My brother-in-law is executive director of the Center for US Missions. He regularly leads seminars teaching mission outreach skills and explaining the importance of planting new churches. I was reading his newsletter and thought that this article could be applied in our daily lives.
Click HERE for article
This Sunday between services in the Fellowship Hall, we will hold a Bible Study that focuses on "The Great American Eclipse and our Creaturely Sense of Wonder." This study is made available by Concordia Seminary -- St. Louis. Just in case you cannot attend, here is a copy of the material.
Click HERE for Bible Study
I know that many of us struggle with how to share our faith, especially with our family and friends who are not asking "faith-based questions." This article offers a unique perspective.
Rwandan tells how he reconciled surviving genocide
As Rwanda entered 1994, Alex Nsengimana was 6 years old, with a 6-year-old’s grasp on politics.
But he knew he and his family were Tutsi.
He lived with his grandmother and several other relatives who shared the Tutsi ethnic identity. He had lost his mother to HIV/AIDS and had never known his father.
“I followed in my grandmother’s shoes,” he told the crowd Sunday afternoon at Cape Bible Chapel in Cape Girardeau. “If she was lazy, even, I was lazy, too. I loved my grandmother.”
But in 1994, he developed a vague awareness of trouble brewing from radio bulletins and overheard conversations. Ethnic tensions between the tall, slight Tutsi and the stouter, shorter Hutu populations dated back to the country’s pre-colonial era and again threatened to descend into violence.
“Hatred continued to grow, little bit by little bit,” Nsengimana said. He explained that for various reasons, the Hutu generally resented the Tutsi, who were thought to occupy a more privileged place in Rwandan society.
The first week of April, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of neighboring Burundi, was shot down.
Hutus and Tutsis blamed each other for the assassination. While those responsible for the killings have yet to be definitively identified, the slaughter that followed is history.
“The next day, the bombs started going off,” Nsengimana said.
His village was about 25 miles outside the more serious trouble in the city but was by no means safe. Neighbors warned his family not to leave the house for fear of being killed, but staying put was not a better option.
“We closed all the doors, and all of a sudden, we began to hear noises outside the house,” Nsengimana recalled.
Armed men broke into the house and forced the family outside to lay on the ground.
“They told my sister and me to go back into the house,” Nsengimana said. “That’s when we watched through the windows as they took my grandmother’s life.”
The horror of that instant, Nsengimana said, was compounded by his familiarity with the marauders.
“These were people I did not consider strangers,” he said. “We were so confused.”
They spared Nsengimana’s two uncles, but they soon returned.
“These were the last words [my uncle] said,” Nsengimana recalled. “‘Please, do not destroy this house. These children need a place to live.’”
They granted his dying wish, and Nsengimana’s rapidly dwindling family lived for a time in the house while his uncle kept the militants at bay with bribes of beer.
But the beer soon ran out.
“And we were wandering again,” Nsengimana said. “You never knew when you were going to make it through the night.”
He was, he explained, unwittingly laying the groundwork for his later conversion to Christianity.
“At that point, I didn’t even know that there was a God,” he said. “Miracles were happening around me that I thought were coincidence.”
He later would learn to find what he called “God’s sense of humor” even in dire situations.
One day, he was running through a field when he slipped and hit the ground hard with what turned out to be inspired timing.
“I realized a bullet had missed by head by an inch because I slipped in a cow pie,” he said, laughing. “There’s nothing glamorous about that, is there? I never thought God would use a cow pie to save my life.”
Nsengimana survived the wave of genocide, but the roughly 100 days of killing had turned him from a first-grader in a classroom to one of thousands of children in orphanages across the country.
“At this point, we were just lost,” he said. “We were hopeless.”
While in the orphanage, he received a shoebox with gifts inside from Operation Christmas Child, a Christian program that provides millions of care packages to needy areas around the world each year.
“It was the very first time we had ever received a gift,” he said.
The comb in one of his boxes became his most prized possession, but he left the roll of Smarties candies in the box, suspecting they might be medicine in disguise.
“And I got my first candy cane,” he said. “Halfway through, I realized it tasted better without the wrapper.”
He also received a Bible in a box. He was 9 and developing a prodigious case of survivor’s guilt.
