Word from the Center Digest: Friday, October 18, 2019

Singing Truth and Grace into the World

by Peter Scaer


Not long ago, a goodly group of seminary students, their wives and children gathered outside Planned Parenthood as part of the 40 Days for Life. I’ve done this sort of thing in the past. Sometimes, it was just me and maybe a couple of others. When I first started, I stood and prayed. Then I thought to bring a Bible, and to read it, so as to mark the time while standing vigil. Then I wrote a litany, and we sang a hymn or two. Last year, a student took charge, and we upped our game. More singing. More Scripture.

And this year we made it even better. We did an entire Vespers service . . . with psalms, hymns and readings. When that was finished, I gave the group a little bit of history about abortion and the life movement in our area. And then came hymns and more hymns. Some easier to sing, many more difficult. Ah, but it was beautiful. I saw any number of student wives who sang the hymns, the harder ones, from memory. Some have participated in this sort of thing for many years and say they have heard nothing like it.

And I think it’s instructive. Silent no more. That’s the motto for women who have had abortions and have been ashamed to say so. I think that this may apply more broadly. The Word of God spoken out loud has a powerful effect, inspiring the faithful, catching the ear of those who have never heard and driving away the demons of those who would destroy life. Adding the songs of the liturgy and the hymns proved more powerful still. Mary sang at the conception of her child, and Zechariah sang at the birth of his. Singing is powerful. Singing the truth of the Lord, the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in all its fullness and splendor is to taste heaven and drive away hell. In singing, we ourselves are strengthened, but so also do we attract a world that knows no beauty, no grace, no charity or light.

Yes, as a church, it’s high time we take our word out to the streets, out to sidewalk. And let that word be accompanied by, be carried by the great music of the Church, the Song of the Lamb that has no end. Don’t run from the liturgy, but to it. Don’t give up the great hymns; learn them, sing them. You need them, and so does the world.

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

Be Informed

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” What does that mean? Click here to learn more from the Heritage Foundation.

Be Equipped

“Americans are reacting in disgust at the discovery of more than 2,000 fetal remains uncovered at the home of a deceased abortion doctor.” Learn more about a story the press isn’t covering here.

Be Encouraged

“You are suffering in sadness. Yet the life Christ lived and the death He died, He lived and died also for you.” – Rev. David Petersen on miscarriage during Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month

Devotion: Monday, October 14, 2019

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 reading is from Luke 17:11-19 which says,    

11 On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

BEYOND OUR CONTROL!


If there is one temptation that is especially common today, it comes when we think of ourselves as “moderns.” It is the notion that there is no problem or issue that we cannot engage and solve. Right? Come on now, be honest. Virtually every commercial out there proclaims that there is nothing you cannot do! So just do it! You can handle it! You have access to more information today than ever before. We can save the planet. We can heal the diseases. We can do whatever we put our minds to. That sure sounds good, but it neglects one vital aspect of our human nature. We are sinners. Even though God created humanity very good, sin brought rebellion, brokenness, and death into our lives. The Bible says that there is no one who is sinless, not even one (see Romans 3:1-12, 23). And the wages of sin (the payment for that kind of life)….. is death (Romans 6:23). Yes, that’s right, death now, death forever.

But that’s not the end of the story, at least from God’s point of view. Just look at our lesson for today. Jesus engages some guys with leprosy. Being a leper in 1st century Israel was like living with a “death sentence” each and every day of your life. You were to be quarantined, separate, and, if people came near, you were to yell out, “Unclean, unclean!” It was a humiliating, spirit-crushing, no-hope life, each and every day. That is until Jesus comes long and engages them. Check out the lesson and see how one of them got the whole story. He realized that his physical condition wasn’t the only problem he had. He realized that he needed a Savior, body and soul. And when he met Jesus, he found just that. He received healing, joy and life with thanksgiving, when before there was only sin and death; that’s Jesus offer to you too.

