Tuesday, February 21, 2017

TRUTH HAS BEEN ABUSED…
Formula of Concord, Part II, Solid Declaration:
10 For that reason necessity requires that such controverted articles be explained on the basis of God’s Word and of approved writings in such a way that anybody with Christian intelligence can see which opinion in the controverted issues agrees with the Word of God and the Christian Augsburg Confession, and so that well-meaning Christians who are really concerned about the truth may know how to guard and protect themselves against the errors and corruptions that have invaded our midst.
The Summary Formulation, Basis, Rule, and Norm, Indicating How All Doctrines Should Be Judged in Conformity with the Word of God and Errors are to Be Explained and Decided in a Christian Way
1. We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated.
2. Since in ancient times the true Christian doctrine as it was correctly and soundly understood was drawn together out of God’s Word in brief articles or chapters against the aberrations of heretics, we further pledge allegiance to the three general Creeds, the Apostles’; the Nicene, and the Athanasian, as the glorious confessions of the faith—succinct, Christian, and based upon the Word of God—in which all those heresies which at that time had arisen within the Christian church are clearly and solidly refuted.
3. By a special grace our merciful God has in these last days brought to light the truth of his Word amid the abominable darkness of the papacy through the faithful ministry of that illustrious man of God, Dr. Luther.
Book of Concord: Preface:
6 Mindful of the office which God has committed to us and which we bear, we have not ceased to apply our diligence to the end that the false and misleading doctrines which have been introduced into our lands and territories and which are insinuating themselves increasingly into them might be checked and that our subjects might be preserved from straying from the right course of divine truth which they had once acknowledged and confessed.
I have read quite a few articles lately sharing opinions about how it is that Donald Trump became the President of the United States.  Several of those articles claim to take us back to the beginning.  They don’t.  To go back to the beginning, we need to begin with Truth.  I have sort of been studying, in the sense of trying to understand and come to grips with, the implications of Postmodernism since it first smacked me in the face on the campus of a Lutheran University in the Sociology Department in 1975.  I began reading the works of C. S. Lewis at almost exactly that same time.   In C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, he began from the trend he was seeing already in WWII 40s.  He began by addressing the concept, the philosophy, of relative truth.  He began his lectures (which became the book) by addressing the fallacy that there is no such thing as objective truth.  (Anyone with philosophical training recognizes immediately that the statement that there is no such thing as objective truth, is itself a truth statement claiming objectivity.  It is self-refuting.  Yet the snow ball got ever bigger as it rolled down hill.)  Later, in The Abolition of Man, he took it further, taking on the concept directly as it spread across academia in England.  Lewis predicted the end of culture as we know it if the trend went unchecked.  Finally, in his Epilogue to The Screwtape Letters, “Screwtape Offers a Toast”, he applied this trend to politics (false understandings of democracy) and education, through the lecture of a Lieutenant in the Infernal Organization of Hell.  For those who want the end at the beginning: Truth Matters.
The progression goes something like this.  What I believe is true, is true, because I believe it.  If you do not believe it, then it is true for me, but not true to you.  What you believe is true, is true for you.  Most of you already see how we got to where we are.  Younger generations are beginning to see: If everything is equally true, then everything is equally meaningless.  What C. S. Lewis predicted in Abolition, is that truth, so defined, cannot stand against propaganda, rhetoric, manipulation.  The better the manipulation, the better the control. 
Five Iron Frenzy wrote at the turn of the Century: “truth has been abused.”  Switchfoot wrote well before the Facebook craze of “fake news”, “We’re Selling the News.”  The bridge of Switchfoot’s powerful song is particularly enlightening: When nothing is sacred, there’s nothing to lose.  When nothing is sacred, all is consumed.  We’re still on the air, it must be the truth.  We’re selling the news.
The sad irony is that the postmodern mindset was promoted by what is generally understood to be liberalism.  (It goes by many different names now.)  It was open and tolerant.  It never judged between true and false, right and wrong.  UnChristian found that the new favorite Bible verse among young adults was Jesus’ statement, “Judge not.”  (Totally taken out of context, of course.) Even George Lucas pointed the way in “Return of the Jedi”.  “What I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”  But what C. S. Lewis warned was that no one could predict who would be the best at manipulation; who would be the best at rhetoric.  But someone would be.  Eviscerated truth, thus weakened, could not stand.
Can you see how pointless “fact-checking” is in such a system, such a culture?  It’s true because I believe it.  And if social media is actually flooded with “fake news”, who is equipped so sift?  The issue is Truth.

