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Archives 2020

Archives 2020 (95)

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 plan to offer one whale of a surprise.[1]

In a world of presents that glimmer for mere moments, Casey Hurles’ present of presence impacted his son forever. Surprises like that have a long lasting effect. Presents like that do that too. In our lesson for today, Mary was surprised at the angel Gabriel’s greeting and message. You might say that she was surprised by grace. But her surprise, even confusion, didn’t get in the way of her trust in the God who is always full of the loving surprise of grace, mercy, and peace.  In fact, the whole Christmas message is one big glorious, gracious, God-given surprise of His coming in the flesh to save the world.

Other religions talk about surprises. But the message of Christmas—Good Friday—Easter is different. The Bible isn't about Karma or we would all be “Karmalized.” The Bible isn't about religion or we would all be religiously inadequate. The Bible isn't about surprises that come from humanity’s best efforts, because even those last merely for a time.  No, the Bible's message is one, big, grace-filled surprise that God Himself promised and then delivered on in the person and work of Jesus for each one of us.

The angel says it loudly and clearly to Mary: "You will…give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:31-33, ESV).

That first Christmas began with a huge surprise. The God who created the very heavens and the earth was concerned not just for the powerful people of the world, but for all people. Mary may have been most surprised of all that God would concern Himself with someone like her. She was surprised, but she believed. Today, don't just be surprised by that grace this Christmas; believe it for yourself and put your trust in the one born in the manger for you.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, in these weeks of preparation for Christmas, You call us to repentance, to see our need for You. May that repentance burst forth into praises that only faith in You can bring. With that, please bless us all. AMEN.

 

[1] “Boys wrapped birthday gift is dad back from Iraq,” Associated Press and YahooNews.com, 1-30-09

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 plan to offer one whale of a surprise.[1]

In a world of presents that glimmer for mere moments, Casey Hurles’ present of presence impacted his son forever. Surprises like that have a long lasting effect. Presents like that do that too. In our lesson for today, Mary was surprised at the angel Gabriel’s greeting and message. You might say that she was surprised by grace. But her surprise, even confusion, didn’t get in the way of her trust in the God who is always full of the loving surprise of grace, mercy, and peace.  In fact, the whole Christmas message is one big glorious, gracious, God-given surprise of His coming in the flesh to save the world.

Other religions talk about surprises. But the message of Christmas—Good Friday—Easter is different. The Bible isn't about Karma or we would all be “Karmalized.” The Bible isn't about religion or we would all be religiously inadequate. The Bible isn't about surprises that come from humanity’s best efforts, because even those last merely for a time.  No, the Bible's message is one, big, grace-filled surprise that God Himself promised and then delivered on in the person and work of Jesus for each one of us.

The angel says it loudly and clearly to Mary: "You will…give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great. He will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:31-33, ESV).

That first Christmas began with a huge surprise. The God who created the very heavens and the earth was concerned not just for the powerful people of the world, but for all people. Mary may have been most surprised of all that God would concern Himself with someone like her. She was surprised, but she believed. Today, don't just be surprised by that grace this Christmas; believe it for yourself and put your trust in the one born in the manger for you.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, in these weeks of preparation for Christmas, You call us to repentance, to see our need for You. May that repentance burst forth into praises that only faith in You can bring. With that, please bless us all. AMEN.

 

[1] “Boys wrapped birthday gift is dad back from Iraq,” Associated Press and YahooNews.com, 1-30-09

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 that eternal life can be found only in our relationship with God in and through Jesus. This message, which often seems like folly to our will, is the POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION FOR ALL WHO BELIEVE (Romans 1:16).

“Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). Those words of Jesus just before His arrest really convey the message of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. His mindset of service led to the message of salvation, born in the flesh in the person of Jesus, later coming to fruition in the events of His life, death and resurrection. Because of that will revealed in history once and for all, true, lasting, and eternal life became possible for a world mired in sin and death.

In fact, the message of Christmas is even more amazing if you understand the conflict that humanity has with its Creator, a real conflict of wills. The joy of Christmas gives way to the anguish of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ’s “not what I will, but what You will” life is offered to God for the forgiveness of rebellious people. It alone brings pardon to the guilty and life to those who are dead in the arrogance of their prideful, sinful will.

Today, with all the chaos of the sinful “my will” world in plain sight all around us, let the Advent season of 2020 draw you to the God who willfully sent His Son into this world for people like you and me. Let that message take root in your heart through the very Word and Sacraments of the Savior who comes into the midst of our struggles so that we might be saved

“Yet not what I will, but what You will” is a call to repentance for us, but, more so, it is a call to joy, thankfulness, and a peace that passes all understanding because, as our lesson says, “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When you look into the manger this Christmas, don’t see some syrupy message of the brotherhood of man or the happiness of wishful thinking. See it, instead, for what it is, God demonstrating His will for the world, for you, calling you to repentance and life in Him!

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, it always seems that I’m wrestling with Your “will” for my life. Let me see clearly that Your will came to fruition in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for me. Let that be my focus in prayer, my source of joy, and my confidence in life each day. AMEN.

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. In a Newsweek article way back in 1995, the author noted that “ninety percent of Americans say that they believe in God. Yet the urgent sense of personal sin has all but disappeared in the current upbeat style of American religion.”[2] It’s much worse today. The number of believers is reported to be continually falling, while the disregard for any notion of our actions being sinful is on the rise. Just look at what we consume for entertainment today as proof of our callousness to any notion of sin.

Nevertheless, here’s the point: John the Baptist’s message is just as relevant today as it was then. He was sent into a world that had a sin problem, a brokenness problem that sinful people could never fix on their own. The world was arrogant then just as it is today. It was full of people who believed that they had no need for God, a world full of hedonists, moralists, rationalists, secularists, and pragmatists who believed that life was under their control alone. In the face of all of that, the powerful, heart-transforming message then as today is proclaimed in Jesus’ words just a few verses after our reading, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  Why? Because life is all about being reconciled to the God who created and redeemed us. Without such a relationship with God, life ultimately means nothing. Modern people are just as foolish as ancient people, but, thanks be to God, Jesus came for us all!

Whenever I think about John the Baptist, I think about the fact that he was a bit of an oddity to many people back in his day (see Mark 1:6). So, it shouldn’t surprise us that his message seems odd today too. But, if you want to receive Jesus, you must take John’s words seriously. Does anyone repent today? Yes, today, like then, the message is still getting through. Let it start with you and me.

PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, John the Baptist prepared the way for Your saving work for all. May his call to repentance be heard in my heart today, for my life and salvation are in You alone. AMEN.

 

[1] The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941), p. 15.

[2] https://www.newsweek.com/what-ever-happened-sin-185180

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

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 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 verses are 1st Corinthians 1:26-31, where St. Paul writes,  

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


PREPARED AND READIED FOR A TIME LIKE THIS!

Those who attend churches that follow a commonly used series of Sunday readings probably heard 1st Corinthians 1:3-9 in worship yesterday. Today, I jumped ahead a bit. Why? Because the end of the First Chapter of Paul’s letter to the people living in Corinth long ago also applies specifically to today. Paul reminded those people who they were without God, who they were with God, and then what they were to do in this life until the day they would see their Creator and Redeemer face to face for all eternity. I thought that was worth jumping forward to, especially because of the uncertain times in which we live. What’s my point? When life reduces you to virtually nothing, whether physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually, and yet you have Jesus as your Lord and Savior by faith, then He is all you need for an abundant, useful, and eternal life, both now and forever. He gives you power to face whatever comes your way each and every day.

Today’s passage from 1st Corinthians also reminded me of the story of a Vietnamese man named Hien Pham. Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias got to know him while working in Vietnam in 1971. Of Hien, Zacharias said,

One of my interpreters was Hien Pham, an energetic young Christian. He had worked as a translator with the American forces, and was of immense help both to them and to missionaries such as myself…..We did not know if our paths would ever cross again. Seventeen years later, I received a telephone call. ‘Brother Ravi?’ the man asked. Immediately I recognized Hien’s voice, and he soon told me his story.

Shortly after Vietnam fell, Hien was imprisoned on accusations of helping the Americans. His jailers tried to indoctrinate him against democratic ideals and the Christian faith. He was restricted to communist propaganda in French or Vietnamese, and the daily deluge of Marx and Engels began to take its toll. ‘Maybe,’ he thought, ‘I have been lied to. Maybe God does not exist. Maybe the West has deceived me.’ So Hien determined that when he awakened the next day, he would not pray anymore or think of his faith.

The next morning, he was assigned the dreaded chore of cleaning the prison latrines. As he cleaned out a tin can overflowing with toilet paper, his eye caught what seemed to be English printed on one piece of paper. He hurriedly grabbed it, washed it, and after his roommates had retired that night, he retrieved the paper and read the words, ‘Romans, Chapter 8.’ Trembling, he began to read, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. . . for I am convinced that NOTHING shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Hien wept. He knew His Bible, and knew that there was not a more relevant passage for one on the verge of surrender. He cried out to God, asking forgiveness, for this was to have been the first day that he would not pray. . . . After finding the Scripture, Hien asked the commander if he could clean the latrines regularly, because he discovered that some official was using a Bible as toilet paper. Each day Hien picked up a portion of Scripture, cleaned it off, and added it to his collection of nightly reading. . . . What his tormentors were using for refuse — the Scriptures — could not be more treasured to Hien.[1]

Lutherans are constantly stressing Paul’s words from Romans 1:16 which declare that the Gospel “is the power of God for salvation.” So we are bold about speaking God’s Law and God’s Gospel. When you are reduced to having only that Gospel message in your life, you more fully understand what a precious jewel it really is. Hien Pham was finally released from prison and fled to Thailand. Today he is a businessperson in the USA, but, more importantly, a Christian whose only boast in life is Christ. God prepared him to be a living testimony to the transforming power of God’s Word. That’s what He does for you too as you put your faith in Christ alone so that you can then love others as God in Christ loves you.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, let our bold boasting in You alone prepare us to be useful in Your hands, especially for times such as these. AMEN.

