Posts tagged ‘California’

2019: Year in Review

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Credit: Ulrike Leone from Pixabay 

It’s hard to believe another year has come and is now nearly gone. This year has had its share of memorable moments. There were the accelerating attacks on houses of worship – synagogues, mosques, and churches. There were the wildfires that devastated California and Hurricane Dorian that decimated the Bahamas. There was the huge controversy surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX, which experienced problems with one of its automated flight control systems, resulting in two deadly crashes. Politically, there was the impeachment of a president and the death of Elijah Cummings, a fixture in the US House of Representatives. And then, of course, in a story that will reach into 2020, there is a presidential election brewing.

It’s difficult not to experience a bit of déjà vu as I look back over this year’s big stories. Deadly rampages continue to terrorize communities and cultures. Natural disasters, a staple of creation since the introduction of sin, continue to wreak havoc across our nation and throughout the world. Businesses continue to find themselves in PR nightmares. And, our political fissures continue to widen and deepen. None of these problems were new to 2019. These were just new manifestations of old menaces.

Solomon famously wrote: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This is most certainly true. But we must also remember that this is not ultimate.

The apostle Peter writes about those who, like Solomon, know that things don’t really change. But they also doubt that anything ever will change. They complain: “Everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). But Peter knows that even if the axiom “history repeats itself” is true of history, it is not true for the future, which is why Peter holds out this hope:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)

Peter says there is a day coming when all the drudgery of this age will be overcome by the delight of the age to come.

But here’s the key: Peter says that, since we know that something better and different is on its way, we ought to “look forward” to what is to come. In Greek, the word for the phrase “look forward” is prosdokeo. Dokeo is a word that denotes “thinking,” and pros is a prefix that denotes “that which is first” or “at the head.” In other words, Peter is admonishing us to “think ahead.” Think ahead to a day when mass murders will die and natural disasters will be rendered unnatural and commerce will be consecrated and politics will care only about King Jesus. Think ahead to that day. Because it will be a supremely good day.

I’m praying for a great 2020. But I’m also hoping for a perfect eternity. I don’t know how God will answer my prayer. But I do know He will fulfill my hope. For my hope is His promise.

December 30, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Tragedy in California

They are the worst wildfires in the history of the state of California.

Nearly 250,000 acres have burned.  79 people have been killed.  Sadly, that number will likely climb as first responders continue their search through the rubble these fires have left behind.  The town of Paradise, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been especially hard hit, with nearly the whole town being destroyed.

California has had a rough go of it lately.  Just two weeks ago, the state endured another tragedy as a gunman opened fire at a country bar filled with college students in Thousand Oaks, killing twelve.  The shooter was a Marine Corps veteran who appears to have had all sorts of mental health issues and was, at one time, on the cusp of being committed.

The sheer number of tragedies that roll in through each news cycle can begin to feel overwhelming.  For each town that is charred and person that is shot, we ask, “How can we stop this from happening?”  Answers to this perennial and pressing question seem to elude us.  When tragedies do strike, we are thankful for firefighters who risk their lives on the frontlines of massive and unpredictable blazes and officers who run into hails of bullets rather than away from them.  Proactively, we are instructed to keep dry brush away from homes in fire zones and guns out of the hands of mentally disturbed people.  But despite our best efforts, the tragedies keep coming.  Tragedies, even if they can be somewhat mitigated and managed by us, cannot be successfully stayed by us.

On the surface, the California fires and the California shooting seem to be two different types of tragedies.  One is a natural disaster.  The other is man-caused carnage.  Below the surface, however, these two tragedies share a common core:  sin.  The fires remind us that the sin that came into the world with Adam and Eve has disordered and distorted the world in profound and frightening ways.  The mass shooting reminds us that sin is not just in the world.  It is in us.  It’s not just that we cannot eradicate the sin that distorts creation; it’s that we cannot even kill the sin in ourselves.

The message of Christianity reminds us that, even as societies scramble to address sin, we need a victory over sin that we cannot gain for ourselves.  Sin needs not only our noble actions and timely reactions, but a perfect transaction that exchanges our sad sin for a better righteousness.  This is the transaction Christ makes for us on the cross.

Tragedies are sure to continue.  And we should be thankful for those fighting on the front lines of those tragedies.  But we can also be hopeful that tragedy’s time is short, for sin’s defeat is certain.

