Reformation Day and Election Day

Martin LutherThis past Sunday morning I preached for the 125th anniversary of Zion Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., the “mother church” of the Northwest District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. I also preached that afternoon at a Circuit Reformation service at Zion. Both services were exceptionally inspirational, enhanced with excellent musical and choral presentations by very talented musicians, conductors and vocalists, some from Concordia Portland! And how were the sermons? You’ll have to ask the folks who were in the pews!

In the U.S., October 31 is observed as Halloween, a day focused on witches, ghosts, goblins, tricks and treats. More importantly, as most Protestant Christians are aware, October 31 is also the date in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” or statements on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.

These Theses were designed to restore to prominence the central teaching of the church that forgiveness and salvation are gifts of God, not the result of good works. The Catholic Church of the 15th and 16th centuries had lost its Gospel focus, which had been replaced by the teaching that forgiveness and salvation must be purchased. Penance and indulgences as a means to spiritual peace were a very real part of the lives of Catholic people in those days.

One man, Johann Tetzel, was trying to raise money for the building of a cathedral in Rome. His sales pitch included the chant: “As soon as the coin in the coffer clings, the soul from purgatory springs!” Don’t want to spend time in purgatory? Spend some money now!

The Protestant Reformation aimed to restore the church, which had become deformed over centuries by false doctrine and wrong practice. This Reformation would bring about the rediscovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, endorsing with ringing clarity the great Biblical principles of:

  • sola gratia (we are saved by God’s grace alone, not by our own works);
  • sola fidei (God’s gifts are ours through faith alone that itself is a gift from God); and
  • sola scriptura (these truths are contained in Holy Scripture alone).

Luther’s attempts to reform the church were not well received by all, especially by the Pope. Luther was excommunicated and exiled. Although he went into hiding and lived in fear for his life, he was a man of conviction and courage. If alive today, I truly believe he would have much to say about needed reform in the Christian church. I’ll write more about that another time.

This is the last Perspectives article before Election Day, November 4. I encourage all who read these words to participate in the very important process of electing leaders at national, state, regional and local levels. We need truthful and courageous leaders, not only in the church but also in the world, including our own nation. Exercise your privilege and responsibility to vote!

Advertisements

A Little Girl Named Katelyn

Offering PlateThis past weekend Terry and I joined the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Pilgrim Lutheran School in Houston. In 1966 I taught the fourth grade there for four months, filling in for a young mother on maternity leave. My classroom duties began three days after our wedding and ended days before we moved to Springfield, Ill., to attend Concordia Theological Seminary.

After speaking at the banquet Saturday night, we attended Sunday morning Bible class, ably led by Rev. Wayne Graumann. With wife Kathy at his side, Wayne now serves as Pilgrim’s interim pastor after retiring from Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Tex. He was preceded by my good friend Bill (and Carol) Diekelman, who served at Pilgrim for six months prior.

During the Sunday service I noticed across the aisle a little girl who was crying while the offering was being gathered. Looking more closely, I detected a coin in her little clenched hand. About that time she looked toward the back of the sanctuary at the ushers who were making their way from front to back. I deduced that she was deeply upset about missing the offering plate.

Her mother was saying something to her that was impossible for me to hear. But I surmised that Mom had suggested her daughter could still deposit her offering since the ushers would pass by again on their way back to the front of the sanctuary to place the offering plates on the altar. Unaware of the dilemma, the ushers walked right past her pew, which catalyzed additional tears.

After briefly pondering if and how it would be appropriate to help, I quickly got out of my seat, walked across the aisle, knelt beside the little girl and asked her mother if her daughter was crying because she missed the offering. Mom’s answer was in the affirmative. So I asked the mother if it would be okay for her daughter to go with me to the altar to put her offering in the plate. She readily agreed. So did the little girl, whose sadness suddenly turned to satisfaction.

