Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Hidden in Plain Sight Gospel – refining part of the last post

This is Hunter Baker with a short reflection on two reactions to fireflies. He does in 200 words what I was trying to get at yesterday.

One of them reflected on this emergence of patterns and order. With a little awe in his voice, he said that he looked at the things they had learned in producing the broadcast and found that he could only describe what he observed as holy. I was moved by the genuine emotion he conveyed.

His co-host had the opposite reaction. He said, “See, when you talk about it like that, it just takes all the air out of the room for me.”

“Really?” the first man said, “You aren’t inspired by the idea of some greater purpose? For you, it’s okay for what we are seeing to be ultimately empty?”

“Yeah, I think so,” the second man replied.

To those who have more will be given; to those who lack, even what they have will be taken away…

To those who have, more will be given, to those who have not…

That title is a quote of something Jesus must have liked to say. It pops up five times in the Gospels (Matthew 13:12, 25:29, Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18, 19:26). The contexts are different, but a general first pass interpretation is simply be watchful what you lend credence, both with your head and your hands. What you do and what you think build up habits. If you are building the wrong habits, the wrong habits of thought and action, you end up destitute. That is just practical wisdom. Nothing different that Aristotle would say about virtue, or Confucius for that matter. If you forced me deeper In Matt 13:12 it is tied in with the purpose of the parables and the parables of the sower and the weeds. People get a warm fuzzy about the parables – “such cute stories that make you think”. But that popular reaction is about 180 degrees different from what Jesus said the purpose of the parables was. Jesus said the parables were about hiding the truth in plain sight. If you had the ears to hear, you got them. The secrets of the kingdom were revealed. But is you didn’t have ears, you would see and never perceive. There is a deep statement about the doctrine of election in there. The wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest.

There have been a chain of articles over the last couple of days that bring this to mind. The first one is Rachel Held Evens’ pondering ‘why millenials are leaving the church‘. If you have read RHE before, it is her typical schtick which is triangulating the church: Good smart people here, bad benighted church there, and RHE pointing out flaws in church to be liked by the beautiful people. As if to say, “I’m the good part of the church”. The second thing you have have in your head with RHE is that when she says church she is really talking about the sub-set known as mega-churchy American Protestantism (think big venues, big bands and light shows, a star system of preachers and teachers). Personally I find it amazing that someone can be published saying on the one hand that Millenials are flocking to places like the Catholic Church and in the same article say “We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.” I’ve got the big book of predetermined answers on my shelf called the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Unlike Luther’s gem of the Small catechism which can be memorized in whole and you will never extinguish its depth, that book has 756 pages of paragraph numbered answers that are a treasure trove of what the Catholic church has said to the questions of existence over 2000 years. There is literally nothing new under the sun. I’m sorry millennials, you aren’t the first to think big thoughts. But once you get over that shock, you will find, much like I did, and probably every generation in history, that thinking with the church (all 2000 years of it) is a greater endeavor than throwing your demands at the wall or leaving in a snit. RHE quote: “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance” is really the kicker. It takes thinking alongside something like the Small Catechism or that bigger book to even be able to tell what is style and what is substance. I’m tempted to add that you won’t find that in mega-churchy American Protestantism which is fundamentally about style. The original triangulation of we are the cool church. Go do some study and then start making divisions of style and substance.

While Evans’ critique I can understand even though it eventually falls flat, this atheist attempt at addressing RHE’s question I just find baffling. His deep answers to life are summed up in: Reddit threads, Richard Dawkins, false contrasts and billboards. And he calls that winning. But what you can see in his arguments is exactly what the Christian’s adversary wants to give you and keep from you. I’m going to go claim by claim.

For instance, there’s been talk of finding a better way to reconcile science and religion. Whenever that battle takes place, religion loses.

There are some questions we may never know the answer to, but for the ones we can eventually answer, the scientific explanation will devour the religious one. Mixing science and religion requires a distortion of one or the other.

Once upon a time I was an engineer. I studied these science subjects, especially physics. The assertion made that science and religion are opposites is complete philosophical trash. The adversary wants you to believe the materialist answer to the truth that confronts your eyes everyday. You know just by looking our your window that all this goodness is not just random chance. There is something more. Religion and science are not opposites. Science isn’t even in the same room. Science is great for physics. Because there is a creator, understanding the physics can give us analogies to the depth of the creator, but physics is not meta-physics. Revelation, faith, is the grounding and start of reason. (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.) Without a solid meta-physic, there is no reason to trust the physics. They may not have all been orthodox, but the vast majority of the great scientists of history were believers. It is only the modern era where physics and meta-physics have become mistaken.