C. S. Lewis, in his conclusion, saw hope in the possibility of a redeemed Science that would reach the mature conclusion, “Because something can be done, does not mean that it ought to be done.”  But that assumes that “ought” and “ought not” have meaning.  Perhaps our hope is in young adults who have recognized that if everything is equally true, then everything is equally meaningless?  I want to give credit to Dale Beran for his article, 4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump.  He takes us back to the beginning of 4chan and the young adult males who began it.  They responded in desperate nihilism, or anarchy.   My point in this post is that it goes WAY back before that.  But what if instead, young adults began to question whether there is in fact something that is “really true” and thus, “really false” as well.  What if the search for that which is objectively and universally true became a “thing”?

I close with two Bible references.  For St. John, Truth began as a Person.  Jesus is referred to as such in his Gospel account.  But over time, as false teachings entered The Church, truth came to be understood also as true teaching, true doctrine.  In St. John’s first letter he used the words truth or true eleven times!  His second and third letters are quite short - only one chapter each.  Yet in these two chapters he mentioned truth six times and true teaching two more!
John 17: 17-19: (Jesus prayed) 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Truth matters.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Updating "About Me"
I have recently gone back over my blog posts.
As I have mentioned, the blog is not active anymore because my purpose was to promote "Mere Christianity" (C. S. Lewis) through The Confessions, and not focus on what makes Lutheranism distinct from other Christian denominations.
I went back to my "About Me" first post, and decided to post a short blurb announcing that as of January of 2015 I have been serving Eleva Lutheran Church, in Eleva Wisconsin, part of the Northwest Synod of the ELCA.  I was introduced to Eleva by a colleague in ministry who grew up in the congregation when his father was pastor here.  I am grateful that many have continued to come to my blog post as a reference on Christian issues I covered over the year and a half that I was actively posting on The Lutheran Confessions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


Martin Luther describing himself: "I am rough, boisterous, stormy and altogether warlike.  I am born to fight against innumerable monsters and devils.  I must remove stumps, stones, cut away thistles and thorns and clear away the wild forests."  He referred to himself as "a man of war."  Here is the third person description of Luther: His words are battles.  He overwhelms his opponents...."
Phillip Schaff quoting Luther in “The History of the Christian Church.”

It has been some time since I have posted.  I wanted to explain again why I have stopped.  It has been gratifying to me as I have shared this link with others how many have now come to read what I have written in looking at The Lutheran Confessions.  I believe that this is a pivotal time in The Church of Jesus Christ, and also for The Lutheran Church in its many denominations.  As you know, I began this blog because I was disturbed by trends in my denomination, the ELCA, moving away from The Lutheran Confessions, and in so doing, away from the oath that we took as pastors.  There has been some discussion of removing the provision in the Oath as it relates to the Lutheran Confessions.  But this has not occurred.  As I type this, the commitment to preach and teach in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions remains part of the oath every pastor takes as part of ordination.
The purpose of this blog was to set forth not what makes Lutherans distinct from other denominations, but rather to set forth those provisions in The Lutheran Confessions which assert what it means to be part of the universal Christian Church.  This is what C. S. Lewis referred to as "Mere Christianity."  And that is the best explanation for why I stopped my posts some time ago.  This blog was not intended as an ongoing exposition of "my brilliant insights."  It was intended to set forth what Melanchthon intended, that The Augsburg Confession would not define what it meant to be Lutheran, but that it would define what it meant to be Christian, part of The Church Militant awaiting The Church Triumphant.  It was more of a treatise than a journal.
Thank you for walking this path with me.  If you have found these posts helpful, I encourage you to share them, with the caveat that it is not intended as an ongoing blog, but a statement of things that needed to be written.  
Someone should say that the emperor has no clothes.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"I ain't afraid of no ghosts."

