Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Spirit will. . .

Sermon for Pentecost B, preached on Sunday, May 24, 2015.

    The reality of life is that we are so busy in the present, we forget that we have a future – not simply tomorrow but the forever future Christ won for us by His death and resurrection.  The Spirit brings to remembrance what Christ has accomplished in the past so that we might know and be ready for the future Christ has prepared for us.  The role of the Spirit is not whispering secrets we do not know but to bring to remembrance the eternal Word of God that has reshaped our yesterday and to direct us to the eternal tomorrow God has prepared for those who love Him.
    Jesus says the Spirit will guide you into all truth.  The Spirit cannot lie to us nor can the Spirit deceive us.  God gives us the Spirit so that you and I might be grounded upon and build our lives upon the truth that endures forever.  In an age of liars, lies, and deceptions, we need a voice we can trust.
    This truth is not some theoretical or philosophical truth but the flesh and blood truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in our flesh and blood.  He became incarnate, suffered, died, and rose again to forgive our sins, to save us from death, and to give to us eternal life.  This is the saving truth the Spirit makes known.
    This truth is embodied in Christ and is made known through His Word.  The Son and the Spirit do not have other words but only the Word of the Father.  Jesus insists He is come to make known the Father’s Word; the Spirit speaks this Word.
    The Spirit will declare what is to come – not as some crystal ball into the hidden future but the future made plain in Jesus Christ.  This is not some secret we must stumble upon but the promise that saves.  You have this future – you will not die but live and declare the wonders of Him who has called you from darkness into His light.  You will rise in the new and glorious flesh of Christ to live with Him and in Him in perfect bliss and peace forever.
    We know this future.  It is not some treasure at the end of a map or a lifelong journey but our present hope.  One of the worst things that has been done to us is this awful idea that God has a secret plan and purpose for your life and you have to figure it out.  What kind of God would torment us like this?  God has a plan and a purpose for you but it is not hidden.  It is that you believe by the power of the Spirit and that you seek to live as God's own, obey His commandments, and be found faithful when Christ returns to finish His new creation.  You do this right where you are -- as husband and wife to each other, as parent and child to each other, as neighbor to neighbor. . .
    When Christ comes to finish His new creation, the Spirit will prepare you for Him.  The Spirit calls you to repentance, to owning your sin in confession that Christ may atone for it with His holy suffering and life-giving death.  The Spirit keeps you in this faith and in this repentance so that when Christ returns you will be found in Him, holy, blameless, and without spot.  This is God's plan and purpose -- a life of daily repentance letting go of sin and grasping hold of the forgiveness in which you stand now and forevermore.
    The Spirit will glorify Jesus.  This is not some vague and mysterious glory but the glory of people who have learned by the Spirit to believe in Jesus Christ.  The work of the Spirit is to break down the barriers of our fears and teach us to trust in Christ alone.  The work of the Spirit is to call us out by convicting us with regard to sin and to call us up to the holy life of faith and good works, following Jesus to day and forever.
    You are not on your own.  You are not left to your own devices.  You are not abandoned by God.  He has given you the Spirit, the Comforter and Counselor to guide you into all truth.  The Spirt has extended Christ to us and Christ has extended to us the Father.  The work of the Trinity comes together on the cross, in the Word of the cross, and in our faith in that promise of that cross.  The Father sends His Son, the Son accomplishes His Father's saving purpose, and the Spirit makes known this glorious Gospel that we might believe it and live in its joy today and forever.
    And all of this is so that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, doing what He has called us to do today while there is time, so that we may receive the well done of the Father in all eternity.  Where is the Spirit?  Where Christ is made known in the Word of the Gospel, in the water of baptism, in the voice of the absolution, and in the bread and wine we eat and drink as Christ’s body and blood.
    And the Spirit is one more place -- in YOU.  Teaching you to renounce ungodliness, to live self-controlled lives where your desires do not rule your hearts, to do what is good and right and true and not simply live as victims of sin and its unrighteousness, and to tell the world that there is hope, there is life, there is forgiveness, and there is salvation in Christ and in no where else.  What else can we say except, make it so, Lord.  Make it so, Lord.... make it so.  Amen

One issue conversions. . .

