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God is light, and there is no darkness at all in him. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true. If we walk in the light, as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son purifies us from all sin. – 1 John 1:5-7
Lutherans have lived in a variety of cultures and countries. Our faith has guided our lives and living in society, and we have made significant contributions to society as a result of our convictions. Yet, not every culture has welcomed the values that Lutherans share as Christian people. Stumbling blocks persist, most notably regarding the cornerstone of the faith — the person and work of Jesus Christ. In spite of this, we continue to proclaim Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ coming again. And, we continue to love those who are our neighbors.
As society morphs and shifts, it is all the more important for us to sustain our culture as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Identifying and articulating Synod’s core values highlights the importance of sharing and shaping a culture that is rooted in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. This “Lutheran ethos” permeates the teaching, preaching, caring, living and witness of our church.
Temptations abound for compromise. Sometimes temptation is a matter of convenience. Sometimes it is for gain. Sometimes it is rooted in fear. In every case, compromise of the faith has led to failure. History is replete with the drift of God’s people from the one, true faith. Time and again, God has patiently called his people to repentance. Even so, He calls us today.
Faithfulness to the Scriptures and the Confessions has anchored the Synod during a time of cultural change and global challenges. Her fidelity has been a catalyst to enhance relationships with church bodies within the United States and abroad and within and among congregations. Faithfully sharing Christ through Word and Sacrament has never failed the Church.
Let us find assurance in this faith rooted in Christ our Lord and confessed by the Church. Let us stand firm on the finished work of Jesus whose grace and mercy shall never fail.
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
Stories abound about apparitions – that is, an instance of something’s appearing. One of the more famous apparitions is commonly referred to as, “Our Lady of Lourdes.” A young 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, reported that she spoke to a woman in a cave near her hometown of Lourdes, France. After her first encounter with the lady in February 1858, she had 17 more meetings with her that year.
Unlike Bernadette’s mysterious encounters, pastors regularly and most predictably experience apparitions during Christmas. They have numerous encounters with parishioners who appear at the celebration of our Savior’s birth, not to be seen for another year with possible exceptions at Easter. They come to hear, once again, the preacher in the pulpit share the story about baby Jesus.
Christmas, although filled with excitement and anticipation of celebrating the Messiah’s birth, can become a litany of appearances. Christians are crushed by shopping sprees, mandatory social gatherings and endless parties. Before they know it, Christmas fatigue sets in — often by the third Sunday in Advent. Divine worship becomes another “event” for them to attend. They make their appearances and subtly grow indifferent about the birth of Jesus.
By now, they wonder what more can be said about Christmas, and there are12 days of Christmas ahead of them! What more can be said about the birth of the Savior? For sinners there is much to share. The law has enslaved humanity under its curse. Redemption is hopeless without God’s intervention and God makes his remarkable appearance at Bethlehem; redemption has come. He came in the flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth. He is man born of woman.
God’s redemption has come for all humanity to see, touch and hear. It is no illusion conjured in the hearts and minds of men. God has come in the flesh. Simeon says it so beautifully as he takes the Savior in his arms and says,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
May the grace and peace of God manifest among us in the Savior sustain us always in the one true hope that endures for all eternity. Amen.
Rev. Gregory Williamson
Chief Mission Officer
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
On November 22, 2013, a Federal District Court in Wisconsin held that the clergy housing allowance is unconstitutional. Specifically, the judge entered an Order and Opinion declaring 26 U.S.C. Section 107(2) unenforceable because it violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The judge entered an order enjoining the IRS from enforcing the provision but provided that the injunction will not be effective until all appeals have been concluded or the deadline for filing an appeal has expired, whichever comes later.
This Order and Opinion most certainly will be appealed, and we expect voluminous amicus briefs to be filed in support of a reversal of the decision. For this reason the Opinion will have no immediate impact and will not be effective until all appeals have been exhausted.
Synod General Counsel has been monitoring this case and earlier similar cases for many years and has been reporting on the issue to the LCMS Board of Directors.
Given the recent release of the court’s ruling, church bodies, religious organizations, and legal counsel are assessing the options for response and the potential impact of this ruling. We will provide updated information as it becomes available.
