Mosque at Ground Zero

A few weeks ago I spoke briefly concerning what seemed like some new terminology that the Obama administration was using. It had been noted that the top officials had stopped advocating “freedom of religion” and replaced it with the term “freedom of worship”. I noted that it is not enough for us to simply defend the right to worship, but that we must have a true freedom of religion. We must have rights to meet, organize, and promote our faith. Many repressive countries will say that anyone can worship any God they want. The only catch is that they cannot do this publicly! If you live in Saudi Arabia it is ILLEGAL to meet together with other Christians to worship God. It is illegal in Turkey for Christian missionaries to spread the Gospel. And although there are Christian congregations in Turkey they have no right to own property or operate a seminary. We must stand up for and defend the right to the freedom of religion.

This past few weeks there has been a growing furor over the Islamic mosque being proposed at Ground Zero in New York. And this past week President Obama made clear that it is important to understand that, no matter what we might think of it, the government cannot somehow step in and stop a mosque from being built. There is freedom of religion in this country and it must be defended for all religions. I do want to give the president credit for making this stand for the freedom of religion.

We might have a bad opinion of this proposal to build this mosque. I indeed think it is quite the bold and brazen statement which indeed would seem to be a slap in the face. And, although the claims by the builders seem innocent and generous, my suspicions abound. Of course it is ironic that a religion that is so intolerant of any other religion is able to come to America and be allowed by law to build and promote itself – but this is what freedom is. It is what we must fight for. It is the high road that sometimes is really hard to take.

So although we need to recognize that on a political level all religious rights must be protected in our country, it should certainly be a call to attention for us as Christians for action. The Islamic faith is not of the true God. There is no salvation in it. It is in fact a lie of the devil – as is every other religion – and we are in a spiritual battle against it. As Jesus says in our Gospel this past Sunday (Luke 12:49-53): His reality does not bring earthly peace. Jesus, in fact, brings division and fighting. We are in a battle of great spiritual dimensions. And Jesus calls us to spiritual arms.

We can sit around and fret and complain, or we can do what the Lord calls us to do: be strong in the faith and love towards all. The real solution to the very real problem of Islam is not limiting religious freedom, but preaching, sharing, and LIVING the Gospel with those who have no idea about it. We need to work for the day when Churches are being built UP again and mosques are being torn DOWN – not because of government regulations, but because no one wants to worship in them.

“The Key”: A Modern Day (True) Parable

One of the things that I had been really looking forward to during our family vacation to Minnesota (although my wife has NO idea why), was a backpacking trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior.  So last Wednesday I got all packed and ready to go and was ready by about 10:30 am.  My mother-in-law had dutifully made sure I had EVERYTHING I needed and then my Father-in-law handed me the key to the Honda Civic.  He had decided (after much consideration) that he TRUSTED me with the Honda so that the family could use the larger van to haul the kids around.  It sounded all good to me, although I DID catch the import of his words as he handed the key to me and emphatically indicated that I had better take care NOT to loose that key.  He WASN’T going to give me another one.  I told him not to worry.  I told him that if he gave me two I was sure to loose one of them, but if I just had one I would be careful and not loose it.  With that I drove away very excited about my new adventure.

I arrived in Two Harbors, bought the map of where exactly I wanted to hike, convinced a Lutheran pastor named Brian to drive me 20 miles up to the Split Rock Lighthouse, and was happily hiking by 5 pm into an absolutely gorgeous evening.  A couple hours later I arrived at camp site and was totally thrilled to settle down for the evening in the absolute silence of the forest to sing hymns, read the scriptures and pray.  God and me – and no one else!

The next day I was hiking by 7 am and was blessed no end with wildflowers and scenery and glorious weather.  I bounded from rock to rock, taking pictures around every corner, and covered about 15 miles by 3 pm, making it early to the town of Silver Bay.  I hung out at the LCMS church there for a couple hours waiting for my good Pastor friend Keith Blom to drive down from Thunder Bay, Ontario to finish the hike with me.  It was great getting to know the pastor in Silver Bay and a couple members of the church as I waited.  I made arrangements for the elder to come and pick us up the next day when we finished our hike at hwy. 1.

Keith arrived in Silver Bay a bit early and we were on the trail again by 6 pm for a couple hour hike to a camp site.  We pitched out tents and even made a fire as we chatted and reflected about our recent life journeys into the evening.  Friday dawn broke gloriously for us and we were thrilled to set off down the trail again, making great time (I wasn’t taking so many pictures to slow the progress).  We saw lots of fresh bear droppings, but we never had to wrestle with them for the Raspberries, Blueberries and June berries along the way.  We arrived at our destination by 1:30 and our ride came and brought us back to Silver Bay – just as we had planned.