November 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

One Perfect Parent

Turpin House

The Turpin House / Credit: Reuters

One of their only contacts with the outside world was when four of the kids were allowed to step outside their house in Perris, California to install some sod in the front yard, with their mother coldly watching from inside the front window.  A neighbor who passed by and offered a friendly greeting to the children was surprised when none of them spoke a word in return to her.  But one of the children, a 17-year-old girl, had been plotting her escape from the family compound where her parents, David and Louise Turpin, had held her and her twelve siblings, who range in age from 2 to 29, captive for years.  She ran away and called the police using a cell phone she had found in the house.

As details of the children’s living arrangements have emerged, the picture that they paint is nothing short of horrifying.  To keep their abuse from being discovered, the Turpin parents made their children stay up all night and sleep all day.  They also tortured their children by feeding them next to nothing while they ate pies in front of them, by punishing them for getting water on their wrists while washing their hands, by allowing them to shower only once a year, and by tying them up with chains and padlocks.  The couple has pleaded not guilty to the accusations and are each being held on $9 million bail.

Obviously, it is difficult to deduce and decipher the pure evil that would move two parents to commit such heinous crimes against their own children.  Then again, it is also difficult to overestimate and over-celebrate the righteous bravery of a 17-year-old girl whose phone call to the police not only led to her own rescue, but to the rescue of her brothers and sisters.

It is at a time like this in the face of a story like this that we need to be reminded that, even as some earthly parents do their worst, we have a heavenly Father who loves us well.  The Turpin children were forced to stay up in the dark.  We have a heavenly Father who invites us to walk in His light (Isaiah 2:5).  The Turpin children were deliberately starved.  We have a heavenly Father who gives us food at just the right times (Psalm 104:27).  The Turpin children were denied basic hygiene needs and baths.  We have a heavenly Father who invites us to joyfully bathe in the waters of baptism (1 Peter 3:21).  The Turpin children were tied up.  We have a heavenly Father who sent His Son to untie us from that which binds us (Luke 13:15-16).

As a pastor, I have heard story after story of people who have been hurt by their parents.  Though, thankfully, none of the stories I have encountered have been nearly as horrific as the story of the Turpins, there are many children – both young and grown – who carry around deep scars.  There are many children who need the Father to fill what their father, or mother, would not or could not give to them.  There are many children who need the Father to love them like their father, or mother, would not or could not love them.

Our Father in heaven has the love that we need.  He loves us so much, the Scriptures say, that even our worst sins need not incur His eternal wrath.  In the book of Hosea, the nation of Israel is repeatedly betraying the one true God by chasing after many false gods.  Yet, even in the midst of their deep sin, while the Father declares His displeasure, He nevertheless promises, “I will show love…and I will save them…they will be called ‘children of the living God’” (Hosea 1:7, 10).

While some earthly parents may abuse their children for no apparent reason, we have a heavenly Father who loves us in spite of our sin for just one reason – the reason of His grace.  His grace is a grace so strong that it makes us His children through His Son.

Now that’s some awesome parenting.

January 22, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Christmas When Disaster Strikes

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Though wildfires in Southern California are not an unusual occurrence, the ones now tearing through the Los Angeles area are truly historic.  Hundreds of thousands residents are under mandatory evacuations, hundreds of thousands of acres have been burned, and many of the fires are not contained.  The fires are effortlessly jumping major freeways, including the 405, and engulfing everything in their path.

The stories emerging from the wildfires are heartbreaking.  On NBC Nightly News, images and stories of grieving and tearful people who have lost their homes have been commonplace.  In one image, a man stands on his roof staring down a massive wildfire with a garden hose in hand.  He doesn’t even look hopeful.  He knows it’s futile.

Even as I see tears and hear sobs, it is difficult for me to imagine how these people must feel.  At a time of year that is known for its bounty of gifts, there are thousands who have suffered the loss of so much.

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Joy to the World.”  Its famously bouncy melody, however, can mask its realistic estimation of the trials of this world:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

This world, the carol concedes, is full of sins, sorrows, and thorns.  And yet, the hope of Christmas is that a Savior has been born who “comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.”  The tension of this lyric is thick.  A catastrophe like the California fires is certainly a result of the curse – a world broken by sin.  Natural disasters were never meant to be part of God’s good creation.  But God comes into this world, cursed by sin, to make His blessings flow.  In other words, even in the midst of the fires, God’s blessings are not withheld, but bestowed.  But when you’re fighting a massive fire with a garden hose, God’s blessings can be awfully tough to spot.