 

[1] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/11926/ravi-zacharias-tells-the-amazing-story-of-a-by-rodney-buchanan

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 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 verses are Matthew 25:31-40 where Jesus teaches us this about what will happen at His return:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”


CONCERNED CITIZENS OR CONCERNED DISCIPLES?

The past several months have been about preparation. We’ve had to prepare to fight a virus. We’ve had to prepare to get back to living our lives. We’ve had to prepare for an election. And now we have to get on with our lives. It seems like life is all about preparation. We might comfort ourselves with the notion that someday we’ll get to “retire” from life and do whatever we wish. But, even then, the question is, “Have you prepared properly?” And, more importantly, are you even now living the life that God wishes you to live until He calls you home to himself? During these past several months, we have heard a lot from various politicians about what it means to be a “concerned citizen.” But, above all that, the real key is whether we have been listening to our Savior Jesus who calls us to be His concerned disciples, both toward Him and for others. The first “concern” lasts for a moment; the second lasts forever.

Being in Washington, D.C. hasn’t jaded me yet. But it has given me a perspective on things. There is more money and power in Washington, D.C. than virtually anywhere else in the world. Yet it is one of the most dysfunctional places in our country! Don’t get me wrong. There are very good people doing very good work on the Hill. But the main thing I’ve learned is that all of the money, power, and technology of our world will never be able to solve the big problems of life. Those problems can only be solved by Christ’s cross and resurrection as His ambassadors bring that Good News to others. My work in D.C. is primarily to make sure that we fight back against the government’s encroachment of “life-draining” policies and controls over our lives so that we can be “free to lively freely in Christ for others.”

So, while being a concerned citizen is important, don’t ever let it tempt you away from the reality that it is much more important to be a concerned disciple of Christ for others. I was at the University of Michigan for my freshman year of college. I still remember when a fellow student in the Pre-Med program took his life over a bad grade that he received in one of his classes. In his mind, anything less than a 4.0 meant that he wouldn’t get into the premiere medical school for which he and his family felt he was destined. It was the “ultimate” issue for him. His death made me realize that even the best doctors in our land merely heal our bodies temporarily. But having and sharing our faith in Jesus provides healing of body and soul for eternity. One is important; the other, vital.

Let your daily preparations and efforts be rooted in the things that last, even as you go about your work for things that matter for mere moments. Let your life be so focused on the grace of God in Christ that your eyes are open to the people He is bringing into your life even now. Don’t worry whether the world considers them influencers or nobodies. Be attentive to those in your sphere of influence as Christ is attentive to you. Concerned citizens? Sure! But being concerned disciples of Jesus for others is what ultimately lasts.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us a disciple’s view of life, one that remains full of the peace which comes from trusting in Your complete salvation for us, and one that is also full of inquisitive service towards those whom You bring into our lives. Give us an “in the world, but not of the world” discipleship (see John 17:14-16) that is useful in Your hands for others. AMEN.

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 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 verses are 1st Thessalonians 5:2-11 where St. Paul writes,

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.


PREPARATION FOR THE FINAL ELECTION

Morale soared that day. It was a day of failure, but it was a day when those who were rotting in one of the worst prisons in Vietnam suddenly realized that they had not been forgotten. They were indeed on the hearts and minds of those in power and their “band of brothers” in arms were dedicated to come and get them. The mission was called “Operation Ivory Coast,” and it was launched on November 21, 1970.

It was one of the most dangerous—and revered—missions of the Vietnam War, attempting to rescue 65 American POWs held at North Vietnam’s notorious SonTay prison. A 116 plane air unit, composed of fighters, gunships and helicopters, flew hundreds of miles over mountainous territory at treetop level to the prison camp—just 23 miles from Hanoi, then one of the most heavily defended areas in North Vietnam. As the assault force attacked the camp during a hard fought battle—killing more than 100 North Vietnamese guards in the process—the raiders discovered that the prisoners had been moved, and they were forced to return empty-handed. Yet when the POWS learned of the attempt, morale soared. According to one report, the POWs no longer felt abandoned or forgotten.[1]

It must have been virtually impossible to maintain hope in places like Son Tay or the “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp. The prisoners were underfed, they were brutalized, and the propaganda told them they had been abandoned. It’s amazing the kind of hope that was instilled on the day of the raid, and for days thereafter, just because people had tried to rescue them. The Apostle Paul reminds us today, especially if we are struggling with what’s happening in our lives or what’s going on here in this world, to take a lesson from the engendered hopefulness of those prisoners from Son Tay. While they were not rescued (they had been moved two miles away because of Son Tay’s flooding due to torrential rain earlier that week), they knew that their “brothers in arms” would come again.  Later, they named the camp to which they were moved “Camp Faith” because they knew those Green Berets would not leave them behind.

If we are tempted to believe that God has somehow abandoned us, we need to remember that our hopefulness is built on something much more solid than the bravest efforts of even our best “special forces.” As the hymn writer Edward Mote put it, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Our hope is built on the efforts of a Savior who journeyed into the abyss of hell itself so that we might be rescued from eternal death and granted eternal life.

Elections do have consequences and we are living amidst those consequences at this moment. But we need to be reminded that whatever we face in this world, the ultimate “election” has already taken place. Those who put their faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ have hope that is rooted not just in the rescue attempts of fellow warriors, but in the assured victory of our eternal rescue by the cross and resurrection of our Savior. In today’s reading, Paul reminds the believers of Thessalonica, as he reminds all those in Christ, that God has destined us “to obtain salvation.” And even though Jesus’ return will come upon us like a “thief in the night,” it will be a day of great joy for those who are energetically waiting for His return. Comfort each other with these words!

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, we sometimes get caught up in the so-called realities of this world and act as if they matter most, as if they will last. Give us, instead, hopeful hearts in Your sure return, as well as active hands for the work to be done in Your name while we wait. AMEN.

 

[1] https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/100782/nobody-left-behind-by-roy-fowler

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 09, 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 verses are 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 where St. Paul writes,

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.


THE ONLY VOTE THAT COUNTS FOREVER

It’s finally over. (Actually, nothing ever seems to be over lately, does it?) The votes are in and our new leaders will soon be in place. Many are glad that the constant politicking is behind us, but they now wonder what comes next. There are some people with great hope today and there are others who feel despair. I’ve been through a few presidential cycles in my life. Each one seems to bring hope to some and gloom to others. Our text for today goes further. It deals with a problem that is too big for even our best policies and more hopeless than merely losing an election or two. It deals with the reality and the apparent finality of death. It deals with the truth that no matter what our plans and preparations, we all face that one enemy that we cannot overcome. The Christians in Thessalonica trusted in God for their eternal life, but they were struggling with the seemingly hopeless reality that many people of faith were now dead and in the grave. Does God forget about them like so many duplicitous leaders in our sinful world do? In private moments of struggle, their thoughts (like ours) might have been like those of a father who came to Jesus and confessed, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Even though the Thessalonians many not have pinned their hopes on some transient political program or leader, they still struggled with the realities of sin and judgment this side of heaven.

That’s why they and we need to be reminded of the only “vote” that counts forever. When Jesus died and rose again, God the Father stamped His approval on the work of Jesus which grants eternal life to all who believe in His gift of grace. Our sins were punished when Jesus took our place on the cross. His resurrection freely grants God’s gift of new life to all through faith alone. God’s decision to love all those in Christ was the one that counts forever. That “vote” is certain for all who trust in His promise no matter what their circumstances might be this side of heaven. Even those who have fallen asleep in Him will be raised from temporal death to eternal life when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. Count on it! That’s a hope that endures because it is based on the person and the work of Jesus Christ in your stead. That is a peace that passes all understanding because it is rooted in God’s power to bring all things to fulfillment for those who put their trust in Him. And, unlike so many politicians and pundits, God always keeps His promises.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to see the good in certain policies of our leaders, especially those that defied the clear moral teachings of the Bible. I’ve also been disappointed when newly elected leaders who had said the right things on the campaign trail then did the opposite when it really mattered. Saint Paul reminded those believers in Thessalonica that God, unlike us, doesn’t waver. He makes His promises; He fulfills His promises. And because He fulfilled His promise to send our Savior Jesus Christ, our future is secure in Him. In the aftermath of the 2020 election, take enduring comfort in the fact that God’s vote of “Yes” for you because of Christ is the only vote that lasts (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). In the end, it’s the only vote that really matters too.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, teach us to be useful instruments in Your hands so that we might be a blessing to the culture in which we live. But never let us forget the ultimate mission of our time on this earth. It is the work of offering all people the message of eternal life that comes by grace through faith in You alone. May we also comfort each other with those words. To those ends, bless us. AMEN.

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, NOVEMBER 02, 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 verses are Revelation 7:9-10 where the Apostle John tells us,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”


THE REAL PICTURE…GET THE PICTURE?

Can you picture who is going to win the election this year? There is a lot at stake. We’ve been talking about it for the last three to four months, trying to prepare God’s people for the results no matter who wins. And that’s the devotional point to be made today. Everyone is trying to envision what things will look like on November 4th.  What if “our person” wins? What if he or she loses? I imagine that one will not be rosier than reality, and the other might not be as bleak as projected. On the other hand, maybe things will in fact be greater than one could imagine, or more dire than predicted. We’ll see.

The problem with our prognostications is that they often forget that God has already painted a picture that envisions a future beyond our expectations and imaginations. It’s greater than the best “e pluribus unum” that any nation could devise. In fact, it unifies people of all nations, ethnicities, and languages in a way no law or policy ever could. You see, what God wants you to envision is your future with Him by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ on your behalf.