“Millions of people died, and I walked through it without a single scratch,” he said.
He began to question everything. Why his family members? Why not himself? How does one explain the mortal serendipity of a well-timed rifle jam or an inexplicably compassionate soldier?
It was too much, especially for a 9-year-old, Nsengimana said, and anger followed disbelief. He found a measure of solace in the word of God, but faith came with its own hurdles.
Chiefly, how could Nsengimana conceive of a God who would love equally an orphan and the neighbor who had killed that orphan’s uncle?
“The bitterness in my heart was so much that if I had seen the person who did that to my family, I would have done that, too,” Nsengimana admitted. “It’s scary to say that, even now.”
Nsengimana was able to attend school in America some time later. If it was another example of God’s providence, he said, it was another example of His divine humor.
“I went to Minnesota,” he said, “where lakes freeze and people drive on them.”
He now helps Operation Christmas Child by sharing his story around the country. What’s especially satisfying, he said, was going back to Rwanda in 2013 to give children the same gifts that meant so much to him as a child.
“Seeing kids so happy and smiling ... You see them just light up,” he said. “It was so special to me.”
But even more profound was meeting one of the men responsible for his uncle’s killing.
The man who killed his grandmother had escaped prison, but Nsengimana arranged a prison visit with the man who killed his uncle.
“Why did you do it?” Nsengimana asked the man. “He said, ‘Really we were just following orders. ...’ It was like Satan had come and built a nest in our country, and people were killing for sport.”
It was painful seeing that man, Nsengimana said.
“There is no part of me who wanted to see him,” he said.
But he had to.
“And in that moment, God healed me so much,” he said.
Nsengimana’s goal, he said, was not to garner pity or flaunt piety. Rather, he said he tells his story to illustrate the hand of God in life in the hope others might grow to be similarly mindful.
“I hope you can see the power of God in [daily life],” he urged the crowd. “I hope you can see the works of God in the cow pies he has laid in front of you.”
President Harrison provides a Lutheran view of church and state
Dear Brothers in the Office of the Ministry,
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:3–6).
I dare say we would all agree that this is the most interesting if not strangest election cycle we’ve ever seen. I thought I’d spill a bit of ink on the topic of the two kingdoms doctrine and a Lutheran approach to politics. I know full well from experience how delicate, and even explosive, these issues can be for a pastor as an election year intensifies.
It’s a fact that the overwhelming majority of LCMS clergy are Republicans. (Not too long ago, a poll of LCMS pastors in the state of Wisconsin found that 95 percent of our clergy there self-describe as either “conservative Republican” or “very conservative Republican.”) The laity also lean toward the right, but with much less intensity than the clergy. Add to this the fact that the few issues that the LCMS has taken a public stance on also are preferred issues of the political right (life, marriage and religious freedom), and this makes for a potentially precarious, if not volatile, mix for pastors, preaching and congregations!
Last year, I wrote in The Lutheran Witness about a very interesting connection between James Madison and the Lutheran “two kingdoms doctrine.”
Late in 1821, Rev. Frederick Schaeffer presided over the cornerstone laying of a new building for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew in New York City. Afterward, he sent his homily to James Madison, the “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” and chief author of the Bill of Rights.
Pastor Schaeffer’s address was rather strongly Lutheran, in spite of the general weakness of American Lutheranism prior to 1840.
Montpellier, Dec. 3rd, 1821
Revd Sir, – I have received, with your letter of November 19th, the copy of your address at the ceremonial of laying the corner-stone of St Matthew’s Church in New York.
It is a pleasing and persuasive example of pious zeal, united with pure benevolence and of a cordial attachment to a particular creed, untinctured with sectarian illiberality. 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.
In return for your kind sentiments, I tender
assurances of my esteem and my best wishes.
Don’t you find it interesting that one of the chief architects of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights says, “Luther led the way?” I do.
Madison states, “…What is due to Caesar and what is due God, best promotes the discharge of both obligations.” Luther wrote, “church leaders make poor kings and kings make poor bishops” (Luther’s Works, 45:109). Luther recognized, on the basis of Jesus’ words in the New Testament, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17), that there are two distinct realms. The state is ruled by reason, and the church is ruled by the Word of God. Both are indeed God’s, but He governs them differently. The one is the realm of Law and reason; the other is the Word of God and Gospel. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad … for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Rom. 13:3-4).
