Reformation Courage

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-9-02-35-pmOctober 31 is the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, observed this Sunday. The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the truth of Christianity that eternal salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, through faith in Christ our Lord. Here’s a brief summary:

  • In the late 15thcentury the Catholic Church was afflicted by internal corruption.
  • The sale of “indulgences,” raised money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • Indulgences made people believe deceased loved ones could be released from purgatory.
  • The sales slogan was: “When a coin in the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.”
  • Onto this scene arrived a troubled man named Martin Luther.
  • Luther saw God as a God of justice and was tormented by fears over unresolved sin and guilt.
  • In a thunderstorm during which his traveling companion was killed by a bolt of lightning, Luther exclaimed, “Save me, St. Anne. I will become a monk!”
  • He survived, became a monk, but could find no peace with God through his own effort.
  • Luther’s discovery of God’s grace came from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
  • Also Romans 1:16-17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…The righteous shall live by faith.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by the truth Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke truth to power by posting his 95 theses, intended as an invitation for debate on topics of faith and church practice.
  • Pressure was placed on him to retract his criticism of church belief and practice.
  • He refused to do so and was threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church.
  • Asked to retract his words, Luther stated: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
  • Ultimately, Luther was excommunicated for refusing to retract his newfound beliefs.
  • Thus began what is known as the Protestant Reformation.

My Reformation question, to you and to myself, is this: If we were to conclude that a teaching or practice of the church was not based on clear passages of Scripture or was mandated by the church but not commanded by Holy Scripture or was not allowed by the church but not forbidden by Scripture, would we have the courage to speak our conviction?

Thank God for the Reformation courage Luther displayed in doing just that nearly 500 years ago!

Election Day

voting-boothOnly 18 days remain between now and Election Day. On one hand I’ll be glad when that day has come and gone. On the other hand, I’m very concerned about hearing the news to which America will awaken on November 9. Frankly, like many Americans, neither candidate rings my chimes.

For months we’ve been hearing and seeing ads, debates, and interviews espousing the minimal virtues of each candidate and eschewing the multiple vices of both. Name calling, half-truths, and allegations have filled the airwaves. No matter who wins, we won’t have a perfect president.

That in itself is nothing new. We never have had a perfect president. Yet in this year’s process of nominations and campaigns, seemingly unprecedented negative personal attributes and questionable values have emerged regarding each candidate. What are we to believe?

Hillary Clinton has been described as a deceitful, manipulative, self-serving, mean spirited, callous, angry, forgetful, dishonest, power hungry woman with no true love of country and no genuine desire to honor and preserve the basic religious values on which America was founded.

Donald Trump has been described as a rude, crude, ambitious, arrogant, womanizing, combative, name-calling New York narcissist who spends more time defending his reputation on social media than actually stating how he would make America great again as United States president.

Our country is at a critical crossroads politically, economically, morally, socially, and spiritually. Frankly, at face value, the descriptions in the paragraph above of the two candidates vying for the highest office in the land don’t offer much hope for America’s future. Yet, barring an act of God, it appears that one of them will become the 45th president of the United States of America.

Do we, therefore, simply wring our hands in despair? Do we stay home from the polls? Do we, as some suggest, hold our nose and vote for the one we think might be the lesser of two evils?

While I have no rocket science solutions, the suggestions I humbly offer are these:

  1. Pray fervently for divine direction in this election. See Rom. 13:1-4.
  2. Consider the qualifications of the two nominees in light of how they express their hopes and dreams for America’s future, notwithstanding their personal behavior and character.
  3. Review each candidate’s stance on terrorism, national security, foreign policy, military might, national debt, health care, economy, Supreme Court appointees, sanctity of life.
  4. Examine the official positions on the issues listed above as contained in the platforms of the two political parties the candidates represent. This is a most critical exercise! We’re not just voting for a person. We’re voting for the political platform that person represents!
  5. Evaluate the vice presidential candidates on the ballot, considering the attributes of the person who would be one heartbeat away. This is also a vital consideration!
  6. Pray again and cast your ballot for the candidate and platform most nearly aligned with your values and convictions as a Christian citizen of the United States of America!

The Virtue of Humility


On more than one occasion I’ve meet and spoken with people who say they used to be Lutheran. Some were baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church but for any of many reasons, usually unhappy ones, they left. I’m always saddened when I come away from that kind of conversation.