"The second is this: evil spirits have introduced the knavery of appearing as spirits of the departed and, with unspeakable lies and cunning, of demanding Masses, vigils, pilgrimages, and other alms."
Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article 2: The Mass.

I came across a discussion on whether there is a Lutheran position on ghosts. I remembered this passage from Luther, as it was something I had stumbled across while researching other references in The Lutheran Confessions for this blog.  I was really surprised when I saw it, because I had actually been teaching this for about 20 years, before being ordained and before finding the citation.  I think this topic is more important than the attention generally granted to it.  My wife, Anita, pointed out, "Isn't it the position of Martin Luther?"  "Yes, in fact it's in the Confessions."  "Then blog on it."  Anita is in charge of common sense in our home.

If you have been following this blog then you know I believe in angels and demons, and why.  If not, the post on angels and demons is below.  My last post was on spiritual warfare.  Luther understood spiritual warfare well, maybe as well as anyone can since the First Century.  He could see that demons masquerading as the ghosts of those dead would be a logical tactical, strategic ploy to bring confusion.  The experience would be very real, and thus accepted outright by the person experiencing it.  But having an experience is not in itself an explanation of what it is.

We can't be sure what happens when we die.  Some references in Scripture support "soul sleep" without consciousness until The Resurrection.  Some references of Paul support our spirit leaving the body and going to be with God in Christ in Paradise.  What is not supported is that the ruin of the human (C. S. Lewis' description in his "The Great Divorce") exists on earth in a see-able form that can interact with its surroundings.  Yes, the Witch of Endor called up Samuel.  But she called him from "the place of the dead."  He was not just hanging around.

The story is told of a shrine built in what is now France to the Archangel Michael for his veneration.  I came across it during research for a St. Michael and all Angels festival sermon.  The monk built the shrine after the archangel Michael appeared to him and told him to build the shrine and to promote his veneration far and wide.  This the monk did - both.  That wasn't Michael!  How do I know?  It's not that hard.  Jude wrote that when Michael confronted Satan over the body of Moses he would not even condemn in his own power or name, but rather challenged, "The Lord rebuke you!"  Michael means "Who is like God?"  The question is rhetorical.  No one.  The Revelation to St. John makes it clear that angels reject veneration outright.  But there is one spiritual being we know of who does in fact seek the veneration and devotion due only to God.  

I am convinced that Luther was correct.  I do not doubt for a moment the experiences people have that are understandably attributed to ghosts.  But having an experience is not in itself an explanation of what it is.  If Luther is correct, the reason for such a deception would be to deceive on the nature of life, death and eternal life (as opposed to "afterlife"). That is why the discussion is worth having, and that is why it is important to keep God's Word in the place where it belongs; in the center.  Getting this wrong can have dire consequences.  

But we are never alone.
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the Spirit of God; every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.  This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it is coming, and now it is in the world already.  Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in your is greater than he who is in the world."  I John 4: 1-4 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Where are the Warriors for God today?

"Nothing is so effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy oneself with the Word of God....  This, indeed, is the true holy water, the sign which routs the devil and puts him to flight."
Luther's Large Catechism: Preface.

