Bright Promise

Bam, bam, bam!

We heard pounding on the front door at 1 A.M early on a Sunday morning. I stumbled around in the dim light and answered it only to discover a very drunk man who wanted to talk. I was half-asleep, and he was. . .  well, you know. The conversation was almost comical. Finally, it became clear to me that he was asking if he could sit down. Given several factors, that was not a good idea, so I asked him if we could talk another time. He tried to show me where he lived but pointed in all four directions and mumbled something about building three. I asked him for his contact information, but he had lost his phone. As I escorted him out, I noticed that he had gotten sick all over the floor of the entryway. I watched him go to the elevator and get in. In the morning, I noticed that he must have come back out of the elevator, took off his jacket, and gotten sick some more.

“That’s disgusting,” you say, “Do you really have to share this in a Missions Blog?” Yes, I do. Because some great things happened through this rather unfortunate and disgusting situation. First of all, I learned even more about the beautiful heart of my beautiful wife. Our entryway is public. People walk through there. In fact, our landlord lives just across the hall from us. Without a single complaint, my wife put on her rubber boots and dish gloves and cleaned up the whole mess on her hands and knees. She never said one negative thing about this bozo who scared us half-to-death (imagine getting a knock on the door at 1 A.M. in a country where missionaries are being expelled every day. . .) and then made a disgusting mess all over our hallway.

Second, the next day (or I guess I should say that is was much later that same day), the young man returned to apologize. He happened to show up when a Christian brother was also arriving. The young man said he was embarrassed. I told him that we are Christians and that we forgive people. We gave him a Bible. We told him to read the gospel of Mark and send us any questions that he had. He was shocked. We exchanged contact information, and I have had further opportunities to shower him with grace.

In the local language, his name could be translated “bright promise.” The night he banged on our door, there wasn’t much “bright promise” to be seen—just a young man making a fool of himself and possibly throwing his life away. But God used it to introduce him to the life-changing gospel of our living God. It turns out that he actually lives 3 floors above us—the exact same door. For some reason, the elevator doors opened on our floor and brought us together. I’d like to think it is for his eternal good, the “bright promise” of heaven.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Poppies and prayers for the Apache reservations

The poppies in Peridot, Ariz., are out in full force. They spring up on the barren hillsides seemingly out of nowhere while we sleep. When the sun rises the next day, the dull, drab colors of the rocky slopes are on fire, covered in brilliant yellows and oranges.

Indian Day at East Fork Lutheran School on the Fort Apache reservation

It’s an amazing display of God’s power and artistic touch. A person wouldn’t think that anything could grow on those rocky desert slopes without the rich soil that is the lifeblood of so much greenery. But those poppies don’t need much dirt. The tiniest cracks in the rocks are enough. All they need is a small drink of water and warm sunshine and they open up and reach for the sky.

The poppies remind me of the new opportunities that our Lord has given to our schools on our Apache mission field. You might not expect to find some of the fastest-growing schools in the WELS on Apache Indian reservations in the middle rural Arizona. And you certainly wouldn’t see the facilities or amenities of a typical school or the neighborhood filled with fine, well-kept homes in an affluent suburb. But like the poppies, our schools on the Fort Apache and San Carlos Apache Indian reservations don’t need much to bloom.

The focus of our mission field is to train Native Americans to lead and to serve in God’s kingdom. And this training starts already in elementary school with children learning the truths of Scripture and being in a safe environment where Christianity is modeled and practiced by faculty and students alike. And while our schools have been in existence for more than 100 years, recent developments have caused them to burst into brilliant bloom like the poppies.

Field trip for Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School on the San Carlos reservation

The state of Arizona now allows parents to choose private education instead of sending their children to the failing public schools on the reservation. In communities where 75% – 80% unemployment is the norm and paying even the smallest tuition amount is a challenge, our schools are now accessible to many more families. And with half of the population on our reservations under the age of 18, we rapidly attracted more students than we have facilities and teachers. Like the poppies, we’ve burst into life in an instant, increasing the number of students by 100% in the last 5 years.

Among the red rocks and desert hills, Christian schools are blooming. Dedicated teachers who are passionate about sharing Jesus are equipping children to serve our Lord and be leaders in their homes, churches, and communities. Pray for them, and for the continued opportunities to bloom on the Apache reservations where they’ve been planted.

Written by Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Native American Missions Field Coordinator

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My Mission Journey: Liz

Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) sent out its first Mission Journeys team in January 2019 to assist Grace Lutheran Church in Sahuarita, AZ, with community outreach, English as a Second Language classes, and church-property clean-up. Liz O’Connor (pictured third from left), a sophomore at WLC and member at St. John’s, Lomira, WI, was a member of the team and shares her experience: 

Q: Why did you decide to volunteer for this Mission Journeys trip? What did you hope to gain?

I love traveling to new places to spread the good news of Jesus and help out churches in a variety of ways. Through this trip I hoped to strengthen my faith and connect with the people of Sahuarita.

Q: Have you been involved in outreach programs like this in the past?

Yes! In high school I went to Victory of the Lamb Lutheran Church in Katy, TX, with a group of students from Redeemer Lutheran in Fond du Lac, WI. Last spring break I took a trip to Illumine Church in Rock Hill, SC. There were four girls from WLC that traveled there to help out.

Q: What were some of the things you did on the trip? What was your favorite part?

We canvassed the neighborhoods of Sahuarita to further understand if more people need a church home and childcare (the answer was yes!). We helped the ladies at Mission to the Children by packing bags and organizing supplies for their next trip to Mexico. Lastly, we helped out with English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Grace in Tucson, which was my favorite part of the trip. In our free time we went hiking and visited attractions in the Tucson area, like the Arizona Desert Museum and Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

Q: What lessons did you learn from your experience?

I learned that it often takes more than one encounter to engage others when it comes to speaking about church or Jesus. It is difficult for some people to talk about, so maybe the door in the face one time can lead to listening ears the next time. Who knows what God can work after that! There is nothing wrong with baby steps. God will take care of it.

Q: How will you use what you learned on your trip in your own life?

I can apply this lesson to my life in any conversation about Jesus, whether it is at WLC, work, or wherever. When the opportunity arises, I can do just what I’ve practiced on previous mission trips – spread the love of Jesus!

Q: Would you go again? What would you say to someone who might be considering taking a trip like this in the future?

I would go on this trip again in a heartbeat. For those of you considering a mission trip, I strongly encourage you to go. There is nothing like it! You don’t have to worry that you are too young, too inexperienced, too nervous, etc. God will use you!

Q: Do you feel it is important for high school and college students to take time to do short-term outreach trips like these? Why or why not?

It’s SO important – These trips teach you how to engage with others, and they instill a heart of service. There are some experiences in life that you won’t have unless you go on a mission trip, and you can apply the lessons learned in your own church and community.

Q: Anything else you want to add about your experience with Mission Journeys?

One of the coolest parts about going on a mission trip is meeting people that share the same faith as you all over the country and the world!

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People take their time

I was practicing my sermon on a recent Sunday morning, preaching to the empty chairs, when I got a phone call from an unknown number. Doris wanted to confirm what time the service was. “I can’t come to church today, Pastor. I’ve got a family commitment. But I’ll be there next Sunday for sure.” I vaguely recalled a conversation with Doris from when Ron and I were out canvassing. She and I had talked in her driveway for so long, Ron was wondering what had happened to me. But how long ago had that one previous conversation with Doris taken place? I had to scroll back a bit through my calendar. . . ten weeks!

It takes a while.

Keith and his wife Shawn brought their eight-year-old to our soccer camp in June. Each sweltering afternoon they would find refuge under a shade tree, keeping an eye on Bryce and chatting with the church members who were prepping snacks and handing out water. The three of them came to our worship service at the end of the week. We never saw them again. Not until the first Sunday in January, when they came to worship a second time. Six and a half months later!

Few folks seem to be in a hurry to get connected to a church.

I stopped at Jane’s front door three days after she attended a worship service with her niece. The conversation was pleasant and brief. I gave her a “welcome gift” and was on my way. That seemingly was the end of Jane’s interest in what we have to offer. Until there she was, sitting next to her niece and worshiping with us on Christmas Eve. Ten months later!

What is it that keeps individuals from responding more quickly to our invitations? I suppose I could spin all sorts of theories in response to that question. I realize the experts have offered their own, well-researched explanations as well. But it’s hard to get beyond the unholy trinity so often referenced by Luther. People are slow to respond to our visits and encouragements because they are constantly being delayed by the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh.

Worship at Living Savior in Hendersonville, N.C.

I don’t want respond to this phenomenon with cynicism, or become callous to it, or even accept it as inevitable. I would rather commit myself and our members to a more aggressive follow-up schedule. In addition, Jesus invites me to frequent prayer on behalf these blood-bought souls. Mostly, however, I want to be mindful that even the Son of God himself found his most frequent listeners to be “slow to believe” (Luke 24:25). If Jesus’ ministry is the model for outreach, then why should I ever be discouraged when people take their time responding to my church’s outreach ministry?

I’m pleased to announce that after her ten-week delay, Doris actually did worship with us the following Sunday. And starting that first Sunday in January, Keith, Shawn, and Bryce haven’t missed a Sunday. They’re already signed up for our next “Foundations” class. And Jane just wrote me a heartwarming note about how much she loves the class she’s been taking and the services she’s been attending. Now she says she “can’t wait” to become a communicant member of her new church.

What do you think? Someday should I ask each of them why it took them so long? Nah! I’d rather keep telling them how grateful I am that our church can serve them with the gospel of our merciful, patient, long-suffering Savior and of the timeless life he’s won for them and for me.

Written by Rev. Paul Zell, missionary at Living Savior Lutheran Church, Hendersonville, N.C. 

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What do you do with children in worship? Practical Ideas for Education and Training

What do you do with children in worship?

Practical Ideas for Education and Training

Scene 1

The rocker slowly creaks back and forth in hypnotic tranquility. The young mother has been at it for a few minutes, though it feels like hours. Why won’t sweet Sofia settle down? In what could be a frantic moment in her first child’s first day at home, an unexpected calm settles in. Suddenly, this frantic moment has become a profound moment, one no lullaby could ever touch. The words come out in quiet chant: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” The mother recalls that her help in her new vocation will come from Christ himself. Without thinking, she starts into a new “lullaby”: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” By the time she gets to “O Christ, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,” she is not sure whether she or the baby will better sleep in heavenly peace that night.

Fast forward two years. Another profound moment. This mother had been joyfully smiling at little Sofia who clings to her favorite stuffed animal among the dozens in her room—a lamb. The mother has happily reported to her pastor how the young “soloist-to-be” runs around the living room shout-singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” She has reflected on her daughter’s ever-so-brief pauses from coloring during church to perk up when she hears the congregation singing Kyrie, eleison. But in this new profound moment she also has a moment of clarity. The memories of that first night home come flooding back, along with the last 24 months’ worth of liturgical lullabies and regular wrestling through worship. She suddenly gets it! Two years of catechesis, of faith formation in both home and church, have thoroughly shaped Sofia! As the lightbulb flashes in her mind like bright neon lights, she realizes that this symbiotic relationship of church and home will have eternal impact on her precious little one. Worshiping at home (and teaching about worship at home) is something her family will certainly not stop any time soon—the immediate and eternal blessings are far too rich!

Scene 2

A forklift would be needed to lift the parents’ jaws off the floor. They came for cute moments of pageantry, but they certainly got more than they bargained for. These two parents are among a half dozen preschool families new to the concept of church. It just “hasn’t been their thing” yet as they have sifted through the identity of their own personal truth. But they at least knew their kid needed a preschool that was safe and moral, so they chose the highly rated Lutheran one nearby. They were pleased with the first five months of school and were excited for the preschool Christmas service. After all, who could deny that little Tommy in his mini three-piece suit singing at a church would make one amazingly boast-worthy Instagram cover photo?

But the giddy excitement froze in time. If their iPad hadn’t filmed it, they wouldn’t have believed it even happened. This sweet little chorus erupted with preschool enthusiasm to belt out, “Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross he’ll bear for me, for you.” Say what? They were expecting to hear about a silent night or a little manger or perhaps “Merry Christmas” and “Here comes Santa Claus.” But this? It was shocking to see their little baby sing about another baby who would go on to die. They didn’t know what to say. That is…until three days later. Three days later they tried out the Christmas Eve candlelight service at the same Lutheran church. They marveled at little Tommy who was singing half the hymns from memory, hymns he learned during preschool song time! As the pastor then unwrapped the marvels and mystery of the incarnation that night, the parents shared a look that said, “This place is pretty special! Our whole family needs more of this!”

Scene 3

Ten kindergarteners solemnly process into a room, not coerced but definitely coached. Though the room is dimly lit and the one adult stands with a silent smile, they all know the routine. Each takes off their shoes. Four of them distribute mini-hymnals to the group. Three of them place a clean white cloth gently and neatly over a table situated perpendicular to three rows of chairs. The last three work with the adult to place candles on the table and carefully light them. Without prompting, they complete their tasks and file into their seats.

The adult begins, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The young children cross themselves and joyfully say, “Amen!” The leader continues, “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.” They enthusiastically reply, “The Light no darkness can overcome.” Each child then lights their own little candle, gazing with wonder into the fire yet also remembering that their teacher told them how they were marked with the sign of the cross and given the light of Christ and resurrection at their baptisms.

As it turns out, sweet little Sofia and three-piece-suit Tommy are classmates in this Sunday School room. Sofia has been at the church since birth and has been learning worship “stuff” since night one in that rocking chair. Tommy was just baptized last year (shortly after that Christmas service) and is relatively new to worship outside of what he hears in preschool. His family has been in membership for five months. However, both of them are thoroughly enjoying this catechetical experience. For one month each year, their Sunday School takes a break from normal lessons for “worship training mode.” The children enter a room that is set up to be a mini sanctuary. They are taught to revere the presence of a holy God yet appreciate his grace allowing them to enter into his presence. They work together, almost like a mini-altar guild, to set up the worship space. Then they continue with a brief 30-minute service of sorts with a few sensory-filled rituals, hymns, songs of the liturgy, and a brief lesson based on the theme for that Sunday. They conclude with 20 minutes of activities related to the Sunday or the season.

This one-month intensive worship teaching and training each year has made little children very enthusiastic about worship.

What Sofia and Tommy have been experiencing is based on The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It’s an immersive worship experience for children designed by Sofia Cavaletti and patterned after Maria Montessori’s self-guided play theories. (Those with preschool ministries have likely heard of Montessori methods). The congregation has found that this one-month intensive worship teaching and training each year has made little children very enthusiastic about worship. The pastor has found that some of his 4-year-olds know more about worship than some of his 54-year-olds! Meanwhile, the parents have found both at home and church that their children are clearly the examples of faith and worship that Jesus once stated.

The Ideal: Partnership in Discipleship

Are such scenes even possible?

It would seem as though a wise first step in our congregations would be to follow in Luther’s steps (again!) and double down on families. Surveys strongly indicate that parents and children would benefit from more teaching and training regarding worship. But when presented with some test materials that could help in this matter, more than 75% of focus group parents indicated they would like more materials to help their family engage in worship. Our congregations seem to want help, too. The survey of WELS pastors indicated that 78% of them would be highly interested in materials that help teach and train parents to teach and train their children.

The first article in this series (July 2018) posed the question: What do you do with children in worship? In subsequent months we pondered parents’ struggles as culture has corroded and families have struggled. Pragmatic Westerners, of course, offer solutions to perceived problems. Thus, we reviewed things like children’s sermons, children’s church, Sunday school offered during worship, and other options. But each popular solution has weaknesses: keeping children occupied only for a few moments, or completely removing them from worship. Therefore, though Christian freedom allows various choices, not all may be beneficial or best.

Following this we turned to the Scriptures for both prescription and description. Prescribed were God’s commands about the vocation of parents who have primary responsibility for spiritual training. Also prescribed is God’s command for all to worship him. Though we may desire more detail on many accounts of public gatherings and worship, it is reasonable to assume that God’s people brought their children to worship.

Church history suggests the same. There is good evidence of children being incorporated into worship. The church fathers exhorted parents in their responsibilities—descriptions that again allow us to conclude that parents would bring even the youngest of children to worship. A brief survey of science also supported the value of all children being in worship. Children learn best by doing, from repetition, with their senses, and all of this especially when they are with their parents. Science suggests worship alongside parents is an ideal place for children.

Any solutions to improving ministry to and worship with children must focus on the parents.

Finally, it was noted that the problem is not really with the children. The problem is actually with the parents. Thus, any solutions to improving ministry to and worship with children must focus on the parents. Parents need teaching and training so that they in turn can teach and train their children. This is what the Church is called to do—to equip the saints for works of service within their vocations.

So, are the previously described scenes possible? Could the fictional and ideal become the factual and real? I believe they can when we work toward an ideal partnership between home, church, and school (where applicable).

The Home

Parents today often find themselves barely treading water in a vast ocean of information with waves of cultural influence crashing down on them. Thus, first and foremost, parents need to grab hold of their identity in Christ. When parents look for identity in their children, the children can become all-consuming idols that demand worldly focus. Parents who know their identity as children of God in Christ will understand the importance of fixing their hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things—including their children. Furthermore, parents who are regularly taught their identity in Christ will grow to a fuller understanding of the importance of teaching children their identity in Christ, too.

When parents look for identity in their children, the children can become all-consuming idols that demand worldly focus.

Next, parents need teaching and training regarding how to parent. Simply being a parent does not equate with doing it well. Every Christian needs vocational catechesis, and parents are by no means an exception. It is best to start with teaching and training Scripture’s foundational principles about love, discipline, and physical and spiritual care for children. Then good and godly practical parenting strategies could be shared with parents. As they receive guidance in parenting at home, this will in turn help with their parenting in the pews.

Simply being a parent does not equate with doing it well.

Finally, parents need teaching and training regarding worship. Parents need to be reminded what worship is, whom God calls to worship him, why God’s people worship, and how they worship. When they better understand these truths, they will surely understand the importance of their children being in worship with them and the whole body of believers. As parents learn to understand and engage in worship themselves, they will better teach and train their children to do the same.

