On God's Will

Greetings in Christ,    

“Thy Will be done,”

I have been pondering that petition from the Lord’s Prayer. The Prayer is so much a part of our lives in Christ that like our heartbeats, we rarely think on it, but it is essential for life.

We know that God's Will is done at all times, but it becomes quite a challenge for us when that Will seems to conflict with what we see as the good in our lives. It is nearly impossible for someone who has just received a diagnosis of stage-four cancer to rejoice in God's Will. Those who are plunged into sorrow at the unexpected death of someone they love find little comfort in hearing, "It is part of God's Will.”

We all can witness to times and places where we are challenged by the trials of life and are left wondering about the "good and gracious Will of God." It simply does not always add up.

We pray, "Thy Will be done." Unless we are merely parroting the words of the Our  Father, we are asking for God's Will to be done in our lives.  As we pray this petition, we are asking the Father to teach us to trust Him in every circumstance of life. We are asking for the faith to believe that even when we cannot begin to understand what or why something is happening to us, that we trust that the Father's Will is accomplished.

We are asking that we learn that even in the darkest valleys of life, that we come to understand that the Father's Will is working to bring blessing out of the darkness. We may not be able to see or understand that blessing in this life. I pray that we might, but if it lies beyond us here, I am confident that we will understand it when we come into His Kingdom.

Until then, let us continue to pray, "Thy Will be done," in faith that the Father's Will is being done and that through His Will we are all brought into the Kingdom.

 

 

On Taxes, Caesar and God

Greetings in Christ,

‘Render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

I wish that I could say that I like paying taxes, but that would not be honest. No one I know enjoys having others decide how much of their income will be taken even before the paycheck it cashed. Still, we live under a government that provides protection and services that we alone could not afford. Our taxes, when properly used, can perform many useful things on our behalf, for the good of the nation.

Fair-minded folk can debate what the good use of our taxes might be, and that is why we elect people to our local, state and national offices. Through them, the will of the people is done with the money they receive from us. 

As Christians, we owe allegiance to the government that is over us as all human authority comes from God. We do not give mindless allegiance; instead it is an allegiance that regards good government as a gift from God. When we are asked by our government to pay our taxes, we do so with the understanding that it is pleasing to God that we support the government to whom God has given the authority to govern.

It is important to remember that our first love and loyalty is to God. If our government acts in a manner that is contrary to the will of God, then we must obey God instead of the whims of human beings. The believer can and should refuse to obey any law that is opposed to God's will or compromises the Christian faith.

A government is always a temporary thing, given to serve the people, control the lawless and provide for the well-being of the governed. The Rule of God is eternal and will continue throughout the ages.

 

On Forgivness and Reconciliation

Greetings in Christ,

Jackie and I attended the movie, ‘I Can Only Imagine’ in Elkader last night. It is the story of the writer of one of the most popular modern Christian songs in recent years. The writer of the song, Bart Miller, had a traumatic childhood with an abusive father and a mother who abandoned him at age ten. Bart found sanctuary in music as a child, and a high school football injury led him to discover his singing voice.

Bart joins a Christian band which becomes the band known as Mercy Me, and they struggle by singing at small venues, doing well, but never entirely breaking through. Through all of these years, Bart is haunted by his childhood and his anger at his father and his abuse. Bart returns home to confront his father to get beyond his anger. Once home he discovers that his father is dying and has become a Christian.

Bart’s struggle to forgive his father, their reconciliation and his father’s death is the source of the song ‘I Can Only Imagine.’ It is well worth your time to see.

As Christians, we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. Forgiveness is among the most challenging things we are to do as believers. Forgiveness often faces deep and traumatic pain retracing paths of injury that can be nightmarish to confront, much less forgive. As Christians our learning to forgive begins with Jesus as he is being crucified, as he is enduring the pain and humiliation of the cross, the taunts and jeers of the mob, the abandonment of his disciples and the looming horror an unjust death. It is was there that he spoke, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’

I pray that all can learn the depth of love that forgives even when there is no earthly reason to forgive. I pray we can learn to forgive as Jesus did from the cross.

On Holy Week

It is Holy Week. There is no time in the life of the Church that is more central to who we are than this week. We began with the shouts of ‘Hosanna’ on Palm Sunday as we recalled Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Few, if any, had a clue what would follow in the days ahead. Jesus knew that the days before Him would bring Him to the hour for which He came into the world.

