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WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, JANUARY 11, 2021 Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s passage is Mark 1:9–11, where the Bible says,    9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” A SAVIOR WITH HIS HANDS IN THE DIRT!   The baptism of Jesus is one of those events in the Bible that will help you come to grips with who Jesus is, who you are without him, and who you are by grace through faith in Him alone. Baptisms, as a rule, are for people who are dirty and need to get clean. Yet religious washings tend to be about more than outward personal hygiene. They are often about people getting right with God in some form or fashion. Religious washings in general are about people with “dirt” on their hands and with “dirt” in their hearts, people like us who need to get clean before God. That’s why the baptism of Jesus is so strange and yet so wonderful! Jesus’ baptism was not one of those times when something got washed away. This was not a time when someone with “dirt” on His hands or in His heart came to be cleansed. No, this was a time when the One who cleanses hearts put His hands into the dirt of our lives. Wow! John the Baptizer was floored by this fact…
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, JANUARY 18, 2021 Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s passage is John 1:43-46, where the Bible says,   43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.   COME AND SEE! Someone once remarked that the medicine of modern life is experiencing the joy of not knowing where you’re going and the confidence of not knowing how to get there so that you can have the peace of not worrying about when you’ll arrive! Well, the God who became man in the Babe who was laid in a manger seeks to shake us from such doldrums in order to give us the gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation on His terms alone. That’s why the call to “come and see” in our text today is so powerful. To put one’s faith in Jesus is to believe in what He tells you, to go where He says to go, and to trust that where He takes you is where you need to be. That’s why Jesus is not merely a prophet. He’s not merely a teacher. He’s the world’s Savior. And it’s Him or no one else. He’s the antidote for ancient man and modern man. He’s all that and more. So, come and see for yourself! That’s the message that Philip gave to his friend Nathaniel in our…
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, JANUARY 04, 2021 Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections from His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s passage is Luke 2:41-50, where the Bible says,   Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions…. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” 49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.     WHAT ASTONISHES YOU? Mary and Joseph, though faithful to all that God had told them about Jesus, they still had a hard time processing what it all meant. And who could blame this. There was no one in the world like Jesus. How could this “boy” be more than just their son? How could He be the one who was…

ABORTION AND THE WILL TO POWER

Critical theorists see power and oppression everywhere.  Why don’t they see it in abortion?

My friend and former colleague Mark Mitchell has written a devastating piece for First Things entitled Perverse Freedom. Read it all, but here is an excerpt (my bolds):


The primary value behind the label “pro-choice” is the ability to will. My desires must be gratified, even at the expense of another. Friedrich Nietzsche, that prophet par excellence of our age, insisted that all of life is reducible to the will to power. This assertion that individual will is primary means considerations of justice or goodness or rightness must either fall away or be subsumed under “choice.” The absolute rightness of choice is thus elevated as the single and unimpeachable principle; if the essence of a human being is nothing other than the capacity to choose, this elevation is entirely reasonable. What is forgotten in the euphoria of choice is a helpless human being. Abortion advocates must either deny the humanity of the unborn (a position that is increasingly difficult to maintain) or bite the Nietzschean bullet and acknowledge that abortion is at its core the exercise of power—the strong eliminating those who impede their freedom.

Read more from Dr. Veith by clicking here.

Be Informed

“79 percent of Planned Parenthood's surgical abortion facilities are located within walking distance of black or Hispanic communities.” Its founder, Margaret Sanger, would be proud. Learn more about her horrifying beliefs here.  

Be Equipped

A recent study indicates a 50 percent increase on religious liberty intrusions around the world in the past year. Discover the four most disturbing trends with regard to religious liberty in 2020.

Be Encouraged

“As the Church, we are created to stand against evil. We are created to speak truth … and forgiveness. The truth is that abortion ends the life of a human being, and we should be unwavering in our opposition to it. But that is not the end of the story. We have been given the gift of Christ, and the power of Christ can wash our sins away.” –Rev. Troy Tysdal, Church of the Lutheran Brethren, www.lutheransforlife.org

DON'T GET READY. BE READY.

