor families and shared the Love of Christ with them. It was meaningful beyond words – both for the survivors of the flood, and for the team.

Derrik, being the youngest of the team (20 years old) was very glad to be part of the team. He learned that even if you are just one person or part of a small team, you can still make a very big difference in the lives of others. He also learned first hand that the material belongings that we have one day might be taken away tomorrow.

Pastor Bahr was so blessed to see how God’s hand and presence is evidenced most powerfully not so much in the wrath of the flood itself, but in the the mercy and grace that comes in the days after.

Karen (a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief veteran) says that she will be back again and wants so much to encourage others to take part in future disaster relief opportunities.

Susan valued how even though the team came down to a community that they didn’t know – they were immediately accepted and known as brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the same family of Christ.

Carsten (first time on a relief team at 78 years of age) was so appreciative of the amazing teamwork that was demonstrated among everyone involved with the relief effort – but especially within the Eastern District Relief team. He was also struck by the endurance of love (1 Cor. 13) that was demonstrated not only in the team’s work, but in the lives of the flood survivors.

In many ways the team left just as work was actually being ramped up. The Eastern District Relief team was one of the first on the scene, but when the team left Monday night, more and more volunteers were streaming in and being put to work. But the reality is that the easy, non-skilled relief work is finishing up for more and more of the survivors. In the near future the harder part will begin: the survivors will have to start rebuilding their homes and lives. The real need for the support of the church at large will continue on into the months and years ahead as the shock and horror of the fast moving waters of the last couple weeks fades in the face of so many more grinding hurdles of life post-flood. May God bless and keep us all close to His heart as we pray and support all those in need – those in Baton Rouge and beyond!

Submitted on behalf of the team,

Rev. Kristian Bjornstad

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Team arrives and unloads at Trinity Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge, LA

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Team members with Lain Ardoin, homeowner of the first house we were assigned work.

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Horrific sight outside the second house we worked on.

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Inside scene of the kitchen after gutting.

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Lutheran Church Charities Comfort dogs in full force by Sunday.

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Pastor Bahr talking with a child he baptized years ago. It was a blessing that he knew so many people.
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Pastor Bahr was invited to preach to the congregation on Sunday morning.

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The team with the Donald family after a day of work at their house.

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Lots of hugs all around.

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Most of the nights the team stayed at Trinity Lutheran Church in one of the school classrooms. But on the last night, because school was starting up again, we were blessed to be hosted in the home of Allen. Most other volunteers were hosted by members of Trinity.

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It is important to know that the relief operations were contributed to by so MANY people and Lutheran institutions…. Here disaster cleanup pails filled with cleaning supplies were being unloaded (all 288 of them) along with dozens of hand made quilts and bags of towels – all donated from a small church in Texas. The drivers were so thrilled to tell us how this delivery put them over 1400 pails given out THIS YEAR alone – and it is only August!

Boycotting the Olympic Games

The opening ceremonies were held last night for this summer’s games – and according to the newspaper this morning they were all about world peace and saving trees. So do I laugh hysterically or heave my breakfast? Maybe both.  My attitude toward the Olympic Games has never been good. And it isn’t getting any better as I move into my crotchety old age.

Watching the olympics when we lived in Canada was grinding. For Canada, a smallish country battling self- image problems, winning at the games was what verified the fact that the country actually existed – and mattered – to at least someone. CBC TV would run the bios of Canadian athletes and you would swear that they were gods sent from heaven. These Canadian athletes were perfect in every way. If ONLY we would all be like them, right?

Here in the US, it isn’t quite so bad that way. We already know how important and impressive we are so we don’t need to prove it. We all know everyone else is on some doping program anyway, right???

The whole institution is such an empty farce. Impoverishing their host countries in the mad dash for glory. Imagining excuses for the games like “good will” and “peace” and “conservation” is just utter corruption.

Why can’t we just have some honest games? Why can’t we just play some games sans the nation building, hubris, and international politics? How come we can’t just be astonished and praise God when an athlete accomplishes marvelous feats of physical prowess – no matter the place he was born? How come he runs “for” his nation? How come he has to wave a flag?

The reason is that we are ungodly. We have all swallowed the lie that our world can find salvation in events like the olympics. We believe we can find within ourselves as human beings the strength and skill to overcome war and all our ills in the same way we can jump higher hurdles. I find it SO ironic that what we really find, if we take off the blinders, is that the games that are supposed to save us – end up demonstrating the worst of us.

I know. I know. I am just a sour pus and I should just put the blinders on and join the couch party.

Nah… I think I will just skip it. There are way more fun things to do. Anyone want to play some volleyball?  If you race me on my sailboat you will be sure to win!!

Owning a Bittersweet and Divided Heart

It had been 15 years since I had set foot at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Nipigon, ON.  It was the first congregation I served, having been ordained and installed there July 3, 1994.  For many years we had tried to fit a visit to Nipigon inside our family vacation to Minnesota, but the 8 – 9 hour drive up the shore of Lake Superior was just never friendly to our schedule.  Finally this year there was an opening for my daughter Hannah and I to make the trip.  Hannah was born there and she was game for the quick trip up and back to see the place she can barely remember.

So the anxious question for me was always:  “How will it be to go back?”

Some of the answer to that question was shaped by the fact that a good many years had elapsed and many of the saints in that place had moved on from Nipigon, or advanced to their heavenly home.  But in the end the overwhelming feeling I had was one of incredible thankfulness for all the wonderful memories of God’s blessing in that place.  It was such a joy to see how the young and old, whom I so loved, had continued in the faith, and how the Jesus I was so privileged to share still made a difference in their lives.  The congregation had diminished substantially over the years, but those who gathered there seemed a happy bunch – even if they were small.  It thrilled me that even though it is difficult to be a confessional Lutheran church in a shrinking rural Canadian town, the saints of God still persevered.  I am SO thankful to God for their faith.

But… even though my heart sang with thankfulness, there WAS also a complaint to God.  Yes, a deep complaint.  A complaint about why I still wasn’t there.  Since my daughter Hannah was blessed to be able to play the organ that morning (it just so happened that the regular organist was in Toronto), we arrived early so she could practice.  The vacancy pastor had given me the key.  I walked up to the door, inserted the key, opened the door, walked in…  and it was JUST like old times.  I was that kid just out of seminary…  with all the energy, gusto, and full head of hair…  This was God’s House!  The song of Jesus would be raised again!  There was much work to be done!  God’s Word was powerful to bring repentance and salvation to the children of God!  My mind and heart was filled with the anticipation of those ancient days:  Preaching, Sacraments, Bible Study, Vacation Bible Schools, Youth Lock ins, Mission trips, Marriages and Funerals!  But no… it was not for me any longer.  It was a trick of the heart.   Even as I surely know how God has blessed the ministry presently in Scranton, my heart still breaks that my work had to have an end in Nipigon among those dear people of God at Immanuel.

It is good to remember how each day of this life is fleeting.  Our opportunities are few to make a difference for God’s Kingdom.  Counting each opportunity precious, we are to call upon the name of the Lord, ask His forgiveness in all of our shortcomings, and commend unto Him any of the small and precious fruit of our ministry. You could say that is the sum of every Christian’s life, but perhaps it is especially the life of the pastor.

I left a portion of my heart in Nipigon.  Someday I will leave a portion of my heart in Scranton.  Heaven only knows if my heart will be divided again.  Until I sing in heaven, my vocation of Pastor will be one which owns a bittersweet and divided heart.

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.”  Phil. 1:7    

To God be all the glory.