Christmas can help us see how God’s blessings arrive, even when all we see is the curse.  God’s blessings arrive not in brash and bold and bawdy ways, but in small and poor and humble ways.  They arrive in little towns like Bethlehem.  They arrive through peasant people like Mary and Joseph.  They arrive with a baby who sleeps in some hay.  In other words, they arrive in ways that are easy to miss in a world where the curse looms large.  But those who take the time to see these blessings cannot help but be changed by them.

One story coming out of the California fires involves a family whose mansion burned to the ground last week.  When firefighters ordered an evacuation of the area shortly before the fires engulfed this family’s home, one firefighter asked the homeowner, “If we could save just one thing, what would you want it to be?”  The homeowner replied, “Please save my Christmas tree for my kids because it’s got so many memories.”  The family no longer has a home.  But they still have their tree.  They still have a reminder of this season and what it’s all about – the greatest blessing of God’s Son.  The curse may have taken this family’s house, but it did not take this family’s Christmas.

He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He really does – even if it’s in the smallest of ways.

December 11, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Righteous, Dude!

“Righteous!”  Whenever I see this word followed by an exclamation point, I cannot help but envision a teenage Californian with long hair, decked out in board shorts, surfboard in hand, just waiting to take on the next big wave.  And it’s not surprising that this is the portrait that comes to mind.  After all, the word “righteous” is not exactly an integral entry in our pop-culture lexicon.  And when the term is used, it describes nothing more than a big wave.  In fact, I found some of the synonyms assigned to the word “righteous” in the Urban Dictionary to be interesting:  “awesome,” “amazing,” “cool,” “exciting.”[1]  All of these can certainly apply to big waves.

Though the word “righteous” is not regularly used in a particularly thoughtful manner in our day and age, this word served as a foundation of theological thinking and speaking for the biblical writers.  For it was used to describe the very character of God: “The LORD is righteous; He has cut me free from the cords of the wicked” (Psalm 129:4).  It is interesting to note how the Psalmist connects the righteousness of God to the defeat of wickedness.  In the Bible, righteousness and wickedness are inimical.  Thus, righteousness is more than just something that is “awesome” or “cool,” it is, in a phrase, that which is wholly right while actively opposing that which is wrong.

In our text from this past weekend in worship and ABC, God expounds not only on His righteousness, but on how a person can connect to His righteousness.  God says through His prophet Habakkuk, “The righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).  “Righteousness,” God says, “is not attained by righteous living, but through faith in the God who is the very definition and embodiment of righteousness.”

Interestingly, this conception of righteousness – that it is attained through faith in God – is at odds with Habakkuk’s conception of righteousness.  When God tells Habakkuk that the Babylonians will soon sweep in to destroy Israel because of her unrighteousness, Habakkuk protests:  “Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves” (Habakkuk 1:13)?  Habakkuk carries with him a conception of righteousness that is grounded not in God, but in good works.  The more good things a person does, the more righteous he is.  Conversely, the more bad things a person does, the more wicked he is.  Habakkuk’s argument to God, then, is, “Israel may be wicked, but Babylon is wicked-er!  How can You use a nation less righteous than Israel to punish her for her unrighteousness?”

It is important to understand that Habakkuk’s objection to God and conception of righteousness is not entirely unfounded.  Righteousness can be and is defined in such a way to include the works the one does.  Indeed, the Lutheran Confessions even speak of a “righteousness of works”:  “The human will…can to a certain extent render civil righteousness or the righteousness of works; it can speak of God, offer to God a certain service by an outward work, obey magistrates, parents; in the choice of an outward work it can restrain the hands from murder, from adultery, from theft” (Ap XVIII:40).  This “righteousness of works,” however, as helpful as it might be to keep society in order and provide for its ongoing tranquility, counts for nothing in the sight of God.  Isaiah accurately estimates the value of this kind of righteousness before God when he writes, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

God’s primary concern is not how righteous we are in the world’s sight, but how righteous we are in His sight.  And righteousness in God’s sight can only be attained by faith in Christ.  As the Lutheran Confessions state: “The imputation of the righteousness of the Gospel is from the promise; therefore it is always received by faith, and it always must be regarded certain that by faith we are, for Christ’s sake, accounted righteous” (Ap IV:42-43).  Because we are accounted righteous “for Christ’s sake,” we cannot consider anyone better or worse, holier or wicked-er, in the sight of God.  For Christ’s righteousness is indiscriminately and freely applied to all who have faith.  And because Christ’s righteousness is whole and complete, everyone who receives His righteousness is also whole and complete.  There is no difference between those justified in Christ.  That is why, to obtain true righteousness, only one thing will do – faith!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Definition 2 at http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=righteous

April 30, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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