In order to accomplish these goals of teaching and training parents, it is wise for congregations to offer various educational and training opportunities. Bible studies on the topics of parenting, family life, worship, and more should be regular in the rotation. For those new to the church, pastors are wise to teach thoroughly about worship and children in worship already in Bible Information Class. Pastors can teach those with and without children what is expected of parents and children in worship. Additionally, pastors and church leaders can suggest or provide materials that facilitate home worship and that help teach and train both parents and their children. The more and the earlier children have the words and songs of worship (liturgy, hymns, psalms, etc.) in their hearts and on their lips in private worship, the better they will actively join with the full body in corporate worship.

The Church

But it’s not enough for parents and children to be taught and trained. While parents are in the trenches with the children, others sometimes criticize and complain. Congregations need education on the topic of children in worship.

While parents are in the trenches with the children, others sometimes criticize and complain.

Pastors and church leaders would do well to patiently and lovingly instruct on this issue. Rather than jumping into a practical solution fad—such as offering child care or Sunday School concurrent with worship—these leaders can teach the entire congregation what God says about worship, the Church, parenting, children, and the intersection of them all. Congregations always benefit from learning more about doctrine and practice. But they also do well to learn how to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the body of peace.”

Loving instruction might mean having some difficult conversations. It might mean telling some elders that they need to be more patient with parents’ struggles and that their privilege in Christ is to be a loving part of the solution, not a part of the problem. Then again, loving instruction might mean a difficult conversation with a young family, telling them that sometimes they might need to step out with the baby a bit earlier. Their effort to be present in worship and train in worship is marvelous. But some days for tykes and toddlers are just plain rough. While members can be taught to be patient and loving on this issue, it’s helpful for parents to step out sometimes so that others can maintain focus in worship.

Finally, pastors and congregations can strategize ways to encourage and facilitate children worshiping. Could the Sunday school take a month off from Bible stories each year for worship teaching and training? Could a church implement during those weeks, or perhaps during a midweek study, The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (described above)? Or might the worship folder provide clear and loving guidance about children and families? What about removing the “reserved pew” signs in back and encouraging families to sit up front where a child’s senses will be more engaged? How about using a children’s choir to sing a liturgical song or psalm refrains? How about an acolyte program…or a junior usher program…or kindergarteners joining adults to hand out the friendship registers during the offering? Congregations can explore many ways to bring children to the forefront and encourage their worship life as valued members of the body of Christ.

The School

For those who have preschools or schools, a quick word may be of use. Most WELS schools have a mission statement that includes the conviction that the school is an arm of the church and is a partner with parents. This certainly can remain true on this topic of children in worship!

Teachers can be encouraged to incorporate worship concepts into Bible stories. When teaching about John the Baptist, talk about the font, baptismal symbols in the church, and the sign of the cross. When teaching about Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, talk about the precious Sacrament their parents joyfully receive as they commune with the risen Christ. When teaching the life of Christ, show how the songs of the Ordinary parallel the life of Christ. During quiet time in school preschool teachers can make clear the importance of quiet time in the pew as well.

Most schools, even preschools, have a hymnology curriculum or regular set of songs that are learned. The pastor can work with the teachers to ensure that children are learning the hymns sung most often in worship. Could liturgical songs or psalms also be part of this effort?

Speaking of the pastor and the school, what treasured moments are available in school chapel! It’s wise for the pastor to regularly lead chapel. Those are precious pastoral moments for a multitude of reasons. Pastors can use school chapel as a time to teach about worship, the liturgy, the Sacraments, the sanctuary, symbols, imagery, and more. The school is a priceless partner of both church and home!

Conclusion

“Yes, as God gives me strength.” It is truly a special moment in our worship life. Parents are beaming with smiles, barely containing their joy. As they gaze at their newborn, they know that as the water was poured onto the forehead, God himself poured open the floodgates of his grace and welcomed that child as his own with the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. While the congregation looks and listens with shared joy, the pastor asks if they are willing to assist in whatever manner possible so that the child may remain a child of God until death. The people respond, “Yes, as God gives me strength.”

With those words the entire congregation pledges before God to “assist in whatever manner possible” so that child remains faithful until reception of the crown of life. Raising a Christian child is first and foremost the God-given responsibility of the parents. But they are not alone. The entire Christian Church works together to train children in the way they should go—both in faith and in worship.

May God fill us with his grace so that we abound in patience, love, diligence, and wisdom as we teach the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. May God then fill us with joy to join those children to worship the Lord with gladness for our growth and his glory.

Written by Phil Huebner


 

WORSHIP

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

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Preach The Word – Resurrection Apologetics

Apologetics in Preaching

Resurrection Apologetics

I have to admit, to my great shame, that I had trouble preaching during the Easter season. Easter Sunday was great. Preaching on Doubting Thomas the next Sunday was always a delight, but the rest of the season was tough for me. What’s left to say? One bit of advice that helped me was: read the hymns of the Easter season; they will inspire you. And they did. Another inspiration came when I got more serious about apologetics. The Sundays of Easter became an opportunity to speak about the facts of the resurrection and how those facts were the foundation for a confident faith in the face of all tragedy, especially death.

A theme of sorts emerged in my Easter season preaching, one taken from 1 Thessalonians: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Th 4:13). I wanted to make sure that my people knew where they were going, where their faithful loved ones who died already were, and the basis for this hope. In short, I wanted them to know the facts, reason, and hope of the resurrection of Christ.

On Easter Sunday, when visitors abound, I also wanted the skeptics to know. I didn’t want them to be ignorant either. But as we have already discussed in this series of articles, the skeptic might balk at a sheer proclamation of these facts. Again, preaching is the means by which the Spirit will grant faith but the apologetic minded preacher is also aware of the task to knock down any barriers. So the skeptic might contest, “How do you know?” and the answer “Because the Bible said so” is incredulous to him. It is a form of circular logic.

The skeptic is aware of the following circular argument: Question: How do you know that the Bible is true? Answer: Because it is God’s Word. Question: How do you know that it is God’s Word? Answer: Because the Bible says it is God’s Word. Question: Why should I trust the Bible? Answer: Because it is God’s Word. While this is true, the unbeliever is right to be skeptical. Insert Koran for Bible, and you see the problem.

So how do we get out of this circular argument? The answer is the resurrection of Christ. Question: How do you know that the Bible is true? Answer: Because Jesus said so. Question: Why should I trust Jesus? Answer: Because he rose from the dead, and I’m going with the guy who claimed to be true God and backed it up with a resurrection.

Facts back up the claims of Christianity.

The advantage of this tactic is that the argument is moved from the arena of blind faith to one of normal reason. Thus the skeptic is not left with only a command, “Believe this because I say that it is true” but is offered evidence for the claim. Why should the skeptic believe you and not the Muslim who says that Jesus did not rise from the dead (or even die on the cross)? In this case the apologist simply levels the playing field while being fully aware that the Spirit, and only the Spirit, will convert the unbelieving heart. The apologist only wants to show that Christianity is not like other religions that only assert claims. Facts back up the claims of Christianity.

It is helpful then to start with the facticity of the resurrection of Christ. Is there good reason for the skeptic to believe that at least the resurrection of Christ is possible? I think so, especially if the skeptic is willing to treat the evidence of the resurrection as they would any historical claim from the same era. Permit me to lay out the evidential argument for the resurrection of Christ in outline form:

I.  There are eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.

A.  The Romans knew how to crucify someone to death, and there is no good reason to believe that they did not kill Jesus, especially considering the punishment Roman soldiers faced for not carrying out their duties.

B.  There is no good reason to doubt the eyewitness accounts of the crucifixion.

II.  There are eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. There is no good reason to believe that these eyewitnesses lied about what they experienced.

A.  They gained nothing from such a ruse (money, power, prestige).

B.  They were willing to die for this truth, making them very credible eyewitnesses.

C.  There is no good reason to believe that these eyewitnesses were all mentally insane. How could so many people in one place and in one time all of a sudden be insane when there was no evidence of a preexistent mental illness? And even if this was the case, how credible is it that so many mentally insane people got their stories straight?

III.  Only three groups had access to the body of Christ: the Romans, the Jewish enemies of Christ, and the disciples of Christ. There is no good reason any of these groups would fake the resurrection of Christ.

A.  The Romans would not fake the resurrection. They were the ones who crucified him.

B.  The Jewish enemies of Christ were the ones who wanted him dead in the first place. They were even paranoid about a theft of the body and demanded that the Roman authorities secure the grave.

C.  Despite the paranoia of the Jewish leaders, there is no good reason to believe that the disciples of Christ would fake his resurrection. Most of them displayed incredulity to his claims of a death and resurrection. Nor would they have gained anything from such a conspiracy except persecution.

IV.  Jesus claimed to be true God.

A.  There is no evidence or reason that Jesus would lie about this.

1. Jesus did not gain anything from such a lie except death.

2. There is no evidence that Jesus was crazy.

B.  Jesus proved his divinity by rising from the dead and performing miracles for which there were credible eyewitness accounts.

V.  Jesus declared the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.

A.  Jesus declared the Old Testament to be the Word of God.

B.  Jesus sent the Spirit to inspire the New Testament writers.

VI.  Since Jesus is divine we ought to believe what he says about the inerrancy of the Bible.

Theories of a faked resurrection are outlandish and easily dismissed.

This is only a brief outline. The Christian must contend with textual criticism and questions of the canon, topics the confessional Lutheran pastor is trained to handle. The apologist must also deal with theories of a faked resurrection, but they are outlandish and easily dismissed. But there are also other tidbits that enhance the resurrection argument such as women discovering the empty tomb. If you were to create a believable story about a resurrection in an era when female witnesses were deemed less credible than male witnesses, you would not make women the first eyewitnesses in your story.

Armed with this logical outline, the preacher can move to the deep meaning of the resurrection: We too will rise! Three elements combine to make Easter season preaching robust: the facts of the resurrection, the breaking of the circular logic mentioned above, and a passionate application to frail human life.

The Third Sunday of Easter (Year C, May 5, 2018) connects the resurrection of Jesus Christ to our place in heaven. In the Gospel (Jn 21:1-14), Jesus proves his resurrection by appearing to the disciples on the shores of Galilee. In the First Reading, Christ converts Saul to be the great missionary to the Gentiles so that we might know with certainty that Jesus actually rose from the dead (Ac 9:1-19a). The Second Reading is a picture of heavenly worship from Christ’s Revelation to St. John (Rv 5:11-14). The Lamb is on his throne encircled by the living creatures and the elders. They sing with a multitude of angels “Worthy is the Lamb.” This is our home made secure by the resurrection of Christ. All people will know and all people will fear this awe-inspiring God because of his victory over death, a fact we sing in the Psalm (67). The following is an example of how a preacher might make these connections for his listeners.

You can’t just assert things and expect people to believe them to be true. We are far too jaded to accept the assertions of the late night television salesman. True, we all have our gullible moments. The infomercials still run, don’t they? We sooo want to believe that eggs won’t ever stick on this new kind of skillet. Yet we learn from our mistakes and become less and less naïve as we grow older. That’s probably a good thing.

In the marketplace of spiritual ideas there are a lot of infomercials. This preacher over here claims he can cure diseases. That preacher over there can give you “your best life now.” One religion promises enlightenment, another internal peace. This denomination stresses moral integrity, that one social justice. It even seems that some people chose their spirituality by letting the charisma of the leader trump facts, a dangerous method. So who are we supposed to believe let alone follow with our whole lives? All religions make assertions, but how do we know which one, if any, is true?

Sometimes we investigate claims by trial and error. We buy the skillet and hope it lives up to the salesman’s pitch. As we grow a little wiser we might carry out some research. What are the reviews of the skillet? If the reviews are poor, we don’t waste our money. But we can’t do that with religious claims, can we? We can’t go by trial and error. A religious commitment means exactly that, a commitment. You can’t go half way. And what religion is not going to have glowing reviews from its adherents and bad reviews from its enemies? We aren’t buying kitchenware after all; we are trying to find a way of life, a way of thinking, a path to truth. We need something more.

We can test the claims of Christianity not by Yelp reviews or by trial and error, but by careful investigation of its claims.

But not all is lost. We can test the claims of a religion. In particular we can test the claims of Christianity not by Yelp reviews or by trial and error, but by careful investigation of its claims. Is Jesus who he says he is? This was certainly a question with which the disciples grappled. You don’t think the disciples doubted Christ? Last week we heard about Thomas forever known as “Doubting.” Peter and the rest could not wrap their heads around the death and resurrection of Christ. They heard but did not always confidently believe. We are not alone in our doubts.

It would take a lot for us to accept a bodily resurrection of someone whose funeral we just attended.

Jesus appeared to his disciples in order to prove his resurrection. And notice how he often did it. He ate! It’s so simple. He ate with the Emmaus two and he ate breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee as we heard today. Think about it. Let’s say that you just attended a funeral. Maybe it was your grandmother. Now let’s say you see grandma a week later. Your probably would rub your eyes or pinch yourself. It must be a dream. “I shouldn’t have eaten that frozen pizza at midnight last night.” Or maybe you might think this is a hallucination. “The doctor did change the dosage of my medication last week.” It would take a lot for us to accept a bodily resurrection of someone whose funeral we just attended. I wonder if some of the followers of Christ thought along the same lines. Thomas did for sure. The Emmaus disciples weren’t fully convinced either.

Now let’s say that your dead relative eats with you, physically eats in front of you. There is a piece of fish on a plate and then the piece of fish is gone. Now that’s something. This is exactly what Jesus did for the disciples in Galilee. Peter believed right away and maybe his fellow fishermen-disciples did too. But Jesus goes above and beyond. He provides physical proof. He eats. Ghosts don’t eat. Hallucinations don’t eat. Jesus bodily rose from the dead. Peter wouldn’t wonder a week late, “Did I really see Jesus?” He would remember: the fish was there and then it wasn’t.

Now, you might say, “That’s nice, but I wasn’t there.” True enough. You weren’t there when Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address either, but you believe it happened. Why? Because there are credible eyewitness accounts. You have no reason not to believe it. In fact, if you denied it, you would be thought of as a weird conspiracy theorist. Granted, the resurrection of Christ happened way before the Civil War. And it is more than a presidential speech; it is a supernatural event. Yet, we have eyewitness accounts and documents to back up the resurrection claim. We have more textual evidence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection than any other event of that era, and other events aren’t even close. We have more historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than any Roman emperor winning any war or legislating any law.

So we are left with conspiracy theories raised against the resurrection claim. Maybe this was faked by the disciples? But let’s think it through. Why would they do that? Generally speaking, people lie for three reasons: money, sex, or power. The disciples gained no prestige, no revenge, no high placement in society. They gained no power. Nor did they become wealthy or more popular with the ladies. In fact, they received only persecution and, for most of them, death. Would the Roman officials fake Christ’s resurrection? Why would they? They wanted to be done with this religious squabble. Would the Jewish leaders? They were the ones who wanted him dead in the first place. We are running out of options. Except one. He actually rose from the dead.

And God wants you to know about it. So Christ sent the Spirit to inspire these eyewitnesses and historical investigators like St. Luke to write about it. These documents have been carefully vetted and preserved for you. In one case, Christ took his own enemy, Saul, kicking and screaming into the faith. We heard about it today. He literally knocked Saul down on the road to Damascus and confronted him. He baptized Saul, known to us as Paul, and converted him to Christianity. He even taught Paul in Arabia everything he needed to know so that he could testify to the leaders in Palestine, to Jews and Gentiles across the Mediterranean world, and finally to us centuries later through his letters. And his message is this: Christ died for sinners like you and me, and he rose from the dead defeating death for us.

These eyewitness documents are to be preached to desperate sinners who face the possibility of death every day.

I know that we are pretty jaded people. It comes with the territory. How many products have you bought that have left you wanting? How many lemons have you driven off the used car lot? And it’s actually worse than just being jaded. We have sinful minds which by nature abhor God and his message of grace. We (our sinful sides) fight against him. So did Thomas, Peter, and Paul. So these eyewitness documents are not just for our careful investigation. They are to be preached. Preached to desperate sinners like you and me who face the possibility of death every day. Preached so that we might believe that Jesus truly is who he says he is, the Lord Almighty and our Savior from sin.

“I don’t want you to be ignorant … or grieve like the rest of mankind” (1 Th 4:13) to quote that same St. Paul. I want you to know that there is a real hope based in real facts. I don’t want you to wonder what happens next. I don’t want you to be alone in the misery of burying a loved one. I don’t want you to be depressed about death or fear what comes next. I want you to be at peace. I want you to know that God did something about this horrible thing called death. I want you to know that Christ loved this world so much so that he gave his life for it, to pay the price for your indiscretions and everybody else’s too. I want you to know that he overcame death with a miracle. I want you to know that he promises you the same miracle of resurrection. I want you to know that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and he did it for you…so that one day you and I could join in heaven’s song we heard today, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rv 5:12). I want you to know, and so did Christ. So he ate with the disciples and told them to tell us. Christ lives, and so shall we.

Written by Michael Berg


Some helpful online resources:

Cross Examined (crossexamined.org)
Gary Habermas (garyhabermas.com)
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (rzim.org)
Reasonable Faith (reasonablefaith.org)
Stand to Reason (str.org)
The Veritas Forum (veritas.org)
Thinking Fellows (thinkingfellows.com)
Library of Historical Apologetics (historicalapologetics.org)


 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Listen to WELS Through My Bible in Three Years on Alexa

Last month the audio version of WELS Daily Devotion was added to Amazon Alexa’s “Flash Briefing” function. Today, we are pleased to announce that the Through My Bible in Three Years series is also available. If you have an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc. you can set up a “flash briefing” that plays through a list of available items, or “skills” of your choosing. You can hear news from NPR, the local weather forecast, a daily joke, and almost anything else you can imagine. Once you have it set up you can just ask Alexa to “play my flash briefing” or “what’s in the news?” There are other commands you can use as well. CNET put together a nice article on how to enable this feature.

You can now add WELS Through My Bible in Three Years to that lineup. Each day WELS provides a narrated portion of Scripture, that over the course of three years, will navigate its reader through the entire Bible. These passages are read by Pastor David Witte (now enjoying face-to-face conversations with his Lord in heaven). This is a wonderful way to be fed by the word over your morning cereal or driving the kids to school. In your Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone (or https://alexa.amazon.com on your computer) go to settings, then Flash Briefing, then “add content.” You can then search for “WELS Through My Bible.”

If you decide to use this “skill,” be sure to leave a review in the app. This will increase the likelihood of it being found by others, who can then also hear the Good News!

