Online outreach in a restricted-access country

Imagine a country where it is illegal for churches to gather without special permission, to proclaim any gospel other than what the unbelieving government approves. A country where churches, obviously, cannot do any promotion, canvassing, or big outreach events, where all social media is controlled by the powers that be, and where most everything that is perceived as coming from the West is considered suspect by the authorities. How would you do large-scale outreach and evangelism in a setting like that, especially when you know that there are millions of people in that country who are looking for meaning and are open to spiritual direction?

Believe or not, one group has still launched an outreach website on the approved social media platform through the help of Multi-Language Publications (MLP). It is not overtly Christian, at least not at first glance. It talks about sports, common marriage problems, and movies that are popular. Each blog post offers simple life advice and insights on these topics to get people’s attention and then quotes a relevant Bible passage. Finally, at the bottom of the article there is a link to more information. From there, readers can access a page that tells them more about the Christian message through articles such as “Who is Jesus?” and “What is the Bible?”

Now, keep in mind that there is no way to promote this web page. There is no Facebook targeted advertising campaign; there are no flyers; there is no canvassing. There is only word of mouth. Praise God that several “Promoters” (outreach-minded brothers and sisters) have agreed to post the weekly articles on their local version of a “Facebook Wall.” Praise God that, in the first 12 hours of the first article being released, there were already 753 views! Within a few days, there were over 1,200 views! But, more importantly, 120 people (10%) had gone on to view the article “Who is Jesus?”

By Facebook, Twitter, and Google standards, these numbers are insignificant. But the impact in a restricted-access country filled with spiritually curious people is powerful, and it is growing. In fact, this site is the sister of two other sites launched earlier, also with the help of MLP. The one launched in March, a simple discipleship website, had 7,300 visits last month. The second, a leadership training site, had 15,600 visits last month. Remember, there is no promotion; just one person telling another, “Hey, check this out!”

Please pray that these sites continue to grow and reach tens of thousands of people every month. Our goal for the first year is 150,000 visitors, and our 3-year goal is 1,000,000. Please pray that these sites are not shut down by the government. Pray that the authors, website manager, and “Promoters” have the courage to continue boldly and clearly proclaiming the gospel. But most of all, pray that the Holy Spirit works through the gospel on these sites to create and strengthen the faith of many people.

Written by a missionary in East Asia

To learn more about WELS Multi-Language Publications, visit wels.net/mlp.

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Seeds are small. But they grow.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

It began with just a small group of WELS military personnel and civilians gathering once a month in Minot, N.D., and a WELS pastor from Bismarck, N.D., being willing to travel the 110 miles north to serve them. For years. And then our Lord gave us a seminary graduate named Nathan Walther and his wife Heather to serve this field. Pastor Walther was installed at Grace Lutheran on July 13, 2014. Since then—in spite of crazy high building prices that prevented us from pursuing early childhood ministry as an outreach strategy, and in spite of many difficulties finding available space for our mission, and in spite of the long cold winters—our Lord’s Word has not returned void, but has accomplished the purpose for which he sent it. Today, Grace Lutheran is a congregation of 54 members. And they keep moving forward. In fact, even as I write this, they are closing on a deal to purchase and move into their own worship facility.

It began with just a small group of WELS members meeting in the living room of the city planner and his wife. This was in 2008, in Williston, N.D., a small town that had a regular influx of transient WELS workers who were part of the oil patch. Then our pastor in Circle, Wolf Point, and Terry, Mont., started making regular trips to serve them, driving 120 miles one way. Then came the oil boom. This small town went crazy, more than doubling in size, as oil companies raced in to drill wells. And through it all, our group continued to meet and mature, so that now they aim to be what our Lord has made them—to be the church in their corner of our Lord’s vineyard, as we await the time a full-time missionary can be called to that field.

Home mission church in Dickinson, N.D.

It began with just a small group composed of members from our two sister congregations in Sioux Falls, S.D. Their small city, which had always felt more like a town than a city, had become a community of a quarter of a million people living in and around it. It was time to plant a mission in an area that was always just beyond the reach of their evangelism efforts. And so it is that, on July 21, Craig Wilke will be ordained and installed as our missionary in Brandon, S.D.

It began with just a small group of WELS members, ten adults and five children, gathering at a community center in Dickinson, N.D., to live stream worship from the next closest WELS church—Redeemer, Mandan, N.D., 92 miles to the east. Then Our Saviour’s in Bismarck, which is next to Mandan, got involved as well. In the spring of this year our District Mission Board was able to put in a request for a full-time missionary for that field. Though there were not enough funds to grant our request, this group has no intention of just sitting on their 15 pairs of hands. They know there is work to be done while it is day.

Our Lord so often compared his kingdom and its growth to a seed. Seeds are pretty small. But they grow.

Written by Rev. Jonathan Werre, Chairman of the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Sherry

Over 2,000 years ago, God sent a man named Philip to minister to a royal official from Ethiopia. Their time together was short. They had one Bible study about the book of Isaiah and a conversation about the blessings of Baptism. Soon after, the Ethiopian was baptized in the name of our Triune God and Philip was taken by the Holy Spirit to another town to go and minister.

That short encounter between two men centered around the good news of Jesus Christ caused the nation of Ethiopia to be one of the most influential Christian centers in all of Africa.

Just like God sent Philip to the Ethiopian, I like to think that God sent Sherry Deaton to Faith Church or maybe he sent Faith Church to Sherry Deaton. Either way, the encounter is nothing short of a miracle.

Two years ago, I received a phone call from Sherry who said she had received a flyer from our church the year prior. She was now living in the area and she recognized our sign out front. She asked if we could meet. We put it on the calendar and then, like so many others, she called to cancel.

That could have been the end of Sherry’s story, but God wouldn’t let me let her off the hook that easily. We rescheduled and that’s when I found out about her past. She had grown up in a broken home. Lived on the streets for a while in her early teens. Eventually she had three kids. Got hooked on meth. Lost her three kids to Child Protective Services (CPS), and in her early 30’s found Jesus. Or as she would say, “Jesus found me.”

Three different missionaries came knocking on her door on three different occasions and the third time was the charm. She was enveloped by God’s love and that’s when her new life began. God freed her from her addiction to drugs. Over time, he graciously gave her children back to her and two of them are now members at Faith Church.

Sherry is the perfect example of God’s amazing grace and his promise that he will never leave us the way he found us. If you were to ever meet Sherry in person, you’d have no idea that she has such a colored past. She’s got a sweet East Texan accent, a huge smile, and a Holy Spirit glow that is infectious. And she’s open enough to tell anyone her jaw dropping stories of unbelief and rebellion so that she can quickly introduce them to their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sherry works part-time at a pregnancy counselling center where she gets to work with women and their families that are going through some of the very same situations she herself has faced. Her experiences and her love for Jesus uniquely qualify her to speak into these women’s lives. Because of her faithful work, many mothers and children have received the gift of baptism, a new life in Christ and a family of believers to surround them with love and support.

On June 2, Sherry was commissioned as Faith Lutheran Church’s Deaconess over Women’s Ministry. Sherry has had many “Philips” sent into her life to show her Jesus’ love and now, like Philip, God is sending her into many other people’s lives. Please pray that God would fill her with his love and strength to continue on with this amazing work!

Written by Rev. Dan Schmidt, home missionary at Faith Lutheran Church in Tyler, Tex.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Faces of Faith – Bidit

On occasion, I have met WELS members who imagine that the work of a cross-cultural missionary involves learning exotic languages or traveling to far flung places to share the gospel. Usually when people imagine cross-cultural ministry this way, they also imagine that they could never do. At least for me, the reality has been quite the opposite. Let me share an example through the recent work I have been able to do among the Nuer people from South Sudan who live near Vancouver, British Colombia. I don’t have to go anywhere, and I don’t speak the Nuer language (except for one word). I don’t deeply understand the culture. I have never been to South Sudan. Yet God has enabled me to reach a group of about 60 people in this culture. How? By giving to me special gifts in the form of Nuer leaders like Bidit (pronounced Bi-deet).

Like many of the other South Sudanese in our area, Bidit came to Canada as a refugee when he was a young man. He hopes someday to return to his country and serve his people. But for the time being, he has grown up to be the father of five, a leader in his community, and the kind of servant of God who makes my life as a missionary easy. The gospel clearly flows from his heart.

For the sake of his family and their cost of living, Bidit lives over an hour away from our Sudanese mission in a bedroom community of Vancouver. Yet every Sunday, he leaves his house 3 hours before church begins to first bring his family to church. Then he drives around the community picking up other South Sudanese people who need rides to church. He always comes prepared with a case of water and beverages to make people feel welcome at our South Sudanese mission service. After he arrives, Bidit is often the one leading the service in his Nuer language. When the people are talking in Nuer, he will come sit next to me and interpret so I can understand what they are talking about. After the service is over, Bidit will discuss with me who we should visit this week—for example, we came together twice this week to visit a gentleman who was hospitalized with a serious illness. Later, after our weekly chats on the phone, Bidit messages everyone in the South Sudanese community by Facebook to invite them to come to worship again next Sunday. If that weren’t enough, Bidit also just volunteered with Kingdom Workers to spend a month in Ethiopia to advance our gospel ministry among the Nuer people living in refugee camps there.

Do you see how easy this work becomes when God gives you a leader like Bidit? Instead of spending years to learn Nuer culture and language, my job is instead to equip leaders like Bidit,  through programs like the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Instead of trying to organize a congregation in a foreign culture, I only need to prepare a sermon with clear law and gospel. Instead of traveling to Ethiopia, I only need to connect leaders like Bidit with our WELS partners. Through Bidit, hundreds more people are reached with the gospel than if I tried to do this myself. Please keep the lay leaders like Bidit in our cross-cultural ministries in your prayers! For it is through men and women like Bidit that God truly opens doors for the gospel across different languages and cultures.

Written by Rev. Geoff Cortright, home missionary at Saviour of the Nations Lutheran Church – Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada

To learn more about South Sudanese ministry, a WELS Joint Missions ministry, visit wels.net/sudanese.

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Two Walking Miracles

“Two walking miracles.” That’s how Marlene Truax describes her twin grandsons, Thomas and Dakota.

Born at 26 weeks and weighing just 1 pound 13 ounces and 1 pound 11 ounces respectively, doctors gave them a 50% chance of survival at best. All the family could do was put them in the Lord’s hands and find peace in trusting him. As Marlene remembered thinking, “If they live; they live. If they don’t, it’s still the Lord’s plan.” The boys spent much of the next year in the hospital, and over those long months the prognosis was not always good. Even after their eventual release from the hospital, Marlene remembers that the first three years were an especially difficult struggle.

But even when survival was in doubt and the future very murky, one thing that was always certain was that the boys were loved. And as the boys grew, Grandma Marlene especially made sure that they knew not only about the love of family but the love of Jesus. Every Sunday they were in church at the Lutheran Church of the Open Bible in Whiteriver, and they were enrolled at East Fork Lutheran School.

This past May, these two walking miracles walked across the stage to receive diplomas as members of the first graduating class of the reopened East Fork Lutheran High School. It was a special moment and a testimony to the power of prayer, the goodness of our God, and the blessing of Christian family. As Marlene put it, it was also a time to be thankful. She was thankful for the people who have helped them along the way, and especially thankful to the Lord for taking care of them. She gives all credit to the Lord – that it was only through him that this special day was possible, only through him that these young Christian men can look forward to serving the Lord in their future, and only through him that we all have the promise to eventually live with him forever.

Her faith and thankful heart have been passed on to these two young men. Dakota’s advice and encouragement is to, “In everything, do it all for the Lord. Always thank God for waking you up every morning and for all he does. In everything be content and give thanks.” Dakota also had the opportunity this past year to take courses in the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) and use his training to do readings in church. After high school, he hopes to continue learning and helping people to look to the Lord for help when life is difficult.

Thomas is also thankful for being able to learn God’s Word every day at East Fork Lutheran School. In his words, the most important thing he learned was God’s Word and, “how we will be with him if we believe and trust in him because he is the one and only God.” He hopes to teach that to others after high school.

Please join all of us on the Apache reservations in thanking our God for the miracles we can see and the ones we can’t. Thank him for providing mature Christians who make a difference in the lives of their family, friends, and communities, and the called workers who assist in sharing the love of Jesus. Pray for Thomas and Dakota and young Christians everywhere that they may grow in faith and godly living and accomplish the work God will give them to do in the years ahead.

Love in Christ from your Native brothers and sisters,

Rev. Dan Rautenberg, Field Coordinator for WELS Native American Missions

To learn more about mission work on the Apache Reservations, visit wels.net/apache.

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Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 2

Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 2

Martin Luther’s Pastoral and Practical Revisions of Worship


Creativity is careful to honor the arts.