It had all been FABULOUS!  Except for a couple toes, I felt like a million bucks!  Keith brought me to the highway and in my happiness I hauled my backpack out of his back seat, gave him a big handshake and sent him on his way north back home.  I then stood at the edge of the highway and flashed a $20 bill trying to catch a ride with someone down to Two Harbors and the car parked in the Lutheran Church’s parking lot.  Five cars passed me by but the sixth stopped.  A nice young fellow named Brian was glad to give me a ride and he was thrilled that I was even paying him.

It was at THIS point that this parable takes on some meaning!

Into the back of the car I piled my backpack, my hat, my ….  “Oh SHIT” I muttered under my breath (Brian didn’t KNOW I was a pastor)…  “MY CAMERA!  WHERE IS MY CAMERA?!!!”  I looked around desperately… The camera bag was no where to be seen.  I checked again in disbelief.  I thought about calling Keith and having him come back…  he must have it in the back of his car!  But there was no way to contact him!  I didn’t have his cell number!  Well… There wasn’t anything to do…  I resigned myself to the fact that I just wasn’t going to get my camera until he could send it back to me…  OK…  I breathed deeply…  “I can handle the disappointment…”  I got into the car and down the highway we drove, chatting amiably about life on the North Shore.

The downward spiral then continues for this poor Pastor of Disaster…

Just as we were pulling into Two Harbors I started thinking about the car and the drive home…  All of a sudden my heart started beating quite a bit faster as I tried to think about where I put that key…  the one my Father-in-law told me specifically NOT to loose, the same Father-in-law that mows twice a week and knows where each blade of his lawn grass is.  I could NOT in fact remember WHERE I put the key.  The only thing I could remember was trying to decide which place to put the key:  in one of the backpack pockets… or in my camera bag.

Brian left me off at the car.  I opened every pocket on the pack and searched them twice, then three times.  There was simply NO key.  My worst fears had come true.  The key was in the camera bag!  Life was definitely going from bad to worse, lurching from one disaster to another.

But somehow, I thought:  “I can still get through this…”  It was only 2:30 or so… I have a couple hours before things shut down for the weekend and I have Allstate Roadside assistance!  Thankfully I still had some juice left on the cell phone and I called.  The towing company fellow seemed to think that I could find someone to get a key made and get me on the road again.  Cool.  There is HOPE.  No need to panic.  I did call home to let them know what was happening.  I knew it wouldn’t sound very good at all.  I braved the backlash and assured my wife that everything would be OK.

Well… not everything turned out OK…

As I waited for the tow truck, with the power bar on my phone dipping ever further into the red, I desperately called locksmith after locksmith to see if one of them could help me.  It soon became very evident that my Mother-in-law’s car key was not just a normal key.  Oh, no!  My mother-in-law is a very special person and deserves a very special key: one that has a chip in it, one that no one except a Honda dealer could duplicate – and one even the Honda dealer would not duplicate without the car’s title IN HAND.

So, there I was.  Finally.  Towed to the parking lot of Thompson’s Towing Service on the south side of Duluth – right next to a Kwik Mart gas station.  I sat next to the car.  The exuberance of my hike thoroughly smashed and broken into a thousand pieces.  I had not the faintest idea what to do next.  Next day mail was impossible at this hour.  The last bus into the Twin Cities was long gone.  My wife at this point had little sympathy for me as she hadn’t wanted me to go in the first place.  I felt I couldn’t ask any member of the family to drive up the two plus hours up and then back with an extra key for me.  It was definitely my mistake and it was definitely my responsibility to get myself out of the jam.  But there was no way for me to do that.  It was one of those times when you just feel so much shame.  How could I let something like that happen?  The darkness started to fall and it laughed at me.  All I could think about was never going home again!  I had my tent.  I would just pitch it and live there by this car I couldn’t open…  I would sweep the parking lot for a couple dollars a day and just live out of the KwikMart and the kindness of the store patrons…  Maybe I could wash windshields or something…  I didn’t want to go home…  I didn’t want to face my wife or kids or family…  I most certainly didn’t want to face my Father in Law who would NEVER ever do such a foolish thing.


Luckily during the ride in the tow truck I had a chance to power my phone again.  Sitting there with nothing to do I decided I just wanted to check with Keith to make sure he had the camera.  I called his house just ten minutes after he got home.  Yes, he had just discovered he had my camera.  He looked in the case…  but… THERE WAS NO KEY!!!!

But where could the key be?  Yes, my heart skipped and then beat faster…  Immediately I began tearing my pack apart one more time – this time ALL the way…  Nothing in the pockets again…  so out came the tent and the sleeping bag and the food bag, the garbage bag, the trail book, and the mattress…

EVERYTHING was out and searched.  No key.  And then finally, one more time, I reached down into the very bottom of the pack.  And it was there that my hand touched the long slender key – the one key that could not be duplicated, the one key that would get me home!

BUT… WAIT…  You might think that I was really happy to have found the key.  But there was no joy at all!  What AM I going to say to my family?  I actually looked MORE foolish now that I knew that I had the key all along.

But there was just no option.   I had to admit to my foolishness… Facing up to the perfect Father-in-law and wife and being home and with family was a whole lot better than the Kwikmart parking lot and growing a white beard living next to a rusted out old car with no key.