My Mission Journey: David

Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) sent out its first Mission Journeys team in January 2019 to assist Grace Lutheran Church in Sahuarita, AZ, with community outreach, English as a Second Language classes, and church property clean-up. David Wilson (pictured third from left), a junior at WLC and member at St. John’s, Pardeeville, WI, was a member of the team and shares his experience: 

Q: Why did you decide to volunteer for this Mission Journeys trip? What did you hope to gain?

I thought it would be a fun way to get out of my comfort zone and meet other WELS members outside of Wisconsin. I was looking for a different perspective by visiting a relatively young WELS church and also create closer relationships with the other participants.

Q: Have you been involved in outreach programs like this in the past?

I have been involved with other canvassing and mission efforts locally, but this was my first mission trip.

Q: What were some of the things you did on the trip? What was your favorite part?

The majority of the time was spent canvassing and interviewing residents to gain insight into the community. Our main goal was to inform people that the church was opening a new location with childcare, which is a large need in that community. We also had one day that involved doing work at the church. It was good ole’ manual labor to get the outside looking pretty. Besides working, we also had time to do a lot of hiking and to explore Tucson and the surrounding area.

Q: What lessons did you learn from your experience?

While it may be uncomfortable at first to approach someone at the door, that feeling of discomfort is only temporary. The results of my actions could impact someone eternally! We don’t get to see results right away, but that doesn’t mean our actions aren’t effective.

. . . I also learned that Arizona is an unforgiving place where many of the plants and animals can kill or hurt you. I’ve decided I would rather see a black bear in Wisconsin than a black widow spider in Arizona.

Q: How will you use what you learned on your trip in your own life?

I plan on taking this experience and utilizing what I learned to interact more with those I know who don’t understand the joy we have in Christ. While I know they will be difficult conversations, they will be more than worthwhile in the end.

Q: Would you go again? What would you say to someone who might be considering taking a trip like this in the future?

I would go again in a heartbeat. While we did do a lot of work in our short time in Arizona, we had a blast doing it. We also got to have fun exploring in the off-time. Personally, I thought the best part of the trip was getting to know the pastor and his family as well as the other church members. They really made us feel welcome and at-home during our stay. It was not easy to leave.

Q: Do you feel it is important for high school and college students to take time to do short-term outreach trips like these? Why or why not?

I would recommend this type of trip to any young person. Not only is it an awesome faith-strengthening experience, but these trips also give you an opportunity to bond with friends. It’s a cost-effective way to travel and expand your horizons.

Q: Anything else you want to add about your experience with Mission Journeys?

Coming from an older congregation, it was super fun to be involved with a younger congregation. I think that some of the ideas and programs I learned about would do well at my home congregation as well as others in the area. I hope these trips can serve as a way to increase the flow of ideas for outreach and programming for participants to take back to their home congregation.

 

To learn more about the WELS Mission Journeys program and how you and your congregation or school can get involved, visit wels.net/missionjourneys.

 

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Clouds and Sunshine

Which side of the clouds are you looking at?

As I was flying into a city in East Asia, I spotted this scene out of my seat, 42A. We had been flying above the clouds in bright blue skies with puffy white clouds. But as we descended it got darker and darker. Black clouds cast a pall over the city. . . but then a break in the clouds revealed my destination. There was even a little sun out on parts of the city.

Doesn’t this pretty much sum up what it means to see the world as a follower of Jesus? The group of people I was going to visit had been under a dark cloud. Local authorities told them they could not meet in the location they have used for a year and a half. They would be watched. Their lives would be touched by moments of fear and doubt.

But when I met to encourage them, I found that the Son was still shining. Brothers and sisters didn’t want to let the fear of persecution split up their group. They did want everyone to be doubly united in faith and hope to carry on. With God’s help, they will! They see the One who is both over the clouds and walks with them under the clouds.

It’s not an easy situation, but the early Christian church faced much worse. Persecution in the 21st century has grown to the point where many say Christians worldwide are the most persecuted of any group. Governments that want to control Christianity have more tools than ever such as surveillance cameras and other technology. But God’s eye is always on those who trust in him.

His Kingdom will not be brought down. Some brothers and sisters may be getting a small bruise as they stumble on a stone of persecution right now, but no one and no thing can ultimately oppose the Rock of Ages. As Jesus said, “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” – Matthew 21:44.

So let us fear God! May God bless governments with wisdom. May he strengthen his people whose lives are momentarily disrupted by fear. May he help all of us to keep seeking his Kingdom and his righteousness. We can trust his promise that the gates of hell shall not overcome it.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

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Back Home to Africa

Who doesn’t love to be home? Especially when you have a wonderful family such as my parents and older sister. I was born in Malawi, Africa, though I spent the first ten years of my life in the small town of Chipata in Zambia. My father, Pastor John Holtz, worked as a missionary there until he received a call to move to Malawi in 2008. I spent the rest of my school years there all the way until I graduated secondary school at age 18. Since then, I have been attending Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC) as a nursing student, currently in my third year. I have been extremely blessed to have been able to go back home to Malawi during the longer breaks to see my family and old friends.

Heather (left) and two friends after observing a surgery

As part of the nursing program at WLC, third year students go on an immersion trip to Lusaka, Zambia (the capital), where they stay on the seminary grounds. I did not live in Lusaka, but my family traveled there often for work and missionary gatherings. So there I was, surrounded by my classmates in a place so foreign to them yet so familiar to me. It felt odd, simply put. At the same time, it was a huge blessing to be able to share my life in such a unique way with the people who have accepted me into their lives in the United States.

The purpose of our trip was to experience the medical field in a Third World country. We visited the government-run hospital known as Chelstone, a private children’s clinic known as Beit Cure, an organization for disabled children known as Special Hope Network, and also some grade schools for teaching. We also traveled to a rural clinic in the town of Mwembezhi where WELS missionaries originally started their work. I thought that all of these organizations were impressive. With limited resources and endless patients, these facilities are doing a great job at providing inexpensive to no-cost care while still providing respectable patient outcomes.

First church (refurbished) built by the WELS mission in Mwembezhi, Zambia

You may be wondering if it is my desire to work there . . . that answer is difficult. In Zambia, only local residents are hired. The advanced health care systems in the United States have a much different focus, some of it good, and some of it I do not particularly like. On top of it being hard to “adult”, it is even harder to know where to start when you are pulled in so many different directions, as many missionary kids often experience.

But here’s the good news: God is in control. There may come a time when our parents move, and we feel like we have lost our home. Though we desire to go back, what is there for us to do? We need to remember that God leads us and knows what is best for us. When we worry about our future and transition into adulthood, it clouds our vision to the joy that is in Christ Jesus. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all you ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Patio area is where devotions are held in the mornings. Pictured: women line up for their children to receive vaccinations

So what does it feel like to be back home as an adult missionary kid? Contrarily, going back to Malawi makes me feel like a kid again. Many of my childhood memories were experienced there and in Zambia, my friends are there, my pets, my house . . . but most of all what makes it home is my family. I know its cliché, but how can I deny it? Whenever I am home, I feel myself again, though it is bittersweet. I go back, knowing I’ll have to leave again in a few weeks. I always cherish my time there, though I remember that life on this earth is temporary. Any struggles here on earth are nothing in comparison to the glory that will be experienced in heaven. Something that I find both comforting and amazing is that those same people, that my dad and all the other missionaries and Lutherans in Africa impacted, are going to be with me in heaven someday. I thank God for my life in Africa, and I thank God for my life here too. But most of all, I thank God for saving me a place in his Kingdom.

Heaven is my home.

Written by Heather Holtz, current student at Wisconsin Lutheran College and daughter of Africa Missionary John Holtz and wife Mindy

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A Little Child Shall Lead Them

*Specific details have been left out and names changed due to security precautions

Sophia was born in March 2013. When her mother went in for an 8-month check-up, the doctor told her, “Unless you reach the capital city within 24 hours, you and your unborn child will die.” To get there meant an 14-hour drive over many dangerous roads. To make matters worse, the government had shut down all air and car travel between cities because of strikes and protests. No one could travel the roads.

The father went into the police station and asked for a special permit. The chief of police gave him a document showing he had permission to travel the roads, but only at night. They got into a car and began the 14-hour journey. There were road-blocks by the police and by the protesters. The father had to get out of the car and remove the obstacles–trees, tires, barrels, etc–that the now-sleeping protesters had set up. Some of the roads were along the sides of cliffs where the tires come so close to the edge that a passenger must hang out of the window and bang on the side of the car to let the driver know if they are too close or “just the right distance” from the edge.

It took two nights to reach the city. By the grace of God his wife and daughter survived. She was born into the world a month early and was born into God’s family in baptism.

But life would not be a smooth road for this little girl . . . there were more challenges to come. After one year of life the family learned their little girl could not hear. She was unable to speak. With the help of friends she received ear implants. How she smiled the first time she was able to hear. Every day her mother took her to speech therapy.

Sadly, there were other health complications: frequent illnesses, infections, fevers, and stomach discomfort. She had trouble walking. Her parents and siblings often held her hand to keep her from falling. In spite of all this she was cheerful and bright – and she filled her family’s home with happiness.

Then on April 11, 2018 she had trouble breathing. Her mother rushed her to the hospital in only 15 minutes; but it was too late. Her little heart stopped beating. God took her out of this world to himself.

The father was caring for suffering people in a far-away place. To return to where his wife and daughter were required two days of walking and three days of driving. He decided to wait so he could tell a group of 150 people about the love of Jesus. They knew his daughter had just died–and they were surprised he did not leave immediately. He explained, “I know that my daughter is in heaven and I will see her again one day. I want you to know about Jesus so that you will have comfort when you or your loved ones are dying.” The next day he spoke to another group. Then he began the long journey back.

The family is grieving, but they have peace and love in God in their home. The father says, “I find great comfort in the baptism of my daughter. It is critically important that others baptize their children and grandchildren.” In some countries it is illegal to baptize anyone under a certain age. Many refuse to do it for this reason. They are afraid of being arrested and put in prison. In one place those who convert to Christianity and are baptized are guilty of a capital crime. According to the constitution, they are to be executed. How the devil rages against baptism . . . but “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Weak and stumbling though this little girl was, she has overcome Satan, the world, and death. She now lives as a powerful testimony of what it means to live and die–and live again–in Christ.

Written by a mission counselor to an Asian country

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Gospel Seeds Continue to Multiply

Ger Yang was one of the first Hmong men home missionary Rev. Loren Steele met in St. Paul, Minn. in 1988. Ger Yang and Loren Steele worked together to share the message of salvation with the Hmong in the Twin Cities area.

Ger Yang (left) at Village 9 in Thailand

After Ger Yang was trained to be a pastor, he went to Thailand for mission a trip in village 9, Tak, Thailand, where he unexpectedly passed away. After Ger Yang died in December 1995, the Lord brought me to study in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) program. I was ordained on October 16, 1999, and was called by the Minnesota district to serve Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minn.

The seed of the gospel is still working at Immanuel Hmong today! Immanuel Hmong was started by two strong missionaries: Ger Yang and Loren Steele (both of whom are now in heaven). After I was ordained two decades ago, Immanuel Hmong started off with only a few orphans and widows. From then on, the Lord has continued to bless his church to grow to over two hundred members. The Lord is kind and he took care of his church. Today, Immanuel Hmong’s worship attendance every week is around 110 with 200 souls in our membership. Our congregation is working hard to reach out to one of the largest Hmong populations in the United States. More than 70,000 Hmong people live in the Twin Cities area.

Although Immanuel Hmong is a mission church itself, we have a heart for mission work even outside of our own community. Immanuel Hmong continues to reach out to Thailand, following the footsteps of Ger Yang, to Village 9 and many other villages throughout Thailand where Hmong people can be found. Village 9 now has Hmong men serving as evangelists and pastors. Pastor Vang Toua Moua (Joe Saema) now serves as the main pastor for Village 9. The seed of the gospel didn’t die with Ger Yang. Once the gospel seed was planted in St. Paul, Minn., it spreads to the different parts of the United States and Southeast Asia. I was even asked to baptize ten people during my recent visit in December 2018!

Pastor Vang Toua Moua baptizes a newborn in Village 9

The seed of the gospel continues to spread to different villages. There are many nearby villages by Pastor Vang Toua who need the seed of the gospel. Pastor Vang Toua Moua and his congregation are equipped to bridge the gospel seed for those villages. We trust that the Holy Spirit will turn more hearts to faith in Jesus Christ.

Only the Lord can water the planted gospel seed to grow and multiply. I ask that you remember the Hmong ministries in the Minnesota district and around the world in your prayers. Together, the Lord will accomplish his purpose when he sends his gospel seed to the lost world. As Isaiah said, “As the rain and the 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 for 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.” May the seed of the gospel continue to grow!

Written by: Pastor Pheng Moua, Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn. and member of Joint Mission’s Global Hmong Committee

To learn more about Hmong ministry in the United States and around the world, visit wels.net/hmong.

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An Unexpected Missionary

During their fall 2018 meeting, the Board for Home Missions approved funding for three new missions starts. One of the new home mission starts is in Richland Center, Wis., which is part of a multi-site effort being supported by St. John, Hillpoint, and Trinity, Lime Ridge, both in Wisconsin. St. John and Trinity share one pastor, who has been exploring the viability of a mission in Richland Center. On January 1, retired Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Professor James Korthals began serving this new mission site as a part-time, second pastor.

To learn more about new home mission starts and enhancements that were approved in 2018, visit wels.net/newstarts.


Aveline

The best missionaries, more often than not, are not the ones you see in the pulpit.  This past fall, I—with the help of core group members in Richland Center, Wis.—started a new Mornings with Mommy program. Meeting once a month in the story time room of the local library, this program has provided a wonderful opportunity to meet and foster relationships with young families in the community. Many hands helped to make this new opportunity possible. Members of our multi-site congregations, nearby congregations, and pastoral support all have had a hand in reaching out with the gospel. But the best missionary for Mornings with Mommy has much smaller hands.

Meet Aveline. She is 2 ½ years old. Aveline first came to Mornings with Mommy in November, along with her mom, Shannon, and her 1 year old brother Emerson. Aveline is many things, but shy isn’t one of them. She jumped right into all of the activities and had a lot of fun! She was unable to make it to our December session, but we learned that she was the reason they returned in January.

Shannon and Emerson

Shannon grew up in the church but had drifted away over a number of years. But it was Aveline that reminded her of her need for her Savior. One of the circle time songs that is sung at each session is “Jesus Loves Me.” Shannon mentioned to one of the Mornings with Mommy helpers that at the November session, it was Aveline’s first time hearing “Jesus Loves Me.” But it wasn’t her last time singing it. Despite only hearing it once, over the next several weeks she was singing it in car rides, at home, and even remembering most of the sign language signs they were taught. Aveline’s enthusiasm reminded Shannon of what has been missing in their life and expressed a desire to return to church and join Sunday School and Bible classes. Not because of a dynamic pastor or welcoming member . . . but because of the joy of a two-year-old singing a simple song of our Savior’s love.

Aveline not only served as a missionary in her family, but a reminder to our volunteers and core group. She is the example of why we started this program, so that children and families may be connected to the love of Jesus and what he has done for them. It has made our volunteers want to reflect that child-like joy with whomever God brings to us each month.

Sometimes the best missionaries are not the ones you see in the pulpit. Sometimes it is a two year old sharing the love of Jesus with her family!

Written by: Pastor Dan Lewig, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Hillpoint, Wis. and Trinity Lutheran Church, Lime Ridge, Wis. 

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New Hope in Uganda

Originally appears on the One Africa Team Blog. To subscribe to receive future updates directly in your inbox, visit oneafricateam.com. “Like” the One Africa Team on Facebook at fb.com/OneAfricaTeamWELS


“Come over and help us!”

This first century request came from a man in Macedonia (Acts 16:9). Convinced that this plea was an outreach opportunity from God, a four-man team (Luke, Paul, Silas, and Timothy) set out on a mission journey to answer the call and share the gospel of Jesus. They traveled to various locations, spoke to the local people, visited the places of prayer, “reasoned with the people from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead . . .” (Acts 17:2,3)

The gospel did amazing things. It gave the people . . .

Pastor Makisimu Musa, wife Mary, with children Grace and Mark

New Hope.

Come over and help us!

This twenty-first century request came from a man in Bugiri, Uganda. Convinced that this was an outreach opportunity from God, a three-man team was formed and set out on a mission journey to answer the call and share the gospel message of Jesus. What Paul and his team did in Macedonia and beyond, the three-man team did in Uganda: traveled to various places, spoke to the local people, visited the places of prayer and expounded the Scriptures. By God’s grace, the results were the same: the gospel worked wonders and it gave people in Uganda . . .

New Hope.

The first century mission opportunity came by way of a vision (Acts 16:9). Last month’s opportunity came via an email. The request for help came from a man named Makisimu Musa, a pastor leading a fledgling church body in Uganda. Back in 2008, he caught wind of a Lutheran church body in America called WELS as well as a synod in Zambia and Malawi called the LCCA. (Pastor Musa was attending a school in Kenya and was told about the Lutheran Church, specifically about WELS and the LCCA in Zambia & Malawi.) He heard about their sound doctrine and practice and wanted to know more. He consulted with his fellow pastors and evangelists and together they decided it was time for them to reach out for help.

Frustrated with church politics, confused with false teachings, discouraged with a lack of Biblically sound materials, and uncertain of a God-pleasing way forward, they sent the message:

Come over and help us!

Translator Lydia

Those weren’t the exact words nor the only words, but it was the bottom line message. It went first to Pastor David Bivens (Divine Savior Lutheran Church, Sienna Plantation, TX), the Chairman of the Administrative Committee for Africa. Pastor Bivens then passed it along, and eventually it landed on the desk of Missionary John Hartmann in Zambia, who is the One Africa Team Outreach Coordinator for Africa. He assembled a team, set the dates, and planned the trip. On December 1, 2018, Missionary Hartmann, Pastor Pembeleka (LCCA-Malawi), and I touched down in Entebbe, Uganda.

The mission journey began. The outreach mission trip dates were set for November 30, 2018 – December 13, 2018.

We stayed with Pastor Musa and his family in his rural home. He had put together an aggressive schedule for us: travel to eight congregations, meet six pastors and five evangelists, teach three days of lessons, and attend two days of meetings.

In it all, we witnessed the Body of Christ in action:

  • Church leaders attended 18 hours of  lessons and presentations (Justification, the Church, and Stewardship);
  • Pastors preached the Word and administered baptism;
  • The pastor’s dear wife and others cooked our meals, washed our clothes, and tidied our rooms;
  • A Lutheran member drove us safely to all of our destinations;
  • Congregations prepared meals and traditional entertainment of plays, dramas, dances, and songs;
  • Several people served as translators, turning our English words into Luganda and Lusoga.