In the Bible there are two major events that depict the unity of humanity. One is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The people of that time were unifying around a compelling idea. They were a people of one language with one project and one purpose, ultimately seeking to do something magnificent, but their way with sinful pride. They even dedicated their work to making a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). They sought to live life on their terms rather than to worship the Lord who gave them life, to live their lives to glorify Him, and to serve others in His Name. Their rebellion was unifying, but it was a toxic togetherness. The text says that God himself smashed their unity for their own good (Genesis 11:7-8). Wow! We need to understand that sinful human beings can unify around the wrong things. And that unity can drive us away from God. Yes, it can drive us to momentary human heights, but they will eventually come crashing down under the weight of our sin and God’s judgment. That is a chaotic and catastrophic picture.

Then there’s another picture painted for us in Acts 2. It’s a unity that holds. It’s a unity enjoyed partially now, but it will come to fruition in the picture of our text from Revelation 7. In Acts 2:5-11, Peter speaks about the “mighty works of God” and people from nations around the world hear these words in their own language. Unlike the Tower of Babel, God creates a unifying message centered in His gracious work for all people in the person of Jesus. Christ’s cross and resurrection are the center of a diversity that holds. God’s work through the Good News of His Gospel received through His gifts of the Word and Sacraments binds us first to Him by grace through faith, and then it also holds us together with the bonds of His love to us and through us to one another. What a wonderful picture!

So, that’s the point today. Even if all the “right” people win tomorrow, there’s no human policy or provision in this world that can ultimately hold us together. Give thanks, then, if this election simply maintains our earthly freedoms and returns our culture to civility. But never think that our earthly elections can do what only the love of God in Jesus Christ can do. When all is said and done, Revelation 7 is the real picture that holds us together. Acts 2 explains the means to that glorious end as it calls us to repent of our sin and put our faith in Jesus alone (see Acts 2:38-39). So even if the whole world were to unite around a common human goal or purpose, it wouldn’t ultimately  matter. And it wouldn’t last if it failed to see Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Whatever happens this election, don’t forget the big picture of Revelation 7 for that’s the real and enduring future for those in Christ. Get the picture?

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, we pray for wisdom this election. We pray that through all of the political blather, we would have the wisdom to protect the free proclamation of the truths of the Bible for life and salvation for all. No matter what happens, may we be faithful to Your calling and eager to be gathered around Your throne when that time comes. AMEN.

In all things, we as Christians know that God is at work in the world His two ways: to preserve and ultimately to save. This was a year where the Church’s public voice was under attack like never before. Cleary, “religious liberty for committed Christians” was on the ballot. And, if the last few years taught us anything, it taught us that going forward, the Church needs to be ready to fight for our right/responsibility to be a public voice of the Scripture so that all might hear and believe. We’ll need to better learn when to fight and when to serve. But, knowing that God is already at work in the world, we know that no matter the outcome of any vote, the real work always begins again.


As one who has been in Washington D.C. now for some three years, I can tell you that the laws of the land (even the best ones) can’t accomplish what we hope for if we hope for justice, peace, and unity that truly binds us together. The laws of the land can prevent the really bad stuff from happening (if the bad guys are afraid of the punishment). The best laws of the land can protect our God-given freedoms and give everyone a fighting chance to have a good life in this country, but they can never deliver what only God can give: abundant life in Him, changed hearts full of of forgiveness, mercy, and salvation that gives us power to live life boldly no matter what the circumstance of the day. Ironically, the very Founders of our government realized that when they sought to secure liberty for its citizens, not power for themselves. They understood the dangers of the tyranny of government, whether the tyranny of one or the mob of many. They knew the depravity of humanity and the futility of being a godless people. They knew that the American experiment depended on people being a self-governing people. And they knew that faith in God was the key to all of that. Today, we prepare ourselves for citizenship like that and more.

So, as important as this last election was, win or lose, the work of being God’s people is still the same. It is always more than the politics, more than the vote. We instinctively know that freedom isn’t without cost, that sin always gets in the way, and that real peace and unity are going to have to come from something “more than our best efforts (politically, technologically, personally). We get to be Christ’s people empowered by His real-presence, wise through His Word, and motivated by His Spirit. We are very much aware that going forward, we, as Christians, must become more prepared to defend our right to be the Church in this country. We must be ready for the “cost” of sharing the whole counsel of God with others, especially the saving work of Jesus as pure gift by grace through faith in Him alone. Struggling to know when to fight and when to serve, we now realize what many who came before us have known. There’s a price to be paid to share the truth of the Scriptures with others. But Jesus reminds us even in that struggle, “that if we abide in His Word, we will know the truth. And, the truth will set us free” (John 8).

When I voted this year, I voted for a platform that would keep the secularizing impulses of our culture at bay a little while longer. I voted for the sanctity of all life to be honored and for the religious liberty to worship our Savior in freedom without fear. I voted for people who said they would defend such things. But, no matter who won, I never believed that any of the leaders in government were the ones in whom to place my faith. Today, in full view of the results of Nov. 3, we are called to be who we will always be, people of God for the sake of others. For believers, now is especially the time to hold on to the only thing that really holds, our common faith in Jesus Christ. Now’s the time to recommit ourselves to knowing and sharing the “whole counsel of God,” to proclaim, even defend His created ordering of the world for its preservation, and to proclaim His unique salvation of the world now more than ever. And, whether your person won or lost, whether the next few years will be better or worse, God’s people are not only safe in His hands, but called to a boldness especially now for the sake of all. Since things are “well in Him,” no matter the challenges we face at the moment, it’s time to resourced anew in Him, it’s time to get to work for others ON HIS TERMS ALONE.

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

 

Be Informed

Do you know the history of the pro-life movement? Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List walks you through it.

 

Be Equipped

When it comes to the sanctity of life, “The expansion of medical aid in dying across the United States has not only created a professional and moral dilemma for practicing physicians, but it has also raised concerns within the disability community, among others, about the negative consequences these laws could have on the country.” Learn more in this KFUO news brief.

 

Be Encouraged

“We are very much aware that going forward, we, as Christians, must become more prepared to defend our right to be the Church in this country.” – Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, executive director, Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty

 

Here’s God’s perspective about today. Ready? He wants you, as a believer, to know that no matter what is happening at the moment, “It’s temporary, and all is well with you IN HIM.” That’s right. No matter who won or lost, God says clearly to His people, “In me, because of me, it’s going to be alright.” Jesus says much the same, saying, “In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Even amidst—God forbid—wars and rumors of wars, the appearance of false prophets, even false Christs, Jesus calms are hearts, saying, “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place . . . But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:6, 13).


So, who won the election of 2020? People were energized this year, weren’t they? People were voting “early” like never before. Some still are! (Sorry. That was a bad attempt at humor). So, who won? Well, is that really the most important question today? Am I dodging the issue? Do you think that I’m saying that because of our faith, what happened in this election, didn’t matter?” Let me be clear. I’m not saying that. At the LCRL, we were clear with you all along. We sadly told you that religious liberty was on the ballot. (Yes, there is a strong political movement trying to make Bible-believing Christians second-class citizens). We were honest about the issues, but we were even more confident about the ultimate solutions to these problems being, not in the policy provisions from the folks on the Hill, but temporally in the concerned communities of free people and ultimately in the message of the Gospel of God’s eternal freedom in Jesus Christ alone.

There was a lot at stake in this election, and we tried to keep you informed right up to the day of the vote. But we also kept our eyes on the big picture of things. Amidst all the chaos of a pandemic, the lock-downs, the fear, the violence, and the unrest, we realized that people were struggling to know where to turn. We sensed a hunger in people, a yearning for things that would bind us together again. We continually shared that those yearnings can’t be fulfilled by politics and certainly not violence. So, even though the election was important, it never deterred us from differentiating God’s preserving work from His saving work for the communities that we love.

As God’s people, no matter the politics, we have a unifying message, a message of grace and mercy that comes from the God who created, redeemed, and called us to be His own. People yearn for purpose. We have a purposeful life in Christ to offer them. People yearn for identity. We have a message of an enduring identity in the one who loves us with an everlasting love. We fight for the First Amendment merely freely to share that message boldly with others, without fear.  Regardless of good or bad politics, we will share it no matter the cost.

So, on this Friday after the election, you may be thinking “my guy didn’t win.” (Or maybe he did). But whether the right people won or lost, let me assure that for believers, the ultimate victory is already won in Jesus. And because of that, rejoice that Thanksgiving is indeed coming. This year, let it be more than football and turkey. Let it be about giving thanks to the God who created and redeemed you and is even now is “working all things together for good to those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). Rejoice that Christmas is coming too. Don’t forget that the babe in the manger came amidst the violence and unrest of His day. He came in the midst of our troubles, even taking our eternal trouble upon Himself to save us. Remember also Good Friday, the day that Satan thought he had “locked down” Jesus for good. But even then, God said, “No way!” Easter declared Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s eternal victory over our sin, death, and Satan himself (Maybe victory over bad politics too?). Right now, our faith in God is key, our faith in God is sure, and even now, He is at work to bring all things towards His purposely end where He will judge the living and the dead and usher in a Kingdom that will last forever. In Him, all is well! Pretty great stuff, wouldn’t you agree?

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

 

Be Informed

Pope Francis has had quite a bit to say on same-sex civil unions. What do we, as Lutherans who believe in one man/one woman marriage make of this? Rev. Paul McCain explains in a recent Issues, Etc. interview.

Be Equipped

Did you know that Lutherans were involved in one of the landmark cases guaranteeing religious groups freedom from government interference? Learn more from the Becket Fund here.

Be Encouraged

As God’s people, no matter the politics, we have a unifying message, a message of grace and mercy that comes from the God who created, redeemed, and called us to be His own.” – Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, executive director, Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty

 

Before today's "new normal" was cool, a musical "new wave" was creating a different kind of "new normal" in the nation. As a product of the 1980s and 90s, I recall the new wave very well. However, remembering and appreciating aren't the same things. During the 80s and 90s, a new form of sub-genre music hit the cultural landscape like wildfire. This new wave was meant to be a mixture of rock and roll and pop music, which ironically didn't aid the quality of rock and roll or pop music. It was a terrible infection that has plagued me for most of my life, and I've been unable to find a vaccine for it anywhere.