I had two hours of Interstate 35 to think and pray about it.

In the end it turned out that my Father in Law and my wife actually were happy to see me again.  My kids even still loved me.  They didn’t make fun of me.  I will get my camera back next week.  By God’s Grace and Mercy the world did not come to an end for me.

And so every Lutheran asks:  “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”

Disasters are good for me.  This one included.  The car ride home made me stop and realize once again that I have lost more than just the key to a car.  I have lost the key of my God given innocence – the one he told me not to loose.  In my striving after the pleasures of this world, in big and small ways, I find myself often stranded in a foreign land – unable to find my way home.  My perfect and Holy Father who knows every hair on my head, the who loves me so very much, seems so very far away.  Like the Prodigal Son I am full of shame that I have been so very foolish so many times in my life. Because of this I am actually fearful of going home.  Even though I yearn for it with my whole heart, I know I don’t deserve it.

But the Key of my salvation is here, present wherever I go, no matter how lost I might seem to be, no matter my fears and tremblings in my heart, no matter how cluttered and confused my life is, however forgotten and buried His name is in my life.  His blood shed for me flows unabated, His life stands for me, His Call on my life in my baptism and His forgiveness of my sins aims to thrill my life and lift it to heaven.

There is no Savior like Jesus.  There is no Father more compassionate and loving than the one we call “Abba”.  There is no God more powerful and active in our lives than the one revealed in Scripture as Jehovah, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the one who redeemed Israel from slavery, the one who is the “I AM” of the universe.  There are many pretenders, but no one can duplicate Him.  No other key can get us home.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Hebrews 12:1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

These are the confessions of a very blessed “Pastor of Disaster.”  If the sun is setting on your life at the moment.  If your sin is large and you are lost and far from home without a key, let this account be a reminder that your one and only and true Key to life is with you.  Unload your pack and everything that would keep you from knowing your beautiful Lord and Savior.  The cost might seem great for you, but the reward is greater.  You are His Joy set before Him.  It is for you He scorned the Cross.  It is for you He rose again and perfected your faith!  It is for you He still Reigns on High.  It is for you that He will Come Again to take you Home.

Glory be to Jesus!


Refreshing and Meaningful Lutheran Worship

This past couple Sundays away on the road have given me lots of encouragement and a renewed confidence that our Lutheran churches are extremely capable of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in effective ways to a new generation of Americans.

Last Sunday my family attended Redeemer Lutheran Church in Valparasio, IN.  We were staying at my brother’s house in Valpo but we needed to get on the road and Redeemer had an 8 am worship!  I know I grew up as a kid on an 8 am service so it was a blast for me, but I have NEVER seen an 8 am service advertised in PA except for Catholic daily masses.  I have thought about having a small 8 am service for those who would appreciate the early hour, but no one has ever said that would be a good idea, and I always got the feeling that it would simply be asking way too much to expect anyone other than the few elderly folks who usually get up at 4:30 am to attend…

Well, we came into this rather large sanctuary just at 8 am and I was totally surprised that it was almost FULL!  And there were FAMILIES with little kids and teenagers and everything in between!  I have no idea if it is just tradition, the culture, the ?, that makes an 8 am service possible, but whatever it was – it was great!  The service was filled with beautiful music with a grand sounding organ and soloists.  It was liturgically effective and “down to earth” at the same time.  The pastor preached quite effectively and I left completely refreshed and renewed in my faith.  It was great to be sitting with my family as well!

This last Sunday we attended another LCMS church, Beautiful Savior, in the western suburbs of the Minneapolis.  This is a larger church and we were attending the baptism of my newborn nephew Carlos.  The baptism was to be held during the “contemporary” worship at 11 am.  It was very differProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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t from the Valparasio worship, but it was probably the best “contemporary” worship service I have been to, having all the proscribed elements of a regular liturgical service, but having an ensemble “band” that led the more contemporary songs and hymns.  The ensemble was not in any way loud or obnoxious or distracting.  They had a violinist that lent a tangible sense of class to the ensemble.  Again, although there were some in my family who thought a bit differently, I thought the sermon was really fine and the baptismal service was really well done.  I felt, again, very hopefull that our LCMS is actually quite capable of being “church” in our new century.

The only thing that I guess I was somewhat disappointed about was that at Beautiful Savior there was a distinct lack of evidence that it was an LCMS church.  For instance I think the only publication or bulletin board item that was published by the LCMS was a single Portals of Prayer devotional that was there for the taking.  All of the Bible Studies, mission opportunities, VBS and Sunday School programs were all from outside the pale of Lutheranism.  In the end I think this will definitely backfire on a church and I am not sure of the reasons for this.  There are PLENTY of ways our Lutheran church body supports the needs of a congregation and helps it retain its Lutheran mind and heart.

All in all, I am very happy to be a Lutheran and part of our LCMS.  There are LOTS of great things going on in our church we need to celebrate!