Though Luther considered Karlstadt’s experiments to be troubling (see part 1), he realized that they weren’t unique. By 1524, worship experiments were underway all over Germany, many initiated by reformers who were becoming increasingly estranged from Luther in the wake of Karlstadt. In Allstedt, Thomas Müntzer—in addition to propagating Anabaptism—was composing a vernacular service1 and vernacular translations of ancient hymns. Nearer-by in Zwickau, Nicolas Hausmann, the very pastor to whom Luther had dedicated the Formula Missae, sent Luther in 1525 some new German masses for critique.2

Luther felt that they all suffered from the same problem: the old tunes didn’t fit the translated texts.3 While pragmatic, these mass experiments lacked artistry. While aiming at re-formation of the service, they were nothing more than “loosely connected amalgams of prayer, preaching, and singing.”4

Luther’s solution, a German service for Wittenberg, aimed for a higher standard. To achieve this, he enlisted professional help. In October of 1525 as the Deutsche Messe texts and tunes were nearing completion, Luther requested the Elector to dispatch court composer Conrad Rupsch and his protégé Johann Walter to collaborate with him. For three weeks, they scrutinized texts and tunes.5 By mid-November, completed drafts were sent to Torgau for electoral approval. The texts were clean, the notes well-matched and well-tuned. Whether or not he intended it, Luther was putting church musicians on notice: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Luther also put preachers on notice. “I think that if we had a German postil (a biblical commentary in sermon-form) for the entire year, it would be best to appoint the sermon for the day to be read entirely or in part out of the book—and not just for the benefit of those preachers who can do nothing better. …otherwise we will reach the point where everyone will preach his own ideas and instead of the Gospel we will have more sermons about ‘blue ducks.’”6

Luther’s critique can seem confusing until we realize the sad state of preaching in and around Wittenberg. Preachers were either so clumsy in explaining a text or so eager to offer their own ideas that sermons spun off into nonsense. Luther’s sharp critique boils down to this: those who can’t appreciate the art of preaching ought to read and imitate someone who can.

Luther’s expectation for excellence in artistic craft appeared throughout the Deutsche Messe and its accompanying resources. When he translated ancient prayers,7 he did so in ways that recognized and appreciated their ancient form. When he enlisted the most respected poets to translate old hymn texts and compose new ones,8 he expected clear and elegant language. When he commended pastors to chant the lessons, he gave them specific instructions to ensure it was done well.

Why was Luther so adamant about art forms? The preaching problem is illustrative. When a preacher bungles a text or, worse, ruminates on something foreign to the text, what is happening to the gospel message? When a poet bruises the language or a composer mis-matches the tune, a disservice to the gospel is taking place. Luther’s concern for the arts in worship is not art for art’s sake. “In Luther’s view, music in the church functions as viva vox evangelii.” How do music and art carry out this task? “By faithfully reflecting in its own terms the honesty, integrity, truthfulness, and winsomeness of the gospel.”9 Luther’s pastoral heart expected any tool used to express the gospel to be expertly handled and any tune accompanying the gospel to be expertly crafted.

Luther’s passion for the arts is an extension of his foundational principle. Once the creative arts have been placed into the service of the gospel, it follows that our creative impulses would also be placed into the service of the arts. Luther was acquainted with prominent musicians who were working to define and explore new musical techniques and innovations. Luther’s humanist contemporaries used the term ars (“art”) to describe the rules and techniques that could be taught and learned, and the term ingenium (“genius”) to describe the musician’s original and creative impulses. Both concepts are not only important to music, but required.“Ars without ingenium is insufficient, and ingenium alone is despicable, since it places itself above all musical order.”10 There are thus two temptations to avoid: the first, to basically reproduce artforms with no passion or creativity; the second, to simply ‘do our own thing,’ preferring our own genius rather than realizing the rules and working within the limits of the art.

Luther might unleash his good-natured wit on us against these two temptations: “Your passion for the past is commendable. And your plan to preach like I preach is well-intentioned. But art without genius won’t do!” Alternatively: “Your genius is a gift of God. Your next sermon series might be a creative gem. And your new ideas for adapting a service may be great. But have you taken the time to appreciate the form of art that you are improving or replacing? Or are you simply offering an “ape-like imitation?”11

Luther’s carefully crafted service is a reminder that the pursuit of excellence through artistic standard and craft leads each individual (preacher, player, planner, and more) to appreciate their role as a steward of God’s creative gifts and to acknowledge that God has blessed us with far more than our own cherished “tavern tunes,” “tin whistles”12 and “blue ducks.”

Creativity is careful to serve the community.

Hausmann’s letter to Luther wasn’t the last request for Luther’s pastoral advice. Luther became aware of a troubling situation in far-off Livonia (present-day Estonia). This time, it had nothing to with artistic integrity. A new fanatical preacher, Melchior Hoffmann, was causing the same kind of upheaval that Karlstadt had started in Wittenberg three years earlier. Hoffmann was soon toe-to-toe with the disgruntled church council who sent him to Wittenberg for advice from Luther. They also sent a letter to Luther asking, in effect: “Tell us what we should do!”

We can only speculate about what they expected to hear. On the one hand, Luther could have prescribed a precise format of what was appropriate and what not.13 On the other hand, Luther could allow every congregation to determine its own way,14 based on the consensus of the pastor, the council, and the people.

But Luther offered neither of those solutions. Instead, he wrote, “I pray all of you, my dear sirs, let each one surrender his own opinions and get together in a friendly way and come to a common decision about these external matters, so that there will be one uniform practice throughout your district instead of  disorder—one thing being done here and another there—lest the common people get confused and discouraged.”15 In other words, ‘do what seems best to you; but please, do it together with your fellow churches.’

Luther offered pastoral latitude within limits.

This thread of regionally-determined liturgical unity rather than congregational independence is woven into the fabric of the Deutsche Messe. “I do not propose that all of Germany should uniformly follow our Wittenberg order…. But it would be well if the service in every principality would be held in the same manner and if the order observed in a given city would also be followed by the surrounding towns and villages.”16 Luther then also offered pastoral latitude within limits: “It shall be understood that such communion, hymns, readings, and preaching are under the responsibility of the pastor, and may be increased or reduced according to the circumstances of the day.”17 Pastors were free to make various choices within a liturgical framework shared among churches in the district.

Luther was defending pastoral and congregational freedom while at the same time advocating that the freedom of a particular pastor or congregation be limited by love which serves their neighbor. The freedom of the individual submits in love to the needs of the neighbor. In this way, congregations would avoid falling into the ditch of legalism while at the same time avoiding the ditch of faddism or creativity-run-amok.

So much for the principle. But how could such a balance of freedom and love be struck, especially among German people known for their streak of independence?18 Luther’s practical solution was peer review. Anything newly created for worship should, as a matter of course, undergo careful scrutiny. Luther then offered as first specimens his own paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer and his exhortation to the Lord’s Supper. “[How] this paraphrase should be read, I leave to everyone’s judgment…. I would, however, like to ask that [it] follow a prescribed wording … for the sake of ordinary people. We cannot have it done one way today, and tomorrow another different way, letting everybody parade their talents and confuse people so that they can neither learn nor retain anything.”19

Luther’s practical solution was a peer review.

Incidentally, neither of Luther’s specimens would survive. In Wittenberg’s first church order (1533), neither idea was included. Pastors and people simply returned to the familiar patterns of the Lord’s Prayer and Preface.

Nevertheless, Luther’s practical principles took hold. Worship patterns were codified in church orders and the concept of regional unity cemented in the language of the Lutheran Confessions.20 It wasn’t until the 20th century that some Lutherans were taken up with the idea of “absolute congregational autonomy in all matters liturgical.”21

This article does not suggest or imagine that all the congregations of a 21st century synod adopt a uniform and identical worship practice. Nevertheless, we also cannot ignore how important it was to Luther and the Lutheran confessors that congregations work together in adopting and adapting worship patterns.

Perhaps we can be encouraged that the Livonian problem did resolve. In 1530, only five years after their letter to Luther, their neighbors in Riga (modern-day Latvia) wrote: “So far as is possible and helpful to our people, we may agree not only with the people here in Livonia, but also with our neighbors and other states in the German lands in which the Gospel of Christ is also proclaimed clearly and richly—especially in the principal matters pertaining to outward divine service or ceremonies.”22

Creativity is careful to serve the congregation.

As the busy year of 1525 closed, Luther had nearly completed his worship revision project. The gospel had been carefully taught and translated in words and actions. The tunes had been professionally assessed. But would the Wittenbergers sing? Luther, the pastoral pragmatist, had already worked to ensure that it could be done.

Luther was a musical theologian. He received musical training from a young age, long before he entered the monastery. At the same time that he was learning the Latin chants in school, Luther was learning German folk tunes from his copper-mining father Hans and his mother Grete. He reports that during his early years “his father would relax with a beer and break out into song.”23

This pattern continued in Luther’s own family life. In a famous scene by Gustav Spangenberg, Luther is strumming away, teaching songs to his children from a printed manuscript. Since Spangenberg’s painting is from 1875, some dismiss it as unrealistically idyllic. But this activity would have been common in the Luther household.

Also interesting is the person glancing over Katie’s shoulder. Philip Melancthon was a frequent guest in Luther’s home. But why is he featured in this painting? In my estimation, Spangenberg was portraying an idyll of Lutheran musical pedagogy. Melancthon, the praeceptor Germaniae, represents the idea of Christian education. If the Reformation would endure, it would require musically trained theologians and theologically trained musicians.24

Lower altar panel at St. Mary’s – Lucas Cranach the Younger

How Luther implemented this musical training in Wittenberg isn’t as clear as we might like it to be. One hint comes from another allegorical image from 1547 by Luther’s colleague Lucas Cranach the Younger.

We see the gospel of Jesus at the center, Luther in the pulpit, and the people gathered to listen, pray, and presumably, sing. We notice that men and women are separated into groups (as Luther advised for the communion distribution), but we also notice a congregation of several generations worshiping together. We don’t see a choir, even though we know they used one. How much did the congregation sing? How much did the choir sing? What did a service in 1527 sound like? These questions will remain under debate.25 But if we step back and listen, some key notes emerge.

Luther oversaw publication of a congregational hymnal in Wittenberg. Though the earliest known copy is dated to 1526, evidence suggests that the laity had hymnals in their hands—an Enchiridion—as early as 1524.26

Luther also invited Johann Walter to compose three- to five-part concerted settings of the same hymns listed in the Enchiridion. This Geystliche Gesangk-Buchleyn was also published in 1524.

Luther relied heavily on the scholia (school choir) for modeling the new texts and tunes to the congregation. Students trained in singing during the week were placed centrally among the congregation when the hymn was sung.

With this information, we realize that the two scenes above complement one another while providing a clear picture of how pastor and people worked together in the instruction of hymnody, liturgy, and song—to grow in faith. “For this, one must read, sing, preach, write, and compose. And if it would help matters along, I would have all the bells pealing, and all the organs playing, and have everything ring that can make a sound.”27

The enduring importance of careful creativity.

Ten years after his famous walk to the Castle Church door, the brilliant professor, no longer a bachelor, sat up late one night to compose another document—not to an archbishop but to a good friend. Instead of venting about indulgences, Luther laments medical needs.

“My dear Amsdorf: A hospital has started up in my house. I am very fearful for my Katy, who is close to delivering, for my little Hans has also been sick for three days now and is not eating anything and is doing poorly; they say he’s teething, but they also believe that both are at very high risk.”

The letter to Amsdorf wouldn’t cause the stir of the 95 Theses. The letter’s lasting significance is found only in Luther’s closing salutation: “Written at Wittenberg on the Day of All Saints, in the tenth year after the indulgences had been trampled underfoot, in memory of which we are drinking [Wittenberg beer] at this hour.”28 The date was Tuesday, November 1, 1527. Had it been Sunday or Wednesday, Luther might have been leading worship. Had it been Friday or Saturday, he might have been preparing a sermon or hearing confession. But Luther was commemorating All Saints’ Day with Gemütlichkeit.

Luther provided a pastoral and practical manual for careful creativity.

How much had changed in the previous decade? One need look no further than the All Saints’ Church. The thousands of meaningless private masses had been abolished by the end of 1521. The ten aisles of relics had been removed by 1522. By 1524, the people who had once only stopped to look were now starting to stay and sing, with forms and hymns that they could understand. The results, of course, would be seen and heard far beyond Wittenberg.

Did the brilliant professor realize what he was doing? In 1523, Luther began by revising an old order of service for the sake of the gospel. In 1526, he advised a new order of service for the sake of the gospel. But far from a mere ‘alternative service’ Luther provided a pastoral and practical manual for careful creativity. The wisdom and principles evident in his approach continue to guide pastors and worship planners today.

Written by Mark Tiefel

 


The picture in the heading is “Luther Making Music in the Circle of his Family” by Gustav Spangenberg.


For full citation information for some notes, see part 1 of this article.