As I write this, we are bringing 2020 to a close, but there is no end in sight for the continuing tension between fellow Americans on the issue of religious liberty.   I am often asked if I am ready for the upcoming battles and challenges ahead and whether or not there were any victories in 2020.


A big victory was that the Department of Defense issued a revised instruction entitled, “Religious Liberty in the Military Services.” This updated policy is grounded in the Constitution and recognizes one of our first liberties is the free exercise of our religious faith and includes the men and women who selfless serve our nation in the military.  It emphasizes that service members have the right to observe the tenets of their religion and may not be used as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment. That’s a great victory for religious liberty. 

However, we still need to be ready and prepared for upcoming battles in 2021 where there are those who will continue to assault our God-given and Constitution-protected liberty to live out our faith.  Being prepared and being ready are always on the minds of our men and women serving so faithfully in the military. There is not a day that goes by that they are not training.  They must be ready at a moment’s notice to answer the call.  They don’t have time to “get ready.” They need to “be ready.” And to “be ready,” they train, train, and train some more.  

Pray that our LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces is always ready to defend religious liberty for all who wear the uniform of our nation.  We don’t know the future, but we do know that we live in a sin-sick world and that there will be those who try to infringe on our religious liberty.  In America we may not yet be hauled out of our places of worship, our homes, or our businesses by evil people who threaten our physical life, yet we do live in a “cancel” culture where people are losing their jobs, businesses, or positions simply for giving a defense of their faith and speaking out against issues that go contrary to their conscience and the Word of God. They want you to leave your faith at the door of the church and/or your home and not bring it out into the public square.

Please pray for wisdom and courage as we stand alongside our LCMS members serving in the military that we may encourage them and defend them against assaults on their religious liberty.   Please pray that we remain vigilant in our defense of religious liberty for those who sacrifice so much for all the freedoms and liberties we enjoy today. 

Finally, remind those whom you know who are currently serving in the military that they are in our prayers and they don’t have to leave their religious faith at home when they join the military.  We are here to help them.

The Rev. Craig G. Muehler is CAPT, CHC, USN, (Ret.) and director of LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces.

Be Informed

Did you know that the New England Journal of Medicine is calling for the removal of sex from birth certificates? Learn more from Wesley Smith in a recent Issues, Etc. interview.

Be Equipped

The Hyde Amendment has saved some two million lives since 1976. Now some want to repeal it. 

Be Encouraged

“[T]the family is universal. Individuals meeting from different cultures do not have to explain to each other what a family is. The family lies at the quantum level of human society. Family life is deeply rooted in an area of mystery we do not fully understand. Like a tree, it is living, rooted, and nourished by the soil of the past and reaching up into the future. It is not manufactured. Although socially reinforced, it is not ‘socially constructed.’ It is a precious Gift.” –James M. Kushiner, The Fellowship of St. James, www.lutheransforlife.org

WHAT'S AHEAD IN THE NEW CONGRESS.

Perhaps the most consequential same-day, same-state-U.S. Senate elections of modern times will take place on January 5, 2021, in the state of Georgia. 



On that date, voters in a single state will determine whether the new 117th U.S. Senate will have a majority of Democrats or Republicans.  The race includes Sen. Kelly Loeffler versus Raphael Warnock and Sen. David Perdue versus Jon Ossoff.

Because the U.S. Constitution says whomever is Vice President of the United States is also President of the U.S. Senate, and therefore can vote if he or she chooses to, especially on highly-controversial matters, it is possible that the Democrats could improve their voting total to 50 votes if they win both Georgia races, giving them a clear-majority when Kamala Harris, a current U.S. Senator from California, becomes Vice President.

If the Republicans win only one of those two contested Georgia senate seats, they would have a majority of 51 seats; had Vice President Mike Pence retained his office, the GOP would have 52 votes.

The House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats, but by the lowest margin since the early 2000s.

Here’s what all this means and why it is important. 

The best-case scenario for the Democrats would be to win both Georgia senate seats and have Kamala Harris become Vice President.

If a Senate dominated by Democrats decides to do away with the so-called filibuster – that is a fancy word for needing 60 votes to pass any important legislation – their likely wish-list of major new initiatives would make the new U.S. Senate the most consequential since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs were passed overwhelmingly in that upper legislative body in near-record time during the 1960s.