One issue conversions (or reasons for leaving one church and joining another) are seldom enough to satisfy the one leaving.  For a long time I have suggested that many of those who left the ELCA did not leave the ELCA but merely desired to leave behind the sexuality decisions of the 2009 CWA.  They were leaving in the hopes of placing one issue behind them.  Those who leave Lutheranism for Rome or Constantinople generally have an issue that becomes the trigger.  This last straw was the one thing they could no longer abide (I have heard many:  infant communion, size, history, a magisterium, frustration with democratic structures common to non-Roman communions, liturgical matters, etc...).  The truth is that Missouri was begun by a group of people who took the radical step of not leaving a church behind but a country and a culture to find a new home where they could be the church they could not be in Germany.  In every case, there have been mixed results.

The NALC has not become the huge magnet for disaffected ELCA types and there are questions still being resolved -- not in the least of which what does it mean to be in fellowship with the very church body they left in protest?!  The LCMC has become a hodge podge of strange and unusual -- things Lutheran and things Protestant and things Evangelical.  It is not so much a church body as a loose group of cooperating churches who function independently of one another.  Issues of fellowship are likewise as informal and loose within this group.

Those who have left for Rome or Constantinople have left with dreams only to find that any more is an exchange of one set of problems for another.  No one who says otherwise is being honest.  It is a matter of what problems you choose to live with and what problems force you to leave.  Some have quite willingly and cheerfully shaken the dust of their former Lutheranism from their feet -- running from more than running to a new church home.  Others have been much more circumspect (thinking here of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus who never really renounced his Lutheran identity and life but saw his conversion as the ordinary outcome of his Lutheran-ness).

One does not even have to think on a denominational scale to see this.  Splits over single issues seldom produce healthy churches in the short term.  It may be enough to force you to leave but a single issue is not enough to help you face the future with a positive identity and picture of what you are here to accomplish.  We have had folks who left the two congregations I have served but less than half of them ended up being regular attenders or people who fully embraced their new church homes.  Single issues and a move from rather than toward has resulted in very uneven fruits.  Even those who leave a liberal Christian denomination for one that unashamedly affirms Scripture's infallibility may not be prepared to embrace the liturgical, sacramental, and theological consequences of their move (I am thinking here of one family who left a denomination which no longer affirmed the truthfulness of Scripture but is still uncomfortable about the infant baptism they encountered in Lutheranism).

It is much easier to run from something than to run to it.  To a certain extent, many Christians are running from their own churches and church bodies -- even while they remain active members.  The clear and unbroken historical position on marriage, for example, becomes an issue people run from when a child, grandchild, or other relative or friend presents themselves with a same sex partner desiring to be married.  The clear and unbroken position on abortion, another example, becomes an issue when people have a child, grandchild, or other relative or friend who faces an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy or seems ill-equipped to care for a child.  People are always saying about their churches "Oh, I know our church teaches that but I don't believe it..."  Even congregations have chosen to de-emphasize aspects of their historic confession (say Lutherans who have outgrown the liturgy and worship like Evangelicals).

The truth is I think Lutheranism -- that is the faith confessed in the Lutheran Confessions and proclaimed by generations of orthodox teachers, preachers, pastors, and musicians -- is better than the actual Lutheran church bodies that claim that confession.  Most of us do.  So what do you do with that?  In my case, I agitate for my parish and my church body to take seriously their own Confessions and to exercise more discipline (personally and ecclesiastically) to let those Confessions inform and govern doctrine and practice.  It is an ongoing struggle but I think in the end it is a positive one.  I hope that I am not running away from something but running toward a positive affirmation of an evangelical and catholic faith that reformed and continues to reform the dogma and practice of our life on behalf of all Christians but within the specific sphere of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

I would be happy if all denominations did the same thing -- struggled with Scripture and the catholic tradition to make sure their own church body was as faithful as it could be.  In the end I think this is much better ecumenical model that overlooking differences or deciding that such differences are somehow or other no longer impediments to being one at the altar.  None of us gains anything by having those who discount or are embarrassed by our confessional identity lead us or engage other Christians on our behalf.

Lutherans have never said that the borders of the church are coterminous with any particular Lutheran denomination -- only that the faith expressed in our Concordia is the catholic and apostolic faith and not sectarian in any way.  I am regretfully prepared to accept that any Lutheran denomination will disappoint me but I am yet to be disappointed with the Lutheran faith as confessed in our Concordia.  For that reason it is less likely I will leave than those who have drawn a line in the sand and said no more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What can the west learn from the success of Chinese schools?