Ronald P. Schultz,
Chief Administrative Officer
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
In a deeply personal narrative, the Rev. Steve Schave, associate executive director, LCMS Office of International Mission, offers a powerful witness to the calling we have as children of God to proclaim the Gospel and share the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, particularly in the face of a devastating event. Schave recently returned from a week in the Philippines, where he served as a member of the LCMS advance disaster response team responding to a call for assistance from our partner church, the Lutheran Church in the Philippines, in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Below is that narrative.
Mud, blood, tears . . . and hope.
I have served as an inner city pastor acquainted with crime and violence. I have served as a hospital chaplain familiar with trauma and death. I have served as a prison minister experiencing some pretty rough criminal elements. I have also served as a disaster relief coordinator witnessing devastation and grief. But nothing could have prepared me for what I would witness in the Philippines. The chaos, the mourning, the whole-scale destruction and desperate need. I went to represent our Synod, to offer our support and concern to our partner church there and to ensure smooth operations were maintained with our Manila office, our missionaries from the Asia Pacific region and our Mercy Operations team. I thought our team might be the equivalent of a knight in shining armor coming to the rescue. But once we found ourselves in the areas that were affected the most, surrounded by endless cries for help and insurmountable unmet basic needs, all I could feel was empathy . . . and pure, unadulterated helplessness.
Surely I would be a changed man, fully aware of the weakness of our human frailty. When I sit at the dinner table, will the memory of a family kitchen turned watery grave be etched in my memory? When I embrace my children upon my return, will I hear the echoes of the father’s account of his children being snatched from his arms by wind and wave? When I walk down the halls of my kids’ school, will I see the faces of hundreds of beautiful children who lined the streets with their hands out begging for food to survive? Will I ever forget the smell of death that enveloped me, the sights of family members sifting through rubble to find the ones they love and the body bags placed on the curb among the debris to be taken away? Can I process the sheer force with which the inescapable beauty of a garden paradise was now covered by a thick layer of the deadly effect of sin, where so many were still reeling from the effects of a recent earthquake? Filled with images of God’s wrath and judgment, with doubts and fears, they were left to ask, “Why”? So much suffering: where to begin in this land of mud, blood and tears? A whole island ravaged: where to begin?
Where else can we begin . . . but the cross? The place where God meets us in our suffering and sorrow. In unspeakable grief and indescribable devastation, we find the mercy of God in His Son, the crucified Christ. At the place of the skull on Mt. Calvary, a hill covered in mud, blood, sweat and tears, the anchor of God’s grace was dropped into the depths of hell and death. Even as I stood at what can only be described as the gates of hell, I could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
A young man approached me as I stood at ground zero of Typhoon Yolanda (where they were still recovering bodies after 10 days with no end in sight). Seeing my clerical shirt and the crucifix that draped my neck, he asked me if I was a priest. I explained that I was a Lutheran pastor. Knowing then that I was one of Christ’s men, he asked, “Sir, would you come and pray for my dead.” I asked for the baptismal names of the three deceased family members, and while not expecting to be in this situation, I quickly turned to the end of the Commendation of the Dying in the Pastoral Care Companion that I had in hand. In this liturgy was a prayer of baptism, redemption, resurrection and a return to the garden paradise in a new creation restored. In this liturgy is the beautiful Nunc Dimittis that we so often sing after communion along with saints and angels. With it we announce to the world and the devil himself that we have received Christ’s body and blood, and we have seen our salvation and are ready to depart from this world in peace. We await the great reunion that is to come with all those who died in the faith before us. Those whom, even though it might seem they slipped through our fingers, we will once again embrace.
At one of the churches we visited, the nearby residents took refuge beneath the altar when the storms hit. Indeed, when we find our refuge at the altar, there is no tempest or whirlwind that can sweep us away because our hope is anchored in Christ. In Him alone are we ready to face the Son of Justice who sits on the throne of judgment. On Good Friday, the earth shook and the waters poured, as Christ bore the full wrath of God against sin. As a result, we can stand at the gates of death and hell, but they will not prevail. We will storm the gates, bringing Christ with us.