He celebrated the Passover with His disciples and gave us Lord’s Supper as our eternal participation in that night. As St. Paul teaches, ‘as long as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” In the Supper, we are surrounded by the ‘communion of saints’ both those who have gone before us and those surrounding us.

As we gather around the Cross on Friday we are reminded that Jesus is bearing in Himself what we could not begin to bear. The words of the hymn, ‘Ah, Holy Jesus’ become all to real as we sing: ‘Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee. ’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied Thee; I crucified Thee.”

The long hours between Friday when Jesus is laid among the dead and the First Day of the Week is where we keep our Easter Vigil. We are waiting, hoping that what the hands of hateful human beings have done, the grace and mercy of God will undo.

Then the morning of Easter comes. In light beyond description, Jesus bursts forth from the tomb, risen and glorious, never to taste of death again. That which ended in sorrow and death is made new in the risen life that brings life to all. As our Orthodox brothers and sisters sing at Easter, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life!’ We have life again, life forever, life in the love and mercy of God.

Caregiving

Greetings in Christ,

I had a conversation with a person who had spent the past four years caring for a sick relative. After a long illness, their relative had died earlier this year, and this person was still recovering from loss as well as the emotional, physical and spiritual fatigue that comes with long-term caregiving. If you have been in a similar situation, you know what they were talking about. Being a caregiver is very often an act of love, but it is also demanding. There are hours on the road going to doctors and therapy. There is the constant concern about doing the best you can for the person who is ill.There is the pressure to find the time between work, family commitment and the needed care for the one who is ill.  It is not surprising that caregivers often fall ill themselves, become depressed or simply don’t have the energy to do any more than what is needed to get through the day.

The most significant surprise this person discovered was that so many folk thought now that their loved one had died and their care for them at an end, that they should be back to life at 100%. It is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t gone through the experience of long-term caregiving how hard it is even to begin to feel normal. After the caregiving is over, it can take a long while to recover the emotional, spiritual and physical strength that was expended.

It is essential that we give love and support to those who are dealing with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. It is also vital that we do what we can to help their caregivers. Each situation will be different requiring thoughtful and loving questions. If you make an offer of support, follow through. Too many caregivers hear, “Let me know what I can do.” only to discover the offered help wasn’t a serious offer. 

Most importantly, once the need for caregiving is passed, remember that those who were the caregivers need time to heal, to become renewed and become strong again. Your love for them, your support, your willingness to give them the space they need will go a long way in helping them move forward.

 

 

Alien Righteousness

Greetings in Christ,

Create in me a clean heart, O God, 

and renew a right spirit within me. 

Cast me not away from your presence, 

and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, 

and uphold me with a willing spirit.    Psalm 51. 10-12

Psalm 51 is all around us during Lent and Holy Week. We say or sing some or all of it during the weeks from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Psalm 51 is a psalm of confession and repentance. It is a psalm of recognition that before God there must be mercy for my sin is ever before me, and because of that sin, I cannot stand in God’s presence. It is a psalm that understands that there must be a change within me so that my life can be lived in and for God.

Psalm 51 also recognizes that the change that needs to take place in my life has to come from outside myself. It is a change that I cannot make on my own. It is a change that has to come from outside my personal righteousness.  Luther talked about 'alien righteousness,' that is a righteousness that is not our own but comes from outside of us to us. 

'Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.' is our plea to God to make us a new creation. It is a plea we all must make for as St. Paul confesses in Romans, 'We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' Our Lenten journey is our recognition that the righteousness we need for salvation has to come to us from God. Without that mercy and grace, we would have nothing upon which we could stand before the Lord.

 

 

God's Love

Greetings in Christ,

 

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.   John 3.14-17

Greetings in Christ,

This passage from John's Gospel contains one of the most recognized verses in the whole of Scripture. Even folk who have no connection with the Church would know this passage. It is 'the Gospel in miniature' as Luther put it during the Reformation. It indeed is what our faith is about and contains a word of hope for anyone who hears it. The gift of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the message the Church has been proclaiming for over 2000 years.

It is a simple message from God. The Father has sent His Son as a sign of His love for the world, indeed, for the whole of creation. It is this love that calls forth faith in those who encounter it. It is the faith that clings to the outpouring of love from the Father.

We live by this faith in the love the Father has for us. We live by this faith that Jesus freely bore the weight of sin and death for us. We live to proclaim that love that has saved us so the whole world might not only hear of this love but come to the One who is this love.

