Resentful Faith

While visiting another Lutheran church in the area as the gathered worshipped the LORD through the prayers and praised God through the songs, across the pews I saw a man, arms folded, a closed lip face saying, “I dare you.”

How can you be resentful in worship when we should be joining the angels in singing and celebrating the glorious grace of God?

If you say to yourself that you won’t sing louder; if you argue within your spirit against the invitation to give yourself to worship – Right there! Right in that thought of your rebellion dwells your sinful resistance.  If you hear the Word in a sermon and you are whispering in your mind, “Pastor, you can pound sand!”; just perhaps you have a resentful, rebellious faith.

Is your resistance because the call to worship is unbiblical or contrary to faith? No. Is being resentful and stubborn to the invitation of God unbiblical?  No. Unfortunately we see a lot of stubborn resistance in the Bible.

After people fled from the Babylonian siege in Judah into Egypt, the wives gave themselves over to worshipping a goddess. Even though idolatry and false values were the reason for all their previous troubles, still they traded the LORD for gods and priorities that have no power to give life. When the prophet Jeremiah warns them, they resent the prophet for meddling (Jer 44:1-30).  Is that your attitude?  “Don’t tell us how to be faithful to God.”  Do you have a resentful faith where you want Jesus, but don’t want him “telling me what to do!” 

In worship, we gather not for our amusement. We gather to celebrate the glory of God. When your pride and your resistance to worship gets your hackles up, you are not worshiping or faith-filled to God. When you are offended for being called to worship regularly, your stubborn nature is resisting God’s grace.        

As redeemed sinners we need to recognize that the very act of worship is spiritual warfare. That the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God and the Gospel of our Crucified Savior are doing battle with the false gods and values embedded and bonded to our human nature. Worship is about the very act of being called, exorcised, out of darkness and brought into God’s marvelous light by the Spirit.

How can we resent the Lord who loves us stubborn folks so much, that not only does he give us the blessing of each breath and each day, but gives his own beloved Son to die on the cross for our stiff-necked sin to release us into the joy of faith?  Rather than stubborn resistance, we have been reconciled to God through Christ so we may bask in God’s grace, love and forgiveness. Rather than arm folded resentment we are called to angel flying joy of praising the One who loves us.

Since Jesus endured the cross and its shame so that we may gather in the joyful assembly, we have something to be joyful and excited about. In the presence of God we glory in the hope and joy we have received through Christ. As God’s people we are celebrating the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. 

Christ wants you to have the full measure of his joy. Faith replaces resentment. Be filled with faith.

May the proven genuineness of your faith result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:7)

Pastor Douglas 




Pockets of Hope

When I think of Baltimore, I often think of my early childhood home with a large magnolia tree in the front yard and a tall, hemlock pine in the back, where my siblings and I used to climb and play amongst the branches to our hearts content. I think of the cookies my sisters and I would sell in the neighborhood without supervision, pulling our bright red Flyer wagon full of a variety of cookies behind us. I was only 6 when we moved away, but I remember, even then, after being robbed multiple times and my brother being held up with a gun when he was 10 for his bike, that I felt fear.

It wasn’t until I was older that I began to hear negative statistics about Baltimore and I came to see my siblings’ and my childhood experiences there in a new light. Amidst all the negative media coverage, it’s easy to believe that Baltimore continues in a downward spiral and there isn’t much hope.

This year, from the first day of City Mission, I had the phrase “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” on my heart. As an athlete, I’ve always preferred sprinting over distance running and that’s true in other aspects of my life as well. The Lord has taught me a lot of patience through the years and, through seasons of burn out, He’s taught me to pace myself more and rely on Him instead of trying to make change happen all on my own. So when this impression came to my heart, I didn’t question it. Looking back now, it feels like a gift from the Holy Spirit because He knew how much I needed that reminder.

I’ll be honest…It felt heavy seeing a woman come through a food pantry with her face apparently beaten and her eyes red and to watch as they called a volunteer over because she couldn’t walk through by herself. Then overhearing another volunteer reminding her “I’m only a phone call away, okay? One phone call and we can get you out of there.” It feels heavy when you walk into a tent city, hidden from the road, and see kids running around, documented or not, with people passed out on the ground (you hope it’s not worse than that) and you learn that some of these individuals used to be businessmen and women, lawyers, police officers, etc. – people who hadn’t spent all of their lives at the bottom. It feels heavy knowing that a stone’s throw from one of the churches we partner with is the sex trafficking hub of the city. It feels heavy when a woman graduates from a recovery program and dies after running into someone she once did drugs with; one last hit and she was gone… just as she was beginning to rebuild her life.

One evening someone in the group shared that these churches, ministries, and organizations that we partner with in Baltimore are like “Pockets of Hope.” It felt like the perfect description. That’s truly what these places are.

Because of these “Pockets of Hope,” we also experienced joy and immense encouragement, not just heaviness. We got to see how much good happens on a daily basis to help people in need, some desperately so. One of these places, after operating solely as a food pantry for a while, decided to expand and offer a deeper level of care through education, job resources, clothing distribution and more. We toured a large warehouse that is going to be an additional extension of their non-profit organization. It is so exciting to see their vision for the future and to think of how many lives will be touched there.