1“Deutsch Evangelisch Messze.” Cf. Leaver, Sings, 84-88.
2 The story is explained in Luther’s “An Exhortation to the Communicants,” LW 53:104.
3 “To translate the Latin text and the Latin tone or notes has my sanction, though it does not sound polished or well done. Both text and notes, accent and melody, and manner of rendering ought to grow out of the true mother tongue and its inflection, otherwise all of it becomes an imitation in the manner of apes.” “Against the Heavenly Prophets” LW 40:141.
4 Leaver, “Deutsche Messe,” 331.
5 The professionals didn’t feel Luther needed much help. Praetorius records a visit by Rupsch and Walter. “Herr Luther had composed the Sanctus in masterly fashion.” Schalk, Paradigms, 27.
6 Lange, Annotated Luther. Cf. LW 53:78
7 Cf. LW 53:127ff and LW 53:153ff
8 Cf. Luther’s Letter to Spalatin (end of 1523), LW 49:68-69, cited in Schalk, Paradigms, 26.
9 Schalk, Paradigms, 51
10 Hoelty-Nickel, Theodore. “Luther and Music” in Luther and Culture, Luther College Press. 1960, 147-148.
11 LW40:141, cited in Leaver, Sings, 86
12 This is not to say that a well-played Irish tin-whistle isn’t proper art! The reference is from Martin Franzmann, Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, CPH, 1966/1994, 92 or 96. Cf. Aaron Christie, “Excellence for Christ in All Things,” Worship the Lord #42 (May, 2010).
13 Other reformers, such as John Calvin, would take this approach.
14 This path was advocated by Johannes Brenz. Cf. Elert, Structure, 333.
15 LW 53:47
16 AL 3:139, LW 53:63
17 For a fuller discussion of latitude and limits, cf. page 6 in Stephen Valleskey, “Lutheran Worship Reforms of the 1500s that We Can Still Use Today.” WELS South Central District, January, 2010.
18 “We Germans are a rough, rude, and reckless people, with whom it is hard to do anything, except in cases of dire need.” AL 3:142. What would Luther think of Americans?
19 AL 3:155; LW 53:80
20 By 1580, the pattern of uniform regional church practice had spread throughout Germany. “The confessors were willing to work out their issues of freedom and love for the sake of unity. They saw the exercise of ‘discretion’ … as completely in accord with the very confessions they penned and confessed. They went about exercising that discretion not only by defending it in the confessions, but through active efforts of visitation and through extensive publication of church orders.” Matthew Harrison, “Luther, The Confessions, and Confessors on Liturgical Freedom and Uniformity,” in Chemnitz’s Works, Volume 9: Church Order for Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. Concordia, 2015, xv-xvi.
21 Harrison, xxi
22 Leaver, “Deutsche Messe,” 333-334
23 Leaver, Sings, 28
24 Cf. Hoelty-Nickel, 149
25 As they currently are. Joseph Herl’s Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism asserts that the choir played the major role, almost to the exclusion of the congregation. Robin Leaver makes the case for a singing laity. Cf. Luther’s Liturgical Music, Fortress, 2017, 209ff and especially Sings, 102ff.
26 Leaver provides an engaging narrative of its development in Sings, 106ff.
27 AL 3:140; LW 53:62
28 The second quote is referenced in Leaver, Church, 2. The first can be found in WA 4:4, #1162.

 


 

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Preach The Word – You Have to Do Something with This Jesus Character

Apologetics in Preaching

You Have to Do Something with This Jesus Character

God or bad man? This ancient dilemma has faced skeptics for centuries. If Jesus is not true God, then he is a liar for claiming divinity and therefore a bad man. C.S. Lewis made the dilemma famous as a “Trilemma: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” We will add one more and call it “The Four L’s: Legend, Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” When we look at the evidence of Christ, only a few options emerge. Jesus of Nazareth is either a legend, liar, lunatic, or who he says he is, Lord Almighty.

The dilemma turned argument poses a striking challenge: You have to do something with this Jesus character. Ambivalence is not an option for the thinking human. It seems Jesus had this in mind when he said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters” (Lk 11:23). A reasonable and thoughtful person will have an opinion about Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Stalin, current politicians, and many other famous people. A man cannot expect to be taken seriously if he says, “Stalin? I don’t know. I guess I don’t have an opinion about him.” How much more for the man who has been written about more than any other person, Jesus of Nazareth?

The burden of proof is on the skeptic.

First, the argument. Can we come to a reasonable conclusion that Jesus is a legend? No respected historian believes that the carpenter’s Son did not exist. There is too much biblical and extra biblical evidence. He is not a myth. Of course, the claim that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead is another matter. These claims are bolstered by the historical reliability of the New Testament texts and the fact that the earliest Christians risked martyrdom for their belief in his divinity. We encountered these arguments in previous issues. The challenge to the skeptic is to make a decision, legend or not? If the skeptic comes down on the side of legend, then he must back this up with more than an a priori stance against the existence of a divine being. The burden of proof is on the skeptic when it comes to the most famous person in the history of the world.

Can we come to a reasonable conclusion that Jesus is a liar? We humans are experienced liars but we almost always have a selfish motive. So what is the motive? What did Jesus gain for his so-called deception? Did he gain power, revenge, sex, or money (the reasons why we humans lie)? He only gained death by crucifixion. My Old Adam will take a lie a long way but the gig is up when they bring out the cross and nails! Why would Jesus lie? Again the burden is on the skeptic to prove that Jesus lied. There is no plausible motive for such a deception.

Can we come to a reasonable conclusion that Jesus was a lunatic? We do not live in an era or place, thankfully, in which an accusation of insanity automatically gets a person institutionalized. The burden of proof is most definitely on the accuser in this case. Can we find evidence of a certain pathology in the writings about Christ? This is not an obscure topic. Albert Schweitzer famously wrote his doctoral thesis on the sanity of Jesus. Can we find any indication from the ancient texts that the man from Nazareth had a mental disorder besides the a priori insistence that there is no God and therefore Jesus is crazy for thinking he is divine? No credible case has been made for this conviction. There is no evidence that Jesus was a lunatic.

This leaves us with only one option left: Lord Almighty.

The argument is not without its critics1 but it still serves a valuable apologetic purpose. The argument places an intellectual decision before the skeptic without making it a spiritual decision (decision theology). The skeptic cannot simply brush aside Jesus of Nazareth so easily. He or she is forced to think through this rejection. Is it because I don’t want to believe it, or do I have solid intellectual reasons for disbelieving in the divinity of Christ?

The argument is also particularly valuable in today’s cultural climate which I would describe as heavily moralistic. Righteous indignation seems to be at an all-time high. It is less and less acceptable to be indifferent about any matter. Nor is it good enough to simply have an opinion. Your righteous indignation, if it is to be taken seriously, must be active. We are tripping over ourselves to be more righteous than the next person. From straws to balloons to black lives matter to blue lives matter to all lives matter, we are activists in constant search for a cause. The higher moral ground is not a place of humility but a place of pride, and the race to get there first is fiercely competitive.2

The Four L’s are not the end of the conversation but only the beginning.

Here we find an apologetic opportunity to push the issue. You have to do something with this Jesus character. It deserves some thought. It deserves an open-mind. You cannot be indifferent. I do believe that there will be a time, if not already here, when we will get tired of these attempts at self-righteousness. It’s exhausting. I am sure the warriors will still fight but there will be (and are) better angels who yearn for a more thoughtful political discourse and robust discussion of religion, philosophy, and culture. The Four L’s are a good place to start a conversation. It’s not the end of the conversation but only the beginning. The goal is to have thoughtful conversation about the real Jesus and let the Spirit do his work.

There is a uniqueness about this particular moment, as there is about every particular historical moment. There is a strong desire for authenticity, thoughtfulness, and moral understanding as we emerge from the plastic, often shallow, and material-driven era of late modernity. Along with this comes a heightened awareness of the past, diversity, and the connection between the physical and the spiritual. Who are we? Where did we come from? Is the body all there is? How should we act? These are, of course, the same questions we have always asked. The difference is that we now live with the unfilled promise of modern progress.

We cannot escape the big questions of life. But why is that the case? Why are we not indifferent about the environmental impact of straws or human trafficking? Could it be that we are something different than just the material? We are not just a pile of molecules arranged differently than the soil. We are alive. But, then again, so are plants. We are different. We are aware of our surroundings and interact with the world in a more sophisticated way than the dandelion. But so do the animals. Yet we are different than the animals too, aren’t we? We are self-aware. We interact with language on a higher level. We strive for something more than squirreling away nuts for the winter. We seek beauty, morality, and progress. We are often overcome with a sense of wonderment. We also seek justification, that is, we desire value. We want our existence and our actions justified. We want to be just, right, righteous. Who doesn’t want to be seen as valuable, just, and right? We are, in short, created in the image of God, though damaged by the Fall. We know that we are important. Yet the greatest distinction is found in Christ. God became one of us to redeem us. This is what ultimately separates us from the dirt, dandelions, and squirrels.

We are right to push the skeptic’s worldview to its ultimate conclusions.

We are also confessors. We have opinions, right and wrong. We speak our minds, wisely and foolishly. As apologists we are right to force the issue: So what do you say about this? We are right to push the skeptic’s worldview to its ultimate conclusions. Can a material only view really explain the love I have for my children or the wonderment I feel looking up into the night sky or the rush I experience when I discover something new or accomplish a seemingly impossible task? Can a moral relativist justify her righteous anger towards the racist or the pedophile, let alone a capitalist economy? Can human rights survive in a worldview that sees no difference between a human and a chicken? The apologist is right to ask the skeptic, “What do you say?”

Have I inspired the people in the pews to be thinkers and confessors?

For the Christian preacher the question becomes this: Can I both present apologetical arguments such as the reliability of the New Testament texts and display the fullness of a Christian worldview? Can I offer something more than “Jesus, my friend” or “Jesus, my copilot?” Have I missed an opportunity to be profound? Have I missed an opportunity to have a real conversation about the real Jesus? Have I inspired the people in the pews to be thinkers and confessors? Can we send out evangelists (the people in the pews) armed with more than trite one-liners but with a deep understanding of the big questions? Can we send out confessors?

We see an example of Jesus asking a similar question of Peter in the readings for Pentecost 5 (July 14, 2019). In the Gospel for the day Jesus famously asks his apostle, “But what about you, who do you say I am?” (Lk 9:18-24). Zechariah speaks about the remnant which is refined in fire. God will declare, “They are my people” and the faithful will respond, “The Lord is our God” (Ze 13:7-9). God declares grace and his people confess. Our identity (the people of God) is made personal in baptism, a theme we encounter in the Second Reading (Ga 3:23-29). After Peter answers his Lord’s questions correctly, “The Christ of God,” Jesus explains who the Christ is and what he does: “The Son of Man must suffer many things.” This fits with the Psalm selection for the day, Psalm 22.

Here is an attempt to preach the good news of who Jesus is and arouse the listener to think deeply and, when called upon, confess Jesus as the Christ.

I think that there are as many Jesuses as there are people in the world. What I mean is this: Everybody has an opinion about Christ. There is a republican Jesus, a Marxist Jesus, a self-help Jesus, a life-coach Jesus, a moral crusader Jesus. You name it and you will find somebody who has that particular image of Jesus. Those images look remarkably like what the person wants Jesus to be. But Jesus is the ultimate iconoclast, breaking the image we have created of him.

Your Jesus often looks like he was made in your image instead of the other way around.

You too have an image of Jesus. You do. If you are honest, you will admit that this Jesus often looks like he was made in your image instead of the other way around. Such is the constant battle of being a sinner-saint. This is another reason to stay in the Scriptures. That’s where the real Jesus is revealed, shattering our images of him. And that’s a good thing because our image of God is only as good as our imaginations. I need a better God than that and so do you.

In the Gospel Reading we heard Jesus ask this question, “Who do people say I am?” The answer came from his disciples, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, that one of the prophets long ago has come back to life.” All fine and reasonable answers, better than life-coach! But all those answers were incorrect.

Jesus then asked Peter, “But what about you?”

Peter got it right, “The Christ of God.”

Then Jesus explains Peter’s answer (I wonder if Peter’s answer was a catechism class answer, the right words but without full understanding). “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

A God who dies? Not exactly the image Peter or anybody else had in mind. Jesus really is the ultimate iconoclast, shattering the image we have of the divine. He is the God on the cross displaying a love our imaginations could never invent. He is the Psalm 22 God of whom we just chanted moments ago. “I am a worm and not a man,” he says, carrying our sins in our place. “But you, O Lord, be not far off,” he cries in sure hope of his resurrection and ours.

So I challenge you today as Jesus did Peter, “Who do you say Jesus is?” Is he merely your personal guide in life? You know, the guy you rely on for advice. Or is he the eternal creator who made you and this world, the reason up is up and 1+1=2, the one who knew you before creation and has set up good deeds for you to accomplish until the day he takes your tired soul to an eternal Sabbath rest?

Is he simply a motivational speaker or is he the one you are crucified with in daily repentance and resurrected with so that every day is a new day for you, forgetting the past as you stare into eternal freedom?

Is he only your moral guide, an example to follow, or is he the God-man who comes crashing into our world with words of absolution and a heavenly meal as medicine for your sinful soul?

Is he the rabbi who only tells you how to live or the one who lives in your place? Is he only there for you when times are good or does he give you permission to enter the darkness as he lays a cross before you?

Now consider what your friends and acquaintances say about Jesus. Who does the world say Jesus is? And how about this question: who are you? Who are the people you meet? Are we simply a pile of material or are we souls created by God himself, people so valuable to him that he died for them? What does the world say about Jesus and about humanity? I bet it is different than what we find in Scripture. Can you help them? Can you confess?

Can you confess the real Jesus, the cross Jesus, the Psalm 22 Jesus, to these precious souls? It’s not always easy to shatter someone’s image, is it? But Christ will give you the faith and the words. He will. You will fail at times. That’s okay. Keep confessing. And for every failure there is refinement, whether you feel it or not. Did you hear God through the prophet Zechariah today? The shepherd is struck and the sheep scatter, but there remain those he refines in fire, those he tests like gold.

That’s you. “These are my people,” God says about you, “My people.” Here is your identity: baptized into Christ, clothed in his righteousness, justified, not by your own actions but by his. Declared valuable, made perfect, dearly loved. “My people,” he declares. You are his people. And his people confess. “Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks you. And the answer comes every week, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.” This is who you are. This is who the refiner made you to be.

So, when the time is right you will be able to say, “Oh, no, my dear friend! Jesus is so much more than law giver, so much deeper than mere story, more real than myth, so much more important than teacher, friend, or guide, he is your everything. He is your beginning, your end, and everything in between. This is the Christ of God, lover of you, the sinner, giver of life to the dead, and consolation for the broken hearted. Oh, dear friend, here is Jesus, the Christ of God.”

Written by Michael Berg


1 Some objections are easily dispelled by someone with an average knowledge of the Gospels. One example is the claim that Jesus never thought of himself divine because he never claimed divinity. Other objections are more subtle. One example is that Jesus thought he was divine but that didn’t make him insane but rather a zealous Jew of his day. In this case a modern person can still appreciate his teachings without having to come to a conclusion that he is divine.
2 The tragedy of this situation is that legitimate causes are often obscured.