Seventy teachers from the UK were sent to Shanghai to study classroom methods to investigate why Chinese students perform so well. Upon their return, the teachers reported that much of China’s success came from teaching methods the UK has been moving away from for the past 40 years.

The Chinese favour a “chalk and talk” approach, whereas countries such as the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand have been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control.

Given China’s success in international tests such as PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS, it seems we have been misguided in abandoning the traditional, teacher-directed method of learning where the teacher spends more time standing at the front of the class, directing learning and controlling classroom activities.

Read it and weep. . .

As schools across America let out for the summer, it is a good time to re-think what we are doing wrong in the American educational enterprise. The lies we have told ourselves and the tragedy we have heaped upon our children who bear the cost of our foolishness. . .

  1. The ways of the past have not served us well.  Enthusiasm for discovery learning is not supported by research evidence, which broadly favors direct instruction.  In other words, our experimentation with more innovative and experimental styles of teaching, including basing learning on children’s interests, giving them more control over what happened in the classroom and getting rid of memorizing times tables and doing mental arithmetic, has not helped our children learn but only wasted their time and ours on the foolish distractions of modernity.
  2. Instruction dealing with new information should not be explicit and direct.  In other words, children sitting in rows of desks, listening to teachers, has been false derided as passive learning which should be replaced by active methods of instruction which involve the children and our aversion to memorization of facts actually hinders our children from recalling basic content and allowing them to integrate this into other areas of instruction and learning.
  3. Lavish praise is the key to effective learning.  The psychological evidence is clear that there are no benefits for learning from trying to present information to learners in their preferred learning style.  More than this, too much praise actually hinders their capacity to learn and even to think critically.
  4. Every child learns in his or her own way and at his or her own speed.  Instead of consuming the precious time, energy and resources to individualize instruction to meet the supposed individual learning styles of every child in the classroom, it is more effective to employ more explicit teaching strategies and to spend additional time monitoring and intervening where necessary.
  5. More money will solve the problem.  Unlike our American classrooms replete with the latest technology in new and fresh facilities, the Chinese classrooms use antiquated methods like chalk boards in cramped quarters and still their children outpace ours in the basic educational skills.  Money is not the problem; wasted money is the problem.
  6. There is no room for failure in the classroom.  Inflated grade systems and the press to pass children who have not mastered the basic skills of their grade have not helped anyone but have created a morass in which mediocrity rules and the whole educational endeavor seems to encourage telling our failing children that they are doing just fine.
I am certainly not intent upon duplicating the Chinese but in abandoning our ever present desire to reinvent education and to rediscover our own educational history and success -- when the children in American schools were at the top of the world class and our schools the envy of the world.  Discipline, memorization, attention to basic skills and the mastery of basic facts seem old-fashioned in our world of individualized learning where no child is allowed to fail but they may be the only means by which we can rescue our educational institutions from those who throw dollar after dollar at new, untried, and failed ideas.  We certainly cannot do much worse!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Remember. . .

On this Memorial Day weekend, two scenes are etched into my memory.  At my father-in-law's funeral a single row of war veterans, the same vintage as Al, made their long way down the aisle before the funeral began and solemnly saluted their fallen comrade.  At the cemetery they took turns firing the rifles whose sound shattered the silence.  And they stood in rapt attention as the flag was folded and on one knee presented to my mother-in-law in recognition of Al's service to his country and from a grateful nation.  Little did I know that the whole thing would be repeated seven hundred miles away when my own father died.  Honor guards, soldiers folding a flag, and a bended kneed holding forth that folded flag in honor, thanks, appreciation, and gratitude from a grateful nation -- this time for my own father.  They are two poignant moments of very emotional times.  But this is not about emotion.