If the media is to be believed, we will soon face a new wave of COVID-19. This threat comes after the first wave, where people found themselves sheltered in place and churches sheltered as "non-essential." Those in positions of decree disregarded our sacramental understanding of the church and our need to gather, eat, and drink Christ.  I also didn't expect them to regard it very highly. On the other hand, I did expect them to uphold the First Amendment. They didn't and benched our pastors. 

             According to our United States Caesars, this virus will quickly bring a second coming of disastrous sickness. As a result, many people look to the artists formerly known as pastors for what to do next and what our churches will do if this new wave on COVID creeps up on the horizon.  Why? Because churches and pastors were told that if they just shut their doors for the shelter in place time period, then they would be all set to worship in six weeks. It's been nearly six months, and people are sick of not receiving Jesus.

It's time to obey God rather than man and lift high the Christ as Moses did in the barren wilderness after the plague of burning snakes cut through the Israelites. It's time to open up and for pastors to be discerning and cautious with their people.  It’s time to tell them of the risks if there are any, and then go about being a pastor to their people. Give them Jesus and let Him be the final curate and physician of body and soul.

     The new wave music virus has never left us, and we are still weakened by its effects. There are still some unfortunate souls popping in tapes of Duran Duran, The Cure, and Culture Club. As frightening as that is, every once in awhile, you find a Talking Heads and bring something good out of a terrible musical plague. As a church body, may we find fidelity amid the COVID pandemic and put God before man and Caesar. It is my hope during this time of sickness that our church will not remain silent anymore, but will stand on the chief cornerstone and say, "Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me, God."

The Rev. Gaven Mize is pastor of Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hickory, N.C.

 

Be Informed

Supreme Court vacancies matter because the genocide of unborn children matter. Read more on why from one LCMS pastor.

 

Be Equipped

Regardless of claims people make today, the Church has been consistently pro-life throughout time. Dr. Gene Edward Veith explains.

 

Be Encouraged

God is the creator and author of life; it is He who gives value to life. Our world needs that absolute truth. As LCMS Lutherans, we have a clear confession … to share with our world. … Our witness is stronger when we stand together, professing life and confessing Christ.” – Deaconess Tiffany Manor, director, LCMS Life Ministry

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

 

Every year on October 31, Christians from around the world are reminded of a “reforming” movement that brought back to light the central message of the Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Freedom, Life, and Salvation were again heard as God’s gifts offered to sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the uniqueness of the freedom of the Gospel as God’s saving work in the world for all shook the foundations of the medieval world. It ushered in many of the precious freedoms that we enjoy in this world today. It clearly identified and distinguished the uniqueness of the eternal freedom that comes from knowing and trusting in God’s gracious work in Jesus from the cultural/political freedoms that come from public policy and citizenship. Distinguishing, cherishing, and engaging both freedoms is part of what it means to be a Christian citizen in the world for the sake of the culture and the mission of the Church.

Does such differentiation matter today? Is the awareness of the distinction between God’s preserving work from His saving work still important today? Or is it the product of a bygone era that no longer matters to a society so “advanced” as ours? What if I told you that Luther’s teaching, often called “Two-Kingdoms,” is more vital today than ever before? James Madison said as much he wrote about the uniqueness of the American government and its inspiration from the Reformation in a letter to Rev. Schaeffer, Dec. 3, 1821, saying:

It illustrates the excellence of a system which, by a due distinction, to which the genius and courage of Luther led the way, between what is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations. The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.[1https://www.kfuo.org/2020/10/01/coffee-hour-100120-lcms-life-ministry/">Listen here.

 

Be Equipped

Did you know that the Becket Fund assisted The Luthearn Church—Missouri Synod in clearing the way for in-person worship in Minnesota earlier this spring? Learn how here.

Be Encouraged

“I pray that the love of Christ emboldens you to rejoice in the Word and to speak it without fear of consequence … may future generations speak of us like we do of David, Josiah, Luther, and our forefathers. May our children say of you and me, ‘Our forefathers stood their ground on Christ alone, on His Word of truth alone.’ The truth has set you free. Enjoy your own personal reformation. Then let your freedom in Christ be contagious! Let your life continue to shout: Thank Jesus Christ my Savior! I’m free at last … and so are you! Amen.” –Rev. Peter Sulzle, St. John Lutheran Church, Redwood Falls, Minn., for Lutherans For Life

 

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

 

 

[1http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/10/Letter_from_James_Madison_to_FL_Schaeffer_1.html

Remember who is ultimately in control over all things: The same One into whom you were baptized—


  • Keep perspective.

Remember who is ultimately in control over all things: The same One into whom you were baptized—the Father who created you and gives all that you need for your body and life, Jesus Christ who has redeemed you paying for your sins by His crucifixion, and the Holy Spirit who has called you by the Gospel and continues to enlighten you with His gifts of Word and Sacraments. He loves you. He will never forsake you. He will guide you as He ever has now and throughout the future even to our eternal rest with Him.

You are a member of two kingdoms. One is eternal. The other is temporary. The eternal one is the true end goal.

  • Keep faith in God, not political leaders.

“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 146:3).

No political leader can be nor will be perfect, nor will they make decisions that will please all people. This is still a world broken by sin.

  • God works His will even in and through the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4).

The government in the United States is unique in that we have the ability and privilege to elect those who represent us in local, state and national elections for judges, representatives, governors, and president. The persons for whom we vote is important. Therefore, as members of this earthly kingdom we should desire to live out our faith as good citizens and support good and godly government for our good and the welfare of our neighbor.

  • Informed voting is essential. Do your research.

Do not vote because of endorsements of celebrities or because of what you “heard on the news.” Educate yourself on the stances of each candidate and party regarding biblical and moral issues like the sanctity of life from its conception to its natural end (are they prolife/anti-abortion, against euthanasia?), the protection of biblical marriage, and the freedom to worship without government interference.

Find out which party or candidate will protect Christians in the public sector. Will they defend the right of citizens to conduct business according to their confession of faith without being forced to go against conscience? Do they think that a person can be fired or denied advancement because of church membership or belief system? If they deny that right to believe and practice that faith in public vocation and life, then they should not receive your vote.

Pray without ceasing—for wisdom, for our government, for the world, for our neighbors. Pray that God’s kingdom would come and His will would be done here on earth as it is in heaven. Trust Him and go forward into those polling places with the peace that passes all understanding through Jesus Christ our Savior.

The Rev. Aaron Kangas is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Iuka, Ill., and Faith Lutheran Church, Flora, Ill.

Be Informed

The . . . question remaining is what of current law — e.g., the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1991, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC, or the First Amendment’s ‘free exercise clause’ — will leave us room to operate our churches, schools, universities and institutions according to our Christian doctrine and consciences.” Learn more from the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

 

Be Equipped

Learn more about the 44th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion. Dr. Michael New of the Charlotte Lozier Foundation explains.

 

Be Encouraged

Certainty [in Christhttps://www.lcms.org/givenow/LCRL">here to learn more or to donate.

Americans will soon be deciding who will be the next president of the United States. They will be determining whether they want to re-elect President Donald Trump or whether they wish to hand over the reins to the Democratic candidate, Senator Joseph Biden.


During this election season, I am repeatedly asked, “What are the most critical issues for people of faith in the election?” To me, the answers are clear-cut: religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and judges.

These three issues intersect because many of the attacks on religious liberty and the sanctity of life have come through the judiciary, which at times, has chosen to legislate from the bench, rather than fulfill its constitutional role of interpreting the law. This has been particularly true in cases involving religious liberty and life. That is why it is crucial to have judges who interpret, not make the law, and the next president will likely nominate at least two to three Supreme Court justices as several of them are in their 70s and 80s.

It is important that Christians and other people of faith be able to practice that faith in the public square without fear of governmental reprisal. Medical professionals, ministries, and family-owned businesses need to maintain the right to exercise their freedom of conscience when it comes to the issue of protecting human life.

In addition, it is critical for faith-based ministries and family-held businesses to be allowed to operate in accordance with their beliefs on human sexuality. Without conscience protections in place, faith-based adoption agencies and foster care agencies could be forced to close because they allegedly engage in “discrimination” because they adhere to faith-based standards when it comes to child placement. Faith- based schools and colleges also face potential legal attacks and closure if they require students to adhere to the school’s statement of faith and faith-based standards.

That is why it is essential that whoever is elected president takes steps to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their beliefs, can continue to live out their beliefs and exercise their freedom of conscience in the public square.

Sadly, over the past 60 years, we have seen that ability to practice one’s faith and abide by one’s conscience under increasing attack. The result of these attacks is a diminished voice for the church and its members in our public discourse. When faith is silenced, societal fissures occur, such as lack of civility we are presently experiencing and the breakdown of the family, which was recently documented in a report to the U.S. Senate. This is indeed a tragedy, and it is my hope that whoever is elected this November will encourage, rather than discourage, faithful Americans to take their rightful role as a strong and vibrant voice in our culture.

So, these are the serious issues that each faithful voter must consider whether they vote by mail or in- person. We must all seek God’s guidance as we make our choice because our decision will not impact the America of today, but the America of the future – and whether we, as believers, can be salt and light in our culture.

Tim Goeglein is vice-president of External Relations for Focus on the Family.

Be Informed

Need a new podcast to download? Issues, Etc. host the Rev. Todd Wilken discusses a new study entitled “The Protestant Family Ethic” with Dr. Brad Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies. Click here to listen.

Be Equipped

In need of a Lutheran voter guide? We’ve got you covered! Read more here.

Be Encouraged

The state should be interested in religion for this purpose: We produce good citizens. So stop attacking us. We are in every way a blessing for this country. We feel attacked for our fundamental convictions as if we're a detriment to our country. And that is a lie." – Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

 

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, OCTOBER 26, 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 verses are John 8:34-36,

 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.


THE FREEING GIFT OF A LIFETIME!