Books for Further Study:

The Psychiatric Study of Jesus: Exposition and Criticism by Albert Schweitzer
Tactics by Gregory Koukl
Prepared to Answer and More Prepared to Answer by Mark Paustian
Theologia et Apologia edited by Adam Francisco, Korey Mass, and Steven Mueller
Scientism and Secularism by JP Moreland
The Reason I Believe by Allen Quist
The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Andreas Köstenberger and Michael Kruger


 

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Memories in Malawi

Recently I’ve been digging through old photos, looking over the 25 years I’ve lived in Malawi as a missionary wife. There are an amazing amount of memories that come to mind looking over those pictures. My husband, Paul, was assigned to Malawi when he graduated from the Seminary in 1993. In remembering those early years, and comparing them to our life here today, several things came to mind.

The early years – Malawi, Africa

We didn’t know much about Malawi when we arrived in 1993 with our one year old son. Paul was called to serve rural congregations in the North of Malawi. We knew he was called to teach God’s Word to the people there. We had something valuable to share and were willing to do it. What we didn’t know at the time was that Malawi, and the millions of people who live here, had something valuable to teach us. Reflecting back, I can clearly see how God provided for us in big and small ways.

Our second child was born in 1995 while living in the small town of Mzuzu. When the doctor who delivered my baby asked if I had packed a flashlight, I realized that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Power cuts and dim lights are common. I learned to be ready for scenarios I hadn’t had to think about living in the U.S.

After our daughter was born, we had planned to travel throughout Malawi. I learned that some items, like disposable diapers, were impossible to find in Mzuzu. I was resigned to traveling for 10 days with a toddler and a newborn with only cloth diapers. It was then that I learned that God is much better at planning ahead than I am. Weeks before I even knew I would need them, a group of Christian women in the U.S. had a baby shower for me and shipped an enormous box of disposable diapers to Malawi. The diapers arrived two days before our trip. God’s timing was the best.

Nitz Family – Christmas 2018

As Paul and I met the people of Malawi, we saw that many Malawians struggled with the effects of poverty. Shortages of food, water, medical care, and jobs impacted people’s daily lives. As the needs of Malawians were made known to us and we sought ways to help, Paul and I were learning a lesson about giving and hospitality that Malawians had to teach us.

From our early days of language learning and visiting people in their homes, to traveling to remote villages with Paul to greet people who had never seen a “European” woman and her  baby before, we were welcomed with clapping, singing, and smiles. Chairs appeared out of no where for us to sit on while our Malawian hosts sat on the ground. If possible, a bottle of Coca Cola or Fanta was procured for us. We never left empty handed. Mangoes, green maize, sweet potatoes, a live chicken – these people were happy to share with us. Not because we needed theses things, but because they wanted to show their love to us. Malawian’s have a phrase, Tikulandirani ndi manja awiri! We welcome you with both hands!They welcomed us not just with their hands, but with their hearts as well.

Yes, I’ve learned a lot during my years in Malawi. I’ve learned to drive on the left hand side of the road. I can navigate muddy, rutted roads that look impassable to the uninitiated. I’ve treated our neighbors’ dogs who had venom spat in their eyes from encountering a huge spitting cobra. I learned it’s not really a good idea to pick up a giant horned chameleon on the side of the road and try to to take it home in the car. These are all good things to know to live well in Malawi.

But most of all, I’ve learned that God’s people love each other no matter where they are in the world. God’s people in Malawi have shown their love to me and my family for 25 years, and by God’s grace we’ve been able to join with them in worship, Bible study, English classes, Sunday School, weddings, funerals, births, and graduations. While my own family is growing up and moving away, and I can’t physically be there for them in all the ways I wish I could, I am learning God provides for all our needs, big and small, in ways that I never even imagined He would.

Written by Susan Nitz, missionary wife in Malawi, Africa

To learn more about mission work in Malawi, visit wels.net/malawi.

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My Mission Journey: Forest

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus sent out a Mission Journeys team during their spring break to assist Fount of Life Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., with canvassing and handing out invitations for worship and the pre-school program. Forest Wu, a senior at UW-Madison, was a member of the team and shares his experience: 

Another semester, another spring break, and a mission trip – all in my final year at UW-Madison. It has been an ongoing tradition at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel to invite college students to go on mission trips during spring break. Instead of becoming a “couch Cheeto” and binge-watching “The Office”, students are provided an opportunity to do something memorable for themselves, interact in a community, and most importantly, to serve the Lord.

Forest and Pastor Bilitz assemble packets to hang on doors

With the help of the WELS Mission Journey program, and through the support and prayers from our homes and the local congregation, I joined Pastor Bilitz and five other students. We were invited to serve Fount of Life in Colorado Springs, Colo. For two days, we canvased through neighborhoods in teams; we walked a total of 25 miles! In total, we handed out 2,700 invitations for people to come to worship or to check out the church’s pre-school program. In fact, by God’s blessing, some people had already expressed an interest after our first day.

During our canvassing, we were also fortunate enough to talk to some residents and personally invite them to church. Contrary to the expected rejections, most were happy to take the invitations while some even identified themselves as Christians. This experience reminded me of the time Elijah felt he was the only believer, but God said to him “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (2 Kings 19:18) To me, as a college student in a secular college such as UW-Madison, this is the comfort I needed to spread his gospel. Coming back from the mission trip, I have been more comfortable sharing my beliefs, especially in my Philosophy class and Theatre class, and I am comforted to find that it is true – I am not the only believer left, even in my secular community.

If you want to do something more to serve the Lord in your downtime, I recommend (12 out of 10!) participating in mission trips. Not only will you see the wonders that he has made, but God might also use and inspire you in an unexpected yet wonderful way.

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True Community

One of the challenges of serving in an eastern Canadian context is the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Ontario is full of folks who have a “Catholic background,” but have not gone to church in years. This is a challenge for us because many people believe that they know “The Church” already and know that they don’t like it because of their experience with a Roman Catholic Church.

Ambyr and Nicholas

However, we have found that one thing that breaks that barrier is true community. That’s what happened with Ambyr. Ambyr grew up Catholic but was not attending church when she was invited to come to Cross of Life by her boyfriend, Nicholas (a life-long member of Cross of Life). And though she would say that not everything made sense to her right away and that she was nervous to be in a Lutheran church when she grew up Catholic, she kept coming back because she found a community. She found people who actually cared about her and wanted to see her at church.

She requested to take Faith Builders (our Bible Information Class) with me every week at a Tim Horton’s. Sometimes we just drank coffee and chatted about life, sometimes we studied Scripture, but all the time I got to be part of her life and show her that church is more than a big scary institution. It’s people who love Jesus and love people. During the class, she learned how free the grace of God actually is, and she was hooked. “Cross of Life has changed my life,” she has said to me multiple times.

But that’s not all. We confirmed Ambyr into our fellowship in January, and since then, she has joined a Bible study group, volunteered to help with A/V at worship, has brought a couple friends to Cross of Life, and all of this without even owning a car. She has to bus or taxi everywhere she goes. In fact, she has been so committed, that one time she even paid for a $40 taxi ride to get to church because she was volunteering for worship. Would you still come to church if it cost you $40 just to get there?

Oh, and one other thing: Ambyr is 19. She’s part of the generation that the church is struggling to reach. If Ambyr is any indication, maybe the best strategy for reaching young people is to just take time to love them enough to buy them coffee, listen to their story, and share Jesus with them for a couple weeks. No one is saying it’s efficient, but it’s certainly what builds true community.

God has truly worked a good thing in Ambyr’s heart, and our congregation is blessed to have her. And it all happened because someone invited someone they cared about, a congregation shared the love of Christian community, and a pastor shared the gospel.

I am reminded of Philip’s sharing of the gospel with the Ethiopian in Acts 8. Philip didn’t have to do any “pre-evangelism” or make a special program to get the man in the door. No, God set him up for success. All he had to do was share Jesus. Of course not all mission work is like that, and in a country like Canada that is even more post-Christian that the United States, frankly, it rarely is. But it’s stories like Ambyr’s that remind you that God knows his sheep, and his sheep know his voice. We just simply open our mouths to let his voice be heard.

Written by Rev. Caleb Schultz, home missionary at Cross of Life Lutheran Church in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Many languages, one family

Families who transition languages in their own home are common today. As immigrants continue to come to the United States, their families will experience language transition. The overwhelming presence of the English language in school and public media leads the youth in those families to learn and use English as soon as they can. That is happening as we speak! Often, homes are bilingual, but the languages used are simple phrases remembered or learned, so that children can communicate with parents.

But what do you do when the family wants to worship together? How do you foster the family atmosphere in the church when the older generation loves to hear the gospel in their heart language, but their children desire to hear it also in their heart language, and that language is different?

The confirmands

Congregations throughout WELS are wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas Lutheran Church, in Phoenix, Ariz., is also wrestling with this reality. Santo Tomas was established as St. Thomas in 1964. In 1997, the congregation realized that to reach its community, it needed to work in the Latino culture and use Spanish. Men have been called and have served that family of God faithfully, sharing God’s Word from house to house in Spanish. God has blessed those efforts, and over 120 Hispanics worship weekly at Santo Tomas.

Over 10 years ago, the pastor realized that as he was teaching his catechism class to the adolescents in the congregation, more and more of them didn’t understand his Spanish. He was using terms and vocabulary that were foreign to his students. The students overwhelmingly wanted to hear and learn God’s Word in English. Yet, the ministry at Santo Tomas is in Spanish. Worship, counseling, outreach and fellowship all enjoy the frolicking tones of Spanish. How do you keep the family together?

Santo Tomas determined that God’s Word needs to be clearly understood–so they teach the catechism class in English. One of the current pastors, a native from Cuba whose English is not fluent, has the assistance of his wife, who is fluent. When it is his turn to teach Catechism, he prepares the lesson and his wife teaches and translates into English those words, phrases, and concepts that are not understood in Spanish.

The children learn in their heart language. But what about Confirmation Day? Imagine this: you have a church full of families who speak Spanish and wrestles with their English fluency watching and listening to a group of adolescents who are fluent in English and struggle with their Spanish fluency. Talk about an intercultural nightmare!

But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Their confirmation examination doesn’t have the back-and-forth series of questions that many of us experienced in our confirmation. They elected to have the adolescents prepare short essays that answer the questions pertaining to the chief parts of the Catechism. The adolescents take time to prepare those essays. The pastors use the technical means available to them–projectors and screens–to put up outlines in Spanish of what the children are saying in English. They also hand select a few children, whose Spanish is more fluent, and then work with them so that they can deliver those essays in Spanish.

By the grace of God, on Palm Sunday this year, Santo Tomas had 16 adolescent confirmands. The congregation experienced both languages in worship. Everyone was enriched by the essays on God’s Word. Faces beamed with confidence in their heart language. Above all, God was praised–and God’s family grew in faith.

May God continue to bless the congregations who work with many languages under one roof!

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

To learn more about Hispanic ministry, visit wels.net/hispanic.

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Pastor Long

Pastor Long is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

On coming to faith: An evangelist came to my village in 1997, but there was persecution in my village. The church in my village had two leaders. One of them was killed. The other one had to flee. Because I was a part of the local government, I knew what was going on among the Christians. As I learned more about Jesus, I came to believe in him. I kept my faith secret for many years. Finally, in 2003 I resigned from my government position and became an active part of the church. In 2007 I was called to serve as a pastor.

On ministry: I serve as a pastor in Lang Moua village in Hasan Province. I serve 366 families, about 1980 members. There are elders who assist me in the congregations. I preach twice per month and the elders also preach. I also teach the Bible at many gatherings each week. Many of my members want to receive Christian counseling; most of that work is done by the elders. I enjoy ministry. Serving God in any way makes me happy. I support myself as a farmer; my fields are in the mountains, and it takes me a couple hours to travel there. Also, I am often traveling to visit congregations in surrounding areas.

On learning: I started coming to Pastor Lor’s classes in 2013. But then my wife became sick, and I was not able to attend for a couple years. My wife is better now. We have three sons and one daughter. I am very happy that I can come here to learn more about the Lord.

What WELS members can pray for: I would ask the people of WELS to pray that God continues to strengthen my faith and to give me more knowledge, so that I can preach and teach the Word faithfully. I appreciate those prayers. Please allow me this opportunity to say to the people of WELS, “Thank you for supporting these classes. When we look back on our past selves, we see that we were like the Pharisees. In our sermons we were telling people that they needed to be better in order to be right with God. But now we know the Gospel and are living with joy. The members are happy. The elders are happy. I am so happy. We have given the blessings of baptism to all our children and infants.”

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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From Devastation to Celebration

April 25 was the 4-year anniversary of the worst earthquake in Nepal in 75 years. Its epicenter was west of the capital Kathmandu in the Dhading District where we have many churches. Seven of our churches were flattened by the quake. In the villages not one building was left standing. Not one house, not even an outdoor toilet. The people said the ground moved like a wave–and then it moved back in the opposite direction–like a wave. Scientists say this earthquake lifted the earth 3 feet high in an area 75 miles long by 30 miles wide. Even Mount Everest was shaken and displaced, according to satellite images, 3 inches to the north. Avalanches on Mount Everest caused the greatest loss of life in a single day. 19 climbers perished. A village with more than 200 people was completely buried.

A newly rebuilt church in Nepal

In all, 20,000 people were killed in the earthquake. 600,000 people were homeless. The quake hit at 11:56 a.m. when many of our people were worshiping. In one church, seven Christian brothers and sisters were killed when the walls collapsed on them. The people lost many loved ones and their possessions. They dug in the rubble looking for food, clothes, money. . . and Bibles and hymnals. They were forced to live under blue tarps, many during the cold winter months. Some had to bury their family members in their yards.