Luther, in the wake of more than a millennium of confusion of church and state, got the New Testament right. Whatever inconsistencies in practice, Luther recognized that passages such as, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32), meant that the religious mind of mankind is not subject to the coercion of temporal authority.
In his book, Tyranny and Resistance: The Magdeburg Confession and the Lutheran Tradition (CPH, 2001), David Mark Whitford notes three approaches to the questions of “what is due God” and “what is due to Caesar.” These were all current at the time of the Reformation and have obvious influence yet today.
1. The inclusively ecclesial view: “Authority for the governance of creation is founded by God in the church. God’s authority flows to the church (and especially the pope); the church then yields some of that authority to the emperor. As far back as Pope Leo’s bold move to crown Charlemagne emperor of the Romans (A.D. 800), Leo began the establishment of papal supremacy over secular authority” (Whitford, p. 31).
2. The exclusively biblical model: “The church must conform to the Gospel explicitly [i.e., including theocratic ideas from the Old Testament]. No deviation is allowed. The relationship between the secular and spiritual is antagonistic. This antagonism seems to elicit two responses: withdrawal [e.g., the Amish] or usurpation [i.e., the state must conform to the Bible, traditional Calvinism]. In many Anabaptist groups, the church withdrew from secular society and placed itself over and against the dominant culture. In some respects, this model is a resurrection and modification of the ecclesial model. The church must conform to the whole Bible, and the state as well. Both Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt and Thomas Muentzer fall into this category” (Whitford, p. 31).
3. “The third approach differs significantly from both the inclusively ecclesial and exclusively biblical models. Often labeled magisterial, the inclusively biblical approach is epitomized by Luther’s doctrine of the two realms. In Luther’s thought, each realm is part of God’s plan for ordering creation. The spiritual realm is eternal and everlasting; it is the realm of revelation and faith. Instantiated in the church, it exists to offer the grace of God to all through preaching the Word of God and celebrating the sacraments … Like the Law to Gospel, the secular realm is the spiritual realm’s dialectical partner; it is the realm of reason and unbelief. Both the secular and spiritual exist for God’s regulation of creation, but like Law and Gospel, they play different roles. Whereas the spiritual realm is eternal and proleptic, the secular is finite and fleeting. Here the sword instead of service is definitive” (Whitford, pp. 31-32).
Model #1 has been very significantly moderated by Vatican II, and today we find Roman Catholics very helpful in struggles for life, marriage and religious freedom. Model #2 is one that often affects or pulls in Lutherans who argue for America as a “Christian Nation.” America certainly has been that. America was certainly dominated by Christian founders (despite the deism and religious liberalism of men like Jefferson, who as President, by the way, went to church every Sunday … in the House Chambers!). We can only say “America was founded on the Bible” with a strong caveat. If by that we mean that the Bible as revelation is the authority for government, then this is false. When the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” this is arrived at through reason, not revelation. In other words, it is important to realize that the founders did not believe it reasonable to believe that there was no Creator! They were right. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). It is more precise and correct for us to state that this nation was founded upon reason, and reason, when it is working — that is, when it is most reasonable — accords with the ethical teaching of the Ten Commandments. (Rom. 1:14-15) The ethical teaching of the Ten Commandments, and thus Christianity, profoundly marked the founding of the United States. Nevertheless, the church and state were kept distinct. The state may coerce, punish, wage war, etc., but only so far as God-given inalienable rights are recognized and guarded. The state may not coerce the religious conscience; that conscience is responsible to God. To paraphrase a quote of Luther, “The state and the religious conscience are not good bedfellows. The bed is too narrow and the blanket too short!” Our founders recognized what so many courts and political leaders today have forgotten. A government favorable to responsible religion, particularly Christianity, causes a nation to thrive.
