Building Up the Body of Christ

While it is rewarding to write about victory stories of a new member’s confirmation or a prospect’s baptism, I would like to share with you a recent little moment in our mission that gives me even greater joy seeing God’s people at work.

For the last few months, a Chinese woman named Tina has been coming to a conversational English class we have every Friday morning. And every Friday at this class we invite Tina, and all who come, to study the Bible further with us or come to Sunday worship.

Tina and her daughter Crystal

Tina finally came.

And when she walked into our church door on Sunday afternoon, something remarkable happened. Tina isn’t a Christian, and neither is her daughter, Crystal – they came mostly out of curiosity. And they were instantly welcomed by a small horde of eager Chinese members at our church. At first I thought somehow they all knew each other already, which is normally the case when we have Chinese visitors. A few ladies sat down next to Tina and her daughter. They helped explain our English worship and whispered what is going on. They invited Tina and Crystal to our Chinese language Bible class after worship.

Towards the end of our Bible class time one Sunday in January, I snuck into our Chinese language Bible class to find Qiang Wang, our Chinese evangelist, and five of our Chinese members actively witnessing to Tina and Crystal. I admit my Chinese is only good enough to follow the topic, but my heart swelled with joy listening to them sharing the good news of Jesus with Tina and Crystal in Chinese. These Christians were not long ago playing the role of the Ethiopian and asking Philip, “What does this mean?” Now they were sharing the message and explaining God’s Word in their own language to Tina. I saw in all their faces how deeply their love for Jesus was driving them to share with Tina and her daughter the news that so changed their lives also.

Tina helping out at the Chinese New Year event (Pictured holding the baby)

In Ephesians, Paul says that God gave pastors, teachers and missionaries to his church, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:12) In other words, if our mission is training our Chinese members to be missionaries themselves, we are going to be reaching people that I myself cannot reach. It has now been a month since that brief moment in Chinese Bible study, and Tina and Crystal are still coming to church – every Sunday. In fact when we celebrated Chinese New Year two weeks ago, Tina was in the kitchen with the other ladies preparing food for the meal. She still won’t say “I am a Christian”, but she wants to know more. She wants to hear the stories of Jesus. God is working in her heart.

And thanks to our other Chinese members, Tina is experiencing the love and joy of the body of Christ that welcomes her and importantly, reinforces the truths of Scripture in her own language and culture. Perhaps most importantly, God is giving more Christians their own moment to play the role of Philip and grow his kingdom in new ways.

Written by: Rev. Geoff Cortright, Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, Canada

To learn more about this home mission, visit their Facebook page.


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It Will Take 7 Years…

It will take 7 years.

These were the words of Mission Counselor Mark Birkholz when Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto, Canada, began planning its first summer Music Camp back in 2010. Why a Music Camp? Our congregation is located in an area of Toronto where we are surrounded by homes and high rises, with people from many different countries and religious backgrounds. The question was asked, “How can we get to know our neighborhood better? And more than that, how can we help our neighbors to know who Jesus is?”

Music Camp Volunteers

Because Hope is blessed with a variety of musical talent, including a full steel pan orchestra, it was decided that we would try a summer Music Camp. This one week, full-day camp would include instruction in steel pans, keyboard, guitar, djembe drum and singing. Most importantly, every day would also include Bible study.

Our first Music Camp was offered in 2010 and what a blessing it has been. For the past several years, we have reached our capacity of 140 children every summer and have had to start a waiting list because of the high interest. Over 60 volunteers from our church and other congregations give of their time to help run an exhausting and exhilarating camp.

It will take 7 years.

What was Pastor Birkholz referring to? Yes, every year we had opportunity to share the Word with the children of our neighborhood, so many of whom did not know Jesus. But Pastor Birkholz mentioned that 7 years was how long it would most likely take for children and families from Music Camp to become a part of the Hope church family.

Hope Toronto Confirmands

What began in 2010 bore fruit in a special way in 2017. Five of our seven youth confirmands first came to Hope through the Music Camp! They kept coming back, and in time found a home at Hope. Of those five youth, all three of their mothers also joined Hope and we all continue to grow in Jesus together. To God be the glory!

Hope Lutheran Church in Toronto has 151 communicant members and 202 souls from 20 different countries, and is served by Pastor Mark Henrich and Vicar Ben Berger. To learn more about Hope, visit their website at www.hopetoronto.com or check out their Facebook page

Written by: Pastor Mark Henrich – Hope Lutheran Church, Toronto, Canada


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It’s Rally Day!

In 1918, Missionary Edgar Guenther established Open Bible Lutheran Church of Whiteriver, Ariz., one of 9 current WELS churches on the Apache reservation. In the past on Rev. Guenther’s birthday, we set aside time to rally the “troops”; or rather, the members! That was years and years and pastors and pastors ago. We all loved (and needed) that day. The members started asking present Apache Pastor, Kirk Massey, if they could have Rally Day again.

“We sure can. We should rally the members back to church.” said Pastor Massey. However, with a congregation of over 1,000 members, Pastor Massey had his hands full. Many members had stopped coming to church for one reason or the other, and Pastor Massey was making sure to follow up. Many came to church, but also needed their pastor daily. He needed some help and suggested to the ladies, “If you can find some people to organize a big Rally Day – we can have it, but I won’t be able to devote much ministry time to organizing it.”

Brenda Lee wanted to have Rally Day, but she needed help. After asking around, she found help in her Christian sisters at Open Bible Lutheran Church.

Rally Day organizer and Open Bible member, Brenda Lee

“The goal of Rally Day was to bring back straying and lost members into the church. To welcome them with awesome worship, joy-filled fellowship, games, and delicious food.” exclaims Brenda Lee. “And that is what happened – all to God’s glory!”

With a budget of $500, the ladies organized egg and balloon tosses, music, miniature horse rides, lots of games for kids, cream pie throwing at our pastors and teachers (that was a big hit), and a fry-bread making contest for the ladies. Pastor Massey built the fry bread fire, he and the church men were the judges, and the ladies went to work making the traditional fry bread. The fry bread winner received homemade banana bread! In the end, everyone won as they enjoyed traditional fry bread and beans, a potluck of side dishes, and fried chicken brought in from the local grocery store.

Now that Rally day has ended, the ladies can’t stop talking about what else they can do to aid in fellowship and encouragement:

  • Could our other Lutheran reservation churches hold more joint events?
  • Could we host more fellowship days where we could offer support and encouragement to visitors?
  • Is there a way we can gather to offer support for the recovery group attendees from the local neighborhoods and encourage more people to go into recovery from alcohol, drugs, anger and harmful habits?
  • The men said they’d like to teach the women to play horseshoes… can we make an event out of that?

“There are some awesome Christian fellowship opportunity there.” says Brenda Lee, whose head is spinning with all the possibilities.

Her question to other reservation churches and to YOU reading this is:

What can you be a part of organizing at your church that will offer support and encouragement to members who have strayed and to brand new visitors? How can you help strengthen those who are regulars by giving them an opportunity to serve?”

That’s a great question for all of us.

Brenda Lee is a member at Open Bible Lutheran Church in Whiteriver, Ariz. 

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, contact Debbie at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.


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Faith and Love in Action – Africa

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Are you a planner? I am. At this time of year many people plan what they’d like to accomplish during the year and beyond. As I finish my term of service with the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM), I am starting to make some plans for what comes next. Though planning of some degree is wise and sensible, what happens when plans are upset? Do you feel frustrated or angry, wondering where you went wrong or questioning the wisdom of God?

Many people greet the New Year hoping for prosperity. But how do you define prosperity? Is it based solely on your net worth, or is it based on what you share, be that time, money, or skill? Your definition of prosperity could depend on your definition of “enough”. But what if you don’t have all you need? Does that mean God’s plans for you fizzled, or His promises don’t apply to you?

Some of the rural Malawians that the Lutheran Mobile Clinic serves are wrestling with very grim situations, just like many other people throughout the world. Grave illnesses, the death of the main breadwinner, flood, drought, the breakup of families and other consequences of living in a sinful world have snuffed out the survival and prosperity plans of some of these people. In these circumstances it is easy to forget that God is watching and intervening for their good. Hope is fleeting and future prosperity seems impossible. They may fear that God is guessing, rather than knowing His plans for their lives. They may wonder if God’s promises apply to them.

This is where organizations like CAMM and Christian Aid and Relief come in. We understand, by the grace of God, that His promise in Jeremiah is to us, just as it was to the Israelites who, being carried off into exile, were most certainly wondering about their future. However, as volunteers, donors, and those who pray for these “faith and love in action” organizations, we also understand this promise is not just to us; it is also about us.

Believing that God is the source of every blessing and that everything belongs to Him, we are free to use everything He has given to care for ourselves as we care for others. Because God places us and gives to or withholds from each of us as He sees fit, there is always something you can do for someone in need, whatever that need looks like. Perhaps you have nothing but time; be a full-time volunteer. Maybe God has given you money; give wisely and generously. Have you identified and developed the talents with which you were blessed? Use them in service, wherever you are. Are you enduring a season of life where time is limited, money is tight and you’re unsure of or unable to use your skills? Be a prayer warrior and expect the Lord’s guidance in His time.

Will this be a prosperous year for you? It might depend on your definition of prosperity. However, no matter what sort of year this turns out to be, we are confident in God’s providence, and privileged to share with others, because God is faithful and He never breaks His promises.

Written by: Amanda Artz, Clinic Administrator at the Lutheran Mobile Clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi

P.S. – Want to learn more about the Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM)? Visit their website at www.camm.us or follow them on Facebook


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What It’s All About

What exactly do you do as a mission pastor?

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked that question. My answers have varied greatly over the past six months. Sometimes I’ll talk about the detailed planning that has been completed in preparation for our September launch. At other times, I’ll talk about exploring Huntersville, the new community my wife and I call home. And sometimes, I’ll talk about our launch team meetings or the newest church planting book I’m reading. Depends on the day, I guess.

But there are days as a church planter when I wonder: “What am I doing here?” It can’t just be for long hours of planning and meetings, or finding a rental space for worship and studying books on church planting, can it? Is this really what it’s all about?

It’s easy to get caught up in the details and lose sight of the big picture. But a week ago, I was reminded that being a mission pastor is about more than planning and community exploration. On Saturday afternoon, I received a phone call from a member of my launch team, “Pastor, I wanted to let you know my step-daughter passed away in her sleep last night” (We’ll call the step-daughter, “Jo.”).

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believe in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” – John 11:25-26

Even though Jo was my member’s step-daughter, she wasn’t a member herself. In fact, I met Jo for the first time three months after moving to Huntersville. At the beginning of November 2017, she started to come to our launch team meetings with her mom and step-dad. During the next two months, I had the privilege of sharing the message of God’s “arrow-pointing-down” love for her. As a mission pastor, I had the blessing of conveying the message of the Gospel that says, “No matter your past, no matter your sins, Jesus died on the cross for you. Because of his sacrifice for you, your sins all forgiven and God remembers them no more.”

I firmly believe that over the past few months, God planted faith in Jo’s heart – a faith that clung to Jesus as her Savior. And this past Saturday, Jo experienced her own Easter and is now at her Savior’s side in heaven. This is the comfort I had the opportunity to share with my members on Saturday afternoon.

On my drive home from their house, as I reflected on the events that transpired, it suddenly dawned on me. Being a mission pastor is about far more than detailed planning, community exploration, and website design. It’s about personally connecting to people and connecting these people to Jesus. It’s about sharing with them who Jesus is and the love he has for them. It’s about planting the seeds of certain hope in a heart assailed by doubt. It’s about offering people true peace amid the storms of life. It’s about pointing people, like Jo, to the promise of the empty tomb and explaining,

This means that on the last day, you, too, will rise.

It’s astounding that God gives cracked clay jars – mission pastors, like me – the privilege of sharing with people the changeless message that will change their eternity. What a blessing to share Jesus’ love with people like Jo, and point them to their heavenly home. At the end of the day, that’s what being a mission pastor is all about.

Written by: Pastor Doug Van Sice – Huntersville Lutheran Church

P.S. – Want to learn more about this new mission start in Huntersville, NC? Visit their website at www.huntersvillelc.com


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Our Chair Problem – With a Surprising Outcome

The Peridot-Our Savior’s Mission Elementary School has been growing each year. It’s a combined school serving Peridot Lutheran Church (on the school campus), Grace Lutheran in San Carlos (4 miles away) and Our Savior Lutheran in Bylas (25 miles to the East). There are three towns on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and each one is blessed to have their own Lutheran Church.

Students from Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School

In the past five years, the school has grown from 60 students to 70, 80, 110 and now 127 students!

This is an AWESOME blessing from God!
… but this was a HUGE problem for the Peridot-Our Savior’s Christmas Service!

  • None of our churches have enough space to put 127 children, 10 teachers and 300 parents, aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, and community visitors
  • All together, our three churches do not even have 200 folding chairs
  • Renting chairs is $1 a chair, and the rental company wasn’t sure they had more than 100
  • Peridot-Our Savior’s had exhausted it’s budget by putting up a much needed addition in order to accommodate most of the people wanting to send their kids to our Lutheran school
  • It was Bylas’ (25 miles from the school) turn to host this service

And so the school board went to work solving this awesome problem. We needed seating for 127 children, 10 teachers and maybe close to 300 people.

The Apache Tribal office allows tribal members to reserve the Stanley Recreation Hall (a gym) for free! The men of the Bylas Church Council were on it and agreed, that even though we’ve never held a Christmas service outside of one of our churches, it was necessary. They secured the gym and prayed people would come. However, Stanley Hall only owns 75 folding chairs. We wanted 300 chairs – just in case that many came.