 

 

On the Resurrection

Greetings in Christ,

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  

    1 Corinthians 15:19 (ESV)

The core of the Christian faith is the death and the resurrection of Jesus. We confess and believe that not only did Jesus die on the cross, but we also confess and believe that He rose physically from the dead. 

There many things that are a part of the Christian faith that, though important, are not necessary to be a Christian. However, we cannot let go of truth of the resurrection. If we do, we cease to be Christian. We may be religious, we may be spiritual, we may be wonderful people, but if we do not confess and believe that Our Lord Jesus was raised from the dead, then we are not Christian.

I write this after reading what several pastors of the ELCA wrote in an online pastor's forum. They freely admitted that they believed Jesus lived and died, but they refused to confess that He was raised from the dead. It did not fit with modern science that someone could be raised from the dead was their argument.

It is one thing to struggle with one's faith and the things we confess, and it is another to flat out reject them. If Jesus is not raised from the dead, then why are these people allowed to be pastors? Far worse if they are teaching their parishes that Jesus is not raised from the dead, they are endangering their salvation.

There are many things that we in the Church can discuss and compromise upon, however, the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is not one of them. As long as I have breath in my lungs, I will proclaim the Risen Christ among you.

 

 

Mary's Heart

Greetings in Christ,


Sunday, March 25th is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. It also happens to be the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord.  The Annunciation recalls the day when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary to proclaim to her that she has been chosen to bear the Son of God. 


Now Mary watches as her Son is welcomed into Jerusalem by cheering multitudes, waving palm branches and shouting 'Hosanna! Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord!' Even as she witnesses this celebration of her Son, the words of Simeon spoken to her over thirty years before, 'This Child is set for the rising and falling of many in Israel. And a sword shall pierce your soul also.' haunts her soul.


Perhaps Mary watched all this with a sense of foreboding as her Son enters Jerusalem, a foreboding that could not grasp what was to come, but knew that the life and ministry of Jesus was coming to its climax. Perhaps she dreaded what lay before her as the child she had carried in her womb, to whom she gave birth, loved and raised was going to face his death on the cross.


The anguish of Mary at the foot of the cross is a reflection of the agony of God the Father as His only Son suffers and dies for the sin of the world. What for us can too easily become a part of the turning of the seasons of the Church year, was for Mary and the Father, a heartrending event.
We began Lent hearing from the prophet Joel that the Lord desires that we rend our hearts and not our garments. We heard that the suffering and death of Jesus is real suffering, real death, for us that we might receive the mercy of the Father.


The path to the Joy of the Resurrection is always through the suffering and innocent death of Jesus on the Cross. We may not be able to imagine the pain of God the Father's heart might have been, but we can identify with the pain in Mary's heart as her Son dies.


Both the Father and the Theotokos, the Mother of our Lord, bore the pain of their Son's death so that death might no longer have a claim on us. Let our joy this Easter find it's fullness as we recall the cost of our salvation.

'Thoughts and Prayers'

Greetings in Christ,

"Thoughts and prayers" have become a target in recent days. It is a phrase that is quite common in the wake of a tragedy, a disaster, an unexpected illness or nearly any other life-altering event.  If it is a sincerely stated conviction of what you are planning to do in response to the crisis that has presented itself, then, by all means, offer them. When we hold someone in our hearts and prayer, we are doing a positive thing for them in the midst of a difficult time.

If, however, 'thoughts and prayers' are mere window dressing, a phrase we use to discharge a social obligation, then it is less than helpful. Offering an empty phrase does little to ease the suffering of others. Indeed, the lack of sincerity can add to their burden.

Prayer in the Christian life is intended to accomplish several things as we grow in Christ. We pray to get to know the Father as He knows us. We pray to comprehend the deep mysteries of God so that we might better witness to His love. We pray for and on behalf of others so that they may know the love of Christ as we lift them before the Lord.

We also pray as Jesus often did, to prepare us to act. In many places in the Gospels, Jesus withdraws to pray just before critical moments in His journey to the cross. He prays for the strength, the courage and the wisdom to act in the Father's Name.

Prayer in the Christian life is to lead us deeper into the love and mercy of God so that we might live out that love and mercy in the world around us. As we offer our prayers for those who are suffering, let us remember that our offer of prayer is not an exemption from an action, but the first step in God's calling to us to be His love at work in the world.