It’s a joy working together to be the hands and feet of Christ. Going out as a team and partnering with those who are already aware of needs in the city and who are actively giving of their time and resources is both encouraging and helpful to us as we try to make the most of our time there. These “Pockets of Hope” are essential to the mission there. Without them, not only would we become discouraged and overwhelmed, we would be in over our heads. It’s in these places that we’re given a tangible reminder that God truly is at work—whether we see it or not. We’re not there to fix everything, we’re not there to jump in and take over. We’re there to walk alongside, to plant seeds, to water seeds, to give a word of encouragement, a smile, or a hug.

The phrase I mentioned earlier, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” served as a subtle reminder to me to let go and free my heart from the burden of expectation of wanting to see certain results and change happen, in order to embrace being a part of what God is doing right in front of me. I really felt free to do that.

As I’ve continued to think about this phrase, I’ve realized how much it really applies to all of life and ministry as a whole. If we’re in this for the long haul, pacing ourselves and living out our callings through the work of the Holy Spirit within us, is essential. Our hearts were never meant to carry the burdens of the whole world. Many of us are often weighed down from the burden of too much news from all over the world, to the point where our discouragement becomes immobilization and we end up doing nothing. It’s just too much.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” My prayer is that we would take this to heart. When we give those burdens to God, we free ourselves up to be a vessel for good instead of being so consumed with worry and anxiety that we can’t be effective at all. When we leave it in God’s hands, it frees us up to allow His love, joy, hope, peace and other fruits of the spirit to take up residence in our hearts and flow out from there. That is such an essential part of being the hands and feet of Christ because those are the things that point others to Christ – the fruit of His spirit within us.

We go, we speak, we care for others and act as His hands and feet, we love, we encourage, we speak the truth… and then we need to let God do the work of the heart. The Holy Spirit changes hearts, not us.

It is such an honor to partner with these “Pockets of Hope” in Baltimore – from recovery programs, to food distribution centers and churches in the heart of Baltimore that are out there every day reaching out to the lost. We are so encouraged and excited by what God is doing in this city and are blessed to be a part of it, even in a small way.

Mother Teresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.” Her response to that? “Do small things with great love.”

That “small thing” is significant and may have a bigger impact than you or I could ever imagine.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to do infinitely more than we might ask or think.” -Ephesians 3:20

Images were provided by Teresa Dubyoski.




Better Call Saul: Discernment at Damascus

Pr. Jeff Morlock

Ananias (not Sapphira’s husband, but the other Ananias) is an obscure figure in the New Testament. He appears only twice, for a total of eight verses. Yet Ananias is much more than the answer to a Bible trivia question. The Lord used this ordinary man to change the world in unfathomable ways. His story teaches us to listen for God’s call, discern our next assignment, and discover the astounding impact that obedience can have.

So what did Ananias hear God say? “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Acts 9:11b-12 ESV). The obedience that the Lord asks of us is often counterintuitive. It is rarely easy, but it ends up being one thread in the glorious tapestry He is weaving. We may or may not get to glimpse the finished project, but if God is calling you, then the role you play in God’s plan will be important.

Yet not every thought and idea is from the Lord. So how will you know? Ananias had to discern his call. To discern means to perceive, recognize, or distinguish. Although filled with fear and apprehension, Ananias sought clarity regarding God’s will. Discernment is faith seeking understanding; not stalling indefinitely but listening for further direction and confirmation. So, Ananias asks, “Ugh, Lord, isn’t Saul dangerous?” And the Lord revealed His plan: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  (Acts 9:15b-16 ESV).

That sounds consistent with the witness of the Scriptures, which is another aspect of discernment. Beginning with Abraham, God gave His name to Israel in order to bless the nations of the world. And Jesus himself not only suffered for the sake of God’s mission, but declared, Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple ” (Luke 14:27). Biblically, to bless others and to suffer for the gospel are part of every disciple’s calling.

God is always calling you to join him in his work. To discern a particular course of action, then, means asking certain questions. Does it take me out of my comfort zone? Does it require sacrifice? Is it consistent with Scripture? Does it sound like Jesus? If the answers are “yes,” then it’s likely from the Lord.

But there’s one more question. What do other believers think about it? Ananias stepped out in faith and discovered that Saul was indeed at the home of Christian disciples who had taken him in and cared for his needs. With this confirmation, Ananias laid his trembling hands upon Saul, who had been blinded days earlier when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.

In that moment, God used Ananias to heal Saul, who regained his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Presumably, it was also Ananias who then had the privilege of baptizing the man who would go on to write two thirds of the New Testament! And Saul, who discerned his call to preach the Gospel, became Paul, the chief apostle and church planter for the non-Jewish world!

Although it was God who called Saul, He used Ananias to be part of it. After this brief episode in Acts, we never hear from Ananias again in the Bible. But where would we be without him? Where would Saul be without Ananias? Where would the Church be without Paul? Clearly, not everyone can be Paul. But everyone can absolutely be Ananias, who learned to discern, and who helped a brother do the same.

If this passage seems detached from present day reality, let me assure you that, in recently discerning my own call to the North American Lutheran Seminary, God used a number of “Ananias’s” to remove scales  from my eyes when I was blind to God’s plan, and how it fit perfectly with my gifts and passions.  Part of my role now is to daily be an Ananias for others who are discerning a call to ordained ministry.  

Recently, I spoke with a mid-career disciple named John, who had been praying about pursuing theological education. He told me how God used a stranger to confirm that this was indeed the Lord’s plan. John was traveling and when he arrived at the airport, he presented his boarding pass to the airline attendant, who repeated John’s full name and exclaimed, “With a name like that, you ought to be a pastor!” As I write this, John is completing his seminary application.

