The Gaza Strip

Credit: Ariel Schalit

Credit: Ariel Schalit

What used to be a relatively rarely known term in America has recently, at least to a somewhat larger degree, become a household term: The Gaza Strip. Although Terry and I have been to the Holy Land on multiple occasions, we have not yet visited Gaza. And unless things change significantly for the better, we most likely never will.

You’ve no doubt read and heard about current hostilities between Israel and Palestine. This conflict goes back many years and basically boils down to the age old questions of land ownership and independent self-governance. More details are available from numerous sources, including http://www.globalissues.org/article/119/the-middle-east-conflict-a-brief-background.

For centuries what is now called the Holy Land has been the venue of seemingly endless battles and wars. Biblical stories of the Old Testament relate victories that made warriors into kings and defeats that destroyed property, enslaved people and devastated families. And, except for the Jordan River Valley, a fertile region irrigated by the waters of the Jordan River, the land itself is mostly barren. Compared with many other parts of the world, it’s hardly worth fighting for.

Yet the fighting continues, with mortar fire from Hamas militants in Palestine’s Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon coming within one mile of Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the most populous city in Israel. Israeli retaliation has taken the lives of hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, with a population of 1.8 million in a space half the size of the city of Austin, Texas. Victims are both military personnel and innocent civilians.

So far, Palestinians in the West Bank, principally Bethlehem, the city of our Savior’s birth, are being spared the direct violence. Yet our friends at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, including Pastor Mitri Raheb, are understandably concerned about future prospects of a peaceful settlement of the hostilities.

In my prior life as president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod I met with Rev. Dr. Raheb and Right Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president of the Lutheran World Federation. Both are Palestinians I find to be reasonable, honorable men who pray and work for what seems to be the elusive dream—a negotiated settlement resulting in two states and lasting peace.

If you haven’t already done so, please join me in praying for peace between Israel and Palestine, and for the safety of people in the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip.

God bless you and have a wonderful week!

Worship Service of the Future?

Credit: Wikipedia

Credit: Wikipedia

Not sure where I got it, but in my file I found a prophetic prognostication (with obviously a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor intended) of what a church service of the future might look like. The service is posted below.

Please hear this disclaimer: I am not recommending this approach to worship!

Full disclosure: I do use a variety of very handy, nifty, free, resourceful iPhone apps to read Holy Scripture during Bible class and worship services. One of those apps provides the original Greek language. Most have search capabilities, enabling the user to locate specific passages quickly. I can also readily and easily compare different translations of the same passage. Very helpful!

In addition, Terry and I recently began submitting our weekly offering by electronic bank transfer. We still put in the offering plate an envelope with the amount and “electronic” written on the outside. Doing so makes me feel less conspicuous or guilty than I would feel if the person in the pew beside me were to notice that I simply passed the plate but put nothing in it. It’s also a blessing to know that when we’re out of town and miss worship at our home congregation, our offering is automatically transferred to Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas.

Worship is a matter Terry and I take very seriously, yet joyfully! I hope that’s true for you also!

God bless you and have a wonderful week!

Worship Service of the Future?

PASTOR: Praise the Lord!

CONGREGATION: Hallelujah!

PASTOR: Please turn on your tablet, PC, iPad, cellphone and Kindle Bibles to 1 Cor. 13:13. And please switch on your Bluetooth to download the sermon.

(Silence while worshipers listen to narrated Scripture and view the sermon on YouTube.)

PASTOR: Now let us pray, committing this week into God’s hands. Open your Apps, BBM, Twitter and Facebook and chat with God.

(Silence while congregation prays. At this point the reader must presume that if God can hear a silent prayer, he must also be able to receive prayers submitted via other methods/media.)

PASTOR: As we receive our Sunday tithes and offerings, please have your credit and debit cards ready. You can log on to the church Wi-Fi using the password Lord909887.

  • Ushers will circulate mobile card swipe machines among the worshipers.
  • Those who prefer to make electronic funds transfers are directed to computers and laptops at the rear of the church.
  • Those who prefer to use iPads, flip them open.
  • Those who prefer telephone banking, take out your cellphones to transfer your contributions to the church account.

(Note: The holy atmosphere of the church becomes truly electrified as all the cellphones, iPads, PCs and laptops beep and flicker!)

PASTOR: Final Blessing and Closing Announcements

  • This week’s ministry cell meetings will be held on the various Facebook group pages, where the usual group chatting takes place. Please log in and don’t miss out.
  • Thursday’s Bible study will be held live on Skype at 7:00 p.m. Please don’t miss out.
  • You can follow your Pastor on Twitter this weekend for counseling and prayers.