Sometimes church traditions and human pride erect unnecessary barriers that contribute to a person’s departure from God’s Word and Sacraments. Here’s a story that illustrates this truth:

One Sunday morning, an old cowboy entered a church just before worship time. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore jeans, a denim shirt, and boots that were ragged and worn. In his hand he carried a worn-out hat and an equally worn out Bible.

The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the
largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed in expensive clothes and accessories. As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.

As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.

The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots and hat. Once again he was completely shunned. The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church”.

“I did,” replied the old cowboy.

“What did God tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping here?” asked the preacher.

“Well sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He said He’d never been in this church.”

While unable to vouch for the veracity of this story, I believe it illustrates what Jesus had in mind when he told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. The Pharisee said: “God, I thank you that I am not like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all that I receive.” The tax collector prayed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus added: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14). As we remember and live those words, people who visit our church, even in blue jeans, will find love and acceptance from God and from his people!

Marys & Marthas

pulpitThat’s the title on the cover of the September 2016 edition of The Lutheran Witness, a monthly publication of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Although a number of articles in that periodical are worthy of note, today I focus on the one titled “Women Pastors?”

While time and space do not permit a lengthy review of the article in its entirety, I’ll address briefly the one sentence subtitle of the article: “Christ calls suitable men to teach, while women hear and receive the Gospel with humble joy.” That sentence is rephrased a bit and repeated toward the end of the article: “Men teach and give. Women hear and receive.”

The article deals specifically with the topic of women serving in the pastoral office, which is not permitted in our church. However, the impression might be given that in all circumstances the rubric of men teaching and women merely receiving the Word of God applies to all situations and circumstances. Not so, according to Holy Scripture. A couple examples should suffice.

Luke 2 announces the birth of Jesus and tells also of a prophetess named Anna, an 84 year-old woman who had been a widow for many years. “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

It seems clear from this section of Holy Scripture that Anna not only heard and received the good news of the birth of Christ, she also spoke that good news to many, in the temple.

Another biblical reference has always intrigued me. Acts 2 tells the story of the reception of the Holy Spirit by many who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost. After they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began “to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Some who heard this miraculous speaking accused the speakers of inebriation.

But Peter put that perception to rest by announcing that because it was only 9:00 a.m., it was too early for them to be drunk. I’ll make no further comment on that explanation.

Peter continued: “This [what they saw happening] is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy … even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.'”

It sounds to me like Holy Scripture is saying, at least in these two instances, that women may and should do more than simply “hear and receive the Gospel with humble joy.”

Declining Churches


That’s the subject of articles authored by Thom Rainer and Alan Danielson. Here are the links: and

Both articles identify a common pattern among churches in decline: an inward focus, to the exclusion of an outward focus. No surprise! Here are some highlights from Rainer’s article:

“Ministries in declining churches are only for the members. Budgeted funds are used almost exclusively to meet the needs of the members. Times of worship and worship styles are geared primarily for the members. Conflict takes place when members don’t get things their way.”

“Other symptoms include very few attempts to minister to people in the church’s community. Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires. Members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, church staff, and lay leaders in the church.”

“In declining churches, any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance. The past becomes the hero. Culture is seen as the enemy instead of an opportunity for believers to become salt and light. Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.”

Danielson adds: “Our churches are not here to make us (the believers) happy, meet our needs, satisfy our desires, or affirm our opinions. Our churches are here to reach people who are desperately far from God. Our churches do not exist for us. Our churches exist for the lost.”

He continues: “We need to ask ourselves some tough questions. What do I not like about my church? What if the very thing I don’t like is the thing that will reach people for Jesus? What do I love most about my church? What if the very thing I like most is the thing that is a barrier to reaching people for Christ? Am I willing to support changes I don’t like? Am I willing to lay down my preferences and opinions for the sake of people who are lost?”

“While our own desires don’t automatically contradict our mission, we must be diligent never to allow our desires to supersede the mission. What should we want more than seeing people come to faith in Christ? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Sound familiar? This syndrome is not uncommon in congregations of the national church body of which I am a member. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is no stranger to decline.

Rainer helps with words of hope: “For those of us in Christ, however, there is always hope—His hope. Times are tough in many churches. Congregations are dying every day. Many church leaders are discouraged. But we serve the God of hope. Decline does not have to be a reality.”