The fact is that God can and will use you as he used the people in my life, that airline attendant in John’s life, Saul who became Paul, and Ananias himself. My prayer is that all of us will learn to consistently ask, “God, is there someone you would have me speak with today? Is there somewhere you would have me go? Is there something you would have me do?” Be listening. Be available. Be ready. You never know what difference you will make.

Pastor Jeff Morlock is Director of Vocational Discernment at the North American Lutheran Seminary.




The Need for More Lay-led Lutheran Congregations

It has, for decades, been an incredibly unfair reality faced by smaller rural and inner-city congregations.  In a denomination that has traditionally insisted that viable, healthy congregations must be led by a resident, ordained pastor, the number of pastors willing to serve in these settings have often been “few and far between.”  Even back when there were an abundant number of seminary graduates, the majority of those graduates often showed little or no interest in serving churches located in such communities.  And this unfortunate attitude was not limited to graduating seminary students looking for a first call; it was also common among already ordained, serving pastors looking for their next call.

So what did these rural and inner-city congregations do when even new seminary grads had little interest in their calls?  They waited.  And they knew that eventually—if they waited long enough—their bishop or district president would find them a new graduate whom they could “take under their wing” and train.  Unfortunately, as soon as these first-call pastors were “trained” they would usually move on, within two or three years, to a larger church in a suburban setting.  Then the congregation’s pastoral search process would begin once more.

It used to be true—decades ago—that there was still an abundant supply of seminary graduates coming through the “pipeline.”  As a result, the national Lutheran church bodies could continue to insist—or at least imply—that healthy and viable congregations were, by definition, led by an ordained pastor.  But here we are in 2023.  And unlike decades back, there are far fewer seminary graduates; Boomer pastors have already or soon will be retiring; and smaller rural congregations are more often than not located in declining communities.  (Communities where the median age of their residents—and the congregation’s members—is in the late 50’s or 60’s.)  As a result, that traditional Lutheran ministry model—that the only viable congregation is one that can find and call an ordained pastor—simply has to change.  Unfortunately many of these congregations have been taught the false dichotomy that unless they can find and call an ordained pastor they might as well close their doors.

And that false dichotomy is not consistent with either the New Testament understanding of the church, nor with Martin Luther’s teaching regarding the priesthood of all believers. 

Tragically most Lutheran church bodies have failed to adequately model or advocate for intentional, long-term lay-led congregational ministries when there is no reasonable expectation that a resident pastor will ever be “called and installed.”  These congregations need a third option; not just the choice between an unending pastoral search process or closing their doors.  That “third option” is to become a truly lay-led congregation; a priesthood of believers not just in theory, but in terms of ministry practice.

Here is the stark truth of what is happening “out there” among many of our smaller congregations: They have been looking for a pastor for years.  In fact, some of them have gone three, four or more years without a resident pastor.  The longer they assume that such a pastor is “their only hope,” the more likely they will not survive as an organized faith community.  And they need to know that at least until the last Boomer pastor retires in the 2030’s, the number of pastoral vacancies will only grow, and grow dramatically.

Finally, these churches need to know that the work of the Holy Spirit in congregational life and ministry is not dependent on the leadership and presence of a resident, ordained seminary graduate.  This was true in the time of the early Apostolic church almost 2,000 years ago, and it is still true today.

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” 1st Peter 2:4-5 (NIV).




Letter From The Director – October 2022

IT SHOULD NOT SURPRISE ANYONE

It should not surprise anyone that a movement is developing to get the ELCA to commit a massive breach of trust and to eliminate any provision for traditional views and those who hold them.

In my August letter from the director I told about some of the more significant actions that were taken by the 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.  One of the most alarming was the overwhelming approval of a resolution “to authorize a possible revision of the social statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” which “reconsiders the church’s current concept of the four positions of bound conscience.”  (These four positions can be found on pages 19-21 of the 2009 social statement.  They provide a way for there to be a place of respect for traditional views and those who hold them.  A link to the document can be found here.)

At least there were a few people who spoke against this resolution, and 12% voted against it, but still it should be obvious to all that the days of the ELCA’s claiming to honor bound conscience and to provide a place for those who hold traditional views are over. 

In my August letter I wrote that I am certain that the ELCA actually never intended to honor traditional views.  The language regarding bound conscience and the four positions was placed within the 2009 social statement only to obtain enough votes to get the social statement approved, and even then it was barely approved.  One needs to look no further than the ELCA’s total embrace of ReconcilingWorks and its choice of keynote speakers for the 2018 youth gathering to realize that confessional Lutherans with traditional views are not welcome.

But how will it happen?  A recent statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) suggests a possible path.  This organization describes its mission in this way.

“Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries organizes queer seminarians and rostered ministers, confronts barriers and systemic oppression, and activates queer ideas and movements within the Lutheran Church.”    

On September 7 this organization released a document entitled “ELM Churchwide Assembly and Bound Conscience Statement.”  A link to the full statement can be found here.

In this document they say, “The ELCA must address our sins of racism and ‘bound conscience.’”  It then says, “As Lutherans, we confess our participation in these systems, yet we continually fall short in the ways to overcome these systems of oppression.”  “Sin” and part of the “systems of oppression” – that is what Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is challenging the ELCA to join with them in calling traditional views of human sexuality. 