In 1973 Gary Kildall wrote the first popular operating system for personal computers, named CP/M. According to writer Philip Fiorini, IBM approached Kildall in 1980 and asked him to develop the operating system for IBM PCs. But Kildall snubbed IBM officials at a crucial meeting, according to another author, Paul Carroll. The day IBM came calling, he chose to fly his new airplane instead. The frustrated IBM executives then turned to Bill Gates, the founder of a small company named Microsoft, and his operating system named MS-DOS. Fourteen years later Bill Gates was worth more than eight billion dollars. Of Kildal, Paul Carroll also said, “He was a smart guy who didn’t realize how big the operating system would become.”[1]

It’s hard to imagine bypassing such a great opportunity. Kildall missed out on the chance of a lifetime, didn’t he? In our text for today, Jesus is offering something much more valuable than an operating system. He’s offering you a purposeful, eternal life that’s more precious than all the gold in the world. No one could have imagined how big and all-encompassing Microsoft would become. Even now, for those who believe in Jesus and His offer of freedom, we can’t fully comprehend how incredible and expansive that freedom is as well! We can only try to visualize the fullness of the kingdom of God and what it will be like when Christ returns in His glory. Jesus says of Himself, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Lord, then set me free!

This is Reformation weekend for many in the Christian church. It’s a time when we remember the work of Martin Luther who reformed the church by reminding believers of this great freedom in Christ. The clear teaching of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ came into this world to save us all, to forgive our sins, and to offer us new life in Him by grace and through faith alone. In a country that values temporal freedoms, make sure that you don’t miss the eternal freedom that God wants for you now and forever.

I think about Gary Kildall, how losing focus—flying his new plane rather than making the most of his opportunity— prevented him from receiving the break of a lifetime. Jesus states things even more clearly for us today. He clearly reminds us of our sinful predicament. But more importantly, He then offers us a freedom that only He can provide. Don’t let anything in this world tempt you away from receiving what Jesus wants for you. Take a moment, then, this weekend and thank God for the temporal liberties that you have, especially as an election day draws near. But never forget the ETERNAL FREEDOM that is the foundation of them all, the one that comes from the Son. Don’t miss out on the freeing gift of a lifetime and of all eternity.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, what freedom You have for us to receive and to share. Continue to give us faith to receive it with joy and then to share it boldly with those whom You bring into our lives. AMEN.

 

[1] Craig Brian Larson. ed. Contemporary Illustrations For Preachers, Teachers & Writers. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996 p. 197

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, OCTOBER 19, 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 verses are Matthew 22:18-21, where the Bible says,

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”


GOOD NEWS AND GREAT NEWS!

I’ve got good news and I’ve got very good news. Ready? All the struggles of the moment, like COVID 19, civil unrest, and anxiety about the future, cannot ultimately overwhelm believers. Why? It’s not because of who we are, that’s for sure. We’ve got the same fears, anxieties, and challenges as other people. Thankfully, it has to do with who God is. The Bible proclaims that God is at work right now to preserve the world (Romans 13:1-7). And, even better, God is at work saving the world through the proclamation of the Gospel (Matthew 24:14; John 3:16). Jesus said a very interesting thing in today’s reading, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  A few days later as Jesus heads toward the cross, Pontus Pilate, the governor of Judea, claimed that he had authority over Jesus himself. Jesus responded, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above”(John 19:11). Wow! God is at work. He saves the world through the person and work of Jesus. THAT’S THE MAIN MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE.

Whether it’s amidst Roman rule, Greek city states, Egyptian pharoahs, or our constitutional republic, God is at work both to preserve and to save. Since the main message of the Bible is about saving the world through the unique person and work of Jesus Christ for all, God preserves the world so that all might hear it for themselves. God attempts to keep the world civil, humane, just, and safe (outwardly), even through people like Caesar and Pilate. You see, God is at work in the world in two distinct ways. First, he desires to keep things civil, humane, and just through His created orders of family, work, and government. As I like to put it, God works through fathers, mothers, businesspeople, and leaders, broken and sinful though they are. God still works through them to prevent chaos and all hell from breaking loose. That’s called God’s Left Hand Kingdom rule, His engagement to preserve order. That’s good news. But that’s not the great news of God’s Right Hand Kingdom work which freely grants salvation by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus. Yet the Left Hand Kingdom work of God, through even relatively moral unbelievers, is also part of His work of blessing.

When Christians engage in the public realm, though it is full of philosophies, ideologies, and appetites emanating from sinful, broken people just like us, we know that there is good work to do to keep things sane, humane, just, and safe. But that work is part of God’s greater work to get the ultimate message of Christ out there for all to hear. Yes, keep it orderly and safe, so the Church can speak. Keep it just, so chaos is kept at bay. Give us rules to live by, so there can be opportunities to share a message of grace over the fences of neighbors living side by side in peace. God’s two distinct ways in His “Two Kingdoms” involve two specific types of engagement, YET HIS ONE MISSION REMAINS TO ULTIMATELY BLESS THE WORLD NOW AND FOREVER IN AND THROUGH JESUS CHRIST.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us the commitment and will to be Your voice of the Law and the Gospel so that we might be a part of the solutions You have for our communities, as well as the voice of grace for hearts aware of their need for Your forgiveness. AMEN.

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 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 Philippians 4:4-7, where St. Paul writes,

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


THE JOY-FILLED, JOYFUL JOURNEY!


Catherine Marshall, a New York times best-selling author and wife of Dr. Peter Marshall, former Chaplain of the Senate, shared this compelling experience of her friend Marge on a flight to Cleveland:
As [Marge] settled into her seat, she noticed a strange phenomenon. On one side of the airplane a sunset suffused the entire sky with glorious color. But out of the window next to her seat, all Marge could see was a sky dark and threatening, with no sign of the sunset.

As the plane’s engines began to roar, a gentle Voice spoke within her. “You have noticed the windows,” He murmured beneath the roar and thrust of the takeoff. “Your life, too, will contain some happy, beautiful times, but also some dark shadows. Here’s a lesson I want to teach you to save you much heartache and allow you to abide in Me with continual peace and joy.”

“You see, it doesn’t matter which window you look through; this plane is still going to Cleveland. So it is in your life. You have a choice. You can dwell on the gloomy picture. Or you can focus on the bright things and leave the dark, ominous situations to Me. I alone can handle them anyway. And the final destination is not influenced by what you see or feel along the way. Learn this, act on it and you will be released, able to experience the peace that passes understanding."
Now it is hard for me, as a Detroit boy, to use a story that compares a “plane flight to Cleveland” with one’s joy-filled journey to heaven! But the illustration about the “certainty of one’s destination” makes the point clear. In spite of the realities of each window, that plane’s destination was sure. What a great way to illustrate the graced life of a believer in a sinful world, calling us to remember that no matter the challenges in this world (the windows) our eternal destination with Christ is sure. The daily challenge then is how to frame your daily walk until you see Christ face to face. Will you dwell on the sunsets or the storms? Will you trust in the certainty of the destination or will you be overwhelmed by the challenges of each day? I think that’s what Paul is getting at when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.”

Now, we need to differentiate “joy” from “happiness.” Happiness is something dependent on our temporal circumstances, what happens to us day to day. Joy is different. It’s not a by-product of our actions or of our best efforts. The Bible says that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Joy is a result of God’s action on our behalf, a blessing that comes when we are in a faith relationship with the One who redeemed and reconciled us to Himself again. That’s why Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” It is about knowing Him. It’s knowing that He is with us and that His promises are true for us, no matter the circumstance. It’s about knowing and believing that the guilt we struggle with or the fears we possess are issues that He has taken “head on” on the cross. Our troubles are His; His life is ours. That’s JOY!

So today, put His joy to work in your life! Face the challenges of the day knowing the joy of how precious your life is to Christ. Because of the gift of joy in Him, we can face the challenges of the day. Because of joy in Him, we can deal with whatever is outside each window, whether gloomy clouds or sunshine, and not be overwhelmed or seduced by either. In joy, we can be assured that “God works all things together for good to those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). Here’s to the challenges and the opportunities of your life of faith in Christ. Here’s to JOY!
PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us courage to be an honoring people in a dishonoring world. Also give us humility to be a believing people in an unbelieving world so that others might get to know You as Lord and Savior. AMEN.

http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-bobby-scobey-stories-66879.asp

 

 

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, OCTOBER 05, 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 Philippians 3:12-14, where St. Paul writes this about himself:

 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.


THE POWER OF PERSEVERING FAITH!

Each Monday and Friday, we continue to send you our LCRL’s “Word from the Center.” On Monday, it is a devotional, encouraging word from the Bible. On Friday, it’s more like a “Two-Kingdom” Op-ed piece which comments on an issue of the day; it demonstrates how to apply Jesus’ call to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” in our own day and culture (Matthew 22:21). In so doing, we put our temporal liberties to work in service to the eternal liberties of Christ. But why should we send you both? Why Monday AND Friday? Why not just the Two-Kingdom opinion page or more news from Washington, D.C.? Why a devotion too? With all that has happened this last year, that might be self-explanatory! But let me share with you “why” nonetheless.

Each week, the LCRL engages the fundamental cultural/political issues in our country as an advocate of our church. We need to be well versed in knowing God’s preserving work in our communities, our country, and even the world. But that work is ultimately for the sake of the clear, continued, public teaching of the Good News of Jesus for all. In other words, it is in service to His saving work. Above all the noise, we share with you the ministry of being Christ’s encouraging presence amidst a world full of sin, destruction, and death. You see, the ultimate encouragement, “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), doesn’t come from our efforts, our works, or our policies. Instead it comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, delivered through His means of grace which come to us in His Word, the Bible. That’s why we at the LCRL start each week with a Monday Devotional, a saving and encouraging Word. Then we share wisdom based upon God’s preserving Word on Friday. It’s a both/and thing!