So, if you are facing things that are beyond your control today, or if you just feel like life in general is out of whack, realize like that one Samaritan leper that a Savior has come for you too.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, so much seems out of my control. Even when I’m trying to do things right, it seems that more often things go wrong. Give me the joy of the one Samaritan leper who saw you as the center of one’s faith and life, now and forever. AMEN

Word from the Center Digest: October 11, 2019

Hurting Their Cause

by Michael Salemink

Nobody should have to die from an abortion.

Abortion advocates have argued for decades that decriminalizing the practice saves lives.  Thousands of women, they continue to claim, were perishing every year because of coat hangers and back alleys.  The U. S. Supreme Court came to the rescue, authorizing medical professionals to perform the procedures in respectable facilities.  If future magistrates or legislators nullify the Roe v. Wade verdict, untold multitudes of women will again put themselves at the mercy of amateur butchery to avoid pregnancies.

The Washington Post recently examined the data behind this assertion.  This past spring, Planned Parenthood then-President Dr. Leana Wen had been reciting the “thousands of women” statistic at one public appearance after another.  So the Post’s chief “fact-checker,” Glenn Kessler, consulted the (pro-abortion) American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, (pro-abortion) NARAL Pro-Choice America and even (pro-abortion) Planned Parenthood itself. He also reviewed research from the 1930s to the 1970s.  On May 29, Kessler concluded: “There is no evidence that in the years immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s decision, thousands of women died every year in the United States from illegal abortions. . . . [A]dvocates hurt their cause when they use figures that do not withstand scrutiny.”

Life-affirming Lutherans can commend Kessler and the Post for reporting truth rather than parroting public opinion.  However, their analysis falls short of the whole truth.  Government records do document that abortions brought about the deaths of hundreds of mothers a year in early-to-middle twentieth-century America.  And even one abortion death amounts to an unnecessary and excessive tragedy.  That’s why we grieve that women are still losing their lives even in legalized abortions.  The Centers for Disease Control states that 437 women died nationwide (not including California, Maryland or New Hampshire) between 1973 and 2014.  It’s why we mourn the illegal abortions that keep taking place (Kermit Gosnell, anyone?), facilitated in large part by the reckless trafficking of abortion-inducing drugs over the Internet.  And it’s why we rejoice that deaths of women from abortions were already declining by the mid-1930s, some 40 years before the nine justices imposed abortion-on-demand.

But Leana Wen and Planned Parenthood and Glenn Kessler and The Washington Post all entirely ignore the harm abortion inflicts upon the child.  Every abortion, allowed or outlawed, ends a human life.  Our Heavenly Father creates little humans as members of our race – right from fertilization – to embody His image.  His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, even assumed our human nature, sanctifying it through all phases of human existence, from embryo to adulthood, and redeemed it for eternal life through His innocent suffering and death and His glorious resurrection.

Our Heavenly Father calls those little ones toward a place in His everlasting kingdom and sees them as part of His own family.  He loves zygote and fetus alike, not because of age or appearance or ability, but for the same reason He values mother and father: out of His Fatherly divine goodness, mercy and graciousness. If only The Washington Post would remind its readers of that!

Lutherans regard every human life as a blessing worth receiving, respecting, protecting and appreciating.  Our Maker even embraces us each this way for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ.  This leads us address another aspect of abortions that the above “experts” carelessly overlook – the physical and psychological aftereffects abortion inflicts upon the mother (and father).  Infection, infertility, cancers, conflict, guilt and grief make casualties even of the lives abortions don’t take outright.  And these maladies themselves manifest as symptoms of the same underlying disease that causes adulterous intercourse, panic about pregnancy and abortion in the first place: selfish sinfulness.  Relief and healing from those maladies don’t come with operations, laws or rights, but only with faith in God’s unconditional forgiveness and salvation.

Our Lord has a better way for resolving our difficulties and sufferings than murder and death.  We do not need an ends-justify-the-means pragmatism to determine either individual morality or public policy.  Safety doesn’t make abortion right, and its dangers alone do not define it as wrong.  Abortion contradicts God’s clear Word and will.  As life-affirming Lutherans, we must obey God rather than men. Thus, we can agree with Dr. David Grimes of the University of North Carolina’s medical school, whom Kessler quotes: “Whether the numbers of deaths pre-Roe were in the hundreds or the thousands per year, the message for your readers is that nearly all of these deaths were entirely preventable.”

