Sunday, October 31, 2010

November 2010

When Andrew was born, I remember seeing him open his eyes and looking at me. In typical, scientist fashion, I tested his eyes by seeing how well they tracked, that is, how well they worked together. I moved side to side, to see if his eyes would follow me,and they did. What a miracle! Up until the time he was born, he had never used his eyes. Three seconds after birth, he was able to synchronize their motion. What a fantastic miracle of God's creation. (The funny thing was that when David was born, I also got to hold him. But when he saw me he immediately closed his eyes and never openened them again for three days. What's with that?) His ability to see was a great miracle. For all intents and purposes, he had been blind for nine months. Three seconds after birth, he was able to see.

You know, I can't imagine what it would be like to be blind--to not be able to see the faces of the people I love--my wife, my children, my family and friends. I can't imagine what it would be like to not be able to read my books, to not be able to drive a car or to not be able to watch a beautiful sunset or my favorite TV show. I can't imagine living life completely in the dark.

But there's something else much worse than physical blindness. It's spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness is much more tragic than physical blindness. Could you imagine living in the darkness of not knowing God's Word? In our Sunday Bible Study we've been studying "How We Got the Bible" (from Lutheran Hour Ministries). We learned about the many sacrifices that were made in order that the Word of God be made available to all people.

That crusade is still going on. More than 180 million people around the world are experiencing life with a visual impairment. The written Bible is closed to them. However, they have not been left in the dark. Lutheran Braille Workers (LBW) is one of the largest providers of Christian Braille and specialized Large Print literature in the world. All publications are offered free of charge and are made possible through the efforts of over five thousand faithful volunteers in 194 Work Centers throughout the United States and Canada. In 2009 alone, they produces 17 million pages of material. One of the fruits of their labor is Nadine. Nadine is blind and her husband is illiterate. Yet thanks to Lutheran Braille Workers, she reads the Bible to her husband. A blind woman is reading the Bible to him!

On Sunday, November 14, we'll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of our local Work Center #199. Immanuel First has been an active supporter of the Lutheran Braille ministry with our time, talent and treasures. It has been a privilege to be used by God to share the Gospel to all the vision impaired people of the world.

May God continue to bless this ministry.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October 2010

It's so great to be back!

This year's Pastors' Conference was held on the Carnival Paradise cruise ship. We went to Ensenada, Mexico by way of Catalina Island. We had a great time and learned a lot. One of the speakers, Dr. Robert Newton, LCMS District President of the California/Nevada/Hawaii district, talked about why it is sometimes hard to get new Christians to stay in churches.

He talked about "Insiders and Outsiders" (not belly buttons). "Insiders" are the people who are already part of the group. "Outsiders" are people who want to join the group. For established groups, Insiders set the criteria for membership in the group. The goal of Insiders is to set up a boundary to keep people who do not meet the criteria, out. Outsiders must adapt to the requirements of the group they wish to join, to get in. For centuries, this was the way of the church. Insiders of the church determined the criteria for membership. It was the task of Outsiders to adapt to the group if they wanted membership.

However, over the past few decades the focus on who defines the group has moved from the groups themselves to the local culture. The people of this culture see themselves as the Insiders. It is the Group who is the Outsider. The people of this culture now say "If you want us to be members of your group, YOU must adapt to our needs."

And this is the source of the conflict. Church Insiders believe THEY set the criteria for membership and it is the culture which must adapt. Cultural Insiders believe THEY set the criteria and it is the Church who must adapt.

So who is right? Who is right?

In Jesus' time, the Jews saw non-Jews as sinners, "Outsiders." Yet Jesus would frequently associate with them. And this angered them. In answer, He told them the story of the prodigal son. Not only was the story about the love of a father for his erring son but it was also about the older "loyal" son. When the older son is angry that the father is celebrating the return of the "bad" son, more or less labeling the younger son as an Outsider, the father does not reject the "bad" son.  But neither does he demand that the elder son adapt and just accept him, as is. Rather he says, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." (Luke 15:31)

The issue is not "Who is right?" or "Who must adapt?" When you are brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no Insider or Outsider. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3;27-29)

The church is not a club where the Insiders determine criteria which the Outsiders must meet. Any believer in Christ is already a member. Rather, the Church is a family. A new member joining that family not only adapts by taking on the culture and identity of that family but also adds to the family by bringing diversity. When any brother in Christ joins a congregation "Celebrate and be glad!" for our brother/sister has joined us.