I would urge that all of us carefully work through the Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI on political power with our Bible classes and congregations. It says, “Christ’s kingdom is spiritual.” “The Gospel does not introduce laws about the public state, but is the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of a new life in the hearts of believers. The Gospel not only approves outward governments, but also subjects us to them” (Rom. 13:1). This is vital for us to remember, particularly when we object to laws that have allowed 58 million abortions, same-sex marriage and an ever increasing encroachment upon religious freedom. These matters, as vital as they are, are ultimately important only as they intersect and impact the chief purpose of the church, which Jesus put so clearly and simply: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
As Christian pastors, what can we preach during this volatile year? Should we openly support a particular party or candidate in our preaching? Of course not! Should we say, “If you vote for this or that person, you can’t be a Christian?” Certainly not! Our people have individual experiences in life that guide the exercise of their vote as citizens. For one, it might be hassling with the IRS in a small business. For another, it might be trying to work for better treatment and benefits for factory workers. Another may have grown up in the South under Jim Crow laws. Our people will make their political decisions on the basis of any number of factors that may, at times, mystify us. At times such as these, it is also appropriate, dear pastors (no matter where your particular political propensities lie), to recall that wonderful teaching of Franz Pieper: the “felicitous inconsistency.”
What can we preach? We can urge our people to be politically active and to stand in the public square for what accords with reason and the Ten Commandments. We can preach that we as Christian citizens will join with all people of good will to promote and care for life, from womb to grave; we will support traditional marriage, and we shall oppose laws, courts and governments restricting our God-given rights — rights that were acknowledged by the Bill of Rights as inherent (not granted!). We shall urge our people to be knowledgeable about candidates’ positions on issues that the Bible speaks about and on which the church has taken a stand, and to take these issues into consideration as they make their choices.
We must be quite careful not to coerce political activity. Coercion is not the business of the church [FC SD X 15]. We must avoid in every way the impression that politics or controverted issues are front and center and the Gospel is set in the background (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). We must take care not to allow our politics (which may take positions on all sorts of issues about which the Word of God and the church are silent) to skew our theology and preaching! I may have a political view that there should be a wall on the border. But that doesn’t change one iota of Christ’s mandate to care for the illegal/undocumented neighbor who might well be living or working next to me. (Consider Jesus love for the ‘unclean’ Samaritans and even pagans; John 4, Matt. 15:21; Luke 10:25-37; Heb. 13:1). I might have strong views on Muslim immigration, but that dare not make me unwilling and unable to see that these people are in my community already, and they need Christ (Matt. 9:37; John 3:16; Rev. 7:9; 1 Cor. 2:2). When the requirements of the two realms clash in this sinful world, the Gospel must predominate. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Above all brothers, preach and teach Christ. By the blessed power of the Gospel, He continues to work the miracles of forgiveness, life and salvation. Both Madison’s comments and the Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms beg for more discussion, but alas, that shall have to wait for another occasion.
As we continue together on the road of repentance toward Good Friday (and the parallel path of pain, antics, joys and disappointments during the political season), God grant you the strength of mind, body and soul to serve Him in word and deed. And I join all of you in fervent prayer for our nation and its leaders, present and future.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21).
Thanks for all you do dear brothers,
Pastor Matt Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
In light of yesterday's terrorist attacks in Paris, I thought this article would be constructive for thought and discussion.
We Are All Parisians: A Christian Response to Global Terror and Radical Islam
We are, it is hard to disagree, in what will be a decades long struggle with radical Islamists. Tonight, that stark reality is made clear again as the death toll continues to rise in Paris in what has been, if early reports are accurate, a series of multiple terror attacks. While no group has claimed responsibility thus far, this scenario is all too familiar, and France has previously experienced smaller attacks from radical groups. So while we wait for more details, we are beginning to process what we do know.
Others can opine on geopolitical realities, military strategies, and more. But I'm burdened to ask, how do we respond as Christians?
I can't speak for everyone, but I can and will share some suggestions in this painful time. I believe there are things Christians can and must do to respond to this, and so many other, terrorist attacks.
First, pray. Pray for the families. #PrayforParis. Pray for France. Pray for Muslims. And pray for those who are our enemies. That's a uniquely Christian thing to do-- to pray for all, including our enemies. It's not easy, but it is our calling.