We spend too much time talking about and paying attention to feelings.  We are more consumed with how we feel than just about anything else.  Those soldiers who served without hesitation, who paid the cost with haunting memories, the loss of friends and family, chronic wounds and loss of limb, and especially those who died on hills, in fox holes, in the air, one the sea, so far from home. . . they deserve more from us than good feelings and even gratitude.  If their serve and their sacrifice means anything to us, then it calls us as a nation to stop the foolish feeding frenzy of presumed slight, to demand an end to the crazed reaction to injustice that loots, steals, and destroys, to refuse the senseless litany of rights demanded by those unwilling to pay even the smallest cost of liberty, and to challenge the selfish slavery of the moment by remembering those whose support of freedom was paid in blood, sweat, pain, and death.

Our political conversation is dominated by questions of what the candidates will do for me.  Our terrible treatment of those who would be candidates almost guarantees that the best people will not seek to run. Our fear of the future betrays the America that led countless soldiers to defend freedom on every field in unpopular conflicts amid the worst possible conditions.  Our nation is only as strong as those who will hear and heed the call to service -- formally in the armed forces or informally as responsible citizens.  Our punishment will be to get the kind of society we fought to prevent -- unless we are willing to work together as hard as those who are working to tear down and destroy the fragile liberty but one generation away from surrender to those who refuse to follow where our ancestors walked.

Just a few thoughts on Memorial Day as I remember two of the greatest generation and pray that they and their like are not the last. . .

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Of two minds. . .

The etymology of the word “doubt” is from the Latin word dubius meaning “uncertain” (also a word in English).  Look more deeply, however, and you find the word rooted in the Latin word duo (two). Dubium means a choice between two things. Another way of looking at this is to compare doubt with double, a word that comes from the same Latin root (dubius). To entertain doubts is to be undecided, to have two minds on the matter.

This is useful because it well describes us as Christians today.  We say we want the truth but the truth is we run after every falsehood that appeals to our minds and hearts.  We say we want to be confident of that truth but we allow every naysayer to disarm this truth and leave us with uncertainty.  We say we want to hold on to that which is larger than the moment and even eternal but we cave to the whim of desire nearly every chance we get.  We insist that we are our own people and go our own way but seldom risk this lonely path without the support of others.  We insist we are individuals but we walk in herds -- in step with those ahead of us even when we fear they are going the wrong way.

We are like this not only in the matter of religion and faith but life itself.  We love and hate our jobs.  We love our friends but spend most of our time with them filtered through media.  We love healthy food but give into our guilty pleasures.  We honor people of principle but we tend to surrender our principles on the altar of desire and go for what feels good.  We want accountability in government but only if our politicians tell us what we want to hear.  We want the rule of law to apply equally unless we are guilty of an infraction and then we have all sorts of reasons, excuses, and justifications why it should not apply to us.

I am just as guilty as the rest of us.  Doubt is the fruit of sin.  Before it stains us with guilt, before it marks us for death, before creation has become a battleground, and before God became our enemy, it all began with simply doubt.  Did God really say. . . Does the Word of God really mean. . . Does God really want you to. . .  These became the cracks filled quickly with guilt, shame, regret, and bitterness.  We became of two minds toward God back in Eden and it has not changed.

The Christian is the new person, created in Christ Jesus from the waters of new birth in Baptism, as a child of God and heir of salvation in whom the Spirit lives, works, and speaks.  But the old Adam has not shut up and continues to plant doubt in our minds about God's promises, His reliability, His trustworthiness, and the certainty of His grace. 

These doubts either drive us into the arms of Christ or out of them.  No one is ever brought to more certainty by abandoning the fellowship of God's people gathered around the Word and Table of the Lord.  No one is ever made more secure in the arms of God's grace by getting what they want, what they pray for, or what they think will make their lives perfect.  Adversity does have the power to drive us from the sufficient grace of God but it also has the power to drive home the truth that this sufficiency is the only security we know this side of glory.

We lie to ourselves by insisting God would not want us to suffer and so we indulge in what we know is evil and wrong -- choosing a moment of sinful pleasure over an eternity of joy.  We lie to ourselves that if God really loved us then all these bad things would not be happening to us -- choosing to believe that God's purpose is merely the clean up crew who fixes our own self-indulgent wrongs and the struggles of living in a sinful world clearly at odds with His purpose and plan.  And then we feel justified in rejecting God while finding that such rejection has not authored any word of peace for our hearts but only the poisoned fruit of bitterness and despair.

