Monday, July 26, 2010

LUTHERLAND, THIRD EPISTLE

Living in Germany for two weeks gives you a far different perspective than one day stopovers on a tour. Tour buses are great if you want to see many things quickly and not worry about getting lost. But staying the same place for a longer time has its special blessings.

People: friends among discussion groups or hotel staff, people you'd like to know in back home. Sounds: church bells tolling quietly at night, rapid footsteps, speeding bicycles, and horse hooves on cobblestone streets. Places: picturesque caf├ęs, historic churches, and yummy ice cream parlors! Food: tasty soups, noodles and stroudels. Worship: energized Christians singing “A Mighty Fortress” with pipe organ power and Lutheran gusto!

Meeting Christians from all over the world is best. Saturday night after leading worship at St. Mary's, Luther's Church for 22 years, I spoke with a group of Hawaiians. As Americans, they joined Christians I met from 18 or more nations around the world over the past two weeks. God's people come here in all colors, sizes, languages and customs, and I can see how God could love them all. Most come here, weary and humbled at being where God did wonders through the Reformers. Saturday night held an unexpected fireworks display outside our hotel window, lignited from the Castle Church plaza and lighting up the City Church sky - fireworks made in Germany!

One of our last places to visit here was Wittenberg's Schmetterling Park, where we and family guests saw dozens of lovely, brilliant butterfiles in a jungle-like atmosphere and foliage, with caterpillars and cocoons awaiting their brief life as God's delicate creatures.

During this trip I've been reading Lee Stroebel's "The Case for Faith," where he quotes experts of all the disciplines who clearly see the hand of the Almighty Creator around us. In one chapter he quotes a scientist as saying if we cannot even understand the science of how a caterpillar changes into moth, how can we ever believe our world is the result of evolutionary chance? Stroebel, an expertly trained and bright investigative reporter, cites scientist after scientist as coming to believe an Intelligent Creator has made the universe. As my Dad would say, "Good for them!"

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

LUTHERLAND, SECOND EPISTLE

Carol and I come to you again from Lutherstadt Wittenberg (Luther's city by the White Hills) where Martin, Katie and their reformer friends lived and worked. It's where world history was changed because people chose to stand fast to God's Word so they could live in religious freedom rather than under the rule of tyrants. Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen and others discovered the Gospel of Christ buried under centuries of tradition, and decided to build their lives upon it. The road of faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus is never easy to travel.

We've had good friends visit us here a few days, and expect some family this weekend. After overcoming small problems (with sleep, prayer, mosquito lotion), life here is slower and cooler. In my first three devotionals in the small chapel, we had about sixty visitors from ten nations who have sung “A Mighty Fortess” in majestic voice. We praise God for sending us these pilgrims, whether Lutherans or not.

Last Saturday I led worship in the Castle Church and preached in the pulpit directly above Luther's grave. I hope he didn't roll over at my message. Around 80 attended, though about 50 from a Wisconsin tour group left after singing "A Mighty Forrtress" - schedule to keep I was told. Afterwards I answered questions of those remaining and it was a very memorable experience.

Last week the Lutheran Church on earth swung even further to the political right with new leadership in the LCMS. Maybe it will be good, maybe not - only the Lord knows. Did you know some early Lutherans broke off into several groups right after the Reformation began? Some felt the Holy Spirit did everything, so why read the Bible? Others believed the sacraments were only symbolical, and still others came to church bearing weapons out of fear. Luther had his hands full. So does the church of today.

When Luther got married, it was a blessing, despite losing two of their six children in childhood. God's people often forget how important the family is, and how the Gospel can be lived and taught in it. Prior to the Reformation, priests did not marry, so when the Reformers decided a married priesthood was best, they invented the “parsonage” and actually changed home life all across Europe.

Carol and I are making our home at the Luther Hotel here and today decided to do some hand washing of laundry. Luther Hotel would wash our clothing, but we calculated the cost, piece by piece and it came to about $60. Today our hotel room looks like a house where the washer broke down, but Luther would feel at home sharing the beer we've drunk while doing it. Tomorrow I start afternoon devotions again in the small chapel and Saturday will conduct worship at St. Mary's, the Town Church where Luther was pastor 22 years.

May God always give us the courage to stand fast to our biblical convictions!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

HERE IN LUTHERLAND

Carol and I have begun two weeks here in Wittenberg, Germany, conducting devotions and worship services for the English speaking tourists and residents here. We experienced again lugging too much luggage, reminding me we need to shed some of the stuff we carry around in life. We're also experiencing some authentic "Luther life," as Wittenberg is in a heat wave, and there is no air conditioning in this town! None - nowhere, except in cars. We wanted to know what life was like back then, but not this way!