Nobody, neither a woman nor her child, should have to die from an abortion.

Rev. Michael Salemink is the executive director of Lutherans For Life.

Be Informed

A French language teacher in Virginia was recently fired for calling a female student by female pronouns, since the student preferred to be referred to as a male. Click here to read how Alliance Defending Freedom is taking up the case.

Be Equipped

“Being a mom has changed me in so many unexplainable ways. Life is no longer about me,” Kacey Miller, a single mom, notes. Learn more about Kacey and her decision to save her son’s life, despite being urged to have an abortion.

Be Encouraged

“I remember a dark time with no hope, no happiness and no strength. The only things I saw were the difficulties that lie ahead. I easily beat myself down over my sin, thinking my parents will disown me and everyone will think poorly of me. . . . My family welcomed me home, my loved ones surrounded me and they all forgave me. They reminded me of the hope and redemption found in Christ. . . . I remember a lady at church saying, ‘What the devil meant for evil, God has turned into a beautiful blessing. Now I get to enjoy that blessing, and [her son Leo] adds so much joy to my life, my family’s life and really anyone he meets. He gives us all eyes of life!” – Kacey Miller, single mom

Devotion: Monday, October 7, 2019

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 reading is from Luke 17:1-4.    

And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

GOOD COUNSEL, BAD COUNSEL – IT MATTERS!


I was just talking to someone the other day and they said, “My how things have changed.” He went on to reminisce about TV shows that one could watch with the family and newspapers that weren’t filled with today’s vitriol and spite. He yearned for a time when leaders would lead for all, when parents would parent their children, and when the most vulnerable among us didn’t have to live in violence and fear. I could see his point.

Jesus is especially concerned for the vulnerable and the broken in our reading for today. He talks plainly about what it means to live in a sinful world with a sinful heart. He says, “Temptations to sin are sure to come.” No doubt! But face such things head on. Take them seriously. Pay attention! Temptation to sin is temptation to rebel against the one who created and redeemed you for abundant eternal life. Temptation to sin, falling into sin, and then loving a life of sin ultimately cut oneself off from the source of life, God. Repentance is turning around from such foolishness by the power of the Spirit of God. It involves an ongoing struggle against temptation, yes. But it’s also living boldly the new life in Jesus Christ that is yours by grace through faith in Him!

Jesus is giving good counsel to all of us here. Repentance and forgiveness are so precious that he is telling us to focus. This matters. It matters so much that even sharing that repentance and forgiveness is essential to our friendships and our relationships in this world. If you know someone struggling with temptation and sin (even against you), and they repent, forgive them without measure! Why? Because that’s how God treats you!

And here’s Christ’s backhand warning to “pay attention.” If you are one who doesn’t take temptation and sin seriously, you better not be one of those who leads the vulnerable and the weak into sin. God especially despises that. Good counsel, bad counsel…. when it comes to sin and temptation, it really matters. Listen up to what Jesus has to say!

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, give me courage to listen to your Word, your counsel, even when our culture bids otherwise and even when my own heart tempts me to go astray. Your counsel is for my life, now and forever. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). AMEN

Word from the Center Digest: Friday, October 4, 2019

Maneuvering Difficult Waters

by Craig Muehler

Have you ever really wondered how a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) pastor can serve as a chaplain in the military?   On the surface it seems impossible to understand how a pastor who gets paid by the government can serve as a military officer and still be faithful to both.  After all, no one can serve two masters. 

The good news is that our country has figured out a way to accommodate the free exercise of religion for our military personnel and their families without forcing each religious organization to compromise its deeply held religious beliefs.  This has been challenged several times by both sides in the courts.  The courts have upheld the importance of having a military chaplaincy to ensure the free exercise of religion for those who serve our nation in the military.  Those who wear the uniform of our nation and selflessly serve can’t and shouldn’t be expected to leave their religion and faith at home when they join the military.  They have the constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs just the same as anyone else.

