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The Ultimate Distractor

November 23, 2020
By Paul Emmel

I  admit it: peoples' public phone behavior is a pet peeve of mine. I want to ask them, "What is so engaging and important on your phone that can't wait until later?" Now I'm understanding their preoccupation as addictive behavior.

 People are entitled to their addictions. "Whatever floats your boat," we used to say. The sad part of their addiction, however, is screen attachment is an invasive disorder that distracts from things that are much more important. Things like self-examination, verbal interaction with real people, awareness of one's surroundings, social (not virtual) engagement, literature, history, the sounds and sights of nature, etc.

In short, when life is consumed in the digital world, the rest of reality becomes filler or wallpaper. Our virtual world takes over our perspective, our appetites, and our values. We fail to see the woods because we are distracted by trees and bramble bushes. We lose the big picture, our purpose and vocation. We think life is happening "out there" some other place, not here and now.

How can the Masters compete with TikTok?

 

Technology has perfected the ultimate "shiny object" tethered to our souls, conveniently toted in our back pockets.  Life is now online, no longer in the kitchen or in the real world.

Jesus reflected, "What shall it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose one's own soul?" There are many ways of losing one's soul, many addictions and illusions, but all addictions start with being distracted from the Great Commandment: "You shall love the LORD God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Anything else is a distraction, online or off.

The incredible Good News is that God entered our world of alluring distractions and still maintained His ultimate mission, tempted often, but never wavering from the cross and empty tomb. He kept his focus and fulfilled the Great Commandment perfectly so that we who are prone to distraction can be offered a way out. In Him we find our identity, purpose, and power, regardless of the digital marvel we carry in our back pockets.

Distracted? Confused? Disillusioned? Refocus away from yourself to the Great Commandment and to Him who kept it for us.

 

Paul Emmel
November 17, 2020
Minneapolis

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

Straighten Out!

November 10, 2020
By Paul Emmel
Coventry Rocks at Encampment Forest Association, North Shore, Lake Superior, Minnesota
Highway 42 leading to the Northport Ferry, in Door County, Wisconsin

 

I have often wondered why this highway is so crooked. Is it because it began as a deer trail and never changed? Is it meant to slow down tardy passengers speeding to board the Washington Island ferry? Or was the zigzag designed to keep the utility lines away from the trees? Whatever the reason, the road has not changed for 100 years, and it is fun to drive.

Straightening out our lives, however, is not so much fun. Straightening out crooked lives entails overcoming denial, bad habits, and negative attitudes. Ask anyone who has lived or worked in a correctional institution, a place where human lives are meant to be corrected or straightened out. They will explain how difficult it is to straighten crooked timber.

The entire Biblical story is a description of God straightening out his crooked people. God created us to be "straight up" in our relation with Him. As the crown of His creation, we were made in His image, perfectly reflecting His perfect Being. Humanity soon became "twisted" by refusing to obey and trust Him.  Lives and attitudes grew devious and evasive. Idolatry became a huge, persistent problem.

For centuries, God sent His prophets (Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos, John the Baptist) to insist that His people "straighten out" and live according to the Covenant (loving God with their whole hearts, minds, souls). The prophets' basic message was: REPENT! Forsake your crooked and perverted attitudes! Turn straight toward God!

Perfectly straight Jesus requests a sinners' baptism before John the Baptist (Photo from the film "Jesus of Nazareth," 1973.)

 

Because we could not straighten ourselves out, the Father sent his perfect Son to die on a crooked-wicked cross.  Thereby, a straight way was created for us to return to God. In the wilderness of Judea, He made a straight freeway fit for a king.

It is true that God carves the rotten wood and uses crooked timber for His purposes (Luther), but that does not eliminate the need for us to change our thinking and ways. At some point, we must all stop and say, "Enough of my old life. I forsake it!" There is no avoiding repentance.