With the help of WELS Christian Aid & Relief, our Christian brothers and sisters in Nepal brought relief to the people in the villages where the churches were destroyed. They were the first to arrive and sometimes the only ones to bring help even months after the disaster. They walked on narrow mountain paths to bring supplies–blankets, food and clothing. The earthquake caused sections of the paths to collapse into the ravines below forcing the rescuers to follow dry riverbeds. It was extremely hot and exhausting. One of our men fainted and nearly slid off the side of a cliff.

Nepalese Christians gather to dedicate their church building

When they arrived, many of the people were unable to express emotion. They seemed stunned, in a state of shock. In one village the people asked that we have a worship service thanking God before we distribute supplies to them. A few months afterwards we had a grief workshop to provide comfort to those who lost loved ones in the quake.

Four years later the people are rejoicing. After great effort they have rebuilt their seven churches. Survivors carried building supplies on their backs along the narrow mountain trails. If they were carrying a roof panel, for example, they had to turn sideways–with their faces towards the mountain and their backs to the cliff.

They dedicated four new churches within days of the 4th anniversary of the quake. It was a great celebration. 700 people. There were dancers. They rejoiced in the Lord. They expressed gratitude to God and to their Christian brothers and sisters in various congregations and schools who provided gifts for the rebuilding of these churches.

In spite of the devastation, they had a celebration. They celebrated because they have a Savior whose death caused another great earthquake where the rocks split and the dead were raised (Matthew 27:45-54). They know they will see their loved ones again. His death shook the world and broke the rock-solid grip of death.

Written by: WELS Friendly Counselor to South Asia

To learn more about mission work in South Asia, visit wels.net/asia.

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Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 1

Wisdom from Wittenberg – Part 1

Martin Luther’s Pastoral and Practical Revisions of Worship


The story behind Luther’s creative worship

In the year 1517, The Feast of all Saints—November 1—just so happened to fall on a Sunday.1 The alignment of this date and the day of the week wouldn’t have escaped the notice of Christian worshipers. In fact, it would have amplified the din in town and city streets throughout Christendom. Across Europe, thousands of Christians would have thronged to the doors of their churches for what must have seemed like a Sunday morning, Christmas Day, and Memorial Day all rolled into one.

The scene in northern Germany would have been no different. But something different was about to happen, and it happened, in large part, due to a brilliant bachelor professor who, like the rest, would have been walking to and from worship on that particular Sunday morning. On All Saints Day, 1517, Martin Luther could not have imagined how much a document which he had written to his archbishop and posted publicly the night before was going to change his life and his congregation. So much, in fact, that now, even 500 years later, we are still celebrating the man and his moment at the church door.

Though we often tend to focus on the man and his moment, we rarely take the time to imagine what was actually happening on the other side of the door. In fact, it’s rather difficult to imagine. The style and pattern of worship inside the All Saints’ Church on that famous All Saints’ Day, 1517 would hardly be recognizable to us.

Perhaps some figures might be illustrative: In 1517, mass was celebrated 9,000 times at the Castle Church alone—a public or private mass offered every 53 minutes, without letup, for an entire year.2 40,000 candles were burned, consuming four tons of wax at a cost of $100,000. The prime attraction at All Saints Church was the collection of relics: 19,000 cataloged items neatly arranged in ten aisles.3

But the real heart of Wittenberg worship on All Saints Day was receiving the indulgence: walk through the door, say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, confess your sins to one of the dozen extra priests available, say a prayer for the pope. Once done, most people simply left once the priest had elevated the host. This was worship in Wittenberg under which the people were held captive to the careful control of the Catholic church and enslaved to the indulgence of the papacy. No one at the time could have known that the detailed document which Professor Luther had posted to the church door was about to change all of that.

The document that Luther had posted, 95 Theses, or A Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,4 was a breach in the dam. What flowed through that breach was Christian freedom. Throughout the five years that followed 1517, Luther began to experience for himself the unexpected effects of freedom. Sometime in 1518, Luther had a spiritual breakthrough in which the truth of the gospel finally set him free from the terrors of his conscience.5 By 1519, he was set free from his vows of monasticism. By 1520, he was publishing The Freedom of a Christian6 throughout Germany. And by 1521, Luther was finally called to defend that freedom before the Holy Roman Estates at Worms. Luther stood firm in his freedom, and the rest is history.

However, a breached dam often presents something of a problem. That problem was quickly experienced by the worshipers in Wittenberg. Luther’s associates in Wittenberg saw their new-found freedom as something to be experimented with. After Worms, Andreas Karlstadt concluded that since Rome had broken with the preacher of Wittenberg, it was time for the people of Wittenberg to return the favor. While Luther was away at the Wartburg, Karlstadt took over in Wittenberg and went on an “iconoclastic binge.”7 Worship services were flooded with new ideas and new forms. Suddenly, Germans who were used to Latin chants and prayers were hearing loud German phrases while receiving communion in both kinds from priests who wore no robes. None of them were sure why it was happening. It seemed the only reason was ‘because of Rome.’

Luther defended the gospel from the burst dam of freedom and creativity.

Throughout the five years that followed 1521, Luther would need to defend the gospel from the burst dam of freedom and creativity. Luther would respond from the Wittenberg pulpit in a way that was direct and abrupt.8 But he would also respond from his Wittenberg desk in a way that was subtle, quiet, and patient. Luther would find ways to change how communion was received. He would find a way to give the Wittenbergers a service of their own. But he would take his time in finding that way, and his approach would be pastoral and highly principled.

It would come about through a three-year-long worship project, begun in 1523 with an order of service meant to demonstrate how the mass could basically be used as is, save for a few critical changes. The project would reach its conclusion in 1526 with a second order of service, meant to show how worship life could be completely and creatively—but still pastorally and practically—adapted. These two documents, in which Luther recognized “something must be dared in the name of Christ,”9 would serve as two poles, each connected to the other, between which an ancient-future pattern of Christian worship would emerge.

Five hundred years later, the past is present. We worship in the land of the free. Innovation is addictive. Our creative impulses are rocket-fueled by communication technology. Often the question we hear isn’t “what can we change?” but “how much of this do we really have to keep in order to stay Lutheran?” We enjoy our liberty to tinker and experiment with worship. But perhaps Luther’s principled project can compel us to be careful with our creativity as we seek to adapt and shape the worship life of our congregations.

The remainder of this article and its part two companion will explore four aspects of Luther’s approach to creativity.

Creativity is careful to serve the gospel.

“The preaching and teaching of God’s Word must remain the most important.”10 This was Luther’s foundational worship principle. Everything he thought and did was not for himself, and not against Rome, but for the gospel. This is where Karlstadt had gone astray in 1522 and why his worship adjustments caused so much consternation. Karlstadt’s reforms were not initiated by or driven by an understanding of the gospel. This is what Luther addressed in the eight sermons that he preached following his sudden return to Wittenberg on Invocavit Sunday. Rather than allowing the gospel to do its subtle, quiet work through its various and familiar forms, Karlstadt sought to immediately renovate and redefine nearly every aspect of worship and preaching. His impatience, combined with a desire to liberate himself and the Wittenberg laity from the forms and patterns of Rome, drove him to a point where the gospel’s power was flouted in favor of his own fanatical enthusiasm.

Luther’s sermons were a call to faith, love, patience, and a renewed appreciation for the gospel principle: since God changes hearts through the power of the gospel, everything that we do—especially what we do in worship, and to an ultimate degree what we choose to add to or remove from worship—is done in the interest of conveying the gospel to people’s hearts. The Word must be allowed to do its subtle, quiet work. “We do nothing, the Word does everything.”11

The gospel principle did not lead Luther to the same conclusion that Karlstadt had reached. Wittenberg’s worship was free to change, but it was also free to be retained. In fact, much of the service ought to remain, owing to love for people and faith in the gospel. Much of the present order of service, after all, did preach the gospel, provided that it was heard in public (not just said in private) and provided that the clutter of indulgences was done away with. If the people were present, they would have heard sermons preached in their everyday language, just like we do. At the same time, they would have heard prayers not in everyday language, just like we do. The people knew what “Kyrie eleison” and “Credo” meant. Why alter them? Luther’s advice in 1523 but also in 1526 was to adhere to established patterns, since arbitrarily departing from them could be self-serving or Karlstadtian.

“We do not avoid the new but are careful to avoid novelty….”

In both services, the established pattern of liturgy was retained. Luther said, “This is necessary so that no sect arises from public worship as if I had devised this service out of my own head.”12 Luther’s subtle critique of Karlstadt and his motives deserves to be emphasized: “An order of liturgy is not simply to fulfill a personal need or plan or idea but must always serve the gospel.”13 On its surface, Karlstadt’s Wittenberg movement might seem driven by the desire for greater inclusion or clearer communication. But desires for better things ought to be checked carefully less like Karlstadt we charge ahead and miss our target. “Since we are rooted firmly in a rich tradition, we do not avoid the new but are careful to avoid novelty, eccentricity, or quixotic attempts at newness for its own sake.”14

On the other hand, perhaps Karlstadt had raised an interesting question. “If there are moments when the service isn’t clearly communicating the gospel, what do we do then?” To many, the Lord’s Prayer had become automatic. To many more, the mystery of the Lord’s Supper was just that—unintelligible. Here, Luther found ways to adapt. And Luther’s ‘way,’ as published in 1526, would be a form of worship catechesis.

The preface of the 1526 Deutsche Messe seems to be written by a man more interested in ‘a good catechism’15 than ‘a new service.’ In fact, when we look at the service, we recognize that the two interests are one and the same. “The preaching and teaching of God’s Word must remain the most important.”10 Where the Lord’s Prayer needs to be taught, teach it. Where the Lord’s Supper needs explanation, provide one. And so Luther did.

It is important to realize that Luther’s intention was primarily catechetical. Otherwise, there is a temptation to extract Luther’s statements from their context and then to force his ‘new service’ to serve modern ideas about what worship should be. Those ideas might sound like this:

  • “Such orders are needed for those who are still becoming Christians.”16 i.e. Luther was providing a new service that was more approachable to those new to the faith. This idea overlooks the fact that in Luther’s day, no one church shopped, adult baptisms were nearly unheard of, and every parishioner had been trained in the routines of church life almost since birth. It seems that in Luther’s mind, the service was about more than initiation.
  • “This service should be arranged for the sake of simple laypeople”17 i.e. Luther was adapting to the culture of the people in Wittenberg. Unless the service was translated into their language and idiom, they would be unable to hear and respond to the gospel. This idea might overlook the fact that Luther’s Latin service had been translated into German only a few weeks after it had been published and that people all over Germany were already worshiping in German. It seems that in Luther’s mind, the service was about more than language.
  • “Now there are three kinds of liturgies or Mass”18 i.e. Luther was willing to offer alternatives. A Latin service was preferred by some, a German service by others, another service by yet others. This idea might overlook the fact that Luther never drafted a third service. Nor did he object as the first two were merged.19 It seems that in Luther’s mind, the service was about more than preference.

Luther’s service was about more than initiation, language, or preference.

Rather than pitting these efforts against the other, Luther honored them all as expressions of catechesis. And he employed ancient and modern tools simultaneously in this effort. Luther sought to defend the gospel for a Christian culture which had a good knowledge of Christian tradition. To do this, he produced a Formula Missae which removed everything at odds with the gospel, while retaining everything that wasn’t. At the same time, he sought to declare the gospel to a “population becoming secularized and needing reintroduction to its Christian roots.”20 To do this, he produced a Deutsche Messe in which the truth of the gospel could still be ‘caught’ (as emphasized by the retained rituals21) and ‘taught’ (as emphasized by the added explanations).


Creativity in service of the gospel is the primary principle. Part two of this article will explore additional principles:

  • Creativity is careful to honor the arts
  • Creativity is careful to serve the community
  • Creativity is careful to serve the congregation

Written by Mark Tiefel

Pastor Tiefel serves at Emanuel, New London, WI. His service as a District Worship Coordinator has covered both the South Central and Northern Wisconsin Districts. He is general editor of a new edition of manuals for the WELS Hymnal Project.


Photo is of Weimar altarpiece, by Lucas Cranach the Younger, 1555. An analysis by Michael Zarling is at breadforbeggars.com. For another instructive image of early Lutheran worship, search for the 1561 altar panel from Torslunde Church. (Photo by Wolfgang Sauber, Wikimedia Commons.)


This article, part 1 of 2, is adapted from a presentation at the 2017 WELS national worship conference. Those interested may find additional information in a handout of the same title along with the worship folder for All Saints’ and recordings from that service at worship.welsrc.net/downloads-worship/worship-conference. Additional recordings are on the double CD “A Mighty Fortress” available from NPH.