Spending a dozen nights and covering over a thousand kilometers gave us a glimpse of the Ugandan people and their beautiful land. Uganda truly lives up to her name: the Pearl of Africa. So many natural wonders! Among the many, Uganda boasts the second largest lake in the world (Victoria) and the source of the longest river on earth (Nile). We were blessed to see them both.

Left to Right: Rev. John Holtz, Rev. Bright Pembeleka, Rev. John Hartmann

But for us, the real Pearl of Africa is the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45,46): the gospel of Jesus Christ! It’s what prompted the first email from Pastor Musa. It’s what motivated our mission outreach trip. It was the foundation of our lessons and the focus of our meetings.

And it will guide any future plans and discussions with these new found brothers and sisters in Uganda.

May I humbly send you a request, too? Our plea comes from Uganda:

Come over and help us!

You don’t need to go there to answer the call. We simply, yet resolutely, ask for your prayers. Will you put Uganda on your prayer list? Pray for this mission outreach effort. The Lord has given us this wonderful opportunity and the gospel is already doing amazing things. The Pearl of Great Price is the only True Pearl of Africa . . . and the world!

Oh, by the way . . . as these Christians in Uganda find their footing and forge ahead, it’s this “Pearl” that reminds them why they chose the name they did for their new church body:

New Hope

Written by: Rev. John Holtz, Missionary in Malawi and member of the One Africa Team

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Sharing the Precious Message in Albania

I have a feeling we’re not in Novosibirsk anymore . . .

“You have palm trees!”

It’s such a touristy thing to say, but I can’t help it. We don’t have palm trees in Novosibirsk, Russia. I’ve just landed at the airport in Tirana, Albania. (Albania lies on the Mediterranean Sea, directly east of Italy’s heel.) Seminarian Nikolla Bishka is picking me up in his Ford Focus for the thirty minute drive to his hometown of Durres.

Albanian Pastors (L to R) – Niko, Agron, and Mikel

For the next two weeks “Niko” and I will study Paul’s letter to the Galatians and talk about what it means to serve as a pastor. I’m excited for the new challenge. For the past twenty-one years I have served as a missionary in Siberia. Now I have been asked to do some traveling in order to mentor pastors and seminary students in Russia, Bulgaria, and Albania.

Niko is twenty-six years old, quiet, but friendly. He lives with his parents, Pastor Mikel and Pavlena, and his younger brother Viktor. As we drive along the country’s main highway, Niko tells me how things have changed. The old dictator is gone. Life is better . . . but wages are low and prices are high. Gasoline costs $6.25 a gallon! Students are protesting peacefully in the streets of Tirana demanding improved living conditions. Many people are leaving the country to search for work in Italy or Germany. Religion is allowed. There was a time when all religion was banned. In the 1960s, Christians were imprisoned and even executed for their faith. Now about seventy percent of the population claim to be Muslim, and the rest are nominally Christian. Most of Albanian’s three million souls live in spiritual darkness.

Downtown Durres

Niko drops me off at my hotel which he carefully chose for its low price and beautiful view overlooking the ruins of an ancient Roman theater. We agree to start our studies the next day at the congregation’s rented facilities. I’m grateful for the chance to rest! The trip from Novosibirsk to Tirana takes a full day – three flights, six time zones, and nine hours in the air.

The Durres church is a storefront located right on the city’s main road. Immediately upon entrance, neatly labeled photographs of church members greet me. Niko points out his picture. Then he points out a picture of the congregation’s first pastor, Missionary Richard Russow, with the church’s founding members (2006). The church is decorated for Advent and Christmas.

Mikel (left) and Niko (right) leading worship

With a prayer for God’s blessing, Niko and I dive into our study of Galatians. What a joy! No wonder Martin Luther called this little book his “Katherine von Bora.” Luther loved this letter for its clear comfort: God has saved us by His mercy. There is nothing, NOTHING, we need to add to Christ’s perfect work of rescuing us for life. This freedom lets us love God and people with all our hearts. The people of Albania need to hear this precious message! Something else strikes us as we read Paul’s letter: the apostle dearly loved the people he served. He writes with such emotion as he urges his people to believe God’s truth and to reject Satan’s lies.

May God give Niko and all of us that same love for God’s word and God’s people! Please pray that God would give Niko many years of gospel service. Pray that God will lead many Albanian people to freedom in Christ!

Written by: Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Missionary in Russia

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Preach The Word – A Claim on Reality

Apologetics in Preaching

A Claim on Reality

I teach freshman, a lot of freshman. As I become acquainted with the spiritual lives of these brand-new college students, it is apparent that there is often a separation between their spiritual lives and their lives of reality. These two separate realms don’t often meet. When they do meet, it is not necessary that they correspond. Students might have a truth in their spiritual lives and a truth in their day-to-day lives, and it doesn’t bother them if they do not match…as freshmen anyway.

A student might believe in guardian angels but be incredulous at the idea of demon possession. A student might believe that God has authored a life plan for him but is not the author of mathematical constants. A student might believe that she has a soul but that there is no non-physical entity at play in biology or physics.

It all depends on the historicity of the resurrection.

This should not surprise us since a very clear message has been sent to our society: Christianity is not a claim on reality. St. Peter would differ. “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pt 1:16). Christianity is a claim on reality. Peter saw with his own eyes the real Jesus performing real acts in a real place in real time. St. Paul takes the argument to a further level when he says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead the whole Christian faith is useless. It all depends on the historicity of the resurrection. If Jesus remained in the grave, Christianity loses its power and you are being duped by such preaching. Spiritual truth needs to match reality.

Here is where some of the “New Atheists” are often the most honest ones in a conversation. It is one thing to tell your children a fairytale which they know (or eventually will figure out) is only a myth. It is quite another thing to indoctrinate your children into a worldview that is based on a falsity, especially one that has been the source of exclusion, violence, and even war. Some “New Atheists” even accuse religious parents of child abuse. Their line of thought is not off the mark. We might say the same thing about a cult leader who has convinced his followers that he is Christ returned. It’s wrong, and there is no neutral ground in the matter.

So there really is no room for a demythologized Christianity which denies the resurrection of Christ. It’s not intellectually viable. Nor is this demythologized Christianity redeemable as a moral code, not considering the scandals of the church. Christianity is not benign. It is either the way to salvation or it is a lie that has led to exclusion and even worse. There is no spiritual truth and real truth, just truth. On this we and the “New Atheists” can agree. It is becoming less and less acceptable in our culture to believe in a moralistic Christianity especially without a salvific resurrection. St. Paul was right all along.

While it is true that faith is believing in what we cannot see, it is not a blind faith based on myth. My faith is only as good as the object of that faith. Yet some have left the impression that faith is separated from fact. Again, a clear message has been sent: Christianity is not a claim on reality. Some of the blame is to be laid at the feet of the academy. The 19th century brought clarity to college campuses on an issue that had been incubating since the Enlightenment: Which discipline is the Queen of the Sciences? It started with a separation between the so-called hard sciences and soft-sciences. Chemistry is a claim on reality; theology is not. Physics deals in reality; philosophy does not. The hard sciences do truth; the humanities do opinion. And if there is a disagreement between the two, the hard sciences will win (and get the funding too).

American preachers have helped to solidify a false division between fact and opinion.

Yet some of the blame belongs at the foot of the pulpit. American preachers have helped to solidify a false division between hard and soft, fact and opinion. Some have left the impression that science is out to get theology, and Christians should be wary of intellectual inquiry. Perhaps too many words have been spoken about topics better left to the psychologist (matters that are, rightly or wrongly, called “soft”), and not enough words have been spoken on Christianity’s claim on truth and the robust worldview it offers (matters based on “hard” facts). Perhaps we have unwittingly accepted the division of hard and soft, admitting our place in the latter. After all, we just do faith.

Remaining in the arena of the soft is problematic because there is no way to prove a soft truth other then, perhaps, a personal experience. And even then we are left with a faith detached from an object. The strength of that subjective faith becomes the ultimate determining factor for Christian conviction instead of the facts of Christianity. A person can believe in anything, but that doesn’t make it true. This is not to dismiss emotional and passionate reactions to God’s saving actions or grief at losing a loved one which is comforted with a promised resurrection. It is just that those emotions and passionate reactions should be grounded in the reality of Christ.

Too many freshman come to college with the mindset that their faith is mere opinion, tradition, or a psychological aid. Faith is, at best, a virtue. It can be valuable. It is good, but it is soft. Real truth, reality itself, is to be discovered in the laboratory. Religion might be useful for psychological well-being but has little, if any, purpose in the real world. But we can’t remain freshmen forever. Eventually we are confronted with this thought: Do I turn my brain off in the spiritual realm and just accept my faith as a soft truth that does not necessarily correspond with hard truth (i.e. reality), or do I simply leave behind such childish things?

She told me that I had given her permission to think.

When serving as a parish pastor I experienced a memorable moment on this topic: a young adult woman told me that I had given her permission to think. She had the impression that thinking was antithetical to her Christian faith—even that it was wrong. In humility she did not want to question what she had been taught, but this only made her doubt more. She was at an existential crossroads. Do I keep turning my brain off in this spiritual realm, or do I finally succumb to reality and reject the whole thing as myth, a useful myth maybe, but just a myth? It was a false dichotomy. She only needed to see that Christianity is a legitimate claim on reality, that it offers an intellectually satisfying worldview. She needed permission to think.

Our faith is a simple faith but not a simpleton faith. So we preachers should ask ourselves some questions: Does my preaching inspire a simpleton faith or a robust worldview emerging from the simple truths of scripture? Have any listeners been intellectually turned off by my preaching? Have I, as a preacher, concentrated on the method of preaching confident that I had the right message, but not plumbing the depths of that message? Have I conflated the simple and unchangeable message of the gospel with a simpleton message? We preachers are in an office that demands asking such humbling and penetrating questions.

Preaching becomes more robust, dismantling the idea that Christianity is an unintellectual crutch for the weak.

Preachers should be careful not to leave the impression that the Christian faith cannot compete with other worldviews. Christianity can and has. One of the tasks of the apologist is to create a level playing field on which he can make the claims of Christianity over against other claims. The apologist wants the skeptic to use the same reason and logic which he or she uses with every other fact in life. From there a presentation of Christ may be made through which the Spirit may do his saving work of faith. A satisfying Christian worldview can then be developed. In turn preaching becomes more robust, dismantling the idea that Christianity is an unintellectual crutch for the weak.

Christianity has a lot to offer. The most important thing is salvation, of course, but it does not end there. Springing from the love of God in Christ comes a worldview that deals with all the big questions in life. It is a complete worldview, the only one on the market. For far too long the secular world has lived off the borrowed capital of the Judeo-Christian worldview. While the preacher is a proclaimer of grace and not a salesman, this does not mean that he should ignore the completeness of the Christian message. This is important when dealing with the skeptic who has yet to believe that salvation is in Christ. All she sees is what Christianity offers in a broad sense. And if all she sees is a shallow ideology, she is less likely to give the gospel a hearing.

Christianity deals with all of the big questions of life. Who are we? Where are we going? What is our purpose? What is the point of suffering? What is the good life? How should we act? Not every worldview offers satisfactory answers to these questions. A materialist has no answer to suffering other than that it is something to be eradicated. Christianity has the theology of the cross. The Buddhist scrambles to find a purpose in day-to-day life other than the Eightfold Path to eliminate Dukkha (suffering or mental dysfunction). Christianity offers a divine purpose in vocation (love of neighbor as God’s coworker or mask).

Christianity has also been significant in its contributions to many endeavors: the university, hospitals, human rights, modern science, just war theory, ethics, law, education, and music. No doubt misguided Christians have fought against the good in some of these, but abuses in the name of the Christian faith do not negate the true message of Christianity. It is to our shame that atrocities have happened in the name of Christ. Yet Christianity has an answer even for that: forgiveness for even the most misguided people.

The task of the apologetically-minded preacher is to promote the robust worldview of Christianity without arrogance, all the while making sure the gospel predominates. The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany offers an opportunity on February 17, 2019. The assigned texts offer a clear distinction between the person who trusts God and the person who trusts man. In the First Reading (Jr 17:5-8), Jeremiah promises blessings to the faithful and predicts doom for the unfaithful. Psalm 1 continues this contrast between the one who walks in the counsel of the wicked and the one who does not.

Then, as usual, Jesus flips everything upside down. Luke’s version of the Beatitudes (Lk 6:17-26) tell us that the poor are blessed and that the hungry will be satisfied. Those who trust in God will have all of these beautiful benefits, but they might have to wait until the Promised Land of heaven much like the faithful in Jeremiah’s day had to wait until after the exile for their Promised Land.

But Christ did rise from the dead, and this fact changes the world.

Then consider the Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 15, part of a lectio continua during the Epiphany season, year C. Here St. Paul lays out for believers a clear apologetic message: If Christ did not rise, then Christianity is a fraud. But Christ did rise from the dead, and this fact changes the world. A sermon on these readings could tackle the issue of Christianity as a claim on reality. Maybe something like this….

Paul is pretty confident in his faith, isn’t he? It is not a false confidence. The distinction between a false confidence and a confidence based in fact is hugely important for us. If we are to judge a person’s religious claims by his or her confidence, then the suicide-bomber wins out. Who is more confident than he? No, Paul is confident that Jesus rose from the dead because Jesus actually rose from the dead and Paul investigated the matter. Not only did Jesus appear to him on the road to Damascus and teach him in Arabia, but Paul also knew of eye-witness accounts of the resurrection. So Paul defended himself before Agrippa and Festus with this statement: “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Ac 26:25-26). These things were not done in a corner but out in the open for all to see. You can investigate these facts.

Armed with both the facts and the Spirit’s gift of faith, Paul is confident enough to say that everything depends on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the whole thing falls apart and Christianity is a fraud. Paul puts everything on the line. Not with a bomb strapped to his chest but armed with reasonable truth and Spirit-given faith.

So Christianity is not neutral, is it? It’s not a self-help program that is valuable whether or not Jesus actually rose from the dead. It’s not a moral code with a nice fable about a man who overcame great evil but indifferent to the claim that he is God Almighty. It’s not an inspiring story that encourages us but is divorced from the facts of Christ’s life. It is a claim on reality. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is a lie and we should not be Christian.

And quite frankly, a lot of other things fall apart too. Do we have the same concept of human rights without the concept that mankind is created in the image of God and loved enough to be redeemed by God? If I am just a pile of molecules like everything else, do I really have value? Do we have the same amount of scientific progress without the concept of an ordered universe that is given to us to for exploration? If the physical world is divine, as many ancients thought, should we even carry out scientific experiments since it would be playing with the divine? Do we have the same sense of morality without an absolute being? What gives anybody the right to say “This is right” or “This is wrong” if it is just my opinion versus yours? I would argue that we wouldn’t have the same world that we live in without God and the resurrection of his Son. We would have something far worse.

Of course none of that really matters unless we have internal peace and eternal hope. And we can’t have peace and hope without a resurrection from the dead. So this is the question that Christianity answers above all else: Where am I going after this life? Well, here is your peace and hope: the resurrection of Christ. And it isn’t a myth; it really happened. This gives you internal peace: You know that you stand righteous before God on account of Christ. This gives you eternal hope: No matter what happens, eternal bliss belongs to you.

But there is more. Along with this peace and hope comes a full life, a life of value, rights, exploration, purpose, and joy. It answers all the questions mentioned above. Christ really is the answer to all of life’s questions. This is the difference between the man who walks is the counsel of the wicked and the man who does not as we sang in the psalm. This is the difference between the person who trusts God and the person who trusts man as Jeremiah contrasted for us today. Trusting in man over God forces us to put a disordered world into order and answer the great questions of life by ourselves. On the other hand, trusting in God means that we have an ordered world given back to us in gospel freedom—a world full of meaning, purpose, and opportunity.

And even better, we have a God who forgives us and will resurrect us despite the fact that we have and will fail in this life. This claim is true. The apostles witnessed his resurrection and have reported it to us. Through their words the Spirit grants us faith and even confidence, a Paul-like confidence. With this we live free, free to explore, think, learn, take chances, all with internal peace and an eternal hope.

Written by Michael Berg


Books for further study:

Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target by John Lennox
How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmidt
Human Rights and Human Dignity by John Warwick Montgomery
Postmodern Times by Gene Edward Veith
The Spiritual Society: What Lurks Beyond Postmodernism? by Frederic Baue
Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl
Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements by Thomas Oden
Solomon among the Postmoderns by Peter Leithart


 

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What do you do with children in worship? Historical and scientific perspectives

What do you do with children in worship?

Historical and scientific perspectives

Why? It’s a question so beautiful yet so horrifying. Parents know. It can be equal parts inquisitive and annoying. It can cause a parent joy or frustration. “Why is the sky blue? Why do cows have spots but zebras have stripes? Why does it take so long to get to grandma’s? Why did that man just make a hand gesture at your driving?” Oh, to be a child again with such an inquisitive mind!

For all the times that parents hear an equally dear and dreaded question, God forbid they ever stifle curious minds when it comes to Christ and his kingdom! Children want to know so much about Jesus. “Why was he so loving? Why did he have to die? Why did he ascend into heaven?” They want to know so much about worship, too! “Why do we say ‘Amen’ so often? Why does the pastor make the cross with his fingers? Why did he say that you’re eating his body and drinking his blood?” How precious and how special that little children are asking giant questions!

God’s design is for children to be curious and for parents to be the ideal teachers. In the previous article we noted how Scripture testifies that it is God’s will for parents to train children in “the way that they should go.” Before exploring this further, consider support from church history and science.

History on Children in Worship

Last time we considered key principles from Scripture. To summarize:

  • Worship is for all people of all ages.
  • Parents have primary responsibility for training their children in the faith.
  • Parents in Scripture taught their children to worship.
  • Parents in Scripture brought their children to public worship events—no matter how great, grand, or gruesome.
  • Children were expected to be present at worship. (Paul addressed them in his epistles.)