 It has been somewhat settled in the kingdom of the left hand (civil realm), but what about the kingdom of the right hand of God (the Church)?  How is that reconciled with the Word of God that we can send LCMS pastors to serve in the military?  Won’t they be forced to compromise the tenets of their faith, their ordination vows and their conscience?

Actually, no!  While there have been challenges and there are organizations who almost daily seek to get policy and law changed to force military chaplains to have to violate their vows and conscience on some controversial culture issues such as same-sex marriage, sexual orientation, gender identity and others, those groups have not succeeded.  The constitution, laws and policies protect the religious liberty of our chaplains to be free to be faithful to the tenets of their faith, their God and their conscience.  They can truly practice “pluralism,” which means they can cooperate in areas of the left  hand kingdom (government) without compromising the right hand kingdom (Church).  Still, we need to be vigilant to ensure those freedoms are protected.

As Lutherans, we understand this very well.  We understand that an LCMS pastor is serving in both kingdoms.  In fact, many of the uniforms illustrate the two-kingdom theology very clearly.  The LCMS chaplain will wear the cross on his uniform as well as the rank insignia.  This is a great teaching tool as it shows that he is functioning in the two kingdoms.  He is serving as a military officer (kingdom of the left), subject to all the rules and regulations (including the Uniform Code of Military Justice) while also serving as a called and ordained servant of the Word, as a clergy member of the LCMS, kingdom of the right.  In addition to being accountable as military officers, they are also accountable to the LCMS for their doctrine and practice in the kingdom of the right (Church).  If the chaplain violates the law in either kingdom, he can be held accountable by one or both. 

Military chaplaincy is a great example of how the two-kingdom theology works.  Our chaplains do serve two masters to some extent, but they all know that if the kingdom of the left crosses into the kingdom of the right and they are asked to compromise, they must obey God rather than men.

With this clear understanding of the two kingdoms, our chaplains continue to provide Word and Sacrament ministry to those of their faith. They are free to preach and teach the Word of God in Its truth and purity and administer the Sacraments rightly.  Yet, in this vocation they are also able and expected to facilitate for others (in the kingdom of the left) to ensure all have the right to exercise their faith or to have no faith at all.  This is all done because of our love for our neighbor (regardless of his or her background), and we treat everyone with dignity and respect without compromising our faith.  The biblical understanding of the two kingdoms enables our chaplains to maneuver these waters with ease.

Chaplain Craig Muehler, retired U.S. Navy Captain, serves as the director of the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces.

Be Informed

New research suggests contraception and fewer pregnancies may be more responsible for the decline than state laws restricting abortion.” Read more on why the New York Times believes the abortion rate is dropping by clicking here.

Be Equipped

“If you have convictions — faith in God, or deep-down beliefs about anything else — the Washington Supreme Court’s decision should give you pause. The Constitution doesn’t just apply to me. If we lose this case, you’ll lose your freedoms as well.” Read more from Barronelle Stutzman, a florist at the heart of a major Supreme Court case, here.

Be Encouraged

“Don’t think that you don’t matter. I know, I know; there is a something in us that wishes we didn’t matter. Then our God would not care enough to judge. But God knows the number of hairs on your head, thinks about you always. And He willingly bears the burden, carrying the sheep upon His shoulders, carrying your sin upon the cross. Because God not only loves the world, as if in abstract; He loves each and every one of you, knows your name and thinks of you always.” – Rev. Dr. Peter Scaer, professor, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.

Devotion: Monday, September 30, 2019

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 reading is from Luke 10:17-20 where it says,    

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And [Jesus] said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

GOOD WORK, LASTING WORK!


Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t celebrate too early! Those are some of the words that I remember from coaches in my past. They were motivating me and the others on the team in the midst of those long, exciting basketball seasons back in high school and college. Don’t dwell on mistakes here and there. Don’t even get caught up in the minor successes. Instead, keep focused on why all of that matters. Keep your eyes on the prize. All the training, all the sacrifice, and all the year-around work were so that we could finish strong when it mattered most.