What will you do with your doubts?  That is the question.  Will we stew and fret in them until the only thing we know is uncertainty?  Or will we surrender them to meet the Lord where He will be found -- in the rich green pastures of His Word and the still quiet waters of His Sacraments.  This is what I struggle with every day and, I suspect, it is where you live also.  If I have learned one thing over my life, doubt offers me no refuge, no peace, no promise, no future, and only the most painful regret.  Faith is always a risk but its risk cannot be as empty as the alternative of doubt, despair, and death.

On this Pentecost morning we rejoice that God has sent to us the Spirit of truth to make known to our fearful and double hearts the true Gospel and to break down the walls of our hearts to believe.  On this day we pray as a Church and as individual Christians:  Lord, I believe. . . Help Thou my unbelief.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Pastoral words to pastors from our Synod VP

Pastor Mueller offers words of
encouragement and comfort for pastors

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:6–11).
Brothers in Christ:
Grace and peace to you in Jesus, the Living One, who died and lives forevermore, who holds the keys of death and hell (Rev. 1:18)! We are writing specifically to pastors today, but much of this applies to all of us, brothers and sisters alike.
Every three to six weeks, I sit down with my pastor. Generous with his time, he usually gives me 90 minutes or more. We talk about our families, about our joys and burdens, about our temptations. We then read and discuss Scripture, pray and, if necessary (when is it not necessary?), confess and speak Christ’s word of forgiveness. I do not believe it is possible to serve very long as a pastor without hearing for yourself the precious word of Christ on the lips of your pastor, “Your sin is forgiven you! Go and sin no more!”
Why? Simply put, as Peter writes, the devil is prowling about, seeking someone to devour. Does that include pastors too? Oh, yes, it does—in spades! And if you think it doesn’t, you are actually in even greater danger. Time and time again, we’ve seen how both the devil and the world target pastors and their families. If they can take a pastor down, they can often take others down with him. What is more, we pastors, like everyone else, have beating in our own chests a heart full of sin, “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Why so negative today? Jesus explains: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23).
So when Satan comes with his temptation, he has this natural ally in me, in my heart. In other words, my sin problem is not merely a surface anomaly like a skin blemish easily removed with a laser. Instead, it’s like a metastasized melanoma, not just on the surface, but infecting the whole body with its deadly effects.
What are some of the tactics Satan uses to play with our sinful flesh, often when we least expect it?
  • He almost always takes our pride and twists it to his purposes. “It won’t happen to me.” “I’m immune to these temptations.” “I have progressed beyond that.” “I’m on to the devil’s schemes.” “I’ve got this licked.” “Let’s focus on the good things, not the negative.” “I’m okay. At least I’m not as bad as . . .” “You work for the Synod. You’re good!”
  • Sex is like a powerful river. Within its proper banks, within a marriage of one man and one woman for life, it is a glorious gift of God. Outside these boundaries, it quickly becomes destructive, narcissistic. Used as God designed, for husband and wife to give themselves to serve each other in love, it is a source of great joy and blessing from God’s hand. But when our appetites lead us to use others for ourselves, it turns into an idol that often runs wild, becoming an all-consuming desire that is never satisfied. With the Internet, accessing debilitating pornography (debasing to women and men alike) has become so easy. We toss God’s gifts into the trash, causing great pain to ourselves and those we love.
  • Sometimes those with great intellect are tempted to think that they can solve just about any problem if only people will listen to them. When people do listen, we become enamored with our own wisdom. When they refuse to hear us, we blame it on their “stupidity” or “hardness of heart,” claiming that they have thereby refused to hear Christ. We become proud of our accomplishments. Or when we suffer, we blame others.
  • Great wealth or lack of possessions, take your pick. The devil can use either one to consume our hearts and minds. We don’t have enough. We are blessed, but we want more. We focus on what we don’t have, instead of receiving in thanksgiving all that God has given us. But the thing about idols and obsessions is that God has a tendency to grind them to bits. He tolerates no rivals!
  • The devil tempts us with the fear of man. We know the right thing to do or to say, but we are afraid people will not like us if we say it, so we soft peddle. We compromise. We give in. Pray God would instead give you both the wisdom and discernment necessary, as well as the Spirit-worked courage, to speak the Word of God with loving boldness. Let the fear of God drive out the fear of man.
  • Can pastors develop a haughty spirit? There are many opportunities the devil takes to play on our sinful flesh in this regard. “This church is growing because of me.” “If everyone followed my methods, this Synod would take off!” “My people are a bunch of dumb sheep who know nothing of the Word of God.” “They’re not worthy of a man of my talents.” Any one of these thoughts will indulge our sinful pride, but each of them is deadly.
  • We could also write volumes about the tongue, what James calls “a fire, a world of unrighteousness . . . no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:6, 8). Heed his warning: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue [or his fingers on the keyboard!] but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
What a list! And I’m only scratching the surface. Satan’s purpose in all of these temptations is to separate us from Christ, to drive others away from Christ or to destroy our ability to serve in the pastoral ministry. What is God calling us to do?

