The Pope Pushing Condoms?

Pope Benedict, I guess in a new book of his, has garnered a lot of news headlines. He suggests that an individual, in attempting to save their sexual partner from AIDS, might count it as a first step toward moral responsibility to use a condom. No, he is NOT pushing condoms. He is saying that although using condoms is never a “good” thing, they are a better option than sharing disease through unprotected sexual relationships.

This is one thing I will say:  At least the Pope and the Catholic church actually attempt to address the issue of birth control!  VERY interestingly the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) has NEVER held an official opinion on birth control. There was a resolution proposed for the LCMS convention this past summer, but it never came to the floor for consideration. Of course it is a very “hot” topic and to tackle it might be risking a lot for our church – even as it is for the Roman Catholic church. But when is it that standing up for what is Godly should take a back seat to being popular?

Historically, of course, the church (not just the Catholics) HAS opposed the concept of birth control. Some, even in the LCMS, still defend the idea that a married couple should not attempt to usurp the will of God when it comes to children. If God gives them to you – be glad of them!

Probably most in our church today would defend the OPTION of birth control on account of perhaps these two principles:

  1. The Bible actually never calls it a sin (there is in fact only a couple unhelpful verses that even touch on the subject, none specifically.)
  2. One important purpose of marriage is procreation, but there are other purposes including companionship and keeping an individual from sexual sin. This means that one does not necessarily have to have procreation as the sole purpose for marriage and a sexual relationship.

My personal problem is not so much in the considered and prayerful use of birth control so that we can be responsible parents, but in its MISUSE and the sin that it can LEAD to.

These are the issues surrounding birth control that we need to be concerned about:

  1. The way that birth control has brought on the scourge of extra-marital and consequence free sexual practices. Certainly one of the things that makes it excessively easy to have multiple and extra-marital sexual relationships is that we don’t have to worry about those burdensom children. Sexuality is a VERY blessed gift and it is to be used exclusively to seal and strengthen the marital bond. Period.
  2. The way that birth control has enabled a selfish lifestyle where children are seen as expensive burdens to avoid if we want to have a happy life. Children ARE a gift from God and we should never despise them.
  3. The way that certain (but not all) birth control methods do not actually keep an egg from being fertilized (and therefore becoming a human being), but variously keep an already fertilized egg from further development until it dies (in other words, an abortion.) We need to be extremely careful in how we value and uphold the life that God gives us.

God help us in our lives to keep His name holy in how we nurture our marriages and families!

Animal Matters

Today I found myself in a situation (I am good at that!) Someone called and was quite desperate about their pet dog who was doing poorly. They needed funds so they could have it treated and was hoping that the church might have some “fund” that might help out! So in a discussion with someone ELSE about it I got into expressing my views of pets. This individual was an animal lover and was quite shocked at some of the things I had to say! So later I did get an email expressing their disappointment in my views. This is what I wrote back:

“Dear “Jane”,

Yes, I know I get into a lot of trouble with animal lovers like yourself. And I say that with great respect. I know your heart is in the right place. It is a good heart. I am too “blunt” in what I say sometimes. But I don’t mean ANY disrespect to animals. I really love animals too! Believe it or not! And yes, they ARE created by God – AND it is our responsibility to care for them and not harm or abuse them.

But the important thing to understand about animals is that they are not humans. I don’t want to “disrespect” animals, but it is important to give them PROPER respect (not “over-respecting” them.) The reality is that an animal’s intrinsic worth given by God is not anything compared with humans. Jesus died for humanity, not for dogs or cats. We read in Genesis that all of creation was created for the benefit of us HUMANS. HOW do we know that God loves us? ONE reason is that he gives us such beautiful animals that we can love and care for – and which learn to “love” us and “care” for us as well (it seems it, anyway!)

The reality is that millions upon millions of wild animals die constantly from easily curable diseases, much worse than “Doogy’s” problems. There is no outrage about this. There is no cry of their blood calling up from the earth like the cry of Abel’s blood. And what of all the animals we eat day in and day out?  We killed them! We didn’t even just let them die of their diseases or old age, we KILLED them! We wouldn’t even have to kill them either! We could very easily live without meat, but we kill them anyway! And the scripture says that we can! God decreed after the Fall that the animals were there FOR US to eat!

As I am writing this I am thinking this through and realizing something: The domestication of animals. It was just not always the case that animals were domesticated. This developed over time. Why do we have domesticated dogs and cats as pets? Why do we love them so? We acquire them and love them because they supply relationships where we are lacking them.

Why am I so easily “dispassionate” about animals? Maybe it is because I am blessed with good and healthy human relationships. But for those who have problems in their relationships burdened by sin, animals really do supply them with what they need in a substitutionary way. God is good! [But, of course, please don’t get the idea that I am saying that EVERYONE who loves their dogs has wanting human relationships! Many obviously have room for both human and animal relationships!]

Soooo… When it boils down to it, it is really a matter of the value that WE give the animals that drive us to take them to the vet and be willing sometimes to spend thousands of dollars to treat our pets. But we mustn’t think that we should do that because GOD says that we must and that he holds us morally accountable if we don’t. The reality is that there are real human beings that are in much worse health than “Doogy”. They die every day and THEIR blood really DOES call out from the ground.”

Thoughts on Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day and I have some thoughts on it.  Tell me what you think of them.

 
First of all I DO thank and praise God for the faithful service of our veterans.  I know for myself as a young person I would at times think about joining the service – but only the small-gunned Coast Guard.  I was, in my youth, quite the radical pacifist.  But when I think about it now, I think I was a pacifist not because I believed that war should never be waged, but because I was plain chicken about dying and had to excuse myself from the possibility of being harm’s way. Thanks be to God I do realize now that we need good soldiers and that war is sometime a terrible but necessary evil. And yes, it does take brave and noble individuals to serve in harm’s way like they do. I thank God for our soldiers and veterans – especially in view of my own weakness of character. (In my old age I have become much more comfortable with my own death and I actually dare to think I would make a pretty good soldier today.  Thank goodness I am too old!)

 
So let me reiterate that veterans are worthy of high praise and honor in our lives. It is especially TRAGIC when the beautiful young men and women come back hurt and maimed from the terror of war. My heart literally is crushed when I think that it is because of evil men and politics, often in far away places, that so many are killed and wounded. Often times our soldiers seem to be simply insignificant pawns whose lives are snuffed out by the egos and greeds of an elite few.

 
But here is my “problem”, as such, with Veterans Day and all the tributes and, dare I say, “glorification” of the soldier over all other vocations:

 
Firstly, from a scriptural perspective, there is no glorification of the work of the soldier. Neither is there any sense of denigration, if anyone is wondering. When soldiers came to John the Baptist, repenting of their sins, they asked what they should do to re-order their lives. John did not command them to throw their swords away, but only to be honest and good soldiers! (Lk. 3) The overall theme of the New Testament is that every one of us has been variously gifted by God and that each of us has a vocation in our community. None is more important than the other.

 
What I would like to propose is not that the work of a soldier be honored less, but that everyone else’s vocation be honored more. And furthermore, that as each of our vocations are honored and valued, we would serve with the same noble and courageous zeal as the soldier, literally expending our lives for each other and for the Lord. The command of Jesus is to serve and love each other as He served and loved us. The truth is that we don’t have to serve on the battlefield to give our life for another.

 
To live our everyday lives as a sacrificial love offering to the Lord and to our fellow man – THIS is the true life task of every Christian whether they are a bus driver, teacher, lawyer, cashier, mother, congressman, pastor or soldier. How much more peaceable and beautiful would the world be if we strove to attain this life! God has a noble and courageous will for us all. He has a will for us that in our zealous lives of Godly service we would make easy the vocation of soldier.

 
Praise be to God!

John Rogan’s Suicide: NOT Unforgivable

With tears, even now, I write this. One week ago today I received that terrible bang on the office door. I was just about to take my kids to choir practice, but John’s uncle Robert was there, breathless, somehow trying to explain that John Rogan, Jr. had taken his own life. John was a very intelligent and gifted young man of 16 whom I had Confirmed only three years ago. I yelled (literally) at my wife that she had to take the kids and dashed out the door with my Pastoral Care Agenda. So began a tragic week for the Rogan family, our congregation, and my family, as we dealt with all the anguish and pain that follows such a terrible act. We all loved John and the whole Rogan family. They have been an important part of our church their whole lives.