I am sure that no one who had been paying attention thought that bound conscience was anything more than temporary.  In some places it was ignored right from the beginning.  What is new here is explicit language with which bound conscience might be repudiated and the means by which it might be done – through a public apology by the Churchwide Assembly and the Presiding Bishop.

The statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries describes recent times when the ELCA has made a formal apology.

  • “In 2019, the Churchwide Assembly adopted a formal letter of repentance to commit to examine the church’s complicity in slavery, and to acknowledge ‘the ELCA’s perpetuation of racism.’”
  • Also in 2019 the ELCA made a formal apology to the African Descent community.
  • “At the 2022 Churchwide Assembly, Bishop Eaton formally apologized to the worshipping community of Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria Peregrina for both individual and institutional racist harm done to the congregation & the Latine community.”

And now Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries is calling upon the ELCA to make a similar apology to the LGBTQ+ community.  Their document states, “Queer people in the ELCA deserve an apology and behavior consistent with repentance for the harm caused by ‘bound conscience’ and policies like ‘Visions and Expectations.’”  “Vision and Expectations” is a document that was approved by the ELCA Church Council in 1990 to describe what the church expected of its leaders but then removed from use by the ELCA Church Council in March 2020 because its more traditional views and expectations were “a source of great pain for many in the ELCA.”

Bound conscience and traditional views are now a sin – on the same level as racism and other forms of systemic oppression.  What should alarm every Lutheran with traditional views is the fact that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries always gets what it wants.  They wanted the ELCA to remove the word “chastity” from its revised version of Definitions and Guidelines so that ELCA public theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber would be able to remain on the clergy roster while bragging about her sex life with her boyfriend (to whom she is not married), and they got what they wanted.  If Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries gets its way (which they always do) sooner or later – maybe in 2025, maybe in 2028 – the ELCA will officially repent and apologize for permitting pastors and congregations to teach and live according to what the Church has been teaching for two thousand years.

But while the ELCA grovels and repents as Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries tells them to, do not expect them to repent for breaking their promises to honor and provide a place for traditional views and those who hold them. 

In my August letter I also wrote about another resolution that was approved by the Churchwide Assembly which should cause great alarm for confessional, traditionally minded Lutherans.  The assembly voted to direct the Church Council “to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church” which would be “particularly attentive to our shared commitment to dismantle racism” and would “present its findings and recommendations to the 2025 Churchwide Assembly in preparation for a possible reconstituting convention.” 

The question naturally arises, Who will develop this revised version of the 2009 human sexuality social statement and possible reconsideration (rejection) of the four positions of bound conscience?  Also, who will be appointed to this “Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church”?  You can be sure that those who have been driving the process to get things to where they are today have been busy, working to make themselves the dominant factor in the process.  Many of these people have said that they do not believe that any “white male over the age of sixty” should be allowed to have anything to do with the process, and the Statement from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries urges “the committee tasked with reconsidering ‘bound conscience’ to include ‘new, young, and diverse’ voices and those that have been most harmed by ‘bound conscience.’”  The ELCA has made it very clear that high on its list of priorities for the coming years is to reach “one million new, young, and diverse people.”

The ELCA Church Council is scheduled to meet November 10-13.  We assume that among the actions taken will be the appointment of people to the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church and the task force to review and revise the human sexuality social statement.  We all know that once you know who is on the committee, you know the outcome.  We will keep you posted. 

* * * * * * *

VIDEO MINISTRY

Each month we feature two videos – the most recent addition to our video book reviews, and a recent addition to our CORE Convictions videos.  The CORE Convictions series is being designed particularly for those who wish to grow in their knowledge of Biblical teaching and Christian living as well as for those who want to know more about how Lutherans understand the Bible. We also want to provide this resource for those who do not have the opportunity or the option of attending a church where the preaching and teaching is Biblical, orthodox, and confessional.

Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find recordings from both sets of videos – in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos.  We now have five videos in our CORE Convictions series.  Many thanks to retired AALC pastor James Hoefer for his video on “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit.”  His video will be featured in December.

This month we want to feature a video book review by Pastor Chris Johnson and a CORE Convictions video by Pastor James Lehmann.    

“LIVES AND WRITINGS OF THE GREAT FATHERS OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH”

Many thanks to Chris Johnson, LCMC pastor and secretary of the board of Lutheran CORE, for his review of this book, which is edited by Timothy Schmeling and Robert Kolb.  A link to his video can be found here.

Pastor Johnson begins by reminding us of the phrase, “If we can see farther, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”  He sees this statement as true in many areas of life, including theology, and as well illustrated in the biographies and writings of twenty-one theologians who came after Luther from the 1550’s to the late 1600’s.

Some of these men were educators, some were brilliant systematic theologians, some were preachers.  Some were known for their poetry, their hymnody, or their devotional literature.  They served in many different ways, but they were all very gifted and dedicated to the Christian faith as understood by the Lutheran Confessions.   

Some were known for their polemical style, which is quite understandable since they lived during tumultuous times.  They faced many challenges and endured great suffering, such as during the Thirty Years War and from the plague.  Many experienced deep pain and sorrow from the death of several family members. 

They fought hard battles, were attacked on many sides, and suffered great losses.  They lived during a period of Lutheran history that we often ignore.  But according to Pastor Johnson, it is a great gift to us to get to know them and what they did.  They were men of faith who were dedicated to the Lutheran Confessions.  We would do well to learn from them as to how they persevered and remained true to the faith no matter what. 