First, repent. Turn from the lies you tell yourself. Turn from following your own desires. Turn from the idols you have created. Turn in the pride. Give up to the Lord in confession all those sinful thoughts. Turn away, by the Spirit’s power, from those sinful actions. Give up the sinful, prideful words. Put away the fear of man (again, idolatry) to fear, love and trust in God alone.

Second, even more importantly, remember that the Church lives only by the forgiveness of sins. You and I need Christ’s forgiveness as much or more than our people. Hear for yourself the poignant words of John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2). That’s how you can be sure this is also for you.

God in our flesh and blood, Jesus, became the sacrifice that takes away our sins. He soaked it all up. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice that made us whole. He absorbed all that sin and death could do. All the wrath, all the destruction—He took it all for us. He did it all for real sinners. He did it all for you and me.
All this works a wonderful exchange, an exchange actually finished from the cross. When we come, stained and dirty, dying with our sin, Jesus says, “Here, I will take what is yours, will take all your sin, I will become the sinner for you, in your place!” He gathers all our sins, carries them all and is nailed up to the cross for every last one of them. Now raised from the dead, Jesus says, “Here, now let me give you what is Mine, My life, My peace, My mercy, My grace, My heaven, all for you, for you are my beloved!” And the Father looks at us and sees only Jesus—for us!

All this is delivered to us in our Baptism, in absolution, in the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us. As a pastor, you deliver these gifts to your people in the Word of God. But you need the gifts too. No one, including you, can live without them. The greatest help in temptation is our Lord’s promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). You are loved in Christ, washed clean in His blood.

Forgiven by the Word of the living Lord Jesus, we are now called to be “humble . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” We are to be “sober-minded; watchful” against temptation (1 Peter 5:6–8). In essence, by the Word of God and prayer, as we are accountable to one another, we are to guard our hearts. We take seriously the warning, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). This is why God provides you with brothers in the ministry, with a board of elders, to help you stand. This is why God gives His Spirit, in His Word: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Look for it. Look for the way of escape He gives. Trust Him. Know that Satan is already defeated. He has no power unless we allow it. That’s why Peter tells us to “resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:9–10).

When you sense you are being drawn into temptation, get help. Don’t fight alone. Call a brother pastor. Talk to someone. The devil loves loners. They’re easier to “pick off.” Guard your heart. Watch what you take in. Be careful what you look at. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). Be accountable for your devotional life. Call your circuit visitor. Visit regularly with your pastor, your father confessor. Put safeguards on your computer if you haven’t done so. Start or become part of an accountability group. Ask a brother pastor to hold you accountable. Talk to a Christian counselor (many districts provide help in this). The Concordia Plan Services Employee Assistance Plan can help too (1-866-726-5267). No matter what, remember this promise: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

Why are we belaboring this? Satan has two more dastardly tricks. He will often lead you to think it’s no big deal, you’ll get away with it, no one will know, no one will recognize you. He will tempt you to become what you most despise. And then he will turn around and accuse you: “You think God can love you after you did all that? You’ve got to be kidding!”

But hear and take to heart God’s Word: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:32–34). And that also includes you, whoever you are! Trust Him. Lean on Him. He will never fail you.

One more thing: You can stake your life on these words. They are trustworthy and true. “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).
May that peace of God be with you all—in Jesus!

The Rev. Dr. Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

Ah, we once knew how to build churches. . . too bad we forgot.

Compare and contrast. . . St. John Lutheran, Forest Park, IL (Chicago):

And this. . .

You pick the one that is consistent with Lutheran Confessional, liturgical, and sacramental identity. . .