What about focusing on the message and life of Jesus?

While this sounds good philosophically, the myth surrounding Jesus is part of the problem with Christianity.

To believe in Jesus means believing that he was born of a virgin, rose from the dead and performed a number of miracles.

There’s no proof of any of that ever happened, and atheists place those stories in the same box as “young Earth creationism” and Noah’s Great Flood.

To be sure, if Christians followed the positive ideas Jesus had, we’d all be better off, but it’s very hard to separate the myth from the reality

The adversary is happy to have you think of a “Great Teacher Jesus” or a “moral Jesus”. Focusing on those Jesus-es is focusing on our works. Our works are so much trash. Even the best of us. What the adversary does not want us to hear or accept is what God has done for us:
1) The incarnation, being born of a virgin in human flesh
2) The resurrection, which is a historical event that even the Sanhedrin didn’t deny that the tomb was empty, which secured our salvation and points to the fulfillment of all.

There is great proof that these things happened. Jesus called it the sign of Jonah. The tomb was empty and there were many witnesses to the resurrected Christ. The last being Paul as one abnormally born. You can reject this, but don’t just baldly scoff. There is more proof for the resurrection than many “facts” held by scientists today.

In these acts of God is our salvation. No myth, just the basis of all reality. The eternal and per-existant Word.

To those who have, more will be given. To those who have not, even what they have will be taken. Words to ponder staring at that reassuring atheist billboard reading Richard Dawkins.

The Good News of Jesus Christ – aka The Gospel

As a minister, especially one who tends to preach 51 out of 52 weeks a year, you don’t get many chances to hear the preaching of others. An occasional recorded piece. Every now and then a quick check at what the TV preachers are doing, until you feel like you need a shower. But live, rarely. That one week you actually go out of town…if parson’s wife hasn’t scheduled “fun” for Sunday morning. And the occasional funeral that you are not presiding at.

If there is one place that everybody should be able to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ it is at a funeral. You’ve got a body, or some ashes, or even just a picture of a dead man there. People die every day. Death would seem to be the definition of natural. Yet, everyone gathered there knows in the pit of there stomach that THIS IS WRONG. Something has gone terribly wrong. Now they might not know why they feel that way. They might have been trained out of that feeling by grief counseling, by repeating evolutionary dogma, or by just despair. But that wrongness won’t go away.

Any preacher worth the name should be able to say simply – that feeling you all have, it’s right, this is wrong, something has gone terribly wrong. Sin entered the world and the wages of sin are death. The common readings support it, like 2 Cor 4:16 – “the outer self is wasting away”…but it continues “but the inner self is being renewed day by day”. How can we say that? Stop blathering about inner and outer self. There is only one self, and he’s dead. But we can say it, because “while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened– not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2Co 5:4).” We don’t want to put off this flesh, but the promise, the gospel is greater. This sin burdened flesh has been put off, but we put it off in the hope of Jesus Christ. Just as he was raised from the dead, so will we be. All this wrong, that scream in your gut, Christ is setting it right. We live by the Spirit of Christ now, and then we will be clothed in the perfect tent, the resurrection body. Because Christ has defeated death. This momentary affliction is nothing compared to the weighty glory of that real body. And how do we know this, isn’t that just some fairy tale? No! The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to Mary and the disciples. And now sits at the right hand of the Father. That man on the cross who shared, who took our death, is our case. In Christ shall all be made alive. Now we live through the indwelling of the Spirit, the downpayment. Then we just live…through Jesus.

Everybody was a great person at their funeral. You know what? St. Francis died. All the good works in the world are meaningless. Where is my hope? Preacher, tell me where my strength comes from! It comes from Jesus. Everybody loves mom and dad at the funeral. Although maybe being around at the end would have been a greater testament. You know who was there? Jesus…all the way to the bloody end. Probably in the form of a nurse. Please stop the narcissistic navel gazing. Don’t encourage me to grab the cup of life with my best life now. Please don’t tell me about the Lord of the dance. I don’t want to hear about the Lord of the Dance. I need the LORD of the universe who has transcended death and the grave and opened the gates of heaven for all believers. Who is that? Jesus.

