Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Rosa Young - Tramping for the Lord!


     Rosa Young's book, "Light in the Dark Belt," is a great inspiration to me. Her story is a great example of Hebrews 12.1: "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us."

     She was born in 1890 in Rosebud, Alabama. Her father was an African Methodist pastor. Her mother was a  woman of high moral character and a great encouragement to her. She, along with so many in the post-war south, lived through great poverty. She describes the huts and cabins in which people lived, the ragged clothing, and the poor table fare eaten from tin pans and buckets with fingers.

     Worse than this was the spiritual and educational situation of the people. Here is her description of the spiritual conditions:

I knew something was wrong with the kind of religion my people had, but I did not know what was wrong about it. I desired a better Christian training for myself and my people, but I did not know where to find it. The religion of my people was a mere pretense, a kind of manufactured religion. Those who belonged to church were no better than those who did not. In most of the homes the so-called Christian families as well as the unbelievers lived in envy, strife, malice, prejudice, bitter hatred, yea, hellish riot; in covetousness; in adultery and fornication; in theft and lying.

In hundreds of homes the Bible was never read, a prayer was never spoken, and a Christian hymn was never sung. The whole family lay down at night and rose the next morning, and each went out to do his work without saying a word of thanks to God. Sin was looked upon by most people as a small thing. They held divine services in their churches twelve times a year, on the average once a month. No one took the time to teach them Christian hymns; they sang old plantation songs during their services.

     Rosa was a good student who loved learning. With encouragement and help she was able to graduate from Payne University in Selma, Alabama in 1909 to become a school teacher. She advocated relentlessly for education and worked hard to raise the educational standards of the children in southern Alabama. 

     The 1914 Boll Weevil infestation of the Alabama Black Belt (named for the soil color) wreaked havoc and made Rosa's educational efforts difficult. But this proved to be a blessing in disguise. Rosa wrote to Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute for help. He wrote back telling her that his funds were exhausted, but that she should contact the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in St. Louis. They might be able to help. They sent Rev. Nils J. Bakke, who began helping Rosa with her education and mission efforts. Along with help from other pastors, Rosa eventually founded 30 Lutheran schools and 35 Lutheran congregations. 

     I am especially impressed and encouraged by Rosa's concern for the Bible and true doctrine. She was not a missionary with a lot of zeal and very little doctrine. Like the Apostle Paul, she was both zealous and devoted to the truth of God's word and particularly to the Gospel message of forgiveness in Christ, crucified and risen. Rosa's method was to go out and visit. She wrote, 

Visiting is the key to success in mission work. It unlocks the door of opportunity where you may enter many a home and tell the people the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

And again,

During the summer months, when I was not teaching school, I made it a rule to visit every home in the community and also in the adjacent communities, both Lutheran and non-Lutheran. I made a list of the names of the people who did not belong to, or attend, any church. Such people I called my mission-material, and I endeavored by the help of the Lord to get them into my Church. As it was summertime, I would find the people mostly in the fields. Many times they worked miles away from their homes; but no matter where they were or who they were, men, women, or children, I would find them and deliver my Bible message to them.

I hunted lost souls for Jesus somewhat as I hunted for money to build and maintain my first school. I endeavored to tell this Bible message to every person I saw that day. No matter how long it took me to work up to the point in our chat or conversation where I could deliver my Bible verse, I would deliver it. When I had told my message to one person, I would proceed to another. I walked in prayer all along the way from one person to another, asking the Lord to bless the message of His Word as I delivered it.

    I think what I will remember most about Rosa is a comment by one of her relatives. After Rosa had recovered from an illness and was preparing to continue her work, her relative asked: “Are you going back to tramping again?” To which Rosa replied: “Oh, don’t call it tramping! I am going back to save souls for Jesus.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Quantum Mechanics, Creation, & God

The book "Quantum" by Manjit Kumar weaves together both the discoveries and theories of Quantum Mechanics along with the personal and spiritual lives of the physicists involved. 

QM began with Max Planck's discovery in 1900 that the relationship between heat and the frequency of light generated by a heated body is not a smooth line on a graph. Rather, when Planck examined the most minute increases of heat, he found the light freqency would hold steady and then suddenly jump. 