The School Board came together and contacted the Apache Gold Casino. They had 200 chairs.

That would help!

For a reimbursable down-payment – they were ours to use. We just had to find men, trucks to pick them up, and a crew to set them up approximately two hours before the service would start because the gym would be used till that time.

After lots of up and downs…

“I can haul chairs.” – “Now I can’t haul the chairs, neither can I, neither can I”.
“You can set up early.” – “You now have to wait three more hours to set up.”
“Some of our chairs are broken.”
“The alternative high school kids will set up the chairs.” – “The alternative high school kids can’t set up the chairs any more.”

… it actually came together and worked!

Robert Olivar, a Bylas church councilman, brought family to help set up chairs. Liza Stanley brought relatives to help decorate. Wilfred and Jayson Stanley hauled chairs. Loren Victor and Beverly Robertson came to sing solos with the kids, the teachers handled last minute signage, and the children came to proclaim the good news.

But the BIG story is, 300 people did NOT come…

Over 550 people came! The gym was filled with almost 700 people including the students… Standing, on bleachers, against the side walls.

The Savior the children proclaimed and the people worshiped was the Savior that took care of all the details. The Savior that has taken care of our biggest problem, sin, also took care of our littlest problem (that we incorrectly thought was big) – chairs!

The Service, Reformation 500 Christmas: Promise Foretold. Gospel Retold. To Scripture We Hold, rang out boldly to more people that any of us expected!

Ben Pagel is principal of Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School. He and Pastor Joe Dietrich of Bylas cannot thank the Apache men of the Peridot-Our Savior School Board and Bylas Church Council enough for all they did to make the school Christmas Service happen! These Apache Lutheran leaders are taking this 1st WELS world mission to new heights. Keep them and their work in your prayers.

To see more photos from the Apache Mission, visit the WELS Mission Flickr page.

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, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 


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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Sean Young, Director of Missions Operations, and his wife Kirsten visited our WELS mission field in the area around Novosibirsk, Russia in October 2017. Kirsten documented their stay:

It really hit me at 12:30am when we were standing on the tarmac in rainy Moscow, all trying to get on the plane at once, that “we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

I have met and spoken with both Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife Jennifer before, and I really enjoyed our conversations in the past. I knew we would be very comfortable as their guests during our stay. Our first day in Novosibirsk was spent adjusting to the time change in the fresh air of the Siberian countryside, while getting to know some of the national pastors and vicars. After some much needed recuperation, I could fully enjoy Sunday church services with our Russian brothers and sisters.

We attended two churches, one in Iskitim and the other in Akadem. I didn’t realize how lost I was going to feel during the services. I really wanted to follow along during the first service because I recognized the music, but I could not place where they were. I then realized that’s what it must be like for others to try and hear God’s Word in someone else’s language. Thankfully, we had a wonderful translator in Kate Wolfgramm. During the second service in Akadem I was able to find a Russian hymnal to follow along more and sing some of the hymns. The choir sang during the service and it was so wonderful to just listen and let the Holy Spirit work in my heart since I couldn’t understand the words.

Jennifer Wolfgramm prepares the Children’s Choir in Iskitim

While Sean met with the Russian pastors and took care of the mission operations business during the trip, Jennifer Wolfgramm showed me around Novosibirsk to take in the sights. We toured multiple art museums and cathedrals. From an artist point of view everything was fantastic! But from a Christian’s point of view (who knows the truths of scripture) it was sad to see people not only praying, but KISSING the frames of paintings and relics of either Mary or the Saints. I wanted to go around telling everyone they didn’t need to do that! One of the chapels we tried to visit was closed… but what was even more sad was the lady that spoke with us and conveyed that she was hoping the chapel was open so she could light a candle and say a prayer to a saint because her grandson was sick. Again, I wanted to explain to her that she can just pray to Jesus.

I’m sure I would be thrown in jail quickly if I lived in a foreign mission field.

Kirsten Young with a Russian Shut-In

The Sunday before we left, we were again blessed to attend church in Iskitim. I was prepared this time, making sure to grab a Bible and hymnal from the apartment we were staying in. We only needed Kate to translate the sermons. It was spiritually uplifting (and made me cry both times) to receive communion at both churches with people half way around the world – knowing that they believe in the same thing as me. After church, I got to help Jennifer teach Sunday school to the preschoolers. I helped a 4-year-old boy put together a craft, which was amazing that we could complete it since neither of us knew what the other was saying.

When I think about our visit, I still get chills thinking about prayers we said together – to think that even halfway around the world they’re still understood and applied the way we apply it and the way God intended. We can’t say enough how wonderful of hosts the Wolfgramms are! Thank you, God, for the experience of a lifetime!

Want to see more photos and videos from their trip? Visit the WELS Missions Flickr Album.

Cultural Insights:

  • The Greek Orthodox church is the only religion allowed to freely practice anywhere in the country by the Russian government
  • Russian meals usually start with 2-3 different kinds of cold salads
  • Russians don’t like to pass around food dishes at mealtime – there are always 2-3 different dishes of the same thing spread out around the table.
  • Russians don’t talk in public. They all have their pashminas (scarves) around their necks and usually a phone in hand.
  • Russians see an empty glass as one that NEEDS to be filled (this one we figured out on our own)


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Preach the Word – Lectionary Teaching

Treasures Old and New

Lectionary Teaching

A common lament among pastors is the phrase, “I wish that I could get more members in Bible Information Class.” Shepherds know first-hand the value of “refresher” classes to keep sharp on language skills, doctrinal insights, and practical approaches. Similar “refresher” classes are of equal value to members looking to do some catechetical review, explore situation-oriented discussions, and finding renewed confidence for faith-based conversations. Not unexpectedly, a common lament among members who take a refresher Bible Information Class (BIC) is the phrase, “I wish we could get more members in Bible Information Class.”

As we continue our look to the lectionary for opportunities to bring out “treasures old and new,” it is important to consider the role of teaching while preaching. Arguments could be made that biblical preaching and teaching share most of the same characteristics. Preaching and teaching then are neither mutually exclusive nor are they merely different without a distinction.

Allow some distinctions: Biblical preaching is summarizing a section of Scripture to its Christocentric message and proclaiming that message to the eternal healing and spiritual edifying of God’s people.1 Biblical teaching is the broadening of knowledge to the growth in understanding of God’s people. The first is meeting our temporal and eternal spiritual needs through God’s Word. The second is carrying out God’s desire for the continued spiritual growth of his people through God’s Word. As new creations in Christ, we want to grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. From this perspective, simply put, preaching meets needs, teaching addresses wants (both God’s wants for us and our Spirit-wrought wants for ourselves).

Preaching meets needs, teaching addresses wants…. Wants tend to be preferred.

Sadly, like many needs and wants, wants tend to be preferred. Years ago, this author preached on Ephesians 5:21-33 under the simple theme: Submit. The PowerPoint presentation slides began with the picture of an elephant rising on the screen as the sentence was stated, “There’s an elephant in the room, and his name is Submit.” This began what amounted to a Bible Information Class lesson on the roles for men and women. It included diagrams, bullet points, and illustrative pictures. While time was spent connecting the biblical roles for men and women to the beautiful picture of Christ and his bride, the Church, the “presentation” was far more teaching than preaching. Afterward, several similar comments were made. “I liked what you did with the sermon today. I learned a lot. You should preach like that all the time.” Perhaps you have experienced similar glowing comments after a sermon that was more of a taught Bible class than a preached sermon.

Just where such comments come from is difficult to identify definitively. Certainly, they are expressions of appreciation from hearts and minds eager to learn. But does didactic preaching as a primary, even exclusive, approach to the sermon offer more of what eager hearts and minds want, rather than what they need? Good preaching confronts and challenges the hardened or apathetic heart. Good preaching seeks to correct the wayward or inattentive heart. Good preaching offers comfort to the aching heart, forgiveness to the guilt-laden heart, and confidence to the questioning heart. All are intimate connections established between God’s Word and God’s people through preaching. They cannot be taught. Teaching is clinical, objective, general in nature. Good preaching is so personal that it leaves the sinner nowhere to run from the law, and it leaves the repentant nothing to doubt in the gospel.

Does didactic preaching … offer more of what eager hearts and minds want, rather than what they need?

Even so, teaching has its place in the pulpit. In contrast to the compliments mentioned above, this author has also received constructive feedback on sermons regarding the need for further explanation. “Pastor, you mention words like justification and atonement in your sermons a lot. But I don’t always know what those words mean.” For us who work with such “big words” on a regular basis, we don’t realize that our average listener doesn’t possess the same working vocabulary. For example, a preacher might quote the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Romans, Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (5:11) These familiar and reassuring words mean everything to us, but many listeners may never get past the word justified. Consider teaching while preaching:

Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ went to war and died as a real substitute, paying for the sins of the world, for your sins, for mine, so that because of his shed blood every person on earth can be justified—declared not guilty, forgiven—in other words, you have peace.

Taking a moment to teach, explain, and broaden the individual listener’s understanding, deepens the reassurance of peace through Jesus.

Another role that teaching has in the pulpit is to broaden understanding of biblical settings, cultural differences, and regional observations. An example is the parable of the Weeds and the Wheat from Matthew chapter 13. It is difficult to fully grasp the impact of the weeds sown by the enemy. Consider teaching while preaching:

The weeds most likely sown were a plant called darnel, a Eurasian ryegrass. It looks like wheat until it is more matured and the developing fruit finally identifies it as a noxious weed. What a vivid picture of how we often see little difference between the children of light and the children of darkness. There is both warning here and assurance from Jesus: By their fruit you will recognize them (Matthew 7:20).

Taking the time to broaden the listener’s understanding of a regional weed deepens the connection between God’s Word and God’s people.

The danger comes when teaching is included to the exclusion of good preaching.

For many, this inclusion of teaching while preaching may seem obvious, second-nature even.

It is not just a necessity. Teaching while preaching is a true blessing from God to his people. The danger comes when teaching is included to the exclusion of good preaching. Gone would be the personal connections between God’s Word and God’s people. Sermons would spend more time addressing what people want to learn, and less time addressing what people need to hear. Preaching must be primary and teaching must be secondary. Yet teaching resonates with listeners, instructs the uneducated, and explains mysteries. Teaching broadens knowledge. It has its place.

Early church fathers were known to include liturgical and catechetical instruction in their preaching. One genre of preaching was known as “mystagogical catchesis.” These were delivered by bishops during the week after Easter to instruct the newly baptized about the meaning of the sacramental rites in which they had just participated.”2 These were not Sunday morning, general gathering sermons, however. They were sermons designed specifically for a targeted gathering of catechumens. And yet, they offer further examples of how teaching can be both integral to and prominent in preaching.

Consider once again the lament mentioned above, “I wish that more members were in Bible Information Class.” Is there opportunity to bring BIC elements into our preaching? Look no further than the lectionary to find opportunity for such treasures old and new. A BIC is a systematic approach to broaden understanding of biblical doctrine. But stepping into the pulpit on Maundy Thursday to teach a BIC lesson on Holy Communion as a Means of Grace would not only miss the point of the service, it would also fail to connect the loving example of Jesus to the people who need to hear it. There needs to be a blend of teaching and preaching to broaden the mind and touch the heart.

Working within the liturgical context of the lectionary, there are myriad opportunities to review biblical doctrine within the framework of the Church Year and the appointed lessons. Not only does this provide the “refresher” and broadened doctrinal understanding that many need, it also deepens the connection between God’s Word and his people.

Working within the liturgical context of the lectionary, there are myriad opportunities to review biblical doctrine.

Consider the Gospel Reading appointed for Epiphany 5B, Mark 1:29-39 (February 4, 2018). Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law and then is inundated by crowds of people. He slips off by himself in the early hours of the morning leaving the disciples to search for him. When they find him, they exclaim, “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus’ response is an opportunity to talk about how God responds to prayer, especially when it seems as if he’s wandered off and not listening.

There is no trick, no secret, to reach the live person of Jesus Christ. We are assured In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. So, bring your every request to the Lord. Be generic. Be specific. Be bold and confident, knowing that the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer (1 Peter 3:12). But don’t get discouraged if you don’t get your way in your time and according to your plan. Rather ask…and then…wait for it…wait for him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. He will come with exactly that—immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine—according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).

While not a didactic approach to prayer, the paragraph connects the gospel account to the prayer lives of God’s people through the sedes doctrinae found in any BIC lesson on the subject.

The Season of Epiphany provides many more opportunities for lectionary “teaching” as Jesus is “revealed” throughout the Sundays. The following are some ideas for teaching Christological doctrine while preaching on the gospel readings from St. Mark.

Epiphany 1
Mark 1:4-11
The Baptism of Our Lord – Jesus is anointed and identified as the Son of God.

Epiphany 2
John 1:43-51
Jesus calls the first disciples – Jesus is identified as the Son of Man.

Epiphany 3
Mark 1:14-20
Jesus calls Peter and Andrew – Jesus is identified as the fulfillment of prophecy.

Epiphany 4
Mark 1:21-28
Jesus teaches with authority – Jesus is identified by his teaching.

Epiphany 5
Mark 1:29-39
Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law – Jesus is identified by his healing.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Mark 9:2-9
The transfiguration of our Lord – Jesus is identified by his mission.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


1 Consider early apostolic sermons in Acts 2, 4, and 13. The common pattern is connecting the fulfillment of messianic prophecy in Christ to the lives of listeners.
2 Senn, Frank. Christian Liturgy, p. 112


Treasures from the Archive

With twenty years of archives to hand, there is a storeroom of treasure to behold in past issues. The following abbreviated article speaks to the broadening of the listener’s understanding of context.