I need the Gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ. If it has been a while, and the Bible is boring, listen to the liturgy. The only place I heard Jesus today was in those strong words. I don’t need the anonymous God. I’ve got plenty of him. He’s got nothing. I need Jesus.

And Just Who is ‘Father’?

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Biblical Text: Luke 11:1-13
Full Draft of SermonThe

The Lord’s Prayer in Luke has a different context and a different emphasis than it does in Mathew. Even though our liturgical prayer comes from Mathew, the context of the liturgy before Communion, is more like Luke. The focus of the prayer itself is the petition “give us each day our daily bread”. But the context of the prayer focuses on revealing just who it is we are praying to – Father.

This sermon is a little shorter than normal. The introduction addresses the reason. The events of the week highlight the first part on our daily bread and just how much “I need thee every hour”. The second portion is pure Gospel. Unlike us who are evil, the Father is holy. And that is what Jesus came to reveal – just who we are praying to.

Contingencies and Coincidences

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) convention is going on this week in St. Louis. As far as I can observe you can summarize the happenings this way.
1) The Harrison administration has consolidated power up and down the line. Please recognize that my use of the word power is not pejorative. This is just a statement of who won elections and by meaningful amounts. Even churches have left-hand kingdom needs. Mature Christians understand this.
2) That consolidation of power extends to the resolutions. Weak administrations get resolutions they don’t want and floor fights. There have been precious few debates, and most of the resolutions are passing with 90%+ of votes. Of course most of the resolutions are “We resolve to love mom & pie”. The 10% against are cake lovers and apple was struck to not offend lovers of berry. In one way that is good. In another it is troubling. The goodness of that fact is that it means the elected representatives have well gauged support. They are not causing official splits that don’t need to happen. That is good political leadership. The troubling portion is that because of the high percentage of “mom & pie” resolutions more important things have clearly been reserved for elected official action. The example is the removal of the CCM ruling on communion practice from the resolutions. The CCM withdrew the effects of its recent ruling and the Harrison administration withdrew the resolution to overturn the ruling. Effective political action, especially when “your team” is winning all the seats and will take control of the BOD-CCM, but the net effect is to exclude the people in preference for the elected officials. There is a clear expressed preference in the resolutions to treat the legislative body which only meets every three years as a “mushroom” – i.e. buried in B.S. and never seeing the light of day on anything meaningful. It makes me somewhat wistful for conventions that I never knew where the orders of business were much shorter, but meaningful. I suppose I’d rather see the synod in convention debating communion practice all week and drafting or editing one good statement than see it “acting” on resolutions to praise missionaries.

But the point of this post was not to get lost in political musings of which I had no part. One of the items that more or less got shelved was a resolution on something called CRM or candidate status. In the LCMS if you are pastor without a call (i.e. you are not currently serving a congregation) you are placed in candidate status. You can receive a call. Seminarians are placed in their first call. Essentially congregations accept the sem profs’ word and the advantages of youth and lower salary in exchange for the right to know who they are calling. Once you are placed (i.e. everyone else), you are in the hands of God and your local District President. In the case of CRM that usually means you are in the dead zone.

Many ministers on CRM arrived there because of trouble in a previous call. That trouble could be of their own making; it could be of the congregations. There are ministers on CRM who destroyed previous congregations over stupid actions. And then there are ministers on CRM, like this woman’s son, who were assigned out of seminary to congregations on their last legs. Why it is a dead zone is because of that tension. You never know exactly why someone is one it, and so why take a chance? Congregations tend not to do the hard expensive work of sorting the wheat from the chaff on the CRM list. It gets treated like say a 3.0 GPA on a resume. Above it – ok. Below it – circular file. And you can’t really blame them. Like the Harrison administration on resolutions, the congregation is being wise in the left-hand kingdom about its abilities.

Looking back on five years at St. Mark’s, stories like that woman’s are painful. It is painful even thinking about going through 4 years of seminary to serve a congregation for a year or two, have it go bankrupt, and never get another call. It makes one count blessings. It is painful thinking about how contingent as creatures we are. One day you are working in the headquarters of a fortune 500 company making bank and the next, because you followed the call, you are on the street. It is painful considering the coincidences that have led to exactly this place. The jobs you wanted that didn’t happen. The ones that did which you turned down. The people who spoke at exactly the time you had ears to hear. As humans we are a painful bag of contingencies and coincidences. All of which we would rather deny. We’d rather keep the glory story. I built this. Or hide the shame. The system was rigged from the start.