TEACHING THE FAITH TO CHILDREN OF ALL AGES 

Many thanks to NALC pastor Jim Lehmann for his video, a link to which can be found here.  According to Pastor Lehmann, teaching the faith to children of all ages “may be easier than you think.  It does take discipline to make disciples.  It starts before a person can understand the language of faith and continues when language may be lost.  Join me for some ideas.”

The temperatures are cooler here in Arizona, and the Sonoran desert is lush and green from the summer rains.  No wonder the Snowbirds are returning.  We are constantly being reminded of God’s goodness.  May you also experience His blessings.

In Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

dennisdnelsonaz@yahoo.com  




Mountain Lion Cubs Do Not Stay Mountain Lion Cubs

Not too far from our home – in the Sonoran Desert outside Phoenix – is the Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center.  This wonderful facility cares for many desert animals that have been injured or orphaned.  The goal is always to be able to return them to the wild.  But that is not always possible, so for some animals this place becomes their permanent home.  Some animals are brought there by people who naively thought that a mountain lion cub would make a great pet.  But mountain lion cubs always grow up, and people come to realize that something they thought would be safe has become a threat.

I thought of people who mistakenly believe that they could tame a mountain lion cub when I read the April 16 letter from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton addressing racial justice.  A link to her letter can be found here.  In her call for reform to “any institutionally racist system” she essentially endorses Black Lives Matter.  She encourages people to join Campaign Zero, which she describes as “a 10-point policy platform created by the #BlackLivesMatter movement to address and improve relationships between local law enforcement and the communities in which they serve.”  She also urges people to learn more about ELCA resources at elca.org/blacklivesmatter. 

I was relieved to read on the ELCA website that “the ELCA churchwide organization does not provide financial support to this chapter-based organization.”  I have been deeply disturbed to read about some other organizations and businesses that do contribute financially to Black Lives Matter.  It also seemed very reasonable to read on the ELCA website, “This movement does not seek to elevate Black lives above others.  Rather, the movement seeks to help people recognize that Black lives matter no less than other lives.”

The ELCA website is correct when it says, “Scripture tells us that each person is created in the image of God. . . . All of us have integrity and value.”  There is absolutely no question.  Racism does exist, and racism is wrong.  The First Readings for Easter Sunday and May 9 have both come from the account in Acts 10 when God clearly directed Peter to go to the house of Cornelius.  In the First Reading for Easter Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” (verse 34) In the First Reading for May 9 “the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” (verse 45) Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (verse 47) If God has included them, how could we exclude them?

But for at least three reasons the ELCA’s endorsing and embracing the Black Lives Matter movement reminds me of people who think that a mountain lion cub would be safe.

First, the page on the ELCA website does not address the fact that at least two of the three original founders of Black Lives Matter are self-avowed, trained Marxist organizers.  Marxism has led to political systems that have enslaved people and that have been severely hostile to the Christian faith.

Second, while the full embrace of the LGBTQIA+ agenda is very strong within the ELCA, I am not aware of any official action taken by the ELCA to affirm that full agenda.  A document recently approved by the ELCA Church Council, “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline,” includes the sentence, “This church’s understanding of human sexuality is stated in its authorized social teachings.” (page 8) The most recent of these social teachings is the social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” which was approved by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.  Actions taken by that assembly provided for the blessing of and ordination of persons in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same sex relationships.  They did not embrace the full LGBTQIA+ agenda.  In contrast, Black Lives Matter has said, “We foster a queer-affirming network.  When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking.”  It is interesting that the page that contains that wording from Black Lives Matter appears to no longer exist.

Third, what Black Lives Matter used to call its “Full Manifesto” also is on a page that appears to no longer exist.  One of the most disturbing sentences in the “Full Manifesto” reads as follows – “We disrupt the western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children.”  Every orthodox Christian parent should be horrified over a statement like that, which advocates for the state’s taking over the raising of children.  Every Christian parent needs to do everything they can to keep from losing the ability to influence the faith formation of their children.  To me it is interesting – and I believe significant – that some of the statements from Black Lives Matter that have caused the greatest alarm are on website pages that appear to no longer exist.  If you can find them, please let me know.  Has the Black Lives Matter movement modified and/or softened its position?  I doubt it.  I believe they are just downplaying it.  They want people like the ELCA to believe that there is nothing to fear.  What Black Lives Matter advocates for, every reasonable person should be in favor of.  Mountain lion cubs will stay mountain lion cubs




The Nations at Our Doorstep

ENCUENTRO 2020 TO FORTIFY LUTHERAN HISPANIC-LATINO MINISTRIES

Many Lutheran church buildings feature cornerstones with dates and historic references chiseled in languages other than English.   In cities, towns and open country congregations across the United States, these heritage markers may well be in German, Danish, Swedish or Slovak.  They embrace a bilingual or multilingual legacy, while parishioners now worship and serve primarily in English.

Increasingly, in these ministry contexts, Spanish is heard on the streets, in shops and school yards.  Hispanic-Latino (“Latinx”) populations are rapidly growing.  The Great Commission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, speaks with power to such communities in the 21st Century.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

The nations have come to us, as evidenced by the presence of people from Latin America today.  They come, bearing the spiritual and cultural gifts of their Christian faith communities.  Some will be evangelized, drawn to Christ by the proclamation of His life, death and resurrection. Some will evangelize their new neighbors in the U.S.A., perhaps bringing renewal to wearied and diminishing Lutheran congregations.