If the Democrats become the majority in the senate, and former Vice President Biden becomes the new President of the United States, here are the ten most important legislative proposals to watch for:

+   statehood proposals for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.  This would give the Democratic Party a probable added four new seats in the U.S. Senate because both Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are overwhelmingly Democratic;

+   some version of graduated amnesty for millions of people who are living in the United States illegally.  This number could be as high as 15 million and as low as 11 million;

+   the end of the filibuster.  This voting-protocol has been a fundamental tool to give strong representation and input to the minority party; without it, and especially on all controversial matters, the majority opinion would always prevail.  This is decidedly not what our Founders wanted or envisioned;

+   the end of the Electoral College. The ramifications of ending the Electoral College are immense and would constitute one of the most radical changes in American history.  The Founders designed it as a stop-gap to allowing the largest states by population to have an outsize influence on the governing of the country. They were wise in its design. Abolishing the electoral college would be a mistake of enormous proportions;

+   creating a larger public option for health care in America.  What this would amount to would be the eventual abolition of private insurance and the building a single-payer health care system much like Western Europe’s socialized medical systems.  Most progressives see this as the logical next-step after ObamaCare;

+   the provision of monetary reparations for slavery. Many members of the present House and Senate favor this idea and are keen to begin its design and implementation;

+  major tax increases. Vice President Biden and Senator Harris, in their primary bids for the Democratic presidential nomination, and during their summer political convention, promised substantial increases in several sectors of American life totaling into the trillions of dollars;

+   codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law and abolishing the Hyde Amendment.  Democrats have long been uncomfortable with the possible chipping-away at the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision imposing abortion in all 50 states up to and including the ninth month of pregnancy.  Both Biden and Harris favor transforming the abortion decision into standing federal law. Similarly, the Hyde Amendment has banned federal funding of abortion successfully Congress after Congress.  The Democrats strongly favor taxpayer-funded abortion, and the toppling and ultimate repealing of Hyde is a major goal;

+   expanding the Supreme Court by up to three seats.  The U.S. Constitution does not mandate the number of justices, but the present nine-member model has been the standard for over a century.  Packing the court to add more liberal justices is an idea that Vice President Biden would strongly consider, and has promised to convene a new national advisory counsel likely to recommend new seats on America’s highest court;

+   voiding religious exemptions from various federal laws. Currently, the cornerstone protection of religious liberty and conscience protections at the federal level – congruent with the Constitution itself – are provisions in federal law that rightly give churches and religious institutions broad leeway.  Biden and Harris are uncomfortable with that latitude and, for instance, strongly favor punishing the Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups by removing foundational protections.  We would see much more of that anti-Little Sisters model in a new senate; and finally,

+   elements of the Green New Deal would be proposed and enacted; as with most major environmental legislation, the ramifications for families and communities would be directive and burdensome.  Also, population control and mandates on suburban, exurban, and rural America would be an essential element of long-term environmentalism.  The vague nature of the Green New Deal is seen by its strongest proponents as a plus so that potential opponents or critics are kept in the dark until the last moment.

A sage once observed that “elections have consequences.”  Perhaps none as consequential as the pending 117 United States Congress depending on how those elections in Georgia transpire.

Timothy S. Goeglein is vice president of External and Government Relations for Focus on the Family, Washington, D.C.

Be Informed

Identity politics are popping up everywhere, even at places like the Smithsonian Museum. Learn more from Joy Pullman in a recent Issues, Etc. interview.

 

Be Equipped

Did you know that Planned Parenthood aborted some 1,500 babies each day in 2018? The numbers from their annual reports will horrify you. Click here to read more.

 

Be Encouraged

“As this New Year begins and you make resolutions of things to do for yourself, consider ways in which you could spend one hour a week helping someone in need—at a crisis pregnancy center, a hospice house, a nursing home, etc.” –Rev. Scott Licht, National Director of Lutherans For Life, www.lutheransforlife.org

 

A blessed Christmas to all of you “for today (many years ago) in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). The life, death and resurrection of Jesus came as a blessing to the world even though the world didn’t deserve it and, even worse, was unreceptive to receiving Him as the gift that He was for them (see John 1:10-13).