Maybe the demons did cower when we spoke (Luke 10:17). Never-the-less, do not rejoice in this…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20) Maybe the game was rigged (Luke 10:21). Never-the-less, thank the Father for his gracious will. We are contingent. And our greatest contingency is on Christ and the cross. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me(Gal 2:20). For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us (Rom 8:18).

So we struggle on. Bind wounds where we can. Lament our failures, mourn with the mourners. Pass resolutions where they seem appropriate. Pray lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Because we are contingent, contingent on Christ and each other…and the grace we need everyday that is only seen in the struggle.

Where to sit?

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Biblical Text: Luke 10:38-42
Full Draft of Sermon

Mary and Martha. That used to be the jumping off point for a bunch of buddy stories. But the text is not about a conflict of personality. The revisionist and womanist (or is it womynist) preacher makes great hay out of this text. Martha is the enforcer of accepted patriarchal social scripts which Mary chooses to ignore. Jesus backs up her choice securing her already grasped freedom. (Just to be clear, Mary moves first, Jesus just gives moral support). But that would seem to be majoring in minors – although there is enough truth you can’t just scoff.

The context is the help. Last week was the good Samaritan and in previous weeks the 70 were sent out and great things are happening. The whole contingent is on the move. They are doing great things. The disciples, and us the reader, could be forgiven for taking the point of the Christian life as being a heroic do-gooder. And then we see the ultimate do gooder. Martha is serving everyone…and Mary just sits. Jesus, do you mean what you’ve been saying?

Like Martha, the church is full of care and distracted by all the things that need taken care of. And there will be plenty of opportunity to serve. Nobody ever gets in your way when you don the role of the servant. But the world, the devil and our own flesh will labor mightily to keep us from the Word. Service not grounded first and firmly in the Word of God is just so much trouble. The one needful thing – the one thing that we can’t go without is the Word. And that is typically presented as a choice. Do we choose the feet of the Jesus, or our cares? Everything else shall pass away, but what is done at the foot of the cross will never be taken away.

Voices – Back to the Mad Men Hypothesis

While avoiding the sermon that needs written, a few articles that seem to be saying opposite things popped up.

Here is the Washington Post trying to make a case that “the religious left” will come to dominate the next generation. Given that the core of article takes a very expansive view of what it means to be religious (“Notably, nearly one-in-five (18 percent) religious progressives are “unattached believers,” those who are not formally affiliated with a religious tradition but who nevertheless say religion is at least somewhat important in their lives.”) I’m comfortable thinking that the article has something else at its core. Found in the last sentence – “If the current patterns continue, these shifts promise to reshape significantly the public face of religion and the calculations of political campaigns.” The religious left is not about religion so much as it is about the left. But, even with that, the article is pitching a view of the future of religion and the church. A vision that has absolutely nothing to do with doctrines or theology.

This is Peter Leithart in First Things asserting the God is doing “a new thing” and that new thing is forming a Metropolitan Church. The LCMS would breakout in hives at exactly what he is writing.

When churches work together, they often function as de facto latitudinarians, shuttling their theological differences to the Closet Reserved for Unmentionable Things. That won’t do. Cordial chitchat at the ministerial association won’t be enough. If there is going to be deep cooperation and communion, there has to be greater theological consensus, and to reach a consensus, the churches and their leaders must be committed to the hard work of common prayer, worship, service, and study. A truly metropolitan church will have to be more deeply catholic than we can imagine.

This has a much greater appeal to me and a greater sense of truth than what came before. Call this the generous theologian’s view of the church. Don’t expect the old denominations and confessions to go away. They won’t. But expect a much greater willingness to see the “satis est”, the “it is enough” of the Augsburg Confession Article 7 in churches that live right next to you. I might be reading into Leithart here, but part of that it is enough would be currently non-creedal churches rediscovering the Apostles Creed and at least a truly Calvinist or Mercersberg Theology view of the sacraments. At the same time some of the liturgical churches shaking off a biblical slumber and engaging the Word of God again. I’d call it breathing with both lungs (heart and head) if that phrase wasn’t already in use elsewhere.