 

 

Another senseless act.

I am not a wise enough man to know how to end the violence that took 17 more lives. I do know that blaming someone else is not the solution. Yes, something must be done, I just wish I knew what that something was. The human heart is a broken place in the best of us.

What I can do is repent of the violence in my own heart. Repent of the violence that wants me to hate the shooter. Repent of the violence that wants me to degrade those who disagree with me. Repent of the violencethat refuses to listen to any voice other than my own.

Then I must pray, pray for the charity to truly listen to those who are struggling with life so they know that they have at least one person who is trying to understand the burdens they are carrying. I must pray for the charity to listen to those whose opinions are different from my own in order to understand those opinions and learn from them. I must pray for the courage to challenge falsehood whenever it arises, in myself, in those I love, in those I agree with and with those whom I disagree, I must pray for all who are in positions of authority that they may exercise that authority for the good of all.

I must pray for the courage to protect life from conception to natural death, for if I believe that God is the Creator of life, then I have no right to end any life or stand idly by while others do.

Above all, I must pray that I live each day as the servant of the One I claim to love, not merely in words, but in all my actions, thoughts, and words.

Why Ashes?

Greetings in Christ,

Why Ashes?  It is a smudge of ash, hopefully in the sign of the cross, but not always. Imposed on our foreheads, it is a physical sign of the truth of our lives. We are dust and ashes. God created us out of the dust of the earth, and it is to that dust we all will one day return.

Since ancient times dust and ashes are a sign of repentance that is more than a passing, 'I'm sorry'. Dust and ashes are a sign that we will not deceive ourselves about our sin and its consequences. It is a confession that not only have we sinned but that sin, our sin, is a deadly thing.

St. Paul was not merely speaking in a metaphor when he wrote that the wages of sin is death. He was writing about the universal truth that sin always leads to death. This death is more than our bodies returning to the dust of the earth, it is separation from God for eternity.

Dust and ashes is our admission that we have sinned. It is our plea for the mercy that must come from God. In dust and ashes, we look to the cross whereon our Lord bore our sins to save and redeem us.

 

 

Bearing Burdens

Greetings in Christ,

 

 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11.28-30

I ran across a brief note on Facebook several years ago that went something like this: 'Be patient with those you encounter today, you do not know the burden they may be carrying.’

Everyone at one time or another has a burden to carry. Some may be only for a few hours or days, others may last for years. Most of these burdens are unknown to others, or only a few others. We may not wish to bother others with our troubles. We may prefer to keep our struggles private. We may not know how to begin to ask for help. We may fear that no one would care about the burdens we must bear.

It is a gift from God to be able to talk about our burdens and know that we are being heard. If those who listen can help us bear the burden, it is an additional gift, but just being heard is often all we need.

Jesus invites us to come to Him with our burdens. He who will bear the burden of the world's sin and death longs to hear us as we lay our burdens before him. We can discover that at the feet of Jesus we receive the grace needed for the day's burden.

We also may discover that as we have found the grace we need for our burdens, we also can grow in our charity toward those whose burdens are unknown to us. Christ-like charity is the learning of compassion for each person you encounter. In charity and compassion, we may be able to help them come to Christ where they can lay their burdens down.

 

On Unanswered Prayer

Greetings in Christ,

 

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.  Matthew 15:29–31 (ESV)

This coming Wednesday, January 24, will be the 9th anniversary of my brother, Mark’s, life-saving lung transplant. On a bitterly cold afternoon in 2009, Mark received the call from the Mayo Clinic that lung transplant he needed was available. We all raced to Rochester and in the early hours of January 24, 2009, Mark got his life back. 

On February 25, 1989, my youngest brother, Doug, died of the same lung disease. The gift of modern medicine had not progressed enough in 1989 for Doug to receive the transplant he needed to live. I know that everything that could have been done at that time was done. Doug’s healing lay beyond our abilities in 1989.

It is hard to read a passage from Scripture about Jesus healing the sick and not wonder why your prayers for someone you loved did not receive an answer. I am confident that Mark’s healing was a gift from God given through the hands of very talented people in the healing arts. I am convinced that the people who worked with Doug were just as gifted.

Still, the mystery of unanswered prayer is a challenge to faith. It is one that believers have carried since the time of Jesus. Not all the lame in His time were healed, not all blind received their sight, not all the disabled were restored, not all the mute were given voice. The ‘why’ of any unanswered pray, both then and now, is something that is often not ours to know.