Children joining their parents for worship is not a fad or phase of the past. This has always been the case. We can go back to Abraham and God’s encouragement to train his children in the ways of the Lord (Genesis 18), or to Moses and his encouragement to teach children anywhere and everywhere the commands of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6 et al.). Claire R. Matthew McGinnis notes in an essay on children that expression of the Jewish faith involved much interaction with children in worship.1

McGinnis reminds us that Passover (Exodus 12:25-27), the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:7-8), firstborn rituals (Exodus 13:14-16), and the promised land monument (Joshua 4:6-7, 21-24) all had intended opportunities for children to ask “What does this mean?” God had designed worship for his people in such a way that the children would ask the giant “Why?” questions! The parents would then have occasion to teach and explain how these rites and rituals of worship connected to God’s grace in the past. Alfred Edersheim similarly describes in detail how from early on children would know the sights, sounds, and songs of temple life and worship.2 This was simply what the Jewish people always did. This was their way of life with their children—going to worship with their children and then teaching and training them.

As the Christian church then emerged from the Jewish people, the first Christians carried forward the attitude of Christ who welcomed little children and the rich history of families worshiping together. Marcia Bunge notes that while descriptions of early worship practices aren’t common, the evidence is strong enough to suggest that children were present at worship.3 Many of the early fathers also discussed children in their writings and sermons, and especially the importance of teaching and training children. John Chrysostom in particular wrote much about parenting and children.4 In every era of church history children were always included in worship, and parents were thought of as the critical influence in a child’s life.

In every era of church history children were always included in worship.

Thus, as we sweep across history and observe the evil of this world’s people using and abusing children, we witness the stark contrast of God’s people who treasured their children. They treasured them so much that they brought them again and again to Jesus’ feet as they carefully taught them the faith and trained them to worship, answering so often their “Why?” questions about worship.

Contributions from Science

As Lutherans, the solid foundation of our faith is the living Word of God alone. The Scriptures alone dictate our doctrine. However, it is a blessing from God when other sources of information give us wisdom and insight into what we know from the Word. We have seen how church history gives us additional information about children in worship. Science has much to offer as well.

Lisa Miller is a New York Times bestselling author who has spent more than two decades studying the spirituality of children.5 Her discoveries are conclusive that children are spiritual. We may smile at that since we know the Scriptures have testified for millennia about the soul and conscience that all people possess. However, her studies are still fascinating and useful.

In her work, Miller continually observed the child’s keen perception for the big, grand, and divine. Consider how children “Ooh” and “Aah” at the ocean or the Grand Canyon, or how they draw incredibly profound pictures about Jesus and heaven. It’s as if children were made for awe and reverence. Surely this is part of a simple child-like faith. This is the divinely-designed science behind the “Why?” questions children often ask.

Science also provides much information for us to ponder on the topic of child development—volumes of facts and figures about the developing body and brain of children. Consider a few key pertinent points:

  • Children learn best when they follow examples (mimic, imitate, repeat after me).
  • Children learn best when there is repetition (doing something over and over again).
  • Children learn best when examples and repetition come from their own parents.
  • Children learn best when they use all their senses (sight, sound, touch, etc.).

The church has been richly blessed with a liturgy that is centuries ahead of the sciences.

Clearly, science offers support for the importance of parents taking the lead in teaching their children the faith and training them to worship. But another thought occurs: what a precious gift God has given to us in the divine service! The church has been richly blessed with a liturgy that is centuries ahead of the sciences.

In worship the entire body of Christ gathers together—young and old alike. In the service children mimic and imitate the examples of their parents. They repeat songs, psalms, confessions, creeds, and prayers over and over.6 And while doing this, all their senses are engaged:

  • Eyes that see colors of the church year, robes, movements of the congregation
  • Ears that hear music, songs, psalms, words, prayers, and sermon
  • Mouths that join in those songs, words, and prayers
  • Noses that smell candles, flowers, perhaps incense, or a familiar “churchy smell”
  • Bodies that move by sitting and standing, bowing, folding hands, kneeling

Science contributes to our topic by emphasizing the importance of parents teaching and training. Experience teaches the same. I think of my daughter who from little on has sung hymns by herself in bed, or my son at age four wandering the living room with a piece of paper because he was “memorizing his sermon.” Both of them (now 8 and 11) just a week ago recalled my father’s Easter sermon theme from last year: Christ is Risen! No Foolin!

I think of a host of children who would belt out, “Glory to God in the highest” because they sang it in chapel during the week. I think of little Audrey setting a great example for the whole congregation with every hearty “Amen!” and fervently loud rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. I think of the preschoolers who watched with silent awe as their parents received the Lord’s Supper or ashes on Ash Wednesday. I think of kindergarteners enamored with the flickering candle flames of a Compline service, first graders who pondered the import of a pitch-black sanctuary as the seventh candle was extinguished on Good Friday, and even the littlest tykes who know when to respond, “He is risen indeed!”

Children have … a great aptitude for awe and reverence.

Children have been designed by God in such a way that as they develop—cognitively, emotionally, spiritually—they have a great aptitude for awe and reverence. Children are built for the “Why?” you could say. And God has given parents the great privilege of teaching and training in order to explain the “Why?” This is true for their faith lives and their worship lives.

History Repeats Itself?

What a mess it was! Few knew anything about the Bible. Few understood or even attended worship. Most abused their Christian freedoms. And regrettably, the pastors were leading the people astray. Luther could hardly believe it was actually that bad. Luther reported to Nicholas von Amsdorf on his horrifying visit to the Saxon churches, a letter that is now part of the enchiridion to the Small Catechism. Luther wrote:

The deplorable, wretched deprivation that I recently encountered while I was a visitor has constrained and compelled me to prepare this catechism, or Christian instruction, in such a brief, plain, and simple version. Dear God, what misery I beheld! The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows absolutely nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers. Yet supposedly they all bear the name Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments! As a result they live like simple cattle or irrational pigs and, despite the fact that the gospel has returned, have mastered the fine art of misusing all their freedom. Now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely learned to abuse all freedom like experts.

Considering the massive influence of a messy American culture along with the abuses of freedom seeping from Evangelical churches, perhaps we could say history is repeating itself. What was Luther’s solution to the problem? Teaching! Parents needed to be taught and they in turn needed to teach their children. Hence, the Large and Small Catechisms. If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, history should repeat itself here, too: more teaching and training about worship.

The solution to any challenges is teaching and training parents.

Regarding the question of what to do with children in church, the answer from Scripture and other historical sources seems clear: the best practice is children worshiping with their parents among the full body of Christ. The solution to any challenges then is teaching and training parents and they in turn teaching and training their children. Statistics suggest that we haven’t been doing a great job with this.

In a survey of nearly 600 WELS pastors across the US and Canada, 92% reported that they do not offer formal training to parents about how to engage their children in worship. Confirming this, a survey of 200 WELS parents reported that 93% have not received any worship education.

Similarly, a survey of pastors reported that 78% of churches do not offer training to children about worship. However, it is suspected that those that do train children do so only through their Lutheran school. Why this assumption? Because a survey of parents found 95% reporting that their congregation has not offered any training to their children to help them understand or participate in worship.

It would seem as though a wise first step in our congregations would be to follow in Luther’s steps (again!) and double down on families. Surveys strongly indicate that parents and children would benefit from more teaching and training regarding worship. But when presented with some test materials that could help in this matter, more than 75% of focus group parents indicated they would like more materials to help their family engage in worship. Our congregations seem to want help, too. The survey of WELS pastors indicated that 78% of them would be highly interested in materials that help teach and train parents to teach and train their children.

An Example of a Solution

Recently, WELS Congregational Services created a booklet of daily devotions with accompanying prayers, rites, and rituals for Advent and Christmas. The intention was for the family to spend time together at dinner or bedtime to meditate on the Word, discuss some common worship practices (like the Advent wreath), and prepare for the coming of the Savior.

These materials are brilliant—precisely what is needed to help train children in worship. Consider the benefits of making use of such materials:

  • Families are growing together in the Word.
  • Children have opportunities to ask their “Why?” questions and get answers from parents.
  • Families are following scriptural directives and precedent, reflecting historical and scientific support, for parents taking the lead in teaching and training their children.
  • Families are reflecting on the Scripture readings heard in worship, subtly training children to listen carefully in church so that they can be prepared for these daily devotions.
  • Parents are training children for worship as they teach them about various aspects of worship (in this case the wreath, the tree, candles, etc.).

In my reading and research on the question of what to do with children in church—in Scripture, church history, science, survey work, and more—it is quite clear that the number one solution lies with the parents. God tells us that he wants all his people to worship him. God tells us that he has charged parents first with the responsibility of teaching and training children. Thus, if we want to make improvements on the topic of children in church, we must work hard to teach and train the parents.

Conclusion

The long history of this world is filled with darkness, evils, and atrocities, especially toward children. From Molek to medieval or modern times, from varying abuses to millions of abortions, sin has gripped the hearts of many cultures and children have sadly experienced far too much evil. But through every era the light of Christ has shined on and through his people who act distinctly different. God’s people treasure the blessings that are their children. Thus, throughout the ages Christian parents have been careful to answer the “Why?” faith questions of their children. It is the distinct privilege of parents to teach their children how and why we worship a gracious Savior God who shepherds us to a paradise much different than this world of sin.

As leaders of churches, schools, and synod, pastors would do well to follow the directives of Scripture, the support of history and science, and the saints who have gone before us. We must find more and new ways to continue the critical work of supporting parents in the teaching and training of their children. May our actions support the prayer of the hymn Gracious Savior, Gentle Shepherd:

By your holy Word instruct them;
Fill their minds with heav’nly light.
By your pow’rful grace convince them
Always to approve what’s right.
Let them feel your yoke is easy;
Let them find your burden light.

Taught to love the holy praises
Which on earth your children sing,
With their lips and hearts, sincerely,
Glad thankoff’rings may they bring,
Then with all the saints in glory
Join to praise their Lord and King.

This article has focused in a general way on a vitally important strategy: teaching and training parents so that they can do the same for their children. In the next and final article on children in worship, we will explore specific ways that congregations and parents can partner together to teach and train children to worship.

Written by Phil Huebner


1 Bunge, Marcia J., Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, eds. The Child in the Bible. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.
2 Edersheim, Alfred. Sketches of Jewish Social Life. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003, p. 103-104.
3 Bunge, op. cit.
4 See especially his major work, An Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, also known by a more concise title, On Vainglory and the Raising of Children.
5 Miller, Lisa. The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving. New York: St. Martin’s, 2015, p. 10.
6 Is there a risk of encouraging thoughtless auto-pilot worship? Not when pastors, parents, worship planners, and musicians focus on the depth, richness, and variety available in Lutheran worship. Helpful content is at worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-education; e.g. for pastors (Theology of the Ordinary) for congregations (Worship Service Notations) and for parents: (The ABCs of Worship and Meaningful Worship).


 

WORSHIP

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

GIVE A GIFT

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

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Faces of Faith – Simon the Translator

An exciting ray of hope continues to shine among the growing number of Lutheran congregations of South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. As the camp has extremely limited internet access, Multi-Language Publications (MLP) has provided hundreds of pounds of printed materials, from catechisms to seminary resources, to serve these vibrant congregations.

PSI training in Kakuma Refugee Camp (Simon pictured in green)

Very few of our Nuer brothers and sisters speak English. Enter student pastor Simon, early 30s in age, who speaks fluent English and was my translator for a week of Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) sponsored classes for 17 men at Kakuma last October.

The relationship one builds with a translator over a short period of time is often amazing, but none have ever compared to working beside Simon, with his passion and exuberance for the message of Christ. Simon’s method of translating included walking closely beside me and mimicking my every hand gesture. It often felt like we were in some kind of choreographed dance together. I found myself motivated to be more demonstrative in my movements, with Simon immediately responding. At the same time, Simon began punctuating the points I made in class with an exuberant “Alleluia,” which was echoed back by the students. Seeing Simon get more excited got me more excited! It was an exhilarating experience as we fed off each other in a class on the life of Christ.

Simon preaching

On the last day of classes, Simon was asked to preach at our camp-wide, combined church service. Simon however, did not restrict himself to simply preaching. Grabbing a large, goat-skin covered drum in one hand and wielding a strip of rubber truck tire tread for a drumstick in the other, Simon just wailed on that drum from the opening song. Stalking the congregation to root out the timid, Simon urged the assembly on to greater and greater heights of joyous praise. The room became an ocean of music, rhythm, drums, and movement.

Needless to say, Simon preached with the exuberance he displayed in his music and his translating. I videotaped over an hour of Simon preaching. Rarely have I seen a man preach with such intensity and passion.

Two days later our visit to Kakuma was over, and we needed to say goodbye until next year. I couldn’t wait to work again with this amazingly gifted brother.

Simon (on the right) plays his drum for worship

Less than two weeks after we left Kakuma Refugee Camp, I got the news from Pastor Peter Bur, our U.S.-based South Sudanese pastor who serves as South Sudanese ministry coordinator. Peter told me that Simon and a few others were walking home late at night after an evening church gathering and decided to take a shortcut outside of the parameters of the camp. As they walked through a deep, unlit valley, they were attacked by robbers (not of the Nuer tribe) looking for a little cash or a cell phone. Simon was shot in the chest and died a short while later.

I miss Simon more than I can put into words. Although the only word I ever understood him say when he preached was “Alleluia,” that one word said it all. We both believed in the same Savior Jesus. We both knew we were on the road to Paradise. And during those classes, we both knew there was nothing more important and exciting we could be doing than preparing men to take the message of Jesus to the ends of that camp.

Simon got to Paradise way before anyone expected. Kakuma will never be quite the same. Neither I suspect will the heavenly choir, with Simon no doubt shouting his “Alleluias” the moment he arrived. I will see you again, Simon, when we will sing and play drums together to our Savior King forever!

Written by: Rev. Terry Schultz, Consultant for Multi-Language Publications 

P.S. – To learn more about WELS Joint Missions outreach to the South Sudanese, visit wels.net/sudanese.

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Listen to WELS Daily Devotion on Alexa

The audio version of WELS Daily Devotion can now be added to Amazon Alexa’s “Flash Briefing” function. If you have an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc. you can set up a “flash briefing” that plays through a list of available items, or “skills” of your choosing. You can hear news from NPR, the local weather forecast, a daily joke, and almost anything else you can imagine. Once you have it set up you can just ask Alexa to “play my flash briefing” or “what’s in the news?” There are other commands you can use as well. CNET put together a nice article on how to enable this feature.

You can now add WELS Daily Devotion to that lineup. Each day WELS provides a three- to five-minute devotion based on a Bible passage. These devotions are written by WELS pastors across the country and globe. They are then “read” by a few individuals within the WELS Congregational Services team. What a great way to put technology to work for you as you sit over your morning coffee or get ready for work. In your Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone (or https://alexa.amazon.com on your computer) go to settings, then Flash Briefing, then “add content.” You can then search for “WELS Daily Devotion.”

If you do have an Echo (perhaps there was one in your stocking) and decide to use this “skill,” be sure to leave a review in the app. This will increase the likelihood of it being found by others, who can then also hear the Good News! Look for more skills in the near future including our “Verse of the Day” and “Through The Bible” readings.

Thanksgiving Evangelism

What is thanksgiving? Why does this country celebrate Thanksgiving in November each year? Many Hmong in the Kansas City community celebrate Thanksgiving each year, but do they really understand the meaning of Thanksgiving?

The answer is no!

Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Hmong people celebrate Thanksgiving by preparing a big meal to enjoy with family members and friends like other American people do. In the non-Christian Hmong community, Thanksgiving is just a holiday for eating and drinking. They only enjoy the abundant foods and drinks on their table, but they don’t know the true meaning of Thanksgiving – the appreciation and thanks for the saving grace and blessings God provides to mankind.

Thanksgiving is one of the most effective events Grace Hmong uses to attract Hmong people in the community to hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a huge piece of our evangelism calendar. Each year during the Thanksgiving holiday, Grace spends a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to host a successful event. Grace prays and hopes to bring the Hmong community to attend the event and to hear the message of God.

Grace Hmong Lutheran Church – Kansas City, Kans.

At our 2018 Thanksgiving service, the members of Grace again had the opportunity to share with our guests why we say thank you for the blessings and love we receive from God. We shared the message of why we find ourselves having a reason to celebrate. There’s never a time NOT to express our gratitude to God for what he has done for mankind! Psalm 140:13 declares, “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name.” Giving thanks is what Christians do. We were so happy to share that message with our community during the service and meal time.

I was blessed and amazed to see all of the attendees enjoying their time eating up God’s Word during the service. And again during meal time, everyone enjoyed the tasty foods Grace provided. As I looked at their smiling faces, nothing was more enjoyable than spiritual feeding with God’s word and physical feeding with well-prepared Thanksgiving food.

All of the effort, time, and money Grace Hmong put into the event was well worth it. All of our guests enjoyed the message and food. The overall turnout of the event was around 102 people, many of whom were visitors from the community and nearby neighborhood.  From this event, there were two families who were interested in joining the church. The sweetness of the gospel warms their hearts and compels them to join us and come back next time.

The congregation’s outreach efforts are focused on our evangelism program, a Facebook advertising campaign for the weekly sermon series, and events such as thanksgiving with a potluck meal to follow.

Grace’s outreach to the Hmong community is not easy, and we have been experiencing many challenges. However, God continues to remind us that the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel for the Holy Spirit to win the lost souls.

We are very excited about the gospel outreach opportunities within our community and we hope to share that excitement with the Lord’s people who are supporting that work with their prayers and with their offerings. Let’s keep on sharing the message of saving grace in Jesus!

Written by: Rev. Ger Lor, Pastor at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kans. 

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Swords and Selfies

Less than thirty years after Martin Luther’s death, in the town of Riobamba in the Spanish territory known as the viceroyalty of Peru, and at the foot of what was then considered the world’s highest mountain, a man simply known as “the Lutheran” arrived. The story goes that he was suspected of being Lutheran because he talked about being saved by Jesus without a word about the Virgin Mary or any of the saints.

Coat of Arms in Riobamba

“The Lutheran” didn’t last long in Riobamba. The townspeople’s suspicions quickly turned into hate, and then into action. With the fervor that accompanied the festival of Saint Peter, the man who represented salvation by grace alone was dragged into the town square in front of the cathedral and hacked to death with swords. When word of the action reached Philip the IV of Spain, the king he was so impressed with the enthusiastic execution carried out by the people of Riobamba that he granted them the great honor of a royal coat of arms for their town. The year was 1575.