It is best to travel light. A few years back I went to an estate sale taking place in a large building filled with stuff, very little of it valuable. The sale manger told me, "You should have seen it before we hauled away those other five dumpsters full!" I think they quit too soon. Those folks had amassed quite a collection and now it just sat there, unwanted.

Most of us need to lighten our loads. We need to think of God more and self less.  "He must increase, but I must decrease," said John about Jesus (John 3:30-KJV). We busy our lives filling our new barns, forgetting about what's really important. We fret about today, tomorrow and yesterday, but can do nothing about two of those days. Tomorrow hasn't yet come, and yesterday is gone forever. Only today is within our reach to deal with. When troubles of life threaten to overwhelm us, we need get the essentials of Jesus back into our lives.

We also need to use the mind God gave us. When Luther married Katie, he was paid only once a year. The first year they were married, he picked up his pay and by the time he got home half of it was gone, given it to beggars along the way. After that, Katie picked up his pay from Elector Frederick of Saxony. Katie became financial head of the house, using the talents God gave her. Luther later wrote she amazed him every day. He would have agreed with David, "Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope." (Psalm 16:9)

I'd guess even Luther would say this humid town needs air conditioning!

Monday, July 5, 2010

THREE AMERICAN PRINCIPLES

No one doubts that we face stressful times. Changes swirl about us, making us wonder what will happen next. A small but vocal group of naysayers broadcast that America is crumbling. But make no mistake, we are still a strong nation. Though distrust of elected officials is high, though our economy is shakey, though our enemies may mock us, we are still a strong nation.

News commentator Dr. Dennis Prager recently stated why he believes in America's strength. He cited three things, all of which we find stamped on our coins: 1) "E Pluribus Unum," 2) "In God We Trust" and 3) "Liberty." He calls them the American Trinity, though I prefer to call them the Three American Principles.

First Principle: "E pluribus Unum" - "Out of Many, One." America's strength has always been our ability to absorb diverse groups of people and mold them into a single nation. No matter where they come from, our immigrants eventually become Americans. We have never closed our doors to legal immigrants because we need them, and they are part of makes America strong. Out of many peoples, America makes one people.

Second Principle: "In God We Trust." Though some have tried to erase this motto, though some have denied it, most Americans still trust in God. We have not always trusted God well, but when trouble comes and the enemy attacks, Americans trust in God. And it's not just any god, but the God of the Holy Bible, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Despite what some may say, America still trusts in God.

Third Principle: "Liberty." Liberty is different from freedom. Freedom is the ability to live without others controlling us and is enjoyed by individuals. Liberty is sum total of our freedoms, and is granted to citizens by their government. A person can be free and not be a citizen, but liberty comes with citizenship. Despite attempts to make us subject to others, Americans continue to enjoy most individual basic freedoms and, as citizens, liberty. These Three Principles are what I believe Americans hold dear, and what makes America strong.

The next time you pick up a penny, look for these Three American Principles which remind you why we are still a strong nation. Though America may be shaken, it has never lost its basic strength. God has made America the strong nation it is. Our Constitution is a wonderful gift from Him through our Founding Fathers; may it always hold us together.

No foreign army, no politician, and no modern movement will be able to bring down this nation, but citizens can forfeit what we have. We can forget who we are and whose we are. Abraham Lincoln said in 1838, "If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher."

May Americans continue trusting in God, and may God never stop blessing America!

Friday, July 2, 2010

YOU'VE GOT THE JOB!

Back when telegraph was a common means of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. He entered an office with a telegraph clacking away, and several men were seated, obviously applicants awaiting an interview. A sign on the receptionist's counter instructed applicants to fill out a form and wait until summoned . The young man completed his form and sat down. After a few minutes, the young man stood up and walked into the office. The other applicants perked up. Why was he so bold? He hadn't been called in! 

A few minutes later the young man emerged from the inner office escorted by the interviewer who said, "Gentlemen, thank you for coming, but the job has been filled by this man." One applicant grumbled, "No fair! He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed." The interviewer responded, "Gentlemen - all the time you've been sitting here, my telegrapher has been ticking out a simple message in Morse Code that said: `If you understand this message, come right in.' Evidently none of you understood it, but he did, so the job is his." 

Christians hear the voice of God and respond. They bear fruit that shows their faith. God the Father sent His only Son Jesus that we might be forgiven. God the Holy Spirit directs us to listen to God the Son and trust Him for salvation. The Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is the only true God, the One we trust for life here on earth and eternal life there in heaven. 

Trust in God, my friends, and let the Holy Spirit bear fruit in your lives. Proverbs 3:4-5 tells us, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not depend on what you think you know. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths." 

May we all trust God that much!