I am confident that as we pray, ‘Thy will be done’ in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s good and gracious will is done according to His purpose. I may not always comprehend that purpose this side of the resurrection, but as I put my trust in God’s promises, I will one day know the fullness of that purpose. 

 

 

 

On Civility

Greetings in Christ,

Those who were in worship yesterday heard that I am somewhat distressed by the President's remarks about Haiti and some African countries as well as the response from several media outlets. A few pastors took the opportunity to add the vulgar word to their sermons yesterday, apparently wanting to cash in on the trend to be on the cutting edge of crudeness.

The lack of civility and decent behavior that is rampant in our nation has reached toxic levels. We have seen an increase in excessively violent actions around the world to the point at which we are becoming numb to its portrayal. We have swum in a sexual stew for decades in print, movies, TV, online and everyday language and it seems just now that people are shocked to find that using sex in unhealthy ways has consequences. The President uses vulgar language to speak of nations around the world experiencing all manner crisis and instead of acting responsibly the media repeated the coarse language incessantly.

None of this is in any way Christian. All of these things belong to the world that is passing away and should have no place in our lives in Christ. If we are in Christ, we are a new creation, and the old has passed away. The old ways will seek to reassert themselves in our lives, but in Christ, we have left these things behind.

The ancient Church's witness was so effective because they refused to live according to the practice of the world around them. They would not make friends with the world to just get along. They followed Jesus, even to death and in so doing drew millions to our Lord. 

Let us be that Church, unwilling to compromise our New Life in Christ for friendship with the world and live unashamedly Christian lives.

The Queen of the Sciences

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

                                                                                                Psalm 119:33–34

Greetings in Christ,

There was a time when theology, the study God, was called the “Queen of the Sciences”. It was regarded as the highest study of God’s creation. It was not seen in conflict with the other sciences, but as the source all the knowledge gleaned from these disciplines. It is true that in some instances the Church was opposed to what we now know to be important scientific discoveries, but these were not as common as one would think.

                  It was the Church, especially the monasteries of the Middle Ages, that kept and protected many of the ancient documents of human study and learning. While giving priority to the study of God and His purposes, the Church in large part kept and promoted learning. Yes, some fringe groups of Christians see science and the knowledge it gives as a threat to faith, but the experience of the Church has shown that each new discovery or advance in our knowledge only serves to further glorify the Creator of all things.

                  As both the public school year and the Christian school year begin, let us give thanks and rejoice in our God who gives us the wonder of human minds that inquire after the mysteries of His Creation. What is taught and what is learned in one way or another, draws us closer to the One who has made this amazing universe.

 

On America's Promise

Greetings in Christ,

Tomorrow is the July 4th holiday in our country. It is our national celebration of who we are as Americans and the nation we have built. The promise of our revolution has not always come to all our citizens as easily or as fully as it could have, but we are a work in progress, striving to be what we established in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

As you take time to celebrate and enjoy our unity as Americans, let us focus on the things that we hold in common and not obsess on the differences among us. The ideals around which we agree are those that can make our nation even stronger and greater while bickering over those areas where we disagree weakens us a nation.

It is popular in some circles these days to keep the hype up about how terrible those who disagree are as persons, but this is a behavior that can only serve to tear down, not build up. This is certainly not Christian behavior. If I disagree, it does not mean that I treat those with whom I disagree as outside of God’s grace and mercy. Remember, Jesus taught us to pray for our enemies, even if they persecute us. It is only the weak and fearful who must abuse and humiliate those who disagree with them. 

It is our strength in Christ that allows us to pray even for our enemies and to seek ways to break down those barriers that people all too often seek to erect between one another. It is the Christ-like life that calls us to this and it can be a part of who we are as Americans.

 

 

On Words

Greetings in Christ,

 

“In the beginning was the Word….” John 1.1

I have always loved the beginning of St. John’s Gospel. He writes with a poetry in those opening lines that seeks to touch the wonder and mystery that is the Incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. He writes of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life by which all may come to the Father. We are allowed to glimpse the glory of the Father through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  Through St. John’s words the beauty of the holiness of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are shown to us.

The beauty of St. John’s words in his Gospel remind me of what wonderful gift words can be for us. We can express our deepest emotions, our greatest joys and our most painful sorrows. We can share our love for God, for others, for our Lord’s creation and the hope of eternal life through words.