443 years later, fellow Lutheran missionary Nathan Schulte and I walked into the town square of the same village (now in the country of Ecuador). We saw the same facade of the church in front of which “the Lutheran” had been executed (the rest of the building was destroyed in an earthquake, but the ornately carved stone facade that presided over the martyrdom in 1575 still stands today). High on the municipal building at the center of the town’s coat of arms, a Lutheran face looks out over the square with two swords pointed towards it.

And we took selfies.

But I didn’t go all the way to Ecuador for a selfie. I made the trip (I live with my family in Mexico) to take part in a little of the work there in Ecuador and join Nathan and Phil Strackbein (the other missionary who lives in Ecuador) in a full day of planning of how the precious message of salvation by grace alone would be taken to the people of Ecuador. Our missionaries have only been in Ecuador for six months, but, so far, they are being met with more open doors than swords.

Carlos Fernandez and his wife Graciela study the catechism with Missionary Johnston in Argentina

My trip last month not only took me to Ecuador, but also to Paraguay, Argentina, and southern Mexico. At those stops I met people who, as they take classes online or in-person, were sharing it with others. I spent two entire days studying with a man in northern Argentina who, at the end of my last day, showed me the lot he owns where he plans to build a church and where the pure gospel will be shared. I visited the humble home of a man in southern Mexico who filled his small living room with family and friends so that we could talk about Jesus.

As I had the privilege to move freely and study the Bible with people in Latin America, I couldn’t help but think of “the Lutheran” of Riobamba, perhaps the first Lutheran in this part of the world. How could I complain about staying in an accurately-priced $13-a-night hotel room or spending half a day in a Paraguayan bus station when I compared what I had to go through to those who have gone before? By God’s grace, 501 years after the Reformation, we have an open door for the gospel in places where once we did not. Through online classes, on-the-ground missionaries, occasional visits and, above all else, by the power of the life-changing gospel, people are telling people, disciples are making disciples who make disciples, and the name of Jesus is being shared in Latin America.

Written by: Rev. Andrew Johnston, Missionary in Latin America

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The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest

When you work with people of another culture and another language, those people handle your linguistic shortcomings in a few different ways. First, you have “the Simplifier,” who slows the conversation with you way down and only uses simple words, immediately rephrasing sentences that may be too complex. Next, you have the “the Louder.” This is the person who speaks extra slow to make sure you understand, making big gestures as sign language to help you along. And, for some reason, they think it will help if they speak louder and louder until they are nearly shouting at you . . . but in a very eager and friendly way. Finally, you have the “the Firehoser.” That’s the person who forgets almost immediately that they are speaking with someone who is just learning their language. They are so excited to speak with a foreigner who understands their language that you are soon swimming in complex vocabulary and grammar you’ve never studied, at speeds faster than a 747.

My friend YuTong is definitely a “Firehoser.” I invited him to a local restaurant to eat lunch with me. Since his father is a chef, Yutong knows a lot about food preparation. He began to explain to me in his language why many local restaurants fail to make foreign food correctly. Within seconds, he was using all sorts of jargon I didn’t understand. I smiled and nodded in agreement. I really wish I had understood what he was talking about. It sounded so interesting, and he was so excited about it.

Most of our conversations go that way: him excitedly telling me things, me straining my little brain to understand while looking up words in the dictionary as fast as I can. Thankfully, Yutong is also a “Simplifier” when he remembers to be, so he slows down and makes sure that he doesn’t lose me.

It was during one of these “Simplifier” moments that he told me about his imminent divorce. He and his wife have not been communicating. In fact, it got so bad that she became pregnant twice and had an abortion both times without even informing him of the situation. Since he wants to have children, he was devastated when he found out. Tears require little language to communicate volumes. So, when his eyes watered up in a way that is very rare for men in that culture, I knew he was hurting badly.

When I told him that I would pray for him, he asked how God could help him. What an opening for the gospel!

Whenever I have these sorts of opportunities, I am immediately reminded how my grasp of the local language falls short. How can I communicate law and gospel effectively in another, very difficult language? Even if I am a “Simplifier” in my communication and use exaggerated gestures like the “Louder,” how do I express the wonders of our God is a way that the local people will really understand? It is difficult enough for people to believe in Christ when the gospel presentation is clearly spoken. How will they believe when I am stumbling over every other word? But I am also reminded of this passage from the Scriptures:

Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3

I am reminded that, even when I am using my own heart language to share the gospel, my ability to argue eloquently, turn a phrase, or expound on the Greek of a certain Bible passage will never, ever bring someone to faith in Jesus aside from the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

Our job is to expose them regularly to the marvelous grace of Jesus. He will take care of the rest.

Maybe you are frightened to share your faith with that neighbor or coworker—not because they have no interest, but because you are afraid of messing up the message. Hey, at least you are not trying to share in another language (At least, not usually)! But the real comfort is that the Holy Spirit puts his power and authority behind those simple, stumbling words to change hearts—forever! Praise God!

Written by: A missionary in East Asia

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Ashley’s persistent witness

Jeremy (pictured far left) with Ashley standing right behind him

This story begins with Ashley. Ashley will be the first to tell you that she did not have an easy childhood. So when she heard about Jesus for the first time, about his love for sinners like her, she was all in. She went to church, witnessed in the streets, and memorized Scripture. She would scrap and scrounge to get to church — even in the cold Detroit winters!

However, Ashley eventually lost that spark and entered what she calls her “slip and slide” period with God. She started dating, eventually had a child, and when her second was about to be born, she decided it was time to get them baptized. That’s when she came to Palabra de Vida. She got married, and by God’s grace, her husband, son, and daughter were all baptized. Then, Ashley started her mission.

Jeffry

In January of 2017, she got me access to her sister’s house where her nephew and two nieces were living. I got to teach them all about how baptism is God’s way of adopting us into his family. Jeremy (pictured above)— whose parents are both dead and who has bounced around from home to home — perked up, and asked with tears in his eyes, “So, I get to be in God’s family?” The three were baptized that month.

Then in December of 2017, Ashley and her husband Andrew’s friend, Jeffry (upon insistence from Ashley), approached me about getting baptized. After pouring over the Catechism, Jeffry couldn’t believe how good God was, and finally blurted out in excitement, “Wait, so God saves me through baptism? Wow! I gotta get baptized!” He was baptized in January of 2018.

Hollie holding her daughter Kaelie

Jeffry and Ashley both started encouraging their friend and cousin Hollie to baptize her little daughter, Kaelie. Kaelie was baptized in April of 2018.

The lesson? Don’t underestimate the power of your gospel persistence! God worked through Ashley to bring eight people into his family, with more to come! Many people have heard the gospel in worship or Bible study or their own homes because of Ashley’s witness. Just look at this group of people (pictured in the cover photo) so affected by her gospel witness — nearly half of them have come to faith through her persistent gospel witness!

“To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Romans 2:7

Written by: Pastor Ryan Kolander, Palabra De Vida Lutheran Church – Detroit, MI

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Every member a missionary

At Spirit of Life, our mission statement is “Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus.” It’s a statement designed to say that all of our members will reach out with Jesus to everyone. God has blessed Spirit of Life over the last few months to live that mission statement to the full.

When we hear the word “missionary,” we often think of a pastor in some far distant land. We might even think of a pastor inviting people to worship right here in the United States. But for Spirit of Life, God used a pastor AND a ladies group to bring about two amazing adult baptisms.

It was a normal office day for me. I spent my day preparing for my sermon that week as well as confirmation class. And then I heard the phone ring. On the phone was a grandmother named Pat. Pat was calling Spirit of Life hoping to find a church that might serve her grandson who has learning disabilities.

It was a large burden for Pat to carry . . . taking care of her husband who has Parkinson’s, her middle-aged daughter, and her 15-year-old grandson Kenny while she herself is in her 70’s. I agreed to meet the young man and speak to him once a week. He had never set foot in a church before, and for Pat it had been many years.

Kenny on his baptism day

Through my many conversations with Kenny, I had the opportunity to teach him about Jesus through the new stained glass windows in the church. I talked about sin and grace and saw some amazing changes in Kenny. Kenny and I talked about baptism, and I had the awesome opportunity to baptize this young man at worship.

But the blessings didn’t stop there. I would regularly talk with Pat and say, “Pat, you carry so many people, but who is going to carry Pat?” And that is where our church’s ladies group went to work.

At Spirit of Life, we have a small group called Wise Women’s Coffee group. It’s a group of about eight ladies that get together once a month for prayer and fellowship. It’s different than our Sisters in Service group. It’s a group where ladies rely on each other and talk about things they share in common. Pat attended those coffee sessions for months.

During my visits with Kenny, I discovered that Grandma Pat wasn’t baptized. Though I spoke to Pat about baptism, she was hesitant to join the church. She would worship. She would come to groups – but baptism and membership was still seemingly far off. Until I approached the leader of this small group, Judy Clifton. I asked her, “Would you talk to Pat about baptism for me?” That connection the ladies developed, by God’s grace, accomplished something that I was struggling to find.

Pat agreed to be baptized and join the church – so long as her baptism could happen during the small group coffee hour. A group of these wise women assembled the next month ready to celebrate this special day for Pat. It’s not every day that I get to baptize a 76-year-old woman. What an experience! Tears were shed along with many smiles. God worked through a very difficult situation to bring about two adult baptisms and two of Spirit of Life’s most excited new members.

Spirit of Life is a growing home mission congregation that could write a bunch of blog posts about God’s exciting work in Michigan. We do Easter for Kids. We have young professionals. We do awesome community work, all by God’s hand actively working through us. However, the most amazing things in our home mission church is when our members carry out the Great Commission all by themselves. A pastor and one of his small groups of ladies receiving this privilege together: this might not be the first thing someone thinks of when we think of  “missions.” But taking an unchurched family through the means of grace is the reason we are all here – no matter which group does it, or for what age. Every member a missionary reaching out across generations with Jesus. Now Spirit of Life has a new member of its youth group and a new wise woman that share Jesus everywhere they go.

Written by: Pastor Allen Kirschbaum, Spirit of Life Lutheran Church – Caledonia, MI

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Preach The Word – Prophecies Fulfilled in Real History

Apologetics in Preaching

Prophecies Fulfilled in Real History

To some apologetics is a dirty word. The obvious objection to apologetics is “What about faith?” This concern is not unique to sola fide Lutherans by the way. This objection is found in all denominations. Of course, we Lutherans have a specific objection to the misuse of reason because of Paul’s clear teaching on the bound will. We also are well aware of theologians who rely on reason and give unsatisfactory answers to the logical problem of the bound will, human responsibility, and undeserved grace. Is reason a whore or God’s greatest gift? Nimble theologians answer “Yes” to both without comprising grace or falling into determinism. Reason should be used in a ministerial manner but not in a magisterial manner. This we know.

When apologetics stays in the correct realm, it is not only permissible but is beneficial.

Apologetics does not have to be a dirty word nor something to be avoided. It is helpful to think of the three aspects of faith notitia, assensus, and fiducia.1 The apologist can point to the verifiable facts of the Christian faith (notitia). By the use of reason he can defend these verifiable events of the New Testament and counter the false claims on reality made by other religions and the secular world. He points to Christ (the true notitia of faith). The apologist can even convince people of this truth, an assent to the facts (assensus). But this is where the apologist’s work ends. He cannot produce fiducia, that is, trust. This is left to the Spirit. After all, even the demons believe that there is one God and shudder (Jm 2:19). Certainly Satan knows Christ (notitia) and agrees (assensus) that he is the Savior of the world (otherwise he wouldn’t work so hard to stop the church) but he does not trust Christ (fiducia). When apologetics stays in the correct realm, it is not only permissible but is beneficial.

Perhaps two more preliminary notes are in order before we move on. First, we are all apologists. In a similar way we are all philosophers. Everybody has a philosophy of life even if that philosophy is “Philosophy is stupid.” We all have a view of the world. We cannot escape it. Nor can we escape reason. Declaring “Reason is always antithetical to faith and therefore bad” is a logically reasonable thing to assert! The proposition simply lacks a true premise. We cannot escape apologetics either. It is only a matter of how we carry out our apologetic task, with thoughtfulness or sloppiness. We are constantly making the case for our claims on truth using reason, anecdotes, and empirical evidence. It is how we operate.

The truth of the matter is that Lutheran preachers frequently carry out the apologetic task. When we point out that Luke did not begin his historical narrative on the nativity of Christ with “Once upon a time” but rather “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree,” we are carrying out apologetics. When we insist that New Testament scholars treat the Gospel manuscripts with the same objectivity they do with any other document of the era, we are doing apologetics. When we state that Islam and Christianity are not the same, if for no other reason than one claims Jesus is God and the other does not and both cannot be right, we are speaking apologetically.

We are also in good company. Not only do we have Peter’s command to carry out apologetics (1 Pt 3:15-16), we also have plenty of apologetic examples in Scripture. Luke’s history. Paul in Athens. Prophecies fulfilled. Miracles performed. All these are examples of biblical apologetics. We can have the same confidence as did Paul when he said to Agrippa “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Ac 26:25-26). The events of the New Testament are verifiable facts of history. This is real. In fact, as Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God” (1 Co 15:13-15a). It is as if Paul said, “Show me the dead body and I’ll stop being a Christian!” This Christian faith is not a blind faith or a faith in faith; it is a faith based on facts.

This Christian faith is not a blind faith or a faith in faith; it is a faith based on facts.

Second, preaching with apologetics in mind has a beneficial ripple effect. First the Christian becomes firmer in the faith.2 Even if she cannot articulate why, for example, the teleological argument (fine-tuning of the universe) is a problem for the atheist, she knows that someone out there has thought about this. She knows that her pastor cares enough to have thought it through. She is not left alone in her doubts. She can find an answer. This, in turn, boosts her confidence to share her faith. It also gives her confidence in her pastor to whom she is willing to send her skeptical friend. She knows that her friend will encounter a patient and caring man willing to work through skeptical doubts instead of simply thumping his bible. Apologetics is a ministry of caring.

While Lutherans desire to uphold the doctrine of the bound will, we are also careful not to fall into fideism. By fideism we mean here a reliance on faith alone as the arbiter of truth, a faith in faith. The apostles did not speak this way. Faith always has an object and is only as good as that object. If Christ is only an idea or myth, then faith in Christ is foolish as St. Paul makes very clear in 1 Corinthians 15. However, if Christ is real, then faith is grounded in that reality. The concern of souls is paramount here. Our assertions may be true, but making a case for them might be necessary for the sake of the skeptical mind. We never describe faith as a prerequisite for forgiveness: first someone dead in sin musters up faith and then God will love him. Rather we preach the gospel and are prepared to make a case for what we believe. It is through this proclamation that the Spirit will do his work.

We are careful not to fall into fideism—faith in faith.

One of the greatest biblical treasures God has bestowed on us in this regard is prophecy, the focus of our present issue. A fulfilled prediction is a powerful thing. Who knows how many have come to faith because of prophecies fulfilled? Yet there are natural objections. Was this prophecy manipulated? Was the prediction so vague that any event could be described as fulfilling the prophecy? Was this so-called prediction actually made after the fact? Was this just by chance? These are legitimate questions Christians might ask about, for example, the Book of Mormon’s so-called prophecies. They are also legitimate questions for the skeptic to ask the Christian. We should not shy away from answering such questions under the guise of “We just believe because the Bible said so!”

A fulfilled prediction is a powerful thing…. Yet there are natural objections.

So let’s ask, in a general way, questions about the many Old Testament prophecies claimed to be fulfilled in the New. Were these manipulated? I suppose, logically, some could have been. It is possible, for example, that Jesus rode a donkey because he was aware of Zechariah (Ze 9:9-10). However, how could he manipulate his birth in Bethlehem? Who chooses where he is born?

Were these predictions so vague that any event could be described as fulfilling the prophecy? I suppose Isaiah’s prophecy that many in Israel would be calloused towards the mission of Christ could be counted as vague (Is 6:9-10). There will always be some who will go against any message, religious or not. But what about the thirty pieces of silver, the unbroken bones of Christ, his pierced side, his burial with the rich? Those are highly specific.

Was this so-called prediction actually made after the fact? This is the default position of many. We are well aware of the mental gymnastics higher critics perform to maintain their a priori bias against prophecy. A two-Isaiah theory comes to mind. Notice the near acquiescence to the fact that the predictions actually came true. Many do not bother disputing the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, died on a cross with a pierced side after being sold for thirty pieces of silver. This is not their primary concern. They attack the texts instead. They must have been written after the fact. Yet textual and archeological evidence counter this claim. Consider the Great Isaiah scroll which is believed to be written around 125 B.C. Of course, some would claim that Isaiah said nothing about Christ, but the prophetic chapters 52 and 53 have convinced many to reconsider the claims of Christianity.

Was this just by chance? Could it be that many of the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Christ are simply a result of randomness? In an age of powerful algorithms that market seemingly every known product to our personal devices with disturbing accuracy, in an age where metrics, in my opinion, are ruining the game of baseball, a mathematical argument of prophecy is a powerful one. We live by statistics. So let’s take just a handful of events in the life of Christ prophesied in the Old Testament. Eliminate the ones about his divinity for argument’s sake. We can also dispatch the ones that could have been (logically) manipulated or could be accused of having a Nostradamus-like vagueness. You can pick any you like: the flight to Egypt, gambling for his clothes, receiving wine vinegar at the cross, etc. Let’s say that we find twenty-five prophecies. Let’s place the odds of each of these happening or not happening at one in four (overly generous odds by the way). The chances of these twenty-five occurring in one person is one in a thousand trillion. Could it be by chance? “I suppose,” we might say to the skeptic, “but you don’t live your life taking chances like that.”

By the time we get to the fourth Sunday in Advent, Lutheran preachers will be in full incarnation mode. We are eager to expound on that great mystery and the great grace of God becoming man with a special pastoral emphasis on the for you. He did it all for you! By the fourth Sunday in Advent we are no longer delving into obscure themes that apply both to Jesus first and second comings. As Christmas approaches we are preaching on Micah’s Bethlehem prophecy (Mi 5:2-5). We are pondering with the Hebrew Christians that this incarnate body was prepared for perfect sacrifice unlike our imperfect gifts (Hb 10:5-10). We sing with Mary and are wowed like Elizabeth that the world’s Redeemer resides for a time in Mary’s womb (Lk 1:39-55). We agree with the psalmist that the Lord’s “salvation is near” and beg of him to show us his “unfailing love” (Ps 85).3

So does apologetics have a place in Advent Four? Yes, but it needs to take a secondary seat (as always) to the proclamation of the incarnation for us. This is a special time. Yet we are always mindful of the skeptic and the doubter. A small portion of a sermon could easily touch on the fact that these Christmas events are fulfilled prophecies legitimizing Christ and granting confidence to the listener that God’s promise to him or her will also be kept.