Second, love the hurting. Though most of us are not in Paris tonight, we know that Christians are there, along with others, loving those who have lost so many. And,even from where we sit, we can love the French and "weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). It was the French newspaper LeMonde that said in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, "We are all Americans now." Well, today, we are all Parisians.
Third, love our enemies. Again, that is what makes our faith unique. Most of us are watching this unfold from outside of France, but as the President of the United States said in his remarks, “this is an attack on all of humanity.” When we let that sink in, love isn’t our first natural feeling. But love is what we are called to anyway.
You have heard that it was said, Love your neighborand hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. --Matthew 5:43-45
But in moments like this, that response can be hard to come by. We have to consider our own tendencies, and be ready to flee from temptation. Fresh memories from 14 years ago come back for Americans tonight, and strong feelings rise to the surface.
Sometimes it’s not enough to just give lip service to what we should be doing. We also have to commit to what we should be resisting. And on a night like this, there are at least three things we should NOT do as Christians.
First, we should not hate. That’s what our human nature wants to do. We feel pain for those on the other side of the ocean. We feel anger toward an evil that we cannot control. We remember what it feels like to live in a nation under attack. And some of us may even worry about people we know who live in France. All these emotions, especially together, can lead our souls to some troubling places. But the truth is, we are people who live with hope and who live with a mission. We cannot hate a people and reach a people at the same time. As we pray, we must pray for our own hearts to be protected from hate.
Second, we should not take out anger on refugees. The immigrants streaming across Europe are trying to escape the radical Islamists, they are not the enemy. This incident certainly reminds us of the importance of security in this immigration crisis, and terrorists may very well try to infiltrate such refugees. But almost all of these people are just trying to live and protect their families-- as you and I would do. If we start placing blame, and drawing quick conclusions from that, then we are saying that innocent people should have been denied protection. This is not ok. The gospel frees us to first-- and always-- be people of compassion.
Third, we should not call for a war with Islam. I've written extensively that I do not think that interfaith cooperation is helpful, but multi-faith understanding can be. I do not believe that Muslims and Christians pray to the same God and, as such, I believe that ALL people need Jesus, including Muslims, Hindus, and atheists. That's part of what makes us evangelicals.
I want to see Muslims come to Christ (as, yes, they want to win me to Islam). And, we can't do that by going to war with a billion people.
And it is worth saying again-- the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists.
A few years ago I wrote in USAToday in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing:
Simply put, too many people make decisions about a group based on what they see on television news – and that’s a bad place to make sweeping conclusions…Don’t be so lazy to assume ta that the worst of a group represents the entire group. They hardly ever do. Perhaps a better idea is to meet them, learn about them and treat them as your neighbor.
Instead of a war on Islam, we should acknowledge and encourage that moderate Muslims will have to be part of any solution. Earlier this evening I tweeted, "We are in a decades-long stuggle with radical Islamists that will require the partnership of Western nations, Muslim leaders, and many more." We need Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Jordan's King Abdullah II, and others, partnered with Western nations, and engaged in this struggle at an even greater level.
Yet, as Fareed Zakaria has written, Muslims have a problem.
It is not enough for Muslims to point out that these people do not represent the religion. They don't. But Muslims need to take more active measures to protest these heinous acts.
They also need to make sure that Muslim countries and societies do not in any way condone extremism, anti-modern attitudes and intolerance towards other faiths.
Where from Here?
These are complex issues and I've not addressed them all here. Furthermore, this is not a problem that evangelical Christians can solve. It will involve governments, alliances, and Muslims themselves. But, if this world is going to be a more safe place, we will have to find ways to solve it.
We do not want, nor should we seek, to pretend that we are on the same path. We should not pretend that our dialogue will help us figure that out that we were just misunderstanding one another all along. We are not-- Evangelicals and Muslims both want to convert one another, but since that work is not yet done, the world needs moderate Muslims to make the world safer for both of our faiths. I will continue to pray for that, and while I do so I will continue to love my Muslim neighbors, while always seeking to reach them with the gospel that saves.
Times like these are filled with emotion, and that is normal. But let's make sure that our response is more tempered by the fruit of the spirit than online rhetoric. Don’t get caught up in debates and anger. This is a horrible night, but our story is bigger than this and it ends in hope.
Even as we mourn, we have nothing to fear.