St. Paul reminds us today that the ultimate goal of life remains the heavenward prize of eternal life that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This side of heaven, that goal is often challenged, undermined, silenced, and even persecuted. In the midst of all that, Paul makes sure that we know the life-persevering gifts of our Savior and the persevering nature of faith in Him. Faith in Jesus means that we can trust that the struggles of the moment are nothing compared to blessings that are yet to come. So, today, be encouraged by the fact that the power of that faith does not reside in how much or how strong we believe. No, the power of faith is its object! And when the object of faith is the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus, the One who has prepared a place for everyone who puts their faith IN HIM (see John 14:2), we can face whatever comes our way with the persevering strength and wisdom that faith in Jesus provides.

So, BE ENCOURAGED today with faith in the One who created and redeemed the universe, who sacrificed all so that you and I could live forever with Him. BE ENCOURAGED today because even though things may not look like “all is well,” God himself is at work in the world in two distinct ways to preserve and ultimately to save. And, finally, BE FURTHER ENCOURAGED by the very Words of the One who lived, died, and rose again for you. Often in places like Washington, D.C., one realizes pretty quickly how few people keep their word or offer an encouraging message that endures. That’s why we start you off every Monday with an encouraging word from the Bible that empowers each of us to persevere through the week, even as it instills hope that lasts. Bank on it and look for it every Monday, right here!

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us courage to be a faithful people in a faithless world. Let us be an honoring people in a world that very seldom honors anyone but self. Give us humility to be a believing people in an unbelieving world so that others might get to know You as Lord and Savior. AMEN.

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 Matthew 21:23 which says,

23 And when [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

 


BY WHOSE AUTHORITY?

“Authority” almost seems like a dirty word today, doesn’t it? Many today even feel empowered by disrespecting authority. Children regularly dishonor their parents. Students dishonor their teachers more and more often. While critique and reform of the police are understandable, outright disrespect for them is not. And in America, government officials, who are supposed to be “public servants,” shouldn’t be able to disregard people, especially when it comes to their freedom to believe and to worship God freely without fear. Ever since the Fall, both disrespect for authority and the misuse of it have always been issues because deep in our hearts we all sinfully believe that God doesn’t know what’s best for us. We do.

But the Lord tells us to honor Him, to honor His moral ordering of His world, to honor father and mother (Exodus 20:12), and to honor those in authority over us, even “Caesar” himself (see Matthew 22:21). In so doing, He’s calling us to honor His preserving work, even as we put our faith in His saving work. That’s what is at stake for you and me today. It’s that serious. If we become a people who openly dishonor God’s will, it will become hard for us to remain a believing people, and faith in Him alone is what finally saves us.

In our lesson today, Jesus’ authority is questioned. The chief priest and the elders of Jesus’ day thought that Roman rule was illegitimate, so they felt justified in merging biblical hopes about the coming Messiah with their own political ends. But, even worse, their questioning of Jesus was intended to marginalize His very work as the Messiah for the world. Into this milieu walks Jesus. He differentiates God’s preserving work from His saving work (Matthew 22:21). He eventually asserts that “all authority in heaven and earth” has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). Throughout His ministry, Jesus is establishing His legitimacy to save and, in the end, to judge the world. Why? Because there is life and salvation in Him alone for He is Christ, the very Son of God, above whom there is no greater authority."

That’s what is at stake for each of us. Today, too many revel in the power to “disrespect,” while not realizing it eventually leads to tyranny and destruction. To be people of faith, we should be those who honor God and His authority over us in all things. Honoring God’s authority directs our eyes to the proclamation of His greatest work, sending His Son as our Savior. When Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom He has sent” (John 6:29), that’s what matters and endures. With full authority, Jesus tells us, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). With full authority, Jesus sends out His disciples to “make disciples of all nations” and to “forgive others” in His name (Matthew 28:19; John 20:23).

By whose authority? By His. He sets before you life and death, honor and dishonor, salvation and judgment. Most importantly, Jesus’ gracious authority means He Himself is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” for you and for all (John 14:6). So put your faith in Him above all things for life now and life forever.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us courage to be an honoring people in a dishonoring world. Even more importantly, give us humility to be a believing people in an unbelieving world so that others might also get to know you as Lord and Savior. AMEN.

 

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 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 the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 6-7, where he says,

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon him while He is near;  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

 


THE OFFER OF GOD’S COMPASSION AND PARDON!

People today are running around demanding apologies and retribution. It’s a very difficult time in our country because many don’t truly believe in “right and wrong” anymore, yet they are still certain that their accusations against others are just. Even worse, most really have no idea as to what should be done to change things for the better. Sinful people have a bad habit of pointing fingers at others and demanding that they change, as if those accusations somehow get them “off the hook.” Our text for today doesn’t let anyone get away with such things. The main question is, “What does God think about our lives, according to His standards?” And, when we fail to meet those standards, the next question becomes, “Is there any hope?” Isaiah calls us all to account before the LORD in thought, word, and deed, but also then invites us to return to God in repentance and faith. Real blessings only happen there.

I was reminded about how destructive it can be when those questions are ignored. When I was in Germany several years ago, a young woman (not much more than 21) led us through the Dachau death camp. It was a sobering experience. It’s hard to imagine how human beings could do such things. Many Germans have had to struggle with that fact too. How could such things have happened during World War II in a country that was so “progressive” intellectually and culturally? How indeed! But, sadly, I learned that, instead of individually asking question about why so many Germans had fallen away from God, they preferred to find scapegoats, blaming citizens of places like Dachau by projecting all that “sin” on them. This young woman was one of those scapegoats. She wasn’t even born when the atrocities happened, yet many Germans had “tarred and feathered” her merely because she was born in Dachau. They imagined, “It was those Dachau people, you see, not the rest of us.” As a result, young girls like her were forced to live in shame so that others could feel satisfied to go about their merry way. The problem? The main questions were still unanswered.

We, as Americans, are dealing with many issues today and the real problem is that we don’t see how far we’ve fallen away from the things of God and the moral truths of the Bible. Many think that politics can “save” us. But politics won’t ultimately help a people who feel no need to get right with God on His terms. Like Isaiah, Jesus reminds us of that urgency when He declares that whoever is angry with his brother is subject to judgement as a murderer (Matthew 5:21-22). He also says, “Whoever looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus finally concludes that, in order to meet God’s standard, you must “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Then, when you begin to feel the real weight of your own sin before God, Isaiah urges us to “seek the LORD while He may be found.” Don’t give into the temptation to falsely cast your guilt on others. Don’t give in to the temptation to shift blame to your parents, your teachers, or “the system.” Sin, your sin, is so much more serious than all of that.

But when that crushing reality hits, it’s time to realize that God has a message for sinners like you and me. There is one who took away the crushing blow of your sin and mine as only He could. While it’s wrong to try to cast your guilt upon other sinners, Jesus, your Savior, invites you to bring all of your sin to His cross. Isaiah tells us to seek the LORD. Jesus calls us to put our faith in Him (John 14:1).

I don’t know if we’re going to come out of this malaise today because I don’t yet see “a turning to God” movement. Most people aren’t asking, “What does the Bible say about these things?” or, “What does God think about our lives, about my life?” Instead, people feel confident about condemning the sins and faults of others, while remaining oblivious to their own. In the midst of this, take Isaiah’s prophetic advice for today, “Return to the LORD,” and be honest before Him “for He will abundantly pardon.” Then, in response, live lives of grace and truth toward others. That’s not just a start; that’s the only thing that will last.

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, give us confidence to trust in your “exposing” word, as well as your “saving” word. Then give us courage to live lives graciously in Your name for others. AMEN.

 

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 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 verses are Matthew 18:21-22 which says,

21 Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

 


THE POWER OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS IN ACTION!

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something (and I would add, someone) to forgive.”[1] Actually, forgiveness doesn’t even seem to be a “lovely idea” anymore. Resentment, revenge, retribution, and “gettin’ mine” seem to be the prevalent ideas of the day. Forgiveness? Who needs it? Maybe that’s the real issue. I really believe that at the root of many of our modern maladies lies the false bravado that 21st century people don’t need forgiveness anymore. And, as a result, they don’t much care to share it either. It may well be out of vogue because nobody seems to believe in sin either. Well, our text for today sets us straight, and makes a bold offer anew.

Let’s start with Peter. He was a person much like you and me. He wanted in on the things of Jesus, but he wanted such things on his terms. Now, better than many of us, Peter at least seems to take his sin seriously. When he came to Jesus, he asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” From a human point of view, Peter takes sin and forgiveness very seriously, and he is willing to go the extra mile to share it. I mean, who would forgive someone seven times? If they wronged you once, forgiveness almost makes sense; after all, it’s better not to wallow in resentment and pain. If they wrong you two times, forgiveness demonstrates your willingness to go the extra mile. If they wrong you three times and you forgive, you demonstrate that you are a person of virtue, one whose heart is greater than your emotions. Peter was willing to go to the absolute limit of seven times! That’s pretty good stuff compared to most people. But if you forgive again and again and again, isn’t that a sign of weakness?

After his reply to Peter, Jesus tells a story about two men (see Matthew 18:23-35). One owed a tremendous debt to a king. In modern terms, let’s say it was ten million dollars and he had no way to repay it. He begs for mercy from the king and the king FORGAVE his entire debt and set him free. How would you feel if you had a $10,000,000 debt forgiven? Then what would you do with a person who owed you $100? Jesus said that this man left the king and met a person who owed him a much smaller debt; this amount of money could have been paid back or, better, “forgiven” as he had just been forgiven. But in the story the forgiven man had the other man thrown into debtors’ prison until the debt was repaid. That angered the king who harshly judged the unmerciful, thankless person in the end.

What is the point? Your sins and mine are a huge problem in our relationship with God and with each another. Our crushing debt comes from our sins of pride, lust, sloth, vanity, selfishness, anger, and so on. These drive us away from the God who loves us and apart from each other. Through His parable, Jesus tries to set Peter straight about how forgiven he really is. In response, Jesus calls for Peter to put that forgiveness to work in and through His life for others. Forgiveness received as a gift remains alive in us as we share that gift with others in Christ’s name. But forgiveness hoarded or denied to others, contrary to the way in which God makes it available to us, eventually causes it to die in our lives as well (see Matthew 6:14-15). Jesus doesn’t want Peter to miss out on what only He can give, forgiveness for the crushing debt of his sin because of Jesus’ merciful life, death, and resurrection for all.