1 Google, using the Gregorian Calendar, specifies Thursday. But prior to 1582, dates were determined according to the Julian Calendar. In that calendar, November 1 fell on a Sunday.
2 To say the Castle Church alone is tongue and cheek. The masses weren’t said constantly, but dozens were offered privately and simultaneously, often with no one else in attendance.
3 This is the scene described by Martin Brecht, Road to Reformation, 118.
4 LW 31:17-34
5 The date of this breakthrough is uncertain, but likely happened during the summer of 1518, while Luther was preparing his lectures on the Hebrews. Luther referred to it as a moment when “the gates of heaven were suddenly opened to me. Cf. Brecht, Road, 225.
6 LW 31:327ff
7 The phrase is coined by Frank Senn, page 275 in Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Fortress, 1997.
8 Many can remember the scene from the 1953 film: “How dare you lay hands upon the crucifix!”
9 The phrase is from Luther’s Preface to the Formula Missae. LW 53:19
10 AL (The Annotated Luther) 3:146, LW 53:68
11 LW 51:77
12 AL 3:142
13 Dirk Lange provides this note on the above quotation in AL 3:142 n.19
14 Schalk, Paradigms, 55
15 “Onward then in the name of God! First the German service needs a down-to-earth, plain, simple, and good catechism.” (AL 142)
16 AL 3:141
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid, 140.
19 Even during Luther’s lifetime, it was common for Latin and German settings of the same texts to be sung alongside one another.
20 Maschke, Timothy. Gathered Guests: A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church. Second Edition. Concordia, 2009, 155.
21 “The congregation assembled around the Word and the sacraments needs other forms than an individual needs when reading the Word or praying by himself. Unity demands the individual’s regard for the whole. Conversely, however, it also demands that the whole have regard for the individual. It demands regard for the ‘weak’—a demand, which in accordance with what Luther requires, is emphasized by many church rituals.” Elert, Werner. The Structure of Lutheranism. Tr. Walter Hansen. Concordia, 1962, 328-329


RECOMMENDED READING

For a fuller list, see Tiefel’s handout from the 2017 worship conference. The list below includes only newer or lesser known items.

Books:

Luther, Martin. “The German Mass and Order of the Liturgy, 1526.” Ed. Dirk G. Lange. The Annotated Luther. Volume 3: Church and Sacraments. Fortress, 2016.
Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (1483-1521). Tr. James Schaff. Fortress, 1985.
———. Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (1521-1532). Tr. James Schaff. Fortress, 1990.
Leaver, Robin. The Whole Church Sings: Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg. Eerdmans, 2017.
Maag, Karen and John Witvliet. Worship in Medieval and Modern Europe: Change and Continuity in Religious Practice. University of Notre Dame, 2004.
Schalk, Carl. Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise. Concordia, 1988.
———. Music in Early Lutheranism: Shaping the Tradition. Concordia Academic, 2001.
Zager, Daniel. The Gospel Preached Through Music: The Purpose and Practice of Lutheran Church Music. Good Shepherd Institute, 2013.

Articles and Essays:

Herl, Joseph. “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Liturgies: Insights from the Sixteenth through the Eighteenth Century” in: Thine the Amen: Essays on Lutheran Church Music in Honor of Carl Schalk. Lutheran University Press, 2005.
Koelpin, Arnold. “Luther Reforms the Mass.” Focus on Worship. Summer, 1989.
Leaver, Robin. “Luther and Bach, the ‘Deutsche Messe’ and the Music of Worship.” Lutheran Quarterly 15 (2001).


 

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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Preach The Word – Not without Testimony

Apologetics in Preaching

Not without Testimony

We are not left without testimony (Ac 14:17). This is true in every aspect of life. Imagine waking up to a world without any knowledge passed down to you. No set language to imitate. No wisdom to ponder. No technologies invented. I am thankful that I didn’t have to learn, discover, or invent all the agricultural, mechanical, or technological advancements I take for granted every day. We are not left without testimony.

Nor are we left without theological testimony. Not even the Gentiles Paul encountered, whether in cosmopolitan Rome (Rm 1:20) or backwater Galatia (Ac 14:17), were left without testimony. Natural law is common to all. Every human has enough information to conclude that there is a something out there beyond this world. Paul therefore states that Gentiles are “without excuse” (Rm 1:20).

Paul based his conclusion on evidence that we might categorize as the classical arguments for the existence of God.1 Consider a form of the cosmological argument: All things are contingent; nothing pops into existence by itself but rather depends on something or someone else for its existence (e.g. the carpenter made the table from wood). Since the universe is the sum total of all contingent things, then the universe is contingent. This requires a necessary being outside the universe which caused the universe. The universe could not pop into existence by itself.2

The cosmological argument not only points to the existence of a noncontingent being, it also points to certain attributes of this being. This being would have to be a free agent and outside of time and space. If this being created the universe, it would also be powerful and intelligent. This being would also be a person (philosophically) which means it has consciousness and rationality.

Love is conspicuously absent in the classical arguments.

The classical arguments, although debated, are powerful. Yet they don’t bring the skeptic to Christ. They may point to the existence of a divine being but not the Christian God. Notice also that love is conspicuously absent in the classical arguments. The gospel is nowhere to be found. If we are left with only natural law, we are left with only law. We can only conclude that the “god” of nature seems angry and doesn’t discriminate between the good and the evil of humanity.

Thankfully, we are also not left without testimony about Christ. Testimony about the existence of God is evident with a use of reason, but gospel testimony is only revealed. And revelation means words. Whether spoken, written, signed, or pictured, these words are always preached.3 The truth of the gospel must be preached, that is, revealed. And to be revealed it must be hidden, that is, clothed in word.

So words matter. Therefore, we are concerned not only with words but also with attacks on words. Today we encounter two attacks on words. The first is an attack on words themselves. The second is an attack on the texts of Scripture. Both are ultimately an attack on the Word. Jacques Derrida’s attack on logo-centrism4 is an attack on Christo-centricism (since Christ is the Logos). Yet we should not ignore the main point of his critique: Do words help us know truth, or do they get in the way of knowing truth? Practically speaking the answer is “yes” to both. Words are our best tool in discovering and transmitting truth. Yet who of us has not struggled to communicate a thought because words have failed us? Here we realize that the problem is not with words but with misuse of words and our failure to articulate truth with imperfect language.

Postmodern language games [bring] two apologetic opportunities.

While the Lutheran preacher is worried by these postmodern language games, he should also see two apologetic opportunities. The first is the recognition that we, as sinful language speakers, are limited in our ability to know truth and are weary of people who speak truth not to power but for power. The second is the urge to know is still engrained in all humans, even in those who claim “we cannot know.”

Do not Lutherans understand the bound will better than anybody? Are we not dismayed at the misuse of words by politicians and advertisers? We should be the least surprised people on the planet when sin is exposed. With a certain calmness (as opposed to the hysteria we experience in the contemporary world), we can slow down the anger and build a solid epistemology. Sparing ourselves (and our people) from technical language, we can simply argue that we humans are capable of knowledge. I suppose someone could always protest “Couldn’t this all be a dream?” But we don’t live our lives like that. We have basic beliefs upon which we build a view of the world.

Secondly we have a desire to know. More than that, we have a desire for joy, drama, importance, and wonder. We were made for something great and we know it. Nobody would describe as admirable the person who shrugs his shoulders and mutters “Who cares?” Lutherans are able to balance this very somber attitude of “We can’t know fully and it’s out fault” with the revelation of the Logos who fulfills our natural desire to know. True, we sinners cannot fully know anything, let alone God, but God provides everything we need in Christ. He is the Logos.

Heraclitus’ famous river analogy about a person unable to step into the same river twice5 seems to imply that change is so constant that meaning is illusive. But Heraclitus also said, “Listening not to me but to the Logos, it is wise to agree that all things are one.”6 Heraclitus understood that there was something outside which regulates all things. Heraclitus said “Listen to the Logos,” and John said “Here is the Logos dwelling among us.” Jesus is the Logos. He is what we are looking for but cannot see because of the blindness of sin. The urge to know is there in all. The way to know is in Christ. So we preach Christ.

The urge to know is there in all. The way to know is in Christ. So we preach Christ.

The second attack on words is an attack on the texts of Scripture. There is a general cynicism to the accuracy of the Gospel accounts. Once again, the apologist does not want to engage in circular logic (the Bible is accurate because it says so). Nor does the apologist want to cede the field to the skeptic. Instead the apologist wants to level the playing field so that the same criteria used to examine other ancient texts are used on the New Testament manuscripts.

A basic outline of such criteria can be found in countless books on apologetics. A quick summary will suffice here. Three tests determine the accuracy of ancient documents. First, the biographical test examines the autograph and manuscript evidence. How close to the events were the autographs written? How many manuscripts are there, and how early are those manuscripts? Second, the internal test concerns itself with the coherence of the text, the ability of the writers to be accurate (means, motive, and opportunity), and the text’s claims about itself. Finally, the external test asks if there is extratextual evidence to back up the claims of the texts.

The New Testament texts pass all three tests. We have good reason to believe in an early dating of the Gospels. The amount of manuscript evidence and the gap between the autographs and the manuscripts are by far the best of any document of the era (biographical test). The New Testament writers had the opportunity and means to record this data. They also had pure motives (they gained nothing for their testimony but martyrdom). The New Testament claims inerrancy and lays out a coherent message (internal test). We also have what amounts to a chain of custody of the evidence. We have insight into the vetting process of the books of the canon (e.g. John taught Polycarp who taught Irenaeus who taught Hippolytus). Add to this extra-biblical accounts of Christ (e.g. Tacitus and Pliny the Younger) along with archaeological evidence, and the texts pass the external test.

The Sixth Sunday after Easter (May 26, 2019) has much to do with testimony. The First Reading (Acts 14:8-18) is the story of Barnabas and Paul in Lystra and Derbe. The two missionaries are mistakenly identified as gods. In response Paul states that they work for the true God who had not left the Galatians “without testimony” of a supreme being who sends “rain from heaven and crops in their seasons” (Ac 14:17). Psalm 65 is an example of praise for such providence.

The Sixth Sunday after Easter has much to do with testimony.

The Second Reading (Rv 21:10-14, 22, 23) highlights the foundation of the apostles’ testimony. In Jesus Christ’s revelation to John, the church is pictured as the New Jerusalem. Written on the city’s foundations are the “names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rv 21:14). The apostles are equated to foundations because the church’s ministry is built on their testimony.

Finally, the Gospel (Jn 14:23-29) is Jesus’ own words about his relationship to the Father and his sending of the Spirit to the apostles. “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:24b-26).

Here is an example of how a preacher might include apologetic concerns about words, texts, and reliability into a sermon.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” What a lie. It doesn’t take us too long in life to realize that wounds inflicted by words heal slower than broken bones. Words matter. Words are powerful.

This makes perfect sense because we are people of words. Better yet, we are people of the Word. The world was created by words. God wants to deal with us with words. We deal with each other with words. He wants us to take him at his word. The whole story of the Bible is about people not taking God at his word and then God coming with his Word to save them. Finally Jesus is the Word. Now, you might say “But Pastor, I dream in color!” Or “I think in pictures.” Good for you, but how will you explain it to me? With words. For lack of a better way to say it, we are people of words.

We have more reliable historical data for Jesus than any other person of that era.

So we are very sensitive when people attack the Word. Maybe you have heard it said that the New Testament is unreliable history. “We don’t really know what Jesus said or did.” This is simply not true. We have more reliable historical data for Jesus than for any other person of that era, and it’s not even close. I won’t bore you will all the details, but just consider this one fact: We have more copies of the New Testament which verify the events of Jesus’ life than any document describing the most important people of ancient Greece or Rome. We have around 5,600 manuscript fragments of the New Testament. Most famous writings of the time have less than a dozen. A dozen! By far the largest manuscript collection of one book is Homer’s Illiad which boasts 643. It’s not even close to the evidence of the New Testament. All I am saying is don’t fall apart when you hear that the New Testament is fraudulent. It’s simply not true.

But there is another more subtle attack on words. It’s an attack on the ability of words to even transmit meaning. It goes like this: every word is spoken by an author who then loses control of the word. The word is just floating out there detached from what the original author meant by that word. Even the original author is using words that come with their own baggage. For example, when a poor kid on the tough streets of Philadelphia hears the word “run” he thinks of something different than what the long-distance runner thinks when she hears the word “run.” Fair enough. There are shades of meaning. But does that really mean that we cannot communicate with each other or even know anything for sure? The fact that we are using words right now disproves that theory. We are able to match reality with words.

Yet we all have experienced a time when words didn’t do the trick. “I’m at a loss of words,” we might say about an extraordinary event. It’s not that words have necessarily failed us but rather that we sinful users of words have failed. We’re the problem. And God knows this. He knows that we are so deeply flawed that we cannot wrap our heads around divine things and in fact, fight against them. Every single day I grow in appreciation of this passage from 1 Corinthians: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cr 13:12). God knows our flaws. He knows us better than we know us. And one day I will know. One day.

So God is very concerned with words. It is through the Word transmitted through preached words that you and I know salvation. Think about what we heard today. Jesus revealed to St. John the Golden Jerusalem, heaven. It’s pictured with twelve foundations with the names of the apostles on those foundations. Why such respect for the Twelve? Because of their bravery, wisdom, and integrity? Hardly. The Twelve are most important because of their testimony. They were the first to see and hear Jesus. Their greatest honor was to pass down this testimony.

In fact, this is what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel. These words of the Father were given to the Son and the Spirit. It is the Spirit who then comes to these eyewitnessing apostles. The Spirit inspired them to write, record, speak, and preach this message to others. Why? Why are all three persons of the Trinity involved in words? Why do they acknowledge this on the foundations of the Golden Jerusalem? Why is this the highest honor? Because of you, that’s why. Because of you.

Words matter. God’s words matter. They matter because this is how God deals with us. This is how he is revealed to us. This is how the Spirit comes to us. This is how you have faith. And these words have power, the power to save. They have power to cut through all the confusion of our modern world. We hear all sorts of stories, all sorts of words, all sorts of reports. We don’t know which words to believe anymore. But the gospel cuts through all of that and declares forgiveness for you. This is truth, for this Word is Christ and Christ is the truth.

We need this specific word. It is true that every person has been given testimony from God. Nature tells us that there is a designer of some sorts. Our consciences tell us that the designer is a moral being. There is a right and wrong. “He has not left himself without testimony,” as we heard Paul say today. But none of this tells me what I really need to know. A tree can tell me that there is a God. But it can’t tell me that Christ died on its distant relative for my salvation. I need to know Christ and him crucified for me. Only the Word tells me that.

