Some Things Pols and LEOs Can’t Prevent

There’s usually a bit of discussion about gun control laws following the tragic, murderous attack of innocents. Lawmakers obviously feel somewhat responsible for preventing such attacks. In the same way, the 9/11 attack on the United States has resulted now in our airline travelers being herded around without recourse, like cattle in chutes, until they can be viewed naked by a special government officer through highly-specialized x-ray equipment.

Lawmakers and government officials have taken upon themselves the responsibility of preventing any further attacks through the airlines, and when government steps in to act, in can’t help but force everyone else to acquiesce. I had to go through the backscatter machines the last time I flew. To my dismay, we were forced to hold our arms up in the air inside the machine, sort of like when the FBI has you surrounded, with all its weapons aimed at you. It was a little disconcerting, since I also had to remove my belt. Up until that fateful moment, the only thing holding my pants at waist level were my hands. When I was forced to “reach for the sky,” I could only hope that the tension in my leg muscles would be enough to hold my 36″ pants on my 32″ waist. I think my guardian angel may have passed a finger through an empty belt loop at the last second, because the pants stayed up.

You might wonder why I have 36″ pants, when my waist is only about 32″. Well, I’d recently lost a bit of weight. In addition, most of my pants have larger-than-usual waists so that when it is appropriate, I can exercise my civil right to bear arms. I take that right seriously because it’s really the only way we have effectively to prevent murderous attacks like the Aurora shooting or 9/11. Well, I suppose those particular examples would still not have been prevented, because private citizens are not trusted to be armed on airplanes (including pilots, at the time), and the Aurora theater where the attacks took place was a so-called “gun-free zone.” But there are still other places where it is allowed for private citizens to bear arms, and with people who take this civil right as seriously as I do, those places are much safer.

While there can be private citizens everywhere, all the time, that’s not possible for law enforcement officers. Their response time may be measured in mere minutes, but a murderous attack may be well underway by the time they arrive. But even with that disadvantage, law enforcement officers can do much more against a violent attacker than lawmakers can do.

Some lawmakers seem to feel compelled to do something about the problem. The thing they do best, however, is of almost no use. Lawmakers make laws. Last I checked, there are already laws against murder. The only other way to use laws would be to strip away the civil rights and the convenience of all citizens in the hope of making it harder for murderous attackers to do their worst. Unfortunately, those attackers have little regard for laws. In fact, they are not constrained by the much more basic social norms and natural law that permit a civil society to exist. Their motives are sociopathic at worst, sometimes induced by mind-altering chemicals that also make them very hard to stop with anything short of lethal force.

So let me try to help our frustrated lawmakers find peace in these matters. They are not responsible for preventing such attacks. I repeat, they are not responsible for preventing murderous attacks by those who disregard the laws. They can’t be, because the most powerful tool at their disposal is completely ineffective. In fact, if they try to curtail violence by dismantling the civil rights of private citizens, they will end up increasing the likelihood of violence by disarming those who do respect the laws and who may be present when a violent attacker could be stopped. If they tie the hands of those who might have stopped murder and grave injury, then they do bear some responsibility for the suffering — not all responsibility, but some.

Believe it or not, there are things that laws cannot accomplish. There are things even government can’t do. When it fails to recognize this and tries to do them anyway, nothing good results. When government takes full responsibility for the safety and security of its citizens by disarming and incapacitating them, we have a recipe for disaster.

This post is dedicated to the memory of the private citizens on United flight 93.

Where is the other side of the boat?

It was clear to Jesus’ disciples where He meant them to cast their nets. All they had to do was step across the boat to reach the other side. It didn’t make any sense according to earthly reason that casting their nets there should produce a different result, but it was what Jesus told them to do. That was what made all the difference. You may agree that we should listen to what Jesus says now, regardless of earthly reason. But how do we find the other side of the boat? What would Jesus have us do?

