The LCMS in Convention

LCMS Convention

Credit: Christian Post

On June 7, 1970, I was ordained into the pastoral ministry. The next summer I attended my first national convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee. The 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS concludes today in St. Louis. It’s the thirteenth national convention I’ve attended, never as a voting delegate and never having missed one in 43 years of ministry.

In numerous ways, this one was not the same as those in the recent past. Having chaired four district conventions in Texas and three national conventions, I had become accustomed, with gavel either handy or actually in hand, to viewing from the podium a sea of delegate faces.

Things look quite different from the rear of the auditorium, looking at the back of many heads, faces of which are not visible. In addition, that perspective forces one to see more clearly the mass exodus of folks headed for biological breaks as soon as the convention essayist appears. No blame assigned in that regard. Nature does call.

It’s not my intent here to summarize the decisions made or elections completed at this convention. That information is available elsewhere. Nor is it my intent to criticize, in spite of the old Adam within me being at least mildly tempted to do so. Instead, I hope to offer a few observations about this convention’s demeanor and culture and a few related thoughts.

For the most part, at least during the time I was able to pay attention and was not responding to kind, cordial and even emotional greetings from many dear friends of Terry’s and mine from the past, delegates this year were seemingly less hostile or mean spirited than at some conventions I’ve attended and chaired. Could it be that the people at this convention were simply nicer or kinder or gentler than those present at other conventions? I think not.

My guess is that delegates at previous conventions were more emotionally charged upon their arrival than this year’s delegates. How so? Delegates in the past anticipated the election of a Synod president at the convention itself. This year, under the new rubric for doing so, the election of the president had already been completed and the results announced two weeks earlier.

In years past, pre-convention emotionality and anticipation were fueled by stacks of correspondence sent to delegates by interested parties, extolling the virtues of one candidate and exaggerating the vices of others. The absence of election anticipation in the context of such often vitriolic, voluminous, uninvited and un-welcomed material, contributed to a much calmer atmosphere this year than in previous conventions. Election fervor simply did not appear to be in the hearts and heads of this year’s delegates upon arrival.

In addition, based on my informal sense and unscientific analysis of voting results and other general observations, it might appear that the kind of delegates who in the past have been quite animated, vocal and even cantankerous didn’t show up. It’s more likely that such delegates were indeed present but chose not to find many things to fuss about, at least while I was paying attention as noted above. I could speak more specifically about the reasons for this observation, but my mother told me long ago that if I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all.

Obvious in the wording of numerous resolutions submitted by floor committees to the delegates was a concentrated effort to increase visitation, observation and supervision of congregations, institutions and pastors. Most of those resolutions were adopted handily, for what delegate is not in favor of ascertaining that the Holy Scriptures are cherished and taught in their truth and purity and the Lutheran Confessions honored and upheld among us as a correct interpretation thereof?

Not insignificantly, most of those resolutions concentrated significant authority in the hands of a few. That is something most of us either do or do not applaud or appreciate, depending largely upon the identity of the few and the level of trust placed in those so identified. Most in the LCMS hope and pray that such concentration of authority will be handled evangelically, faithfully and fraternally. Time will tell whether or not that is the case.

In the meantime, here are some realities as I see them:

  • The greatest blessing we have is the Gospel of Christ, our Lord and Savior!
  • The greatest challenge we have is acting as though we truly believe there is a hell and that the public proclamation and personal sharing of the Gospel for the sake of eternal salvation of the souls of people is the most important reason the church, including the LCMS, exists!
  • We must focus ever more seriously on our God given privilege and responsibility of accomplishing his mission of reaching the world with the unadulterated, uncompromised, unfettered news of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ!

Unless and until we do so in ways that are at the same time courageous, fearless and winsome:

  • Our witness to the world will be dulled and doubted.
  • Our acts of mercy will become difficult and disassociated from the love of Christ.
  • Our life together will continue to be characterized by distrust and division, whether or not such are detected at an LCMS convention.

Two reminders to myself and encouragement for each of you:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1-6)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!

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The Future of the LCMS

Church 1How do you feel about the future of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod? A survey of LCMS people and pastors would produce a wide variety of answers to that question. They would range from excitement to apathy, optimism to pessimism, anticipation to frustration. The answers would reflect a deep love for our church, commingled with a concern about its ability to survive.

Ultimately, a church body is only as strong and healthy as the congregations and organizations that comprise it. Congregational strength can be measured in numerous ways, typically baptized or confirmed membership and average worship or Bible class attendance. Other barometers are financial, often expressed in dollars given to district, national or international mission causes.

Organizations are extensions of a church body’s identity and culture. Healthy universities, seminaries, auxiliaries, corporations and mission societies are the face of the church to a cadre of constituents who may have little if any other connection with it. Dedication and financial support to such organizations come from men and women with loyalty and sacrificial commitment.

Another indicator of health is renewal of historic mission zeal, manifested in fresh and vibrant ways. Christian people and pastors participate in local mission and service projects, food or clothing banks, ministry to the homeless or refugees, etc. Others develop a passionate interest in global mission, leading or participating in international mission, medical, dental or vision clinics, always including a component of Gospel witness and God’s forgiving grace.