One other bit of sage advice from athletics that I remember vividly was a word from my track coach. Every year, he would remind me of the importance of training in the summer and not waiting to start when the season began. He would drill into us that it’s the off season that would determine whether I/we would be successful when it mattered most. He told us all to “put the miles in” and get a foundation of training laid so that when the time came to run the race at peak performance, we could. At that moment, in the heat of the battle, in the exhaustion of the race, we could be confident that each of us could do our very best because the work had already been “put in” many months before. Oh, there were some great days when that happened as planned, but each day, struggles and successes, all of them reminded me of the ultimate prize that we were striving for when the season began.

When it comes to the thing that matters most in our lives, Jesus teaches us today to rejoice that our “names are written in heaven.” Such an enduring foundation was laid so that we could live at peak performance in all that we are and do. This foundation though is beyond our abilities. It wasn’t something that we could do for ourselves. It was the effort of the eternal Son of God, His life, death, and resurrection in our place. That “pre-season” work of God literally gives us an eternal life by grace through faith so that we can begin to live joyfully now in the lives of those we love. Powerful stuff!

But like my basketball coaches also taught me, don’t be overwhelmed by the momentary struggles and don’t get to giddy by the interim victories here and there.  The ultimate prize is what really matters in the end. That’s a perspective for life here and now provided by God’s gift of eternal life as we live with Him both now and forever. Christ did the lasting merciful, forgiving work of God for a world that deserved only His judgment and damnation. His lasting work calls forth the good work that we get to do in His name for the sake of others. There’s good work, there’s lasting work, and, by the gift of faith, all of that work becomes ours in Christ forever.

I remember how excited I was for each new season to begin, especially if I was ready for it. I think that’s how rejoicing that our “names are written in heaven” empowers us to face the challenges of our lives in Christ, giving us the confidence to face each new day in Him.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for Your lasting work on our behalf that calls forth and motivates the work we get to do for others in Your name. Give us a sense of joy each new day which comes from knowing you have written our names in heaven.  AMEN.

Word from the Center Digest: September 27, 2019

Marriage: Not So Outdated After All

by Winston Grieser

Perhaps you have heard the expression “older than sin.” That expression is actually one that fits holy marriage, that is, marriage instituted by God.

What is holy marriage? It’s the life-long union between one man (a biological male) and one woman (a biological female). (That a writer must add the descriptor “holy” in front of the word marriage and define man and woman as “biological male and female” shows that “dark times have us o’ertaken.” Once the term marriage was self-explanatory, or so nostalgia would tell us. Yet the institution of marriage has been under assault by the devil since his temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the assault continues to this day.

The devil teaches mankind to value things that are not holy marriage as its equal because the devil calls evil good and good evil. But sex outside the lifelong union between one man and one woman is sinful, even though world governments may say it is legal. Legality does not trump the morality of God’s holy Law. Adultery, homosexual unions and living together before marriage, whether a couple is engaged or not, are equally sinful and break the Sixth Commandment, despite their legality in the civil realm.

 Holy marriage was instituted by God in the Garden of Eden as part of His creative work. “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man’” (Gen. 2:21-23). Holy marriage is quite literally grounded in creation and is the fountain from which society and civilization spring! We also see this in the way in which God gives the woman to be Adam’s wife, adding, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

Some have argued against the traditional definition of marriage saying it is old fashioned or too narrow for our modern times. They argue falsely, that Jesus didn’t have much to say on the subject. On the contrary, it is Jesus, the eternal Son of God, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, created the marriage estate. During His earthly ministry, Jesus quotes the above passage from Genesis 2 to the Pharisees when they ask whether it is lawful to divorce (see Matthew 19), and to these words Jesus even adds, “Therefore, what God as joined together let man not separate.” So it seems our Lord actually has quite a bit to say on holy marriage.

Holy marriage is the way that God intended for man and woman to live on earth, both before and after the fall. After man’s fall into sin, holy marriage was intended to keep us from breaking the Sixth Commandment, to warn us against sexual immorality, and to encourage us to live a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and each love and honor his spouse. Holy marriage was also intended for the procreation of children, for children – as God grants them – are the natural fruit of the mutual love that husbands and wives have for one another.