Each disciple of Jesus must listen for himself to the words of Jesus, because He says many things. That’s another good reason for us to begin our Christian life anew each day with repentance, prayer, and meditation on His Word. We can’t distill what Jesus says into a 12-step program that will apply to everyone. Each of us finds himself in our own lives, in our own context, with our own challenges. The Word of God does not change, but its application can vary according to need and circumstances.

Still, here are some ideas for Christian individuals and churches. Let’s define three categories of activities in which we may spend our time. We’ll call them evangelism, outreach or advertising, and good works.

The one most talked about in the recent past is “evangelism.” We’ll define that as narrowly as possible: the communication of the Gospel message to another human being. It requires a medium, like the spoken word, the written word, or visual art. It may be possible to help communicate the Gospel using the medium of music or human actions. The Gospel is essentially a fact or proposition, so its full expression requires a medium that permits a high degree of articulation.

As communication, evangelism includes not only the expression of the Gospel, but also the reception of the message. That does not necessarily include a response of faith, but it does include understanding. It is not evangelism to speak the Gospel in English to people who only understand Spanish.

Jesus commanded evangelism to His apostles when He said (Mark 16:15 NKJV), “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” That command continues today for those whom Jesus has called into the same pastoral office, and its most pointed and literal fulfillment is found all over the world wherever the Church gathers for the divine service. Every Christian participates in this through our connections to the churches where the Gospel is preached and taught. There are other ways the Gospel is figuratively “preached,” but we’ll leave those for another time.

It’s important to realize that evangelism, as we define it here, is how God the Holy Spirit causes the Church to grow and thrive, as Lutherans confess in Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession:

1] That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2] the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3] the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.

4] They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works. (

The second category has recently been called “outreach,” but we could also just as well call it “advertising.” This activity seeks to establish lines of communication between Christians and non-Christians, or between the Church and the world. It is not a communication of the Gospel, and so it does not have the power to save anyone from sin or death.

Advertising also involves communication, but as we define it narrowly, its purpose is different than evangelism. Advertising conducted by churches is really the same tool as used by businesses in the world. Businesses advertise to entice or attract the attention of others, with the aim of selling a product or service that the customer may not have been considering. By analogy, churches advertise to entice or attract the attention of others, in order to establish a line of communication that can be used for the Gospel.

It may sound inefficient to communicate an advertising message (conduct outreach) in order to later communicate the Gospel (evangelism). Why not just cut straight to evangelism, and bypass outreach? The reason is simple. The unbelieving world doesn’t like the Gospel. It finds the Gospel to be offensive, foolish, and ridiculous. Just read the first chapters of 1 Corinthians; Paul explains it there. Now, if churches want to communicate something to the unbelieving world, we have the same basic task before us as the secular businesses in our community. I’m fairly certain that people in marketing would discourage us from advertising a message aimed at recipients who will find that message to be offensive, foolish, and ridiculous. We could do it anyway, and rely upon the miraculous work of God to produce the results. We would even see some results, eventually. But if we want to open channels to communicate the Gospel, then we should probably distinguish between outreach and evangelism, between simple advertising and preaching the Gospel.

If businesses are trying to sell a product or services that their customers may not have been considering, churches have it even tougher. We are trying to communicate a message (the Gospel) that we know the recipients don’t want to hear! So it’s important that we open the conversation strategically with an outreach message that may gain the ear of the unbelieving world. Even while we communicate the Gospel in whatever ways we can, we should also conduct outreach by advertising.

This translates easily from churches to individual Christians. In fact, the importance of outreach is even clearer in the lives of Christians. We conduct outreach every time we speak to a non-Christian. The way we speak and act can either open or close lines of communication for the Gospel. We are living advertisements for our Lord’s Church. But then, we are also breathing examples of the Gospel.

That leads us to one of the most powerful media for both outreach and evangelism: the good works of Christians. James 2:18 applies (NKJV): “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” On that topic, I recommend you read this year’s convention essay from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s convention. Pastor Obenberger treats it much more completely than I could do here.