The last article is about things that I could only dream about. My Mad Men hypothesis of a couple of posts back could be much more simply stated. The theology expressed in the liturgy and hymnody of the church is a better way. The customer currently wants dreck. Do you want to be a church that produces and serves dreck which looks popular but chases away those who have taste (and make taste!)? Or do you maintain standards knowing that: a) they can form disciples which is the mission and b) bad taste eventually is shown for what it is. Nehru jackets and jump-suits are gone, but Brooks Brothers and London Fog still make clothes. The article asserts that the great awakening to the dreck is happening.

A friend of mine attended a Christian college where almost all of the students, including her, grew up in non-denominational, evangelical Protestant churches. A few years after graduation, she is the only person in her graduating class who is not Roman Catholic, high Anglican or Lutheran. The town I live in has several “evangelical” Protestant colleges: on Ash Wednesday you can tell who studies at them by the ash crosses on their foreheads.

As much as I don’t like the first article, this last one is what my ears want to hear. If just for that fact I’d discount it heavily. But I would take it as evidence of the non-denom/non-creedal folks being open to considering sacramental and creedal stands. (Which still leaves me looking for stirring signs of the Word in the liturgical churches. When my Bible study runs out of room, I’ll let you know.) Bottom line though is that this third article asserts the primacy of theology in the future of the church.

So which is it? Is there a way they overlap or are they mutually exclusive? Another Mad Men quote is Don talking about cigarette advertising. “I spent $10M trying to get people to switch, it doesn’t happen. It is all about the next generation.” That is what ties these three pitches or visions together. Each of the three articles isn’t really trying to get you to switch, but to capture the current generation’s imagination and persuade you to allow that vision to happen.

Hmm, Correlation or Causation?…and why I care

From the WSJ

But the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, in 2010, the year ObamaCare passed, full-time employment grew at an average monthly rate of 114,000 while part-time employment dropped an average of 6,000 a month. So far this year, as ObamaCare is being implemented, full-time employment has grown at an average monthly rate of 21,700 while part-time employment has increased an average of 93,000 a month.

Now one can fairly ask why a church website would point something like this out. It could be: 1) I’m just a religious right nutjob that has confused the GOP for the gospel, 2) I hate poor people and don’t understand the prophetic call to the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the alien in our midst, 3) I’m a religious masochist pining for the days when nobody had healthcare and we all faced death and babies without any caring professions help because suffering focuses the mind on things eternal. Or, it could be none of those things (hint, hint).

Let me explain.
1) Occam’s razor. There is a place for the federal government. That place is according to the preamble (half sung to the Schoolhouse rock tune in my gen-x head) is: “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty”. The government’s purpose is to rule fairly applying the same law to the poor and the great (Leviticus 19:15). The government provides the framework that citizens agree to live within. And for a nation of 300 million of various peoples, languages, tribes and nations, that framework should be remarkably simple. Otherwise you get into the position where we are now that rent seeking (gaming rules and loopholes) is more profitable than actually working. The quote above highlights the reaction of businesses logically gaming a complex system, and it will get worse.

2) The law (not this specific law but the law in general) has three uses: civil or curb, moral or mirror and spiritual or rule(r). None of those purposes is salvation. When the preamble says establish justice or promote the general welfare or ensure the blessings of liberty it is poetically talking about placing a legal curb. You can jump the curb if you insist, but only heartbreak lies beyond it. The story that the American founders understood is that the curb is best placed at a minimum level allowing the maximum amount of liberty. Calvin’s Geneva and every established religion has attempted to use the government as a teaching tool erecting mirrors to show sin and often enforcing the rule(r) which is only available to those who have the Holy Spirit. That is a mistake of the tool. That is attempting to use an instrument of law (government) as an instrument of the gospel. At least Calvin and company had the correct gospel. Today we are attempting to enforce a material salvation/a material gospel through tools of the law. That can’t help but come to grief.

3) One of the greatest blessings of the modern world had been the full-time 40 hour work week. The teacher in Ecclesiastes, in the midst of all the vanity, recognizes the gift of work. “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24) He echoes it three times: Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 and Ecclesiastes 5:18-20 being the other two. There is an old german phrase: kinder, kuche, kirche – kids, kitchen, church. The 40 hour week had secured a balance for those most important things, Ecclesiastes’ eat, drink, toil and blessing from God. All of our misuse of the law making it easier to game the system than actually work has killed that gift. This law will enshrine a divide amongst our people that will teach a bad lesson. Notice that the teacher doesn’t distinguish work from work. Work, what is given, is a gift. The law as constructed will teach that there is good work, that which will hire you full time, and bad work, that which will only hire you for 20 hours. It will teach contrary to the truth and move the very people it wants to protect (the poor) away from the blessings of labor.