If Jesus won’t limit His forgiveness toward you to seven times, then don’t let anything get in the way of sharing it with those who ask for it from you. If you are having trouble forgiving someone at the moment, reflect on how completely forgiven you are in Christ. Then try to speak your own forgiving words to them with gentleness and humility. Trust in the power of Jesus’ forgiveness to you to flow through you to others. There’s nothing else like it in this world!

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, please help me to see how You sustain my relationship with You. Let me see the depth of your mercy and grace to me. Let me see the wisdom of your word to me. Then guide me in my relationships with others to be the best friend, spouse, parent or whatever I can be as a reflection of the love and grace I’ve received from You. AMEN.

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 7.

 

WORD FROM THE CENTER: MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 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 Matthew 18:20, where Jesus says,

20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”


THE POWER OF GATHERING!

Who would have ever thought that gathering in the name of Jesus would be such a political statement with cultural and even legal ramifications? Who would have thought that the mayor of Chicago would send police to harass worshippers who were gathering amidst the COVID-19 crisis, while ongoing gang violence permeates their neighborhood? Who would have thought that Lutheran and Roman Catholic leaders would have to write their governor and demand that their congregations be treated as “essential” businesses in the community, you know, just like liquor stores, malls, and casinos? Who would have ever imagined that church leaders in California would be threatened with arrest and jail just for gathering God’s people together in worship? And, remember, in most of these instances religious leaders were faithful to the “scientific” calls for social distancing, proper hygiene, and mask wearing. Why would the church risk enduring the coercive punishment of the state in order to gather for worship? Because there is power in gathering together in the name of Jesus!

Now, I might remind you that there are nefarious reasons for many of the shutdowns around the country. Why would these government leaders target the church so vociferously when protests and even riots are treated with relative indifference? But let’s not go there right now. Instead, I want to point out that gathering together in worship is way bigger than politics. As believers in Jesus, we earnestly desire to meet in person for a much different reason. There is power in gathering together around the Word and Sacraments because they are the very “in-fleshed” gifts of God to create and sustain our faith.

God created us to be a gathering people. He wants us to gather with family, friends, and others whom we love. He especially wants those relationships to be centered upon and resourced by His love and His Word. Yes, contact matters, hugs matter, handshakes matter, pats on the back matter, and kneeling with each other matters. Even more so, receiving the Word of God in our ears through the reading of Scripture, as well as in our mouths in Holy Communion or splashed over our heads or all over our bodies in Baptism, matters. 

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me that isolation is not healthy for people. We were made to be together, to gather together, and to live life “face to face.” The social scientists and the psychologists agree (and my wife, Dr. Marie Seltz, concurs!). The isolation which we are being compelled to experience at the moment has real downsides. While there are some blessings to social distancing, there are increased risks too. Social isolation is leading to a rise in mental health issues, substance abuse, and even domestic violence. As the Bible says even of Adam in the paradise of Eden, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

Furthermore, the power of our gathering is much more than merely being together again (as wonderful as that is/will be). The power of our gathering resides in the fact that the Lord chooses to dwell with us. He chooses to be “really present” in the Law/Gospel words of the Bible, in the waters of Baptism, and in the bread and the wine of our Lord’s Supper so that you can hear, touch, taste and see how good the Lord is for you and me by grace through faith. The Jesus we worship never lets anything get in the way of His coming all the way to where we are to love us. For example, He willingly made His way to lepers, touching them with His love when no one else would even draw near. He made up His mind as to how He would exercise His freedom to love others into His Kingdom.

Listen, I’m not casting a shadow on those who are still struggling with the risks of COVID-19, preferring to continue to “gather” online. My point is to remind us that when we do gather, it is not merely to make a political, medical, or even cultural point. We gather because the Lord gathers us. He is truly present, calling us to Himself in order to bless us with His Word and the love shared by those in the Body of Christ, His church. And there is nothing quite like receiving that “bear hug” of grace from the Lord who lived, died, and rose against so that you might live forever with Him!

PRAYER – Dear Lord Jesus, protect us from the present pandemic, and protect us as we gather again around your Word and Sacraments that we might receive and share the love that only You can give. AMEN.

Who has the credentials to properly educate children? What do citizens owe their state for the provision of public education? How do diverse educational settings create inequity for some students?


These questions (and many, many more) have been bandied about in the Education Wars for years, but are having a new moment in the spotlight thanks to Covidtide. The status of many brick-and-mortar schools and co-ops is up in the air. And while school boards, administrators, teachers and parents scramble for logistical solutions, the ugly political tribalism underneath current public discourse creates more division. We are asking the wrong questions and have forgotten the answers to the right ones. 

Though the world has very different ideas about the responsibilities and rights of the parent and the power and obligations of the state, Lutheran parents are sure in the directives for our vocation, unchanged for thousands of years:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9).

Who are the primary educators of the child? The same people through whom God provides every other temporal need for the child: the parents. What is the substance of this education? The life of faith. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). These are the only questions that matter. In the Lutheran church, the education of our children starts the same way: Bring the babies to the font! Hear and confess the promises of God they receive in this Sacrament. Remind them of it every day. 

When formal instruction is to begin, there are many educational settings and ideologies to choose from. Public, charter, private, homeschool, now “enhanced” with Covidtide features such as “delayed or unpredictably intermittent in-person instruction” and “this parent you used to be friends with now hates you because you differ on mask-wearing in outdoor spaces.” Lurking beneath the (probably? hopefully) temporary Covid challenges, is a new heightened awareness about the curricular quality and content implemented in most public schools. 

Each setting has its own benefits, obstacles, expense and educational philosophy. As we navigate continuing education in Coronaschool, we must prioritize those institutions that recognize parents as the primary educators. Any other educative authority must operate in loco parentis, in place of the parent. Lutheran parents must reject any institutions that devalue or usurp the vocation of parenthood and deny the truth of God’s Word. 

Katie Winterstein is a wife, mother and former teacher at Immanuel Lutheran School, Alexandria, Va.

 

Be Informed

Is it possible to have political conversations in a calm and helpful way? Dr. Korey Maas of Hillsdale College gives some helpful pointers.

 

Be Equipped

Have you read the Synod’s latest Free to Be Faithful newsletter? Click here to read more about the impact of recent Supreme Court cases, public discourse and how COVID-19 restrictions are impacting LCMS military members.

 

Be Encouraged

 

“There are many things you could be anxious and worried about – race relations, politics, pandemics and so much more. Only when we sit at the feet of Jesus, focus on Him and hear His Word can we get the right perspective.” – Rev. Roy Askins

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

Recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court, some supportive of religious freedom and some not, are drawing the attention of churches and other faith-based nonprofits, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Synod leaders have been closely following the rulings and their potential impact on Christians’ free exercise of their religion.


Bostock v. Clayton County

On June 15, in a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition of employment discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” — part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — also applies to discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh dissented, asserting that the Court went beyond its proper role of interpreting the law and, in changing a definition to include meanings the U.S. Congress has rejected multiple times, rewrote the law. This is a “transgression of the Constitution’s separation of powers,” Kavanaugh wrote.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented, stating, “There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation.”

The Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty (LCRL), called the ruling “outrageous” in its relegation of “Christian citizens to second-class status in their own country.”

“[The churchhttps://www.lcms.org/social-issues/free-to-be-faithful">Free to Be Faithful newsletter, noted that the ruling could have widespread implications not only for the church but for the culture: “Among the questions left unanswered are whether men’s access to women’s dressing rooms and sports leagues will be mandated … [whetherhttps://blogs.lcms.org/2020/faith-in-the-public-square-us-supreme-court-decisions-impact-religious-principles-freedom/">Click here to read more from Reporter about other important cases.

 

Be Informed

Big things are happening when it comes to religious liberty, but are they enough? Dr. Ryan Anderson notes that, “Through legislation and litigation, we need to make it clear that it’s lawful to act on the convictions that we are created male and female and that male and female are created for each other. Privacy and safety at a shelter, equality on an athletic field, and good medicine are at stake for everyone—religious or not.” Read more here.

 

Be Equipped

What is the future of abortion law in America today? Clarke Forsythe of Americans United for Life explains.
 

Be Encouraged

“While the fights among political parties and media outlets continue interminably, Christ has already won the final struggle against the devil. And regardless of the news cycle, Christ gives this victory to you.” – Andrew Egger, staff writer, The Dispatch

Dear COVID Couples,


I won’t lie. My wedding was perfect. We picked a date (even before we were engaged), we found an amazing venue, and our friends and family eagerly awaited the day they could join us to celebrate God’s institution of marriage. After the longest seven months of our lives, we enjoyed the robust singing of hundreds of family and friends in a beautiful sanctuary supported by the swell of Concordia Ann Arbor’s robust pipe organ as we vowed, “Yes, with the help of God.” Many stressors and plot twists arose as we planned our day, but with the wonderful support of our family and friends, we enjoyed the perfect day, exactly as planned.


Tragically, for so many of you, this will never be a reality. The shock at the prospect of not only having to alter your wedding plans, but perhaps even postpone or cancel them, is something I’ll never experience. But I won’t apologize for that fact. Why? Because you, the Christian couples of the COVID age, have an opportunity to seize. Instead of prolonging your engagement, consider marrying closer to (or even on) your original date. Ask your pastor to marry you on your original date, even if it’s only in front of a few family members. Prioritize the union before God rather than a party before friends. Such a task may be difficult; heartbreaking, even. Fathers want to walk their daughters down the aisle while a full sanctuary looks on, teary-eyed and joyful. Mothers want that dance with their sons at the reception. But consider this prospect: Instead of being the generation that mourned the loss of their weddings, be the generation that celebrated the start of their marriages.