The world may see holy marriage as out-of-date and antiquated, but for Christians who take our Lord at His Word, we recognize the gifts of holy marriage in our pious spouses and children – blessings given by God according to His perfect will and in His good time. Have we done anything to deserve these earthly blessings? No. But Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, whom He redeemed by His blood, never sees marriage and children as old-fashioned. Instead, he sees them as part those sanctified and cleansed “with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27).

The Rev. Winston Grieser is pastor of Apostolic Lutheran Church, Moses Lake, Wash.

Be Informed

“The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday that the city of Phoenix cannot use a criminal law to force two artists to design and create custom wedding invitations expressing messages that conflict with their core beliefs.” Click here to find out more about the case.

Be Equipped

September 17 was the 231st anniversary of the creation of the Constitution, when “the most influential set of American laws were enacted. Even though the United States of America is a relatively young country, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest national constitution in continual use in the world. By articulating stable principles rather than detailed rules, the Founders gave us a timeless guide for good governance.” Keep the Constitution Day celebration going by reading more about the document here.

Be Encouraged

“True equality is not trampling on the rights of those who are weaker or smaller than us. Let’s do better.” – Lila Rose, pro-life president and founder, Live Action

Devotion: Monday, September 23, 2019

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 reading is from Luke 16:10-13 where Jesus says,    

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

WHEN IT MATTERS – NO DIVIDED ALLEGIANCES!


Christians are often accused as being “judgmental” or “narrow-minded.” I’m sure that among the millions of Christian around the world there are a few of those kinds of folks. But we need to remind people that such a view is at odds with the teachings and the practice of the faith itself.  Actually, I think that Christians are, or can be, some of the most kind, merciful, and open-minded people of all, especially when they take the main teachings of the Bible seriously. Narrow-minded or open-minded? It depends on what you mean by the terms. G.K. Chesterton, in his work Orthodoxy,observed something quite compelling. He wrote,

The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.[1]

I think that gets to the heart of it. There are certain, fundamental things that demand our allegiance “for good things to run wild.” There are certain things that are fundamental to life, and those things are pretty clear in God’s word. Those are things that we honor and that we strive to make a part of our life. Such foundations include, among others, the dignity of every human being as a creation of God and, hopefully, as an eternal child of God through faith; the institution of the family as the foundation to community and to society (e.g., “Honor your father and your mother;” Exodus 20:12); the dignity of work; the loving of neighbor as one loves him/herself; “you cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). Such things call for and even demand allegiance, not equivocation. When fundamental issues are treasured, all kinds of opportunities ensue.

But here’s the thing in God’s word. There is one fundamental truth that encases all others. It is the Gospel, the reconciled relationship that forgiven sinners now have with God because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. The rule and order of God’s law in our life can prevent the chaos that our sin tends to engender and even demonstrate our need for solutions better than our best efforts, but it can’t change our hearts. Changed hearts come when repentant sinners put their faith in God’s love and mercy for them in Christ. When hearts are changed, good can truly run wild. When fundamental truths are motivated by hearts transformed by the mercy and grace of God alone, loving God by serving our neighbor in His name becomes an eternal opportunity and a daily task. When it matters and for good to run wild, certain things compel our allegiance and summon our faith into action, for now and forever.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, I often think that I know best about the fundamentals of my life. Give me wisdom and courage to take You at Your word in the Bible for, among the competing voices in our world, Yours truly matters most. AMEN.


[1] https://tifwe.org/twelve-of-our-favorite-g-k-chesterton-quotes/

Word from the Center Digest: September 20, 2019

American Lutheranism and the Founding Fathers

by Timothy S. Goeglein

There is a myth among some American Lutherans.  It is that the public square is compromised, complicated and messy, and thus Lutherans should remain elementally disengaged from the affairs of state.  And, too, that this side-lined view is firmly rooted in Lutheran theology.  In sum, women and men of faith should, at one remove, decouple themselves and their families from public policy lest they tarnish their faith and potentially the church itself.

But is this really what Lutherans believe?  Is this really what our theology teaches us?

I was speaking in Wyoming to a large gathering of Lutherans this summer.  During the question and answer session that followed my remarks, a woman said she had been raised to believe that Luther’s two-kingdoms biblical worldview – that there is a God-ordained space for government and a God-ordained space for the church, and never the twain shall meet – was considered sacrosanct. Wasn’t this the case?

