Archive for March, 2011
As Lent begins, Rev. Matthew Harrison invites us to join him in praying “The Litany,” profound words long prayed by the church in times of need. “This is a time of need, both for our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and for Christianity around the world,” Harrison says from the kneeler in his office where he begins each morning at the LCMS International Center in prayer. Harrison shares the prayer’s history and words.
We don’t seem to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” very often anymore. If so, perhaps our neglect of this great Christian hymn is a product of our times–a shying away from things military toward a kinder, gentler approach even to church life, leaving “like a mighty army” to other radical religious persuasions intent upon taking over the world.
Or perhaps it is that “Onward Christian Soldiers” was written for schoolchildren and intended as a children’s processional. We’ve seen more than enough of life in dictatorial societies where children are ruthlessly indoctrinated―already at a young age lined up and “marching as to war.” Lining up our Sunday School children on the sacristy steps to sing to the congregation of going “forward into battle” may seem a bit harsh and disagreeable to our senses.
Or perhaps we are feeling a little timid these days about Christianity’s standing in this world, increasingly the party out of power. We can easily feel less like “a mighty army” and more like a guerilla group. To be sure, we know that things are going to turn out all right in the end, but to sing robustly of the “happy throng” of men and angels pressing onward to victory while “kingdoms rise and wane” may seem a bit over the top.
Then perhaps we should remember again (and again) that we have every reason to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and sing it resoundingly. We are at war, as St. Paul reminds us. This war is carried on within us (Rom. 7:23) and without (Eph. 6:12). We are soldiers enlisted, as St. Paul reminds Timothy, to “wage the good warfare” (1 Tim. 1:18) and to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12).
A new starting point now and then could be helpful, an occasion to fall in and start off again on the right foot, an occasion even to approach others of our army who appear to have gone AWOL. A specific day on the calendar could be particularly helpful—a day to regroup, a day to remember that we still are the church militant on this earth, a day to press forward and gain some new ground, a day to break out Baring-Gould’s children’s processional and sing it with renewed gusto: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before!”
If so, we just missed a day with potential. How about this past Friday, March 4th? It has the right ring to it. Say that date a few times with military gusto and you will recognize that you are saying “March forth!” It could be the perfect “Command Day!”—our day each year to step up the pace of our Christian lives, to do even one extra thing to make a difference for Christ’s Kingdom, to take on some stubborn thing within our own lives that may be troubling the lives of others or doing harm to Christ’s Kingdom.
To my family’s dismay at times, I enjoy a good play on words. I’ve been advocating March 4th for years as a good day for a Christian rally-the-troops day, the day each year to join the ranks of fellow Christian soldiers and “march forth” like the mighty army we are. Obviously “Command Day” hasn’t caught on yet. It may take some time. But there still is time. We have until the great victory celebration of Revelation 7 when “Onward Christian Soldiers,” no longer needed, will take its rightful place among “Best-Loved Hymns of the Church Militant” in the heavenly music hall of fame, and a new victory anthem will have become the hymn of choice for the Church Triumphant: “Salvation Belongs to Our God Who Sits on the Throne, and to the Lamb!”
God’s Grace and mercy in Christ Jesus!
As we begin to unplug, pack up all of our stuff and head for home we take these few moments to once again hear God’s Word. We know that we are going back to deal with the realities of our districts and the church workers under our care. While we may say we are going back to put out “brush fires”, we know that we do not want to put out all fires.
God used the burning bush to capture Moses’ attention and then remind the old man, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” We all know that God uses this incident to get the attention of Moses and to call him to bring God’s people out of Egypt. This man who had fled Egypt himself knew that this was a monumental task – actually an impossible task. And God said, “I will be with you.”
Remember your first call? Did it seem impossible? What about the work now – does it ever seem impossible? How many impossible tasks have you been involved with in your life? We take great comfort in knowing that God is with us as surely as He was with Moses. God does impossible things and sometimes uses us. Jesus answered the disciples question about “Who then can be saved?”said to His disciples (after use the example of the camel and the eye of the needle) “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”Matt19:26
Our Indiana District mission statement is The Indiana District serves to encourage and assist the Christian nurture and outreach of its congregations and other ministries. We strive to encourage and assist our workers in being active partners in the impossible work that God does in, around and through His people. We want them to encourage and welcome their congregations to a Word and Sacrament ministry that leads the members of our congregations to not only come to church, but also be the church as the Holy Spirit calls gathers and enlightens them.
Moses was wondering if he understood God correctly, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.” Who are we that we should go to another disgruntled congregation, visit with a disheartened pastor, correct a erring brother, tackle heavy conflict, pray for the obstinate, or lead a district full of poor, miserable and sinful pastors who are trying to pastor congregations filled with poor, miserable sinners – outside of Eden? This is impossible!
We know the theological answer of course, but jumping into the car and driving into the storms of our districts requires confidence in God’s presence with us! It means applying our Spirit-powered faith to real life situations that satan has entangled and corrupted. It means turning the key in our well-worn cars and facing Pharaoh. It means the wheels are spinning as we prayerfully seek God’s wisdom as we follow our GPS.