The personal story behind this is fascinating. Planck was the last person you'd expect to make this discovery. He was told when he wanted to major in physics that almost everything had been discovered in this field. The job of a physicist was simply to extend the decimal places on all the known constants. But this kind of science suited the conservative and methodical Planck. Little did anyone know that he would blow the roof off classical mechanics. 

In classical mechanics we understand the physical world through cause and effect. Strike a baseball with a bat, and we can predict where it will go and how far, etc. Yet in the atomic and subatomic world we have discovered effects that just don't make sense. Light shining on a photo cell produces an electrical current giving us the impression that light is a particle. Light shining through two slits creates wave patterns showing that it is a wave. Fire a single electron at two slits and things get really weird. It seems as though the electron passes through both slits and apparently is capable of ending up in several different places that only God knows and why.

That last statement is what this book is really about. Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg took these discoveries and emphasized the randomness and unpredictability of the physical world. Albert Einstein and Erwin Schroedinger felt that this was not a complete understanding of the weird effects of QM. The author mentions a number of times Einstein's famous dictum: "God does not play dice." When Bohr died, the last drawing on his blackboard was that of Einstein's Light Box mind experiment which challenged the idea that the physical world is ultimately random. 

QM just boggles the mind, which is why I appreciate Richard Feynman, who said no one understands it. 

However I think QM is important because it points to the realty of things that the Bible teaches such as creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) or that things are not always what they appear to be! 

The author doesn't really go into the spiritual beliefs of Max Planck, but I hope to learn more about that. Here is a quote by Planck about science and religion:

While both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, to the latter the goal of every thought process….No matter where and how far we look, nowhere do we find a contradiction between religion and natural science. 
(Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, 1949, p. 184; pp. 185-186.)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Surgery Thanksgivings and Thoughts

On October 4th I had knee replacement surgery to fix an old injury from high school. Here are a few thanksgivings and thoughts about that:

1. Thanks be to God. He understands all suffering and keeps His promises to be with us in it and ultimately to save us from it.

2. Thanks to my wife, Carol, my faithful helpmate and supporter. Experiences like this give couples a wonderful opportunity to live out their faith and love together. Also thanks to my family who kept me in their prayers.

3. Thanks to our church, for your prayers and for fellow church servants who made this time off worry free.

4. Thanks be to God, who gives us such amazing medical technology. Special thanks to surgeon Dr Don Johnston (GSLC member). He is excellent in his skills, tells it like it is, and encourages you all the way. Also thanks to the physical therapists who know how to keep pushing through the pain... and for Vicodin!

5. I started out as a pastor when I was 26 years old. From the very beginning I have helped people through very painful (far more painful than this) experiences, and, of course, the process of death itself. I have always been keenly aware that I have had very little personal experience with physical pain and suffering. That has been a wonderful gift that God has given me. But that lack of experience doesn't necessarily disqualify someone from helping people through painful experiences. God is really the one who helps us. As a pastor I have always believed that it is the overall ministry of Word and Sacrament that helps people in their times of trouble. When a pastor walks into a hospital room, he brings with him the Pulpit, the Altar, the Baptismal Font, the Confirmation Class, the Bible Classes, etc. - that is, he brings the whole ministry of God to the bedside. Pastors are constantly preparing people for all the hardships of life. If your pastor tells you a hundred times in a hundred sermons, "Cling to Christ," he really doesn't need to say much in the hospital room. His very presence is simply a reminder of this main message. The test of any ministry is not how many people it attracts to the pews. The test of any ministry is how it holds up in the hospital room, how it holds up in the face of suffering and hardship, how it holds up in the face of confusion and temptation. I am so thankful for the ministry that we are privileged to have in our church. It is a very basic ministry - a ministry of repentance, forgiveness, and trust in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's not flashy. But it is faithful, and you will be so happy to have it when the doctor says, "I'm just going to give you something to relax..." That is for the body, but the ministry of Word and Sacrament is for the soul. Every personal and family devotion, Sunday worship service and Bible class has been getting me ready for this day and will get me through whatever lies ahead. I always believed this was true. It is what I've always told people. Now, in a small way, I can say "I personally know it is true."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What About the Politics of Wealth? How Should a Christian Respond? (Evening Prayer Sermon for September 21, 2016)

What About the Politics of Wealth?

     I didn’t address this in my Sunday sermon, and normally do not because my sermon, like Jesus’ parable (Luke 16 "The Dishonest Manager) is addressed to “the disciples.” I think these stewardship principles are vitally important for all Christians, and this is always our main focus when we come to the topic of money. However sometimes Christians ask if the I can provide them with any guidance when it comes to their voting. How do we, as Christians, speak to national and global issues of wealth?

     Economics is a complicated science. However there are some basic principles that are not hard to grasp and that are governed by God’s natural laws. The first is “stewardship.” A person who works and produces should have some say in how the fruit of their labor is managed. This is taught in the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.”  The second is “responsibility.” Natural law also compels us to believe that those who have much have a responsibility to help those who have less. If ten men are marooned on an island and one man possesses ten weapons and the others none, natural law says that he should share what he has for the benefit of all. If he does not, and they are attacked, all will die. Stewardship and responsibility are two important keys to a society’s management of wealth.

     Many are concerned about the distribution of wealth in our country. A very small percentage of people are in possession of much of the wealth. Many perceive this to be a great evil. But is it necessarily evil? We could evaluate according to the principles of stewardship and responsibility. “Did they steal it?” and, “Are they managing it well for the sake of others?” A careful analysis of these questions would be helpful. There is an interesting website that might give us a clue. lists the richest people in America by state. By a ratio of 35 to 15 the richest people in each state all started as people of average wealth and later found great success through their endeavors. Among that list are familiar businesses such as Ebay, Quicken Loans, Menards, Nike, Facebook, Berkshire Hathawy and Microsoft. And, among the fifteen inheritors of wealth, most were only one generation away from those who started as people of average wealth. This tells me that in our country, for the most part, wealth is still earned in just ways. Is it being managed well for the sake of others? That is probably harder to determine, but there has been a long tradition of philanthropy in our country. Nevertheless that leads us to another question of economic policy.

     Some would propose that their wealth should be taken from them and managed by the government. This has been tried before in the Soviet Union and China, and I think most would recognize that it failed. Some would propose that their wealth should be taken from them and redistributed directly to the average citizens or directed to public works that benefit everyone. This is being done now since the wealthy pay the bulk of all taxes. But should more be distributed in this way? That is the question that our country has been debating for a long time. I’m not sure that I can find anything in Scripture or natural law that would say more or less of this is either good or evil. Most likely these are decisions that have to be tried and evaluated. Try more taxation of the rich and then evaluate the outcome, or try less. 

     This brings me to our Christian involvement in governmental economics. What role do we play? What should be our thoughts about these things? First, Christians should always support the principles of stewardship and responsibility.  This is the overarching guidance that God gives us. We should live them personally, and we should work for them corporately. Flowing from this are two more. Second, we should be careful not to become jealous of those who are extremely wealthy if they gained their wealth justly. Nor should we advocate taking everything from them as Karl Marx did. We should pray that they would use their wealth wisely. Third, we should be careful not to disregard those who are not well off eonomically. We certainly cannot say, “They failed, that’s their problem” as Ayn Rand advocated. God has called us to more than that. Just as the government tries to ensure that wealth is acquired justly, it also has a role to ensure that wealth is managed well for the sake of the whole society. Whatever leaders we elect, whatever laws we support – these should at least be our guiding principles.

     Finally, we have to believe that whether these principles of natural law are followed or not, God is still in control and we always turn to Him to bring justice and peace to this world. While Paul had nothing to say about voting because there was no such thing in his day, he did have something to say about praying. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2.1-2). Not only should we pray for our leaders that they may work for “a peaceful and quiet life…,” We should pray for our fellow citizens that they would seek the same. And finally we should pray for ourselves that we might make wise choices when it comes to our voting. We should seek leaders who will rule as much as possible according to God’s will so that the Gospel can be preached and that people might believe that Jesus is the one mediator who gave Himself as a ransom for all. Amen.