My additional comments are these: There are lots of moving parts in the process of transforming a declining church to a church of health and vitality, many more than can be satisfactorily covered in Perspectives articles. But do not despair. Hope comes in various ways.

If your church is declining, begin now to pray. Respectfully express to your pastor and other church leaders your concern and offer to assist. Consider encouraging him or them to take the step of reaching out to someone who might be able to help. For ideas of where to find such help, contact leaders of a healthy church. If all else fails, let me know.

It’s important to remember what Jesus said about himself: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

+Vernon Dale Gundermann+

vern-gundermannAfter a valiant battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, Rev. Vernon Dale Gundermann left this earthly life on Friday, September 16. He was 78 years, 11 months and 16 days of age.

Vern served for many years as pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Missouri. Among other positions, after retirement he also served as Chaplain at the International Center of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

My first contact with Pastor Gundermann was in 1991, when I was elected president of the Texas District of the LCMS. The 41 members of the Council of Presidents met at the International Center, near Concordia, so most of us walked to church for the 8:00 a.m. Sunday service.

We were privileged to receive assurance of God’s love and forgiveness from the heart, head and hands of Vern Gundermann, who had become Senior Pastor at Concordia that same year. He always seemed incredibly sensitive, spiritually mature and pastorally competent.

In addition, the man could preach! I’ve come to describe Vern as one of the best preachers in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I never heard a bad sermon from this man and can think of few other preachers, including myself, about whom I can say the same.

Vern was also a sensitive and caring pastor. Particularly during some difficult days as national church president, I received communications from and attended meetings with people who my dear Terry aptly describes as “joy suckers.” They sucked the joy right out of life and ministry.

At such times, Pastor Gundermann had an uncanny, surreal, perhaps even supernatural way of knowing and feeling the struggles we were experiencing. Upon returning from such difficult meetings and encounters, I was almost always greeted with a phone message from Pastor Gundermann, assuring me, and Terry as well, of his prayers, love, support, encouragement.

Vern is survived by his beloved wife Betty, their four children, and 11 grandchildren. Memorial services will be held at Concordia Lutheran Church, Kirkwood, MO, on Sunday, September 25, at 4:00 p.m. and at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Fulda, MN, on Tuesday, September 27, at 1:30 p.m.

Well done, good and faithful servant!

The strife is o’er, the battle done; now is the victor’s triumph won; now be the song of praise begun. Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee, from death’s dread sting Thy servants free, that we may live and sing to Thee. Alleluia!

Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship


An online article by Kenny Lamm lists the following reasons people aren’t singing in worship:

  1. We don’t know the songs.
  2. We are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing.
  3. We are singing in keys too high for the average singer.
  4. The congregation can’t hear people around them singing.
  5. Worship services become spectator events, building a performance environment.
  6. The congregation feels they are not expected to sing.
  7. We fail to have a common body of hymnody.
  8. Worship leaders ad lib too much.
  9. Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation.

See the article in its entirety at

While all these statements may not describe worship in your church, some very well might. In my denomination #7 is not a problem, unless we’re talking only about “contemporary” worship services.

The opportunity to sing hymns and songs of worship with heartfelt gusto is one of the most important matters on my mind when I enter the sanctuary. When that objective is frustrated, for the reasons above or for any of many other reasons, I become a bit grouchy on the way home!

Conversely, when the hymns and songs, whether familiar or unfamiliar, are joyfully singable, my spirits are lifted! When that happens, I’m actually friendly on the way home!

I’m not a worship leader and never will be. So I can only imagine the challenges such talented and important artists face, week in and week out. That’s why at every opportunity I go out of my way to express appreciation to worship leaders when their work produces the desired result.

In my simple way of thinking, the role of a worship leader is to enhance the worship experience for the people in the pew in order that God is glorified and the faith of the worshipers is assured and strengthened. When that is achieved, people will sing with joyful hearts.

In an amazing way, that’s what happens at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Tex. When a month has five Sundays the fifth Sunday is “Bluegrass Sunday.” Occasionally we have “Gospel Sunday.” Either way, simple, old time, familiar, easy to sing songs and hymns draw people by the droves. These services are easily the most heavily attended non-festival services of the year.

Here’s to celebrating reasons why people are singing in worship! And bringing glory to God in the process! “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6)