Increasingly, the world in which we live today seems very unreceptive to that same Gospel, a message that has been such a blessing to the world for more than two millennia. Instead of receiving the Good News of Jesus like Mary and Joseph, the wise men, or the shepherds, the world in which we live is violently suspicious of the message of the Messiah like Herod in Matthew 2. In a speech last month, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito warned our nation, saying,

In certain quarters, religious liberty has fast become a disfavored right,” Alito said. “For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry and it can’t be tolerated even when there’s no evidence that anybody has been harmed.[1]

Later in the speech citing COVID 19 and state overreach, he was even more concerned when he said,

The resulting (state) restrictions “blatantly discriminated against houses of worship,” Alito said Thursday, adding that he believed religious liberty is in danger of becoming a “second-class right.”[2]

How did the cherished right of religious liberty and religious assembly become anathema in the culture in which we live? That discussion is for another paper. What remains vital today is first, our awareness of the fact that religious liberty, especially the liberty to believe and teach the whole counsel of God faithfully according to the Bible, that right is under direct assault. Much like Herod’s overt violence against the Christ child that first Christmas (See again Matt. 2:13-18), there are many today who would joyfully welcome the silencing of the Christmas message and the Church that is dedicated to proclaiming that message for all to hear. Like Joseph who gallantly protected Jesus and Mary that first Christmas, we as believers should also put to use our God-given freedoms to fight for our right to be the Church in this culture for the sake of the culture and the mission of the Church. But, even more importantly than that, the MAIN MESSAGE FOR THIS DAY, no matter what is happening in our world, is this: There is no Herod, no Caesar, no Pharaoh, no tyrant, no dictator, nor even a duly elected president, or elected official that can stop the persevering power and blessing of the message of Christmas of coming for you, for me, for all.

Today’s the day to rejoice in the fact that God’s love keeps coming no matter the time, no matter the place. God’s love for you comes no matter the struggles in your life or in your family. God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness keeps coming no matter the foolishness or the bravado of the culture in which we live. Today’s a day to rejoice with those first shepherds on Christmas day. Today’s the day to remember my favorite Bible verse from Rom. 8:31-38.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?....

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Merry Christmas! And may the certainty of God’s love for you in Jesus Christ give you strength, comfort, and confidence this day to face whatever comes tomorrow. For, nothing can overpower the persevering power and blessing of Christmas IN CHRIST FOR YOU!

The Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz serves as executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty.

 

[1] https://nypost.com/2020/11/13/justice-alito-warns-of-threats-to-religious-liberty-in-speech/

[2] https://nypost.com/2020/11/13/justice-alito-warns-of-threats-to-religious-liberty-in-speech/

Critical theorists see power and oppression everywhere.  Why don’t they see it in abortion?

My friend and former colleague Mark Mitchell has written a devastating piece for First Things entitled Perverse Freedom. Read it all, but here is an excerpt (my bolds):



The primary value behind the label “pro-choice” is the ability to will. My desires must be gratified, even at the expense of another. Friedrich Nietzsche, that prophet par excellence of our age, insisted that all of life is reducible to the will to power. This assertion that individual will is primary means considerations of justice or goodness or rightness must either fall away or be subsumed under “choice.” The absolute rightness of choice is thus elevated as the single and unimpeachable principle; if the essence of a human being is nothing other than the capacity to choose, this elevation is entirely reasonable. What is forgotten in the euphoria of choice is a helpless human being. Abortion advocates must either deny the humanity of the unborn (a position that is increasingly difficult to maintain) or bite the Nietzschean bullet and acknowledge that abortion is at its core the exercise of power—the strong eliminating those who impede their freedom.

Read more from Dr. Veith by clicking here.

Be Informed

Is there a connection between fatherlessness and the street violence that occurred in 2020? Mary Eberstadt, author of Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, explains in a recent interview with Issues, Etc.

Be Equipped

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that Texas can remove Planned Parenthood facilities from its Medicaid program.  Learn more from KFUO.org.