Hand in hand a little girl and a man she had never met walked down the center aisle and up the chancel steps. When we stood at the altar, which was much too tall for her to reach, I asked if I could pick her up so she could reach the plate. She nodded in agreement. I picked her up, she completed her mission, and we walked back together to her appreciative mother. On the way I noticed no small number of smiling worshipers who had witnessed what had transpired.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I learned from her mother after the service that the little girl’s name is Katelyn. She is four years old. When I saw the coin she placed in the plate I was reminded of the biblical story of the widow who gave all she had. And I was thankful that I did not let my initial concern about possibly making a scene or interfering in a parental matter prevent me from taking what turned out to be a most rewarding risk.

Houston, Do We Have a Problem?

Houston Skyline 2Although this week’s Perspectives article title “Ebola” was released this morning, I feel the necessity of adding this article on the same day. Unless moved to do otherwise, I intend for this second installment today to take the place of next week’s article. But stay tuned. Who knows?

The first I heard about Houston’s problem was yesterday morning in a number of emails from folks I know and love. They brought to my attention the news that “The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.” (Source of that quote: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/14/city-houston-demands-pastors-turn-over-sermons/)

Today I learned that “Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Mayor Parker asking that she withdraw the subpoenas “immediately.” (Source of that quote: http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2014/10/16/houstons-mayor-backtracks-on-church-subpoenas-tosses-her-own-lawyers-under-the-bus/)

Interestingly, the city’s attorney says: ““I’m just doing my job. I don’t have any issues with these pastors. What I’m doing is defending a lawsuit that was brought against us.” See more on this matter at: http://www.tpnn.com/2014/10/15/pastors-to-mayor-dont-mess-with-texas-pulpits/

Here are my non-legal but hopefully common sense observations and perspectives:

  • Out of context, for sermons written and delivered by Christian pastors in America to be subpoenaed by any governmental authority smells like a violation of the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech.
  • The context of this particular incident seems to be the response of a city attorney to a lawsuit filed against the city of Houston dealing with homosexuality and other gender identity issues recently addressed by the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance (which sounds absurd) and involves a number of pastors who allegedly used their pulpits and other communication vehicles to speak and lobby against the ordinance and those responsible for its adoption.
  • Putting the best construction on everything, which is very difficult to do in an emotionally charged matter like this one, the city attorney who represents the defendant in this lawsuit would appear to have the right to gather evidence to support the city’s defense during a time of discovery. If that’s the only purpose for the subpoenas, what’s the problem?
  • However, if the intention of the city of Houston is to sensor or take legal action against any pastor or other private citizen for what that citizen writes, preaches or otherwise communicates, that would be quite problematic and undoubtedly unconstitutional.
  • My own personal and ecclesiastical perspective is that I have no problem showing the world everything I write, preach or otherwise communicate. That’s simply because I take great care to be as sure as possible that the things I write are true, accurate, responsible and helpful. If the pastors in Houston follow that same principle, why would they have any problem with providing everything the subpoenas are requesting?
  • Finally, I love the idea that civil authorities would actually care about what a clergyman in the 21st century is preaching! And if I as a preacher am doing the job I’m called to do, those civil authorities would get from my sermons a meaningful dose of the severity of God’s law and judgment, along with an unmistakably clear witness to the precious truth of the love and forgiveness of a gracious God whose Son Jesus paid the price for humanity’s sinfulness by his innocent death and miraculous resurrection.

The apostle Peter says: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Pet. 3:13-17)

And I say: “Houston, what’s the problem?”

Ebola

Ebola VirusWhat very recently was a word foreign to most languages is now a household word around the world. It’s a word that strikes fear in the hearts of people in the healthcare profession, people who fly internationally, and people who unknowingly have been or will be exposed to what appears to be an almost always fatal virus.

