Onward, Christian Soldiers

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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!

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Stress in Life

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Most people have stress in life. It comes in all forms. It can be financial, relational, professional, familial, physical, emotional, or psychological.

Wouldn’t it be great if stress were to be totally eliminated from life? That’s not realistic. Stress is a reality. It’s the result of sin. We all sin. We all experience stress. We can’t get away from it.

Even though stress is unavoidable and not enjoyable, under normal circumstances it can be manageable. Not all circumstances are normal. Some stressors are beyond our control.

Consider the stress experienced by victims of Hurricane Harvey. They were all just minding their own business of living and working, with normal levels of stress. Out of the blue an unwelcome intruder entered their lives, bringing with it unimaginable destruction and devastation.

As mentioned last week, there are many ways to provide relief for people in need, including contributing through the Texas District LCMS at this website: https://secure.accessacs.com/access/oglogin.aspx?sn=147381&f=4.

As the Spirit moves and as you are able, consider a significant gift. Every dollar you contribute through this website will be used to assist those in greatest need.

If you are moved to contribute appreciated securities or portions of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or any other non-cash asset, please contact us for assistance: info@legacydeo.org or 800-880-3733.

To the trouble and trauma of Harvey is added the pending presence of Irma, headed toward currently predicted landfall in the United States. Florida’s governor has already declared an emergency in that highly vulnerable state.

Overshadowed by news about Harvey and Irma are dozens of wildfires in western states, occurring even now. Those states include Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana.

On top of the stress that accompanies these natural disasters, consider the idiocy of the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has ordered way-too-frequent tests of missiles and hydrogen bombs that pose a very real threat to the U.S. At least 14 such missile launches have occurred since February of this year.

So we face normal stress of daily living, uninvited stress from natural disasters, and international stress from a rogue nation with a leader seemingly hell-bent on nuclear destruction. What are we to do? How are we to live? Where do we turn for comfort and assurance?

Try these words from Psalm 46:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging … Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress … He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth … He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Assisting the Poor and Needy

Poverty

We often hear stories about programs for assisting the poor and needy. Some of those stories show the success of such plans. Others show how the system fails and is even abused.

An internet search for “solving the welfare problem in America” produces lots of information on this topic. Here’s one: http://solutions.heritage.org/entitlements/welfare/

When President Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, he said that it was intended to strike “at the causes, not just the consequences of poverty.” He added, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

Five decades and $24 trillion later, the welfare system has failed the poor. Poverty rates remain stagnant, and self-sufficiency languishes.

Today the federal government operates roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans. Total federal, state, and local government spending on these programs now reaches over $1 trillion annually.

The cost of welfare is unsustainable, and pouring dollars into an ever-increasing number of welfare programs has failed to improve rates of self-sufficiency. It is time to get welfare spending under control and to reform welfare to encourage self-reliance and human thriving in the context of community.

In addition, in one of my computer files I found these statements on this topic, written by an unknown author from an obviously conservative perspective:

  1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
  2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.
  3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.
  4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!
  5. When half the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

These statements may seem a bit harsh and surely do not tell the whole story of human need and how it can be met. Yet governmental, religious, and other public or private agencies need to assist the poor responsibly to avoid harming both givers and receivers.

The Bible says: “There will always be some in the land who are poor…Share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.” (Deut. 15:11 – NLT)

The Bible also says: “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10 – KJV)

If a poor person is truly unable to work, we who have been abundantly blessed have a duty to assist. If a poor person is truly able to work, to rely on external assistance is hard to justify.

Charity. Generosity. Stewardship.

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Today’s quote is from Francis Quarles, an English poet who was born May 8, 1592 and died September 8, 1644: “Proportion thy charity to the strength of thy estate, lest God proportion thy estate to the weakness of thy charity. Let the lips of the poor be the trumpet of thy gift, lest in seeking applause thou lose thy reward. Nothing is more pleasing to God than an open hand and a closed mouth.”

These are powerful statements, each of which is corroborated by the following equally powerful Scripture passages:

Luke 6:38: Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you … For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

1 Cor. 13:3: Paul wrote, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Luke 21:2: Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 18:9-14: The Pharisee boasted about his tithe but the tax collector dared not to lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

2 Cor. 9:7, 11: “God loves a cheerful giver … You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”

God bless your generosity through charitable giving, demonstrating your faithful stewardship of the blessings he has entrusted to your care!

Biblical Ethics for Electronic Blogging

Laptop 1Several months ago a friend and colleague of mine, at my request, offered a few suggested topics for Perspectives articles. Today’s topic is one of his suggestions.

Suggestions like this are not made in a vacuum but on the basis of personal experience. I’m quite certain that such is the case with my friend and his recommendation.

Electronic blogging, practically defined, is anything a person writes or posts on the internet on a regular or irregular basis. Some consider my Perspectives articles blogs, which is OK with me.

The problem arises when a blogger (the author of the blog) violates the will of God, especially the eighth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) Newer versions say: “You shall not testify falsely against your neighbor.” In both cases the meaning is the same and sets a biblical, ethical standard for any kind of communication.

The Catechism’s explanation to this commandment says: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” An older version uses slightly different words, adding the injunction to “put the best construction on everything.”

There are blogs written by people who claim to be Christian, even some who belong to our own Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, including pastors on the LCMS clergy roster, that fall far short of this standard. Self-justification for judgmental and caustic characterizations is based on insistence that their interpretation of the topic at hand is the only correct and orthodox one and that anyone who disagrees with their way of looking at the matter is dead wrong.

There’s nothing wrong with expressing respectful and even strong disagreement with someone else’s understanding of what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about a particular matter of faith and life. The problem is that some bloggers don’t stop there but continue with ad hominem personal attacks against the one(s) with whom they disagree. Some get downright nasty and vulgar!

Bloggers fall far short of putting the best construction on everything when they do just the opposite of what the eighth commandment commands. Jumping to and writing judgmental conclusions about the person with whom they disagree, they often betray, slander and hurt the other person’s reputation rather than defending and speaking well of him or her.

The Bible says: “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 …” (1 Peter 3:15) That’s a biblical ethic for any kind of communication, including electronic blogging!

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)