"Then comes the devil, who baits and badgers us on all sides, but especially exerts himself where the conscience and spiritual matters are at stake.  His purpose is to make us scorn and despise both the Word and the works of God, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love, to draw us into unbelief, false security, and stubbornness, or, on the contrary, to drive us into despair, atheism, blasphemy, and countless other abominable sins.  These are snares and nets; indeed, they are the real 'flaming darts' (Ephesians 6:16) which are venomously shot into our hearts, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil."
Luther's Large Catechism: Lord's Prayer

I am teaching on spiritual warfare during adult study this fall.  In addition, I am knighting two of our youth in The Rite of Knighthood next month.  So my thoughts drifted to spiritual warfare, and I decided to post again on spiritual warfare.

BTW.  I was shocked to see over 3330 hits.  Thank you all for taking the time to read my posts.  As you know, I don't want this to be just my opinion, but The Confessions, The Creeds, and most of all The Word of God.

My post title comes from the monument to Jan Hus in Prague, Czech Republic.  Anita and I began our Luther tour as part of my sabbatical in the summer of 2011 in Old Prague, to begin with Luther's predecessor, Jan Hus, father of the Moravian Church.  We were at the monument and I was looking around the shops for a mini of it.  A man asked me, "Was he a good man?"  (Atheism is prevalent in former Soviet Czech Republic apprently.)  I answered, "He was a great man."  Back at the monument I bumped into a young tour guide and asked her to translate the inscription around the monument for me.  She translated, "Where are God's Warriors today?"

The back story for this is that when the ELCA came out with a new hymnal, several hymns from the Green Hymnal were "conspicuous in their absence."  Gone were "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus."  The compilers changed a word in "Lift High the Cross" and removed an entire verse.  I think they would have pulled "A Mighty Fortress" but they did not dare.  The idea is/was that these are too militaristic and triumphalistic to be in the hymnal.  But assuming Paul wrote Ephesians, and I do, he made it VERY clear in Ephesians 6: 10 et seq. that we are not fighting people.  We are fighting demons.  It is spiritual warfare against spiritual beings using spiritual weapons (II Corinthians 10).  

OK now the irony.  Clif Christopher, the stewardship guru, came and did a presentation in our small town thanks to the United Methodist Church in town.  (UMC pulled the hymns as well.)  Clif Christopher told the story of being on the ground in "Desert Storm" against Iraqi soldiers.  He ended his story by asking, "Where are God's soldiers today?"  I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  We have gutted virtually all references to spiritual warfare in our new hymnal.  We aren't training any.  Adult Study this fall will be on spiritual warfare.

None us of have time to go through the LEGION of verses in the New Testament on spiritual warfare and it's seriousness.  Nor do we have time to go through all the hymn references.  Suffice it so say that "A Mighty Fortress" is THE hymn on spiritual warfare; and it will never be excised because it is "A Mighty Fortress."  Read the words again.  Listen as you sing them on Reformation Sunday.  (We are opening with it before our Rite of Knighthood, followed by: "Onward Christian Soldiers", "Stand up for Jesus" and "Lift High the Cross" - in the original un-depleated version.)

OK:  just a few.
II Corinthians 6: 7
II Corinthians 10: 4-5
Ephesians 6: 10-20
II Timothy 4: 6-8
James 4: 7
I Peter 5: 5-9

"In battle we'll engage!  His might is doomed to fail; God's judgment must prevail!  One little word subdues him."  (The little word btw is: JESUS!)
Fight on.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Why I hated the movie "Noah."

"But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.  These are the generations of Noah.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God...
"For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die.  But I will establish my covenant with you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you."
Genesis 6: 8-9, 17-18

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...."
I Peter 3: 18-20

OK, I saw the "Biblical Epic", "NOAH" last night.  And as you saw, I hated it.
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
I found it ironic and telling that anyone would have to give a spoiler alert for a Bible story found in Scripture.  We know how it ends, right?  In this case it is telling.

Making the "evil" about industrialization vs. idyllic ecology was fine. That's poetic, literary license.  The Bible mini-series took literary license.