Location, Location, Location

The impromptu homiletics lesson was memorable. “What is the key to giving your sermons a certain sense of depth?” a vicar once asked a veteran pastor who was well-known as a “good preacher.” The pastor hesitated briefly, then replied with a smile: “Location, location, location.” He knew that the vicar was not expecting his answer, nor did the vicar immediately understand what he meant. What did a real estate adage have to do with sermonizing? “I’m trying to emphasize the value of context,” explained the pastor. “Real estate agents know that where a property is situated is often more important than the amenities a home might offer. The setting is more significant than some of the specific details. I’ve found that exploring the context of a text—the immediate setting, the wider issues of ‘to whom’ and ‘for what,’ even considering what a text has meant to the church—supplies me with lots of ideas that give the sermon some dimension.”

The veteran pastor went on to explain that from his perspective one of the weaknesses of novice preachers was that they often equated text study with word study. The resulting sermon tended to expound on key words and phrases and attempted to apply the concepts to today’s world. The sermons were rather “generic” in terms of explanation and application. “They’re thin,” he asserted. “Too many trees. Not enough forest. The meaning is not developed with enough sense of connection to time and place and usage. I mean, I once heard a sermon on ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ that was all about the temptations of wealth. The whole sermon took its structure from the word ‘rich.’ It wasn’t false doctrine, but the sermon didn’t really preach the text. I’ve heard preachers do that with words like ‘mercy’ or ‘grace’ or ‘peace.’ They explain the meaning of the word, then attempt to apply it. Those kinds of sermons turn out to be a bit vague and general.”

He continued to discourse. Note authorship, when possible, for Psalm texts. If it is David, or Moses, you have the accounts of “life history” to give the prayers or pleading or praise a real-life setting. Many Old Testament texts are so rich with context that the specific law and gospel are almost always indicated by the setting. He said that he had preached recently on Psalm 118. The text study produced connections that supplied structure and depth. The central verse—“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”—is a direct quotation from the Song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15. The psalm was also used after the return from exile as part of the Passover liturgy—and it may have been the “hymn” Jesus sang with his disciples before they left for Gethsemane on Thursday of Holy Week. Psalm 118 was also a favorite of Martin Luther and supplied what some call his motto verse: “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” The three levels of “context” provided compelling elements of application. The psalm begins and ends with “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever,” but “this text was about much more than a table prayer.” “The epistle letters were written for specific reasons,” he added, changing the focus a bit. “I know that seems too obvious, but it’s a reminder not to remove the instruction too far from its intended meaning.”

Don’t some preachers spend too much time on historical setting and background? “Fair enough—there needs to be some balance. But don’t forget the verse from Ecclesiastes: ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.’ Ancient texts—and ancient contexts—are always relevant.”

Professor Paul Koelpin – Volume 17, No.5


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Renovation: St. John, Burlington, Wisconsin

Sanctuary interiors are like wedding photos. They are snapshots in time of a sacred event. They represent a Christian congregation at its finest, offering the Lord their very best.

When a couple gets married, they’ve spent months, even years, planning for the big day—whether that wedding is a small gathering of family members or a large church full of people. And when the service is over and the wedding photos are taken, the bride and groom are as joyous, stunning, and well-dressed as they will ever be. So it is with sanctuary interiors. When a worship space is constructed or renovated, months, even years, have been spent planning for the work—whether that sanctuary is the small, redesigned storefront of a mission congregation, or the towering edifice of a well-established, 1000 member congregation. And when the construction is complete and worshipers gather in the newly renovated space, the sanctuary interior is as joyous, stunning, and well-dressed as it will ever be.

But as wedding photos age, the attractive couple therein—still beautiful—is inevitably locked into that moment in time, with its fashion style, its look. You can usually guess in which decade a couple was married by looking at the wedding photos. And you can usually guess which decade a church was built by looking at its sanctuary. As the worship space ages, it still remains beautiful in its own right. But it is locked into a moment in time, with a certain style, a look.

St John's, Burlington, WI - Before

Before

St. John’s Lutheran in Burlington, Wisconsin is a beautiful church with a long, rich history. Founded in 1858, the congregation built their first church building in 1875. But impracticality in maintenance and growth in membership required new construction. In 1980 a brand new, gorgeous sanctuary was erected and dedicated to God’s glory…representing the very best of 1970s style. And just like a wedding snapshot from the 70s—picture periwinkle suits and puffy white dress sleeves—the St. John’s sanctuary retained the look of that era. Bright orange carpeting covered the entire floor and chancel. Low hanging light fixtures were “buoys of light in a sea of darkness,” according to our design architect. The balcony, which was originally designed for extra seating but later became the “choir loft,” was impractical for musicians. New lighting, new flooring, new balcony design—these became the focus of our renovation.

Lighting

Longtime members of St. John’s and members of the original church building committee say our nave pendants gave inadequate light from day one. Even at the original church dedication some people were disappointed. Apparently the lighting contractor actually said, “Well, it’s a lot better than other churches we’ve done.” Before the renovation, some people would sit directly under the light fixtures just so they would have enough light to see the hymnal.

So we hired an architectural design firm to put together a new lighting plan for us. No more low hanging pendants, which create an artificial ceiling of light. Now we have linear banks of lights hanging only a few feet from the 40’ high ceiling deck, as well as high-powered can lights pointed down at the pews. We also added additional LED spotlights to brighten the chancel area and replaced the narthex lights with bright LEDs.

St John's, Burlington, WI - After

After

What a change! Now all can see the hymnal and the service folder—and each other. Now we can see the beautiful, golden varnished, knotty pine ceiling deck. (When people asked us what we did to the ceiling, we said, “We just put light on it.”) Now we can see the carefully detailed carvings on the face of our large, chancel cross. Now we can see the face of the pastor in the pulpit. Now we can see how badly we needed new lighting.

Wedding photographers used to comment to me about how difficult it was to take good pictures. Members used to lament that they couldn’t see the expressions on the pastors’ faces. Some people with decent vision used the large-print service folder, just for added help. Not anymore.

Some of the members of the original church building committee said afterward that this is the kind of lighting they wanted from the very beginning. There is a happier, more celebratory atmosphere noticeable in the sanctuary now. Instead of a dark, intimidating house of worship, now we gather in a bright, joyous space to receive Word and sacrament with fellow believers.

There is a happier, more celebratory atmosphere.

Flooring

The time for flooring change was overdue. The orange carpet had become a laughingstock among members. People talked about purposefully spilling coffee on the floor to force the update. I don’t think anyone actually did that, but we did have plenty of sippy cup spills and accident stains. We even had a large bottle of Communion wine slip from someone’s hands and crash to the floor, leaving permanent traces. And try as we might, we just couldn’t lift the stains and return the orange carpet to its original glory (?). The anecdote shared often at congregational meetings was, “If we get brand new lights, then we’re going to see just how bad the carpet really is!” Since the pews needed to be removed for the electricians’ lifts anyway, we decided now was the perfect time for new flooring.

Our sanctuary floor slopes down toward the chancel, like in a theatre. So we decided to keep carpeting in the aisles and entryway. But, mindful of improving the natural acoustic of the space, we installed under the pews a hard surface—luxury vinyl planking. Congregational participation in song and liturgical dialogue has improved greatly. Now worshipers can hear themselves and those around them speaking and singing better than ever before.

Congregational participation in song and liturgical dialogue has improved greatly.

Symbols of the means of grace

Symbols of the means of grace

For the chancel we wanted the very best. The chancel deserves the best because its furnishings remind us of how the means of grace are delivered through Word and sacrament. So we installed a lovely ceramic tile which coordinates well with the wooden chancel furnishings, brick walls, and bright reredos wall. All the hard surfaces have greatly improved the acoustic of the room, and the carpeted aisle ways alleviate slip concerns—a win-win for everyone.

Additionally, we installed under the carpeting a hearing loop system, which wirelessly transmits the signal from our church audio system directly into hearings aids equipped with t-coil technology. This allows worshipers with hearing loss to finally hear the service and sermons clearly, as opposed to picking up all the ambient sounds taking place in the sanctuary around them. Our hearing impaired members speak very favorably about the new hearing loop technology.

Balcony

Our balcony was impractical for musicians, and yet most of our musical ensembles perform from the balcony. Since our members typically do not sit in the balcony for worship, we decided to completely redesign the floor plan to allow for more flexibility for our musicians. Faceted floor risers now allow a director to stand front and center, with a choir wrapped around them in a semicircle. Fixed balcony pews were replaced with individual, stackable chairs. Handbell tables, previously retrofitted over existing pews, are now positioned more comfortably on the risers. Custom cabinets for choir folders, sheet music, and bell cases have decluttered the previously disorganized work area. Now the balcony is versatile enough to meet the needs of vocal, brass, string, guitar, and children’s ensembles.

Here’s one small but impactful change we made to the balcony: we replaced the glass panels of the balcony railing with an attractive façade of steel cables. This allows music to pass unhindered through the balcony railing, instead of being blocked by it. And the result was not the industrial appearance some feared. Now the congregation often comments on how much better they can hear the handbells, choirs, and organ.

An attractive façade of steel cables allows music to pass unhindered through the balcony railing.

Speaking of the organ, we gave our congregation’s main instrument for worship a complete makeover. The relay system was replaced with digital components, the electrical wiring was updated, the console was touched up, and the inoperative pedals and stops were all fixed. Once tuned and voiced, the organ now sings in the acoustically enhanced space like never before. “Majesty” is the word that comes to mind when I think about the refurbished organ. (The impact from an improved acoustical setting applies to any instrument, not only a pipe organ, and especially to congregational singing.)

We also use piano for worship quite frequently. The old keyboard was becoming glitchy. So now a digital baby grand piano accompanies choirs and leads worship from its own designated space near the organ. In sum, the balcony has become a dream come true for our musicians.

Committee Work

Sometimes working on a committee can be a drag, especially when competing personalities clash and narrow-minded stubbornness prevails. But when a committee is comprised of people passionate for the project, united on the goal, and committed to a cooperative spirit, committee work can be a real joy.

That was the case for our Sanctuary Refurbishment Committee (SRC). We sometimes had different ideas and strong feelings, but God blessed us the kind of camaraderie that makes working together for the common goal exciting and fun. In our four years together as a committee, I can’t recall the men and women of our SRC ever speaking sharply to one another. Instead, our meetings were characterized by prayer, patience, perseverance, and productivity—and frequently some homemade chocolates from a chocolatier on our group.

Member Commitment

It certainly wasn’t just the SRC forwarding the renovation project, however. The congregation really took ownership, as well. Our last Sunday in the old sanctuary was July 16. After the second service, over fifty members came together to prepare the room for renovation. Together we removed all the pews, ripped up all the carpet, and put into storage all the Bibles, hymnals, and church furnishings. It was an inspiring display of congregational solidarity.

An inspiring display of congregational solidarity.

So was the inflow of donations. We started with some savings and memorial seed money. But within a few short weeks, the necessary $270,000 was raised to complete the project debt-free, without the guidance of a special funding program. The outpouring of financial support for the project was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to fund the project, at whatever level they were able. God’s Spirit moved the members to contribute to a project they knew would outlive themselves and benefit the next generation.

For fourteen weeks we worshiped in our school gymnasium, which meant changes for everyone. The altar guild had to set up Communion in the school kitchen. The accompanists had to play the piano in front of everyone. The pastors had to preach from a school stage. The worshipers had to sit on metal folding chairs. The ushers had to rethink their responsibilities. The singers had to do without their harmony lines from the hymnal. We all had to worship on a basketball court. And we all had to pitch in to make sure chairs were set up and the gym was worship-ready. But the comforts we lost were made up for in the unity we strengthened. We realized that it’s okay to worship in a hot gym; it’s okay for the pastor to not wear his robe; it’s okay to stand for Communion; it’s okay for the bell to not be struck at the beginning and end of the Lord’s Prayer; it’s okay to sing everything from the service folder; it’s okay for the bleachers to be the worship backdrop. It wasn’t ideal. But it did bring us together as a congregation; it did remind us that “Where two or three gather in my name” (Mt 18:20), there Jesus is with us; it did make us eager to return to our renovated worship space.

Project Stories

Two fun stories may give the readers a chuckle. We ordered the wrong spotlights for the chancel. Somehow, somewhere communication broke down, and the wrong pieces were shipped. Replacement would have been easy enough, but by the time the second order was placed, we were running short on time. We had already set the rededication date, and we had a large wedding the following Friday. Then we received word that the correct spotlights and housings were delayed—by several weeks!—due to manufacturing complications. So one of our committee members baked homemade, chocolate chip cookies, drove them to the manufacturer 100 miles away, gave them to the production staff, and urged them kindly to speed along our order. We got the lights just in the nick of time!

Then, once the electrician had the lights installed, I was with him up in the lift, over forty feet in the air, positioning them to correctly shine onto the chancel. In order to reach the lights furthest from the lift, the electrician stood on top of the railing of the lift, leaned well over the edge of the lift, and stabilized himself with one hand on a ceiling beam. This made me more than a little nervous, and I expressed to him my concerns. He said to me, “Don’t worry, Pastor. I do this for a living.” I looked up at him and said, “Well, I do funerals for a living!” He got the point.