The Last Gasps

Credit:  C. Mackowiak

Credit: C. Mackowiak

 

 

Last week I read an article titled The 10 Last Gasps of a Dying Church by Brian Dodd. Click on this link to read the entire article: http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/175170-brian-dodd-last-gasps-of-a-dying-church.html. Here are some excerpts:

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If you don’t like changeyou’re going to like irrelevance even less.” Those are the words of General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, who [was recently] in the news because of the VA scandal.

There are few things as sad as watching a once great church grow old, become irrelevant and slowly die. What is worse is that they either don’t know they’re dying, or they simply don’t care as long as those remaining are happy. Sadly, I have witnessed this more times than I wish to count. In addition, I have attended this type of church before.

Here is what I have noticed about many of these churches—at a pivotal point, a decision was made to continue doing ministry the way they always have rather than alter their approach to reach a changing community or the next generation. After months of committee meetings and off-line conversations, the church finally utters The 10 Last Words of Dying Churches—“We’ve never done it that way before. We’re not changing.”

Those 10 powerful words subsequently have a ripple effect that lasts generations.

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Statistics a few years ago showed that 51% of Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod congregations had worship attendance of fewer than 100 per week. Of 5,860 congregations reporting, 1,335 had 49 or fewer and another 1,659 had between 50 and 100 in attendance.

There’s absolutely nothing inherently wrong with small congregations, especially those who face demographic circumstances beyond their control. Nor is there anything particularly virtuous about larger ones. Most congregations I know simply find no joy in becoming smaller.

Whether large, small or midsize, congregations with dwindling worship attendance and their leaders are well advised to reflect prayerfully on the reasons for the shrinkage and to determine a strategy, without in any way mitigating the Gospel, for reversing the trend. Doing so sooner rather than later may help avoid the realities that might otherwise lead to last gasps.

Denominational Suicide

Credit: Joanna Myszak

Credit: Joanna Myszak

Here are excerpts from a recent article by George Bullard titled Is Your Denomination Slowly Committing Suicide?

Many denominations are slowly committing suicide. Suicide is not an intentional destination. It is, however, the unintended consequence of their collective actions over multiple years.

Denominational movements reach a point that they institutionalize. They do this because it is fashionable, to create organizations that will guarantee their survival, in response to requests from parts of the constituency that they provide more programs and management, to complete their rebellion against other Christian groups they do not want to emulate, because focusing on institutional things keeps them busy and gains them greater status and notoriety, and because the opportunity was available to them.

Eventually, they become hooked, and even if they wanted to quit, many cannot or are in denial of the fact that they are killing themselves. Here are seven ways their suicide is becoming increasingly inevitable. These are not the only ways, but they are effective ways of committing suicide.

First, they lose their first love, which is congregations.

Second, they fail to create and sustain a congregational multiplication movement that launches a number of new congregations each year.

Third, culturally, if not officially, denominations formalize education requirements.

Fourth, officially they formalize and perhaps centralize the ordination of ministers.

Fifth, understanding and hearing the voice of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit is misplaced.

Sixth, when denominational headquarters does not understand the difference between a strategic framework and a strategy, it may be committing suicide.

Seventh, when denominations regularly restructure, their focus is usually on rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.

It is suicide. It is slow. It is sure. Many denominations seem unable to stop themselves, and it is devastating.

To read the entire article, go to http://www.abpnews.com/blog/leadership/is-your-denomination-slowly-committing-suicide-2014-05-29/#.U7XWpLHql9A

Frankly, I agree with some of these more than others and might add a few of my own some day. Articles like this may seem sensational or irrelevant to some. To others, the words of Jesus ring loudly and clearly: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matt. 11:15)

Freedom!

Patriotic 1Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, a celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. Adopted on July 4, 1776, by the Continental Congress, the Declaration (full text in Appendix below) announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as thirteen newly independent sovereign states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead they formed a new nation—the United States of America.

For many Americans, tomorrow will simply be another holiday, a time to stay home from work and perhaps to gather with family and friends around BBQ and other festivities. For all of us it should be a time of remembrance and appreciation for the decision of our country’s forefathers to establish a nation that would be free to determine its own destiny.

Freedom is often taken for granted. Only when it is threatened do we fully appreciate its intrinsic value. That’s true in the personal, professional, political and religious aspects of life. No individuals or groups of people thrive under domineering, self-serving, controlling leadership. And when that type of leadership evolves, it’s just a matter of time before those living under oppression make the kinds of decisions that precipitated the Declaration of Independence.

The words of St. Paul are worth remembering: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

Many blessings to you this special day!

Appendix

In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Preamble

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Indictment

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these states

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Denunciation

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Conclusion

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Signatures

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: George Read, Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton