Walking Between Two Elephants

The current political situation in West Africa has created great difficulties for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Please pray for a swift resolution to the conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking regions of the country, and we trust that God will use this situation for the good of his people. Missionary Dan and Karen Kroll have temporarily relocated to Lilongwe, Malawi, while the situation on the ground is being assessed.

As we sat with fellow workers from our mission field, we learned much about the situation there. They had come from the place we call home, a place which had now become unsafe for us to return to. They had traveled in a military convoy of about two hundred vehicles, not sure if or when some opposition leaders might attack. The government is strong, but so are those who oppose them in the name of independence. Everybody here was raised with a “might makes right” attitude, so violence becomes the order of the day.

Lutheran Church of Cameroon

There is a hopelessness in the air as the proverb rolls off his tongue, “We are walking between two elephants.” We learn the other half of the proverb about five minutes later as he continues, “When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” We (ordinary people) are only spectators in this fight, and we don’t choose sides. ANYBODY with a gun makes us run into the bush to hide, makes us afraid to be home, but we are the ones who suffer in this fight. We are the grass.

As Isaiah begins his encouragement to the people of Israel who had been informed of God’s impending judgement, he acknowledges the same idea, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever”(40:7-8). “It isn’t easy” is a common phrase that comes up in our area – it usually refers to a tragic event or near impossible project that needs to be done. This is a classic situation, walking between two elephants, and it’s getting uglier every day.

When God decides that we need to walk between two elephants, or he finds it necessary to allow the elephants to fight, the best we can do is to prepare for any outcome. This is out of our hands. Almost any way we become involved, we will agitate somebody – we will most likely only make it worse.

Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll

“…BUT the word of our God stands forever.” A pretty important “but” that turns our attention away from the terrible things that are happening in a different part of the world, a war zone, across town, or even in our own home. Whenever we look to people or expect anything of this world to bring peace and happiness, we will surely be disappointed. In fact, the devil will use that to get our attention away from our Savior Jesus. As soon as independence, peace, prosperity, or personal satisfaction rule our hearts and lives, we can be lost and trampled underfoot.

Is there a way for us to leave the elephants alone? In spite of the worldly suffering in this situation, might we rather focus on the good news that our ever-gracious and wise LORD is still in charge, even stronger than the elephants. We remember always that he plans only good things for us (Romans 8:28). The best example is the sacrifice of his own Son to keep us close to Him for eternity. Let us continue to read and study his word to remind us that even our biggest elephant (death) no longer has power over us. Together with Jesus we cannot lose. The whole world needs to know about this great victory in Jesus – even if it means we have walk between two elephants while we tell them!

Written by: Missionaries Dan and Karen Kroll 

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Worship Wrestling

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive updates, visit oneafricateam.com.

Written by Rev. James Aderman, a pastor who has served congregations in Florida and Wisconsin and is currently retired. Pastor Aderman recently went to Malawi to teach continuing education courses for pastors from Malawi and Zambia.

The topic was familiar. If I had closed my eyes I could easily have imagined myself in a group of WELS pastors in the United States.

But I was 8,500 miles from Wisconsin. I was south of the equator in Malawi, Africa.

The Lutheran Church of Central Africa (LCCA) hosts an annual continuing education week for its pastors at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi. I had the privilege of leading the 40 LCCA pastors who attended the 2018 conference in a discussion of Bible interpretation principles and of Christ-centered worship. It was the worship material that launched this discussion.

“My people think liturgy-based worship services are dull,” one pastor said. Others nodded in agreement. “That’s why some of my members slip off to Pentecostal churches on Sunday,” another said. “We Lutherans have so much to celebrate because of God’s grace,” said someone else. “Why can’t our worship be more lively?”

“But the liturgy reflects our teaching about grace,” another pastor countered. “Everything about it points us to Jesus. We dare not lose that.”

The discussion volleyed for some time. At the end there was consensus.

  • God’s grace in Jesus motivates us to worship him in the best ways possible.
  • Lutheran liturgy provides a solid structure on which to build our worship.
  • Liturgy doesn’t have to be dull or repetitive.
  • Our excellent hymn texts can be placed into music that is more familiar to African ears.
  • Pastors can do a better job teaching the Lutheran approach to worship.
  • The liturgy offers the freedom to help Christians of any culture fully rejoice in God’s grace.
  • We pastors can improve the way we lead God’s people in worship.

“I applaud you, my brothers,” I told them, “for your willingness to wrestle with developing worship services that bring praise to God and best benefits God’s people. You’ve given me new encouragement to keep my eyes open wide, so I do the same for fellow Christians in America.”

Written by: Rev. James Aderman, Retired pastor and volunteer professor in Malawi

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From the Far Side of the Sea

For my wife Connie and I, the words penned by ancient Israel’s King David take on a very personal meaning:

I settle on the far side of the sea. Even there your hand guides me, and your right hand holds on to me.

Psalm 139:9-10 EHV

As part of the WELS foreign service team, we have lived on the tropical island of Java in Indonesia since 2011. Indonesia is an archipelago, a geographic grouping of islands scattered about a region of water. The sandy shores of this nation of islands are bordered by the Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as being interconnected by several seas, straits, and gulfs.

Greg Bey and his wife Connie in Indonesia

One of the country’s many beautiful beaches on the southern coast of Central Java was the site of the 16th synodical convention of Gereja Lutheran Indonesia this past June. The modest hotel at which the convention was held was a mere 10-15 minute walk away from the water’s edge. Reflecting on the vastness of the Indian Ocean at the setting of the sun, the following words recorded by the Prophet Habakkuk seem most applicable: For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14 ESV)  All that we need to know about the glory of God our Savior, the God of free and faithful grace, the God of undeserved kindness and love, has been written down for us in the Holy Scriptures for our eternal benefit.

Pastor Ordination at GLI

To the great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9 EHV) God’s Word of Truth proclaims:  He will… have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19 ESV) In a sense, GLI is truly a microcosm of the “great multitude” from around the world who so desperately needs to hear the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation which He freely offers to all through faith in Christ. It is estimated that there are more than 300 native languages and ethnic groups throughout the archipelago. Some sources state that the living languages in use exceed 700.

It is a privilege for GLI to be able to reach out to various tribes, people, and languages. This small fledgling confessional Lutheran denomination is able to do so only because the Lord of the Church has already blessed it with members and ministers in a number of major geographic regions including West, Central, & East Java, West Timor, Kalimantan (Borneo), and Irian Jaya (Papua).

GLI Delegates at their synod convention

This was evidenced at the GLI synodical convention as new leaders from among the clergy and laity were elected and new pastors and vicars were ordained and installed. While the baton was passed from the first generation to the middle-aged and younger men of the second and third generations, those added to the cadre of elected leaders and called workers consisted of individuals from various tribes including Javanese, Batak (Sumatra), Papuan, Dawan (Timorese), and Dayak (Kalimantan).

While GLI is small church body with a mere handful of far flung posts and congregations, the LORD has provided it with with big opportunities, the greatest message, and His promise of blessing. Please join in its ministry through your words of encouragement, by your offerings, and especially with your prayers.

Blessed is everyone who has the God of Jacob as his help. His hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything which is in them. He is the one who stays faithful forever.

Psalm 146:5-6 EHV

Written by: Greg Bey, Friendly Counselor to Indonesia

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Needing to Share Jesus

When it became about sharing Jesus with another broken heart, God’s Word worked.

Canvassing Team ready to share Jesus with the Rockwall community

We met at a church carnival and got to talking in the line to get a gyro. He hadn’t been with a group of people who loved Jesus and were kind to him like us in his life, so he was willing to have me come over to his house and visit. Before long, we were going through a Bible Study about who Jesus is, who we really are in God’s eyes, and what God has done for us through Jesus. Each time we met, there were more questions and old stories about things he’d seen or done that he didn’t understand. As we talked about God’s Word, the Spirit answered his questions and healed his heart. Before long, he was gathering with us to worship and taking every devotional book or magazine he could get as his desire to remain connected to Jesus grew.

We pray together that our eyes stay open to see the opportunities all around us – like meeting someone in line at a church carnival waiting to get a gyro. When we realize our calling is to tell someone else about something that changed our own lives, the conversations turns from wanting to share Jesus, to needing to share Jesus.

When we want to share Jesus, it seems that the conversations take place too soon or are disconnected from the situation. When we realize what God has done to repair our own broken hearts, it becomes easier to recognize what the brokenness looks like in others. And when we see the needs of others, we are able to help because our shared need is only met with the Word of God.

Sharing Jesus became real when I had a real conversation with someone. I pray God continues to keep my eyes open to see broken hearts and to share Jesus with them. I also pray that God reminds you of your broken heart and his power alone to heal you – and I pray you see the brokenness in others to share with them the only Words that work:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

Isaiah 61:1

Written By: Pastor Gunnar Ledermann, Divine Peace Lutheran Church – Rockwall, Tex. Campus

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WELS App Replaces WELS Mobile on July 17

On Tuesday, July 17 the WELS Mobile app installed from the iPhone/iPad App Store, Google Play Store, or Amazon will be removed. Any users with the app installed on their devices will find that many of the features will no longer function correctly. The reason for this change is that a new WELS App is now available at https://wels.app. This new app provides all the same functionality as the old WELS Mobile app and more. Please read all about it in a recent blog posted entitled WELS App Launches.

If you have been using the old WELS Mobile app, you may want to uninstall it to avoid confusion. If you are confused as to which one you have, the old WELS Mobile app has a red header bar at the top of the screen, while the new WELS App has a blue header bar (pictured here).

Thanks for giving the WELS App a try. Tell others. Enjoy the experience and the beautiful messages it carries. And be sure to watch for new features coming soon.

God Can Turn Setbacks into Blessings

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

Acts 8:4

The book of Acts shows us that the Lord used even the persecution of his church to further the spread of his Word. What seemed a setback actually resulted in added blessing to the church as the scattered believers brought the message of salvation to those whom they might not have otherwise encountered.

South Asian Fellowship at Christ in Pewaukee, WI

When our World Missions contacts in Pakistan, Dr. and Mrs. Jordan, were forced to leave their country and come to the United States for safety reasons, it seemed a significant setback to the efforts to share the gospel in that country. A small but growing Lutheran church had been established. Christian literature had been provided in the Urdu language for tens of thousands of Christian school children, for adults who desired instruction, and for hundreds of low income Christian households that wanted Bible materials for the spiritual instruction of their families.

Yet as happens so often in mission work, our Lord used these unforeseen developments to further his work rather than hinder it. Through the miracle of modern technology in communications, the departed leaders were able to continue to advise, encourage, and train those left behind in their church in Pakistan. Plans for in depth Bible training of the next generation are being carried out and a new wave of leadership has begun to emerge. In fact, outreach through household churches is being done on a scale greater than thought possible.

The Lord’s blessings are not confined to Pakistan alone, but are also evident in the United States. Extended time in America enabled the Pakistani couple to accelerate and complete courses with the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI), a partnership between WELS Joint Missions and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. After graduating from the PSI program, the Jordans began to use the advantage of their Asian background and language to establish a network of Asian immigrant friends who were living in the Pewaukee, Wis. area, where they reside. Their membership at Christ Lutheran Church in Pewaukee prompted the congregation to work with the Jordans to establish an International Friendship Center (IFC) to reach out to these immigrants with Christian love and the message of salvation.

Activities of the IFC over the past months have included meals, gatherings at church, and numerous visits to homes that have involved over 60 immigrants. In all of these activities, the gospel has been shared and relationships between American mid-westerners and people from India, Pakistan, and Nepal have begun to form. This summer, Christ Lutheran volunteers are providing activities for Asian children in a nearby park leading up to the church’s Vacation Bible School in July. Joint trips to farms, businesses, and places of interest in the community are being planned; and classes helping these immigrants to adjust to U.S. culture and life are being developed.

We don’t know where all of this comparatively new outreach effort will lead, but the Jordans and the volunteers at Christ Lutheran do know that God has provided an unexpected opportunity to be his people in a unique way, perhaps showing again in the 21st century that setbacks in man’s perception often become blessings that are part of God’s master plan.

Written by: A volunteer with the Christ Lutheran South Asian Task Force

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“I Knew I Needed Peace”

Redeemer Lutheran Church in Edna, Texas began worshiping at its second site in Victoria on December 3, 2017. As is typical with a new mission start, we flooded our area with fliers, billboards, and door-hanger invitations. We had a few new people respond, but by Christmas, most had decided that Redeemer was not for them. We followed the grand opening invitation with a Christmas invitation just a few weeks later with nearly the same results…

Easter Sunday at Redeemer

Or so we thought.

About 2 weeks after Christmas, Magdalena and her high school aged granddaughter, Nikandra, attended worship with us. As part of our guest follow-up, I took a welcome gift to their house. Although we don’t usually like to enter the house for a visit on this first contact, Magdalena insisted. It was the first time a pastor had sat at her table to visit with her and to address her spiritual concerns and questions.

I asked how she had found out about Redeemer, and she pulled out the Christmas invitation that offered “Peace for the Broken” (the Christmas 2017 invite cards prepared by Pastor Jonathan Schroeder and ECHT Printing) from her Bible and said, “I saw this and knew I needed peace. So I came.”

Redeemer’s Easter Celebration

Over the next several weeks, Magdalena and Nikandra studied with me nearly every week in their home and seldom missed worship or Sunday Bible study. As they neared the completion of the Bible 101 course, I invited them to consider baptism, confirmation, and church membership. They enthusiastically accepted and, for many reasons, chose Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, as the date for Nikandra’s baptism and for their confirmations as well. It was a wonderful celebration of the power of Jesus’ resurrection. On a day our nation celebrates pranks and fools, these two became confirmed “fools” for Christ, who are wise unto salvation through faith in him.

Nikandra used the opportunity of her baptism and confirmation to invite a friend and her mother to worship. These ladies have also started attending worship, and we have invited them to consider the Bible 101 course as well. We pray that in this way our congregation and the Savior’s church will continue to grow.

