Ablaze!

Ablaze

At the 2004 national convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, this resolution was adopted: “LCMS World Mission, in collaboration with its North American and worldwide partners, will share the Good News of Jesus Christ with 100 million unreached or uncommitted people by the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.”

Today is that day.

Although efforts to achieve this goal have received minimal publicity since the 2010 LCMS national convention, I thank God for the millions of people around the world who have heard the Gospel through the efforts of faithful folks who take seriously this ongoing endeavor.

“By grace you have been saved, through faith. It is a gift of God!” To God alone be the glory!

A blessed 500th Reformation anniversary to each of you!

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Reformation 500

Luther95theses

Next Tuesday, October 31 is the day we’ll observe as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Many Christians, especially we Lutherans, have been anticipating this day for some time.

The blessing of the Reformation is the return of a distracted church to the central 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 of the Reformation and its primary causes:

  • In the late 15th century 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 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 unforgiven guilt and sin.
  • In a thunderstorm during which Luther’s 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 primarily 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.”
  • What happened next was an act of courage, motivated by what Luther had discovered.
  • He boldly spoke biblical truth to the church’s 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 writings, Luther simply stated: “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason, for I do not accept the authority of popes and councils because 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 beliefs.

The assertion that salvation comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our own doing was the primary catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. That truth is the essence of the Christian faith still today and I pray that will continue till Jesus comes again!

Onward, Christian Soldiers

HSM-19_George_Vince's_Cross_with_nacreous_clouds

One of my favorite ancient childhood memories is a privilege that was afforded each child in Sunday school at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Houston. All children and teachers gathered in the auditorium for a joint opening with hymn and prayer before going to our individual classes.

During that brief time the week before a child’s birthday he or she was invited to pick the hymn for that day. My favorite was Onward, Christian Soldiers. I picked it every year.

That hymn, #662 in Lutheran Service Book, is not sung very often these days. In fact, until last Wednesday’s memorial service at Faith Lutheran Church in Georgetown for John Draheim, a longtime friend of mine and Terry’s, it had been quite a while since those words had left my lips.

Verse two goes like this: “Like a mighty army moves the Church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

As I sang that verse last week, my mind wandered to the question of whether the Church of God was or was not more united in hope, in doctrine, and in charity than it is today. We know from history that the Church has often had struggles and divisions and most likely always will have.

That’s evident in the organic division among national Christian denominations and internal disharmony within denominations, including my own church body. The basic points of doctrinal agreement are accompanied by areas of disagreement. That’s simply a fact.

What gives me hope are the words of verse three: “Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the Church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that Church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail. Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

That’s still one of my favorite hymns!

Respect for Our Nation

Amerian Flag

Debates are going on in America about whether kneeling on an athletic field during the national anthem is a proper expression of constitutional freedom or a sign of disrespect of our nation’s honor and history. I believe the point of a statement of conscience about any manifestation of injustice, real or perceived, would more effectively be made if done so without creating doubt about the protesters’ respect for the country that affords them that opportunity.

Respect for our nation and those who serve in our military was powerfully demonstrated a decade ago in the true story of 25-year-old Naval Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor. On September 29, 2006, Monsoor was killed in enemy-held territory at Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He threw himself on top of a grenade to save the lives of his fellow SEALS.

Monsoor was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions in another incident on May 9, 2006, when he and a fellow SEAL pulled a wounded team member to safety amidst gunfire. In April 2008, he was also awarded the Medal of Honor for the heroic action that took his life.

His funeral, attended (in the words of President George W. Bush by “nearly every SEAL on the West Coast,” was held on October 12, 2006, at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

During Monsoor’s funeral service, as the casket was taken from the hearse to the gravesite, fellow SEALs lined up in two columns to slap and embed the gold Trident (a pin awarded for successful completion of SEAL Qualification Training) from each of their uniforms onto the top of Monsoor’s coffin. By the time the coffin arrived at the grave site, it looked as though it had a gold inlay from all the Tridents pinned to it.

As President George W. Bush said of the event during the April 2008 Medal of Honor ceremony, “The procession went on nearly half an hour, and when it was all over, the simple wooden coffin had become a gold-plated memorial to a hero who will never be forgotten.”

What a moving demonstration of respect for our nation and those who serve to protect our freedoms! Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Why?

Why?

Lots of things in life make me wonder why they happen. Some are fairly frivolous, like these:

  • Why cars worth tens of thousands of dollars are in the driveway and useless junk is in the garage.
  • Why banks leave vault doors open and then chain the pens to the counter.
  • Why the man or woman who invests all our money is called a broker.
  • Why people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke.
  • Why the time of day with the slowest traffic is called rush hour.
  • Why you never see the headline Psychic Wins Lottery.
  • Why doctors and attorneys call what they do practice.
  • Why the needle for lethal injections is sterilized.
  • Why Noah didn’t swat those two mosquitoes.
  • Why there is no mouse-flavored cat food.
  • Why abbreviated is such a long word.
  • Why sheep don’t shrink when it rains.

