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Archive for November, 2015

In Remembrance of His Mercy


It occurred to me yesterday that I met my Father for the first time when he was 32 years old. By the time I could interact with him and learn from him in ways that I can remember he was a few years older. By the time I was able to appreciate the time we had together he was 10 years from dying. That is our blessing and our curse as human beings living in a fallen world. We never appreciate as we should the gifts that we have until it is too late. Even when we know that we should be appreciating what we have there s something in us that doesn’t allow that to happen as it should. Luther’s constant call for Christians to be thankful and the belief that so much of the trials and tribulations that they experienced were “rods and scourges” of God for their unthankfullness, is certainly a call for more attention to be paid to God’s gifts.

One of the things that happens in times like these is that there is a lot of reminiscing that goes on. A reminiscence is something from the past that is recalled to the present and made active. The Bible word that means the same thing is more than just thinking happy thoughts. When Jesus says to remember Him when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is not just reminiscing it is a belief that Christ’s life, death and resurrection are active in our life now by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Although some young people think it gets tiresome, remembering and reminiscing are one of the great gifts of ageing. It is a chance to rehearse blessings and a chance to ask for forgiveness for sins of the past that haunt our present. It is a chance for the young, if they are willing to listen to join in the long line of witnesses and teachers, both good and bad, that every family has, and get into that long line of history that makes us what we are. The we get transplanted into God’s story and we can thank God who remembers us in mercy.

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The Theology of Planning.



A few weeks ago John Vieker, assistant to President Harrison wrote a sermon for chapel at the International Center and he mentioned my favorite subject – planning.  It was well done and here is a portion – you can find it at the Witness, Mercy and Life Together Blog.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13–17).

It is all too easy to map out a path in which God has been relegated to a secondary, “ride along” position… but you are to remember that everything you do is utterly bound by the limits of His time and His will. To forget this is to fall back into the sin of boastful pride, which can only lead to your destruction. To forget this is to falter and give up the confident hope that is already yours — of eternal life in the bliss of paradise, life with God that surely has come to you as a gift, from outside of you, in the perfect righteousness of Christ for you. To forget this is to give way to fears and anxieties that will inevitably come when you love and trust and worship your own plans and efforts — for your heart is a veritable idol factory, and this morning I am bound to remind you that you are not at all immune to the idolatrous sins of “human enterprisology” and “strategic programism.”

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Meditation on Mercy; Detractors, and the Poetry of Mayhem and Disease

kibera 3“Ring around the rosies / A pocketful of posies /

Ashes, ashes / We all fall down!”

There are places in the world that breed disease.  I have been excited that Lutheran World Relief and Human Care along with our partners have been able to help AIDS education and the malaria initiative.  Not long ago the Kenyan church was able to announce that the number of new AIDS and HIV cases was declining.  The problem is that AIDS among adolescents is climbing because the amount of medicine available is small and the cost is large.

There is something about dread diseases that lend themselves to poetry. The rhyme still recited by children today dates back to the London Plague of 1665. The “ring of roses” describes the red buboes around the neck of and groin of an infected person (swollen lymph nodes);  ”posies” refers to the herbs or flowers that people carried in their pockets to sniff hoping it would protect them from the disease; “ashes” refers to the funeral rite, “ashes to ashes” and all fall down” describes the suddenness of death from what is Bubonic Plague.

Diseases lend themselves to poetry. Psalm 91 talks of a noisy pestilence and one that walks in darkness.”He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. 5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; 6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday”.

Then there is the poetic rendering of the suffering Servant who takes away the sins of the world = Isaiah 53 – Surely He has borne our grief’s And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Another way of translating part of that passage is that he has born “our diseases”. The great disease is sin and Christ bore it in His body to the Cross. There is also some indication that the expected Messiah of some of the Jews would be a leper precisely because He would carry the illnesses of God’s people around in His body.

I was thinking of my friends in Africa and in our conversations they worry about terrorists and civil unrest and HIV and malaria, and Ebola. They are all diseases and plagues and I wonder what poet will try and dedicate some lofty words to cure or at least ease them. Talk is easier that actually trying to eradicate them.

It is some of our theologians that bother me the most however. They don’t even try and wax poetic, they just bloviate. Money spent on mercy work they say could better be spent on preaching the Gospel. Why, waste money on feeding the body or caring for orphans when we could spend the money preaching these souls into eternal life. The simple answer is that if they are dead they won’t be around to hear the Gospel preached but simplicity has never been the strong point of these towers of intellectual sophistry. They may agree that the church is “an organism of rescuing love” as it moves out in mission, but the only rescue is from eternal damnation. The concept of the church being the embodied expression of Christ’s mercy in concrete action is completely lost to them.

Not wanting to break the 8th commandment, I try to explain in the kindest possible way what the detractors of mercy work who are theologians and preachers believe. Underlying their criticism of mercy, especially overseas, I have the sneaking suspicion that they believe that the only people who should receive the kind of mercy we are talking about here; medical care, food, clothing, housing and education etc, are the preaching class. After many a sanctimonious lecture by these types the verbiage gets boiled down to money that is “wasted” on these projects could be better spent on the Pastor and his projects. These are folks of limited horizons whose God is limited as well. They are also suffering from a disease and that is the limited pie syndrome. If I get a piece of pie and I want to share there may not be enough of the pie for them. They forget that we have a God who uses us and our gifts to multiply and expand the pie to infinite proportions. Christ’s infinite capacity for mercy can only be limited by our unreasonable refusal to be waiters handing out the bread and the fish.

What poetry is there for their disease? How about this –

A broken man in the wilderness, beaten and left for dead could have been saved by dogmaticians of righteous.  They passed him by instead

These strained out gnats and swallowed camels and shown like whitewashed tombstones that covered up corruption and moldering dead men’s bones.

To make a convert fit for hell they would cross deserts and seas.  They gobbled up widows houses and put them in the streets.

And they would not lift a finger to help the crippled or lame, but laid on heavy burdens and taught others to do the same.

And when righteousness incarnate was hung between earth and sky; when the bearer of sin was nailed to a cross to suffer and to cry; when the real and true good Samaritan died for a world that should have died; they didn’t ask for mercy, instead they passed Him by.

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The Pope in Kenya – Tribalism and Corruption.

frances in KenyaAs a Lutheran I always look at what Popes do with a certain amount of suspicion.  As a human being I cannot help but be impressed.  As a Christian I get frustrated that in all the  footage I watch and all the speeches I listen to, I never hear the word “Jesus”.  Popes having been going on about the poor for a long time (kind of like Democrats) and yet as Jesus said the “poor we will always have with us”.  That quote is from John 12 who gives us some background.  Judas, the disciple who would betray Jesus, was mad because pricey perfume had been poured on Jesus head and Judas said the money spent on the perfume should have been spent on the poor.  Then John tells us he said that because he kept the disciple’s money box and pilfered from it.

The pope was on about pilfering and corruption as well.  He called out the government of Uhuru Kenyatta.

He went on about “tribalism” and asked everyone to hold hands and remember that they were all Kenyans.

He called on folks to respect the young and he spoke against abortion.

From what I saw it was a wonderful trip and he touched many issues of import.  It would be well for us all to pay attention to a lot of what he said.

We have been working with Project 24 for about 10 years.  We have seen some so upset about money spent for the poor they have stirred up tribal unrest and accused all sorts of people of corruption.  They have even come to the attention of the Kenyan government and have interfered in the internal workings and elections of a partner church.  They have sent people to Kenya without a call and accused others of “duping little old grandmas in North Dakota”.  I would like to tell them that grandmas in North Dakota are not easily duped but conversation with these folks is like talking to the proverbial wall.  They have been on an “excellent adventure” around the country introducing an “anti -Bishop” as the real Bishop of the Kenyan Church.  I wonder what money box the expenses of that trip come from?  I will not go so far as to accuse anyone of duping grandmas though.  Many of the problems that they berate and lament in the Kenyan church have been created by them.  It is a pretty good tactic.  Create dissension and confusion and frustration and then blast the resulting confusion as corruption and power struggles.

We can learn a lot from Jesus as well as from the Pope who needs to mention Him once and a while.  He was mercy incarnate and never denied help to the poor and the needy.  Jesus declared by His actions as well as His words that God’s concern for the poor and the orphaned and the widow is not just an Old Testament thing.  Jesus taught us that whenever an act of love is done there will always be a Judas in the background taking pot shots at it.




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Happy Thanksgiving

thanksgiving 1“To God the Anthem Raising” by Paul Eber, 1511-1569

Translated by Carl Doving, 1867-1937

Text From: The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1941

1. To God the anthem raising, Sing, Christians, great and small; Sing out, His
goodness praising, Oh, thank Him one and all! Behold how God this year, Which now is
safely ended, Hath in His love befriended
His children far and near.

2. Let us consider rightly His mercies manifold
And let us not think lightly Of all His gifts untold.
Let thankfulness recall
How God this year hath led us, How He hath clothed and fed us, The great ones and
the small.

3. To Church and State He granted His peace in every place,
His vineyard He hath planted Among us by His grace.
His ever bounteous hand Prosperity hath given
And want and famine driven From this our native land.

4. His Father heart is yearning To take us for His own
When, our transgressions mourning, We trust in Christ alone; When in His name we pray  And humbly make confession, He pardons our transgression  And is our faithful Stay.

5. O Father dear in heaven,  For all Thy gifts of love Which Thou to us hast given
We lift our thanks above. In Jesus’ name we here, To Thee our prayers addressing, Still ask Thee for Thy blessing: Grant us a joyful year.

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Another New Year.

IMG_1445These flowers were vibrant and beautiful up until a few days ago.  Hard to believe that another winter is coming.  Hard to believe that another church year has come and gone.  We have Thanksgiving services tonight and next Sunday Advent begins.

The First Sunday in Advent is the church’s New Year, the beginning of the Christian
year, the year of grace. The year begins with the believing, waiting, expectant
church looking forward to the coming of the Promised One, the Savior. As we enter
the year, we are greeted by the announcement: “Behold, your King is coming to you!”
For His coming we prepare in these weeks. His advent on the great day of the
Nativity is not and can never be an actual experience, for it is an event of the
past. Also His coming in grace through Word and Sacrament is nothing new. We have
never been without His gracious presence. He never ceases to come in His grace and
to bless us. If, then, we are to prepare for the historic event of the advent in
Bethlehem, the purpose of our preparation can only be to make us thoroughly
conscious of the relation in which we stand to Him. – Fred Lindemann

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A Blast From the Past – Some Perspective.

Aplpha Baby

There are folks running around criticizing the work that we have been doing in Kenya and of course it is a bit frustrating.  This was written a decade ago and may give some perspective.  I had more hair then  The child was HIV positive.  I wonder if he survived.

Kenya, East Africa – August 2005

I came back from Africa in the middle of August and before Katrina blew everything else off of the news I realized that Africa is “hot” again.  Not “hot” in terms of climate, although it can be that, but “hot” in terms of public perception.  Angelina Jolie has a special video diary of her time in Kenya.  The September issue of “National Geographic” is completely dedicated to Africa.  The movie “The Constant Gardener” was filmed in Kenya and even Oprah has made a trip there and came back with pictures and television images.   At a presentation I made in Minnesota someone in the question and answer period said that Kenya seemed to be the “mission field du jour”.  I don’t know what that means in light of the fact that the African continent has more Christians than the U.S. The Africans are quite capable of doing their own mission work in my opinion but more on that later; the point is that what I see today in public perception is in stark contrast to what I saw in December of 2003.  A great case in point is Kisumu.

You can’t get much closer to the equator without being on it than Kisumu.  Nestled on the Eastern edge of Lake Victoria and up against the Ugandan border it is the home of highlands malaria. The road from Nairobi to Kisumu is a nightmare of ruts and broken pavement.  The huge trucks that carry the cargo freight crates from Mombassa to Nairobi continue on this road and further into the continent and have blasted this road so badly that at times is easier to drive in the ditch and dodge the charcoal sellers and the grilled corn kiosks and the goats and chickens and donkeys.  This is my second trip on this road and this time I want to get a better look at Lake Elementiaga off to the left.  It appears to be drying up and I remark that it has islands out in the middle until the realization hits me that I am looking at thousands and thousands of flamingos.  The “islands” shift and move with the light until the entire center of the lake takes on a beautiful pinkish hue that shimmers in the midday sun.  Troops of baboons have set up shop not far from the corn grillers as if they know that travelers will throw the cobs out at just about this distance.  Zebra dot the landscape as we go from what I call Savanna to desert and back to Savannah again.