But that brings us to the "sons of God" and Nephilim.  There is some uncertainty whether the Nephilim were "the sons of God" or their offspring.  But what made God upset was the sons of God marrying and consumating with human women.  The offspring were giant supermen.  No one really knows what any of this means in Genesis 6, so there is quite a bit of freedom there.  But making the "fallen" (My wife went straight to "Transformers") into angels fallen from heaven to earth encrusted with earth to become ungainly rock giants seemed just silly.  They became the robot minions.
Yes, as they "gave their lives" to protect Noah and his family they were forgiven by God and their earthly shells fell away to reveal the spirit within, and they were forgiven and welcomed back to heaven.  Awww.  Nice. 
Except for two things.  First, that's Gnosticism.  Second, what about humans?

And that brings us to the point at which Anita and I almost walked out - twice.  But we gritted our teeth and stuck with it to the end so we would know how it ended in case we ended up talking about it (which I am now).

First of all, throughout the movie Noah never actually gets any direct instruction from God.  He has a dream about the flood, and his grandfather, Methuselah, (who is presented as a mystic Shaman not unlike a witchdoctor) "assists" Noah with a drug induced vision so he can understand he is to build an ark (with the help of his pet Nephilim rock creatures).  He and his wife and his three sons, along with an adopted daughter (played by Emma Watson of Harry Potter) who becomes his oldest son's wife, are to enter the ark.  Originally, Noah believes that his younger sons ought to have wives.  But when he enters the city to find wives for them he is so appauled at the sinfulness of the people that he not only abandons the search, but HE decides that God's plan is that all of Noah's family die as well by making sure that no one can procreate and they all die and humans become extinct.  (Shem's wife is barren and Noah's wife is too old - though Jennifer Connelly never ends up looking old no matter how many hundreds of years go by.)  So HE decides they will protect the animals, release them after the flood, and then cease to be.

But Grandpa Methuselah foils Noah's plan by healing Shem's wife of her barrenness and she conceives just before entering the ark.  

Now they are on the ark, the rain is coming, the flood is upon them, and the people are screaming outside (which was a very powerful scene because one would think it would have been like that).  Noah is not tempted to save any more because he "knows" that his family is all going to die childless as well anyway, so what's the point.  The world will be free of the human infection.
But then he finds out that the baby is on the way....(They actually are on the ark for 10 months according to The Bible.  Remember The Bible?)

The only direct word that Noah ever gets from God is that he is to kill the baby (both, as it ends up being twins) as soon as they are born.  And he fights through his family to get to the babies so that he can kill them.  But then he can't do it.  He confesses to God that he is not able to obey God's command to kill the babies.  And they live.

OK.  If you believe that the story of Noah is historical and it happened just as The Bible says it did, bear with me.  It is possible it is a story, that it never actually happened.  Here's why.  Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 tell two different stories of creation.  The intellectual gymnastics that needs to be done to read the two stories together consistently is really embarrassing.  Genesis 3 is a continuation of the same story as Genesis 2.  How far does that single story go?  How many chapters of Genesis are included as chapters of this story?  So let's, for the sake of argument at least, concede that Genesis 6 and following (Noah account) is also a story.  Some might think that since it is a story, why is it a big deal if the story is changed to a different but similar story?

But, and here's the really important thing: Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are both true because they were included in the inspired "God-breathed" Word of God in order to tell us true things about God and true things about humans.  The same can - and must - be said for Genesis 3.
So if Genesis 6 and following are a story, and not an historical account, then, they are in the inspired, God-breathed Word of God to tell us true things about God and true things about humans.  