These are some general ideas about the other side of the boat. Jesus actually told His apostles to preach the Gospel, and He tells His whole Church to love one another and perform good works. Why not cast our nets there? But as I mentioned in the last blog post, we need to start much closer to home. We need to begin with our own spiritual problems before we can reach out to help our neighbor. Yes, Christians do have spiritual problems. We require daily repentance as we live in our Baptism, in the holy Name of our God and Savior. We to receive His Word and meditate upon it so that it becomes the fabric of our lives. That’s really where we begin to find the other side of the boat, and it prepares us to reach out in godly love, with genuine good works.

Cast your net on the other side of the boat.

Lutheran congregations are probably not alone in our struggle recently to continue operating with the same degree of material success that we enjoyed in the last fifty years or so. More and more, Christians’ attention is diverted from the mission that Christ has given His Church, including our own growth in the faith. It seems that this happens by necessity, as more time is required for each family to earn enough income to remain solvent. Then, since we spend so much time at the grindstone, we require more down time in recreation apart from the normal demands of life. In other words, when we’re not working hard, we’re usually playing hard. It leaves less and less for the life of the Church.

The effects of this appear in the church attendance pattern of our members, and in their willingness or zeal to give personal time toward the activity of the Church. Bible classes and Sunday schools are emptier than they have been. Fewer and fewer members are more and more involved in sustaining the congregations, placing greater demands upon those individuals. In a way, it’s not the fault of our members, and I don’t mean this as a rant against members with poor attendance or involvement at church. But I do observe this as a trend over time. We could justifiably blame it on the economy, or on social trends. Most likely it’s an attack by the enemy, Satan. My concern here is not so much the cause, but what we Christians might do about it.

The first things we must always do are repent and turn to God in prayer. Never underestimate the importance and power is these things. Much of the suffering in the Bible endured by God’s people was a call to repentance, so that God might forgive, restore, and bless them. Why should we suppose that He works differently today? In fact, we’ve been studying Revelation 2 and 3 in our weekly Bible classes at Bethany in The Dalles, where Jesus clearly calls upon New Testament congregations to repent of various kinds of faithlessness and sin. We would do well to examine our habits, priorities, and assumptions to see whether they are aligned with the will that God has revealed in holy scripture. For that matter, we should also examine our doctrine, practice, and tradition.

Prayer is the privilege of priests, given to all who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not vain babbling meant only to externalize our inner demons. It’s communication to our Creator and Savior, Who invites and commands us to approach Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. Prayer is a participation in God’s work in the world. We could make a crude comparison to a program of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans called Thrivent Choice, in which members who hold a certain minimum amount of insurance products with Thrivent can direct the company to give some of its vast financial resources to various congregations or other works of ministry. In a comparable, but far more powerful way, God allows His redeemed children to participate in His gracious workings in the world by praying to Him. He has promised to hear, and He even responds to our prayers in the way He deals with us. That doesn’t mean we can force Him to do something that He knows is not best, but there may be times when He withholds a certain blessing until we ask for it.

An old tradition among Lutherans is to pray and worship at home with a family altar. It takes planning and sacrifice to dedicate and set up space in our homes for such a place for prayer and meditation. We may find ourselves unwilling to make the compromises necessary. It takes more planning and sacrifice to form a daily habit of personal prayer. Even so, we can devote at least some daily time for personal or even family worship. Both the Hymnary and the Hymnal contain many resources to help with this, as does the Catechism and many other resources. How might the plight of our congregations improve if each family devoted itself to daily self-examination, prayer, and meditation? This kind of practical and personal application of faith to our lives is where the most important spiritual warfare happens. May God help us to fight this good fight.