My memories of the first time I was in Kisumu are of a very neat town without the usual garbage littered streets and a Hotel right on the shore of Lake Victoria that literally was the host to my party of 4 and perhaps 2 other people.  There were no whites anywhere and when I would ask where the tourists were people would shrug and say “terrorists”. Kenya was attacked in 1998 at the American embassy in Nairobi and a hotel in Mombassa.  State Department warnings went out and no one was traveling to Africa.  My other memory had to do with terrorism as well; at a bar in Kisii a group of men were openly identified to me as Al Queda.  At the church in Kisumu we were taken to a small grassed area at the back to a Bible study for what were called the “lost boys”.  They ranged in age from four to 19 and they literally had no one and no thing.  I was told that they were being actively recruited by Al Queda and that the church had brought them in to feed and cloth them.

This time it is different.  There are so many visitors that we are staying at a very  modest place on the edge of town that is desperately trying to make it.  The bed in my room takes up the whole room and I have to put my suitcase on half of it.  The bathroom is what I have come to expect – a toilet that is leaking on the floor and a shower that has no hot water and no towels.  Once I put the mosquito netting out I literally have about 6 inches of room between the bed and the door that leads out to a courtyard where a large bat is flying around.  Our host is the director of special projects for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya and we are going to his house for supper. On the way we stop at a new addition to Kisumu – a Nikumat store – their equivalent of Wal-Mart, to buy a gift for our hostess.  We pick a frying pan at the suggestion of her husband and all we can think of is what would our wives do if we brought then a frying pan as a gift?  Suddenly the roof sounds as if it will literally be torn off and we go out to see the most violent rainstorm I have witnessed in years.  All the power goes off and we go to our hosts home is a driving rainstorm and almost total darkness.  The night is extremely dark in this part of Africa anyway because there is very little street lighting even in Nairobi – but this is amazing.  We drive down a dark alley in between some small huts and walk through a small alleyway to our host’s house.  His children, (he has three and he is keeping three)

orphans) all have malaria and are not feeling very well.  They sit on the couch in the dark while his wife serves us a meal of rice, ungally, chicken and tilapia.  I have video of them all watching us as we eat in the light of a hurricane lamp.  It is here that I find out that every Pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya is in charge of orphans either in their own homes or in the church.  “Every church now is an orphanage” says our host, “ but we have good news – the infection rate of AIDS has dropped.  Our education projects are working by God’s grace”.

Back at our hotel and there is still no power so we are all given a candle.  Candle light in a cramped room covered mostly by mosquito netting is a recipe for disaster but I’m so tired it makes no difference.  In the morning I take my cold shower and dry off with my sheets and we go to see the progress made by the offerings of Sunday School children in a chicken production plant at the church in Kisumu that feeds the “lost boys” and has enough production to sell some eggs to local hotels.  We meet one of the last Pastors to receive a cow from the Cow project.  He waited for several hours with his cow tied up by the side of the road just to thank us.  At LCMS World Relief and Human Care we talk about building capacity and here we see it first hand.  We have simply helped these gifted people to develop their own capacity.

That brings me back to why Africa is “hot” again.  I believe that here in the West we are starting to understand that these people are in the frontlines of the war on terrorism.  It is their work that keeps terrorist recruiting in check and they are also on the front lines of the war on AIDS.  They are doing wonderful work in trying circumstances and they deserve our prayers, our support and our thanks.  I just received an email and pictures from my host of children receiving some pencils that we gave them with this note (Spelling not changed)– “Receive many greetings from Kenya. Time is really running since we were together in Kenya. Schools were closed and now the sessions are on. I have distributed some of the gifts you brought along to both Kibera Lutheran Nursery School and Kisumu Lutheran Nursery School. Attached with this e-mail find some of the pictures I took. It was great joy as these gift were received. May I on behalf of ELCK thank you for this very generous hearts you have for the children of Kenya. Your gift, though may look small to you, have a big impact in the lives and education of these young ones.  Be reachly blessed” .