Be Encouraged

“Will you be without loved ones this holiday season? Will you be struggling with illness or discouragement? Will you feel the pressure to make the holiday season great? You are not alone. You are not on your own. Read John 10, a great chapter about a Good Shepherd. Listen to His voice comfort and strengthen you.” –Rev. John Boeder, Martin Luther College

Help support our efforts to contend for the freedom to proclaim the faith. Click here to learn more or to donate.

Baptism washes away our sins, but sinners we remain.  So it is, we daily repent.  Daily, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When we sin against one another, when we speak harshly or take what is not ours, we do well to go to our brother or sister and ask for forgiveness.  Some sins nag at us, weigh us down, and for those sins especially, we have private confession and absolution.  The pastor, bound to confidentiality, forgives us in the stead and by the  command of our Lord Jesus, and our sins are there and then lifted from us, and we become unburdened, joyful and free.



But there is also a place for communal repentance, which we do as congregations, as church bodies, and even as nations.  Look around you, fellow Americans, and tell me what you see.  What have you grown accustomed to?  For half a century, abortion has been the law of the land, and the lives of some sixty million little ones have been taken, by the most brutal of means.   No doubt, Satan is at work among us.  First he came for the children, but then also for natural marriage, the blessed union of one man and one woman, written into creation.   Divorce and cohabitation are far too common among us, hardly arousing even the blink of an eye.  Same-sex marriage and homosexuality are not only tolerated among us, but now they are even celebrated, promoted with pride and parades. 

And yet, we as Christians have been all too silent.  The apostles were told to teach us to observe all things whatsoever our Lord commanded.   Christ warned us that if we are ashamed of Him and His words, so also will He be ashamed of us on the day of judgement.  This is not about moral issues, as if we were breaking some sort of civil code or regulation.  This is about fidelity to the God who created us and to the Lord who as a Bridegroom laid down His life for us.

Now, one may be tempted to say that they are not engaging in unnatural relationship and have loved their children.  But the problem runs deeper, for we shall be judged not only for things done, but for things left undone.  In the face of the lies that swirl around our children, we are called to speak the truth about the value of children, the sanctity of natural marriage, and, yes, now, the truth of male and female.  This world has become a fearful place for Christians.  Now I think of the baker, the photographer, the florist who have come under fire for operating their businesses according to the truth revealed in sacred Scripture. I think of Christian adoption agencies and schools endangered simply for operating under the assumption that children need a mother and a father.   And then I think of all the Christians who have remained silent, who have not come to the defense of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Make no mistake, our nation is in crisis.  The secular world threatens to overwhelm us, even as we find it more and more difficult to do something so simple as to attend church weekly, with mundane matters like youth sports, or perhaps plain laziness, get in the way.   What can we do in all this?  Simply this.  Repent.  Put on the sack cloth and ashes.  Bend the knee and bow the head.  Sing a song of sorrow over our sin.  Pray that the Lord would have mercy on us, wretched ones that we are.  Pray that He would deliver us from this body of sin, that He would create a new heart in us, so that we might learn to value His words over the siren songs and deceptions of those who opinion we value far too highly.  Pray that forgiven, we might turn away from evil, fight for that which is good, speak the truth in season and out, and at the end, hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer is the chairman and professor of Exegetical Theology and director of the M.A. Program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Be Informed

“The Supreme Court handed a partial victory to a California church arguing that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions on the number of worshippers allowed at a service violate its religious freedom on Thursday.” Read more here.  

Be Equipped

Did you know that a record number of pro-life women were elected to the U.S. Senate and House this year? Learn more from Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

Be Encouraged

“Let us remember that Christ’s coming into the world began with an unexpected pregnancy. Mary of Nazareth was unmarried and certainly had reason to be confused and afraid when she was asked to carry the Son of God. But she courageously let God’s plan unfold for her and her Child and brought our Savior into this world, despite her uncertain circumstances.” –Right to Life of Michigan

 

Help support our efforts to contend for the freedom to proclaim the faith. Click here to learn more or to donate.