Ultimately, the strength of a church body is directly proportionate to the depth of faith and holistic health of the people it serves. A congregation that focuses on the power of the Gospel in the hearts and lives of its people and provides rich, vibrant, biblically based, Christ centered, Spirit led worship opportunities, spiritual growth, discipleship and mission experiences will, under God’s grace and blessing, become a strong, healthy and vital church.

A national church body can play a vital role in the development of strong, healthy congregations and organizations. Conversely, it can also contribute to their decline.

These matters are on the minds of many, especially these days prior to the 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS, which convenes the day after tomorrow in St. Louis. Decisions made by voting delegates who represent clusters of congregations across the country will have an influence on the health and vitality of the Synod’s congregations and organizations.

Informed, evangelical decisions made by convention delegates next week could provide encouragement, support and hope to congregations and their members. Uninformed, fear motivated, suspicion driven and control seeking decisions would produce the opposite result, contributing to the apathy, frustration and disdain that in all too many cases currently exist.

Pray that God would grant convention delegates the ability to focus on the essence of our Synod’s existence: In grateful response to God’s grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacraments, the mission of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is vigorously to make known the love of Christ by word and deed within our churches, communities, and world. (LCMS Mission Statement)

The ability of leaders and delegates to do so is one important step in the future of the LCMS. I hope and pray that the church of the future will be one that brings the powerful, life changing message of Christ’s love to my grandchildren and their grandchildren, helping them discover that life in Christ brings value, meaning, purpose and eternal blessing.

“45 Lessons Life Has Taught Me”

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This week’s article came to my attention recently. It was written May 28, 2006, by Regina Brett, then 90 years old, in a column of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio.

Regina says: “To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life has taught me. It is the most requested column I’ve ever written.”

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1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short, enjoy it.
4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Stay true to yourself.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye, but don’t worry, God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful. Clutter weighs you down in many ways.
18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It’s never too late to be happy. But it’s all up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important romantic organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative of dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. Accept what you already have, not what you need.
42. The best is yet to come.
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

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You and I would be able to think of many additional items to add to the list of lessons life has taught us. I encourage you to think about and actually create your own list.

In that regard, the past few years I’ve given thought to titling my next book something like On Wings Like Eagles – Learning to Live, Love, and Lead through the Lessons of Life. I’ve already written seven of the 12 chapters I have in mind and have every intention of finishing it someday.

For now I leave you with some of the most important of such lessons, from the pages of Holy Scripture: We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. If God is for us, who can be against us? For I am sure that neither death nor life … nor anything else in all creation, will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28, 31, 38-39)

While the fulfillment of these promises of God has not always been evident in my life, especially in recent years, I believe God’s promises are true. I look forward to discovering the ways in which he will choose to reveal their fulfillment. Some days that wait is impatient and doubtful, other days, by the grace of God, confident and hopeful.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!

Independence Day and National Youth Gathering

Flag 1The second sentence of the July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today, 237 years later, we see, hear, read about and sometimes even personally know or are related to members of the armed forces who have given life or limb in protecting the freedoms we so often take for granted. In addition to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Americans highly value the freedoms of religion, press, expression, choice and assembly.

How ironic it is that the expression of these freedoms often results in toleration and eventual acceptance of ideas, concepts or behaviors not in sync with traditional Judeo-Christian values.

For example, according to a story on the front page of Tuesday’s USA Today, we see a shift in approval of same-sex marriage from 25% of Americans in 1996 to 55% of Americans in 2013. (Source: June 2013 survey by Princeton Survey Research and previous polls by Gallup.)

Contributing to the continuation of that trend, the United States Supreme Court in recent weeks struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, with rulings that most likely will result in more widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage in more than the twelve states that, along with the District of Columbia, currently approve it.

Closer to our home in Texas, the State Legislature is embroiled in a controversy over approval of a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would require abortion clinics to meet rigid hospital standards. To say the least, supporters and opponents of abortion are quite animated in expressing their respective positions.

It’s obvious that the expression of freedom does not always produce a result that’s either pleasing or peaceful to all concerned, not to mention in accord with the will of God.

On a more positive note, nearly 25,000 young people and their adult counselors have assembled this week in San Antonio for the 12th LCMS National Youth Gathering (NYG). That includes 17,500 teens, 4,800 adults, 500 young adults and 2,500 volunteers! What a positive witness these young people have given in the nation’s seventh most populous city!

Here in San Antonio, the freedoms mentioned above have been demonstrated in remarkable fashion. These young people make me humbly proud to be a part of the LCMS!

In the past several years I’ve heard with my own ears from some who want to put an end to these gatherings. That includes, during my administration years ago, some members of the LCMS Board of Directors. Some critics continue to express their opposition today to the NYG.

On the other hand, my ears have also heard many positive testimonies from young people who have attended NYGs in the past. They speak of the life changing and faith building impact the gatherings have had on their lives. A few have testified that they came to a gathering with the intention of ending their life, but abandoned that plan as a result of what they heard and experienced at the NYG they attended. God be praised!

I thank God for LCMS Youth Ministry staff and volunteers who spend much time and energy planning and conducting these gatherings. I also thank God for the dedication and commitment of parents, pastors, DCEs, youth counselors, Concordia University students and the young attendees themselves for the commitments of time and money to plan for and attend the NYG! And I pray the positive influence of the LCMS National Youth Gathering will continue for many years to come!

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!