So here we find our place to begin on a ravaged island with that which is in most scarce supply — hope. Working with our missionaries, our church partners and our disaster response team, we will give not only shelter, food and water, but the water that gives eternal life — water that allows us to never thirst. We will give the food and drink that offer forgiveness, life and salvation that we would hunger no more. We will give shelter that is not only temporary, but an eternal dwelling place. We will give the Good News of Christ crucified and risen again and the message of how God can use all things for good. Yes, this may have been the strongest recorded typhoon in which 7 feet of water passed through the streets in front of one of our partner churches, carrying homes and bodies, but when the Word of God is attached to the water of Baptism, there is no stronger force on this earth. With all the strength of Noah’s flood or the walls of the parted Red Sea that came crashing down, the water of Baptism drowns our sinful nature and rescues us from death and the devil. It connects us to Christ’s death and resurrection, so that like Lazarus, Christ will one day call us from our tombs; the smell of death will no longer be able to cling to us, but only the sweet aroma of eternal life.
Let there be no doubt, brothers and sisters in Christ, there is hope in the Philippines. We saw it in the smiling faces of the brothers and sisters in the faith who were there. We heard it when they spoke of how God gave His only Son, and if that was all they had, it would be enough. We shared in it when we sat at their tables, and they gave to us from what little they had. We participated in it as we gathered together around God’s Word. There is hope, and you, too, can be a part of it. You can help your Synod to work with the Lutheran Church in the Philippines to pick up the pieces of so many shattered lives and lost livelihoods. With the right team in place, your Synod was able to get to the most affected areas bringing the most needed resources and spiritual care to our brothers and sisters in the Philippines. This is what the body of Christ does–it bears one another’s burdens, it suffers together, it brings relief and it comforts. This is what God does–He turns panic into fervent hope, and He turns chaos, violence and danger into order, peace and safety. Yes, even from out of death, God brings new life in the most storm-torn nation . . . AND YOU CAN HELP.
Prayerfully consider joining with your baptized brothers and sisters in Christ to share the baptized hope that is in Christ Jesus. You can make a Giving Tuesday (Dec. 3) gift to the LCMS Global Mission fund at http://www.lcms.org/givenow/givingtuesday. To share hope with typhoon victims in the Philippines or tornado victims in Illinois, visit www.lcms.org/disaster. Together as the Synod, we can make a difference.
– Rev. Steve Schave
And for this reason He assumed our nature, that in that nature, which was under the Law, satisfaction and fulfillment might be made. —Martin Chemnitz
The Fall is a time to celebrate. Many say that Fall is their favorite season. (It is mine.) The leaves change from shades of green to vibrant yellow, red, and orange; cool afternoons have replaced the midday heat of summer and kitchens fill with the delightful aroma of dinners prepared with love and care. That is Fall at its best.
But, the fall can mean something entirely different; something much less appealing. The fall is a universal tragedy, and it has consequences for all humanity. Mankind’s fall is marked by sin, death, and separation. This fall is an ugly plague upon humanity, and unlike the season, it does not pass with time. It is an eternal reality.
Stuck in the grips of the fall, humanity attempts to cope by various means to assuage the reality. Most notably, they ignore it. They live in the consequences of the fall ignorant of the truth; yet, something very real pierces their fantasies. It is the law.
The law makes its presence known through ruthless and persistent truth telling. A glaring mirror provides a strong dose of reality. Standing naked before the law every man, woman, and child is condemned. They are hopelessly guilty. Every indiscretion, every evil thought, every malicious intention sinks the sinner deeper into despair. Their fantasy crashes into hopelessness.
The law has driven them to the end of their delusions. Thanks be to God that there is more to reality and truth than sin, death, and hell. There is hope in the Savior.
God brings another truth to the fallen. He brings forgiveness, peace, and eternal life. As St. Paul writes to the Romans,
“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This message of hope in the atoning work of Christ is for all sinners.
There is cause for celebrating. Not a celebration of fantasy but of reality, a reality that proclaims liberty to those in the grips of sin through Christ’s atonement alone. They have been baptized and washed in the waters of redemption. In this they have comfort for theirs is the Kingdom of God, an eternal reality. Now every day, every moment is a cause for celebration for there is justification apart from works of the law. Just as St. Paul wrote,
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer