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Thursday, October 6, 2011

The LCMS before the SCOTUS

Readers of this blog should be interested in a case on the docket of the Supreme Court. A congregational dispute about whether or not to rehire a parish school teacher after a leave of absence has worked it way up to the highest court of the land.

This is no longer about a local dispute. It has become about whether or not the Federal Government can impel a church to hire someone. The decision issuing from this case has the potential to overturn centuries of case law and could impair a congregation's ability to hire based on the life and doctrine of a particular teacher or preacher.

For a synopsis of the case, read this article in the Wall Street Journal.

For a transcript of the argument before the Supreme Court, read this PDF document.

Or, you may wish to follow this on the Supreme Court Blog.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

CrossTalk: Weep Not for Me, but for Yourselves, and Your Children

As I write these words today, two significant happenings fill my thoughts and prayers. Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani lost his appeal to the Iranian high court and today is condenned to death by hanging. His crime is that He knows Jesus to be the Lord and giver of life. So an innocent man stands to die for confessing the Life of the world. Also as I write, Christians around the world are participating in the third day of "40 Days for Life" <40daysforlife .com="">. Beginning last Wednesday--and through November 6--we have a special opportunity to speak up and speak out for the lives of the innocent, particularly those people who have yet to take their first breath and so cannot speak for themselves.

It goes without saying that Yousef and the innocent victims of abortion are tragic victims of senseless violence and misguided zealotry. Many before me have pointed this out. Less often noted is the way that we ourselves are injured by evils which, at first glance, only effect someone else. That is why I have taken the title of this article from Jesus' words to the women of Jerusalem as he carried the cross to his own place of execution. "And there followed a great company of people, and of women, who also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children'" (Luke 23:27-28).

Jesus, too, was an innocent man unjustly slaughtered. But he does not consider himself the most tragic figure in the story. More pitiable is the culture in which this injustice occurs. He does not say this with any glee or any sense of revenge. If you know Jesus at all, you know that he simply could not think this way. Rather, he says this because he sees more clearly than anyone else that a calloused disregard for your neighbor is truly a calloused disregard for yourself.

When God says, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39), he is simply spelling out the realities of human life as he created it. Christians do not see love for another as in competition with love for self -- as though we have to take care so that we don't love our neighbor too much and neglect ourselves. Rather, for the Christian, when I love my neighbor I AM loving myself. Because in Christ, we are all one body. No body in his right mind would willingly let his finger be smashed by a hammer saying, 'that's only my finger; it's not me.' So also, the love of Christ gives us clear vision to know that concern for any person individually is care for every person corporately.

And so, my thoughts today are filled with weeping and lamentations more for the people perpetrating the crimes than for the victims. I know that Jesus holds all his children in his hands and that nothing that anybody does to them can truly destroy them. But I also know that we are quite capable of destroying ourselves by denying or ignoring our own humanity.

Therefore, as you pray for the plight of Yousef Nadarkhani and as you pray and speak during these 40 Days for Life, let your hearts most especially turn to those who are involved -- both directly and indirectly.

Pray for the doctors who have been misguided into thinking they are serving humanity by killing humans. Pray for the nurses who are often unwittingly drawn into participation in ghastly procedures. Pray for the millions of young women who have been misled or coerced into injuring their bodies and consciences in ways that they never could have foreseen. Pray for anyone who is compelled by false notions into doing what they know, deep down, is evil.

And, most of all, pray for yourselves. Pray that God might touch your heart through Christ that you might feel the same compassion for people who you have never met as you do for yourselves. For in this compassion for the unborn as the born and for all children as your own children, you will have a share in the heart of God and, therefore, a return to your own humanity as God created you. That, after all, is the kind of love that Jesus has for you. That is why he considered you so valuable as to die for you even before you ever knew him -- even before you were born.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pastor Yousef: The Tactics Are Changing

Reports as recently as Saturday morning indicate that Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is still alive. These same reports indicate that the Iranian government seems to be changing its tune. While the original trial ran all the way up to the Iranian supreme court on the charge that Yousef left Islam for Christianity. Now the Iranian press is indicating that his death penalty is actually because of rape. Much is still unclear. Namely, whether this is a new formal charge or whether it is only an allegation to deflect international pressure.

This kind of tactic should surprise no one who is a student of history. As Eusebius' Church History tells, oftentimes the Roman persecutors of the early Christians would trump up outrageous moral charges once they knew that threats of death did not have the desired effect. While a Christian is not afraid of dying, it would be abhorrent to drag Christ's name into baseness and dishonor.

Let us pray keep praying for Pastor Yousef remains steadfast in the face of this new challenge. Let us also pray that we may be as abhorred by the thought of falling into immorality as the faithful martyrs of all ages.