Tuesday’s Austin American Statesman printed a story from Washington by Tony Pugh of McClatchy Newspapers. It says, in part: “Health officials Monday were scrambling to identify and monitor a large number of healthcare workers at a Dallas hospital who could be at risk of contracting Ebola after they cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the disease last week in the hospital’s isolation ward.”

“It’s unclear how many caregivers could be at risk, though records show about 70 helped care for Duncan. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said he wouldn’t be surprised if more workers develop the disease in the coming weeks.”

Already one of the workers at the hospital has tested positive for the virus, even though she had worn protective clothing in her “multiple contacts” with Duncan. “She had gone to the hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, on Friday night after she began running a low-grade fever.”

The worker is a 26-year-old nurse at the hospital, identified by her family as Nina Pham. Please join me in prayer for this young lady, her family, and all others who have been exposed to this dreaded disease. Lord, have mercy!

Relationships among Pastors

Credit: potomacag.org

Credit: potomacag.org

Recently a seminary student asked me to address the question: “As a pastor, what is your relationship with other pastors?”

As written, the question is a bit non-specific and unclear. I responded to the student’s request: “Do I understand your question to be what is or what should be your relationship with other pastors, or both?” His response was also non-specific, so here’s how I answered:

Ideally, my relationship with other pastors should be characterized as (in alphabetical order):

  • Collegial and cooperative: As colleagues in the ministry, we work together, not at odds with one another. We might actually be helpful to each other in addressing issues/questions that we have forgotten from seminary or perhaps didn’t even hear or learn about there.
  • Respectful and tolerant: While individual personalities, ideologies and philosophies often lead to differing perspectives on ministry issues, I need to realize that my way is certainly not the only way and, whether I believe it or not, my way may not always be the best way.
  • Selfless and cooperative: For any of many reasons, parishioners may be inclined to leave the church I serve and go to one served by another pastor, who may or may not be a close colleague and friend of mine. When such inclinations are properly motivated, it may be in everyone’s interest for me to swallow my pride and assist in such a move. Special care, concern and cooperation are necessary when authentic reasons for church discipline exist.
  • Sensitive and supportive: All pastors experience times of trial and tribulation, both personally and professionally. Pastoral ministry is not easy these days! Sensitivity and support from fellow pastors, which may not be available from parishioners in an equally meaningful way, often help immensely!
  • Transparent and truthful: Fellow LCMS pastors and I have the same commitment regarding Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. Yet varying interpretations will arise from time to time regarding specific questions, both in matters that are adiaphorous and also in issues on which different pastors with the same level of commitment simply disagree. Pretending those differences don’t exist is not helpful. Only when pastors speak the truth, in love, will such issues ever be able to be addressed and maybe even, by the grace of God, resolved.

Much more could be said about relationships among pastors. Perhaps these thoughts will prime the pump for future conversation in pastoral circles. Although not addressed only to pastors, St. Paul says it well: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:11)

Living Generously

Girl JumpingThat’s the focus of the current sermon and Bible class series at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas, the congregation to which Terry and I belong. Senior Pastor John Davenport and new Associate Pastor Kevin Hintze are ably leading the congregation in a sensitive yet direct exploration of the relationship between people, possessions and the God to whom they belong.

Some of us discovered that relationship long ago, thanks to parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers or other significant people in our lives who taught us that though in many ways we are richly blessed, those blessings do not really belong to us. They are not possessions we own but treasures entrusted to our care by the generous and gracious hand of God.

Occasionally, even those of us who know that truth need a gentle reminder. It’s so easy to forget, especially when times are good and financial resources are plentiful.

But when times are tough and adversity strikes, the things in life that we value so highly quickly become less important, replaced by the significant realities that truly matter. That includes faith, family, forgiveness, health, home and heaven.

Jesus said: “Do not be anxious … Your heavenly Father knows what you need. But seek first the kingdom of God … and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31, 33)

And St. Paul wrote: “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way …” (2 Cor. 9:10-11)

With that promise on your mind and in your heart, live generously!