Will the existing, long-established churches engage their changing, dynamic neighborhoods?   Many remain demographically static, functioning in ethnic or linguistic isolation.  These shrinking faith communities often gain little or no traction when it comes to engaging the diverse neighborhoods which now surround them.  Some categorically resist such engagement.

And yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, turning points and breakthroughs can and do occur:

  • “Bienvenido/a” is added to the outdoor “Welcome” sign board,
  • Spanish or bilingual Bible Story books are given to Vacation Bible School families,
  • Pre-printed English scripture bulletins are supplemented with Spanish text inserts,
  • Bilingual Facebook posts begin to raise awareness of the parish’s micro-pantry, availability for Quinceaneras and seasonal devotions such as “Las Posadas” or the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross),
  • English speaking bishops, pastors, deacons, and laity can learn at least rudimentary Spanish. Indigenous leaders are identified, trained, and sent forth.

Through the co-sponsorship of Lutheran CORE, the annual Inter-Lutheran “Encuentro” (Encounter) has served to initiate, encourage and fortify Lutheran bilingual ministries during the past decade.

Hosted by two ELCA / Lutheran CORE Chicagoland parishes, the Encuentro has gathered dozens of lay leaders, pastors, theologians, diaconal ministers and ecumenical partners for mutual encouragement, learning, worship and collaboration.  In an age characterized by denominational separation – a kind of Lutheran tribalism branded by abbreviations that are unintelligible to most of the immigrant community – the Encuentro provides common ground for clear focus on the nurture and development of bilingual outreach and pastoral ministry. Here, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod scholars have shared podiums with seminary professors and bishops of the ELCA, reflecting on such topics as the Holy Spirit’s shaping of disciples, Advent’s opportunities to reflect on Mary as the Mother of God – learning from the devotional accents of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the Emmaus Road along which we encounter the Risen Lord Jesus.  Here, at the Encuentro, NALC, LCMC, LCMS, ELCA and Lutheran “micro-synod” members can learn from one another, and from Spanish speaking community members, about the Hispanic-Latino ministry context of our time.

COVID19 has forced the cancellation of an in-person gathering this fall.  “Encuentro 2020” will take an alternate pathway.  Lutheran CORE, in partnership with the Bilingual Ministry Resource Center (BMRC) of Joliet & Chicago will provide Bilingual ministry materials at no cost (while they last) to those requesting them (September through December 2020).

Curated and mailed by the BMRC and parish leaders from First & Santa Cruz, Joliet and St. Timothy, Hermosa – Chicago, the packets will include sample resources from a range of providers, including:

  • ALPB (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau) – publishers of bilingual Lutheran identity tracts,
  • EAL (Editorial Avance Luterano) – publishers of the Spanish language weekly text worship insert, “Plegaria y Palabra”,
  • Augsburg-Fortress – publishers of a Spanish / English edition of Luther’s Small Catechism (an endeavor inspired by the BMRC),
  • CPH (Concordia Publishing House) – providers of the iconic “Arch Book” children’s Bible story book series (with English, Spanish and Bilingual editions),
  • Various parish-based resources, such as the Faith-related “Questions Kids Ask” bilingual reader and coloring books, recently created and published by Peace Lutheran Church, New Lenox IL.

The pandemic prevents the in-person presence we so desire, and yet it does not keep us from fortifying the partnerships which enable lively outreach in Jesus’ name, true to His Great Commission.

To order an “Encuentro 2020” resource packet (one per parish, please) contact Pastor Keith Forni, Encuentro Convener at First and Santa Cruz Lutheran Church, 55 W. Benton Street, Joliet IL 60435-4094 or KeithLForni@gmail.com




How to Tactfully Navigate Conversations about Your Christian Faith

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

Jesus Told Us to Go

Go, and do not be afraid. At once these instructions are both so easy, and yet for many Christians they are also so difficult. Despite God’s clear command to teach others about our faith and His reassurance that He will be with us, American culture is in the midst of a staggering trend against evangelism. In 1993, a Barna Group study showed that 89% of Christians believed it was the responsibility of every Christian to share their faith. By 2018 that number had dropped 25 points to only 64%. 65% of Christians said they share their faith by the way they live instead of (not in addition to) talking to people about Christ.

Why the Hesitation?

Why are people so hesitant to open their mouths and declare the name of Jesus? Yes, we should be living out our faith with our actions, but Jesus specifically said to “teach” people. That requires us to talk to them. Yet so many Christians are afraid to do so.

Have you ever heard any of these statements?

Conversations about religion always become so heated.
What if I don’t know how to answer their questions?
How do I even get the conversation started?

These are all common refrains that hold people back from talking about their faith. The reason they hesitate isn’t because they don’t know they should be evangelizing. It’s because they’re afraid they don’t know how.

Two Main Fears

In my experience people’s hesitancy is largely driven by two main fears. First, “How do I get the conversation started without sounding awkward?” Second, “What if I don’t know how to answer the other person’s questions?” What follows is a brief introduction to how we can overcome these fears while at the same time showing courtesy and respect so as to keep the conversation cordial.

Talk with People

First, how do we begin the conversation? For starters, we need to talk with people and not at them. We may have a whole list of important information about the gospel and we just have to get it out. We launch into a rapid-fire monologue, taking short breaths in between sentences, so the other person doesn’t have time to interrupt our incredibly important litany. After all, if they get a word in edgewise we might get sidetracked from our list.