Much more significantly, I wonder about exponentially more important matters:

  • Why a man cheats on his wife.
  • Why a woman cheats on her husband.
  • Why so many children in the world go to bed hungry.
  • Why young people, especially infants and children, die prematurely.
  • Why little children get cancer or any other debilitating or deadly disease.
  • Why deranged people kill innocent bystanders by shooting or suicidal bombing.
  • Why miscarriages occur in the life of a woman who wants deeply to become a mother.
  • Why hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes occur, causing destruction, death, and devastation.
  • Why God doesn’t intervene in our lives and intercept all suffering, disease, and natural disasters.

My Sunday school teacher taught me the answer to these questions. It’s simple. All the bad stuff that happens is the result of sin. I learned that at the seminary as well.

I get it that a specific person dies because of his or her sin. But does sin cause natural disasters? Is that the way God chooses to punish mankind for sin? I don’t like that answer. And why does one person’s sin have to take the life of another person or of many people who really are innocent bystanders? I know the answer in my head. It’s just hard for my heart to make sense of it.

When I think of the people affected by Harvey, Irma, Maria, the Mexico City earthquake, and a deranged sniper’s bullets from an automatic machine gun in Las Vegas, not to mention countless other previous manifestations of the result of sin, I simply shake my head, dry my tears, and say, “Satan, be gone! Leave us alone! Get out of here!”

My prayer is that the Lord will have mercy. And my trust is in the promise of God never to leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6)

The Heart of a Hero

Hurrican Harvey Response

The following words include some content from an anonymously authored article I read this week. Other portions are purely mine. It’s about the heart of a hero.

After Hurricane Harvey struck, hundreds of pickups, 18-wheelers, and SUVs from across the country headed for Houston and other parts of southeast Texas, driven by men and women with the heart of a hero. They used their own vehicles, sacrificed their own time, spent their own money, and risked their own lives for one reason: to help total strangers in desperate need.

Many came alone, some in groups from service organizations, neighborhoods, or churches. Most wore tattered gimme-hats, t-shirts, and jeans. Some just brought stuff needed by people whose homes were flooded. Others came to help any way they could, including providing a hugely helpful service described by the highly technical term of “mucking” out flooded homes.

For days they waded in cold, dirty water, dodging gators, water moccasins, and fire ants. They ate whatever meager rations were available and slept wherever they could in dirty, damp clothes.

Their reward was in the tears, hugs, and smiles from the terrified people they helped rescue from rooftops, and the saddened people who saw decades of furniture and personal possessions taken from their homes and stacked on the curb along the street on which they lived.

When disaster strikes, that’s what real, heroic, selfless people do. Day after day they got up before dawn, to do it again, until the helpless were rescued. Many will continue to do so in the months ahead until the recovery process is completed and the restoration work is accomplished.

Most of them will not be paid for their labors or reimbursed for their expenses. They won’t receive any medals. They don’t care about accolades. They simply have a heart for people in need. They’re heroes. And doing what this article describes is what heroes do

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40). There’s nothing stronger than the heart of a hero!

The Greatest

Little League

Last week I heard on the radio a song by Kenny Rogers and thought it would be worth sharing. It’s about eternal optimism and positive thinking. Here are the words:

Little boy in a baseball hat stands in the field with his ball and bat.
Says, “I am the greatest player of them all,”
Puts his bat on his shoulder and he tosses up his ball.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down,
Swings his bat all the way around.
The world’s so still you can hear the sound, the baseball falls…to the ground.

Now the little boy doesn’t say a word, picks up his ball, he is undeterred.
Says, “I am the greatest there has ever been,”
And grits his teeth and he tries it again.
And the ball goes up and the ball comes down,
Swings his bat all the way around.
The world’s so still you can hear the sound, the baseball falls…to the ground.

He makes no excuses, he shows no fear,
He just closes his eyes and listens to the cheers.
Little boy, he adjusts his hat, picks up his ball, stares at his bat.
Says, “I am the greatest, when the game is on the line,”
And he gives his all…one last time.
And the ball goes up with the moon so bright,
Swings his bat with all his might.
And the world’s as still as still can be,
The baseball falls…and that’s strike three.

Now it’s suppertime and his momma calls,
Little boy starts home with his bat and ball.
Says, “I am the greatest, that is a fact.
But even I didn’t know I could pitch like that!”
Says, “I am the greatest, that is understood.
But even I didn’t know I could pitch that good!”

Some may call that denial. I call it positive thinking, putting the best construction on everything.