Rededication

We rededicated the St. John’s sanctuary on October 22. We used the same hymns, Scripture readings, even much of the same rite of dedication from the original dedication in February 1980. The theme for the project, and the occasion’s sermon text, was Psalm 26:8—“Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.”

And that love for God’s house was evident that rededication day. There were tears, smiles, and hugs. There was sense of accomplishment and a feeling of humility. There was Word and sacraments as the congregation heard the gospel, tasted the gospel, and witnessed an infant washed with the gospel. There were gifts given by God to his people—forgiveness and grace. And there was a gift given by God’s people to their Lord—a refurbished sanctuary dedicated to his honor, glory, and praise. “‘Tis Thine for us, ‘tis ours for Thee” (Come, Jesus, from the Sapphire Throne, TLH 634:2).

And pictures were taken, just like at a wedding, because the rededication of this sanctuary was a snapshot in time of a sacred event. The sanctuary looked as joyous, stunning, and well-dressed as ever—same beautiful church, with a new, updated look.

I suppose the comparison would be to a husband and wife renewing their vows. They probably aren’t wearing the same clothes they wore years ago on their wedding day. Their outfits are new, their look updated. They are the same attractive couple as in the original wedding photos—still beautiful, still the same people—but no longer locked into that moment in time.

St. John’s sanctuary no longer looks locked in the 1970s. It’s still the same beautiful church, the same dignified house of worship it was at its 1980 dedication. But now some new photos can be added to the album—photos of an attractive, refurbished space with a fresh look and a new outfit, a place where God will continue visiting his people and where people will continue meeting with God.

And this renovated sanctuary is where the people of St. John’s will worship, until it needs refurbishing again, or until we make it to the sanctuary that needs no refurbishment committee—the holy, heavenly dwelling of the Most High God, where Jesus will someday bring us to live with him for eternity, and where all Christians will joyfully exclaim, “Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.”

By Kirk Lahmann

Pastor Lahmann has served at St. John’s in Burlington, WI since graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2009.


Additonal Photos

Additional photos and the dedicatory service folder are available at https://worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-renovation-projects/.

 

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Not a Bite Left, but a Hunger for More

We wanted all members to come together for fellowship. It didn’t work. We wanted everyone to hang out after church and visit. It didn’t work.

HOWEVER, something else worked! We didn’t see it at first…

Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. hosted their annual Christmas Dinner – a Mexican Fiesta on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Church was full that morning. The dinner was for all the members. As requested, after church and Bible class the members were given extra time to go home, get their dishes and bring them back for the potluck an hour later.

Only it didn’t work. Most of the congregation members didn’t come back. At first we hardly had anyone and not many dishes to pass at the Mexican Fiesta potluck. YIKES! “I was worried, even though I know I shouldn’t worry and God will work things out.” exclaimed Cecelia, the president of the Ladies Group.

And then enough dishes came. Several families came. Community members who hadn’t been to church in years and several interested neighborhood children came – children who invited their parents who wouldn’t come but said their kids could come. People who had heard about the “Mission Church” and had seen us at community events came.

And so, IT DID WORK. We served food to all of our guests, and some even took extra plates for relatives at home. The last person to eat found one piece of everything left! It was really quite miraculous. Several community members were able to get to know our members. Some even exchanged cell phone numbers so they could join in future events. Members brought friends and family who hadn’t met the pastor yet (who has been here for a full year now) and made solid connections with invites to visit.

There wasn’t a bite of food left at the end – but miraculously we had enough food for everyone and extra for them to take home to hungry relatives that live in their family trailers. And everyone left with a hunger for more Christian fellowship!

Cecelia was satisfied and happy. She had prayed God would use this opportunity to God’s Glory and accomplish whatever He wanted. And for her, she once again learned what we all often have to be shown over and over: that we don’t have to worry. God will always use our efforts to His good plans and for the people He loves!

Cecelia Dillon has served as Ladies Group leader at Our Savior’s Lutheran in Bylas, Ariz. for years – maybe decades. She, her husband and her young and grown children often organize and serve at fellowship gatherings, demonstrating the gift of hospitality that often opens the doors to sharing the Gospel with others.

The Apache World Mission field celebrates 125 years of God’s blessings in 2018. For more information on anniversary celebration plans or to learn more about this world mission field, contact Debbie Dietrich, Native American Mission Communication Coordinator, at nativechristians1@gmail.com. 


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Time to Tell the Story

One of the many differences about living and working in East Asia is this time of year, Christmas-time. Instead of reminding everyone about the “real meaning” of Christmas or reading about how we need to stop the materialism and stress to enjoy Christmas, I’ve found that over here I more often get to share the answer to this most basic question: “What is Christmas?” Each time I’m asked the question, I’m given another chance to sling my well-rehearsed What-Is-Christmas story. And, “well-rehearsed” is the right word. I probably told the Christmas story individually over 30 times last year. That’s a lot of telling and retelling. Last year, as Christmas drew closer I thought, “I’ll be glad when this is over because I’ve been telling the same story so many times”. I was getting flashbacks of practicing for Christmas pageants as a child, mechanically shout-speaking the words of Luke 2, “IN THOSE DAYS CAESAR AUGUSTUS…” But as Christmas arrived, my attitude was refocused as I got to thinking…

First, I appreciate the opportunity to focus the Christmas story. Sometimes we pack the nativity scene with extra characters, metaphorically and literally, finding every possible story that relates to Christmas to give it a fresh look. However, I’ve found that retelling the simple story of Luke 2 helps me cut it down to the basics. The conditions tell us Jesus’ beginning was a humble one, yet the angels tell us this was a massive event. After telling it so many times, I find myself ending the story by saying something like, “Basically God loved us so much he sent his own son to save us.”

It’s after telling people this focused message over and over that I see just how important this event is. This is God’s love put into action. Here is where I consider myself blessed to have heard other aspects of the Christmas story – of all those who waited for a Savior, or of those who scoured the writings for news about his coming, or about how so many promises of God were completed in this birth. It’s such an important point that I have to add it to my retelling. Unfortunately, I can’t share every detail every time without drawing a blank stare, but I’ll keep working on it. Nonetheless, all those facts tell me that Jesus’ birth is a massively important event – for me and for the person I’m telling it to.

Be like the Bethlehem shepherds, sharing the news of Christ’s birth

That leads me to these thoughts: How can I feel worn out from telling this amazing and important story?! And, how could it feel old when these people are hearing this news for the first time ever?! At Christmas, I’m excited to play the role of a shepherd of Bethlehem who goes throughout the city telling people “about this child.” I’m able to do this because our synod loves these people so much that they support and allow me to live over here to tell them. It’s even more exciting to see the people that have learned the Christmas story and are now becoming “Bethlehem shepherds” themselves, telling this story to others clearly and more naturally in their native language – sharing it better than I ever could.

This isn’t just a phenomenon on this side of the globe. There are people where you live that need to hear the Christmas story too, whether it’s for the first time or retold for the who-knows-how-many-time. This story is worth telling and retelling.

After thinking it through, I was excited for Christmas, and I’m excited for the new year. Let’s go tell the story of Jesus and his love.

By: A Missionary in East Asia


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A Most Blessed, Christ-filled Christmas from Malawi

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 just have to smile. After all, it’s Christmas time! It’s the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I just have to smile.

I just have to chuckle, too. Christmas is also a time that I do.

Here’s why: at Christmas time my family and I display some of our nativities in remembrance of our newborn King. When setting them up and seeing them displayed, my mind immediately recalls the time I once bought a Crèche in an open air market here in Lilongwe, Malawi.

What’s so funny about that?

Picture this: Mary and Joseph and Jesus, some shepherds, the Wise men, a star,1 a cow, a couple of sheep, a donkey or two…

and a hippo.

My Nativity Scene Hippo celebrating the season

Ok, granted, it is Malawi. It is Africa. And hippopotami are abundant here. And to top it all off, it is a very different culture from the USA. But a nativity scene hippo? Hmmm… maybe this explains a few things.

For years I always pictured that Joseph was wide-eyed in amazement because of the birth of the Baby. Now I’m wondering if his eyes were like saucers because he was a bit worried and astonished that the three-toed, barrel-shaped beast with the beady eyes, big mouth, and bad breath was meandering just a bit too close to the manger.

We all love to sing Silent Night and we seem to think that all was indeed calm, but now I doubt if it was really all that quiet. I mean if

the cattle were lowing,
the sheep were baaing,
the donkeys braying,
and now the hippo gets a bit edgy and chimes in with its snorting, grunting, bellowing and blowing, then maybe the Baby was crying after all with the noise!

And yet we faithfully and confidently proclaim “No crying He makes” when we sing Away in a Manger. Yikes! Strange thoughts run through my mind! I just have to chuckle. I guess it’s fun to have fun with it. Gives a lighter side to the very important and monumental fact of Christmas:

The INCARNATION!

The “ten dollar” word that means God became Man. The second Person of the Trinity, True God, became the “first-born among many brothers,” True Man! (Romans 8:29).

Born to die!
Died to live!
Descended to earth so that we might ascend to Heaven!

That means we can sing Joy to the World with gusto all year round if we want! We have untold, incalculable, immeasurable, even indescribable joy not just on the 25th of the last month of the year. That gives us reason to worship every day of the year!

And worship we do. All around the globe Lutherans are worshiping this Christmas season. Which brings up something to ponder again at this time: Lutherans worship in different cultures and different cultures worship in different ways. Lutherans in fellowship worship in different ways. Even at Christmas.

The instruments played in your church may not be the ones in ours. Dancing choirs may be common place here, but not there. Your congregation dresses one way, but they do so very differently on the other side of the world…or maybe even on the other side of town.

There really wasn’t a hippo in the stable on that first Christmas in Bethlehem, but it didn’t seem to bother the marketer much that he included one in the nativity set he sold me. I walked away with a good deal and a good deal to ponder each Christmas in Africa: there are many differences at Christmas time in Malawi compared to an American Christmas in Wisconsin. Here are some:

  • No snow! While you may be singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,” we are opening up our umbrellas because it’s the front end of the rainy season.
  • Decorations? There are a few but there are probably more in one Wisconsin Walmart than in the whole country of Malawi.
  • I’ve never seen a Christmas tree set up in a Malawian house.
  • Strings of lights framing houses? Are you kidding? Most houses don’t have electricity hooked up and the ones that do don’t have power most of the time anyway.
  • The most common and most favorite Christmas meal in Malawi seems to be chicken and rice.
  • I have never seen or heard of a Living Nativity in Malawi enacting the Christmas story. (Maybe it’s because it’s too difficult to get the hippo to cooperate).

Plenty of differences, but there are also similarities:

God’s people gather for worship.
Sins are confessed and songs are raised.
The Word of God is preached.
The Bethlehem Story is pondered.
Gospel news shared.
Fellowship enjoyed.

The Babe in the manger is honored with humble gifts and worshiped with happy voices. I just have to smile… at the absurdity of it all. There are many things more surprising than a hippo in a Nativity set! Imagine…

A God in love with us!
A night sky of angels exploding in song!
Shepherds who seek!
A virgin birth!
A believing husband-to-be!
God becoming Man!
A leading star!
Wise men who followed and those who still do!

And there still are missionaries who live in far off lands who, at Christmas time, still set up trees, decorate their houses and string lights even though there’s little power. Some still display nativity sets… with or without a hippo. On behalf of the Lutheran Mission in Malawi, have a most blessed Christ-filled Christmas!

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi


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Immediate Blessings in Atlanta, GA

On August 29th, my family and I moved to a neighborhood near the center of Atlanta. We were excited to reach out to this diverse mission field, and we couldn’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit might accomplish here through the power of the gospel.

As it turned out, we didn’t have long to wait! On the weekend of my installation, our core group of lay members set up a booth at a local festival, where they gathered information from nearly 700 people via a short survey. Over 100 people asked to be included on our email list, and several dozen indicated interest in a Bible Basics class. One of them was a woman we’ll call “Rachel.”
What made Rachel particularly intriguing was that in the “church background” box on her survey, she had written atheist. Why would an atheist be interested in a Bible class? I was about to find out…

I soon met Rachel in a local coffee shop for our first Bible Basics lesson. As we discussed the topic of sin, Rachel expressed a great deal of anger. Anger at God for setting an unreachable standard of perfection. Anger at Christians for insisting that their way to heaven was the only way. Anger at her childhood church, which had bombarded her with rules and crushed her with guilt. However, as we moved on to the topic of God’s unconditional love for sinners, Rachel’s anger began to soften. She confessed, “I’ve never heard God described that way before. I understand what you’re saying… but I don’t know that I can believe it.”

The next few lessons took over a month, as Rachel bombarded me with one tough question after another: evolution, the origin of evil, non-Christian religions, the canonicity of Scripture, the end of the world, etc. I didn’t have the answers to all her questions, but I did have the gospel. I explained, “Many Bible teachings are tough to understand, but we have to take this whole book seriously because it’s the only place in the world where we get the gospel.” This made sense to Rachel. She was beginning to see that Christians were not the narrow-minded, arrogant zealots she had once thought them to be – they were simply people who had found the gospel and wanted more of it.

We’ve now made it through Lesson 4 (“The Old Testament”) and Lesson 5 (“The Life of Christ,”), and this walk through Scripture has radically changed Rachel’s view of God. She no longer thinks of God as a cruel dictator, but rather as a patient, loving father. She no longer bombards me with skeptical questions, but rather expresses the gospel in her own words, and talks of sharing it with friends and family. She looks forward to upcoming Bible Study lessons, to our worship launch next summer, and to attending church for the first time in years.

