“The Tragic Necessity of Institutions”

churchI was very fortunate to have Pastor Ronald Lavin as my pastor growing up.  He was the product of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother and became a Lutheran minister.  His theology was deep and rich.  When I expressed my own desire to enter the ministry, he immediately put me on the Evangelism Committee at church.  In Pastor Lavin’s view anyone who expressed any kind of interest in the church deserved to be called on by the church.  If we were to be disciples of Christ, we had to be Christ-like in reaching out to people, and he taught me that although this may be the most difficult work of the church, it is also the foundation of the faith that we express.  The index cards we were given only had the individual’s contact information, so I called on everyone regardless of race, gender or social-economic status.  It served me well as I learned the meaning of “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Pastor Lavin had a very charismatic personality and that alone was enough to draw many people to him.  He also was not afraid to speak his mind, so when he was asked to address the graduating class of a local college, his address was called, “The Tragic Necessity of Institutions.”  In it, he discussed how the logistics of operating schools, churches, governments and corporations often contradicts the missions they are trying to fulfill.  “When our response to a situation as a church contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ, we are in danger of violating the principles that the organization is built on.”

Evil is resident in the world.  Because of that, many ships (institutions) get tossed over in a storm. In my line of work (I am a Certified Public Accountant), I often see those storms in terms of financial fraud that takes place.  Other moral atrocities may be allowed to storm a ship, but don’t touch the money.  The reaction to financial fraud becomes almost as rancid as the fraudulent act when I see the crew of the ship searching out a captain to flog instead of concentrating on setting the ship upright. We have a tendency in this country (or maybe as humans in general), to want to blame the victim.

In Boy Scouts, we teach that when you point a finger at someone else, you have 3 fingers pointing back at you.   That lesson could be an important one in helping institutions avoid making tragic mistakes.

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Will you accept the call?

telephone

“This is the long distance operator.  I have a long distance call for you.  Will you accept the call?”  You may have received a call like that if you were around in  the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s.

A  call I recently received was from the Pastor at the church.  “I need you on the Stewardship team.”  Stewardship, a religious term that means we need a solid foundation of committed giving on which to plan our budget for next year.  It’s as much a part of the cycle of the church year as Advent and Lent.

However, flash back a few hundred years to when the Lords, Dukes and Earls were the only landowners, often with large castles on hundreds of acres of estates.   They would hire someone to take care of the estate and the maintenance of the castle.  That person was called a Steward.  He did not own the property, but he took care of the property for the owner.

That’s a pretty good comparison of what our relationship is to God. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and He owns the hills, too.  God asks us to be his asset managers.  We have been placed here to take care of His creation.  To those who take that responsibility seriously, He entrusts much.

Then there are those that are like a 5 year old in a candy store.  I want that and that and that and that and that.  And we go crying to God, “Daddy, I need some more.”  And God says, “I don’t think so.  I saw what you did with that last bit I gave you.”  Is it any wonder that a sign of your devotion is to give 10% of your first fruits?

It’s a good time of the year to take some time away from church, especially if they are going to talk about giving money.   The choir will be singing Christmas Carols soon, we can go back then and enjoy the Christmas season.  After all, the family will be in town soon and they are not going to want to drag off to church while they are here, especially if the message is going to be about giving money.

So depending on what is in your heart, I will see you at church on November 30 or I won’t. You will not go to heaven or hell based upon your attendance.  To those who are there, I will offer greetings of the day and my sincere thanks for letting me share a message with you.

Talking Points

David stood in the path and the radiance of the sun was warm on his head. He turned toward it, but it was too bright and he had to shield his eyes. He looked to his right and in the distance many cattle were grazing in the hills. To his left, a badger wallowed into the forest.  And he knew that no matter which direction he looked, it was all owned by the master. 

In the distance there appeared to be a pond or a lake.  In this heat it could be a mirage.  He walked toward it, and it spread out in front of him.  The water was inviting, so he began running toward it. It was a good deal farther to it than he thought, and when he reached the water’s edge, he was out of breath. Still, he stripped his clothes off and waded into the water. 

The bottom of the lake fell away and David had to swim to stay afloat.  He could see an island ahead and decided to swim to it, but as he swam, he felt a pain in his side. He tried to tread water to rest, but the pain grew worse.  He swam hard to try to reach land and felt himself drift beneath the surface.  He pulled himself to the surface and gasped for air, but he soon found himself beneath it again. 

As the thought that he may not make it formed in his mind, David felt an arm around his waist.  His head was lifted to the air, and he was being pulled through the water. Soon the figure beside him was walking dragging David through the water.  When David could sit up in the water, the stranger let go of him and began to walk away.

When David had caught his breath, he yelled out, “Hey. Thank you for saving  my life.”  The stranger turned and waved to him, “See to it that it is a life worth saving.”

The story continues in three weeks at a talk I will be giving at Bethany Lutheran church in Crystal Lake, Illinois on November 30.  I hope you will join me there.