God has gone to great lengths for your salvation. He sent his Son who lived, died, rose, and ascended for you. He has also gone to great lengths to give you words, and in fact the Word. The Twelve preached it and even died for it. The New Testament writers recorded it. The church copied it. Your ancestors confessed it. Your parents, biological or spiritual, taught it to you. And now it is preached to you. So that you would know. So that you would have peace. Words matter, don’t they? So here is the preached Word to you today, “You are forgiven!”

Written by Michael Berg


1 The four classical arguments for the existence of God are the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and anthropological arguments.
2 One important question in cosmology is the finitude of the universe. If the universe is infinite then no creative being is needed to explain the universe. The Kalam Cosmological Argument makes the case that time cannot be infinite. If the universe (and therefore time) is infinite then the time between when you started reading this sentence and the time you stopped would include an infinite amount of moments. But how could you traverse an infinite amount of moments? The fact that you have reached this present moment proves that the universe is not infinite.
3 See Luther’s distinction in The Bondage of the Will between the preached God and the unpreached God. We are to seek God where he intends to be sought, hidden but paradoxically revealed in word. Seeking an unpreached God, that is without word, ends with law not gospel.
4 Derrida attacks the idea that language is a fundamental expression of reality.
5 Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments, G.S. Kirk, 1954 Cambridge University Press, 366 -367.
6 The History of Philosophy Vol. 1, W.K.C. Guthrie, 1967 Cambridge University Press, 424-425.


Books for Further Study:

Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter Williams
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospel by J. Warner Wallace
Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli
History, Law and Christianity by John Warwick Montgomery
The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists by Ravi Zacharias


 

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Pastor Tong Poa

Pastor Poa is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Poa shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: My parents and the children in my family were brought to faith through Christian radio broadcasts in our country. I was seven or eight years old at the time. Because the persecution against Christians was strong in our area, my family relocated to Houalenga village in Song La Province when I was about ten years old. There were other Christians there, but there were no leaders for the church. For that reason, I was asked to start leading liturgy at the age of 10.

On ministry: After I graduated from high school in 2008, I was also appointed a leader in the church. Now, 11 years later, I oversee 18 congregations in which there are 245 families with about 1,630 members. I work with one other pastor. We are in the city, and we serve the surrounding villages which can be reached from our city. I am married. My wife and I have 3 children ages 9, 6, and 2 years old. The congregations do not pay me a salary, but they do help pay for my transportation. There are many talented men in our villages, but the churches look to me as a leader. This is a special privilege from God. I wish I had more time for ministry. Some of the people I serve live in the mountains, and it takes me a long time to reach them. I travel by motorbike as far as I can, but then I must walk the rest of the way. To reach some of my people, I must walk 10 kilometers through mountainous terrain. Some of the places I serve do not have any cellular service.

On learning: I have been coming to these classes for 3 1/2 years now. I received training from others before, but these classes have helped me understand the Bible much better. I always return from here ready and eager to teach God’s Word to my people. Because I am the tallest pastor here, about a year ago the brothers gave me the nickname Saul.

What WELS members can pray for: Besides supporting my family and my ministry, I am also taking care of my parents, who are in their mid-60’s. In the past we struggled to survive, but the Lord has provided stability for us now. Please pray that the Lord continues to provide for our daily needs, so that I can continue to serve the spiritual needs of the members of my congregations. Please pray that God gives me health and strength and endurance, so that I can face any hardship.

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Where we are. Who we are.

The blank look. The slight frown. The searching, mystified expression. If the person’s face had a digital readout, it would say, “no results found.” Then the question: “So… where is that?”

It would be nice if we never had to hear that question ever again. “So… where is your church?” It’s like hearing someone say, “Nope, never heard of it. I’ve lived here for 30 years. I drive by it every day. Doesn’t register. Your congregation’s ministry has made zero impact on me. Your efforts to identify yourself to our community, build relational bridges, and communicate your message has failed.”

Great. Thanks a lot. Not an encouraging question. “So, where is your church?”

Our church building is set back from the main road. It’s tucked away behind a hedgerow of city-owned, required-by-zoning lilac bushes. It has a low profile in the view of a driver or passerby. So signage is important. Announcing our presence and proclaiming our identity in visual form is a must.

With help from an outreach grant, we installed a new roadside sign. It’s simple. It’s professionally and durably constructed. It’s clean and neat. It’s visible from the main road and the traffic light.

It’s only been a few months since we installed the sign, but we can’t keep up with all the people pounding down our door! Our attendance doubled, then tripled, since the new sign went up.

Really?!

No, not really. If only it were that simple: to post a public placard and wait for the people to notice and respond.

Easter Brunch at Mighty Fortress Lutheran Church – Red Deer, Alberta, Canada

It turns out that we do want to keep hearing that question, “So, where is your church?” In fact, we actually want to take the initiative and ask the question ourselves, “So, do you know where we are?” Maybe we will get the frown. . . and the blank stare. . . and the response in the negative. Maybe we will get a deflating sense of how many still don’t know about us. But we’re happy to tell them. And give them directions. And invite them. And show the way. We’re delighted to describe in detail how to locate our church.

And then. . . we get to ask the next question. “Alright, now that we’re clear on that… you know where we are. Do you know who we are?”

It would be really surprising if anyone from the community nodded and said, “Oh, sure. I know who you are!” No one would be expected to have any kind of answer for that. That means we get to tell them. “Mighty Fortress is a group of people who have found rock-solid truth in the Bible, and appreciate the rock-solid comfort that Jesus provides.” Or something like that.

Short. Simple. Hopefully, not too canned or rehearsed-sounding. Just a quick introduction to who is inside the walls of that unfamiliar building and to why they might want to enter it themselves.

We don’t expect our attendance to double or triple anytime soon. And we don’t expect that we have eliminated the need for that, “So, where’s your church?” question. But we pray that we have a better shot at getting a glimmer of recognition when we tell people. We pray that we have a better shot at awakening a glimmer of Spirit-planted faith when we introduce ourselves and our message. We pray that we have a better shot at sharing with our community where we are and who we are.

Written by Rev. Dave Boettcher, home missionary at Mighty Fortress in Red Deer and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Pastor Zongchin

Pastor Zongchin is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). In March 2019, the leaders gathered again for two weeks of training. The first week was a study of the first 400 years of church history in the New Testament era. The second week was a study of the Bible’s teachings about Church & Ministry. The intensive courses included 6 hours of class activities during the day and assigned readings in the evenings.

Pastor Zongchin shared his story with PSI Professor Rev. Brad Wordell, with Bounkeo Lor serving as translator:

On coming to faith: I was a businessman, and my business took me to Laos in the 1990’s. There I met Pastor Lor’s grandfather, who shared the gospel with me. He read to me from Matthew 24, where Jesus is talking with his disciples about the end of the world. Those words stuck with me. After I returned to Vietnam, I realized that I believed in Jesus. I gathered with the few other Christians in my village. I told everyone openly, “I am a Christian.”

On ministry:  But then the persecution came. I was followed by people and persecuted for 3 years. As I told people about Jesus, 15 families were converted. Because the persecution grew stronger, many of those families fled. I also had to move to the province of Song La. I remember thinking to myself that I was like Abraham, traveling to a new place which was not my home, because of the Lord. While I was there, a pastor from Laos came and taught me more about the Bible and about being a pastor. We studied the parables of Jesus and the meaning of baptism. He gave me practical advice about how to lead a congregation. Because of persecution by local government leaders, all the other Christians left; only I and my family remained. I sent a letter to the government in Hanoi. They sent a representative out to investigate. Then the persecution ceased for the most part. During the next 11 years I told people in my village and other villages about Jesus. In some areas I had to talk to people in the jungle, secretly, at night. Now I oversee 1580 members from 310 families in 14 congregations. Many of those congregations are led by elders, whom I am trying to train. I am a full-time pastor and I oversee many congregations, but I do not get paid as a pastor. In many cases congregations do not even pay for my travel to go serve them. I support myself as a rice farmer. I also grow a kind of grass that is dried and used for making brooms.

On learning: My ministry involves preaching and teaching and the training of elders. I need training so that I can do these things well. I have been learning Lutheran doctrine for almost seven years now. The training I am receiving from WELS is much better than the training I received earlier. Now I know how to interpret and explain the Scriptures. Now I am confident that I am preaching and teaching God’s Word correctly.

What WELS members can pray for:  I would appreciate it if the members of WELS would pray about my use of time. I want to have a proper balance in my use of time and money. Pray that I continue to gain more knowledge for teaching God’s Word to others. Pray that the WELS can continue to train me and the next generation of leaders in our church. In my congregations there are four men who want to be pastors. Two of them are my sons. They keep asking me, “How soon can we begin our training?”

Brad Wordell, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) Team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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How great is the need?

No, you are not looking at people wearing purple Ku Klux Klan robes.

It’s Good Friday in the center of Quito, Ecuador. Two thousand people line up for a procession that winds through the streets from noon to 3pm. Almost all of them wear purple. Some carry huge wooden crosses with beams the size of telephone poles. Some carry statues. Some strap cactus crosses to their bare backs. Others whip themselves or have others whip them. Others clamp chains to their feet and drag them along.

Why are they doing this? I asked a lady who had participated in 11 of these events. She eagerly told me that there are many reasons someone might choose to participate. You may have some big sins to pay for or you might want to ask God a really big favor. In that case, you would need to participate 7 years in a row.

I was sad.

Good Friday in Quito, Ecuador

She actually said “pay for your sins.” All days are bad days to try to pay for your sins, but the irony of trying to do so on Good Friday was hard to hear. Equally disturbing was the attempt to convince God to answer prayers on the day when Jesus won for us complete access to our loving Father who always is eager to hear us. If one thing was certain from my observation of this Good Friday procession, it is this: many hurting people who are desperate for relief live here.

About halfway through the procession I saw a young woman who had been carrying a cross. She had collapsed by the side of the road. A team of Red Cross paramedics was attending her.

I was sad.

I thought about all the reasons the girl may have chosen to carry that cross. I thought about the guilt and the deep desire she had. She wanted something so badly. She was hurting. Even worse, I imagine her failed attempt will probably heap even more guilt and shame on her.

I was sad.

I wish that I could have been able to talk to her. I wish I could sit down at a coffee shop and just listen. To her and to all of them. I wish I could have had the opportunity to talk about Jesus. But at that moment, I couldn’t. Not with her and not with many others. I didn’t have the opportunity.

But maybe I’ll have the opportunity someday.

Traveling around Quito (not to mention all the rest of Latin America), I pass many apartment buildings. “How can I get in them? How can I talk to those people?” I ask myself. In most instances, I can’t.

I might not be entering, but the Word is. Through social media, thousands upon thousands of people learn about Jesus and have opportunity to sign up for online classes (or on-the-ground classes in some cases like Quito). Then I get to talk to them. Then I get to tell them about Jesus.

I am happy. The Holy Spirit is working.

Written by Rev. Nathan Schulte, missionary on the Latin America missions team based in Quito, Ecuador 

To learn more about mission work in Latin America, visit wels.net/latin-america.

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Memorandum of Understanding signed in Hanoi, Vietnam

On April 24, 2019, WELS President Mark Schroeder, World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer, and Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young checked in after their first full day in Hanoi, Vietnam, with exciting news to report: After surveying the land chosen for the theological education center, a memorandum of understanding was signed by WELS and Vietnamese Fellowship Church (VFC) representatives confirming we can move forward with all land purchase, construction, and training plans!

Praise be to God! This is a huge step forward as we continue to train the leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church in the truths of the gospel. Please continue to pray for this amazing mission opportunity and support it with your financial gifts. Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

 

View additional photos from their trip in the WELS Missions Flickr album.

 


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Planting the seed of the gospel in sunny Southern California

Crown of Life is a multi-site church in the Inland Empire in Southern California. It has three congregations in the growing cities of Corona, Riverside, Yucaipa, and Victorville. Corona is a city of commuters. Many people come through this area for various reasons: going to work, heading to the beach, etc. Riverside is a developing area. Many young families are moving into the older neighborhoods and are making these areas a more desirable place to live as the neighborhoods are revitalized. Along with this, new restaurants and stores are moving in. Yucaipa is a growing city with many young families. There is a strong desire here for community and a place they can feel safe raising their children. Each location has a unique set of opportunities to connect with the community to proclaim the gospel.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary students canvassing

This past January we were blessed to have a group of seminary students come to help canvas in our communities. This group was comprised of juniors, middlers and seniors and was led by Professor Allen Sorum. For many of these men, it was their first time going door-to-door. Many started out with trepidation and doubts as to how effective door-to-door ministry would be. At the end of the trip there was a sense of excitement, having met many of our neighbors. The group interviewed people to find out about their beliefs and what they are looking for in a church. The goal of these seminary students winterim trip was to answer the question, “What is the most effective way to start a church in these communities.”

In order to prepare the community for this canvassing event, we prepared flyers to invite our community to Financial Peace University and a Marriage Enrichment seminar. This pre-canvassing flyer resulted in not only great conversations, but a few enrollments in our Bible information class. Only a short while after the seminary students were here, Praise and Proclaim Ministries came out. They also carried out canvassing in three communities and found the people in these areas generally friendly and approachable. Many were open to talking about Jesus and expressing their needs and desires.

This is a ripe mission field as Southern California continues to grow and, along with it, the number of people looking for somewhere to belong. People want to learn about the Bible. Many expressed concerns that they were not learning enough about the Bible in the churches they are currently attending. There are two Evangelical mega-churches in the city of Riverside. Please pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to water the seed of the gospel our church is planting in Southern California!