Yes, the Lord has blessed this first week and helped us get through it. The church was absolutely packed and standing to the back for the funeral on Saturday – a great affirmation of love and comfort for the family. The congregation was absolutely stellar in coming together and providing a wonderful luncheon after the funeral. GOD WAS SO GOOD – even in the midst of our stricken lives.

Of course, no matter how we try, we will never understand completely what drove Little John to do what he did. We are hoping for a few clues perhaps from the police investigation. But no matter the outcome, we will most likely always be haunted by so many questions. And we will always be struggling to forgive ourselves for not understanding John while he was still alive, for somehow not meeting his needs, for not seeing through his happy appearance to the despairing young man that he evidently was. Where was I as a pastor, even? When was the last time I paid any special attention to him? Other than greeting him out of the church, the last time I gave him any special attention was at Christmas when I sent him a facebook message asking to see if he could acolyte Christmas Eve like he had for several years previously. He came to Christmas Eve service, but he hadn’t seen my message, and by then I had already gotten someone else to do the job. I then told him I wanted him to do it the next Christmas. I will have to find someone else.

Of course, the MAIN concern for John’s parents, John and Carol, was John’s eternal destiny. John (sr.) grew up in the Catholic church and was taught that anyone who committed suicide was not able to receive eternal life because they were unable to confess and repent of their sin of murdering themselves. What are we supposed to think about a person’s faith if they despair enough to kill themselves? Can they still have faith? Can God still save John? These are difficult questions to tackle. But they are SO important. I sat down with the family and we discussed it all and they were very comforted that yes, God can and does save His most beloved sinner/saint children – even those who take their own lives. They were very concerned that we share these things with as many as possible and so I worked up a bit of a piece which we printed up for the funeral bulletins and for the congregation. I hope that it might also be helpful for any reader, that they might be comforted by God, but also inspired to ever more love and encourage one another in God’s grace and forgiveness. It is as follows:

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In our grief and pain at the death of our John Rogan, Jr., there are many questions that arise in our minds.

HERE ARE SOME IMPORTANT THINGS WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE

+ The taking of your life is against God’s fifth commandment: “You Shall Not Murder”. It is also against the First commandment to have no other God’s before Him. In suicide a person attempts to circumvent the will and gift of God to live, usurping God’s place and authority. Christians understand that “their” life is not really their own: it is God’s. We are in fact the temple of the Holy Spirit.

+ As Christians, we are the children of God, having been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism and made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. This is not a theoretical thought exercise. It is an objective reality. We live in a state of forgiveness. We have been “justified” in the sight of God, not by any choice of our own, but by the gracious power and merciful acts of God.

+ Although we have been justified by Christ and have received forgiveness through the spiritual gifts of repentance and true faith, Christians are yet still sinners. We are “Sinner/Saints”. As sinners our trust and hope in God sometimes shines brightly. Other times it is very dim. But the Bible says that although we are often faithless – God is faithful!

As St. Paul struggled with his condition of being a “sinner/saint”, wanting desperately to do good, but always instead doing exactly the opposite, he writes:

Rom. 7:21 “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

In summary:

  • John Rogan was a child of God who lived in the “state” of forgiveness.

  • John Rogan, Child of God, was also a sinner, attacked in his mind and heart by the devil in ways we cannot imagine.

  • John Rogan, Child of God, confused about life and mired in a hopelessness we will never understand, forgot the promises of God and took his own life.

  • The Lord God, however, does NOT forget his promises to John. He IS John’s Savior.

John is proof again that tragic sorrow and anguish lurk just below the surface of so many of our lives. In these evil days, we desperately need to encourage one another (young and old alike) in the refrain of God’s grace and forgiveness proven to us in the cross of Calvary. Let us shout it to the world. There is nothing more important to keep front and center in our lives. Let us follow the command of our Lord to love each other as He has loved us, to love one another like we have never loved each other before.

As John himself confessed: “I am a sinner, but Jesus is my Savior.”

Praise be to God for His great mercy on us all.