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2020 Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections from His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s Scripture verses are these portions of Luke 1:26-38, where the Bible says,    26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”…30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus….38 And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. WHEN SURPRISED BY GOD’S GRACE, TRUST LIKE MARY   In 2009, when Gabriel Hurles turned six, he received a surprise that he would never forget. At first he didn’t notice it. He was so focused on eating his birthday cake that he hardly noticed the giant package in the corner of the room. When another child pointed out the large gift, Gabriel ran over and began to tear off the wrapping. What could it be? It wasn’t a bicycle or any of the other items a six-year-old might want. Surprise! It was his dad, Army Specialist Casey Hurles, home on leave from the war in Iraq. Gabriel and his father had been apart for seven months, so when Casey learned his leave would coincide with his son’s birthday, he hatched a…
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2020 Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections from His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s Scripture verses are these portions of Luke 1:26-38, where the Bible says,    26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”…30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus….38 And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. WHEN SURPRISED BY GOD’S GRACE, TRUST LIKE MARY   In 2009, when Gabriel Hurles turned six, he received a surprise that he would never forget. At first he didn’t notice it. He was so focused on eating his birthday cake that he hardly noticed the giant package in the corner of the room. When another child pointed out the large gift, Gabriel ran over and began to tear off the wrapping. What could it be? It wasn’t a bicycle or any of the other items a six-year-old might want. Surprise! It was his dad, Army Specialist Casey Hurles, home on leave from the war in Iraq. Gabriel and his father had been apart for seven months, so when Casey learned his leave would coincide with his son’s birthday, he hatched a…
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2020 Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s passage is from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, where the Bible says,    16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. A BATTLE OF WILLS! The amazing proclamation of the Bible is that the person and work of Jesus in history stand as the concrete expression of the will of God the Father. Out of His love for us, He sent His Son into this sinful world to save it. Amazingly too, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, submitted His will to that of the Father so that the world might be saved, even though his life would be sacrificed on a cross in our place. These amazing facts are proclaimed each year beginning in the seasons of Advent and Christmas where we hear of that one night long ago in a small nowhere town called Bethlehem where Christ is born of Mary who “gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). So, what is the enduring message of this Christmas event? Is it merely some gentle notion of a mythological, fictitious, or idealistic goodwill toward men? Or, is it rather the Good News of God enacting His will on the world, albeit a will of service, sacrifice, unconditional love and salvation? For we who believe, it is the latter. We believe that it is God’s enacted and embodied will in Jesus Christ which calls our will to unconditional repentance before Him; it is a message which claims…
WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, DECEMBER 07, 2020 Welcome to “Word from The Center” MONDAY, a devotional word from the Center of our faith, Jesus Christ, with reflections on His Word. I’m Gregory Seltz. Today’s verse is Mark 1:4, where the Bible says,    John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. DOES ANYONE REPENT ANYMORE? In many Lutheran services, the congregation confesses words like these together on Sundays: O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee, and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them, and sincerely repent of them, and I pray Thee, of Thy boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.[1]   This a prayer of repentance to God for His gracious forgiveness. It sounds like something that John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, might say. Repentance, the God-induced sorrow for our sins revealed by His Law, also causes us to fall at the feet of Jesus seeking forgiveness for our sins, forgiveness only He can grant. Again, that sounds very much like something John the Baptist would plead for us to experience because he cares. But there is a problem today with this simple, straightforward, and powerful truth. No one thinks that they sin anymore! One reason that many people don’t take comfort in God’s forgiveness is that they don’t think they actually need it. They take comfort in their sin instead, as if God is unconcerned at worst or tolerant at best with whatever one desires to do.…

THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION November 27, 2020

by George Washington

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.


Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks, for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

“George Washington issued a proclamation on October 3, 1789, designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks. In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans prior to the Revolution, assistance to them in achieving independence, and help in establishing the constitutional government.” Read more here.

 Be Informed

Learn more about a New York Times column about pro-life Christian voters in a recent Issues, Etc. podcast with Dr. Christopher Kaczor.

 Be Equipped

“American society today is divided by party and by ideology in a way it has perhaps not been since the Civil War.” Learn more by clicking here.