So in summary: This law increases our biggest problem that the incentives to gaming the system are currently greater than the incentives to work, especially for the smart and already rich. Going to Washington and lobbying is more profitable than producing a new product or service. This law confuses the proper role of the government creating a confusion of law and gospel. This law hurts the very people it is suppose to serve and puts us on a path to teaching very dangerous lies.

Now to hit the other side, the formal GOP has not proposed a real alternative. It should. It is possible to do this simply and with an eye to those currently excluded. Here is Dr. Ben Carson, Johns Hopkins Brain Surgeon, from earlier this year giving the outline in about 2 minutes.

Don Draper & Church Aesthetics

Jantzen-Swimsuits- Actual
One of those things that has been occupying my spare brain cycles has been Mad Men. For some reason I watched season 6 on the TV this year.

Tangent Warning: I know. Everybody who watched it from the beginning of time complained about this year. Well, I didn’t know anything when I watched this season. I was a complete blank slate or in some ways against it. Being a contrarian, since ‘all the smart people’ were watching Mad Men, I concluded it must be a complete suck-up and stayed far away. Also I’m like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, as soon as someone starts talking about “the ’60s” I want to get my can of pest spray. Season 6 was some of the best TV I’d watched, so I’ve been catching up now half way through season 4. My general take is that season 1 was so good that people were still talking about that during season 2 and 3. The Kodak scene is worth the entire show, and its a great book end to season 6 scene where Don tells the real story and “s***s all over the table”. In reading the bible you’d call that an inclusio. But overall the experience at the end of season 3 was something like the Hunger Games books. You read Hunger Games over-night because you can’t put it down. It reads that well. Then you read the next two on the vapors of book one. You’d put it down half-way through book three if not just for the “how does it end?” question. Season 4 while not reaching the emotional toll of season 1 is better than 2 and 3. The tough thing to keep in mind is that even “bad” seasons are better than most television, but the nostalgia for season 1 is almost painful. /End Tangent

OK, back to main point. Don Draper as the head of creative, and Peggy Olsen the understudy in an interesting sequence with a priest, basically hold “the customer” in contempt. It is not really contempt, but “I know what will sell widgets and connect emotionally, and you don’t”. That is the hubris, in Don & Peggy’s cases earned, of the professional. Peggy expresses this with the priest after the CYA council has savaged her beautiful flyers. “Your job is to make them accept the idea, not split the difference” – or something to that effect after the priest with the older ladies kills the entire creative flyer by watering it down. Don expresses this multiple times, but when he “fires” Jantzen swimwear is the essence. The client is selling bikinis, but they don’t want to be “too sexy”. The add that Don actually creates meets the letter, but rubs the spirit in their face.DraperJantzen (The pictures are the ad from the show and a real ad from the era. Notice how Don has a girl in pig-tails and doesn’t actually show anything, but the entire ad is a mild tease at least by today’s standards.) When they don’t like it, Don tells them to leave, he doesn’t want their account. And he is right from a business stand point. Don knows their business better than they do. There are times when the customer is just flat wrong, sometimes embarrassingly wrong. As Steve Jobs would say, the customer doesn’t know what they want.

Now Don and Peggy’s purpose is to increase sales. The church’s purpose is to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). There is a bottom line sales portion there, but only concentrating on that is a big mistake. The purpose is not to goose attendance but to create disciples who persevere even in the hard times. You can take a customer-is-always-right approach, but that approach is never really good creative. It is always lukewarm mush. Those who are left behind in the old “Sterling Cooper” at the end of season 3 in season 4 express just that. The better account man, Ken Cosgrove, who is also an published artist, complains about the idiocy of the merged entity enough that he is willing to subordinate himself to Pete Campbell to reclaim some integrity. Now think about what that means in church. What kind of church do you want? One that takes a “customer is always right” approach and that is always trying to find out what that is and serve it? Or one that acts like Don & Peggy – we have a better way. Which church is expressing confidence? Which church would make disciples?

Now ask the next question, is the low-church praise band the warmed over mush or Don & Peggy? Can you see Don or Peggy in the typical suburban mega-church? (FYI, one of the funniest if sacrilegious tweaks of the show was Peggy creating a “Mom Icon” to sell popsicles.sterling-coopers-popsicle-sacrament Here is an article that is trying to express some of the same things I’ve been thinking about while watching Mad Men. The funniest point is the “serve yourself” communion. That would be the essence of the mush, the customer is always right, church. When you feel like it, please come take the body of Christ that we’ve left out on the table along with the grape juice to wash it down. The church has (or should have) better taste.