What does the movie Noah teach us about God?  And what about humans?
God wrongly tells Noah that they are all to die, including the two babies just born.  YES, I see the obvious connection to Genesis 22 and the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.  But that's part of the point.  When it comes down to it, he cannot take the lives of these two "innocent" children, and Noah disobey's God.  (How many babies just died outside the ark?)  Later, as Noah is mourning his disobedience to God's command to kill the babies, Shem's wife (Emma Watson) "explains" to Noah that God gave Noah a choice, and by seeing that the babies were "good" and by choosing to disobey God, Noah shows that he is also "good".  So disobeying God's order is a good thing.  In fact, at the end, God blesses Noah's disobedience by sending a very impressive rainbow.  Apparently God changed God's mind, convinced by Noah's family that God's will was wrong.
I had flashbacks again to Gnosticism (not surprisingly).  In Gnosticism, the hero of the Garden of Eden is the snake, who "frees" humanity from obedience to God by exercising the choice for knowledge (of good and evil).  And here's the difference.  In Genesis 22 Abraham demonstrates his total faith and trust in God by showing he IS willing to go through with it and it is GOD that stops him, not his own disobedience.  (God later in The Law forbids child sacrifice so that no one would be confused about God's actual will notwithstanding this test.)  But in the movie Noah overrules God by his disobedience.  God's command remains "evil" while Noah becomes "good" by disobeying God.

Now there is some method to the writer's madness in having it be God's plan that all the humans die after the animals are released and that humanity become extinct.  Isn't it true that since sin remains in Noah and his family that humanity will continue in sin after the flood?  Sure.  And a God who is Omniscient would know that.  So wouldn't it be God's plan to make an end to humanity completely to remove sin from the newly formed earth?  
But that was not God's point at all, clearly.  Yes, sin continued after God spared Noah.  (The Biblical account, including Peter's interpretation of it, is clear that sparing the family was the plan from the beginning.)  After the flood and a fresh start - sin remained.  After the formation of a Chosen People - sin remained.  After the Exodus of God's people to a Promised Land - sin remained.  
God has been sending us a message across time that we must not miss.
We need a Savior.  Our goodness, our innocence will never bring us through.  We need a Savior.  And God provided one.  God's plan is redemption of those created in the image of God.  It has been since the Garden.

So instead of a movie about a God who can't quite get it figured out, but it's OK because good humans are around to get it right for God when God can't get it right....
We have in the Bible a God who is in control and is moving a truly fallen humanity that really can't get "good" right toward a real redemption that is complete and eternal.  True things about God and about us.

If this is the best that Hollywood can do with a "Biblical Epic", maybe it is best that they just stay out of it. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Five Reasons to Travel to Latvia

I know that this is a major deviation of the trajectory of the blog. 
But I recently read a post by a Latvian friend of an article listing 5 reasons to travel to Riga.  And I realized that I did not connect with more than half of them.  It only took me a few moment of reflection to come up with my 5 reasons for loving Latvia and loving to be in Latvia.  So I decided to share them.  If I were a tech geek, I would have easily been able to find a better forum and mode of presentation.  But since I'm not, as my Constitutional Law professor was fond of saying (some of my best stuff comes from him) "as a concession to the shortness of life..." I have used the forum and medium I had available.  So here they are...
MY TOP FIVE REASONS FOR TRAVELING TO LATVIA:

5.  The Latvian Language: The people of Latvia were pressured not to speak their native language in public for 50 years!  The Caucasians of the USA have no conception what this would be like.  It is a beautiful language.  Early on when I began to hear it and reflect on it, I said, (I have had an original thought or two) that when someone is speaking Latvian they are speaking poetry.  But, of course, you don't have to go to Latvia to hear people speak in Latvian.  But... the greater joy is to speak it in Latvia.  What joy to see the surprise and experience the joy when a Latvian hears himself / herself addressed in Latvian by someone from the USA who is not Latvian!  (This is especially true if you are grammatically correct!  Latvian grammar is as complicated as Ancient Greek.)  I have stories of course, but that will get us too far off track.  I can share them in person.