 Be Encouraged

“Civil communication is foundational for a civilized community. How much more should we take to hear the exhortations of God’s own apostle – ‘live in harmony with one another’ (Rom. 12:16); ‘that all of you agree’ (1 Cor. 1:10); ‘let your speech always be gracious’ (Col. 4:6)—and so desire always to improve our abilities to speak and to listen well.” – Rev. Dr. Korey Maas

LCMS Files Amicus Brief to Protect Church Autonomy and Integrity November 20, 2020

In mid-October, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), represented by First Liberty Institute, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit case Demkovich v. St. Andrew the Apostle Parish. The brief supports an important constitutional principle protecting the independence of churches and other religious organizations. Because churches work through their ministers to fulfill their religious missions, the Constitution forbids secular courts from intruding in the employment relationship between churches and their ministers to protect religious autonomy.


This case revolves around St. Andrew’s the Apostle Parish, a Catholic church that employed Sandor Demkovich as a music director who selected music to accompany church liturgy and led parishioners in worship. When Demkovich entered into a same-sex marriage, violating Catholic doctrine, St. Andrew’s ended his employment. Demkovich sued, claiming he was discriminated against and subjected to a hostile work environment. The parties agree that Demkovich served in a ministerial role at the church and, thus, the church had a constitutional right to terminate his employment. The parties disagree about whether former ministers may nevertheless bring an employment discrimination lawsuit stemming from their employment relationship. The case raises the question of how deeply courts can inquire into and evaluate the way that churches and other religious organizations communicate internally about their religious beliefs and supervise their ministerial employees.

The LCMS has a particular interest in this question because of the landmark 2012 Supreme Court decision involving an LCMS school. In that case—Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC—the Supreme Court concluded that the First Amendment protects religious organizations’ employment decisions regarding “ministerial employees” (those involved in teaching the faith and ministering to the faithful). This “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws recognizes that judicial investigation into the way religious organizations select and control ministerial employees would threaten the free exercise of religion as well as the religious autonomy of such organizations.

Just this past summer, the Supreme Court reiterated this principle in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, saying, “Under [the ministerial exception], courts are bound to stay out of employment disputes involving those holding certain important positions with churches and other religious institutions…. [A] church’s independence on matters ‘of faith and doctrine’ requires the authority to select, supervise, and if necessary, remove [key employees] without interference by secular authorities.”

In late August of 2020, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided the case against St. Andrew’s. In response, St. Andrew’s petitioned the entire court to rehear the case. Nine amicus briefs, including the LCMS/WELS brief, were filed in support of rehearing.

The Seventh Circuit panel wrote that courts can review the way church leaders “chose[] to express Church doctrine on same-sex marriage” and the way they “exercise[d] [their] supervisory powers” to determine whether these created “a hostile environment.” Of course, the LCMS believes that discussions of church doctrine should be respectful. But for courts to monitor how ministers “express church doctrine” and whether such expressions create a hostile work environment poses the same threat to free exercise and the same risk of entanglement in ecclesiastical matters as do legal challenges to a church’s hiring and firing decisions. For example, an amicus brief filed by constitutional law professors explained, “[T]he question of how to train ministers to behave and interact with each other inevitably involves religious norms and methods of conflict resolution that lie beyond the ken of secular courts.” To allow employees such as Demkovich to gerrymander their claims—taking discriminatory firing claims and reframing them as hostile work environment claims—would eviscerate the protections won in previous cases. Church autonomy and integrity require that religious institutions be allowed to control their own internal affairs and follow their own convictions in handling ministerial employees and their complaints.

            The Seventh Circuit is still considering whether to rehear this case. If it denies the petition for rehearing, St. Andrew’s could petition the Supreme Court to hear the case, a request that would be bolstered by the fact that the circuit courts of appeals are split on this question. Whatever the outcome, the LCMS will continue to follow this development in the law and to advocate for the preservation of religious freedom.

Rebecca Dummermuth is Counsel for First Liberty Institute.  Stephanie Taub is Senior Counsel for First Liberty Institute. 

Be Informed

COVID-19 has been trying in many ways, but perhaps chief among them? Abortion by mail. Read more here.

Be Equipped

Are you up to date on a Supreme Court case on the refusal of Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia to allow same-sex couples to be foster parents? Learn more from Nick Reaves of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Be Encouraged

 

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” — Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address