Editioral Inserts

I’ve been a little slow about adding stuff here. First, it is summer. We’ve all got better things to do, like just floating in the pool, right? Second, events lately and things that have captured my spare brain cycles have been of a cast that quick comments haven’t seemed appropriate or prudent.

This came up in Bible class. Our bible class recently has been studying the “other readings” assigned for that Sunday. While I was preaching on Galatians that was the Gospel of Luke. Going back to the gospel as the sermon text, opens the OT lesson (usually keyed to the gospel) and the epistle. This week the OT lesson what Leviticus 19:9-18. One the things I usually start with in Bible class is – survey the context. What I mean by that is skim or look at the editorial helps over the preceding sections. What this attempts to prevent cherry-picking a segment “out of context” – what our modern media has honed to perfection. Now I knew that these editorial helps would differ from edition to edition, but this week highlighted a stark divide.

I’m going to call out the Leviticus 19 headlines from the all the standard bibles:

ESV: The Lord is Holy (v1-8), Love Your Neighbor as Yourself (v9-18), You Shall Keep my statutes (v19-37)
NIV(84): Various Laws (all of 19)
NLT:Holiness in Personal Conduct (all of 19)
NKJV: Moral and Ceremonial Laws (all of 19)
NAB: Various Rules of Conduct (all of 19) (NAB is official Roman Catholic, although rarely read as a very bad translation aesthetically and sometimes just strange)

Do you see the difference?

The NIV and the NAB act as if they are baffled. It is just a collection of “various rules/laws”. The NKJV gives us a little more stating the there are ceremonial laws, those that have been fulfilled and no longer have force post Christ, and moral laws,those that reflect the 10 commandments and are still how God intends us to live. The NLT says they are all for Holiness which I would take as the NLT saying they are all moral laws build around the 10 commandments. Then the ESV is the most descriptive and I take it as the editors pointing out Jesus’ summary of the law: love God and love you neighbor. The ESV editors are trying to say, here is one place where Jesus got that. Verses 1-8, “The Lord is Holy”, reflect the Love God and the first table of the 10 commandments. Verses 9-18, “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”, reflect the second table of the commandments is verbatim where Jesus quotes from.

There is a large gulf in presuppositions in all of those editorial comments. Both the NIV and the NAB editors, and in class I quoted a mid-20th century scholar Martin Noth as support, take a form critical approach. No order here. Just a mish-mash of laws accreted over time. The NLT, living up to its roots is a popular paraphrase, reads the scriptures flatly and mostly moralistically. The editors take the word seriously, but without perspective. Leviticus 19 is just as important as Luke 10 for personal holiness. The NKJV editors presume that something changed with Jesus, hence the distinction of moral and ceremonial laws. The ESV editors in this case I think are spot on. They have read Jesus back into the Old Testament (Luke 24:27) and made a good stab at labeling a proper legal distinctions. The NKJV editors read Jesus back into the OT, but they did it crudely picking up a secondary point (moral vs. ceremonial) instead of the primary point of table 1 and table 2. The application of table 1 and 2 might be different today, but here we have inspired elaboration on what they mean in that time period.

It is not the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), which was the Gospel reading, but in Leviticus 19:9-18 you can get a good definition of what the neighbor is. It starts with you responsibility to the poor and the sojourner. The hired worker, the deaf and the blind are your neighbor, don’t cheat them. Apply the law impartially to the poor and the great becasue they are all your neighbor. Only at the end of the list are your people and the sons of your people paralleled to neighbor. Loving you neighbor as yourself – the point of the second table of the law – means loving the outcast that way. Allowed to stand in its fullness, the law convicts. Which is why until we have died to trying to justify ourselves, we don’t let it stand in its fullness. We dismiss it as irrelevant – “various laws”. We fool ourselves that we are keeping it – “Holiness in Personal Conduct”. We excise the parts we don’t like – “ceremonial laws”. (In this segment I don’t think that distinction applies. It is a valid concept, but Lev 19:1-18 is a meditation on the 10 commandments which are all the moral law.)

It is only when you are dead beside the road that our true neighbor, Jesus Christ, can be grasped.