I shared with her that, possibly, there was no man of Luther’s own era who was more involved in the public square than Luther himself, which in no manner negated the immutable truth of the theology of the two kingdoms: that while the church and the government have definitively different roles, functions and purposes, those distinctions do not prevent Lutherans from being actively engaged in the impacting and shaping of the public policy questions of our own era.

Indeed, we serve Christ and our neighbors most vitally when we are promoting life, liberty, truth, justice and beauty in our most public places.

In one sense, it is a matter of an extension of our vocation, about which no one wrote with more eloquence, discernment or passion than Luther.

This all came to mind when I was reading an important new biography of Robert E. Lee’s father, “Lighthorse” Harry Lee.  He was one of George Washington’s most important comrades and compatriots during both the American Revolution and during the Washington presidency. The book is Lighthorse Harry Lee by Ryan Cole (Regnery, 2018). It was Harry Lee who famously said that Washington was “First in war; first in peace; and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

In the course of my reading, I learned quite by happenstance that the most important national memorial service honoring and commemorating Washington shortly after he died was the one at Zion Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, built in 1766.  This was the historic church located at the corner of 4th and Cherry Streets, the church where the early American Congress met for a service of prayer and remembrance after the surrender of the British at Yorktown.

At that same church, the members of Zion invited and hosted the entire United States Congress for the service commemorating Washington. It was one of the largest interior spaces in the United States in the late eighteenth century.  This was about as high a profile as a Lutheran church could possibly have.

The more I learned, the more intrigued I became. It turns out the pastors and deacons of that parish in early 1789 wrote Washington a letter of congratulations after he won the presidency the first time. While not exactly offering a formal endorsement of Washington, the glowing letter makes it clear the church’s leadership and its congregants were celebrating not only victory over the British in the Revolution but also the elevation of Washington as the first, unanimously-elected president of the United States.

“It is with inexpressible satisfaction that we the Ministers, Church wardens, and Vestrymen of the German Lutheran Congregation in and near the City of Philadelphia address Your Excellency on the present great occasion  The entire esteem, the exalted consideration with which we view your character delightfully combine with the duty which we owe to this our country, and the love we bear to every fellow-citizen throughout these States in exciting to announce the joy we entertain in our appointment to the station of President in chief.”

But didn’t that shimmering letter fly in the face of the two kingdoms’ theological premise?  Weren’t they violating one of the central cannons of churchly authority?  Of course not.  They had made a wise and prudent decision that Washington was not only a worthy and remarkable general but also the ideal man to lead their new nation.  They wanted him to know they were praying for him and that they would commend his presidency and the nation’s new president to God’s blessing and mercy.  Theirs was a beautiful act of prayerful support and encouragement and not a violation of engagement with a powerful new leader.

Remarkably, Washington himself wrote back to them, expressing not only own esteem for Zion and its parishioners but also thanking them for their prayers and petitions of encouragement. Washington confirmed with them that it was his desire to preside with the humility, humanity and grace consistent with the hopes and principles with which they had written to him to offer their support and goodwill. Washington made it clear that he was manifestly relying on God’s blessings and help in this period after the crisis of the Revolution:

“I could not however avoid apprehending that the partiality of my Countrymen in favor of the measures now pursued has led them to expect too much for the present Government; did not the same Providence which has been visible in every stage of our progress to this interesting crisis, from a combination of circumstances, give us cause to hope for the accomplishment of all our reasonable desires.”

Neither in Zion’s letter to Washington, nor in his reply to them, is there any conflation of church and state; there is no sense that the new president will be viewed as a kind of pastor of the nation; nor does Washington pretend, as a cradle Anglican and lifelong member of the vestry in his parish in northern Virginia, that he is wending toward Lutheran precepts.  Instead, the letters are a healthy exchange between a president-elect and a church that has taken a public posture for good governance in what was then America’s capital city, Philadelphia – the same city that was the birthplace of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Zion had many other important, historic interactions with the Founders and the public life of what was then not only an important city of government but also Benjamin Franklin’s adopted hometown; he was peerlessly the most famous citizen of Pennsylvania and the most famous American around the world.  Zion recognized Franklin’s status – he once held the title President of Pennsylvania — and yet always prudently distinguished the role of the church and the role of government in a manner most commodious to Luther’s prescient distinction.