I don’t know what Rachel’s future holds, or if she will end up joining our congregation. But I do know this: after only a few short weeks in the city, God has already used our ministry to add a new member to his invisible Church. He has called a self-professed atheist out of the darkness and into his wonderful light.

Praise God for his powerful Word, and pray that he sends many more “Rachels” our way!

Written by: Pastor Lucas Bitter – Intown Lutheran Church

P.S. – Want to learn more about this new mission start in Atlanta? Visit their website at intownlutheran.com.


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Christmas Expo and a Logo

Getting your church’s name out into the community can be a challenge. It can be especially challenging if you don’t actually have a name for your church yet!

Our new mission in Chattanooga, Tennessee just recently picked our name: Living Hope Lutheran Church. Before choosing this name, we polled people in our community through social media and some good old-fashioned door-to-door canvassing. Out of our list of 5 favorite names, Living Hope was picked more than half the time! Not only did we end up with a great name, but we also had people we are trying to reach help us pick it out! We were able to get our name out in the community before even having an official name.

Asking the community to help us pick a name was fun and successful, so we decided to carry on the idea as we picked a logo for our church. A door for us to do this appeared in the form of a Christmas expo at the Chattanooga Convention Center. This event called “HoHo Expo” allowed us to set up a booth alongside 150 other vendors to sell our product. Instead of selling something, we allowed shoppers to stop by and vote on which of our 6 Living Hope logo options they liked best. As a thanks for voting they received a goodie bag with some info on Living Hope attached.

Over the course of 2 days, we gathered 363 votes from Expo attendees and had some great conversations with people interested in Living Hope. Over 260 of those voting wrote down an email address or phone number so we could contact them afterward and let them know the results of the voting. A good number of people we talked with at the Expo were genuinely interested in our church and wanted to learn more. We’ve already added a handful of those we met at the Expo to our email update list. We even met a WELS woman from Phoenix, Arizona who wants to join our launch team. She’s living in Ringgold, GA and wasn’t aware WELS had a new church here. God continues to bring people to us and blesses us with more opportunities to share the gospel.

HoHo Expo was a great way to get out in the community and create awareness for Living Hope Lutheran Church. The community really seemed to enjoy that we were asking their opinion on our logo. We plan to continue finding ways of showing we are a church that wants to be involved in the community. We will keep our eyes focused outward instead of inward so we can find people around us who are in need of some Living Hope – the kind of hope Jesus freely gives.

We are giving thanks to the Lord for the doors he’s opening for us here in Chattanooga! Please pray for our mission in this growing city. Pray that we are able to connect with many more people and, most importantly, that we get to connect them with God’s Word.

By: Pastor Eric Melso, Living Hope Lutheran Church – Chattanooga, TN



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Mexico – Not Quite Potlucks and Pipe Organs

I’m a pretty WELSie (WELSy?) guy. I could bore you with details, but suffice to say I feel pretty connected to a lot of people in our synod. And I don’t consider that to be a bad thing of course! I truly enjoy seeing how God has woven together people to do his work. I enjoy a good potluck with a long line of Midwest-made casseroles. I enjoy a pipe organ blasting out the old Lutheran favorites.

But I live in Mexico and I serve as missionary in Latin America. My background and what I enjoy might not matter all that much.

In this part of the world very, very few people share my commitment to potlucks and pipe organs. Much more troubling is this: very few people share my Spirit-given understanding of God’s commitment to mankind in his Son Jesus Christ.

While the souls of men are dying (to quote a favorite hymn), you’ve got to ask yourself again and again and again:

Is the most effective way to share the Gospel the way I/we are doing it? Maybe it doesn’t need to be said again (but probably should be stated anyways) that the message will not change. Pure grace is non-negotiable… as is every other stroke of the inspired Scriptural pen.

A fellow missionary on our Latin America Missionary team, Terry Schultz, recently came to Mexico. Terry is a Doctor of Ministry with coursework in Ethnomusicology. Until his recent visit, I wasn’t 100% what that was.

As we toured around Mexico, celebrating the Reformation with a few of the widely scattered Lutherans in this country, Terry shared his songs. Songs designed to share the unchangeable message in ways that make sense to the people who are hearing them.

The confession of sins is there. The song of praise after the absolution is there. The Song of Simeon. Even a Kyrie. Many of the hymns have lyrics ripped directly from the pages of the Bible. To a pretty WELSie (WELSy) guy like me, the music was unfamiliar. Prior to spending the last 11 ½ years in a couple different countries thousands of miles south of the “WELS heartland”, to be honest the beat pounded out on a conga drum probably would have made me at least a little bit nervous.

It did not make the people in Mexico nervous at all. Most of the people who attended the workshops were long-time and/or lifetime Lutherans. They love the message of pure grace in Jesus. It is not an exaggeration to say that they were overjoyed when they heard that precious message expressed with music that makes sense to them and makes sense to the people outside their small gatherings whom they have an overwhelming desire to reach.

At first, Terry tried to get me to play a drum so that I could provide a little supporting rhythm as he played his music on our short tour. Me. The very WELSie (WELSy?) guy with an affection for casseroles and pipe organs. Wrong guy. Putting me on the conga is like putting habanero pepper in your 7-layer salad. But it’s not about me, is it? And if putting the Gospel to a cumbia beat gives our brothers and sisters the opportunity to share Jesus with just one more person, then by all possible means.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22

By: Missionary Andrew Johnston – Leon, Mexico

P.S. – Want to learn more about how World Missions and Multi-Language Publications are using ethnomusicology? Check out this video.


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What Do You Really Need?

What do you need to hold public worship services? I mean, what do you really need? What are the things you can’t do without if you are going to worship our Savior? At the end of the day, a public worship service is really simple, isn’t it? God’s Word, people, bread, wine and water – that’s it.

Four walls – optional.
A roof – optional.
Musicians – optional.
Pastor – optional.
Everything else – optional.

These things are beautiful additions to a public worship service, but finally, they are optional.

When Cross of Christ decided to begin worshiping at a second location, we fully trusted God’s promises to be with us always. But, we had to ask, “Where do we start?” We had to decide what was essential to establishing an outpost of the gospel in neighborhoods heavily steeped in both the teachings of Joseph Smith (Mormonism) and in the secular ways of much of the West Coast. What would we absolutely need?

With that question in mind, we began our public worship services. The Word was there. People were there. We included water when necessary and bread and wine as often as we thought was right.

But, while we knew we had everything necessary for public worship that would hold a resurrected Christ before the eyes and hearts of people, we also knew we could do more. We could do better. Enter our Church – to go!

Church – to go! equips churches with all the things that aren’t essential for public worship. They further help congregations that are on the move: congregations that set up and take down week after week because they are in a shared and rented spaces. Since we are only starting out and worship in a local elementary school, Church – to go! matched up very well with our situation.

And so we began a process of using Church – to go! to make our worship if not better, then more comfortable – more welcoming to visitors, and more efficient in setup and take down. If you’ve ever built a new house, you know how many decisions there are to make… the same thing happens when you’re putting together your Church – to go!. There are items for churches of all styles and flavors.

Would we want LED lighting?
A stage?
A piano?
What kind of computer would we need?
What about a kids’ areas?
Would we have kids church?
What kind of signs would we set up and take down Sunday after Sunday?
What kind of trailer would it all go in?
Could we store any of it at the school?

Those are just a few of the questions we faced.

But in the midst of those decisions and all the possibilities, Cross of Christ kept its focus on what was necessary for public worship. We could decide for or against LED lights. We couldn’t and wouldn’t budge on whether God’s Word would be proclaimed as clearly as possible. Did we want pipe and drape? We could go either way, but did we want communion regularly offered for the communing fellowship of believers? Absolutely!

In the end, we are excited and grateful for our Church – to go! and for our WELS fellowship that made sure we had what we needed, and wanted, for worship. Our Church – to go! made our Sunday morning experience more comfortable, more streamlined, and more inviting. Their work has been a blessing surpassed only by our gracious God who has already supplied everything we absolutely need for public worship: his Gospel and people to share it with.

Written by: Pastor Ben Workentine, Cross of Christ Lutheran Church – Boise, Idaho

P.S. – Want to learn more about how this flexible solution is helping home missions reach out with the good news? Be on the lookout for the December WELS Connection showing at your congregation!


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Preach the Word – Challenges to Lectionary Preaching

Treasures Old and New

Challenges to Lectionary Preaching

Rich characters, rich locations, and great writing. That’s what makes for a great book series. At least that’s what author Anthony Horowitz claims is the reason for the continued popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. (Horowitz has written a new book for the series nearly 100 years since the last installment was written by Doyle.) The idea behind his comments is that the author of a series creates stories within a story, bringing the reader along through the more immediate and long-term conflicts and resolutions of the storyline. With each new book, a little more of the greater story is told.

Not surprisingly, such approaches to writing are but a secular and faded reflection of the greatest book ever written. After all, biblical characters and locations are indescribably rich and the writing is, well, divine as the divine story is told. That is why early Christians, as they gathered for worship, imitated the synagogue tradition of reading selections from Scripture in public worship. As previously mentioned (PTW 21.1), early church father Justin Martyr, describes near the middle of the second century:

And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place…and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader [lector] has finished, the president [pastor] in a discourse urges and invites [us] to the imitation of these noble things.

Since then, the lectionary has been developed, revised, updated, and expanded. Each and every Sunday, selections from the biblical “series” are shared with God’s people that we may “so hear them, read, learn them, and take them to heart.” This rich treasure is God’s power for the “joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people” as his story is told Sunday by Sunday within the story of his life through the progression of the Church Year.

Not all that glitters is gold

While the selected portions of the lectionary are the inspired Word of God, the choosing, pairing, and placing—the crafting—of the selected Word for a given service or Sunday is not inspired. Much of the Church Year is influenced by the annual telling of the life of Christ. The readings for the festival half of the Church Year, in particular the gospel readings, almost select themselves. Many gospel readings have obvious connections to Old Testament selections. But selections for the non-festival half of the Church Year and the selections for the Second Reading throughout the year, have presented many challenges.

One of the more challenging aspects of lectionary preaching, based in the historic practice quoted above, is the presence of lectio continua selections in the ILCW-based lectionary of Christian Worship. Experienced preachers know the challenge of finding common threads between Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew chapter 5 and the opening chapters to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians during the season of Epiphany Year A. Of equal challenge is tying together the practical applications of God’s relationship with his people in Ephesians chapters 4-6 with the Feeding of the Five Thousand and subsequent discourse on the Bread of Life in John chapter 6 (Sundays after Pentecost Year B).

Others have expressed the challenge of reading lectionary selections from the Scriptures which are difficult to understand or are unclear, especially without lengthy explanation. When such selections also serve as the sermon text, the preacher is able to take the time to explain, illustrate, and summarize the truths to be found in the selection. But if the reading is presented with little or no explanation, hearers are left questioning rather than assured and comforted.1

At the same time, the absence of certain passages or selections makes it difficult to bring in certain aspects of the whole counsel of God. A lack of emphasis on Bible History prompted the creation of the Supplemental Lectionary. (See Treasures from the Archive below). Others have cited a lack of selections focusing on the family unit. Certainly, anyone could question why a certain selection was chosen over another selection for almost any given Sunday.

But perhaps most challenging of all is seeing the flow and progression of the lectionary from one Sunday into the next. As an example, consider the seasons of End Time and Advent. This author has often been asked by fellow preachers to differentiate between the two seasons in a meaningful way. Indeed, it is easy to take a broad approach to the two seasons and summarize all eight weeks with the words “Jesus Is Coming” only to find the wealth of the seasonal selections already spent by Christ the King Sunday. Many a pastor has intimated that the Sundays “all say the same thing!” Sadly, such a broad approach to these seasons usually finds its impetus in a busy schedule, a cursory text study, a predilection for the obvious, or all of the above.

Most challenging of all is seeing the flow and progression of the lectionary from one Sunday into the next.

It would be easy, at this point, to simply encourage a more thorough search of the biblical storeroom for the sake of discovering the richness to be found in the lectionary selections.

(And that is good advice!) A former professor told us to let the Sundays of End Time and Advent speak for themselves without borrowing from the Sundays before or after. (Also good advice!) But consider taking a step back from the individual Sundays, the individual seasons, indeed from the individual years in the three-year cycle, and look at them as a whole.

The following example of progression builds on the resources found in the 2008 revision of Planning Christian Worship.2 All selections from the lectionary for these two seasons point us to the coming again of our Lord Jesus. Yet each year we are reminded that we live in the End Times by God’s grace as the end of the Church Year approaches. Then with the turn of the new Church Year, we are invited to receive God’s grace with ready hearts.

End Time – Reformation: Lord, Keep Us Faithful to the Word!
Year A: In the face of persecution
Year B: With unwavering commitment
Year C: Standing in the truth

End Time 2 – Last Judgment: Lord, Keep Us Mindful of the Judgment!
Year A: Longing for redemption
Year B: Rejoicing in the resurrection
Year C: Confident in innocence

End Time 3 – Saints Triumphant: Lord, Keep Us Watchful for Our Triumph!
Year A: Through these latter days
Year B: In full knowledge and eager expectation
Year C: Confident in our relationship

End Time 4 – Christ the King: Lord, Keep Us Joyful in Our King!
Year A: At the fulfillment of God’s Plan
Year B: Awaiting his triumphant return
Year C: Sure in the Promise

Advent 1: Keep Watch, for the Lord will come again
Year A: Unexpectedly
Year B: At an unknown time
Year C: Forewarned by signs

Advent 2: The Forerunner Prepares: Christ is coming
Year A: He is near—repent!
Year B: He is powerful—be baptized!
Year C: He is coming—prepare!