As we visit with our pastors we will find that some have forgotten that they are standing on holy ground, that God is with them or that with God all things are possible. My encouragement and assistance often boils down to the assurance that God will do the impossible part as they carry out the sweaty labor that is a part of working in His vineyard. It’s not up to us – it never was – but we are privileged to be moving parts of God’s mission! We remind our workers that God works faithfully to keep them faithful as He guides them – even when they are called to go to Pharaoh.
We and the church workers we work with are all asking, “Who am I to do this?” “Lord we still struggle with leaving our nets on the beach to visit with an unbeliever, or work with one cloak, one pair of shoes and no money in hand as we fight our budget battles”. When we look inwardly we stop dreaming of things impossible, and it is hard to imagine what God might/could do?
Our encouragement and assistance is often a matter of urging our people to contemplate all the impossible things God might do in their setting and with their gifts. I want our pastors to sit at the dinner table and discuss with their wives what they have been dreaming about for their congregation. It is good to have congregational leaders plan big and suggest ministry opportunities in every community. It is our hope that every member of every congregation is thinking about what might be and what God may be leading them to do. The creative juices of the teacher that enliven a lesson plan and the efforts of every DCE to prepare to present and share God’s Word with today’s youth are important endeavors that need encouragement.
When people stop thinking, creating, praying and imagining the impossible they will find it difficult to obediently trust our loving God and knock on Pharaoh’s door. We can forget the promises of our God and somehow decide we can’t, won’t or really don’t need to do much of anything with the gifts God has given us. Satan loves to grind on our hearts and minds and destroy our spirit of faithful adventure in following our God who loves us and knows how to lead us in the paths of righteousness. When he is successful we don’t pray for much, don’t dream much and rarely plan much. We don’t even ask God to help us plan – we head for the broom tree and hope Jesus returns today. Self doubt and doubt about God being with us hit us like a Midwestern blizzard. We start thinking about retirement and an easier life where we only need dream about what’s for supper or an uptick in the market that will make our earthly future more solid.
You have a word of encouragement for the 40 year old church worker that is ready to throw in the towel. You have God’s Word to share with the disheartened and broken hearted. You can be an instrument in helping him or her think and dream and plan. God said He would be with him or her as surely as He is with you. His Word endures and is the dynamis that moved Paul to set out on his journeys. God keeps feeding you at His altar – You have been drenched in baptismal grace. It not up to you – you are not the Savior, but you do rest and find refuge and even courage in the embrace of the Savior. He has taught you to speak His gospel to a world dying to be loved. He moves your hand to turn the car key and He moves your hands to take the wheel and travel to Pharaoh’s house. God has done the impossible and has graciously called you and me and all that we serve now to work in His vineyard. We know that He did not invite us to go for a stroll in some nice rose garden, but to take up our cross and follow Him. He called us and those with whom we serve to be active in response to His grace – even if Egypt is on the agenda. He daily forgives and renews us to weigh the impossible.
Sitting on this counsel is a privilege – not because of whatever combined wisdom there may be among us – not because our sanctification is anywhere near complete, but because the bond we have with one another is one of faith and love in Christ Jesus. The crosses we carry are pretty similar, but our Savior is the absolute same. Together we continue to learn to speak and think in ways that are pleasing to God. God uses our togetherness to sharpen one another and lift one another as He does the impossible right before our eyes and within our hearts. We are always huddled under the cross as we celebrate God’s love for us and live as in the Easter light – impossible? Indeed for us it is but with God all things are possible!
So, if you have everything stuffed back in your brief case, picked up your power cord and are ready to grab a food box on your way out, I would encourage you to go boldly, live faithfully and speak passionately and compassionately as you serve Him for yet another day.
Peter writes, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11
Knock, Knock Pharaoh! We are here! God bless you brothers! Godspeed!
The 2007 Convention of the Synod mandated a Task Force on Synodical Harmony appointed by the Board of Directors and Council of Presidents. After more than three years of work, this Task Force has issued a final report with a number of possible strategies.
The President’s Office also is moving forward with a “Koinonia Project” (also referenced in the Task Force Report) that will enfold the suggestions recommended by the Task Force. To that end we offer the following four documents:
- A cover letter from President Matthew Harrison;
- A four page introduction to the material entitled, “A Way Forward”;
- The full text of “The Final Report of the Task Force on Synodical Harmony;” followed by
- The present draft (9.0) of a concept paper broadly outlining the goals of our “Koinonia Project.”
Find these documents and more at www.lcms.org/koinoniaproject.
We pray the blessing of God as we bear “with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2b-3).
+Herbert C. Mueller
1st Vice President
President Harrison would like to extend you an invitation to visit the Concordia Historical Institute Museum at the LCMS International Center in Saint Louis, MO. In this brief video, President Harrison provides a walk through tour with comment of the CHI Museum.
For the technically minded, the entire video was shot on an iPhone 4 and edited in iMovie on the iPhone. Granted it isn’t professional quality but is adequate for a quick, cheap (free) video of CHI.