We can read and hear in the words of others the beauty they see in the life God has given them. Through their words events, places, people and ideas can come to us and enrich our lives in ways that we could not know on own. Through the gift of words we can read and know the experience of humankind throughout the ages. We can know Jesus through the gift of the words in the Holy Bible.

It is because I love words and the beauty they can give that the careless use of words in our electronic, online world so often saddens me. We seem to be more and more thoughtless and insensitive as we fling words around with no thought as to the damage they can do. People write and say the most shameful, harmful, vulgar and cruel things to one another, often to people they don’t even know. They are taking the beauty of words and letting them become a means of harm, and yes, evil.

As Christians, who know the value of words because of the Word who became flesh for our salvation, it is important that we use all our words well. We use them to give glory to God in all that we say or write. If are not certain that the words we are about to say or write will reflect the love we have received from Christ, then we would do well to reconsider using them. Let us use our words to give glory to the Father, to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ and to bless our neighbors.

 

On Christians and Government

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Romans 13:1

Jesus as He was about to ascend into heaven told the disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to Him. St. Paul echoes this truth in his letter to the Christians at Rome, that governing authority comes from God. Though it may be hard for us to grasp at times, every government’s authority to rule comes from God.

We are to pray for our elected leaders, even the ones we didn’t vote for and don’t like. We are to ask God to guide them as they seek to govern and that they do so wisely for all our people. We are, in so far as we can, support our government as they govern on our behalf.

Of course, how human beings use, and more often misuse, that authority is far too clear from even a brief review of human history. Since governments are made up of human beings and human beings are all under the bondage to sin, that sinful behavior will play out when humans have the power of government behind them.

So what is the Christian to do? The simple answer is, in so far as it is possible, we obey the legal governmental authority that is over us. This is, of course, very easy to say living NE Iowa where there is minimal danger from the government. We are free to support or disagree with our government. We may protest government decisions openly and with little fear of reprisal. We may say what we think of any elected official without fear of arrest as long as we do so within the law. It is easy to obey the government here.

But what of those circumstances where our faith collides with governmental authority? What is the Christian to do if what the government demands goes against God? First, we are to be clear that the government’s action is contrary to what God commands us. If the government calls upon us to oppress our neighbors, to support actions that are clearly contrary to the Commandments or even a denial of God, then as a Christians, we are to obey God before men.

We also must be clear that to obey God before men will have consequences. Christians throughout the ages have suffered at the hands of the state for their refusal to obey. We must be willing to do the same if we believe that our government is acting against God. 

With all this in mind, let us give God thanks that we enjoy the freedoms we have in our nation. Let us also pray and work for our government to be even better than it is. Let us pray and work for those freedoms to known by all of God’s children throughout the world.  

In Christ,

Pr. Hatcher

On Careful Listening

Greetings in Christ,

 

“Those who have ears, let them hear.”  

We often read in the Gospels this phrase on the lips of Jesus as he teaching, especially as he is using a parable to teach about the Kingdom of God. We hear people all the time, but to really listen to what they are saying is not always done. Far too often our listening is colored by what we think of the person, formulating our reply to what they are saying, or simple indifference.  The result we do not hear what they are trying to tell us. The vast majority of conflicts between people grow out of failure to hear what the other is trying to tell us.

Careful listening is not easy work. I first must set aside my own thoughts about the person or situation and pay careful attention to what they are communicating. I need to pay attention not only to the words they are using, but to feelings behind those words, their body language, and facial expressions. All those things are communication. We do this naturally because we have learned that those extra signals are important. Careful listening is giving our full attention to all these signals. In simple terms, paying attention to person as a person trying to say something important to them.

The next step is to seek clarity. If you don’t understand what a person has just said, you ask in a gentle manner for them to explain or to help you understand what they just said. By asking you are telling the person you are really listening and you gain a better understanding of what they are saying. The more clearly we understand what a person is saying the more willing they will be to be open in their sharing.

It is also important to remember that we often cannot solve other people’s problems. We can by listening to them help them sort through the challenges facing them, allowing them to discover their own solutions. Also, careful listening can give a person the opportunity they need to just ‘get it off their chest’. We all need to be heard even if there is no simple solution to the problem.

There is much more to careful listening than can be shared in an email. However, listening carefully to others is something we all can do better and will provide benefits and blessings for all.