Even in repenting, however, the Father sometimes allows us to swerve off our crooked road and crash.  It is in the crash that we are given the sense to straighten out. He provides a straight way when there is no other way. He is the way maker.

 "I am the way!" He declared to His followers. "Travel with Me and you will get to your destination. The road may seem to be full of frustrating detours, unexpected turns, and hidden bumps, but in the end I will be there to welcome you home."

A voice cries:
"In the wilderness, prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
and uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
 
Isaiah 40:3-5  ESV
 

Paul Emmel
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

November 8, 2020
Minneapolis

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

Photo from the film "Jesus of Nazareth" (1973).

For His Name Alone Is Excellent

October 27, 2020
By Paul Emmel
Coventry Rocks at Encampment Forest Association, North Shore, Lake Superior, Minnesota
Lakewood Cemetery Mausoleum, Minneapolis

 

In this sanctuary window the artist depicts the excellence of God's name through his dynamic creation.  We see not only evidence of powerful wind and storms, but also the flight of birds and the creatures of the deep. The entire window exudes vibrant energy.

Wherever one contemplates the universe, we see excellence, not shoddy work. Genesis states it this way, "And God saw that it was good." The fact that we abuse creation should not obscure the goodness of the gift. The Garden was made for our pleasure, and despite the dissonance of sin, Eden still evokes pleasure in our darken minds and souls. 

I was not able to identify the exact verse in Scripture that inspired the window artist, but it is similar to Psalm 8 when the psalmist declares:

"O LORD, our LORD,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens...
When I look at your heavens, 
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
 
Yet you have made him a little lower
than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion 
over the works of your hands...
the birds of the heavens,
and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our LORD,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!"

 

Why might this be a comforting window while mourning the loss of a loved one in a mausoleum?

Because only the excellent and powerful name of the LORD is able to declare in the face of death itself, "Fear not, I have overcome the world! Through my resurrection and victory over death, you too shall rise on the Last Day. Your fears and sorrow are acknowledged, and through faith in my excellent name, I will crown you in glory and honor."

Having received that Word of Promise, we who are fearful and doubtful, can leave our mausoleums of sorrow and fear, and stride out into the world with hope and courage and even love.

Yes, He has made it all good - even the worst. His name alone is excellent!

Paul Emmel
The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 25, 2020

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

Rock Of Ages

October 22, 2020
By Paul Emmel
Coventry Rocks at Encampment Forest Association, North Shore, Lake Superior, Minnesota
"Coventry Rocks" at Encampment Forest Association, North Shore, Lake Superior, Minnesota

 

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure:
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
 
Not the labors of my hands
Can fulfill thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and thou alone.
 
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
 
+  +   +
 

Notes on the hymn: The Rev. Augustus Toplady wrote one of the most popular Christian hymns ever in 1763. It is said that Pastor Toplady was inspired by an incident in the gorge of Barrington Combe in England. When travelling along the gorge, he was caught in a sudden storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he was struck by the title and scribbled down the initial lyrics.

Barrington Combe, Mendip Hills, England

 

Notes on my photograph: While recently exploring the Coventry Rocks along the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior, I was struck by the blood red flowers and grey lichen growing in the fissures on the massive outcropping of ancient basalt rocks. In its clefts, tiny flowers flourished despite the lashing of powerful waves.

Toplady's entire hymn, of course, is a metaphor of our Lord's crucifixion when his side was cleft by a Roman spear and water and blood came forth.  Therein was the  cure of sin and the cleansing from its guilt and power. The second stanza expresses our total inability to save ourselves by our own efforts. The final stanza, a favorite at funerals, declares our longing for complete salvation on The Last Day.

As a boy at First Lutheran Church, Green Bay, "Rock of Ages" was my favorite hymn. The beautiful tune by Thomas Hastings (1784-1872) added to its poignant lyrics. Both my parents chose it as their funeral hymn in 1998 and 2001.

Paul Emmel
The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 18, 2020

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

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