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Gedion Adugna R+I+P

IMG_1497This was the message that came out last week that announced the death of Gedion.  Our church is working on a Global Seminary Initiative that will help partner and other emerging churches establish solid theological education in their countries.  Some of the Seminarians come here to school for a while and sometimes our professors go there and teach. The emerging churches that are growing around the world want sound theology and they want to be truly Lutheran.  They see quite clearly what happens when the theology of Glory is proclaimed in a poor country.  They understand what happens when churches try and teach that “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” That statement Richard Niebuhr echoes today as never before in America, but not in the emerging world.  Emerging churches want the Gospel whole and entire.  They want Jesus whole and entire as He is received in the Lord’s Supper.  They want Baptism.  They want to be Lutheran.

Young Pastors and Seminarians that I have met in Africa are hungry for theological conversation and the give and take of colleagues.  They are truly interested in the Confession of the church and they are hungry for the Word.

Gedion was a colleague of Dr. Al Collver the head of the Office of Church Relations and an important part of the seminary at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.  He was from Deberberhan.  He was 34 years old.  He was murdered in a robbery.

I did not know him.  Dr. Collver dedicated a paper at the Mission Summit to his memory.  I am letting you know about him because life in a fallen world is life under the Cross for Christians.  Life under the Cross also reminds us that we are bound together by Christ into HIs body and we are all a part of one another because Christ is our head.  Gedions death diminishes all of us whether we knew him or not.  At the same time we believe “that precious in the sight of the Lord is death of His saints”.  Gedion’s life and death was a witness.  Our life and death should be a witness as well.

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Mercy Medical Trips – Want to go?


LCMS Mercy Medical Teams (MMT) is seeking volunteers for mission trips to Tanzania,
Kenya, and Uganda next year. They need not only doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and
other medical professionals, but also hard working laity.  The dates are:

·        April 8-17, 2016: Tanzania

·        June 17-26, 2016: Kenya

·        Aug. 5-14, 2016: Uganda

For more information, please contact Tracy Quaethem, The Lutheran Church–Missouri
Synod, Life and Health Ministries, at 314-996-1711 or email
( .

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Mercy and Ethics Again.

FullSizeRender (2)

Back in the World Relief and Human Care days we had mottos – “Work, Fight and Pray” was one.  “Divine Mercy, Human Care” was another.  “Hey man we got to go help” was coined by Carlos Hernandez.  Restructuring changed the brands which is too bad.  We need to regain our voice for mercy.  Here was my recollection of getting a package in the mail back when we were called “mercy cowboys”.

A package came for me in the mail the other day.  Inside was a work shirt with the words” fight, work, pray’ embroidered on it.  The words come from Luther “On the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ” 1519. (L.W. 35.54) “There your heart must go out in love and devotion and learn that this sacrament is a sacrament of love, and that love and service are given you and you again must render love and service to Christ and His needy ones. You must feel with sorrow all the dishonor done to Christ in His holy Word, all the misery of Christendom, all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing: You must fight, work, pray and, if you cannot do more, have heartfelt sympathy.”  The words have become the unofficial motto of the Board for Human Care of the LCMS.  Luther explains in this treatise that God gives himself to me in the Sacrament of the Altar so that I can give myself to my neighbor.   In Baptism, God’s merciful washing produces merciful living.  In Confession and Absolution God’s merciful words of forgiveness to me produce merciful words and actions for my neighbor.  Christ give himself to me fully and completely that I may give myself to others.  In John 3:16 we see he Trinity in action in mercy –God loving the world, His Son being sent into the world, and the Holy Spirit calling gathering and enlightening so that all who believe in Him will be saved.

The implications of the Trinitarian mercy towards the children of men should be an impetus for the mercy that we show to one another.  The ethical exhortations of the New Testament have their root in the mercy of God.  Although the calls to be merciful are grounded in the Law they find their expression through the Gospel and the Gospel gifts to us.  The way we handle conflict, the way we deal with the poor, the way we handle the stuff of this world come not from our desire that other’s believe, but because of what we believe.  Acts of mercy may be opportunities for pre-evangelism, but primarily they function as our response to what we are in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We want all men to come to the knowledge of the truth because that is what our God wants, but we will act in mercy and do good works because that is what we are in Christ.

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