Shields Up!

When we talk at someone, our primary concern is to convey all the information we think they need to hear. But when we talk with them we are more worried about listening to what they have to say and engaging in a two-way dialogue. The moment someone senses you are talking at them their defenses will go up and any opportunity for a meaningful conversation will be over. They’re not listening to you. While you’re rambling on, their mind is planning out their counterattack.

Talking at someone places the focus on us. Talking with someone places the focus on them. The people we are speaking to are individuals, not targets. Showing respect to someone means being invested in who they are, not just in what you want to tell them.

For many people I’ve probably just ratcheted up the anxiety level even higher. After all, it’s a lot harder to talk with someone than it is to talk at them. If I’m talking at a person, I’m in complete control. I don’t have to worry about anything they might say because … I’m never giving them a chance to say anything. But engaging in a dialogue is scarier. All of a sudden I have to worry about what someone else is going to say to me, and that’s what I don’t know if I can handle.

But dialogue doesn’t need to be scary. In fact, it’s a lot easier than many people think. There are three easy steps that can serve as a broad outline to any faith conversation, and with just a little bit of practice all of us can all become more comfortable declaring Christ both with our actions and our words.

First Pray

The first step should be the most obvious but is one I think too many people today skip over. Pray. God has told us not to be discouraged because He will be with us. Do we believe Him? Walking with us in our times of need is an incredibly small thing compared to dying on the cross. If God did the latter, shouldn’t we be able to trust Him to do the former? Yet we live in a culture that tells us to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps and praises individual accomplishment. So ironically even in much of our ministry, many Christians try to “do it on their own” without first stopping and asking the Holy Spirit to be a part of what they are undertaking. Just like we should pray before every ministry meeting, we should pray when we set out to evangelize.

Then Look for Opportunities

Second, we need to look for opportunities. They’re all around us. Most of the time we’re just not paying attention. Michael Ramsden, President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, tells a story about a time he was in a hair salon and overheard the owner say to a stylist next to her, “My business is doing so well but there must be more to life than this.”[1] That was an opportunity, and he took it. There is more to life than succeeding in business, no matter what our culture says. By paying attention to what was going on around him, Mr. Ramsden was able to start up a conversation that led to an hour and fifteen-minute discussion of the gospel.

Keep Doors Open

Not every opening will be that obvious. Recognizing when these chances arise will often require us to have at least a basic understanding of the topics that are permeating our culture. Maybe it’s a meme circulating on social media. Maybe it’s the acceptance speech some Hollywood celebrity just gave at an awards show. Maybe it’s the latest blockbuster in the movie theater. People are always talking about something, and those “somethings” very often will open the door to a discussion on faith. The question is simply whether we are going to walk through it. We don’t need to immerse ourselves in every aspect of contemporary Western culture. But at the same time, we can’t be completely oblivious to it either. Paul knew what the Greeks valued when he spoke at the Areopagus. We need to be aware of what unknown god our culture is worshipping.

Ask Questions

So, we’ve prayed, we’ve seen an opportunity arise, and now we’re wondering how to seize it. What do we say to get the conversation started? That leads into step 3, ask, don’t tell. This one seems a bit counter-intuitive to some people. If we have all this information we want the other person to hear, shouldn’t we be the one doing the talking and they be the one doing the listening? Actually, you can accomplish even more by primarily using questions, plus you gain some other important advantages.

Questions invite the other person to speak. They can’t shut down because you are talking at them if they are doing most of the talking. But even though they are doing most of the talking, you are actually in control of the conversation. Questions determine which topics are up for discussion, and you are the person asking all the questions. Finally, questions foster conversation. When one person is asking a question and another is giving an answer, there are two people invested in the discussion. Our goal is not to lecture, but to listen and have a dialogue.

Greg Koukl has a fantastic book called Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. Anyone who wants to learn more about how to effectively evangelize should have a copy, read it, and keep it handy. Koukl calls his primary tactic the “Columbo Tactic,” named after the famous television detective played by Peter Falk. Columbo was famous for asking question after question while investigating a case, and our approach to evangelism can look very similar.

Three Ways to Direct a Conversation

Koukl explains three ways we can use questions to direct a conversation. The first is to use them to gather more information. An example is, “What do you mean by that?”[2] When a person makes a statement, the first thing we should do is ask a question. Something of the variety of “What do you mean by that?” not only allows us to make sure we are understanding them correctly, but sometimes it gets the other person to think through what they’re saying. In today’s social media age, many people are merely repeating slogans they’ve heard that sounded good, but they have no idea what they actually mean.

The second way to use questions is to reverse the burden of proof. Koukl’s example for this is, “How did you come to that conclusion?”[3] There is a trap that almost all of us have fallen into from time to time. Someone makes a statement that we know is false. Our immediate instinct is to explain to them why it is false. So, we launch into our long explanation, rattling off all our evidence, convinced that in the end the other person will come around and see things our way. If we do that, we end up talking at people again and their defensive walls will spring right up.

There’s a better way to handle this situation. When someone makes a statement that runs contrary to what God has told us to be true, just ask them a question. Start out by making sure you are understanding them correctly with “What do you mean by that?” But then follow it up with “How did you come to that conclusion?” It may surprise you to hear that the vast majority of conversations I engage in with people when they make claims like this never need to get past this second question. Most people have no idea how they arrived at any particular conclusion. Their claim wasn’t borne out of some rational evaluation of the arguments and evidence resulting in a well thought out conclusion. They read some meme online that they agreed with, so now they’re just repeating it. If someone else makes a claim, it is not your job to refute it. It is their job to defend it. Asking them politely “How did you come to that conclusion” is one way to respectfully place the burden on them, where it belongs.