Lutherans in twenty-first century America can learn a lot from our Lutheran forebearers, not the least of which was their exemplary model of a prudential and graciously-active engagement in the public square firmly rooted in a theology consistent with the best of Lutheran theology. 

Tim Goeglein is the Vice President of External Relations and Government Affairs at Focus on the Family.

Be Informed

University of Pennyslvania Law School professor Amy Wax notes that, “Disliking, avoiding, and shunning people who don’t share our politics is not good for our country.” Read more about why she believes it here.

Be Equipped

Jude Schwalbach explains the unhelpful trend of students turning their “back on civil discourse” in a recent article for The Heritage Foundation.

Be Encouraged

“We may pay for our refusal to compromise dearly. We may suffer. We may be persecuted. We might face imprisonment, the loss of our life savings, the closing of our business, the wrath of the state. We may see these possibilities on the near horizon. But whatever comes, we cannot fail to remember the example of another biblical figure, Stephen, who was stoned to death for his bold gospel preaching in Acts 6. Immediately before Stephen were the people who ended his life. But as he lay dying, Stephen lifted his eyes and saw one greater behind them, beyond them. This figure, the Lord Jesus Christ, himself suffered and bled and died under the weight of injustice and persecution. He did so to save his people and glorify his Father. He walked the crimson trail, the narrow way, until the bitter end. Knowing our reward, so must we.” – Owen Strachan

Devotion: Monday, September 16, 2019

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 reading is from Luke 15:8-10 where Jesus says,    

“What woman, having ten silver coins,a if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

LOST AND FOUND – IT STILL REALLY MATTERS!


If I could define the essence of the Gospel message from God’s perspective, it most certainly would have to include Jesus’ teachings in Luke 15, especially where it says, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10). The stories that Jesus tells in Luke 15 speak about a joy that comes when a precious, lost thing is found. That “finding joy” is a centerpiece of the Gospel message of the Bible, God the Father’s sending of His Son Jesus so that sinners like you and me could be saved. There is no joy when things are lost. However, the Bible talks about God as one who actively seeks to save rebellious ones, sinful ones, lost ones like you and me.

In the lesson for today, Jesus tells a story about a woman who loses one of her silver coins. When Jesus speaks this parable, silver coins were precious. To lose any would be a disaster. These parables are hard for us to really hear because we live in a time and in a country where we have so much. So try to think of a time when that one coin mattered. Try to think of a time when you didn’t have enough for what you needed. Think of that time, and then try to imagine losing what you already had. It’s important that we realize that each one of these coins was precious to her, each one mattered. She could not afford for any of them to be lost. So she turns the house upside down looking for them.

That’s just a picture of what God was and is willing to do so that you might be found and receive His forgiveness and love. He turned the world upside down when He sent His Son to live your life under the Law, to die your eternal death on the cross, and to give you Christ’s blood-bought eternal life as a gift. That’s not what any other “gods” do for people, let alone sinful, rebellious people. But that’s just what He did. It is the most shocking message in all the world that the One with eternal power and authority over all things would be so willing to be a servant, to even suffer and to die, for those who deserved it least.

These parables ramp up the value of the “lost and found” perspective. First, there’s a lost sheep and the shepherd goes looking. Then there’s a lost coin, and the woman turns the house inside out to find it. Finally, there are lost sons, and a father who rejoices when the prodigal one returns home. The point? It’s a lost world, but one that God engages to save. Lost, then found, then joy! That tells you about the God who created and redeemed you. That’s an eternal perspective too. It’s one that can comfort us amidst the challenges of the day; it’s a picture of God’s very own heart for you right now, one that He never wants you to forget.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, give me a real sense of how I was lost and vulnerable, so that I might appreciate even more being found by You that I might live in You forever. AMEN.