Advent 3: The Forerunner Explains: The Christ is here!
Year A: To his disciples
Year B: To the religious leaders
Year C: To the people

Advent 4: The Promised Virgin Birth of Christ
Year A: To Joseph
Year B: To Mary
Year C: The Magnificat

Seeing all eight weeks of the three-year cycle in a concise format helps the preacher to see the progression from one Sunday to the next and from one season to the next, setting in motion yet again the annual celebration of God’s grace to us in Christ.

This, of course, is only one example. Other seasons and emphases may also challenge the preacher (and worship planners) to find a clear progression of thought. Professor Emeritus Dan Deutschlander, author of the revised Planning Christian Worship Year B, offers this explanation for the Sundays after Pentecost. It serves well for anyone struggling to find the progression of thought in the lectionary selections at other times in the Church Year:

Each season begins with a general theme that more or less unites the readings for that season. Then each succeeding Sunday tries to develop that theme. During the Pentecost season, one will generally find that there is a major break in the train of thought after about seven or eight weeks, and a new theme will emerge; the new theme will still be built on what preceded and anticipate what is yet to come. It should be expected that some themes and some Sundays will work out better than others; what follows is just one man’s attempt to help unify the service in the context of the liturgical year and of the pericope series, as the inventors of pericope series intended. The themes presented are by no means the only ones possible; if the reader comes up with other and better ones, he should by all means use them.

Fixed value

It may, at first, seem counterproductive to this PTW series to mention the aforementioned challenges to lectionary preaching. They may cause a preacher to ignore, set aside, or devalue the lectionary itself. In recent feedback to the first issue of this volume of PTW, a brother in ministry stated that he doesn’t “trust the lectionary.” Others have stated that they feel almost handcuffed by their conscience to use the appointed readings.

This series is intended to encourage the preacher to fix a value on the selection and curation of biblical readings that has taken place over decades and centuries.

Certainly, this series is not intended to obligate the preacher to a slavish adherence to some other human’s selections of God’s Word for a given Sunday. Rather, this series is intended to encourage the preacher to fix a value on the selection and curation of biblical readings that has taken place over decades and centuries, the development of a series of biblical readings that proclaim what God has done for his people within the liturgical cycle of the life of Christ.

Planning Christian Worship can help the struggling:

If the preacher feels overwhelmed by the majesty of the text and all that it has to offer, if he is perplexed about where to begin, at sea over which of the number of points he wants to try to make from God’s Word, he may find what follows of some use. If the preacher worries that he is saying the same thing every Sunday, what follows may be helpful as he tries to make each Sunday God’s unique visit with us that it should be. If the preacher is anxious that he not miss presenting a particular doctrine or that he not overwork another doctrine at the expense of the rest of the corpus doctrinae, then too what follows may serve a purpose; for every effort has been made, as aforesaid, to present all of the body doctrine in its proper sequence during the course of the year.

“If the preacher worries that he is saying the same thing every Sunday…”

Even then, a preacher may feel that the lectionary is not serving the specific needs of his congregation. But before moving away from the lectionary to serve the preacher’s ideas, consider recrafting what has already been developed. Take the time to see how the Sunday themes progress rather than assuming they do not. Set aside the lectio continua readings for a season or a series of weeks and choose a reading for each Sunday which supports, enhances, or more closely fits the theme and Gospel of the day.3 Replace an unclear or challenging reading with a selection that more clearly conveys an identical or similar point. These are easy fixes to some of the aforementioned challenges and will greatly enrich the value of the lectionary selections for the preacher and his listeners.

Other approaches will require more crafting. For example, if an emphasis seems to be missing, select a fitting key passage. More often than not, that passage will be part of or in the same book as a lectio continua selection during one of the lectionary cycles. Then craft a series which includes the key passage and the desired emphasis within the lectio continua.4 In this way, specific emphases can be covered without stepping outside the lectionary.

Another approach to include a missing emphasis would be to select readings for a specific Sunday with a Proper frame of mind. In other words, be sure to craft the aspects of the Sunday in terms of the whole service, not just a single reading. Select a set of readings, a Prayer of the Day, and a Psalm of the Day that cohesively proclaim the emphasis. Carefully choose a Sunday that makes fitting connections to the season of the Church Year or to the Sundays before and after the special emphasis Sunday. Such efforts guard against a flavor-of-the-day approach chosen by the whimsy of the pastor while valuing the treasure of the Word found in the careful crafting of the lectionary.

There are many challenges to preaching the lectionary. It is but a tool used to pull treasured and crafted gold from the storehouse of the Holy Word. The lectionary may have its detractors, but in various forms has served God’s people for nearly two thousand years. In some ways, the lectionary is like a painting of a biblical subject by Michelangelo or Rembrandt. I may not agree with the artist’s perspective, theology, or representation, but his artistry and craftsmanship engender a deeper appreciation for the subject matter. More than rich characters and rich locations, this is the treasure of the divine Word displayed and enjoyed through the emphases of the liturgical Church Year.

Written by Joel J. Gawrisch


Treasures from the Archive

With twenty years of archives to hand, there is a storeroom of treasure to behold in past issues. The following excerpt was published as a review of the 2008 Christian Worship Supplement lectionary.

We believe, teach, and confess that God’s Word is central to everything we do, including our worship. That has led us to critically evaluate how well we are proclaiming God’s Word in our worship. This led to most churches moving from the one year historic lectionary to the three year ILCW series. It led the committee that prepared Christian Worship to clarify and “clean up” the End Times portion of ILCW. With the publishing of a hymnal supplement, a critical evaluation of our proclamation of the Word was made once again. (For detailed information on the process used by the Rites Committee, see the May/June 2004 issue of Preach the Word.)

Their two main goals:

  • Emphasize a single theme with all three lessons, including the second lesson. Many of the ILCW second lessons were chosen to give an overview of certain Epistles over a period of weeks.
  • Replace some of the many lessons from the Old Testament prophets with familiar Bible stories. The prophet Isaiah is used over 50 times in the three year cycle. By comparison, there are less than 20 lessons from Genesis.

Some general observations about the new choices:

  • Some of the changes are minor. Epiphany 2, Isaiah 49:1-6, has been changed to Isaiah 49:1-7; Pentecost 8, Isaiah 55:10-11 has been changed to Isaiah 55:10-13. These generally provide a little more context or a little fuller reading to carry out the theme of the day.
  • Other changes are more significant. Advent 1, Isaiah 2:1-5 has been changed to Ge 6:9-22, 7:11-23; Epiphany 4, Micah 6:1-8, has been changed to Daniel 3:13-27.
  • Overall some very good work and good thought has been put into the supplemental lessons. They do a much better job of emphasizing a single theme for the Sunday. No matter which lesson is the basis for preaching, the emphasis for that Sunday will remain the same.

There are some concerns of which pastors should be aware:

  • Most of the new lessons are longer, sometimes considerably, than those they replace. Congregations with multiple services need to consider this in planning the overall time of their worship hour.
  • When preaching on these texts, many will be challenged because of the amount of study necessary. The time-taxed preacher may want to pick out the few most significant verses of the longer texts, exegize just those few verses, and use the rest as context.

I would encourage anyone to make use of these supplemental lessons. There may be a given Sunday when the Christian Worship lessons are preferable. I know that we will be using the supplemental lessons extensively to give our people a larger taste of the whole counsel of God. I am thrilled to see young children relate well to familiar stories. As a congregation with many people new to Scripture, I appreciate the added opportunity to make use of some of the familiar stories many of us learned in Sunday School.

Pastor David Clark – Volume 12, No.1


1 Of a similar, if not an ironically and mildly humorous, note are the occasions when a Gospel Reading ends with stern law. An extreme example would be the Gospel Reading for Last Judgment Year C – Luke 19:11-27. Verse 27 concludes, “…and kill them in front of me.” It is quickly followed with the acclamation, “This is the Gospel of our Lord.”

2 Available at: https://worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/planning- christian-worship-revision/. Two additional citations from PCW are from this same source.

3 Or if you regularly use the hymnal’s lectionary, substitute just for a season the options in Christian Worship Supplement.

4 An example is available at https://worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/ preach-the-word-volume-21/


Print out the latest edition of this newsletter to share with your congregation.

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Renovation: Luther Prep, Watertown, Wisconsin

Fifty years ago, the chapel on the Watertown campus was the worship gem in the WELS worker training system. It was a newly-built, neo-gothic structure with a fine neo-baroque Schlicker pipe organ of modest size. The organ, dedicated on March 14, 1963, was supported by a fine acoustical environment. It led the robust singing of the student body for decades. The sound and sheer volume of the singing gave me and my classmates goose bumps the first time we attended chapel as freshmen at Northwestern College. The Watertown chapel served up life-giving truth and life-long memories to thousands of called workers in WELS.

Gradually, the rest of the WELS worker training campuses caught up with—and surpassed—the chapel at Watertown. Michigan Lutheran Seminary reconfigured her old gym into a chapel/auditorium with good acoustics and a moveable 180-degree seating pattern. Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary installed a Martin Ott pipe organ and would later redo the entire chapel, earning a design award.1 Martin Luther College worshiped for decades in an auditorium until the New Ulm campus was blessed in 2010 with the Chapel of the Christ.2 All of these chapel projects have been welcome upgrades to our worker training system. They are molding and shaping the next generation’s expectations for public worship in WELS. Our synod is richly blessed as a result.

Over the years, while other chapels were improved, the Watertown chapel began to show her age. It received some attention during the mid-1990’s at the time of amalgamation when Martin Luther Preparatory School and Northwestern Preparatory School were combined on the Watertown campus as Luther Preparatory School. At that time, a link was built between the Library-Science Building and the main Classroom Building. The size of the chapel immediately became an issue. LPS enjoyed the blessing—and significant challenge—of having more students than the chapel could hold. The solution was the installation of a large, sloped, carpeted balcony. The seating issue was solved, but the acoustics of the chapel were drastically altered. The organ’s voice was dampened and could barely be heard underneath the balcony. The students’ singing was significantly impacted…and not for the better.

Chapel Before

Since amalgamation, other chapel improvements were generally piecemeal and not carried out with a view toward the whole. The sound system was upgraded, but the controls remained in the sacristy. Large black speakers were at odds with the wood and glass of the room. Little white space-age looking speakers were installed under the balcony to try to accommodate the poor acoustics. New lighting was installed, but with a different fixture style and light intensity than the older fixtures. Pews were mixed, some from the original chapel, others installed post-amalgamation. The sacristy, really a storage room, remained untouched. During a visit in 2014 I was surprised to see that neither the room nor its contents had changed since college graduation back in 1993!

The genesis of the chapel project

The chapel project began as yet another minor improvement. The 1950’s blond wood laminate on the altar and pulpit was beginning to chip, bubble up, and peel away. It was originally envisioned that the “new” pulpit would utilize parts of the old and generally look like the old. The laminate of the reredos was in good shape, but the altar itself needed significant work. The initial proposal for a new but not very different pulpit and altar was estimated at $2,000-4,000. The chapel had no baptismal font. The initial proposal kept a “?” behind the baptismal font, noting that it would be good for “both symbolic and practical use.” It was thought that these items could be provided as a graduating class gift.

Along with cosmetic furniture repair, another urgently needed improvement was being discussed. The pipe organ had received no major maintenance since it was installed in 1963. The organ was inspected by Dr. Edward Meyer in the fall of 2008. His report noted many maintenance issues. The organ chamber had accumulated 55 years of dust. The organ needed to be re-leathered. The keyboards needed minor repairs. More ominous, however, were the “long-range” issues. The air lines needed to be replaced. The entire electrical system needed to be upgraded. The cloth-covered, low-voltage wires were a fire waiting to happen.

Dr. Meyer’s report also addressed serious acoustical issues:

When the organ was acquired, the chapel interior did not have the 1995-balcony, nor did it have carpet in any area. The organ was designed for the space and it served well in that environment. It was bright, strong, transparent, and supported the hearty singing of 300+ men easily. The room acoustics have been drastically altered since that time…. The balcony overhang hinders sound from reaching the worship space beneath it. The soft floor covering near the altar and in front of the first pews absorbs a generous amount of sound—both vocal and instrumental. The result is an organ that is no longer fully capable of carrying out its originally intended roles as it once had.

Dr. Meyer’s report then listed five acoustical suggestions to enhance the room. The report concluded with a recommendation to expand the tonal variety of the organ. The additional stops would have cost another $150,000. In short, Dr. Meyer’s report gave the LPS administration about $190,000 of things to think about—not including the acoustical recommendations. It became obvious that the chapel needed more than new laminate on the furnishings. It needed a complete overhaul.

“Let’s do it right”

With a proposal in hand for partially-new chancel furnishings, with another proposal for organ maintenance under discussion, with acoustical enhancements being proposed that would alter the look of the chapel, and with the 150th anniversary of the Watertown campus on the horizon, the LPS administration decided to seek some independent counsel. With two sons enrolled at LPS, I was asked to serve as chapel consultant. President Crass expressed a strong desire to “do things right.” The next year was filled with questions of what was “right” for the Watertown campus, her students, and the church body she serves. These conversations were a blessing. The results of these conversations we commend to the Lord of the Church and the constituency of WELS.