The third way Koukl suggests we can use questions is to make a point.[4] This is where you finally have the opportunity to inject all that information you have inside your head into the conversation. But you still need to resist the temptation to talk at people. The most inviting way to insert information into the discussion is to use a question. “Have you ever considered…?” “What do you think about…?”

Ask, Don’t Tell

There’s a fundamental difference between merely telling people information and asking them questions about it. When you tell, you may come across as if you believe you are smarter or superior. But when you ask, you are showing genuine interest in them and their opinions. At the same time, you are inviting them to think through something they may not have thought about before. They are much more likely to do so if they don’t feel like they are being “preached at.”

Suppose you know absolutely nothing about embryology, but you hear someone say, “Christians have no right to object to abortion unless they’re willing to take care of all the extra babies that will be born if abortion is outlawed.” You can still ask them a “what do you mean by that” type of question. For example, “I just want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly. You’re saying that no one has the right to object to unborn children being killed unless they’re willing to take care of those unborn children, is that right?” You could follow it up with a question of the “how did you come to that conclusion” variety. “How is it that my not having the resources to personally take care of a child makes it okay to kill it?”

Too often people hesitate to evangelize because they don’t think they know enough. They want to leave that sort of thing to the “professionals,” like their pastor. But each and every one of us is expected to share our faith, not just those in church leadership. Anyone can ask questions, so all of us know enough to get out there and get started.

Admit You Don’t Know

But what if someone says something that you don’t know how to answer? That is one of the biggest causes of anxiety, and yet at the same time it is one of the easiest questions to answer. If someone asks you something you don’t know how to answer, you politely say, “I don’t know the answer to that. Let me look into it and I’ll get back to you.” Then you politely end the conversation.

Conversion Is the Holy Spirit’s Job

We often put way too much pressure on ourselves. We think that each and every conversation needs to result in the other person accepting Christ or else it was useless. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have to remember that conversion isn’t our job. We can’t convert anybody anyway. That’s the Holy Spirit’s doing. Our job is to do as we have been instructed, so that if the Spirit wants to use us as an instrument through which He works, then we are obediently available.

To Sum It Up

Greg Koukl describes a more modest goal he sets for himself when engaging in evangelistic conversations. “All I want to do is put a stone in someone’s shoe. I want to give him something worth thinking about, something he can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him in a good way.”[5] We worry so much about what other people will say because we think we need to have all the answers. We don’t. Just set yourself a modest goal and get out there and share the gospel. First, pray. Second, look for opportunities. Third, ask, don’t tell. Use questions to gather information, to reverse the burden of proof and to make a point. We all know that we should be sharing God’s good news. Hopefully this basic outline can help reassure you as to how.


[1] Centre for Public Christianity, “Conversation Apologetics – Michael Ramsden,” March 24, 2018, video, 44:32, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MJb5_2CABI.

[2] Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,2009), 49-52.

[3] Ibid., 61-64.

[4] Ibid., 77-87.

[5] Ibid., 38.




Devotion for Friday, September 28, 2018

“The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land.  Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”  (Psalm 95:5-6)

 

The Lord is the Maker of all things.  In His hands are the caverns of the deep and the dry land is His.  All that is has come forth from His hands.  To whom else are we to compare anything when all things came into being through Him?  Come then, bow down and worship the Lord, for He is Your maker and the One through whom you have your being.  He is worthy of all honor and praise and in Him is life.

 Lord, Help me to understand more clearly that all things of this world are only things which You have made.  Everything is in You and apart from You is nothing.  Guide me, O Lord, according to Your goodness to walk in Your counsel.  Lead me in the way of righteousness that You have established.  Guide me to walk humbly with You, my Maker, that I may live according to Your will.

Holy Spirit, come and minister to my heart that I may walk in the peace that You give amidst the hostility of this world.  Lead me in the right way of living that I may now and always walk in the way You have established from the beginning.  Help me this day to see in You the hope that only You can give and live upright amidst a world filled with tribulation.  Guide me now and always.  Amen.




Devotion for Wednesday, September 19, 2018

“They have said, “The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed.”  Pay heed, you senseless among the people; and when will you understand, stupid ones?”  (Psalm 94:7-8)

 

There are many who rail against the Lord wondering where He is.  He does not do as people imagine a god would do things.  The Lord of Hosts has declared His purpose and you have heard of His law.  You and I are not in a position to rail against the Lord, but only to receive the reality He has declared.  When will we learn?  It is as it has always been.  The Lord is God and there is no other.

Lord, help me to ignore those who do not hear and will not listen.  They are speaking to me all the time and I am influenced by their poison.  Guide my heart to see the truth that You alone are God.  Let me not fall prey to those who rail against You.  Let the meditation of my heart be upon You who has made all things that I may walk humbly in Your sight and live according to Your Word.

Lord Jesus, You have come to rescue as many as would listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit as we are called out of the rebellion of this world and into the light of Your presence.  Guide me this day to walk humbly in Your sight and see the truth of Your grace  as it shines forth in my life.  You are the Savior and I need to be saved.  The stupid ones will always be here in this age.  Help me to not be one of them.  Amen.