Some of you might not be concerned. You might be sleeping over or already having sex. You might already be living together. Our bodies are gifts to be loved, shared and cared for, but consider how giving other your bodies before giving your vows de-incentivizes the need to solidify this holy union that God designed, even before sin. The fact of the matter is this: The less you prioritize a godly union, the less likely you’ll want to be married before God or, for that matter, at all. At this point, what would your wedding be celebrating? The union God has created for your good? Or just you two?

COVID has disrupted our economy and our livelihoods. Don’t let marriages be next on that chopping block. Face this pandemic together as husband and wife under Christ. COVID has re-awakened us to the reality of the changes and chances of this life; it’s not good for man to face it alone. Celebrate the blessing of your union when we can receive God’s gifts together once more. In the meantime, don’t put it off. Get married. God willing, start a family. Be the generation that shows that not even COVID can damage the Christian couple. Don’t postpone the wedding. Prioritize your marriage.

Emily Cockran is a wife, mother and instructor at Wittenberg Academy.

 

Be Informed

Big things are happening when it comes to religious liberty, but are they enough? Dr. Ryan Anderson notes that, “Through legislation and litigation, we need to make it clear that it’s lawful to act on the convictions that we are created male and female and that male and female are created for each other. Privacy and safety at a shelter, equality on an athletic field, and good medicine are at stake for everyone—religious or not.” Read more here.

 

Be Equipped

What is the future of abortion law in America today? Clarke Forsythe of Americans United for Life explains.
 

Be Encouraged

“While the fights among political parties and media outlets continue interminably, Christ has already won the final struggle against the devil. And regardless of the news cycle, Christ gives this victory to you.” – Andrew Egger, staff writer, The Dispatch

 

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

 

The Lutheran Way of Resistance and the American Revolution

Lutherans are often criticized for submitting to government authority no matter what, which is strange to say of a movement that had its beginnings in a rebellion against the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope and which was legally established only after the revolution of the Thirty Years War.


But Lutherans do take Romans 13, along with the rest of the Bible, seriously, and there developed a Lutheran theology of resistance to unjust governments formulated in the Magdeburg Confession  of 1550.

John Kleinig sent me a 2001 article by the Baylor Reformation scholar David M. Whitford entitled “John Adams, John Ponet, and a Lutheran Influence on the American Revolution,” in Lutheran Quarterly, 15 (2001): 143-157.  (Not available online except through a library’s ATLAS or EBSCO account.)

Whitford points out that John Adams, who was involved with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and with promoting the American Revolution arguably more than Jefferson, says that his influence was not Jefferson’s John Locke but John Ponet.  He was a Protestant English bishop who fled the Catholic persecutions of Mary Tudor (a.k.a. “Bloody Mary”) and lived in exile in Strasbourg, then a Lutheran city in present-day France.  Here Ponet interacted with Lutheran divines and became acquainted with the Magdeburg Confession, which served as the basis for his own  Short Treatise on Political Power.

Click here to read the rest of Dr. Veith’s article.

Be Informed

The Nebraska State Legislature [recently] approved by 33 to 8 the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, a bill that bans a late term abortion practice that involves pulling the arms and legs off of a living unborn baby.” Did you know? Click here to learn more about this landmark case.

 

 

 

Be Equipped

When it comes to matters of faith and life in the church, are religious restrictions allowed or do they infringe on religious liberty? The Family Research Council explains.

 

 

 

Be Encouraged

“More than 61 million unborn children have died as a result of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions. However, through the right-to-life movement’s determination to protect mothers and their children, we continue to see evidence that our efforts to educate America about the unborn child’s humanity, and our efforts to enact protective pro-life legislation, are having a tremendous impact in moving our nation away from Roe and Doe’s deadly legacy.” – Carol Tobias, National Right to Life president

 

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It’s Friday, September 11. But no matter what day 9/11 falls upon each year, the events of that Tuesday morning in 2001 will be forever be burned into my memory. On that second Tuesday in September, I was confronted by the scenes of New York City’s burning towers on TV in California just before 6:00 a.m. We had just moved from New York City to Irvine, Calif., that summer. Ironically, I had stood on the observation deck of the Towers just two months before. And, even more ironically, had we still been living in New York that day, I would have been downtown leading a Bible study on Wall Street at 8:00 a.m. Then, after the study at 8:45 a.m., I would have been walking to the subway station under the Twin Towers to venture back to the Church for All Nations just as the first plane hit.


On a day when I would have been in the heart of the business district of New York City freely sharing how faith in Jesus can change the lives of the power brokers of Wall Street, another ideology was planning to demolish all the “power buildings” of my country, buildings like the Twin Towers, Wall Street, the Pentagon and the White House. In the weeks after that first 9/11, our country came together with a unified zeal, committed to defending our homeland against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But that soon changed. Very shortly thereafter, the mantra was no longer, “Why are they so evil?” Instead, the question became, “Why do others hate America so much?” Why, indeed? Like a battered spouse, we made others’ evils our responsibility and demonized healthy patriotism and respect for the many blessings of America for all. Just recently, I saw a protestor holding up a sign that said, “Religious Freedom is Christian Terrorism.” The men who flew those planes into our buildings could have said the same thing.

Is America worth defending? Is America worth dying for? I point you to an article by Dinesh D’Souza titled “What’s Great About America”[1https://www.lcms.org/about/beliefs/faqs/lcms-views#same-sex-marriage">said by clicking here.

 

 

Be Equipped

Dr. Joel Biermann takes a closer look at voting and the American conscience. Listen to this recent podcast from Issues, Etc. on your way to work!

 

 

Be Encouraged

“We should be out in the forefront leading on economics, on trade, on race, on class, on every subject that matters for what our founders called the “general welfare;” because we have a lot to offer, not just to protect our own rights, but for the good of all of our fellow citizens; because as religious believers, we know that serving our fellow citizens—of whatever their religious faith, whatever their commitments may be—serving them, aiding them, working for them, is one of the signature ways that we show a love of neighbor.” – Senator Josh Hawley, Missouri

 

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[1https://www.heritage.org/political-process/report/whats-great-about-america

The doctrine of the two kingdoms is most often applied to the Christian's obligations to the state, but it also illuminates the cultural controversies which are causing so much confusion in today's church.


Should Christians get involved in politics? Yes, as part of our vocation in God's secular kingdom. The goal should not be necessarily the election of Christian rulers, nor to make America a "Christian nation." Rather, it should be to apply God's law in our social relationships and to establish justice and righteousness in our land. Abortion, for example, is a monstrous crime against the weakest and most defenseless in our society, and Christians are right to work against this evil, as against many others. Christians in politics must play by political rules, whether hard-ball power plays or the arts of compromise and consensus building. The church should be gentle and loving, while never compromising its doctrines. The rough-and-tumble of the political process, however, means that Christian politicians should not be prevented from exercising power or from making a tactical compromise by the charge that to do so is "not Christian." That confuses the kingdoms. Christian politicians, however, like all politicians, must exercise their power justly and in accordance with God's law.

Can a Christian take part in the expressions of the surrounding culture? Yes. Christians are still part of their culture and can be expected to share the tastes of their neighbors. A Christian can enjoy, perform, and get involved in secular art forms; they need not be religious, but they are subject to God's law. Christians need to draw the line at music or any other form of entertainment that violates God's canons of morality by tempting us to sin.

Can a Christian, then, like rock music? Yes, for the most part. This does not mean, however, that Christians should demand rock music in church. The secular kingdom, again, must be kept separate from the spiritual kingdom. Churches must keep themselves distinct from the surrounding culture.

To return to our earlier categories, a liberal would have little trouble accepting any brand of currently popular music and would even import it into the church. By this way of thinking, the church must always give in and conform itself to whatever the culture is doing. A Christian who believes in Christ above culture would reject secular music and try to devise a completely distinct Christian style, to which every subsequent piece of music should conform. A Christian who believes in Christ against culture would allow the world its own music but never listen to it, developing instead a separate Christian musical style.

A Two Kingdoms approach would allow the Christian to enjoy secular music, even, for those with the God-given talent, to pursue a musical vocation. The Christian's standards for this music would be God's moral law, but also God's aesthetic laws, which were built into the created order and human nature by God himself. The Christian musician might express his or her faith artistically, but the work would be assessed not primarily by its theology but by its aesthetic merits, which also come under God's dominion. The music, though, would not have to be explicitly religious at all it is part of God's dominion even in its secularity.

This same Christian musician, whether a rock 'n' roller or a concert violinist, would very likely object to electric guitars or chamber music in church. Art designed to please and to gratify the senses has its place, but worship belongs to the Word of God. Here, theological truth must take priority. The purpose is not to entertain the congregation but to convict them of sin and convert them to Christ. The audience is not the culture but God, whom the entire congregation is seeking to glorify in his terms, not ours.

Ken Myers has said in his brilliant book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes that the contemporary church has reversed Christ's injunction to be in the world, but not of the world. Instead, he says, we are not in the world with our separate schools, bookstores, music companies, and other cultural institutions, so that we seldom interact with non-believers and yet, we are of the world. Our music, stores, schools, and corporate structures, may be separate, but they are exactly like their secular counterparts.

Recognizing God's double sovereignty over all of life can enable Christians to be engaged in a positive, transforming way, with their culture without succumbing to the deadly, spirit-quenching sin of worldliness. It is a formula for both faithfulness and relevance.

Dr. Gene Edward Veith is the author of some 20 books regarding Christianity and culture. A retired English professor and college administrator, he also directs the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. Reprinted courtesy LCMS Life Ministry

Be Informed

Listen to Dr. James Rogers discuss whether a Christian democracy is possible with the hosts of Issues, Etc.

Be Equipped

Could you make the case for the importance of parents and their authority? Learn why parental authority should be “upheld by church and state alike” in a recent article from the Public Discourse.

Be Encouraged

“God wants you to vote for the people, principles and platforms that will uphold and advance His justice in the world. In other words, you should vote in ways that will best serve your neighbor and his needs.” – Rev. Dr. Joel Biermann, professor of systematic theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis

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