4.  The Scenery: Latvia is about the size of West Virginia.  It is a land of beautiful lakes, and rivers, and forests, and the sea.  It's a lot like Wisconsin (and Minnesota).  It is not an accident that so many Latvians settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota. It's like home.  During the time of occupation (50 years) the leaders of Soviet Russia chose Latvia as the place for rest, relaxation and recreation.  Because it's a gorgeous country.  When I have Latvian guests, I will often take them around the lakes and rivers and forests of Wisconsin.  Just like home.

3.  The Castles: I think it is because I am a disciple of C. S. Lewis, and lover of "The Chronicles of Narnia" in addition to being so intrigued by the whole concept of Knighthood.  But I love visiting the Medieval / Feudal castle ruins throughout Latvia.  In my 24 trips I have had the blessing of visiting every region of Latvia.  And one constant is - the castles.  Latvia was a feudal system in Medieval times.  The Latvian word for city is "pilseta" which pretty much translates, "the place of the castle."  I have not seen them all, but I have seen very many over the years.  It never gets old.
Then, there's Rundale Castle.  This is a Renaissance Castle in southern Latvia designed to match the castle in France.  It is amazing; a must see.  It was used as a hospital (if I remember correctly) during Soviet occupation and had to be restored.  But it has been - beautifully.

2.  The Churches of Riga: There are many famous skylines.  Even Chicago.  But as the article posted by my Latvian friend pointed out, Riga is over 800 years old.  The St. James Cathedral was dedicated in 1225!  It continues to house weekly Mass.  Atop the St. Peter's Cathedral is an observation deck that allows a bird's eye view of the city of Riga.  The pipe organ in Dome Cathedral is one of the (if not the) greatest organs in all of Europe.  (I have had the blessing of hearing multiple organ concerts in the cathedral.)  The skyline of Riga Churches has been preserved in woodwork, photograph, painting, etc.
After landing in Riga and being picked up at the airport (I have not had to take a taxi yet from the airport.  More on that below.) I have been welcomed home (my second home) by the Latvian Cathedrals rising above the river.

1.  And the number one reason to travel to Latvia is...  THE PEOPLE.  Latvians have a reputation of being very reserved.  And in general this may be so.  But my great blessing has been to work "side by side" with my sisters and brothers in Christ, mostly in the Lutheran church, but not exclusively.  I have not experienced this reserved-ness among my sisters and brothers in Christ.  What I have experienced is warmth, welcome, sacrificial hospitality, and even fierce loyalty.  Of course I am not worthy of any of this.  But that's the point, isn't it.  It's not about me.  It cannot be about me.  Should it ever become about me, I am confident, I trust, that God will stop the opportunities to serve.  To some extent it is about them.  It's how they are.  But primarily it is about The One we love, follow, serve, obey.  "We ARE One in the Spirit.  We ARE One in The Lord."
I have been continually blessed by the joy of being with my young friends of Latvia.  (My older friends too, of course.  It's just that these days there are fewer and fewer people older than me.)  They keep me young, even when I sometimes feel really old. 
They think I'm important.  It makes me chuckle sometimes.  I get that I am not important.  But, I'm important to them because I love Latvia and I love the people of Latvian.  I work on perspective all the time.  The motto I adopted many years ago now helps keep that perspective.  "I have come to serve."

Of course the reason I began to serve in Latvia and the reason I continue to serve in Latvia 22 years and 23 trips later is that GOD called me to Latvia to serve and God arranged for my way to come and serve.  But I wanted my 5 reasons to be about Latvia and Latvians, not about God's call for me to serve.  I continue to serve as God calls and enables and empowers.  But these reasons make it my great joy and blessing to serve.

P.S.  I felt compelled to add as an "oh by the way" that in a recent European poll, Latvia was named the number one country in Europe with the most beautiful women.  Just FYI.  (Notice please its not on the list.)

(I have resisted the temptation to include Latvian phrases in this post because my office computer does not have Latvian letters installed, and I do know how to spell correctly in Latvian.  I may amend later to add them.  But maybe not.  This list is for those of my friends and colleagues who are not Latvian.)