The first question the project had to answer concerned the organ. The organ had longevity on its side. No one really wanted to be done with it. But the maintenance issues would need to be taken seriously. If we performed all needed maintenance and brought the electrical issues up to code, the total cost would have been well-north of $100,000 and would have cannibalized over half of the project’s original budget. That’s a lot of money to invest in an organ that everyone knew was inadequate for the post-1995 space. Should we just live with it? Opt for an electric organ? What about installing a used pipe organ? How about a minor expansion of the current instrument? All these options were explored and eventually rejected. None of them were quite right for LPS.

The organ issue bled into larger issues with the room itself. What about the acoustics? It would be poor stewardship to sink money into the organ while the room remained acoustically unfit. The acoustical question raised the issue of flooring, a mix of carpet and tile. (This then led to another issue: asbestos!) Study of flooring options raised the practical question of pew removal and reinstallation. Should we really reinstall pews that were in worse shape than the chancel furnishings that started the project in the first place? The administration of LPS became convinced that this was the right time to opt for new pews as part of ongoing campus maintenance. The rest of the project would be paid for through the synod-wide thank offering that was underway to celebrate the campus’s 150th anniversary.

The school administration hoped that something could be finished for the 150th anniversary year. The first element completed was the new baptistry. I proposed the baptistry concept to the administration after preaching for chapel. I noticed the beautiful tower with six windows just to the east of the main entrance doors. (The only thing in the tower, however, was a donated kitchen table on which students placed their books and backpacks.) About the same time, Prof. Robert Bock visited Trinity, Waukesha for the baptism of his granddaughter. During coffee hour, he commented that there were six stained glass windows from the pre-1995 chapel in a crate in the basement of the cafeteria. About the same time, my son came home from LPS one Friday eager to show a video of an international student being baptized at a chapel service. I noticed that a stainless-steel bowl was used for the water. At Taste of Ministry Day, I found out that the Scharf family’s popcorn bowl was used for the baptism.

The baptistry, “a theologically rich center point”

A plan came together. The six stained glass windows from the pre-1995 chapel windows were framed in wood and hung in the six clear glass windows. The mix of stained and clear glass balances color and light. The six windows are hung thematically: Two windows picture the Word of God, two the Church, and two the sacraments. Instead of catching dust in the cafeteria basement, these windows now catch light in the center of the campus. The used kitchen table was replaced with a beautiful wooden baptismal base designed by Massmann Studios. The base was a labor of love by Matthew Staude, a NPS alumnus. His craftsmanship and attention to detail are a beauty to behold. The popcorn bowl has been replaced with a substantial stone basin inscribed with the Latin words BAPTIZANTES EOS IN NOMINE PATRIS + FILII + SPIRITUS SANCTI, a nod to the classical heritage of the campus. It is hoped that the baptistry, underwritten by a gift from the NWC Alumni Society, will serve as a theologically rich center point on the campus for the next 150 years.

Stone basin with Latin from Mt 28:19

Meanwhile, the organ plank in the project began to take on a new life. Once again, the school administration expressed a wish to do things “right.” LPS certainly does things “right” when it comes to training future church workers in general—and church musicians in particular. LPS trains more students in organ than any other high school in America. WELS needs these young musicians. The chapel organ, used several hours a day by multiple musicians, needed to become a higher priority. When issues of cost were discussed, it was noted that the school had, in the past, spent significant resources on items deemed important to the school’s mission (especially the athletic fields). The organ portion of the project was handled much like it would be in a WELS parish. The organ wasn’t paid for out of the school’s budget or the LPS150 special offering for chapel renovation and tuition assistance. It was paid for by additional gifts from the Lord’s people who hold in their hearts a special love for LPS’s music program. The organ was dedicated with a plaque thanking God for the teaching ministries of Prof. and Mrs. Franklin Zabell. Prof. Zabell now sings with the choirs of heaven. Mrs. Zabell continues to teach a new generation of organists to lead choirs on earth.

After several interviews, the organ contract was awarded to Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders of Bellwood, IL. The new instrument used almost all the pipes of the old Schlicker organ, added several new ranks of pipes from an Italian Ruffati instrument that Berghaus had recently acquired, as well as a few ranks of new pipework. The new Berghaus instrument still has two manuals, but now has 33 ranks of pipes (1871 total pipes) and 33 stops. Its expanded tonal resources are ideal as a teaching instrument. Its robust tone fills the chapel without being overpowering. The new instrument inspires singing and has the gravitas to truly lead the assembly’s song. The organ footprint now takes up both sides of the chancel. The Great and Pedal divisions are to the left where the old Schlicker pipes stood. The Swell division is to the right where the old sacristy/storage room stood.

The organ now speaks directly into the sanctuary, rather than being enclosed in a room that opened only into the chancel. Two more benefits were realized as a result of the organ case’s new footprint: 1) Two additional stained glass windows, previously hidden in the pipe room and sacristy, are now visible to worshipers. 2) The chancel steps have been reconfigured (widened and deepened) so that choirs can now sing from the steps with the organ providing direct support.

Repairs to pulpit and altar were the initial focus of the chapel project. Attention to these primary furnishings expanded to include: altar, pulpit/ambo, processional cross stand, paschal candle stand, pastoral chairs and tables, candle bases, and hymn boards—all fashioned out of white oak instead of blonde laminate. These furnishings were designed by Massmann Studios and crafted by Matthew Staude. The pulpit and altar are both topped with stone, truly worthy of a school of the prophets. Ours is an enduring message!

Doing the project right meant not doing some things at all, for now. We did not enhance the sound system or improve the lighting. Why? No more money in the budget. It was decided that these two elements could be handled at a later date as resources become available.

The Watertown campus has been a blessing to WELS for 150 years. May she serve us well for another 150 years! May the Lord pour out his blessing upon those who preach, play, and sing—that our children would be inspired to tell the children’s children the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord!

By Aaron Christie

Pastor Christie serves at Trinity, Waukesha, WI, where he plans worship and plays organ and piano. He is a member of the Commission on Worship and the Institute for Worship and Outreach, a presenter for the Schools of Worship Enrichment, and chairs the Hymnody Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project. He holds the Master of Church Music degree from Concordia University Wisconsin and served as a consultant for the Luther Prep renovation project.


Renovation pointers learned from the LPS chapel project

These pointers apply to any renovation project.

  1. Focus not only on the initial impetus for renovation. Keep an eye on what the proposed renovation does to the entire worship space.
  2. Keep your ear on acoustical issues. Good acoustics can easily be destroyed. The new carpet under your feet will look nice and sound terrible. Spend the money to get an acoustical study done early in the project. It is money well spent. Opt for floor coverings that both look nice and sound nice. (Hint: tile)
  3. Don’t cut corners. Instead, view your renovation as one chapter of your sanctuary’s entire lifetime. Accomplish what you can with excellence. Leave the rest for a separate phase that can be done when God provides the resources. One project, well-done, often serves as an encouragement for additional upgrades in the future.
  4. Don’t be afraid to enlist professional consultants and/or worship leaders in WELS. They are here to serve. An outside set of eyes and a lifetime of different experiences often prove helpful to building committees that are seeing things up-close and very personal.

Worship Conference Resources

Various items are available at the Worship Website: workshop handouts, service folders, repertoire lists, presentation files (both PowerPoint and PDF versions), and photos. A double CD of musical highlights should be available in December – a great gift-giving option. Check NPH for the title “A Mighty Fortress.”


1 See Worship the Lord #21, September 2006, available in the WTL online archives. The LPS chapel dedication worship folder is available at https:/worship.welsrc.net/ download-worship/worship-the-lord-renovation-projects/. Numerous photos of the LPS project are at https://www.lps.wels.net/page/chapel-renovation-photo- gallery.

2 https://mlc-wels.edu/history/chapel-of-the-christ/


 

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Hurricane Relief Update – Nov. 22, 2017

Hurricane Relief Update—Nov. 22, 2017

Thank you for your prayers and support of the ministry of WELS Christian Aid and Relief.  We are using the generous gifts of God’s people to help those suffering from disasters and medical and financial trials, as well as  support humanitarian aid projects, which help our missionaries build bridges to proclaim the gospel.

Here is a Hurricane Relief Update:

Christian Aid and Relief personalizes our efforts by working through our congregations and missions in the affected areas.  We work through our pastors and congregational leaders to make assessments and to distribute aid.  We bring in volunteers when requested to assist in the recovery effort.

Puerto Rico

Our liaison to Puerto Rico, Pastor Tim Satorius has been in contact with pastors and leaders of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico.  Pastor Satorius and a representative from Christian Aid and Relief made a personal assessment visit to Puerto Rico in October.  One church there was completely destroyed and several homes of members were damaged.  Groceries were provided to families in need.  We are getting bids to consider for repair projects.  We sent an immediate gift of $5000 through Direct Relief to assist those in need.  We also sent $5000 to provide meals for people in the church and community suffering from this disaster.  The present plan is for members of the national church to provide meals for 50 people a day for four weeks.

Texas

Volunteers from neighboring churches helped with the initial cleanup efforts in several affected areas.  We have a project coordinator and volunteers in place repairing a parsonage and church at Christ our Savior, Angleton, Tex., the school at Sienna Lutheran Academy, and about 17 member homes in the Friendswood, Tex., area.  The work is going smoothly and the volunteers are finding joy serving the Lord as they serve these people in their time of need.  We have also provided grants to replace furnishings and appliances which were ruined by the flooding.  We continue to consider new opportunities.

Florida

Volunteers, with the help of our relief trailers, assisted with the cleanup efforts in several affected communities.  Those who have received assistance are most appreciative and wish to express their gratitude for a job well done. Pastors in the affected area continue to bring requests to us for immediate aid for their members through our District President Chuck Westra.  This includes generators and equipment, rental assistance while being displaced from home, and assistance with cost of repairs and replacement of furnishings.  We also assisted Abiding Grace, Covington, Ga., as their church suffered water damage from the storm.

Antigua and Barbuda

Assistance is being provided to families displaced from Barbuda, who are staying with members and friends of our WELS mission, St. John, Antigua.  29 families received $18,000 in immediate aid so far.  Our liaison Pastor Tom Spiegelberg visited Antigua last month to help us make further assessment of needs and opportunities.

The Thanksgiving holiday offers another opportunity to count our blessings and praise God from whom all blessings flow.  When we consider the physical and spiritual blessings God lavishes upon us by his grace, we realize that our cup of blessings richly overflows.  One way we express our gratitude to the Lord is by reflecting his love and compassion to others.  May the Lord bless our efforts to show love and kindness to those in need!

God’s Blessings,

Pastor Robert Hein, Chairman, WELS Christian Aid and Relief

 

VOLUNTEER FORM

Sign up to volunteer with Christian Aid and Relief efforts as they help our members and neighbors in times of need.

PARENTAL CONSENT VOLUNTEER FORM

The parental consent volunteer form needs to be filled out by the parent or guardian of any minors wishing to volunteer for Christian Aid and Relief projects.

 

 

 

 

Thankful to Be Let Go

“I’m sorry, but I can’t be your teacher anymore …”

It is rarely enjoyable to be let go. It’s challenging when your boss tells you that he or she can no longer keep you on staff – the pain and the sadness are real. Oftentimes, it leads to us to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” and, “Where do I go from here?”

If you have ever spent significant time learning another language, more than likely you have invested in a teacher or tutor. After 3 years of serving on the East Asia mission field, I have not met a better tutor than Linda. Linda, a professional teacher in our local preschool, is encouraging to all of the skill levels that enter her classroom, and she also knows how to push each student to give their best effort (my 5-year-old son thrives in her class as one of the few foreign children). She and her husband both serve as teachers in our school system while also raising their young son without full-time daycare assistance from the grandparents, which is very uncommon where we live. On top of all of this, Linda has been my regular language tutor along with tutoring several other missionaries on our field. When the missionaries gather, the conversation often turns to the blessings of studying with Linda.

While it seems somewhat trivial to be sad over being “let go” as a student, the truth is many of us on this mission field know that Linda is one of the best. We genuinely enjoy her company! We had always told Linda that if she ever needed to step away from teaching us, we would not be upset but instead be supportive and understanding. As I considered this possibility, I never figured I would feel “thanksgiving” for Linda letting me go as a student, but that is exactly how I feel and how our mission team feels right now.

Linda and her husband Adam have a strong desire to share their Savior with the lost souls living around them. They saw potential for a new church plant in our area, and this past summer they moved to our neighborhood. For years they have been growing under the guidance of our missionaries, Friend of China teachers, and national Lutheran pastors (graduates from our seminary in Hong Kong). Part of the reason Linda was eager to tutor us was to enable us to serve the people in the local language. Now she is a part of the core group that is launching a sister church in our neighborhood this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend. Adam and Linda are answering the call to prepare this location for worship, which includes taking the time to meet with local prospects that are interested in learning about Jesus and what it means to go to church. In summary, Linda has stopped training the missionaries so that she herself could go and serve the people – her people – by sharing the Gospel in her native tongue. This is something she can do far better than any of the foreign missionaries could ever even dream of doing.

The Apostle Paul gave thanks for the work God did in the hearts of his brothers and sisters:

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:2

This Thanksgiving, we give thanks for our partners in ministry and their excitement to share their faith, love, and hope in Jesus. So, yes, it actually feels good to be let go because we get to watch our God accomplish great things through servants like Adam and Linda. Please keep this young church in your prayers.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving (and eat some extra turkey for the missionaries who can’t get any)!

By: A Missionary in East Asia


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Reformation Rain

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/.

It doesn’t rain in October in Malawi. October is an oven preheated to broil. The sun is intense. The heat blisters. The ground hardens. Rivers dry and the lakes recede. It never rains in October in Malawi.