The most apparent pressing need at many congregations is to meet their budget. The flip side of this apparent need is to bring more members into the church. It’s a mistake to focus on these things as the measure of success in our congregations, yet the earthly side of any outward organization requires them. So how can we address this apparent need? In the past, churches have turned to business practices for help. Evangelism programs and mission statements are an outgrowth of this approach. Such things are not necessarily wrong, but they can wrongly diminish our reliance upon God’s grace, and our faith in His Word.

In every age, the Church has existed contrary to reasonable human expectations, because it has existed as a miraculous work of God. Jesus demonstrated this to His disciples when He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. How should that make any difference? The only difference is that this is what Jesus told them to do. So instead of spinning our wheels in activities that we think ought to be helping our struggling congregations, maybe we should try what Jesus says, even when it seems utterly fruitless and counterintuitive. I challenge you to read your Bible, and see if I’m wrong about this.

Our help and salvation are still found in our gracious God, through Jesus Christ.

More than 2 legal parents: Degeneration, Accomodation, or Improvement?

This article linked from Drudge pits gay marriage interests against traditional Christian interests. A California state bill is seeking to eliminate a legal limit to the number of parents that a child can have.

Under Leno’s bill, if three or more people who acted as parents could not agree on custody, visitation and child support, a judge could split those things up among them.

SB 1476 is not meant to expand the definition of who can qualify as a parent, only to eliminate the limit of two per child.

Under current law, a parent can be a man who signs a voluntary declaration of paternity, for example. It also can be a man who was married and living with a child’s mother, or who took a baby into his home and represented the infant as his own.

Leno’s bill, which has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly, would apply equally to men or women, and to straight or gay couples.

Examples of three-parent relationships that could be affected by SB 1476 include:

• A family in which a man began dating a woman while she was pregnant, then raised that child with her for seven years. The youth also had a parental relationship with the biological father.

• A same-sex couple who asked a close male friend to help them conceive, then decided that all three would raise the child.

• A divorce in which a woman and her second husband were the legal parents of a child, but the biological father maintained close ties as well.

I believe that there is a divine design to the way children are conceived. It takes a mother and a father. For those who may be confused about this, let me also specify that the mother is female and the father is male. Marriage is the context established in this design and upheld in societies for thousands of years for the conception, birth, and raising of children. This design is in the best interest of children and of society for a plethora of reasons, many of which have now been discovered by social scientists.

The three examples given in the excerpt above are therefore examples of something broken in the social relationships of those people. I grant that examples of brokenness abound in our culture. The detrimental effects of this are a root cause of many social ills that plague 21st Century America, and probably other western societies. Denial makes this no less true.

I have also seen the kind of brokenness where the natural parents of a child are less deserving, or less satisfactory as parents than someone else who may be unrelated. Sometimes a parent is such a danger or detriment to the well-being of his/her own child that a judge should be able to remove the child from his/her custody and allow the other person to become the effective parent of the child. Well, that kind of thing can already happen. It’s called adoption, and there are child-protective services to facilitate it.

So we recognize that things can be broken. But this effort to allow for more than two legal parents: how does that strengthen families? How does it benefit society? What does it do for children? What consequences might it have that Jim Sanders of the Sacramento Bee did not mention in his article?

Now, I notice that the Sacramento Bee has disabled comments on this article. It says at the bottom, “Comments on this story were closed because of hate speech.” No doubt someone will label my post as such. That’s a classic fallacy of argumentation called “ad hominem.” Instead of addressing the argument, you attack the messenger. It’s an attempt to avoid the argument (probably because you’re losing it) and silence the opposition. While God does condemn hatred of that which is not evil, we also need to recognize that He has other things to say, and we ought to hear Him. His design is good. Corruptions of His design are evil. Yet for all those corruptions, God has already provided justice through the death of His only-begotten Son, who now lives again to reign eternally. That means broken households, broken people, and broken societies can repent and receive God’s forgiveness. In the final analysis, that’s not hate speech. It’s love speech.

“A man who is in honor, yet does not understand, Is like the beasts that perish.”