Written By: Pastor Aaron Glaeske, Redeemer Lutheran Church – Victoria, TX

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Preach The Word – Luther and the Lectionary

Treasures Old and New

Luther and the Lectionary

“Ah, Luther.” Like an audiophile commenting on Bach, confessional Lutheran pastors utter the name with a sense of awe, respect, and thanksgiving for the life, work, and heritage of Dr. Martin Luther. We revere him, quote him, point to him, apologize with him and, on occasion apologize for him in our teaching and preaching. There is so much that one could offer that it is easier for those in the know to simply look at each and exclaim, “Ah, Luther.”

And yet, no confessional Lutheran preacher would ever leave it at that. For 500 years the Lutheran Reformation has shaped both the religious and secular worlds in which we walk, work, and witness today. It is no wonder that quotes from Luther and the reformers find their way into our sermons. We share sermon highlights, catechetical sections, and snippets from the confessions for the joy and edifying of our people. In doing so, we follow a long line of Lutheran preachers and confessors who would witness to their faith in print and in pulpits throughout the German lands and beyond. Bringing their confession of faith to the biblical storeroom of the lectionary, they found treasures old and new to bring forth.

A Lutheran Lectionary

As the Lutheran Reformation took hold, the reformers sought to develop a worship life that would transition worshipers from medieval self-righteousness to biblical justification by grace through faith. Already by the mid-1520s, the organization of churches in Lutheran principalities had begun. Called the Saxon Visitation, parishes and communities were visited, evaluated, and organized in line with the model set up in Wittenberg. Regional customs and observances were retained or modified, if at all possible, while others were eliminated. Mass-orders were based on the examples of Luther’s German and Latin masses yet they often restored or retained local textual and ceremonial practices. “It is apparent that the various church orders made their own contributions to the evolution of Lutheran liturgy, influenced by but also independent of the contributions of Martin Luther.”1

There grew “a remarkable consensus in the calendrical observances of early Lutheranism.”

As worship life continued to center on the church year, there grew “a remarkable consensus in the calendrical observances of early Lutheranism.”2 Based largely in the historic lectionary, Lutheran churches retained much of the historic church year calendar, especially the festival half, while adjusting for local and regional observances:

  • The Advent and Christmas seasons along with the Festival of the Epiphany remained unchanged
  • The season of Epiphany included the Baptism of our Lord at Luther’s urging, followed by specific emphases each Sunday, and concluding with the Transfiguration (moved from August 6).
  • Lent remained unchanged from Ash Wednesday through Easter Eve, though Good Friday was observed with less somberness and Holy Saturday not at all.
  • Easter Sunday led into the Sundays of the Easter season, each named for specific annual observances.
  • Ascension and Pentecost were celebrated as high festivals, followed by Trinity Sunday.
  • The Sundays after Trinity Sunday were largely marked by lectio continua and semi-lectio continua readings.

Yet as the church year came to an end, the lectionary took a decided Lutheran turn. Luther encouraged special emphases to replace Roman All Saints and All Souls days. The last three Sundays of the church year emphasized:

  • The abomination of desolation (Matthew 25:15-28)
  • The last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Remembrance of the faithful departed (Matthew 5:1-12)3

During the annual cycle, feasts of the apostles and evangelists continued to be observed if they fell on a Sunday. Most of the feasts of the virgin Mary were phased out while the Annunciation, the Purification, and the Visitation were kept. A number of church orders included evangelical observances of local, non-biblical saints.

Conspicuous by its absence, though, was an observance of thanksgiving for the Lutheran Reformation. While much of the church year and its appointed texts were nearly universal, Reformation festivals were celebrated in many and varying ways. Johannes Bugenhagen, among the Saxon visitors mentioned above, encouraged territories to celebrate the Reformation on the anniversary of the date the territory joined the Reformation. Others celebrated on the anniversary of Luther’s birth or death. Still others celebrated on the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. A more unified date for the festival wasn’t established until the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War:

The Thirty Years’ War obliterated these [Reformation] observances, but in 1667 Elector John George II of Saxony reestablished the festival, appointing it for October 31. This date, or the Sunday preceding or the Sunday following, came to be generally accepted in practically all German-speaking and other Lutheran lands, where the festival itself rapidly gained observance.4

Die Heilige Schrift oder Was sagt Luther?

Since then, Lutheran liturgy, Lutheran lectionary, and Lutheran quotes have been fused with biblical proclamation. Week by week our Lutheran heritage has and continues to make its way into the worship lives of our people. Nowhere was this more unmistakably on display than during last year’s celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Books, movies, articles, daily quotes, devotionals, exhibits, sermons, and the like all celebrated Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. Again and again we heard about Luther’s theology, Luther’s faith, Luther’s Bible, and Luther’s impact on the world.

Yet while millions rejoiced at what God accomplished through the Lutheran Reformation, some were left asking, “Do Lutherans worship God or Luther?” Questions like this are easily dismissed as simple misunderstanding by the uninformed, non-confessional bias from the purveyors of liberal Lutheranism, or unfounded criticism by historical skeptics. Certainly, these have all influenced our Lutheran efforts to clearly proclaim the solae of the Lutheran Reformation. We react, respond, anticipate, teach, and preach with Lutheran tenacity, less the lessons of the Reformation be lost, and rightly so.

Could the way we incorporate Luther into worship give the unintended impression that Luther is Lord?

At the same, we do well to hear such a question as, “Do Lutherans worship God or Luther?” and ask that most Lutheran of questions of ourselves, “What does this mean?” Could the way we incorporate Luther and the Confessions into worship, especially our preaching, give the unintended impression that Luther is Lord? References to Luther’s theology, Luther’s faith, and Luther’s Bible can be rightly understood. Yet such references can also be easily misunderstood, even by those who want to rightly understand.

To be clear, this is about perception and not about quia vs. quatenus. Indeed, our quia subscriptions to the Book of Concord give us every confidence to include quotes from and references to the confessions of our Christian faith and Lutheran heritage. This is obviously a good thing. But to those who are new to Lutheranism or new to the Christian faith, an abundance of such quotes and references may be too much of a good thing. Without thoughtful explanation or careful clarity, even a single quote or reference could result in unintended consequences, leading to misperception. A sermon progression of “The prophet Jeremiah wrote…The apostle Paul wrote…Luther wrote…” may become, to the uninitiated and uneducated, no longer two proof passages and some faithful exposition. Rather, the progression becomes three proof passages. Was sagt Luther can end up being perceived to be on a par with Scripture, not simply quoted because this particular explanation of his is in agreement with Scripture. Sola Scriptura becomes Scriptura et….

When it comes to preaching Luther and the lectionary, the advice here is not to eliminate Luther. Rather, be mindful of how you include Luther in your preaching. We dare not compromise the Word of God for the sake of perception. Yet we are mindful of how we present it for the sake of those listening. We carefully proclaim the Word of Truth. We deliberately apply law and gospel to our listeners. We purposely strive for understanding and clarity. And so, as the writer to the Hebrews encourages, it is also good and right for us to point to and remember the “great cloud of witnesses” and “leaders” who have gone before us. We carefully teach the place that Luther and the confessions have in our preaching and in the worship lives of God’s people. We clarify their relationship to the Word of God. In thanksgiving we “consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”5

500th Anniversary Part II

2018 marks another anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, the 500th anniversary of the Heidelberg Disputation.

The Heidelberg disputation is, in many ways, more significant than the 95 Theses.

Following Luther’s proposal for a disputation on the subject of indulgences, the Augustinian Order, to which Luther belonged, was generally supportive of his views. The head of the order in Germany, Johannes Staupitz, called for a formal disputation to be attended by the leadership of the order, in which Luther would be provided a chance to expand upon his concern. The disputation took place at the meeting of the Augustinian Order, in Heidelberg, in April 1518. Luther’s opponents had been hopeful that Luther would be silenced, but Staupitz wanted to give Luther a fair hearing, since he was generally sympathetic with Luther’s views. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” The disputation is, in many ways, more significant than the 95 theses, for they advanced Luther’s growing realization that the theology of late Medieval Roman Catholicism was fundamentally and essentially at odds with Biblical theology. As a result of the disputation, John Eck proposed a debate between himself and representatives of Luther’s views, which was held in Leipzig from June to July, 1519.6

Here is opportunity to celebrate our Lutheran heritage and rightly use it to point to our Savior. Thank you to Craig Engel for providing the following connections between the 28 Theses of the Heidelberg Disputation and the appointed lessons and themes through the Sundays of Pentecost, Year B. Since Engel’s plan includes dates already passed, I offer two November dates instead. The Heidelberg document is available at the website in endnote 6.

Pentecost 7 – July 8, 2018

Mark 6:1-16, Ezekiel 2:1-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Thesis 18 – It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

Pentecost 9 – July 22, 2018

Mark 6:30-34, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Ephesians 2:13-22
Thesis 25 – He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
Thesis 26 – The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Pentecost 14 – August 26, 2018

John 6:60-69, Joshua 24:1,2a,14-18, Ephesians 5:21-23
Thesis 13 – Free will, after the fall, exists in name only, and as long as it does what it is able to do, it commits a mortal sin.
Thesis 14 – Free will, after the fall, has power to do good only in a passive capacity, but it can do evil in an active capacity.
Thesis 16 – Nor could the free will endure in a state of innocence, much less do good, in an active capacity, but only in its passive capacity.
Thesis 17 – Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.

Pentecost 15 – September 2, 2018

Mark 7:1-8,14,15,21-23, Deuteronomy 4:1,2,6-8, Ephesians 6:10-20
Thesis 1 – The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
Thesis 3 – Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
Thesis 25 – He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
Thesis 26 – The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Pentecost 21 – October 14, 2018

Mark 10:17-27, Amos 5:6,7,10-15, Hebrews 3:1-6
Thesis 5 – The works of men are thus not mortal sins (we speak of works which are apparently good), as though they were crimes.
Thesis 6 – The works of God (we speak of those which he does through man) are thus not merits, as though they were sinless.

End Time 1 – Reformation Sunday – November 4, 2018

Mark 13:5-11, Jeremiah 18:1-11, Revelation 14:6,7
Thesis 25 – He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
Thesis 26 – The law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.

Last Sunday of End Time – Christ the King – November 25, 2018

John 18:33-37, Daniel 7:13,14, Revelation 1:4b-8
Thesis 20 – He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.
Thesis 21 – A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


1 Frank Senn, Christian Liturgy, p. 338
2 Ibid., p. 342
3 Ibid., p. 344
4 Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, p. 569 (also quoted in Christian Liturgy, p. 345)
5 Hebrews 12:1; 13:7
6 http://bookofconcord.org/heidelberg.php


Treasures from the Archive

With twenty years of archives to hand, there is a storeroom of treasure to behold in past issues. The following is an introductory “observation” which speaks to the place and impact of catechetical preaching.

I love a good catechetical sermon.

When I hear my pastor read a proof text from the catechism as his sermon text, I look forward to hearing how he is teaching it to his current catechism students. I appreciate the review of my own catechetical instruction, and the new applications of the text to my current life.

The original Handbook to the Small Catechism was dedicated “to all faithful and upright pastors and preachers.” I gain quite a bit from catechetical review in a good catechetical sermon to help me in my role as a Christian father, since Martin Luther suggested that the truths of his Small Catechism were for me to present to my household.

And I know how this has worked in history. Good catechetical preaching has borne fruit in Lutheran congregations.

Almost 500 years ago, a group of families moved to where a mine had opened in the present-day Czech Republic. They named their new town Joachimsthal. That silver mine produced the metal for the coins in their area, which became known as “Thalers,” from which we get our English word, “dollars.”

The year after they founded their town, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, and the Reformation began.

The mining families all became Lutheran. Their story is told by Christopher Boyd Brown in his book, Singing the Gospel. The townspeople opened and supported two Lutheran elementary schools, one for the boys and one for the girls. They supported a number of pastors in a large congregation that contained, at its peak, 5,000 mining families.

Many of their legal and church records have been preserved, and what is striking is the documented evidence of each family being sure that the children learned Bible accounts, Luther’s Small Catechism, Lutheran worship, and in particular, the words of dozens of good Lutheran catechetical hymns. All of that family catechetical work was supported by good catechetical preaching from the pulpit.

After imperial armies took over the territory and banned Lutheranism, a Roman Catholic priest named Franciscus Albanus was sent to the village. He had his doctoral degree from a college where they trained men to oppose the unconditional gospel. Franciscus Albanus worked hard in Joachimsthal. But the children under his care told him the truths of the Bible as they had learned them in Luther’s Small Catechism. The men and women of the village patiently insisted on forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus as their Savior. And the families sang Lutheran hymns in public and private. Of course, there was strong cultural pressure to compromise the truth. But the people held firm. Even armies could not stop them.

Albanus was forced to begin reading through the Lutheran theological volumes stored in the Joachimsthal library in order to “strike the people with their own sword, and convince them out of their own writings.”

Instead, he himself was convinced by the Holy Spirit. Albanus resigned from the priesthood and became a Lutheran pastor. Do you think he engaged in any good catechetical preaching after that?

God bless your faithful preaching, catechetical and otherwise.

Paul Prange, Volume 16, No. 5

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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What do you do with children in worship?

Series Introduction

The Look. You know it well. It comes in different shapes and sizes. It comes in different times and places. It comes in different expressions and amounts of seriousness. There are many variations to The Look, but it’s all essentially the same.

You certainly have seen The Look before. You probably have received The Look before. Writing an article first for pastors, I’m quite confident you have given The Look before. The location of The Look is churches, exclusively. The object of The Look is parents, specifically.

What is The Look? It’s a writhing of the brow, a wrinkling of the nose, and a wriggling of the lips that accent a glassy-eyed, ice-cold stare of death. It’s a communication of body language that silently screams, “What is wrong with you? Will you PLEASE shut that kid up?!”

We who are pastors rarely sit with our children, so we might have to go back to seminary or vicar days to remember what it is like to receive The Look. Or we could ask our wives what it is like to receive it (if we dare stir that pot of opinions).

Many times we observe The Look. From the bird’s nest of the pulpit we can survey the congregation and see much of what takes place during worship. We can hear and see the child whining as the parent struggles to soothe and wonders how long to hold out before leaving the sanctuary. We can also see the subsequent turning of heads. Who cares if you were making the greatest sermonic point of your life? At least ten people find it completely necessary to turn and find that disruptive family because they need to be given The Look.

Most times we pastors have familiarized ourselves with The Look because we have given it ourselves. You know the times: When Johnny feels like he has to go marching in with all the saints mid sermon. When the new family decided it would be a good idea to bring a Tonka fire truck and not turn off the siren. When you are pouring your heart out in a sermon you spent plenty of hours on while some (hopefully) well-intentioned parent thinks waiting out a crying child is ideal during worship. When the stray toddler runs down the aisle and looks like he’s going to make a break for the chancel. (All these I’ve personally experienced!)

Yeah. Those are the times we give The Look. Perhaps we give it with our best evangelical spin. But nevertheless we too give The Look that says, “Go ahead kid. Make my day. Charge the chancel and you’ll get the most evangelical death stare you could ever imagine. I’ll ban your family from pot lucks from now until the good Lord returns!”

I know. A light-hearted opening. But don’t let the satire hide the seriousness. Many times we think about these kinds of things that occur within our walls, and we do laugh it off. We shrug our shoulders and say, “There’s not much we can do about that.” We relish a change but relinquish effort so as to keep the status quo. After all, there will always be children and there will always be noise in worship, so we might as well just deal with it.

But I believe this issue is more serious than that and deserves more attention than a roll of the eyes or shrug of the shoulders. Ministry experience has taught me this.

I’ve been at the door of, or in conversation with, many a prospect who has said something like, “Do you have child care or children’s church during your services? If you don’t, I’m not coming.”

I’ve been in council meetings that pushed the boundaries of brotherly conversation as opinionated grenades were launched across the table: “I think all children should be separate in their own service during church so we can concentrate,” . . . “Well, if that happens, I’m leaving!”

I’ve had people leave during worship never to return to worship because of the noise level in church. (Coincidentally, it was my own daughter who stubbed her toe that day.) I’ve had empty-nesters complain about the noise level in church, and then five of them leave membership within a five-month window.

I’ve had parents stare in disbelief when discussion on the topic arises, as if they are surprised their noisy kid would ever be considered a distraction. And yes, I’ve even given my fair share of The Look as pesky peewees pushed my patience while preaching.

This is a big deal. This is a serious issue. Granted, my former congregation was extraordinarily youthful (40% of 300 souls were under age 12!) and our sanctuary was designed for great acoustics. We faced a bigger challenge than most. But every church has children. Every church has visitors and potential visitors with children. No church is exempt from dealing with the issue.

So if many parents and prospects are looking for something for their children during worship, and if children can often be very distracting during worship, and if other worshipers can easily become distracted and upset with distractions . . . What Do You Do with Children in Worship?

Contributions to the Current Situation

This question has taken me on quite the journey. Initially I was searching for that silver bullet that would silence the congregational alligators, hush the zoo of children, and let God’s people go back to focusing on mission and ministry (and worship!). There must be some solution to knock off these three birds with one worship stone! I asked around. I researched. I read. I tried new things. I read some more.

Then, years later, it finally hit me in a lightbulb moment that felt somewhat embarrassing. How could I have been so foolish? I’ve been looking in the wrong place the whole time! It’s not about the children! It’s not like children are suddenly born “worse in church” in the 21st century—as if there is another degree beyond total depravity that children have now reached! No, it’s not about the children! This is really all about the adults!

It’s not about the children! This is really all about the adults!

Take a few moments to consider only a few challenges in the world of adults and parenting today. First, there have been tectonic shifts in generational stability within our country. “The Greatest Generation” carried us on their backs through the Great Depression and WWII. They gave birth to the Baby Boomers who led us toward the ‘60s. But it was the pivotal generation that came next—Generation X. This is the generation that grew up in Vietnam Days, embraced free thinking, embarked on the sexual revolution, and then embodied rebellion against authority and discipline. Perhaps much of their cultural shift stemmed from what was happening at home. Over 50% of those in Generation X experienced some form of childhood abuse and more than 60% grew up in a broken home without both mom and dad present.1 Today, the youngest of this Generation X (those born closer to the 80’s) has children mostly in grade school, with some having high school or preschool children.

Generation X, a conflicted and confused generation, then gave birth to those notorious Millennials. Millennial parents primarily have early elementary or preschool aged children today. That means that these young children coming up through school today are now two generations removed from any kind of parental stability or normality. It shows, too. James M. Pedersen, a principal in New Jersey, wrote a book2 describing in great detail 55 different parenting styles identifiable today.

What’s the point? Many parents today struggle in knowing how to be parents—how to discipline, how to interact with and communicate with their children, and thus obviously, how to have them behave in worship.

Many parents today struggle in knowing how to be parents.

It doesn’t help that these parents are immersed in a post-Christian America. Some 50% of Americans identify as “post-Christian” today. More than 60% of Americans are unchurched or dechurched. And for those that do go to church, almost 40% of Christians today are “not too familiar” with the liturgy (19%) or have “never heard of it” (19%).3 So not only are children growing up in homes without much discipline or parental stability, they are also growing up in homes that are not familiar with being in church. Thus, proper church decorum can often amount to, “What threat, reward, or sticker can be offered in order to keep my kid quiet for an hour?” And if that doesn’t work, “Here, play on my iPhone” often becomes the solution.

There are many more challenges for parents with children in worship today, such as diminishing attention spans due to the 70+ hours Americans average in front of screens per week. But one more challenge deserves a bit more attention here—the age segregation of society.

We are in an era when everyone has their own place or group. There are geriatric and pediatric specialists. There are YMCA camps and programs for every age level. Even churches have senior groups, teen groups, youth groups, Mommy and Me groups, singles groups, young professional groups, and more. But no segregation of society is more significant than between children and adults.

Parents today train themselves to being accustomed to others taking care of their kids. As soon as a child is “old enough,” it’s off to day care or preschool—sometimes for 10-12 hours a day. When school is done, then Shelly is chauffeured and Cara is carted off to gymnastics or swimming or basketball or karate where others continue to take care of the children. But that’s not all. Grabbing a quick couple nuggets at McDonald’s or Chic-Fil-A? No worries! Kids can go to the play place. Need to get a quick workout in? Not a problem! The Y has childcare, too. Need to shop for the newest Swedish-designed lamps? You’re in luck! Even Ikea has childcare! It has become a strange norm today that parents pass off the parenting.

Let’s put this all together then. If a majority of American parents today are “post-Christian” and also non-church going, and if a majority of parents today struggle to know what it means to parent or discipline, and if a majority of parents today have become accustomed to passing off parenting to others, then should we really be surprised in worship that wiggling, whining, and wailing from children have climbed to epic heights while flustered and frustrated parents have bottomed out at miserable lows?

What Does This Mean?

First, the pastoral heart will have sympathy for those who are struggling with their children. (He will certainly also have empathy if his dear wife is herding a horde of littles each week to worship!) With compassion for these struggling parents, the pastor understands that the culture of Christian parenting has greatly changed over the years. Many may not know well how to discipline because they never experienced it themselves. Many newer Christians have also never really experienced worship, let alone liturgical worship. Thus, the pastor is sympathetic because so many parents today are simultaneously experiencing parenting and church for the first time!

Next, the pastoral heart will have sympathy for those concerned about the noise and volume from children during worship, too. We should not be so trite or dismissive as to declare to those concerned, “Well Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me,’ so you’re going to have to get over it.” Remember that such voiced concerns may come from God’s people who desire greatly to hear God’s Word and concentrate on worship. Even though their concerns are not always voiced with Christian care, they can be heard with your evangelical ear. Considering parents’ struggles, some level of distraction is not surprising. The pastor can be sympathetic toward that concern.

Still, the pastor would do well to fully instruct his members about a vow they make so often in worship: “Yes, as God gives me strength.”4 Time and again God bursts open the floodgates of his grace as he richly pours out forgiveness, life, and salvation on a young child or infant newly buried and risen with Christ in the waters of baptism. Following the rite of Christian Worship, the pastor then asks all present if they are willing to assist in whatever manner possible so that the child may remain a child of God until death. Has any pastor ever heard a “No!” to taking up that responsibility? So if the congregation unanimously resounds with the promise, “Yes, as God gives me strength,” then they need to understand what that entails. They need to understand that there will be compassion, encouragement, and support for parents so that in whatever manner possible children may be trained in the way they should go. This includes being trained in how to participate in worship.

In the articles that follow in this series, we will take a closer look at how the pastor and congregation can partner with the parents in such an undertaking. Specifically, our focus will be on how to assist parents in engaging their children in worship.

We will review the pros and cons of various strategies proposed by congregations such as children’s sermons, children’s church, and much more. We will look at biblical and historical precedents (both prescriptive and descriptive) to guide us on parenting and the topic of children and worship. Finally, we will consider a specific strategy aimed at helping parents to engage their children in worship—a strategy supported by Scripture, psychology, and science.

God bless us as we help, encourage, and support letting children hear the mighty deeds which God performed of old!5

A Preview of What’s to Come
  • Biblical precedent for families worshiping together in the church
  • Biblical directives for parenting and parental responsibility for teaching children to worship
  • Historical, psychological, and scientific factors that have implications for what is done with children in worship
  • Reviews of common practices with children in worship such as children’s sermons, children’s church, Sunday School held during worship, and more
  • Specific strategies for parents and congregations to help engage children in worship
  • A clearing house of ideas for child involvement in worship

Written by Phil Huebner

In 2007 Pastor Huebner was assigned to start a new mission church in Palm Coast, FL. In the nine years he served there, Christ the King Lutheran Church and School grew quickly and became known for outreach in the community, with many young people and children. He now serves as the Campus Pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, WI where he works with families and children on a daily basis. He received a Masters in Sacred Theology from WLS in 2015 and will finish in January 2019 a doctorate in Missions and Culture from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN. His dissertation is on what to do with children in worship. Departing from the usual custom, Worship the Lord is offering a four-part series on this topic.


1 Statistics from Revolutionary Parenting by George Barna
2 The Rise of the Millennial Parents
3 Statistics from barna.com
4 Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, p. 14
5 CW: 512


Commissioning new music

Is there a special occasion happening in your congregation in the next year or so? An anniversary, retirement, or facility dedication? Consider commissioning new music to celebrate the event. A list of WELS/ELS composers is available here: welsfinearts.org. Or musicians at your church might suggest another favorite composer.

A recent NPH publication is 8 Hymn Preludes for Organ, by Jeremy S. Bakken. The collection bears this dedication: “For Phil Becker from his wife, Lois, in recognition of 50 years of faithful service as an organist in WELS churches. S. D. G.” Phil also served for several years on the Commission on Worship, including as vice-chairman.

online.nph.net/8-hymn-preludes-for-organ.html

Organ Chorales of Samuel Scheidt
Forty-Nine Practical Settings

A new edition is edited and arranged by WELS musician Steven Rhode. From online publicity:

The passage of time hasn’t dulled the craftsmanship and creativity in the chorales of Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654). Nearly four centuries after they were first published, the settings still sparkle with innovative harmonies and exuberant rhythmic flourishes. Over time, some of these chorales have changed in common usage from how they were originally published in 1650. This new edition of Samuel Scheidt’s chorales matches the keys, notes, and rhythms of current hymnals while remaining faithful to Scheidt’s musical intent.

online.nph.net/organ-chorales-of-samuel-scheidt.html

 

 

WORSHIP

Learn about how WELS is assisting congregations by encouraging worship that glorifies God and proclaims Christ’s love.

GIVE A GIFT

WELS Commission on Worship provides resources for individuals and families nationwide. Consider supporting these ministries with your prayers and gifts.

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God Doesn’t Call the Prepared

Wendy Wright is a member of the Core Group that is starting a home mission congregation in Joplin, Mo. Below is the speech she gave at the 55th annual LWMS Convention in Green Bay, Wis., as part of Rev. Keith Free’s Home Missions Update presentation. 

My name is Wendy Wright, and I’m from Joplin, Mo.

To be honest, I’m a little nervous… As a past member of the LWMS Communication Committee, I am usually the one sitting out there… taking notes on the people speaking up here!

But, it’s interesting how sometimes God has other plans for us. My husband picked up a saying somewhere that states,

God doesn’t call the prepared; but He prepares the called.

So, let me share with you the preparation he did for home mission work in Joplin.

We’ll start back in 2011. I had just been selected as a member of the LWMS Communications Committee as a writer and editor. For those who remember, the 2011 LWMS Convention was held in Milwaukee, Wis. I was excited about my first convention to officially “work”… Unfortunately, that was not God’s plan.

The JoMo Core Group (Wendy is pictured center left in the blue)

On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado ripped through the middle of Joplin, Mo. Not only did it destroy numerous homes, businesses, schools, and a hospital, it also claimed the lives of 161 people. Needless to say, I skipped the convention to help in my community.

Let me give you a little idea about Joplin, Mo. – or as we call it, JoMo

Not only is it located in tornado alley, it is geographically in the crossroads of America – about in the center, north and south, east and west. The people of Southwest Missouri are a hardy, “boot-strappin” kind. We don’t wait for someone to come in and tell us what to do, or how to do it. We put on our boots… and hats, and gloves, and we get to work. We dig in. We help our neighbors. We help strangers. We even had the privilege of hosting a group of volunteers from WELS Christian Aid and Relief who stayed for a week to help with tornado clean-up efforts. And I had the privilege of helping to organize their efforts.

God was preparing…

The next year (2012) and each year through 2017, I had the opportunity to attend the LWMS Conventions as a part of the Communications Committee. We wrote up summaries on the workshops and speakers for the website. Basically, it was a way to share home and world mission work with those who could not attend.

At last year’s convention in Orlando, Pastor Jonathan Bourman from Aiken, S.C., presented a workshop on “Gospel Planting in South Carolina.” His focus was on how WELS starts home missions, saying, “We go to where the people are at.” I was dutifully taking notes on his workshop, when he charged those in attendance to “Look within your OWN community to see if there is an opportunity to plant a church within a church with a new outreach or ministry focus, OR look into your own backyard to see if there is a growing community that needs the true gospel message. If so, contact your district mission board.”

I paused… MY own backyard… hmmm…

I scribbled it down in my notebook, “Contact DMB [District Mission Board] about growing community, Joplin: Pastor Shane Krause.”

God prepares.

As many of you know, you leave the LWMS Convention with tons of excitement and mission zeal – ready to save the world by Tuesday. And then you go home and promptly fall back into your regular routine. Well, I was no different. Except about a month later, God had other plans.

I happened to run into Pastor Krause at our LWMS Circuit Board meeting that just happened to be held at his church in Overland Park, Kan. He was our Circuit Pastoral Advisor for several years until he was named Chairman of the Nebraska District Mission Board. Frankly, he was the only one I knew on a mission board.

I did end up e-mailing him about how Joplin just MAY be a good place to look into for mission work… listing features and opportunities of this growing community.

Then, I promptly didn’t hear from him. For 3 weeks! I was just about to dismiss the whole thing, when Pastor Krause e-mailed. He apologized – something about being on vacation, and he needed to check on some information and community statistics, etc. And then he said the most remarkable thing:

“Wendy, I think there’s real potential in Joplin… Let’s do this!”

God was preparing.

It was a whirlwind after that point. Several local group meetings, and then in October, Mission Counselor Rev. Mark Birkholz came down to do some exploratory research into the community and to share his findings with the local interest group.

An interesting (or should I say startling) statistic he found – even though Joplin is located in the “buckle” of the Bible Belt, more than 40 percent of our population profess to have NO church affiliation. And there are many more who SAY they go to church, but really, there is no regular church attendance.

Additionally, even though there is a WELS church within 30 miles of Joplin, it is west over the border in Pittsburg, Kan. There is also an ELS church about 25 miles east, located in a small town called Carthage. But neither of these congregation were actively doing outreach in the larger Joplin metro area.

Armed with all of this information and the positive support of Pastor Birkholz, the Nebraska District Mission Board, local WELS Pastor Aaron Schumann, and a group of 11 laypeople (plus 8 children) agreed to be the Core Group.

At this point, I want to take a moment to point out two members of our core group who are here at the convention… One is my mother, Emilie Keeton, and the other is Janet Scheer.

We. Were. Called.

So, then what? We write a proposal… How? I’d been doing grant writing for local nonprofits for the last seven years, and I knew a proposal was similar to writing grants. You simply break it down and answer the questions. With the mission proposal due in March of 2018, that left us six months to put it together. Our core group met six times from October 2017 through March 2018 to discuss, deliberate, and answer the eight questions that the mission proposal requires. Everyone pitched in and everyone shared ideas. In March of this year we held our last working session, took our photo for the proposal, and sent it to Pastor Krause to submit on our behalf.

On April 12, we heard that we were selected as a new WELS home mission start!

Only 10 months after God provided the seed at the last Convention, he prepared the soil and watered it… and we are now rejoicing in seeing a home mission sprout up in Joplin, Mo.!

Where do we go from here?

We trust that God has a plan for us. We were unable to call a seminary graduate as we had hoped (the workers are just too few), so the Nebraska District Mission Board assisted us in calling a pastor earlier this month. And we are patiently awaiting word on whether he will accept it.

Please pray for us – and ALL home missions and missionaries – that God will bless our outreach and our ministry efforts.

Pray also that the Lord may speak to YOU. May you have ears to hear His call.. because He may be preparing you for home mission work in your own backyard.

By: Wendy Wright, member of the core group from the new mission in Joplin, Mo. 

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Hey Siri, Play God’s Word!

The technology available through your smart phone can do amazing things. But perhaps the best thing it can do is to help you stay in God’s Word. WELS publishes daily devotions and Bible readings in audio format that your phone can easily retrieve and play for you. Today I’ll focus on how this is possible on an iPhone. Later I’ll do the same for those of you carrying Androids.

While Siri, the iPhone and iPad’s perky little digital assistant, doesn’t always do what you want her to do, I’ve had good luck getting her to play WELS Daily Devotion and WELS Through My Bible podcasts through Apple’s Podcast app. I’ve included a screencast of the rather simple process below, but here are the steps:

  1. On your iPhone or iPad, make sure you have the Podcasts app installed.
  2. Open it and tap the Search link at the bottom.
  3. Search for “WELS” and then find and tap “WELS – Daily Devotion” or “WELS – Through My Bible.” They should be on the second row of results.
  4. Once open, tap the purple “subscribe” button.
  5. Give it a minute or two for Siri to figure out that there is new content in the app.
  6. Now give it a try. Say “Hey Siri” (or otherwise use whatever method you prefer to wake her up), and then “Play WELS Daily Devotions”. She should find the latest episode and start to play it automatically. Nice! What a great way to put Siri to good use 🙂

That’s it. Give it a try if you are an iPhone or iPad user.

Faces of Faith – Tsavxue Ham

Brothers and sisters in Christ – I’d like you to meet my friend Tsavxue Ham, a pastor and chairman of the the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam. The HFC is a church body of more than 100,000 members seeking training from WELS and requesting fellowship.

Tsavxue Ham on the left, Pastor Lor on the right, examining a patient

This past March I had the chance to visit Ham’s village near the border of Laos and Vietnam. He runs a micro-hospital there. Ham is skilled in both herbal medicine and modern medicine. Since the age of 7, he’s been learning about herbal medicine from his elders. When we arrived at his village, there were more than 30 patients waiting for Ham because he had spent the last three weeks attending WELS pastoral training in Hanoi. People seek Ham’s help first because it takes more than two days to travel to the big city to receive medical treatment. Because so many patients were waiting for Ham, who is also busy supporting his family as a farmer, I offered to help examine some of his patients – I too have a background in medicine. But for me, the most miraculous thing was the opportunity to share the Word of God and to pray for the sick. We spent two days at Ham’s village. We had many opportunities to share the Word with his members and the community.

Ham’s medical knowledge has opened a door for the mission work in his area. Through his micro-hospital, he has the opportunity to share the Word of God with many people who come from far and near. Many patients travel for days to receive treatment from him. Some prominent people in the city and country have received treatment from him. Most of his patients first sought help from shamans, but the shamans couldn’t cure their sickness. Once they arrive at Ham’s micro-hospital, he gives them treatment, prays for them, and shares the Word with them. After a few days or weeks, they leave his place with joy and happiness in Christ, not only because they were cured from their diseases but also because they’ve learned that their sins are forgiven in our Lord Jesus Christ. As soon as they return home, they share their joy and happiness in Christ with many others, just like the Samaritan woman who had received forgiveness from Christ at the well of Jacob (John 4:1-42).

Tsavxue Ham (far left) with other leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church

Even though Ham lives in a region with a lot of religious persecution, the Holy Spirit has worked through the Word preached by Ham to add more than 25 congregations to the HFC in the last two years. He is a strong leader not only in the church but also in the community as well. Many prominent doctors in Vietnam admire his medical knowledge.

Currently Ham’s hospital only has room for 15 patients. He has to send many patients home after their visit due to the limited space. Ham does not charge his patients for their services. Instead, he and his wife work very hard on their farm to provide food and medicine to the sick. Ham said, “We are poor, but there is nothing more precious than sharing Jesus with others. My wife and I work hard on our farm to make sure we can provide three meals per day and shelter for our patients because we want to seize the opportunity to share Jesus to our poor patients during their stay with us.” Ham’s wife, Ntxawm Muas, said, “My daughters and sons-in-law are also willing to work hard on their farm to support their father’s work, to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” Being poor is not an obstacle for Ham and his family to serve Christ and his patients.

Ham and his wife have three daughters and three sons. All of them are married except the youngest son. Two of his sons are studying medicine in Hanoi, Vietnam. They plan to return to the village to help in their father’s micro-hospital so that their father may have more time for the church. Not only do Ham and his wife work hard for the work of the Lord, but the entire family is working hard on their farm to make sure that they can provide meals, medicine, and shelter for the sick. Ham’s daughters help his wife prepare three meals per day for his patients. Sometimes Ham has to go up to the mountains for days or weeks just to collect herbs to help his patients.

In my entire life, with the exception of my grand-uncle, I have never seen a person as dedicated to the work of the Lord as Ham in the Hmong community. He has been a Christian since 1997 and has been serving the church and his patients for 20 years. Ham heard the gospel through my grand-uncle, Pastor Ntsuabvas Lor, who was murdered in 1999 because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, please keep Ham and his family in your prayers!

Written by: Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator

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The one thing we can’t do is nothing

What do you get when you combine a spread-out church membership, multiple communities, mission zeal, and the eternal gospel?

Answer: mission opportunity.

That’s what the members of Living Savior kept at the forefront of our minds before there was a storefront in a mission field.

A brief history – Living Savior started in Hendersonville, long before “Living Savior” was its name. From a few in a living room to a few more in the local YMCA, to a small church building, to a mission restart and relocation south of Asheville, to a healthy membership of hundreds of souls gathered by God… Living Savior was primed to reach more. In fact, over 40 members still live in and around Hendersonville. Seeing opportunity leads to seizing opportunity.

In February of 2017, Living Savior started a second site in Hendersonville. We are one church with two locations in Asheville and Hendersonville, 25 minutes apart. Since the start, God has blessed us with reaching people we otherwise couldn’t – like Lois, “I was searching and searching. And here I found what I was looking for – grace.” Over 80 people were in attendance for our first Christmas Eve service in Hendersonville. We’ve been blessed to serve homeless people, some neighboring schools, and to get to know the surrounding community through events and canvassing. And as is often the case, small opportunities lead to more opportunities.

Pastor Paul Zell

With the support of WELS Board for Home Missions, Pastor Paul Zell – who previously served as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary for the past 15 years – accepted the call to serve as pastor and missionary in Hendersonville. He was installed on January 21st, and he and his wife Cathy have hit the ground running. (Not without their contagious smiles and encouraging spirit, of course)

With just a “little teaching experience” (sarcasm intended), he has started classes which are drawing several new faces and equipping others to invite more people. He has hit the fast-forward button in getting to know the community, which will serve him and our overall ministry well. Going from former student to teammate in parish ministry and mission work is a blessing to say the least.

It boils down to three simple things: believers, multiple communities, and the eternal gospel. Those three things highlight what Scripture says the eternal gospel is for, “to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6). That presents a great opportunity here and everywhere. Furthermore, since those three things (believers, communities, the gospel) exist wherever you are reading this, isn’t it safe to say that you have such opportunities too?

And when we see opportunities, God give us the zeal to seize them. After all, one thing we can’t do is nothing.

Written By: Pastor Caleb Kurbis, Living Savior Lutheran Church – Asheville & Hendersonville, N.C.

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The Good News does not stop with you!

Mexico City – 8.9 million people.

Bogotá, Colombia – 7.8 million people.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – 3 million people.

Quito, Ecuador – 2.6 million people.

These are just four of the many cities in Latin America. Many, many more are scattered around the two continents. Many, many, many people live in them. How do you reach them all?

I pray the answer lies in men like Rolando Mena.

Missionary Nathan Schulte

At the end of May, Rolando came to Quito, Ecuador, as our guest presenter in our first on-the-ground event to begin mission work in the country. The workshops highlighted the movie, My Son My Savior, the Samaritan woman in John 4, and included a detailed presentation of the law and gospel. Rolando’s passion shone through as he explained the hope we have guaranteed in Christ.

Interestingly enough, that weekend in Quito was also the first time I had met Rolando face-to-face.

Rolando Mena is a leader at our church in La Paz, Bolivia. Before joining the Lutheran church about seven years ago, Rolando had been growing increasingly bothered by Pentecostal and Calvinist congregations and teachings. He had also been warned about the Lutheran church, “The Reformation only reestablished a bit of the main teachings of the Bible. There is a lot more,” his friends had told him. In addition, he was wary of Lutheranism because of the influence of its most liberal branches. Not a good start.

However, Rolando is a classical musician who plays viola and God decided to use that talent to get him through the doors of the church. Through his years at the university, Rolando really appreciated studying Bach. He also knew that Bach was a Lutheran. So, one day he visited a Lutheran church and met Missionary Phil Strackbein and Pastor Julio Ascarrunz.

The rest is history, as they say… but not really.

Just as Barnabas worked with Paul and Paul worked with Timothy and Timothy worked with many others (2 Timothy 2:2), the Latin American missionary team focuses on “chains of disciples.” The good news must not end with us! From the very start, just like the Samaritan woman in John 4, we can tell others about Jesus. Each and every one of us.

Dan and Joyce invite people to the outreach event

That’s the message we focus on and that is one of the reasons we invited Rolando to present in Ecuador. We want to involve others. We have to involve and train others. Unless more people tell more people about Jesus, Latin America won’t hear about her Savior. We need people like Rolando…

… and Dan, Joyce, Peg, Matt, Greta, and Steve. Rolando wasn’t the only foreigner in Ecuador that weekend. Mission Journeys, the new WELS short-term mission program, also sent a group from St. Matthew’s in Oconomowoc, Wis., to help prepare, promote, and host the event. This new initiative is meant to let congregations visit and help mission fields, both home and abroad, and to bring a little piece of mission zeal back to their lives and congregations.

The good news does not stop with you!

Written by: Missionary Nathan Schulte, Latin American Missions

Want to learn more about WELS Mission Journeys and how you can get involved? Visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

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How to Reach Out… When You Can’t Get In

The mission was clear. We want to be a church that reaches OUT to our community. We want to be a church that is OUTward focused. However, there was a problem. We couldn’t get IN. The community of Lakewood Ranch, FL, is a heavily gated-community. That means that some of our more traditional styles of outreach – i.e. canvassing, door-hanging, etc. – won’t work here because we can’t get IN. We can’t get past the gates. But through prayer and Scriptural encouragement, the members of Risen Savior were not going to allow gates to stop them from reaching out. We brainstormed how we might reach out to our community with the good news of Jesus, and came up with different outreach strategies.

Grand Opening Festival

One strategy we use is our New Mover Outreach Team. Each month, we have approximately 100-150 new families who move into Lakewood Ranch within a 3 mile radius of Risen Savior. As a way to welcome in these new families, we send them 2 different postcards. The first postcard is a professionally developed postcard, welcoming them into the community, and giving them some helpful information about Lakewood Ranch. A couple of weeks later, the ten ladies of our New Mover Outreach Team will send a handwritten note to these families, with a church brochure and a personal invite to join us on a Sunday morning for worship.

After about 6 months and no visible results, I began to wonder if this outreach strategy was the best use of our resources. But receiving encouragement from members at Risen Savior to remain faithful, we decided to continue reaching out to these new movers…and I thank God we did! For the past 4-5 months, God has richly blessed us. I’ve received phone calls from new movers thanking us for being so welcoming. I’ve been asked out to lunch by a new mover wanting to show his appreciation for our kindness. We’ve been blessed with worship guests who have come as a direct result of this reaching out.

Grand Opening Weekend at Risen Savior

And if those blessings weren’t enough, one Sunday morning, in walked an unchurched Grandpa and Grandma with their 7 year old grand-daughter. They stayed for worship and Sunday School, and as they were about to leave, I was able to schedule a follow up visit with them later that week. I didn’t know it at the time, but they found our church through our New Mover outreach. Yet, they weren’t the ones who recently had moved – their son and his family had. Long story short, after being told about the postcards that their son’s family received from Risen Savior, Grandpa and Grandma and their grand-daughter decided to give Risen Savior a shot. In the past 4 months since they’ve been attending, they’ve gone through our Bible Information Class, have become members, and are about to have their grand-daughter baptized. On top of all that, they’ve also brought two of their sons and family to Risen Savior, who have recently joined the church as well. Praise God!

We aren’t sure how God will bless our New Mover Outreach Team in the future, but we are certainly thankful for the blessings he’s given us in the past. And no matter what, one thing we’ve learned is that we can continue to reach out, even if we can’t always get in.

Written By: Pastor Caleb Free, Risen Savior Lutheran Church – Lakewood Ranch, FL

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Bearing Much Fruit

I want to tell you about a friend. We’ll say her name is “Lydia”. We started working in this city in East Asia because of her and her husband. When I first got to town, I thought they’d be critical factors in the work here. But as the year went on I saw their life being filled up with, well, life. Both husband and wife worked; and they have a son who is very smart and also very strong willed, which can make for a lot of work at two years old. On top of that, they bought a home and are renovating it. That’s a full life. So in my mind I said “goodbye for a while” and hoped they could continue to study with us. I couldn’t really see them helping lead or being a main contributor to our ministry while their lives were so busy.

That’s how it went until after this last winter break. I saw them a bit (if they could make it), or I’d sporadically go over to their place if they had time. After winter break she called me up and said she wanted to give a presentation. When we got to her home, she had copies and a projector set up.

Her presentation was about mothers.

She wanted to help. In her own life she saw the difficulty of raising a child, and she also saw it in others: the loneliness, the huge change in social life, the work, and many mixed feelings of guilt, anger, and even child abuse. She wanted to do something about it. So she told me of her plan to create a support program for moms. They would find a time to meet together to learn how to parent, to give them a break to develop friendships with other women, and to provide a time to hear about forgiveness and the gospel comfort as they raise their children. A ‘support for moms’ program to take on the challenges of raising a child in this culture.

To put it mildly, I was blown away. I had resigned to the fact that they would be occasional “receivers” of the work here. Maybe they’d come once or twice a month, but we wouldn’t see too much of them. But instead, God was working in her something massive. In fact, this is so big that she quit her job to focus on the program. Can you imagine quitting your job to dedicate yourself to serving others and sharing the gospel? She wanted to do just that, especially to this specific group.

There’s so much here that I would love to talk more about, but I’ll just mention one more thing. Last week at our Bible study we focused on John 15, the vine and branches. Jesus promises, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” Those who remain in Jesus will bear much fruit. That verse made me think about our expectation of Jesus’ promise. Maybe I had been looking for some consistent fruit from her – like a good ole’ reliable apple, or some other plant like wheat or corn – i.e. faithful attendance to studies and consistent outreach work. But maybe God was growing in her some other fruit that takes a bit longer to develop. Maybe like a sweet cherry tree. The sweet cherry tree can take from four to seven years to see fruit; but once it blooms, it produces a large quantity of sweet, much sought after cherries. Maybe God was slowly building in Lydia something that would produce a little later, but something much sweeter and richer in taste.

We can wonder about that same promise of Jesus in our lives, especially when we can’t see the fruit right away. Does that mean we can reverse the logic and say, “I must not be connected to Jesus because I can’t see the fruit?” While that could be the case sometimes, I think we can also rest in God’s promise. He says you will bear much fruit. Maybe you can’t see it right now, or it’s not the kind you are thinking of, but Jesus is connected to you and in you – and you will bear fruit.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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The Lord knows there will be days like this

For many, the end of August is an enchanting time. Like a fireworks grand finale, summer often saves the best for last. Parents and children prize these last summer days – the campfires, the fireflies, and long weekends at the lake – because they know the end is coming. Summer is a season to be savored.

Summer in the desert

But not here. In the Sonoran Desert, summer is a season to survive.

People from Phoenix know the drill. Keep in the shade. Stay where it’s cool. Find places with free air-conditioning.

All that can drive a mission-planter stir crazy. At least, that’s how I was feeling late last August. So I packed up a backpack full of flyers and hit the streets shortly after sun-up. I wanted to get a couple hundred flyers hung before the temperature reached 100 degrees.

Near the end of my route, a man stormed up to me with a scowl on his face. He had a handful of my flyers and a mouthful of unkind words for me. He shoved the flyers into my chest. I tried to muster up a smile, but I’m sure it didn’t fool him.

The Lord knows there will be days like this.

Later that afternoon, a message popped up on our church’s Facebook. I was excited. Until I read it. Someone had taken great offense to our flyer: Rude!!! Even though my family is looking for a church, this will ensure that I won’t be coming. Clearly there is no respect.” In my haste to hang as many flyers as possible, I had missed her sign about not wanting religious pamphlets. I sent her an apology message.

The Lord knows there will be days like this.

The next day, there was another Facebook message. Part of me didn’t want to click it at all. Ignorance can be a kind of temporary bliss… But I did anyway.

This time, it was someone new. Something entirely different: “I found one of your flyers on my front step… I looked up your website and started listening to your podcast this morning. I feel like it’s water to my thirsty, parched soul.”

The Lord knew there would be a day like this.

He prepared this moment. For her. For me. For the advancement of his kingdom. The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your shade. (Psalm 121:5)

So many people living in the growing outskirts of Phoenix are just trying to survive. They hope and dream of better days. They’re looking for relief, but they don’t know where to find it. They have no idea. No idea what they’re looking for. No idea how lost they really are.

But the Lord knows there are people like this.

His Word proclaims what no human mind could conceive. He loves the lost, the weary, and the thirsty. God loves survival-mode people so much that he sent his Son to save them. God offers the relief we all crave in Christ crucified.

That’s why River of Life is nestled here in the Sonoran Desert on the west side of Phoenix. This past year or so, the Lord has watched over us. We moved into an expanded worship facility, but he has been our shade. He blessed us with more than 100 first time worship visitors. Membership has grown. On Easter Sunday, we had 94 thirsty souls hear about the hope they have in the Risen Lord. The following Friday, we began a new program for young, stay-at-home parents and their kids.

The Lord knew there would be days like these. He watches over our coming and going. He is our shade. That’s something special. That’s something to savor. Especially during summertime in the Sonoran Desert.

Written By: Pastor Lincoln Albrecht, River of Life Lutheran Church – Goodyear, Ariz.

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WELS App Launches

Today we are announcing the launch of a brand new version of WELS Mobile! There are a number of changes, including the name. We’ve dropped the “mobile”, so now it’s just called the WELS App. It also no longer can be found in the Apple, Google or Amazon stores. The versions there are being retired in July. In their place, the WELS App is available at https://wels.app.

The WELS App is of course mobile friendly but is technically called a “progressive web app” or PWA. Without getting too technical, PWAs give you all the features of a store app, but can be updated more frequently and offer similar experiences on any device. They get progressively better as your device (and it’s browser) gets more capabilities. We are excited about offering great new features in the WELS App like favoriting content, sharing, and more content.

Some have asked “why the change?” WELS Mobile seemed to work just fine for me. There were two major reasons to offer this new version:

  1. The synod has limited technical resources to maintain mobile applications that are offered in the traditional Apple/Google app stores. It requires deep technical knowledge of both platforms and testing on many, many different phones. We spent more time trying to insure the apps worked on all your devices, than offering new features. Maintaining only one app will allow us to push out new features much more quickly.
  2. A second benefit is that the new app can run safely and consistently on many more devices/platforms. Because it is simply a website, it can run on older and newer devices on many different systems (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.). This will allow more people to take advantage of great Bible-based content.

In the very near future there will be many new features, including:

  • bookmarks,
  • notifications,
  • user configurable text size and color,
  • offline access to devotional and yearbook content, and
  • availability as an app on the Windows Store.

Thanks for giving the WELS App a try. Tell others. Enjoy the experience and the beautiful messages it carries.

A Recipe for Intercultural Outreach

As the horizon of cultures expands in the United States, we ponder a simple question: How do we share God’s Word with everyone? Now that culture, language, and social-economic status are barriers used by the opponents of the gospel to limit contact and connection with other people groups, a congregation that surveys its community and desire to reach out interculturally needs to find the right recipe.

Fellowship event at Immanuel

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waukegan, Ill., is a congregation that has followed a recipe for Intercultural Outreach. Over four years ago, the leaders at Immanuel observed that their Christian day school reflected the community, with over 55% of their student body from other people’s groups. They also noticed that their congregation didn’t reflect that same percentage. A simple demographic study revealed what most already knew – over 57% of the 84,000+ community members identified themselves as Hispanic. Many of them still spoke Spanish at home, even though the children are fluent in English.

How could Immanuel reach them?

The recipe uses several ingredients. You need a strong spiritual leader who can help identify and lead the congregation through the cultural barrier. You would like to have a couple of members who can navigate the language barrier. It would be a blessing to have everyone understand that membership in the visible church isn’t just to increase local offerings, but to answer God’s call of making disciples for now and eternity.

God has blessed Immanuel with those ingredients. So, they went to work on the recipe. They marinated an EIO (English Improvement Opportunity) class, to which the non-English speakers could be invited, thereby creating contact. They set the oven for three years – during which they mixed the ingredients of the plan to call a bilingual man now, so that after three years the English-speaking pastor will retire (his choice!) and the bilingual man would take over the entire ministry. They added the toppings of a relationship with WELS’ Board for Home Missions, which helped them call that bilingual man right away.

Home Bible study

The recipe is proving to be a good one! God has blessed this location with a bilingual pastor, Rev. Seth Haakenson, who started reaching out to the community in September of 2017. He has made contact with hundreds of people, held Bible classes in prospects homes, invited them to his own home, instructed for baptism, and has begun to introduce Biblical culture to their own.

That is why we call it “Intercultural” outreach: we introduce the culture of the Bible to their own culture and allow the two to mix, so that which pleases God will become everyone’s culture. Lord willing, in a few months, worship will be held at church at which the current members, alongside of the new prospects, will together praise God.

The recipe is not difficult to follow, and as most packages will tell you, it requires some changes from place to place. You may have to adjust for altitude or strength of the oven, but the ingredients remain the same: Identify the barriers, use God’s Word to overcome them, and bring peoples together under one roof to praise God.

Now that is a recipe we all can follow.

Written By: Rev. Tim Flunker, Hispanic Outreach Consultant – WELS Board for Home Missions

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Worship coordinators carry Christ to the heart

With emphasis on Reformation 500, the 2017 National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts brought hundreds together to focus on Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone. Exuberant worship used various instruments—the bright sound of the trumpet, the lustrous tones of the violin and (one of my new favorites) the loud clank of the tire wheel during Dan Forrest’s setting of “A Mighty Fortress”1. Each service was meticulously planned to center around the theme of the service, yet everything was put in place to focus on Christ Alone.

Attendees received a worship folder—really a 218-page booklet with all the services and much more. For each service it included a description “About the Service”—useful information to focus the mind and give background knowledge on what was about to be experienced. The “worship folders” had everything necessary to participate in worship, including spoken responses and melody lines to sing. They included lists of service participants: pastors, organists/pianists, directors, and a long roster of instrumentalists. They also included acknowledgments and licenses for copyrighted selections.

Hmm…. How was all of that so brilliantly coordinated? What an incredibly well-done task! Behind the scenes, service orders were planned, hymn and psalm variations were chosen, music was sent to instrumentalists, practiced, and put together in rehearsals. The glorious sounds of the worship conference came from well-prepared instrumentalists, trained choral voices, and hundreds of worshipers in the assembly. The personnel to put together a conference with services of this magnitude included a dedicated planning committee to oversee the intricate details of the service plans.

Could a service like this happen in your church this weekend? While not on this level, God has blessed every congregation with resources for enriching worship. God has given unique gifts and talents to every member of the body of Christ. Are we using all of them to the best of our ability to his glory? Are we doing everything we can to prepare for worship as we would for other important events in our lives—a birthday party, a graduation celebration, or even company coming over for dinner? “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And everything you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17).

At some WELS congregations, a person is called or hired to coordinate worship. Together with the pastor, the worship coordinator helps select the service orders, schedule choirs/instrumentalists, and submit license information. Worship coordinators spend time behind the scenes to make worship the best that it can be. At the worship conference three worship coordinators were chosen to lead a presentation on their work. While their congregations’ characteristics may vary from yours, the goals can be the same.

Worship is enriched through musical proclamation of the Word

Martin Luther wrote, “When God’s Word is not preached, one had better neither sing nor read, or even come together.”2 Worship in every WELS church is centered entirely on the Word of God. However, in an hour-long service, how much of the Word is retained, set to memory, and applied to the worshiper’s life? In an ideal situation, worshipers would take home the readings and hymns and study them devotionally throughout the week. But, that’s most likely not the case. Members are sometimes sidetracked in worship, thinking of the last phrase that was spoken or distracted by an unfamiliar melody. Beautiful sections of Scripture sometimes don’t receive the focused attention that they deserve. The words of a hymn can flow by without enough thought about meaning or with scant musical variation to highlight meaning.

For instance, I have sung “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (CW 125) and thought, “What a nice Lenten hymn,” as all four stanzas were sung at the same volume and registration. But could something be done to encourage worshipers to look at the cross on or behind the altar? Could “forbid it, Lord, that I should boast” be sung softly from a humble heart that knows it doesn’t deserve to be in the Lord’s presence? Is there a reed stop on the organ to emphasize the agony, suffering, and affliction produced by the nails and crown of thorns? What if every worshiper sang at full volume the phrase “demands my soul, my life, my all”?

Attention to creative or expressive musical nuances in worship has one simple goal: “The primary objective of music is to carry Christ to the heart…. God placed a beautiful rainbow into the sky as a lasting testimony to his faithfulness. So also Christian artists use color, highlight, and texture to solidify in the heart the message of God’s grace. The Creator has also enabled Christian musicians to join to basic musical sounds rhythm, dynamics, tempo, timbre, pitch, and style so they may touch the heart as they proclaim the gospel.”3

Planning allows integration of musical selections with readings and themes

In a helpful article summarizing the benefits of a music coordinator, Pastor Phil Casmer wrote: “We know that nothing we do this side of heaven will be as glorious as what we’ll experience there where God is with his people—present in glory realized. And yet, we also know that we are given the wonderful opportunity to receive the encouragement of his Word and to bless his name in worship every week. It may be that a music coordinator is something that serves to help you do that. Yes or no, worship is a worthy place to focus our time and resources and energy, a worthy activity for our thought and attention.”4

Pastor Casmer included some excellent points for consideration in his Q & A section at the end of the article. “Certainly there’s something to be said for picking hymns on the basis of good text-study. At the same time, it’s arguable that one could just as well have a sense of the thematic ideas of any Sunday in the Church Year and pick hymns to the same effect…. Chances are good that organists would appreciate a few weeks’ time to prepare hymns and other music rather than cramming it all in 24 hours before worship starts. Why not give it a try? … A worship plan lets you think ahead and take time for good preparation. But it also gives you flexibility. If you’ve done good planning, small changes don’t rock the ship as much because there’s other preparation to rely on. Your organist might feel better about a last-minute hymn change when she’s well-prepared for the other three. On the other hand, we pastors might also consider whether we sometimes make participants slaves to our whims by making worship prep a week-by-week exploration.”

When worship is planned well, it is a team approach. Our church’s planning begins with the pastor who brings worship planning pages to the Worship Committee. The committee looks at the theme of the services, the Scripture readings, sermon texts, hymn suggestions, and any special items that will be included in the services that weekend. Since directors have these pages well in advance, they can select choir anthems that closely match the sermon theme. They can plan liturgy and psalm variations along with special presentation of some hymns. A well-planned worship folder can assure that everyone involved with worship knows exactly what is happening when. The worship coordinator can place anthems in spots that provide an edifying service flow. All the tasks of the Worship Committee are founded on the goal to “carry Christ to the heart” with services planned as well as possible.

Coordination promotes musical excellence in worship

What is musical excellence? I’d argue that it is simply giving God our best. “And shall man alone be still? Has he neither breath nor skill? No, the Church delights to raise psalms and hymns and songs of praise” (CW 222:4). “It is the church musician’s duty before God to practice and perform with the best of his abilities. He ought to do nothing mechanically, by habit, lightly, or casually. Everything in the service ought to be done by decision, with thought and prayer.”5

This does not mean only the most talented can serve in worship. Rather, whatever gifts have been given should be used to the best of one’s ability. What musical gifts and talents has God given members of your congregation? Encourage members to wipe the dust off the instruments they learned as a child. Your flute players may not be able to play a challenging instrumental line of a choir anthem, but they can certainly praise God and enrich his people’s worship by playing the melody of a hymn. For example, if you can raise “Lamb of God” (CWS 748) an octave, the C-C range with no sharps or flats may be a beautiful choice for a beginning flautist. And be ready to invest a bit of time to coach willing players who need some help on anything from reading rhythms to improved intonation.

Encouragement trains future generations of church musicians

Our Sunday school recently sang the first verse of “To God Be the Glory” (CW 399). Those words were taught to children to edify the service. However, one Kindergartener who sang for the service also sang those words to me on our way to school. She informed me that with the help of her Kindergarten teacher, the Sunday school kids would help the others in the class learn the words. Lutheran elementary schools, Sunday schools, and early childhood ministries have an incredible opportunity to teach children biblical truths through song, truths they will carry with them the rest of their lives.

Training musicians at a young age is close to my heart. My mom taught me how to play the piano and continually bought new music for me. My fourth-grade teacher encouraged me to play hymns for the class and to accompany the Junior Choir. She made it seem fun and not intimidating. My dad introduced me to the organ and said it would help if I’d play while he went to communion. Congregation members encouraged me to continue through their positive feedback, and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to play for worship ever since.

Is there someone you can influence? You may never know who takes your words to heart. Yet, behind every musician, there is often someone who inspired the use of those musical gifts for God’s glory.

An overview of the position

What exactly does a worship coordinator do? The answer to that question is as varied as each congregation. At the 2017 worship conference, three coordinators put their ideas together to lead a roundtable discussion of the position. The three were Lisa Uttech (Christ the Lord, Brookfield, WI), Levi Nagel6 (St John, S 68th St, Milwaukee, WI) and Debbie Price (St Peter, Schofield, WI). An overview of their duties, schedules, and resources is available online.7

There is already someone at your church who does some of this work behind the scenes, whether it’s the pastor, church administrator, or someone else. But inaugurating the position of worship coordinator—with title, job description, and possibly a divine call—identifies that work as being important to your congregation and its mission. There is always room to grow. Look at what you already do and see where there is room for improvement. Could you add a worship education note to explain various elements of worship?8 Would an instrumental or vocal arrangement help your congregation learn a new hymn? How frequently is there “special music” in your worship? A worship coordinator can help to increase this frequency, contributing more often the spiritual impact of God’s Word set to music—carrying Christ to the heart.

I pray the posted resources will benefit you and your congregation. My efforts may not compare to the talented individuals who plan the services of a national worship conference. But God puts us where we need to be to serve him and his people in that place. St. Paul teaches us, “He himself gave the apostles, as well as the prophets, as well as the evangelists, as well as the pastors and teachers, for the purpose of training the saints for the work of serving, in order to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

“Before You I Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer)” by Getty, Getty, Taylor, and Townend is a favorite prayer of mine as I begin my daily tasks. (Easy to find online.) Whether your congregation is large or small, all of us who plan worship have the glorious message of the gospel to share. May all the talents of God’s people be used to carry Christ to many hearts through music in our worship!

By Debra Price

Debra, a 1996 graduate of Martin Luther College, serves as worship coordinator at Saint Peter, Schofield, WI, where she also trains the next generation of musicians through teaching piano lessons and substitute teaching.


Involving teens

True story, details altered. Maria and her family recently moved and transferred membership from a mid-size congregation. Gifted at playing the oboe, she had won a top rating at the statewide high school solo/ensemble event. What a surprise to discover that she had never been asked to play at her previous church! Two opportunities were missed: 1) to show that her musical contribution was valuable, and 2) to share her gift with others. Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:21.


Excellence in worship

Perhaps for most of us the [national worship] conference is a triennial battery charge—an inspirational encouragement to return to small and medium and large parishes…and do our best. As we ponder what “best” means, it’s good to remember two points.

Excellence is not elitist. The beautiful tone of children singing on pitch and with beautiful blend is impactful to anyone with ears to hear. The precision of Bach played well or a moving concertato communicates across generations.

Excellence is not difficult. But not everyone can play Bach. So note that some musical selections are actually quite simple (especially in some repertoire sessions). These can be achieved at the piano or with a handful of singers and high school instrumentalists. Excellence is not replicating an orchestra; it’s doing the best you can with the resources you have!

From a welcome letter at the 2017 WELS worship conference. The full letter is available at the link in endnote 7.


Examples of worship planning

Sample worship plans from various churches are available here: worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-planning. These can be a starting point for creating a customized plan for any church not currently doing this type of longer range planning.

See also from the 2014 worship conference “Working Smarter at Worship” by Jon Bauer and Caleb Bassett: bit.ly/workingsmarterhandout


1 This is included on the double CD of highlights from the worship conference: http://online.nph.net/music-video/cds/wels-worship-conference.html. Choral score: http://online.nph.net/a-mighty-fortress-is-our-god-1.html
To view the conference’s opening festival concert or closing worship service, visit livestream.com/welslive.
2 Luther’s Works, Vol. 53, p. 11
3 Christian Worship Manual, p. 57
4 Worship the Lord, no. 68, September 2014. Online at: worship.welsrc.net/ download-worship/wtl-practical-ideas-worship
5 Christian Worship Manual, p. 61
6 If you missed it, check out Levi Nagel’s WELS Connection video update: wels.net/ news-media/together
7 Sermons, presentation handouts, worship service folders, music downloads, and more from the 2017 National Worship Conference are all available FOR FREE at: worship.welsrc.net/worship-conference-2017—useful information for organists, keyboardists, elders, council, choir directors, teachers, as well as for a pastor’s own personal study and growth.
8 See samples at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-folder-notes

 

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Preach the Word – Lectionary…je ne sais quoi

Treasures Old and New

Lectionary…je ne sais quoi

It is most often heard as a punch line in movies, but the French phrase has its place. Take, for example, its use in in the title of this article. Literally, the phrase means “I don’t know what.” In usage, it is a way to label the inexplicable, especially when one is struggling to articulate an opinion. “The title of this article lacks a certain…je ne sais quoi.”

Last month’s title was “Lectionary Abundance.” This month’s title is the result of the author’s struggle to find a suitable counter to “abundance.” How does one realistically pair “lectionary” with words like paucity or dearth, especially considering the size, depth, artistry, and extravagance of the lectionary’s biblical treasures.

And yet, recent feedback to this series revealed a lectionary challenge not covered in Vol. 21, No. 2. A fellow pastor (for the sake of the article we will call him Don) shared that he struggles on festivals when the lectionary offers the same, or mostly the same, texts through all three years of the lectionary cycle. Is this a lectionary…failure…shortcoming…deficiency? Often these festival texts are so specific to the life of Christ within the Church Year, so rich with imagery and meaning, so beatific in celebration of the day, that they are essential to the worship life of the congregation. Lectionary…weakness? Hardly. Thus, lectionary je ne sais quoi.

Frustrated Perfection-ish

As described earlier in this series, the lectionary, while not perfect in and of itself, is a systematic way to hold forth the perfect Word of God. It may be easy to criticize or question certain selections, or the lack thereof, amongst the lessons of a given lectionary cycle, but it is a fine line between criticizing the lectionary and criticizing the Word. Preaching on Luke 2 for Christmas Eve or John 1 for Christmas Day seems almost obligatory. Yet doing so year after year can leave some preachers feeling like they have said it all before. The Word is perfect, the lectionary has crafted it into a kind of perfection-ish, and yet the frustration remains, at least for some.

One of Don’s specific examples causing him frustration is the three-year set of lessons for Palm Sunday:

Palm Sunday Lectionary Readings

While the Gospel lessons change with each year of the cycle, they are accounts of the same event. The First and Second Lessons along with the psalm remain unchanged. Further, Zechariah 9:9,10 is quoted in Matthew’s account, in essence making one lesson of the two. Year C of the Supplemental Lectionary offers the only alternates to the First and Second Lessons. Add it all up and, at face value, there are only five lessons on which to preach, including the psalm. If a pastor were to preach on each of the five selections, he would be “recycling” in year six of ministry.

By comparison, consider the Second Sunday after Pentecost. There are fifteen lessons from which to choose a sermon text, twenty if the preacher includes the psalm selections:

Pentecost 2 Lectionary Chart

After 15-20 years of different texts, a return to the Gospel Lesson from Matthew in Year A would hardly seem like recycling.

Bored with it all

A certain shut-in enjoyed the visits of her pastors. She was fond of saying to them, “Tell me something good.” By that, she meant, “Tell me about Jesus.” Approaching the age of 100, she could see little more than light and shadow. She could no longer read, but she loved to listen. Her audio Bible and Christian hymn CD’s were her constant companions. But she loved to hear “something good” from her pastors. She had heard about Jesus many times before and in many ways, but she loved to hear about him again and again.

If questioned, there is little doubt that any believer would disagree with her. All believers love to hear about Jesus. But Don shared that his frustration with the lectionary was made all the more pointed by the comments of a parishioner who questioned Don’s ability, and the ability of pastors in general, to bring out new treasures from the Word. I’m sure the commenting parishioner would agree that he wanted to hear about Jesus, yet he complained “I’ve heard the same thing over and over again.”

Comments like these come in many and various ways. This author recently heard the comment, “Dad, your sermon today was different. It was interesting.” (The sermon included a brief Q&A, required a volunteer, and incorporated a multi-sensory visual aid.) Another pastor once heard, “After all of these years, I thought that I had heard it all on Palm Sunday, but you showed me something new.” (The sermon connected Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem with his entry into our worship, homes, and hearts—something new to him, at least.) While both comments were intended as compliments, they were also indicators of the pre-service expectations of the individuals. They were surprised to see and hear something new. To be sure, they were both pleasantly surprised. But how many settle in to hear a sermon expecting a “same-ol’, same-ol’” experience? Or to take it a step further, how many come with a bored-with-it-all attitude?

Pressure, Point

It is no wonder, then, that a preacher may feel both the pressure and the desire to bring out new treasure each time he preaches. A pastor doesn’t want bored parishioners. A preacher likes compliments on “interesting” sermons. He feels a sense of responsibility to present the Word as best as he can. He strives to be a good steward of the gifts and opportunities he is given to preach the Word. But there is a reason he is encouraged to bring out treasures both old and new. There is blessing to be found in new treasures of fresh perspective and poignant application just as there is also blessing to be found in the “same-ol’, same-ol’” preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Rather than give in to pressure, recognize the manifestation of the unholy trio at work in both the parishioner and the pastor. Parishioners bored with a text often mirror their pastor’s boredom with the text. A shepherd chasing after something shiny and new for the sake of “shiny and new” can foster a similar desire in the flock and a consequential discontentment with simplicity. Point out the slippery slope of correlating the perceived “quality” of the message with its perceived “effectiveness.” If we are not watchful, a desire for proclamation can be replaced with a craving for innovation. Gratitude at what God has done can become conditional on the novelty of the message. “Tell me something good” easily corrupts into “Tell me something better than last time.”

God’s people need to hear the simple unvarnished truth, be it the harsh condemnation of the law or the sweet assurance of the gospel. Take them to cross, and they will not be left wanting. Preach the Word that the good work begun in them may be carried on to completion. After all, “…if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). Point God’s people to Jesus, and they will follow in his steps.

In many ways, festival preaching is the easiest time to do this. It is easy to point to Jesus in the manger, to Jesus revealed in glory, to Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. But in some ways, festival preaching can also be challenging. Repetitive lectionary selections seemingly narrow the possibilities. Schedules around festivals tend to be busier than at other times of the Church Year. Time spent studying a chosen text is abbreviated. Short cuts are taken. A quick glance into the storehouse results in presenting the easiest treasures to grab.

Sadly, such an approach can lead to frustration later on. It doesn’t take too many cycles of the Church Year before “new” becomes “old,” “interesting” becomes “repetitive,” and the storehouse seems bare. Keeping in mind the encouragements above, there are additional ways to continue to bring forth treasures old and new from the lectionary, year after year. What follows are some practical ideas for preaching reinvigoration.

Facet-nating

If a preacher finds himself struggling to bring forth treasure, especially for festival preaching, take a closer look at the individual selections. Fewer selections and previous study can be a solid foundation on which to build. Ask yourself some searching questions: How exhaustive has your text study been in the past? Could you dig deeper? Have you examined every facet of every gem in every selected text? What differing perspectives could be explored? Could a change in preaching style be an interesting challenge? (Consider, for example, an inductive approach to the text, rather than a deductive, propositional approach.) Have you spent time working with the text to determine where it fits with the cycle of the Church Year, how it relates to the chapter and book in which it is found, what connections are to be discovered between the Old Testament and the New, between prophecy and fulfillment, between then and now and forever? What insights could be gained from the Prayer of the Day? And yes, it might be beneficial to see what others have written, crafted, even composed based on the same text.

A seminary junior once asked a retired seminary professor which commentary the professor felt best captured the psalms. His reply? “Do your own work.” Sage advice, to be sure. And yet what blessings can come to the struggling preacher who, after careful study himself, finds additional treasure through the work and experience of others.

Nesper, n’est-ce pas?

Still struggling? Consider some alternate texts. Paul Nesper’s Biblical Texts1 includes more than a dozen lectionaries developed for use during the Church Year. Among them are the Soll, Thomasius, and Swedish lectionaries. Most are one-year cycles but still offer a number of options. For example, consider lectionary selections and alternates for Pentecost Sunday, the Coming of the Holy Spirit2:

Pentecost Lectionary Alternates

In addition to these selections, Nesper provides a number free texts, similar to E.H. Wendland’s Sermon Texts.3 These selections not only provide additional choices for preaching, they can often provide additional perspective on the already appointed texts. All combined, this trove of selections offer a wealth of additional treasure to present on Pentecost Sunday or any other given festival.

Occasional Opportunity

Festival preaching is a special opportunity to preach the Word surrounded by the joy of the season as God’s people celebrate with gratitude all that has been done for them in Christ. As the preacher chooses a text for special consideration on these and any other occasion, his job is not to unearth hidden truths lost to the ages, wow his listeners with clever takes, or try to prove his mettle through innovation. Rather, his job is to clearly sound the saving message of Jesus again and again to the immediate reassurance and the eternal confidence of God’s people. The appointed lessons of the lectionary are but curated suggestions from God’s Word, carefully chosen to proclaim the Father’s love for his people through his Son. Yet it continues to be a storehouse from which the preacher brings forth treasure old and new. Use it, renew in it, and preach it for what it is, the Word of God.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


1 Biblical Texts Paul W. Nesper, 1961 Augsburg Publishing House.
2 Ibid., p.369.
3 Sermon Texts E. H. Wendland, editor, 1984 Northwestern Publishing House.


Treasures from the Archive

With twenty years of archives to hand, there is a storehouse of treasure to behold in past issues. The following abbreviated article speaks to the importance of good text study to the exhausted preacher.

The more we study each Word as God gave it, the more we overflow with love for the Lover of our souls.

 

Περισσευω—At least twenty-seven times in twenty-two passages of his thirteen epistles the Lord’s Apostle Paul uses this favorite word. Paul puts περισσευω in faith-born love contexts like the great resurrection chapter which concludes in triumph: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to (περισσευοντες – literally “overflow with”) the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

When the glass of our heart is filled to overflowing with the “the water of life,” the message of Christ’s substitutionary death and glorious resurrection overflows into our work for the Lord. This overflow keeps us from being discouraged by everything the devil throws at us. “For just as the sufferings of Christ περισσευω into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort περισσευω.” (2 Corinthians 1:5). With this word the Holy Spirit pictures the super-abundance of God’s blessings in Christ. Paul wrote to his dear Philippians: “…Your joy in Christ Jesus περισσευω.…. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have περισσευω” (Philippians 1:26;4:12).

What pastor has not at times felt like an old hand-operated water pump? Every person asking him for help seems to drain something out of him until he feels useless and dry. One pastor on a retreat was advised, “If your reservoir runs dry, you’ve got to go deeper.”

In the drought of 1988, Minnesota farmers did something that seemed very strange to metro area residents. They took their heavy equipment into the dried up ponds and lakes around their farms and dredged out the bottom. “Why are you doing that?” neighbors asked. “There’s no water. It’s a drought.” The farmers answered in typical fashion by shaking their heads and going back to work. And when the rain returned they had deeper water on their acreage for the next drought. Few suburbanites realized that their farming neighbors may have contributed enough to the water table to keep their precious lawn sprinklers swishing in the heat.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

In seasons of spiritual drought, gospel preachers especially need to dig deeper wells, not into human sources, but into the one source of “living water,” the Bible. We can περισσευω more abundantly by drinking deeply of the gracious water of life waiting to be tapped in the Holy Spirit’s original languages.

Mark Cordes – Volume 6, No. 5, May / June 2003

 


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Adversity Turned to Blessing

God can turn any adversity into unexpected blessing! We need think no further than Joseph in Egypt… or Iliyan Itsov in Bulgaria. As many of the Roma people (aka gypsies), Iliyan was working away from home in Italy when adversity struck. Injuries from a serious car accident cost him his job and forced him to return to his village in Bulgaria. While he was recovering, his pastor asked him to consider becoming a pastor in the Bulgarian Lutheran Church. Iliyan eagerly signed on for the three-year seminary program sponsored by WELS, which required him to make many trips to St. Sophia Seminary in Ukraine.

Missionary Iliyan Itsov

His time for graduation came in the fall of 2015, and adversity of a different sort struck. The Bulgarian Lutheran Church, which already had five pastors for its four congregations, had no place for him to serve. This time it was the WELS Board for World Mission’s Europe Committee which turned adversity into blessing. It called Iliyan to begin a new mission effort, called Outreach to Roma. As a Roma himself, Pastor Itsov can relate to the rather closed gypsy society; plus, he has numerous relatives and friends scattered around Europe with whom he can share the good news of Jesus.

There are about 13,000,000 Roma in Europe, of which 750,000 live in Bulgaria. Today, only a very few of them travel from place to place in small caravans of horse-drawn wagons (primarily in Slovakia and Hungary). Most live in small villages, separated from and unwelcome in mainstream society. The poverty in these villages is the reason that nearly all Roma families have one or two members working in Western Europe – and sending money home for the rest of the family to survive on. For example, for 10 years Itsov’s mother has supported her extended family by working as a cleaning lady in Italy.

Itsov’s call gives him the freedom to gather groups wherever the Lord provides opportunity. Following the example of St. Paul in Acts, Itsov gathers interested people in a village, asks them to select a leader, and then provides that leader with training and materials to use. Itsov may visit two or three times a month, but in his absence the leader conducts worship, reading sermons Itsov provides. As of this writing, five groups, scattered across Bulgaria, are worshiping regularly. In addition, the Outreach to Roma van regularly hauls seven or eight people to the Bulgarian Lutheran Church service in Dunavtsi.

Outreach to Roma – Vacation Bible School

The work hasn’t always been easy – and hasn’t always borne visible fruit. At the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Germany, Itsov spent several months trying, unsuccessfully, to gather groups in Germany. In one village, the tires on the Outreach to Roma van were slashed, and Itsov was threatened with a beating if he showed his face there again.

Now another adversity has struck. Itsov is battling serious health issues. But, once again, adversity has also led to blessing. It has given WELS the opportunity to show love and care as brothers and sisters in Christ. We, through WELS Christian Aid and Relief, have sent $13,000 to help with the costs of his surgery and treatments.

The Lord is using Itsov’s ministry. In a service in the village of Zlataritsa during the month of November, 15 adults and 6 children were baptized. Last month, 20 people were confirmed there. These are just a few examples of how God is blessing his outreach. Join me in praying that Outreach to Roma will see a growing number brought to the Gospel, as God turns the adversity of their difficult lives into eternal blessings.

Written by: Rev. John F. Vogt, WELS Regional Coordinator for Eastern Europe

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GDPR Guidance

A question I’ve received quite a bit lately has to do with a church or schools need to comply with GDPR — the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations which will go into effect later this month. While there is a lot we don’t know and it is a complex topic, let me take a stab at providing guidance and what this means for you as a WELS church or school. Over the coming months, as things get a little clearer, I’ll revisit the topic and hopefully provide more definitive information.

First a little FAQ…

What us GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR is a regulation by which the European Union and the European Commission intend to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals within the European Union (EU). It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

When Is Compliance Required?

The GPDR becomes enforceable on May 25th, 2018

What Users Does GDPR Apply to?

The GDPR applies to the personal data of all EU residents whether they are EU citizens or not.

What Data Does GDPR Apply to?

The scope of GDPR is really very broad and vague: it covers any entity collecting information that is “monitoring the behavior of Individuals”. Most of the security community agrees that this applies to all web stored personal data including tracking cookies, email lists, form data, etc.

Can the EU Enforce GDPR on US Organizations? What Could Happen?

They apparently can, but “how much” is still a question. Experts have suggested that having a plan in place may, at this point, shows good-faith effort toward compliance that may minimize the chance of litigation.

What does that mean for you as a WELS Church or School?

  1. Any database (church or school management system, spreadsheet, digital list, form data, etc.) must be encrypted and data transport to and from it also encrypted.
  2. If you have not secured permission from an EU resident to store their data, for whatever purpose, get permission and provide them with clear reasons for why you would like to store the data.
  3. When collecting data from EU residents (likely via online forms), the form must provide an active (vs passive) means for the user to consent to data storage. Again, the expressed purpose for the data collection must be clearly stated.
  4. EU resident data must be expunged when the “expressed purpose” has expired.
  5. Provide a mechanism for EU residents to request that their data be removed, and a means for either them to do it themselves (example, unsubscribe from a newsletter) or database owners to do it for them.
  6. Make sure that EU resident data in all systems and storage mechanisms is accounted for. This is important if you receive a request from an EU resident that their data be removed…you need to know where it is.
  7. Ensure that all 3rd party tools used to collect or maintain EU resident data are GDPR compliant. This could apply to your Church Membership Database, Student Information System, forms tool like JotForms or FinalWeb Forms, etc.
  8. Have a privacy policy on your website or linked to from forms that clearly states what you do and don’t do with data collected.

In summary, a lot of these regulations are just good practices anyway, but it is likely that you may not be in compliance today. Get started with these first steps, have a plan and reach out for help if you aren’t sure you are on the right track.

It’s About Saving Souls

Terri lives right across the street from our church… Literally. She can look out her front door and see our towering steeples. God knew what he was doing when he put Terri right next to our church.

Terri works with one of our members at the hospital in town, and her ex-husband worked for many years with another one of our members. God purposely brought our church members into Terri’s life. For a couple of years, Terri was thinking, “I should check out that church sometime.” One Sunday, invited by her co-worker from the hospital, Terri came to worship. She heard God’s word and was welcomed by our members. Terri started Bible 101 and came to see, “I can be sure I’m going to heaven because Jesus lived. Jesus died. Jesus rose.” Terri confessed, “I didn’t have peace before. Now I have peace because of Jesus.” She has new purpose in life. “I have a renewed joy in my work as a nurse. I know I’m working for God.”

How cool is that!

This is why we have a church. It’s about saving souls.

Terri’s House – Right across the street from church

There is even more backstory to what God has been doing in Monroe, working to save Terri’s soul. The church across the street from Terri’s house almost closed. It was for sale for over a year, membership was dwindling, and the pastor was set to retire. It didn’t look like the church would remain open, but another congregation was aware of the situation. There were discussions about working together. The two churches decided to go all in on working together and become one congregation, with one name and one pastor. Not only did the church across the street from Terri’s house stay open, the church across the street is growing. Members are inviting family and friends. Former members of the church have returned. Best of all, souls like Terri are hearing God’s Word, finding peace for eternal life and purpose in life right now.

This concept of being one church in multiple locations is relatively new in our church body. There are many advantages to multi-site congregations. Multi-site ministry can save money as one church can often times operate more efficiently than two. Multi-site ministry can save sacred spaces, like the beautiful, ornate church across the street from Terri. Multi-site ministry can save people time going to a church in their community, rather than driving to a church farther away. But most of all, and greatest of all, multi-site ministry is about saving souls. It’s about saving souls like Terri’s.

Pastor Nathan Strutz serves a multi-site congregation, Resurrection in Verona and Monroe, WI. This multi-site church was formed by a merger of Resurrection, Verona and Mt. Olive, Monroe.

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Midwest Island Missions

My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.

Isaiah 51:5

In 2010, a Bible class in the Adams-Friendship area, offered by pastors from St. Paul’s in Mauston, led to worship services with a core group of about twenty members or so. Today this second site of St. Paul’s has grown, by God’s grace, into a thriving mission of about 130 souls. We lease an old day care building that is too small to meet all our needs, and yet people keep coming back, and the Word continues to be proclaimed. St. Paul’s in Mauston, which pioneered this mission and still partners with it as one congregation in two locations, has been working hard with the members in Adams-Friendship to fund ministry, a full time mission pastor, and even a new church building. Many congregations throughout the state have also contributed to a building fund so that work can continue to move forward, and God-willing expand as we move into a larger and more versatile facility in the near future.

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – Mauston, WI

When I received the call to serve as mission pastor to St. Paul’s in Adams-Friendship, I was curious to know what a relatively new mission startup was doing smack dab in the middle of what I had always assumed was a very churched (and very WELSy) part of our country. I was surprised to learn that in Adams County, in the heart of Wisconsin, only about 15-20 percent of the population claimed any connection to a church. On top of this, St. Paul’s was the only WELS congregation located in Adams County. St. Paul’s in Mauston saw the chance to share Jesus with this “island” of unchurched people in the heart of the Midwest, and as I considered the call I began to see what a wonderful opportunity this was to reach the lost.

Two months have passed since I arrived, and the opportunities I was told about were not exaggerations. I’ve shared the freedom of the gospel with people battling drug and alcohol dependency. I’ve spoken with jail inmates and former inmates about the cycle of sin and God’s solution in Christ. I’ve witnessed baptisms in a garage, heard testimony from men and women recovering from abuse and broken families, and I’ve seen kids discover a very different message than what they hear all around them. There are people in Adams County struggling with broken families, addiction, financial hardship, depression, anger, and loss. And amidst this sea of grief and pain, St. Paul’s stands ready to share eternal hope and a temporal change in perspective through the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Jasper Sellnow and his family

This rural mission is a reminder that God’s Word still has much work to do in the heartland, even in places we might normally overlook. Congregations can identify the needs of the communities around them and perhaps discover untapped mission fields right in their backyard (or neighboring county). And as St. Paul’s in Mauston discovered, you can sacrifice a little so that even without full Synod mission funding, new churches can be planted and God’s Word can be shared. The lost and hurting are all around us, even on the “islands” in the Midwest. God grant us wisdom and love as we share the hope we have in Jesus.

Rev. Jasper Sellnow lives in Friendship, WI with his wife, Sarah, and their five children. He serves St. Paul’s Mauston & Adams-Friendship, working primarily as the mission pastor in Adams County.

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Unless Someone Explains It

“Go south to the road – the desert road – that leads down from Jerusalem,” he was told. When Philip went, he met the Ethiopian man who was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.

“Go to that chariot and stay near it,” the angel directed. When Philip did so, he asked a very important question – “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Ethiopian’s answer was straightforward: “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” Philip used the very passage the Ethiopian was reading, from Isaiah 53 (“he was led like a sheep to the slaughter”) to tell the good news about Jesus. Ultimately, the Ethiopian was baptized on that desert road.

At Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel in Madison, WI, our doors are open to all students on the Madison campuses. There are many occasions that remind us of the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Students enter our building not knowing exactly what they are seeking, and the Lord gives us the privilege of being the ones who explain the good news about Jesus to them.

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel

Last fall, one such student arrived at the Chapel, seeking answers about God’s Word. Through several contacts with the Word, the seed of gospel truth was planted and watered, and God made it grow.

In late October, Manaporn “Mint” Phaosricharoen was baptized – but not in our Chapel. She requested the opportunity to be immersed because that picture of washing away sins was important to her. So we braved the wind and chilly temperatures and entered the brisk waters of Lake Mendota for Mint to receive the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

The power of God’s Word is truly amazing. The opportunities God presents to share the power of that Word are equally amazing. Mint came to us seeking answers, needing someone to explain to her the truth of the gospel. God placed the Chapel in the right place and at the right time to offer her the answers for which she was searching.

Campus Ministry opportunities aren’t limited to the Madison area. At colleges throughout the country, our campus pastors delight in the opportunities God gives them to witness to young adults who are searching for what is truly important. “Unless someone explains it” could be said by many of them. Campus pastors continue to plant and water seeds with the Word of God, trusting that God, who works powerfully through his Word, will make those seeds grow.

Sometimes, God gives the special privilege of wading into an icy lake to baptize one of them!

Written By: Campus Pastor Jon Bilitz, Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel – Madison, WI 

Thank you for your prayers and support for Campus Ministry. If you know a college student that seeks to be connected to the nearest ministry to his or her campus, please visit campusministry.welsrc.net. 

 

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Now I Believe

Written by Missionary John Holtz for his Mission Partner Newsletter – appears on the One Africa Team blog. To learn more about the One Africa Team and their outreach efforts, subscribe to their blogs at www.oneafricateam.com or follow their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS/.

I didn’t know what he meant.

I heard his words, but I didn’t grasp his message. I wondered what he was really saying. What was the meaning behind the words? Was he even talking to me? Or to someone else? Or was he just talking to himself? Three times he repeated the same thing:

“Now I believe.”

I was a bit uncertain about his words because I had just walked up to him. His name is Bright Pembeleka. He is the pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in Blantyre, Malawi. He’s been serving in the public ministry for 13 years.

Bright Pembeleka graduated from the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia in 2005

We both had come to the same place: the mortuary. We were collecting the body of a Lutheran Church member. Pastor Pembeleka has been there before. Many times.

As a pastor he knows the routine all too well when someone dies: visiting the family, preparing the sermon, leading the worship, saying the prayers, conducting the burial service. But this time was different. Powerfully different. Life-changingly different.

This time he would not wear the robe of a preacher but the cloak of grief. The Lutheran member who passed away wasn’t just a church member, the person was his own daughter. Edina was 21 years old. Just 21!

It’s not supposed to happen this way! But it did.

Watching one coffin after another being carried out of the mortuary and being placed into waiting vehicles reminded me once again: The old must die. The young can.

We waited while the embalmers did their job. Sensing an opening in the conversation, I risked asking Pastor Pembeleka what he meant by what he said, “Now I believe.” His explanation came freely, though heavily – it didn’t just land in my ears, it settled in my heart.

“I have officiated at a lot of funerals. I did so because it was my job. It was part of my work. But now it is happening to me… now is really the first time I know what it means to grieve. Now I am the one experiencing the pain. Now I know the heart-ache that others have talked about.

Now. I. FEEL.”

His eyes were reddening with tears. His voice was cracking with sorrow. His heart was breaking with pain. The cloak he wore was both dark and heavy.

Now I believe.

Grief seized him and gripped him. He and his wife and children would now be the ones to weakly stand, then kneel beside the pile of fresh dirt. Even fall upon it.

Maybe you’ve been there – waiting at the mortuary. Visiting at the funeral home. Walking the path to the grave. Placing a wreath of flowers. If so, you understand. If not, you likely will. Because sooner or later death touches the ones we love.

Malawi National Pastors at the Funeral

The cloak is dark and heavy.

Pastor Pembeleka would be at the funeral, but this time he wouldn’t be leading the service. His brothers in Christ would. Fellow servants and seasoned preachers. A band of disciples who gathered, supported, encouraged, prayed and rallied around their grieving brother and family.

Some of whom have buried their own children. They know. They have experienced. They understand. They FEEL. They believe.

They gave what they had, and what they had was what was needed most: the Word of God. After all, it had something to say to Pastor Pembeleka, his wife, his children and everyone there. It has something to say to you who weren’t. At a Christian funeral, GRIEF isn’t the only cloak worn on such days! So is the robe righteousness. The mantle of God’s grace. God has draped his people with a love that seizes and grips and doesn’t let go.

In death there is life! (John 11: 25, 26)

Most fittingly, Pastor Eliya Petro chose and preached on the assuring words found in John’s first letter, ”God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life…” (1 John 5: 11, 12). Edina has life because the Son has her!

A chorus of Lutheran women, uniformed in purple and white, confidently sang that truth again and again as they walked in a long double line to the funeral house, “She’s in the hands of God, yes, she’s in the hands of God.”

She is… because Jesus has conquered death!

She is… because Jesus lives!

She is… because Jesus has taken away her sin!

Pastor Pembeleka, you and your brothers have taught your congregations well. The people, whether sitting in the pew at church or sitting on the ground in a graveyard or kneeling close to the pile of dirt, have heard the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ from you. Week after week, sermon after sermon, service after service, funeral after funeral. Look around, dear brother. The gospel has done miraculous and marvelous things!

The people are expressing the very faith that God has given them. They are sharing the good and comforting news of Jesus with you and your family when you are the one grieving, the one paining, the one sorrowing, the one experiencing. They are serving you, standing with you when you are the one feeling.

Thank you, Pastor, for showing your humanness. Your frailty. Your need. Thank you for sharing your pain and your sorrow and your tears. When we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 10)

Now I believe.

In my weakness and God’s strength,

Missionary John Holtz, Malawi

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Wait! How Do I Pray?

“Let’s close our bible story and pray.”

Pastor Joe asked this simple request, and panic broke out from two neighborhood boys who were attending the “Garden, Baking and Bible” event. This is a weekly, after school activity built around the Bylas Community Garden located on the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church property. It serves as a member-run outreach tool for the Bylas community to use to introduce families to the forgotten practice of gardening, healthy eating, and the Bible as the only hope for salvation.

“WAIT, how do we pray? We’ve never prayed before.”

Pastor Joe with Garden, Baking and Bible visitors

They said it innocently and in honest confusion. It was their first time attending the Garden, Baking and Bible class… but they had heard that if you came, helped weed and water and listened to the Bible story, then there would be food to make and eat at the end.

The other children told them to fold their hands – and rightly so, but this caused more confusion as they asked, “Why does that matter?” The other kids couldn’t easily answer. And so we had a little lesson on talking to God. The boys and all the children learned how God wants us to talk to Him and how, as Pastor Joe says the words, they can think about them more if they are folding their hands and not playing with the stones and their shoelaces etc. They learned that folding your hands isn’t necessary, but it helps us think about the words we’re saying to God. They learned that God – who made the storm calm down immediately, who created the entire world, who loves them and forgives all their naughtiness (aka “sins”) – can truly hear the prayers they pray when they think them to God or say them aloud.

The Bylas members want to share God’s saving messages of hope, the peace of knowing forgiveness, the healing that comes from the only one with power (not the medicine man), and the joy that comes from knowing how much God loves us. After exploring several “fun ideas” that might attract kids and families from the community, gardening was chosen. An initial grant from the First Things First organization while also partnering with the University of Arizona allowed the church grounds to have a section of their land rota-tilled and set up with fertilizer and a simple irrigation system. The church simply had to provide a fenced in area (so the feral horses don’t eat all the crops – which has happened, but that’s for another blog). Weeding, watering and planting all happened in order to harvest:

  • “The Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash planted together)
  • Sugar cane
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Peppers
  • Popcorn

Kids walk from near and far to help, to taste the “unique” good-for-you food, and to hear the Bible stories. Teenagers have come and often ask to read stories to the kids. The kids are so disappointed when we have to end, and they so badly want to know MORE:

“What happens when Joseph’s brothers find out that it’s HIM?’, ‘But what will happen if Pharaoh NEVER lets the people go?’; ‘Please, read more. Please, one more story.”

This month the garden program will be visited by Tribal chairmen and dignitaries, First Things First program leaders, and University of Arizona dignitaries as it won “Most Active” garden and also encouraged healthy food choices. BUT, the Our Savior’s members know the real win is that at least 6 of these children now come to church and Sunday school regularly because they know the church people and want to hear more about how much they are loved. Those who don’t yet come to church are winning too, as they hear God’s Words of hope and get to PRAY every week at Garden, Baking and Bible.

Written by: Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn how your church can host an Apache Mission Festival Sunday, visit nativechristians.org.

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God’s Harvest Strategy

Does your congregation have a harvest strategy to connect with the unchurched families of your school?

It’s an exciting topic, but sometimes it can also intimidate congregations and their leaders. Perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve honestly evaluated your efforts in reaching the unchurched families in your school. Maybe you’ve implemented a plan, but you’ve been discouraged by the results or you know of several areas which need attention and improvement.

Developing a harvest strategy for our schools and implementing it is tough work – which is made even tougher by the devil’s constant temptations. Our foe pushes us toward pride (“Look what our school has accomplished!”) or despair (“What are we doing wrong?”). May we never lose sight of our Savior’s cross and empty tomb. There God forgives our pride and despair. There we find the very message we desire to share with more families in our schools. There we are renewed with motivation to continue to do the harvest work regardless of the results.

Preschool Sunday at Light of Life

Sometimes God blesses directly through our planning, and we thank him for those blessings. And sometimes God reminds us his plans to gather the elect are far greater than ours – and we thank him for this too.

Rich was a preschool dad who didn’t come to drop-off or pick-up. He didn’t come to preschool orientations or the first day of school. He didn’t come to our preschool singing events. Rich had successfully avoided all of our attempts to make contact with him for a year and a half.

One day the phone rang. It was Rich, “Pastor, my wife has double pneumonia. The doctors say it is bad and I’m worried. I know we aren’t members, but I thought since our son went to your school…” Rich’s wife regained her health, and six months later Rich was baptized and confirmed. Rich has brought more family and friends with him to church, including his friend Brian whom he is standing next to in the top photo. He has joined in gathering the harvest!

Such a story does not excuse us from the faithful planning and work of a harvest strategy, but it is a comforting reminder: God has a harvest strategy too!

Written By: Pastor Daniel Lange, Light of Life Lutheran Church – Covington, WA

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Good Digital Calendar Stewardship

Just a quick thought today on time stewardship. More and more the demands on our time stack up, almost to the point that we would struggle to function without our digital calendars. They are so handy, especially if you have a smartphone that can display your calendar and allow you manage it from the palm of your hand.

But just knowing where to be when and with who isn’t enough. Yes, your calendar can keep track of all that for you, and even remind you when to get going. Yet the tough stewardship challenge has to do with those meetings that sometimes fill it. I won’t dive into a list of all the meeting management or prep tips that are out there. Perhaps another day. Today I want to just offer up one little one that can make a world of difference in making your meetings more efficient — calendar attachments.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity…

Ephesians 5:15-16

Most digital calendar tools allow you to attach documents to individual events. For example, Google Calendar, under the “more options” button in the create event window, allows the upload of almost any kind of document or links to Google Docs right into the meeting entry. Where I’ve found this to be particularly useful is for meeting agendas, reports or other documents that I know I’ll want “at the ready” in prep for or actually during the meeting. I don’t want to have to hunt around different file folders, emails or cloud services for relevant meeting materials. Having to look in only one place, i.e. your calendar entry, is a huge time-saver and stress reliever. If you “invite” or “share” the meeting with other attendees, they too would have access to the same meeting materials. You can even update this over time as more materials become available, avoiding the dreaded string of emails that are sometimes necessary to get everybody all the stuff. If a document get’s updated, especially if it’s a Google Doc, then everybody is going to be able to grab the latest copy just by opening the meeting invite/entry. Sweet.

I recorded a quick 3 minute demo of how this is done in Google Calendar. If you aren’t into Google Calendar, just check whatever tool you use for similar functionality.