But to everyone’s surprise, showers fell on the 29th of October. People are still talking about it. “Hey, did you hear…?” That was the very day that most churches in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa – Malawi Synod (LCCA-MS) were celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.

A Mother Nature mistake? A global warming mix-up? Climate change chaos?

Or…the gift of God?

I prefer the later. After all, if God controls ALL things, then doesn’t He also have command of the weather? Interestingly, as the rains pounded the roof and streaked the windows during the worship service at Our Good Shepherd in Mzimba, the liturgist Pastor Milton Nyirenda was reading the Scripture lesson:

“As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread from the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10.11)

Like lightning, it struck me: it was raining more on the inside of the church than on the outside! Not because there was a hole in the roof, but because the LORD was showering His people with His grace!

Women’s Choir from Madalitso, Malawi

A raining of the life-giving gospel message. An unending downpour of good news in Jesus. A surprising cloudburst of love and forgiveness. This rain had already started to fall in the Garden of Eden and has continued to this day. 500 years ago Martin Luther got soaked. On the 29th of October 2017, so did we. On that day in Mzimba, and throughout Malawi, God’s grace in Jesus was proclaimed, preached, taught, received, shown, sung and danced! Even drawn and colored!

The picture at the beginning of this post shows some of the northern region ladies coloring Luther’s Seal or Coat of Arms. We studied the meaning and Scripture truths behind each of the five components that make up the Seal:

  • The black cross
  • The red heart
  • The white rose
  • The blue sky
  • The gold ring

Luther’s “logo” proclaims his faith and theology and ours as well. Isn’t the cross not only the central message of Scripture, but also central to our lives? Aren’t our hearts alive in Christ and beating with His love? Aren’t we, saints dressed in the white robes of salvation, place delicately in a joyous white rose of hope? With a firm resolution, hasn’t Jesus promised His second coming? And don’t we, with eager expectation and with our spiritual eyes to the skies, look forward to it? Isn’t God’s love more precious than gold and as unending as a circle?

A resounding YES to each one! With Jesus being the Answer to each question, every one of them falls upon us like rain: cool, refreshing, invigorating, motivating.

No wonder the Lord included verse 10 in Ephesians chapter 2: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Apparently God must have been quite busy prior to the 29th of October because on that day His people were actively doing the good works He prepared for them:

Structures were erected.
Tarps were hung.
Food was prepared.
Guests served.
Dishes washed.
Hospitality was extended.
Offerings were given.
Shut-ins were visited.
Songs were sung.
Gifts were shared.
Children were taken care of.
Cups of cold water were given to thirsty people.

But there was not a greater work done that day than what God was doing for us by raining down His Grace in Word and Sacrament. Vicar Frank Mukhweya preached his sermon using the theme that was previously chosen and used by all the other LCCA-MS called workers who stood in the pulpit that day. It was the same text that is imprinted on the special Reformation chitenje (skirts) that the LCCA-MS had designed and made for this significant occasion: Chipulumutso chichokera kuchisomo (We are saved by grace).

The text was preached, the Lord’s Supper was received and God tipped the water jars. His people were doused. And if you ever wonder what the weather will be like the next time you go to your church, just open up your Bible to Ephesians 2:1-10. No matter the day or the month, there you can count on Reformation rain.

By: Missionary John Holtz – Malawi


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It’s All About Building Relationships

When I accepted the call to be a church planter in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, I learned that the Coeur d’Alene area is one of the fastest growing areas in the Pacific Northwest. That’s what prompted St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Spokane, WA to want to plant a second site there.

Only problem?

There was no core group of WELS members that lived there.

That’s when I realized that if we were ever going to get this new church plant started, we would have to spend a lot of time building relationships with the unchurched people in our community. But where would I start?

Do a major door-to-door canvass?

Offer a big outreach event?

Send out direct mail postcards to thousands of homes?

God had something else in mind – something unexpected – and it was all a result of building relationships.

Shortly after moving to Coeur d’Alene, I met a lady at a local hotel who was making the arrangements for our church to have a meeting there. During our conversation, she mentioned to me that her dad died a few days prior and she was feeling kind of down and depressed as a result. I listened to her talk about her dad for a little while and how she was hurting inside, and then I shared with her some words of comfort from God’s Word. A few days later, I followed up by sending her a sympathy card in the mail just to show her that I cared. She called me to say thank you for thinking of her and for sharing words of comfort and encouragement with her.

About a week after that, she called me again and started asking me questions about our new mission church and what “kind” of church is it going to be. I shared with her information about The Vine and asked if I could stay in contact, so that she would know what we’re doing at The Vine and I could invite her to be a part of it. She said,

“I would love that. Thank you for caring.”

That’s just a sample of what we’re trying to do at The Vine in Coeur d’Alene: building relationships with unchurched people and sharing the gospel with them. And God is using our efforts to build His church here – one relationship at a time.

There are so many people in Coeur d’Alene who need Jesus. This lady from the hotel is one of them. Please pray for our home mission congregation, that the Lord will continue to bless our outreach efforts!

Written by: Pastor Kevin Schultz, The Vine Lutheran Church – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho


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Grace in Indonesia

For the past 14 years, Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI) has been working together with WELS as a sister church body. It has been a blessing and an honor for us to be involved together in spreading the gospel to the many people who are lost and thirsty for the truth in my country. Only the Gospel, through which the Holy Spirit works, can bring more people to know God’s plan of salvation through Tuhan Yesus Kristus – The Lord Jesus Christ.

Reformation is observed every year in Indonesia at every congregation and preaching station of GLI. As we celebrate the 500th Reformation anniversary this year, we are especially thankful for the ordination of new pastors in 2017, which brings the total of ordained ministers in GLI to 20. Also related to this year’s Reformation celebration was a church music seminar for teens and young adults, with a focus on equipping them with a better understanding of biblical music and song. Another special event was a theological conference in October for our called workers and seminary students in Indonesia that elicited specific discussions about liturgy and preaching methods.

Looking ahead, we are currently planning Vacation Bible School 2018, an exciting four day event which will include around 130 young men and women from all regions of Indonesia where GLI is doing the work of Gospel ministry. These younger members will have the opportunity to learn more about their church, their Savior, God’s Outreach Plan of Salvation, being “the next generation” of our church, and the importance of biblical knowledge in daily life. Through this special event we hope to engage more of our young people and encourage them to be involved in GLI’s ministry both now and in the future.

The expression “one size doesn’t fit all” explains the unique challenges and struggles in Indonesia since the geographic areas of ministry are many and so diverse. Some of us struggle with regulatory controls, extremism, and political tension. Others struggle with practical challenges such as the lack of electricity and even clean water in remote areas. These challenges mean that outreach is never the same from one area to another, or from one day to the next.

However, Jesus IS the one size that fits all! We must always remember these words of the Apostle Paul:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” – Romans 1:16

The Apostle Paul encourages us to be confident in the Gospel and love the truth. When we love the truth, God will be there to guide us, to encourage us, to open our mind to a variety of ways to proclaim the gospel. We are moved and motivated by the Gospel to spread the good news to people who are lost and thirsty. The One, Jesus Christ whom we proclaim, DOES fit all. His active and passive obedience is a fit for our sinful condition. We have the definite hope that lays in the Father’s hand: salvation through Jesus Christ.

Cultural challenges will always be there to draw people away from Christ. Satan will use these to manipulate us. We in the church must work very hard so that local belief systems, customs, and traditions do not affect the beliefs of our newborn Christians. The Bible reminds us:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3:16

It always works well when a good portion of our church strategy in overcoming cultural challenges includes increases in attendance at Bible information classes, such as New Life in Christ and Luther’s Catechism, Bible group studies for families, and a strong focus on our youth group, because in our country the youth impacts us significantly. The church should be a place for our Christian people that feels like home. In all of this, we ask the Holy Spirit to let God’s Word create the biblical pattern in our lives.

We see only opportunities to spread the Gospel when we see every place as a green pasture. God be with us. Please keep us in your prayers, that God’s grace in Indonesia becomes a powerful message for everyone who puts their hope in our Savior Jesus Christ.

By: Pastor Mikael Simanjuntak – Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI)


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Better Than Curry

I love curry. Indian and Nepalese cooking has a unique flavor that appeals to me… It’s close to the top of my list of favorite foods. We recently found out that some of the population around our Aganai Lutheran Church in Tokyo, Japan also share that same taste. Several curry restaurants have been popping up near the church with chefs and workers from Nepal.

When Aganai’s pastor, Pastor Nakamoto-sensei, went to pick up his curry take-out one day, he invited the Nepalese staff to come visit church. Coming to a Lutheran church is a big step for someone who grew up in a country where over 80% are Hindu. One of the Nepal workers stopped by Aganai Lutheran Church while a Kingdom Worker, Dave Reineman, was attending a Japanese language lesson taught by a local church member… That caught the interest of the man from Nepal. He wanted to learn Japanese too, so he could communicate better with his customers. He started coming to the classes, and he brought the curry restaurant owner too. Seeing this, Pastor Nakamoto decided to start classes with a prayer and then a devotion, which eventually moved into using the postcard sized ChristLight lessons developed by Multi-Language Publications (MLP) in Japan. It became an opportunity to tell the stories of the Bible in simple Japanese.

How would they be able to dig deeper into the Word if they only are just learning basic Japanese? How could these restaurant workers study the Bible on their own? Kaori-san, our MLP-Japan translator, inquired about what MLP might have to offer.

Transport yourself to the other end of the Asian world – to the country of Nepal. In Nepal, thousands are hearing God’s Word. We have translated most of the Bible Teaching Series booklets that are currently available from MLP. Those booklets in Nepali have been a key resource in reaching people throughout the Himalayas and Western Nepal. Some leaders travel for many days down the mountains, just to get to classes or pick up books to bring back to their groups.

Back to what is happening in Japan…

What a blessing that the resources developed for the difficult living conditions of Nepal are now able to have an impact in the advanced city of Tokyo! These Nepalese people that are now living in Tokyo, Japan can still read the Gospel message in their native Nepali language.

That scenario isn’t unique to Japan. Society today is much more mobile – with travel, work, and digital communication. We are finding many opportunities to reach global mission fields in a new way. Hmong people in Vietnam are now benefiting from the MLP-supported translations that began with the Hmong ministries in the USA. The same is true of the connections to the Nuer tribe in Sudan – their first contacts with us came through a church near them in America, and they are now developing material through MLP to reach out to people in their home country of Sudan.

What a great blessing it is to have resources in 53 languages available to share! Remember, even your neighbors can benefit from these resources. Think about any new, non-English families that have moved into your area – how will you share the gospel with them in a meaningful way to them? I encourage you to consider what resources MLP has in their native languages.

Let them taste and see that the Lord is good – it’s much better than curry.

By: David Kehl, Multi-Language Publications – Asia Coordinator


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A New School Year at Asia Lutheran Seminary

Asia Lutheran Seminary has been blessed to start our 13th year of operation in Hong Kong!

This August, the school year began with about 15 students taking part in a 3-week introductory immersion course in Hebrew. This year we welcome 4 full-time students in Hong Kong, 1 in India, and 10 other Chinese-speaking students outside Hong Kong. In addition, we still have almost 50 other students taking classes part time in Hong Kong, and another 60 taking courses via our online program. Thus, we are running four separate programs — a Bible Institute level program and an upper level Bachelor of Theology and Master of Divinity program both in Hong Kong and as extension degrees.

A fifth program to train translators had its first graduation class in June. Students from almost a dozen countries in South and East Asia participated in that program.

For the Bible Institute level courses, we now have native Hong Kong pastors teaching or co-teaching almost all of our courses in Cantonese. Our online Bible Institute courses are all being taught in Mandarin Chinese, mostly by native pastors. All of these local teachers are graduates of Asia Lutheran Seminary or our online programs.

Professor Angus Cheung

What’s even MORE exciting, this past school year one of our Chinese graduates was called and installed as the first full-time Chinese professor at Asia Lutheran Seminary. Angus Cheung is a member of our sister church, South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM), here in Hong Kong. He is currently teaching Bible Institute level courses for us while pursuing his Ph.D. in Theology. With the Lord’s blessing, he will be ready to take over my position when I retire, and join President Steve Witte, and Professor Aaron West on our faculty.

My wife Beth and I had a wonderful and restful furlough this summer, spending several weeks with each of our 2 children and their families. Because of these summer visits (and regular Skype chats), our daughter’s five- and three-year-old in Milwaukee, and our son’s five- and two-year-old in Ottawa, Canada all know who their grandpa and nanita are. This was a blessing my parents didn’t have when our two children were born in Zambia while we were missionaries there 1977-1983. We thank the Lord often for this blessing!

We are also blessed to have our son, Pastor Luke Thompson, come for a visit. He gave 2 presentations to the local church here on apologetics, and he preached at our Sunday English service on September 24th. That service will thank the Lord for blessing me with 40 years of ministry, as well as thanking Him for the 15 years that Rob Siirila spent with our mission field.

We are also excited because Beth and I will have our first chance to return to Zambia 35 years after we left. I have been asked to teach an advanced course at the seminary in Lusaka next April, and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing our old stomping grounds and hopefully some of our old colleagues and parishioners.

Please continue to pray for us and our work. The government in the mainland has just passed a new and much more stringent set of laws intended to discourage religious activity of any kind. But we know our Lord has all in control, so we will allow him to show us the way forward.

God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Dr. Glen Thompson, Academic Dean of Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong


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