Perhaps something like this.

So the local news reports on a lottery winner. Nothing new here. Someone has to win. A big billion dollar jackpot, that’s a bit rarer. “Good for him,” you might think as you turn off the light and go to sleep to dream about what you might do with all that cash. A year later the news reports that the same person won again. Another billion. Now that’s newsworthy. “Must be nice,” you think as you turn off the light and go to sleep to dream jealous dreams of this unbelievable lucky person. “Why does he keep playing the lottery after he already won a billion dollars, anyway?” A year later: same guy, same result. Now the news story is about a fraud investigation because there is no way anybody is that lucky.

We live by odds. We really do. Something’s fishy about this three-time jackpot winner. It just can’t be. We use the same reasoning in everyday life. When you start your car in the morning to go to work, you are not afraid that it will blow up. Otherwise you wouldn’t turn the ignition. I mean what are the odds, right? What are the odds when you drive over a bridge that it will collapse? What are the odds when you walk in a field that a sink hole will open up as your left foot hits the ground? We live by probability. It could happen. But what are the odds? And if we really insisted on absolute certainty about everything we would never get out of bed in the morning, too afraid to venture out into a world full of bad possibilities.

Well, what are the odds that one man, in one time, in one place fulfilled hundreds of predictions prophesied hundreds of years before? And not just vague prophecies but specific ones: born in Bethlehem, born of a virgin, sold for thirty pieces of silver, buried among the rich, rose three days later, and ascended into heaven, just to mention a few? The odds are astronomical, certainly far greater than a three-time lottery winner.

I suppose someone could still remain skeptical. But honesty must conclude that fulfilled prophecies are solid evidence. So ask yourself the question, “What are the odds of that?” Better yet, ask yourself this, “If I use the same reason and logic I do in everyday life about thousands of things, why would I doubt the prophecies fulfilled in Christ?”

Honesty must conclude that fulfilled prophecies are solid evidence.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is not how faith works, as if it were only a statistical formula. No, faith is a pure gift of God. But if I doubt these claims by use of my reason, should not my doubts also be under the same rule of logic? So, let’s ask ourselves the question, “What are the odds of that?” The words we heard today do both. They both prove the case, and they work to give and strengthen faith. They show us the actual prophecy. We then see the beginning of fulfillment as pregnant Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth. We will, of course, celebrate its fulfillment come Christmas. Then these words of Scripture serve as the means by which the Spirit grants and strengthens faith. It is finally through the Spirit’s work that we are certain.

This is all for you.

The ultimate purpose of both the fulfillment of prophecy and the giving of faith is you. This is all for you. This is not simply a newsworthy event like the three-time lottery winner. “Wow, that Christ is a unique character,” we would say as we shut off the light and go to sleep. No, this was done with a purpose beyond a good story or even beyond showing off God’s power and glory. This was accomplished for you. Micah promises a Savior from Bethlehem so that he can shepherd his flock and they will “live securely” (Mi 5:4). Elizabeth asks, “But why I am so favored” (Lk 1:43) for this upcoming Christmas event was for her too. The writer to the Hebrews points out that this is the body meant for sacrifice, to pay for the sins of the world, yours included (Hb 10:10). Salvation is near you, as we sang in the psalm (Ps 85:9). How near? He became one of us. And he comes to us again in Word and meal to strengthen our faith in him until he fulfills another prophecy, his return.

And why doubt his return? Why doubt any promise he has made to you? He hasn’t let us down yet. He hasn’t missed a prophecy yet. Of course, he will come back for you and me and take us to heaven. Would a God who has been so faithful to us and done so much work for our salvation—becoming man, suffering, dying, rising, and ascending—then, all of a sudden, not bring his gracious work to heavenly conclusion for us? I mean…what are the odds of that?

Written by Michael Berg


1 I use these three terms in a broad sense and not necessarily in the sense that notitia and assensus are parts of saving faith. For a short but more nuanced discussion see Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 2, pp. 426-430.
2 This is fides quae, not fides qua.
3 The readings are for Advent 4-C in Christian Worship.


Books for further study:

Tractatus Logico-Theologicus by John Warwick Montgomery
Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh & Sean McDowell
Evidence for God: 50 Arguments from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science ed by William Dembski & Michael Licona
Isaiah 52 Explained by Mitch Glaser
The New Testament Documents by FF Bruce
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimonies by Richard Bauckham (2nd ed, 2017)
Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis


 

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What do you do with children in worship? Biblical perspectives

What do you do with children in worship?

Biblical perspectives

“If that happens, I’m leaving.” If Helen of Troy had a face that launched a thousand ships, this threat has launched a thousand conversations.

It happened so fast that I hardly knew how to react. One older council member was frustrated by the noise and activity of children during worship. He strongly suggested, “I think every child should be out of the sanctuary in a separate children’s service or Sunday school program.” With that Satan didn’t just put a foot in the door—he slammed it down and burst in SWAT-style. Sure enough, a younger parent councilman launched a return mortar: “If that happens, I’m leaving the church.”

And so our conundrum began. Satan found opportunity to push us toward obsession over the topic of children in church to the extent of some leaving the flock and other sheep wandering with wounds from the crossfire. Older members were angry, younger parents were hurt, and I was left in the middle trying to figure out, “What do you do with children in worship? What’s the best solution?”

Adults have been influenced by culture to segregate children to “age-appropriate” experiences.

Previous articles1 have painted a picture of America today, a Pollack-ian abstraction that is hard to make sense of. Confusing problems are evident at the intersection of children, parents, and worship. Generational corrosion, the decline of the nuclear home, the struggle of parents to discipline their children, the post-Christian environment, and more contribute to the problems. Adults have been influenced by culture to segregate children to “age-appropriate” experiences as parents learn to have “others” care for their children. All these cultural complexities create vastly mixed experiences for many families in the pews on Sunday.

Following these philosophical meanderings, we considered how pragmatic Americans often look for solutions to problems. So too with this one. The second article reviewed current strategies and then shared a concluding thought from Paul’s wise words: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” We may have Christian freedom to make such choices. We may feel that these various solutions are ways to serve families better. But…what if some of these choices aren’t actually beneficial or constructive? What if some of these choices are actually detrimental or destructive, and we don’t realize it? What if some of these choices are contradictory to Scripture and to the history of the Church and even to recent insights into “best practice” nurturing of children in worship?

Back to the question: What do you do with children in church? This article, starting with Scripture, moves toward a clear and concrete answer.

Scripture on Children and Parents

As we trace through Scripture, we see throughout history that children were considered to be blessings. From God’s first command to be fruitful and multiply, the careful naming of children, to Psalms 127 and 139, to the women who lamented not being able to conceive—we clearly observe that children are blessed gifts from God.

However, with these little sinner-saints running around the house, parents have quite the job to do! And surely, God has charged them to embrace this high calling. Proverbs is replete with memorable quotes about parents disciplining children and children obeying parents. Perhaps the most famous parenting proverb is 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The greatest responsibility of parents is to bring their children up in the ways of the Lord. Much of Scripture echoes this. We consider Moses’ parting words at the doorstep of the Promised Land, encouraging the people to teach the commands of God to their children and talk about them at home and on the road and at all times of the day. And Joshua’s charge to follow his example: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Similarly, Psalm 78 poetically proclaims the importance of telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Then there’s Jesus. It is not at all surprising that the compassionate Good Shepherd took time for even the littlest of lambs. We see Jesus bring a child to the center of the discussion as a living object lesson about greatness in the kingdom. We see Jesus welcome children joyfully as he indignantly rebukes his ignorant disciples. “Let the little children come to me!” he says, supporting parents who bring their children to him at any and every time. And who can forget Jesus’ sharp words about training children in the way they should go? So serious is the task of caring for the souls of children that a millstone around the neck in the middle of the sea is better than doing spiritual damage to a child.

This duty of disciplining and discipling children first and foremost is the responsibility of parents, and not someone else.

In summary then, Scripture is clear: a family consisting of two parents2 with children is a foundational design of God for humanity. Those children are precious blessings—rich rewards from the God of grace. However, the vocation of parent is one to be taken seriously. There are many scriptural charges to all adults to help in raising children, especially in telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of our Savior God. Yet particularly clear is that this duty of disciplining and discipling children first and foremost is the responsibility of parents, and not someone else—contrary to current American practices.

Scripture on Children and Worship

Now that we have taken a flyover on children and parenting, we can circle the runway to land on Scripture’s guidance about children in worship.

No specific Bible story explicitly answers our main question about children in church. Unfortunately, we cannot open to Acts 29 (which doesn’t exist!) and find that as the early church was established, great discipline prevailed among Christian families who controlled their children and kept them silent for an hour of public worship.3 We don’t have a transcription of Epaphras’ dynamic children’s sermon. Nor do we hear that Paul warns the foolish Galatians to send their crazy kids to Sunday school during worship so they can listen better to the gospel they were so quick to abandon.

We don’t hear these things. But we can learn much from what Scripture tells us. The more we ponder the topic of children and worship, the more we find insights in God’s Word. The Lord inspired a lot for us to think about regarding children.

Start in the beginning with Cain and Abel. They were born in the image of their newly-sinning parents, separated from God and dead in sin. So how would they know about giving offerings to God? How did they know offerings would give him glory? How did they know what was a pleasing and acceptable (Abel) and what was not (Cain)? Since they were born sinners separated from God, they must have been taught by Adam and Eve how to worship in this way! So also today: parents teach and model worship for their children.

So also today: children internalize worship from years of sitting with their parents.

Jump ahead to Abraham and his terrifying test of faith. As they walked up Mt. Moriah, Isaac noted that he was carrying wood while his father carried the fire and knife. But where was the lamb for the burnt offering? Similar questions could be asked. Isaac didn’t ask Abraham why they were carrying wood, knife, and fire. Isaac knew what they were going to do. How did he know the elements of sacrifice? How did he know a lamb was needed? How did he attain such a thorough knowledge of what was necessary for proper worship? Just as with Cain and Abel, this sinful boy was taught about worship. Theoretical instruction about sacrifices in a Sabbath school classroom down the hall wouldn’t have cut it though. Isaac must have participated in sacrifices in the past to understand this form of worship so well. So also today: children internalize worship from years of sitting with their parents.

We can find many such stories where we would ask many such questions and likely come to many such conclusions. When God’s people would “call on the name of the Lord” and offer sacrifices in worship, children always seemed to be present as they participated and were taught by their parents.

Children always seemed to be present as they participated and were taught by their parents.

Note also the time of a more formal worship—a style that God himself commanded. Consider the dedication service for Solomon’s temple. When the ark arrived, when Solomon blessed the people, when he spoke his beautiful prayer, we hear the repeated note that those in attendance consisted of “the entire assembly of Israel.”

All Israel was at this dedication service. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to be there for such a momentous event? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to see the house of God they had desired for ages? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to see the glory of the Lord seeping out of the temple? Why wouldn’t parents want their children to see and smell 120,000 sheep slaughtered in a you’ll-never-forget-this moment pointing toward the paschal Lamb to come? So also today: children can benefit from being with adults in worship.

The Old Testament reports several similar examples. Consider the reforms of Josiah. When he rediscovered the Book of the Covenant, he read it in the presence of “the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets—all the people from the least to the greatest.” While that common phrase “least to greatest” could refer to status or importance rather than age, it is worth considering whether hearts renewed by the Word of God would want to bring their children to such a rededication. It seems most likely the people would.

“While Ezra was praying…, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him.”

Another time of reform came many years later. When God’s people returned from exile, their New Man was ultra-sensitive to God’s Law. Recognizing their sins, Ezra the priest prayed and confessed sin on behalf of all the people. We receive this specific information about the event: “While Ezra was praying and confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God, a large crowd of Israelites—men, women and children—gathered around him. They too wept bitterly” (10:1). It is interesting to note that children were participants in this repentant worship—something our culture might not consider “age appropriate” for children.

Would this mean that preschoolers, toddlers, and infants were left behind with servants or siblings? Was it too grand or too grave an event for the youngest children? And if so, was this always the practice among the Israelites? This confession of Ezra event would seem to suggest otherwise. So would verses from Joel. As Joel encourages the people to “rend your heart and not your garments” in repentance, he gives this command:

Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast (2:15ff).

We gain similar insights from the New Testament. We know the most famous instances of parents letting their children come to Jesus. Though we won’t equate such events with Sunday worship, we can certainly compare bringing children to the physical feet of Jesus back then to bringing children to the feet of Jesus who is present where two or three gather in his name. Clearly, parents saw the importance of having their children with Jesus.

Consider events like the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5,000, the feeding of the 4,000, or others. Would we assume that men and women would leave behind their children to listen to that great hillside homily? Of course not! It’s more obvious with the other two events as Scripture clearly tells us that children were present at the two famous feedings. Again, not corporate worship, but this point: when it came to being around Jesus, parents considered it important to have children with them.

The New Testament doesn’t describe much about public, corporate worship. We gather principles about worship from the New Testament, but we don’t see descriptions of worship as we do at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. But consider the story of Jesus in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4). Jesus unrolled the scroll, the Word of God, and proclaimed the Gospel—himself. Were children present? We don’t know for sure. It doesn’t specifically say. Yet it would be hard to imagine children not present considering how seriously and literally the Israelites took the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6.

The first Christians also teach us about children and worship. Peter sets the tone in his Pentecost sermon. He instructs that the promise of the Holy Spirit creating faith and granting forgiveness is a promise for adults and their children. Every time they gathered to worship, to confess and absolve, to baptize, they could be confident that the Holy Spirit would bless anyone of any age. Immediately after the record of this Pentecost sermon we hear in a description of everyday life in those early days that “all the believers” were devoted to the Word, to gathering, and to each other.

These men and women had hearts that burned within them. They followed daily rituals of private and public worship. They actively used the means of grace in private and in public. It would be absurd to assume that children were never present. When parents went to the temple courts or gathered in their homes, surely children were present—just as surely as God added children to the number of those who were being saved.

Finally, it is fascinating to consider how Paul indicates his letters are to be read in the corporate gatherings of early Christians (e.g., Colossians 4:16). What makes this interesting is that the same letter addresses children about obeying their parents. It seems safe to deductively assume then that if A) the letters were read in worship much like Epistle readings today, and if B) Paul addresses children in his letters, then C) Paul was expecting children to be present at worship.

Concluding and Summary Thoughts

What have we gathered then from Scripture regarding parents, children, and children in worship? Parents have been given primary responsibility among all adults in the disciplining and discipling of children. Of utmost priority is training children in the ways of the Lord. Surveying Scripture, it appears that parents took up this responsibility of spiritual training in every aspect of life—both at home and in corporate worship. So we gather from Scripture that children have always been present for public worship. No matter how long the event, how gruesome (sacrifices), how big or small, children were with their parents in worship as they observed, learned, and participated.

We gain insights from biblical descriptions even when they are not prescriptions. We certainly have been given freedom in many matters by our Lord Jesus. But consider some questions. Is it a matter of freedom for children to be worshiping? Is it optimal for children to be trained to worship by someone other than their parents? Is it really the best strategy to usher down the hallway those Jesus brings to the center as examples of faith when other strategies can assist their parents to train them for worship with the entire congregation?

Some contexts will require patient instruction and training before “best practices” can be implemented.

It is understood that there are many ways to answer such questions with evangelical hearts and Christian freedom. It is understood that some contexts will require patient instruction and training before “best practices” can be implemented. However, it seems clear in Scripture that children were regularly with parents in worship. While granting freedom for a variety of practices, we can also affirm that the biblical and historical pattern of children with parents in worship is not obsolete—children, parents, and all other adults worshiping together as one body of Christ.

The next issue will focus on practical ways to carry this out. How can we help parents and their children? How can churches facilitate children’s participation and engagement in worship? We will focus on a variety of ways so that the body of Christ can work together to train children in the way they should go as we tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Written by Phil Huebner


1 Available online https://worship.welsrc.net/download-worship/worship-the-lord-practical-series/ (PDF) and https://wels.net/news-media/blogs/worship-blogs/ (blog).
2 Granting the foundational ideal, we recognize that many single parent families have faithfully raised Christian children.
3 If you missed it, see the second article for anecdotes about quiet and well-behaved children in other cultures.


 

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Pastor Ham

Pastor Tsavxwm Ham is 50 years old and serves in Son La province of Vietnam. He comes by motorcycle and bus (a 9-hour trip) to the training seminars in Hanoi. He is the chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC). 

I’ve been a pastor in Kon Tong village since 2006. Before that, I served as an elder in the church from 1996 to 2003. In 2003, I began studying to be a pastor through the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC). I passed that program in 2006 and became a pastor. In 2007, I was appointed as Chairman of the Hmong Fellowship Church.

My story of how I became a Christian is important to me. Before I became a Christian, I was one of the men in my village who was educated in the Hmong traditions and customs. I was also the director for Hmong funerals and a funeral musician. During that time, I felt very sad. I wanted to help the people. They would always give me a lot of meat when I would do a funeral for them. They treated me very well – and I really wanted to help them. But I had nothing to help them with. The funeral could only leave them sad and empty. At that time, I also worked as a Shaman and a fortune teller for the people. In my heart, I knew that all of this was wrong and a lie, and I couldn’t keep on deceiving my people by acting as a fortune teller and a Shaman.

All of this time, instead of helping the poor families, I took money from them as the Shaman. I felt very bad about that. I thought about how I could change my life and do something to help the community. Around that same time, I heard a pastor preaching through a radio broadcast. A village near me had already become Christian, so I contacted the leaders from that village to get materials from them. Through the radio broadcast and the Christian materials, I also became a Christian and left my former life behind.

One year after I became a Christian, in 1997, I was arrested and tortured by the local government. The persecution of Christians was heavy at that time. Since I was appointed as the Chief of my village, I had some authority to be able to defend my faith and the new faith of my village against the persecution. But the attack against our faith was very harsh. In 1998, I was recommended by the local government to receive special training – ‘re-educating’ me because of my faith. The goal of this training was that I would renounce my Christian faith. But at the beginning of the training, they talked about what Christians believe about God and creation. It was meant to show me the foolishness of Christianity, but it motivated me to learn even more about God and the creation of the world. And when I came back from the training, I was even more motivated to serve my congregation.

After I returned from the seminar, the local government sent officers to follow me to my village. They ask me to renounce my faith. I said I would not. The officials told me that I must – and I told them, “you taught me to have more faith in God because your introduction of the seminar talked about God.” I confronted them because they were saying that I needed a license to have a church. But they hadn’t had a license to carry out the education seminar. So I told them that I didn’t need a license to serve a church in this area either. In the end, they couldn’t get me to renounce my faith and they went home.

But still, I received a lot of persecution and pressure. After the officers left, they sent 8 higher officers to arrest me. They arrested me and my wife and separated us. They questioned us both and threatened us. They wanted us to renounce our faith. But I asked them, “Why can the people in the city have a church, and the minority in the mountains cannot have a church?” They answered: “In the city, we don’t have laws to control this, but in the rural area we can’t allow there to be churches.” I asked, “who made these rules?” They wouldn’t answer. At that point, they said, “Why don’t we call a Hmong officer to talk to you in Hmong – we aren’t getting anywhere in Vietnamese.”

So they sent the Hmong officer to talk to me. I asked him the same question. He explained that this was not from the central government, but that these rules were added for the local government. I pushed on. “If it isn’t from the central government, how can you arrest me?” After a time, they delivered their response: We will not do anything to you, we will let you go home. Just don’t spread the news that we persecuted your family. They sent another three soldiers to watch me for three weeks. They wanted to make sure I don’t cause any problem for the government.

After this time, I met with the first believer in my area. I asked him to come to Hanoi with me. We would go to talk to the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church. We went and met with the president, but he didn’t help us. He just sent us back and said all sorts of bad things about the Hmong people. We were so disappointed. I was so angry. I resigned from my post as the chief of the village, and traveled by foot for three days through the jungle villages around my home to try to help out Christians who were being persecuted by the government and to try to get them released from prison. All the while, I tried to convince the local government officials that the persecution didn’t come from the central government, but from local government.

I took members from the churches into the jungle and we talked in secret about our faith. We talked about what the best way would be to avoid persecution. We wanted to make sure that we were able to have a good foundation for the Christians in the Hmong community. At one point, we went back to the CMA again, but they wouldn’t protect us – and they wouldn’t provide us with anything. They only gave us a few Bibles and sent us back home. The warned us not to say that we received the Bibles from the CMA. So, we went home, and I continued to meet with my members and the other Christians in our area. And we would pray together.

Another time when we were being persecuted and Christians were being arrested, I tried to debate with the officers. I told them, “Since I was 15, I was an officer in the government.” They sent a top general to come and talk to me. His goal was to convince me to recant my faith. He told me, “If any war comes to this country, it will come from the Christians.” But I said, ‘Christians won’t bring war. But if you will bring war against the church, that is your choice. We won’t deny our faith. If you want, I will call together all of the Christians in our province – and you can kill us all. But we won’t wage war.” I continued, “We have fought for this country. Their families have shed blood to protect this country.” The general sat silently. “I’ve never seen anyone speak as boldly as you,” he said.

Again, the general attacked: “Christians are bad people. Every Sunday they come to church and they are engaging in sexual immorality. The men and the leaders seduce the women.” I told the officers, “You come and stay with me for three days. I will feed you and you can stay at my house. We will go around and find Christian leaders who do this. If we catch any of them, I will be the first to hand them over to be executed. If not, you will need to apologize to this community.”

I continued, “You aren’t here to protect the people, but accuse them of wrongdoings – things that they aren’t doing.” I told them that if they didn’t stop persecuting us I would write down all of their names and would go directly to the United States Embassy and submit their names.

I remember – the general got so mad. He threw his documents in my face. But in the end, the general just left. They sent word: “We apologize, and we will leave you.” Since then, the persecution in my area has reduced. That was the local government at that time – but at this time the government has changed and there is very little persecution in our region.

Even though our region was one of the most persecuted in all of Vietnam, the Christians multiplied quickly. We worked hard to spread the gospel. I also ran a clinic in my house. Whenever we would admit sick people into our house, we would give them the gospel.

In 2004, I heard that the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) was welcoming churches into their fellowship. So I called the VFC to see if we could be part of that. At that time, I started to receive some theological training from them. In 2007 they appointed me to oversee 16 districts and the towns in them in my area. Then, in 2010, they appointed a few more pastors to help me oversee those congregations and then they called me to oversee all the congregations in the Songla province. In 2012, we were invited to the VFC’s annual meeting in Hochimin. There I was called to be the chairman of the HFC.

Currently, in the HFC, we have 240 senior pastors and 330 additional pastors. Many of our churches don’t have pastors and are served by local elders who have been appointed. In total, we have more than 100,000 members. In the congregation that I pastor, we have 58 families that are members. Some of the people who come to worship with us aren’t members yet. In total, we have an average of 380 in attendance every week.

In addition to serving the local congregation, I also personally oversee 30 pastors and around 18,000 members in my area. Our goal is to continue to share the gospel with the families and villages around our church and in our district who don’t yet know Christ. We have some goals for our congregation – our current church building and location is too small to provide for the growing church. We hope to build another church building on the hill in the village – a bigger church so we can have more people come to worship. We also hope to build a small park in the area around the church to attract tourists from other villages to our town and provide an opportunity for our members to do outreach to them.

The training we are receiving is key – the leaders and members in my church need more training in the word of God so that they are well equipped. We want to train leaders in our church to spread the gospel to the surrounding villages. When we receive the training from WELS in Hanoi, we take it back and train the local leaders with what we have received.

The pastors in my area have received training from a variety of churches in the past – the Vietnamese churches, Korean missionaries, and even Hmong pastors who have come from the United States. But each of these groups and individuals came and did the training based on what they wanted to accomplish. And all we learned were rules to follow, good works that must be done, and how to live good lives to please God. We would go to training from these churches, but among our churches, there was no stability, no peace, and no gospel. We had no unity among our churches because we all just interpreted the Bible based on our own ideas or the various things we had learned.

That all started to change in 2013 when Pastor Lor started doing training for us in Hanoi. Now we have both physical and spiritual unity. The Lutheran doctrine has brought peace and harmony to the people in the villages – and as a result, our members are sharing their faith and our churches are multiplying.

Personally, since I have been receiving training from the WELS, I see a change in myself as well. Before this, I taught and used my own authority in the church. At that time, I thought, “I’m the smart one – I’m the one with training, and I am the one with the authority. I can force my members to do the right thing.” But since I have been studying with the Lutheran Church, I have changed. I have reevaluated myself and how I taught in the past – and know that I have taught false teachings. The training made me value my members more – and know that they need the gospel. I used to use the law to motivate my members. That was how I showed my authority. But since receiving this training, I now understand that the law won’t help the members. I started to share the gospel and taught them to understand that the gospel will motivate you to love and show care for each other. What I have noticed is that now my members respect me even more than they ever did when I only used the law, rules, and traditions to lead them.

On May 29th, 2018, I gathered together 129 local church leaders at my congregation. I retrained them in Lutheran theology as we have learned it from WELS. I assured them and demonstrated to them that this teaching was the true Biblical teaching. After that training, they encouraged me to keep on receiving training so that in the future the local leaders can continue to receive training from me. It is their dream that they can all receive formal training as well. At that meeting, I also invited local government officers to attend. When I finished the training, they applauded my teaching. The head officer said that this was one of the best teachings that they had ever heard. They encouraged me to continue my training and bring it back to the villages so that the people can continue to learn the Bible and grow in their understanding.

We’re not done yet. We need more training – for this generation and the next generations of pastors. I’m 50 years old right now – I hope we can continue to partner in training until I am 60 or even 80 – until we can carry on this ministry by ourselves and be confident to train our own pastors and leaders. The HFC is scattered across 14 provinces of Vietnam.  It is our goal as HFC to be the ‘big brother’ and standard for solid Christian Hmong churches in all of Vietnam.

Finally, I don’t have anything to send to my WELS brothers and sisters in the U.S. to even begin to show our gratitude or appreciation. All we can send is our ‘empty’ words of Thank You to you.  But we are thankful. We trust that in the future the training will continue to equip leaders so that the gospel will spread to many more throughout Vietnam. Pray for us. Pray for our religious freedom in this country, especially for the Hmong in the rural areas. And pray that the many minority people will have the opportunity to hear the gospel and believe it.

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Pastor Vue

Pastor Vue is 44 years old. He serves the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village of Munyue district in Dien Bien province, Vietnam. He travels one day by motorcycle to the closest large city and then one more day by bus to get to Hanoi for training. 

I’ve been serving in my current location since 2008. It is a relatively new village for us. I served in another city from 1999 to 2008 and then was called to serve in Galapa village in 2008.

I became a Christian in 1997 in the village of Kuangtao in the southern part of Song La province. At that time there weren’t any Christians in that entire village. I was the first one to become a Christian. I had heard the gospel from Pastor Ham, who is now the chairman of Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC), and from radio broadcasts.

I had known Pastor Ham from the past – from before he was a Christian. I was always a person who was really afraid of death. Passing away really frightened me. When Pastor Ham shared about a new hope for people in death, that changed me. That’s really how I became a Christian.

After I converted, I found that there were many people in my village who were also interested in the Good News. Many people became Christians and we started a small congregation and worshiped in a house. In 1998, we built a small church building and I was elected to be an elder in the church. Around that time, the persecution from the local government against Christians became very heavy. In 2001, I was arrested and put in prison, tortured, and persecuted.

In 2008, I relocated from Son La province and was made pastor of the Zhoukao congregation in Galapa village. My church is made up of 114 families and a total of 583 members. Three additional pastors were appointed by the church body to assist me. I was given an oversight role over all of the congregations in Dien Bien province. I have a total of 8 pastors under my oversight. In the southern part of the province there are 19 congregations and in the northern part of the provinces, there are 19 congregations. In total, I serve 2,640 members.

Before I became a pastor, I started to receive some training from the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) – very simple doctrine. We received training three times a year. They taught us the basics of Bible doctrine, but one of the largest challenges was that they did not teach us how to train our members. That training continued until 2014. During the final year of that training, I had already started to receive training from Pastor Lor in 2013.

After I began coming to this training, we all realized that we didn’t really understand law and gospel. The previous training we had just combined everything together. I know I used a lot of law with my members and I was very confused by what I was learning.

Today I thank and praise God that the Lutheran church sent Pastor Lor to train us. First, I see very clearly – the training has clearly shown us the Word of God. Each training session is divided into clear small portions we can understand. Second, the training is conducted in Hmong. Even when Anglo pastors come and teach us, it is translated into Hmong. And no matter who is teaching us, the message is always very clear.

Before, we used the law to force our members to do good works. As an example, we prohibited our members from drinking alcohol. At that time a group separated from our church because of this. Now I have gone back to them and apologized for our false teaching in the past and invited them back to our congregation.

Because we are teaching the Bible clearly and are properly using the gospel, and not just the law, we have more in attendance every Sunday. And our offerings have increased as well – ever since we removed the law that demanded offerings. There has been a tremendous increase in giving in our congregation.

Personally, I see now that I am living in Grace, and not under the law. This has meant a huge change for me and my understanding of God. I still am struggling to bring this same clarity to all of my members – but I see they are slowly growing as well. When I come back from training, they have seen a big difference in how I teach and preach. They see that the teaching that I bring back to them is the real Word of God. The Truth. That it is based on Biblical principles. And so they want me to continue to be trained so I can bring back more of God’s word.

As we continue to receive the training from WELS, I trust that we will continue to see our lives change for the better. I ask that WELS pray for the HFC. Pray that we will have a place to do the training – that we won’t have to continue to rent out another church and training space, but have our own space. This training is not just for our generation, but for many to come – until we are ready to handle the training for ministry by ourselves.

There are so many people who don’t believe in Jesus in my village and in my area. This is a big Hmong village – more than 400 families. Currently, our church building is small, we are already full when all the members come to worship. If we grow more in the future, we will have to expand – please pray for that as well. Also, there is currently some pressure on our congregation from the Hmong community – there are some in our community who want to cause problems for us. They accuse us of doing illegal things or create conflicts over our property. They accuse us of harboring illegal foreigners. None of this is true – they just want to cause us problems in the community. Please pray about this as well.

Personally, I also have a prayer request. I have already sacrificed my life for the Word of God. My family has been lacking so many things – I don’t get paid a salary from the congregation. I am happy to serve as I can. I support myself by farming. Please pray for me that I have the strength to carry the Word of God to the people. Pray that God would strengthen my life that I am giving to Him for service in His Kingdom. And pray that God would strengthen my family.

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Pastor Vang

Pastor Vang is 36 years old. He serves in Lao Cai province as pastor of Shan Zhou Fu congregation. He travels an hour by motorcycle and 4-5 hours by bus to get to the training in Hanoi. 

When I was 8 years old, my parents became Christian. That was in 1990. I became a Christian when my parents shared the Good News with me. In the early years, some of my brothers came to Hanoi and received training from the Christian Mission Alliance (CMA) church – our congregation was established by the CMA and was under them at that time. That was around 1991-1993. In 1998-1999, I served as the secretary for the congregation and began to serve in the church.

In 2001 and 2002, the persecution from the local government became intense against the churches in our area. As a result, we divided our church into smaller congregations and worshiped inside houses. At that time, we reached out to the CMA for assistance, but they did nothing to help. From then on, we didn’t have any connection with the CMA. In 2003, our pastor contacted the Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC), and in 2004 we registered our congregation under the VFC.

I received training from the VFC from 2004 to 2006. Then in 2006, I was called by the church to be a pastor. At that time, I was still unclear about so many things in the Bible. Looking back, I see that while we talked about Jesus as our Savior, we didn’t understand law and gospel and we promoted a lot of work righteousness. That was the church that I had grown up with – if you don’t do good, or live according to the rules, you don’t count as a Christian. We always had a lot of legalism in the church. The pastors promoted many traditions to control the members.

There are currently 140 members in my local congregation. I also oversee 12 additional congregations in three different districts of Lao Cai. Those churches have a total of 1400 members. Those 12 congregations are led by elders – I am the only pastor. In our whole province, there are only 12 pastors, but we have a total of 65 congregations and more than 9,000 members.

All of us pastors are so very thankful for the training – and for WELS opening the door for us to receive this training. Every time I go back home, I conduct a training session for the elders that I oversee. Every time we focus on law and gospel and how to interpret the Bible. Even though I have received much training ever since 2003, I was always really confused by the training. I didn’t understand the scripture well. Since 2015, I started to receive training from the pastors here – Lutheran training. This opened my eyes. The first year, I was still trying to understand it all, but since 2016, I see the message is really clear. This made me really happy and now I enjoy my studies. I really enjoy our training here. We see Christ at the center of the Bible and the center of everything that is taught. We truly believe that salvation comes through faith alone, through Christ alone, through Scripture alone. This foundation has made me confident as a Christian and confident in my salvation.

This training has changed me a lot as a pastor as well. Before the training I just preached the law – I treated people with contempt. If I saw a member committing sin, I hated them. If they had addictions, I hated them. Now, as I look back, I see that I was a Pharisee at that time. Now, I hate that time of my life. But since I received the training from Pastor Lor and Professor Bare and the other pastors, I have learned to show compassion to the sinner. I have learned to show Christ to the sinner.

Thanks be to God – thanks to all the professors and teachers who have come to teach. One thing I am certain of – the students coming are now certain of their salvation in Jesus Christ. They are confident that Jesus did everything for them. This is a special thing. And this is something they didn’t have before. Before the training, so many others were just like me. My members were also just like me. But now we have compassion and love. And now we have joy.

The Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) is a very big church body. We have more than 340 pastors and more than 100,000 members. It is my dream that WELS and the HFC can hold hands together to do the ministry for the people in this country. I want to see the training continue – not only for myself – but for many people, for the younger generation. We will need much more training in the future. In my local congregations, we need more evangelists so we can send them to the villages around us and other places where people have not heard or believed in Jesus.

I pray for the training – that through this training our pastors can be united in the same faith and the same doctrine. And I pray that this training will continue into the future. That’s what I pray for. I also pray that in the future we will have our own facility for us to go and receive full-time training.

I also ask for you to pray for me and my family. I pray one day that I will be able to reduce my farming work so that I can have more time to do the ministry of leading the church.

Finally, I want to thank the Lutheran church for supporting the training. We don’t actually deserve to receive anything from the WELS – but they just give and support the training by sending professors and providing the financial ability for the training to take place. For that – I thank you.

Thank you so much. I will never forget you. You helped us to see the Word of God clearly. You have brought us the truth – and that has changed our lives.

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Open Doors

“…seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you … Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:7

Ascension Lutheran Church is the newest polling place in Macomb Township. On November 6, 2018, we had the wonderful opportunity to serve our community, to get to know our closest neighbors better, and to share information about our mission and ministry! A chocolate chip cookie is always more well received than that little “I Voted” sticker… Our sanctuary was open for those who wished to take a moment to pray before or after voting, and we even supplied a suggested “Prayer for the Nation.” We had so many nice conversations as our preschool director, Rachel Frost, and I greeted people as they arrived and left.

Pastor Simons and Early Childhood Director Rachel Frost greet voters

We’ve also gotten very favorable comments from the poll workers about how hospitable Ascension has been. Election officials have stopped by, found everything running smoothly, and have enjoyed some of our cookies. One of the poll workers who served in April’s primary election told us that she’s been pitching Ascension to all the unchurched people she knows – even though she is life-long Roman Catholic. On election day she took one of our informational packets with her to share with someone who’s looking for a church.

To think that Macomb Township approached us with the request that we be a polling place, in effect asking if they might be allowed to send several hundred of our neighbors to our campus at each election. That was a very easy “Yes!” Team Ascension has embraced this as a community service effort that has huge potential to help our neighbors see Ascension as a vital part of the community.

When we open our doors to the community, God can use that to open doors for the gospel, too!

Written by: Pastor Dan Simons, Ascension Lutheran Church – Macomb, MI


Pastor Dan Simons also reports: 

New members at Ascension

Jesus did not call his church to be big; he called us to be faithful. He will decide how big it is. It is ours to faithfully proclaim the Word and be thankful for his blessings on it. And those blessings do come! What a remarkable day at Ascension as we received into membership the 15 souls who came to us over the past quarter on October 28. We had five new first-time visitors too: Tara and her two children and Jacky & Vince. What an awesome way to wrap up our October sermon series: Four Really Important Reformation Treasures That Changed Our Lives!

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