Written by Rev. Dean Ellis, missionary at Crown of Life Lutheran Church in Inland Empire, Calif. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Rejoice in the lost sheep

One of the features that can be found in our Philippine flag is an eight-rayed sun. These eight rays represent the first eight Philippine provinces that revolted against the Spanish colonial government in the 19th century. One of these eight provinces is Cavite. You might ask, “What does Cavite have to do with Law & Gospel Lutheran Church?”

Pastor De Guzman teaches the Catechism in Cavite

Cavite is the site of Law & Gospel congregation’s first-ever teaching station outside its base in Novaliches, a suburb in the metropolitan Manila area. The work in this area started in September 2018, when a couple who are members of a WELS congregation in Appleton, Wis., reached out to me, asking if I would consider doing mission work in the said area. Our contacts in Cavite, a family of five, are relatives of the couple (specifically of the wife who is a Filipina).

For more than a year now, my wife and I would travel a total of about 5 hours, back and forth, every Saturday to teach Bible study and a kid’s Bible class. Not an easy one, though, as we have to contend with the infamous Manila traffic.

Considering the amount of time, energy, and money we’re spending each week for this small teaching station, some might question whether it’s worth all the efforts and resources. A better question to ask is, what value does God place on one lost soul? Jesus says in one of his parables:

Kid’s Bible Class in Cavite

“Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls together his friends and his neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:4-7

By God’s grace, our contacts–a couple and their two teenage children–have already finished studying Luther’s Small Catechism. There are a lot more lost souls in the community that we need to reach. As each lost soul is valuable to God, traveling long hours to Cavite every Saturday is definitely worth it.

Written by Rev. Alvien De Guzman, pastor at Law & Gospel Lutheran Church in Novaliches, Philippines 

To learn more about world mission work in the Philippines, visit wels.net/philippines.

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Proclaiming the Good News in Ukraine

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) is experiencing renewed focus and enthusiasm for evangelism. The ULC pastors brainstormed ideas for doing outreach in their respective communities.

Church in Kremenets

The program they developed is a three evening program that involves music (both instrumental and vocal), Bible study, prayers, a worship service at the conclusion, and time for mingling and fellowship. The first three of these programs have already taken place at congregations in Kiev, Krements, and Ternopil. Many visitors attended! Local church members and pastors are excited about the results and rejoice that new people are hearing the Good News of Jesus. The next step? Friendship evangelism workshops are being scheduled to help the churches become more welcoming, and for training the pastors and church leaders to carry on programs of evangelism. We pray for God’s continuing blessing on their outreach efforts.

Church in Kyiv

This June, WELS members will once again help five congregations conduct Vacation Bible Schools. The WELS Mission Journeys program is becoming more involved with planning and scheduling these mission trips. Both the Ukrainian churches and our volunteers have been blessed with this cooperative effort.

Please pray for the ULC pastors. They are faithful to their calling, preaching God’s Word and administering the sacraments. Pray for the members of the ULC churches as they support the mission of preaching and teaching Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Pray that the Lord will bring many more people in the Ukraine to know and follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ!

Written by Pastor Roger Neumann, Europe Administrative Committee Liaison to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church

To learn more about world mission work in Ukraine, visit wels.net/ukraine.

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Lessons for a Home Missionary

Third Thirsty Thursday. I looked forward to it every month. Being able to sit around with a dozen brothers in the ministry on a social level was a highlight, but it wasn’t only the colleagues I looked forward to seeing. Each month I counted how many members or community acquaintances I could walk by on my way to the usual corner tables reserved for our party. “Hey Coppersmiths! Hey, Todd & Patti! Hey Keith!” It wasn’t too tough. With a congregation of 2,500 in a town of just over 10,000, chances were pretty good there’d be at least one familiar face who’d say hi.

Pastor Heckendorf’s installation at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church – Reno, Nev.

Then I moved. I soon realized how thirsty I was for that interaction with a familiar face. Will I ever be recognized? Will I ever recognize someone else? Funny how lonely one can be in a city that has forty times more people. Then it happened. After being somewhat down that there were no new faces in worship that morning, my wife and I went out to breakfast. As I walked by a booth, I heard it. “Hey!”  It was “Ray”, somebody I just umpired with the day before.

There was no “God’s Great Exchange” drawn out on the napkins at Peg’s Glorified Ham N Eggs that day. (Although after seeing me in a suit, Ray did ask, “You comin’ from church?”) But more than one missionary lesson was learned:

1.) The value of being part of the community to reach the community. I could sit in my office all day and write the best sermons, craft the best blogs, and design the most eye-catching postcards. But nothing beats meeting guys like “Ray” where they are at. To be able to walk into an umpire-training session and hear, “Preacher, you need a crash course on this?” is a tremendous blessing. Who cares that the instructor can’t remember my name – he just let everyone else know I was a preacher. (Coincidentally, the day after our breakfast encounter, Ray and I met at an umpire-training session. He didn’t know I was the preacher when we met at breakfast. Now he wants to ask some questions.

2.) People thirst to be recognized. It’s not just me. Unless you’re running from the law, people long to be known by people. God created us to be relational. I’m not the only one who moved to Reno this last quarter. Hundreds have moved in, so how can we position ourselves to say “hey” to them? (I’m thankful we have a realtor lady as a core member who’s going to help us reach the new movers.)

3.) God’s timing is always right. As mentioned above, it was a little bit of a downer day. We were on a good streak of having visitors in worship, but not that day. What tremendous timing on God’s part to pick me up when I needed it. In all things, but especially in home missions, what a reminder that God’s time isn’t always our time. But God’s time is always better.

4.) Peg’s eggs really are glorified.

Written by Rev. Joel Heckendorf, missionary at Light of the Valleys Lutheran Church in Reno, Nev. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church built on The Rock

Mr. Noel Ledermann is a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights, Calif., and a member of the core group exploring mission work in Folsom, Calif. He is also a lay member on the Arizona/California District Mission Board and represents the AZ/CA District on the Board for Home Missions.


Sacramento is the capital of California, and the greater Sacramento area has a population of just over two million people. WELS has three congregations in this area. Over ten years ago, members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church—a church of about 500 members and a school of about 100—-began to talk about establishing a daughter congregation 15 miles away toward the growing community of Folsom. Those talks died due to other congregational concerns at the time; but, as the local economy and population grew, the opportunity began to be discussed again in 2017. After encouragement from the Arizona-California District Mission Board (DMB) and with the leadership of Pastor Kolander, the lead pastor at St. Mark’s, a newly formed Sacramento Area Mission team met in December 2017. Pastor Kruschel, our Home Missions Counselor at the time, and Pastor Vogt, the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board, were in attendance and helped guide our discussions.

We got started by exploring the potential of a home mission congregation in the Folsom community. Local drive-arounds were completed by interested members of St. Mark’s, our Home Missions counselor, and Pastor Kolander. Initial demographic research was also completed using Mission Insites, a program provided through WELS that helps us understand the community make-up. Some canvassing of the area was also completed by two Martin Luther College students in the summer of 2018. We also had conversations with other mission pastors and laypersons in our mission district.

We made the decision to move forward after several small core group meetings. Our core group was made up of over 20 members from St. Mark’s that had shown a dedicated interest to move forward with this mission effort, and—with at least a two-year commitment to this mission—to work on a mission request to synod to establish a new mission church. We decided on a name late in 2018. In the short term we will be The Rock Lutheran Church, but we also want the new pastor to have some input.

Then, late in 2018, a local WELS member came forward and wanted to make a gift of $500,000 toward this new mission effort. What a blessing! That financial commitment was not only a blessing in terms of monetary value, but it was additional encouragement to our core group as we continued to move forward with our outreach plans.

Over a dozen meetings took place over the next 18 months with our core group members and smaller sub-committees. During that time, Pastor Kolander and I worked on putting together a new mission start request to be submitted to synod by early March 2019. That information required detailed financial estimates, demographics of the area, the names of members committed to this mission effort, and a planning timeline covering the first 18 months of operation. That included plans on what needed to be done and how the group would be involved in the community through events, canvassing, and Bible studies. Early in 2019, we found a Hampton Inn where we could begin a monthly Bible study. The first Bible study was held in March 2019, even without formal synod approval to open a new mission. This was all accompanied by excitement and some healthy anxiety. Within weeks of that first Bible study, the new mission start request was submitted to the WELS.

Looking back, it has been a whirlwind being part of this exciting new mission effort! At the same time, it has been filled with both highs and lows, some hic-ups and speed bumps, and a whole lot of trust in the Lord. We’re anxious to know what the future will bring, but our faith and hope in God makes it a lot easier knowing that everything is in His almighty hands!


This is the first article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from a District Mission Board chairman, Home Missions Counselor, the Board for Home Missions Chairman, and the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: You’re never alone

Rev. Steven Hillmer is the pastor of The Springs Lutheran Church in Sparks, Nev., and also serves as the Chairman of the Arizona/California District Mission Board (DMB). The Arizona-California DMB has been working closely with the core group who are starting the new mission church in Folsom, Calif.


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you heard about the front-line, boots-on-the-ground work that is helping establish a mission near Sacramento, Calif.— specifically The Rock Lutheran Church in Folsom. Starting new home missions is no easy or small task, but you’re never alone. In WELS, this holds especially true in the area of home missions.

Now bear with me, WELS really loves our acronyms.

At the synod level is the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM looks for and financially supports mission opportunities across the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. At present, there are over 80 WELS home mission congregations receiving financial assistance. We call these subsidized missions. This funding comes from your Congregational Mission Offerings (CMO) sent to synod from your church, as well as through individual special gifts. There are also over 30 unsubsidized missions, which means they do not receive direct funding from Home Missions, but receive assistance through their district mission board, mission counselors, and synodical support staff.

Pastor Steve Hillmer – AZ/CA District Mission Board Chairman

The Board for Home Missions (BHM) is made up of the pastor chairman and lay member from each District Mission Board (DMB). There are 14 District Mission Boards—which includes WELS Canada. These DMB’s are comprised of both pastors and laymen. The two main tasks of the DMB’s include supporting existing mission congregations and identifying potential mission fields. Members of the DMB’s are assigned to the existing missions as “shepherds” to offer encouragement and guidance to the new mission pastor and members. They do this through face-to-face meetings and other personal contacts throughout the year.

When it comes to identifying new opportunities, the DMB works with a core group or a local congregation—like St. Mark’s in Citrus Heights, Calif.—to bring forward a mission request. What happens next is perhaps unknown to many WELS members. Usually in February of each year, all fourteen DMB’s work through the requests for new mission starts, enhancements to current ministries, and any other special requests (including Vicar in a Mission Setting requests) from their district. Each of the mission requests include a 3-year budget and 12-year subsidy projection form that incorporates estimates on buying land and building a facility. With demographic forms and more, each request can have 30-50 pages to work through. At the end of some pretty intensive meetings, these requests are prioritized locally by the DMB and submitted to the BHM by March 1.

These forms and budgets not only provide a tool for each mission to complete very thorough and due-diligence work, but they also give the Executive Committee of the Board for Home Missions a good picture of the ministry potential and anticipated costs. In any given year, there are between 15 and 25 new requests! For three to four weeks, all requests—along with all renewal requests for continued mission support—are reviewed by the Executive Committee members who call up the local missions and DMB’s for any clarification.

At the beginning of April, all the requests are prioritized; and that’s when it really gets tough because of limited funding. Next week’s article will talk about what happens at the Board for Home Missions level and how they make their decisions.

What is most certainly true is that the work of reading and reviewing all these new requests demonstrates so clearly that the harvest is ripe. The Lord is opening doors for the gospel to be proclaimed across our country every day. We are thankful that he gives us a dedicated team of pastors and laymen who are actively looking for ways to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. We are thankful to gifts you give to support this work. We are also bold to encourage all WELS members to see that the harvest is ripe and to support mission work at home and abroad with our financial blessings.


This is the second article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for additional blogs from the Board for Home Missions Chairman and the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: What’s next?

Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn is the pastor of Beautiful Saviour Lutheran Church in Carlsbad, Calif., and also serves as the Chairman of the WELS Board for Home Missions (BHM). The BHM counsels, directs, and supports all the districts in their home mission activities, including campus and multi-cultural ministries. The BHM Chairman is elected at Synod Convention to serve a four-year term. 


In last week’s article from the four-part series about WELS Home Missions, you read more about a core group that is beginning to form a new mission church near Sacramento. You learned what a core group is, how often they meet, and what they do when they meet. You’ve also read about how the area District Mission Board, along with the Mission Counselor, helped that fledgling group bring a request for a new mission start to the Board for Home Missions (BHM).

Now what happens once that request is brought before the WELS Board for Home Missions?

BHM Chairman Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn reading the recognition of retirement for Home Missions Counselor Rev. Ed Schuppe earlier this month

Since the WELS Board for Home Missions is 29 men strong, we elect from within our Board two pastors and two laymen who work with the chairman of the BHM in carrying out funding decisions with all of our Home Missions.

This five-man Board for Home Missions Executive Committee is charged with two important tasks: 1) spreading the gospel through starting new mission churches and 2) being wise stewards of the resources God has made available through his people. And so we delve into the mission requests and look for the following things:

  • How strong is the core group of a mission? What spiritual gifts do they possess? How many are committed to being active in the new mission?
  • What are the demographics of the community where the new mission will try to locate? Is the population growing? Is industry thriving?
  • What percentage of unchurched are in the community? Are there a number of people there who are not connected to a church and/or do not know Jesus as their Savior?
  • What do the projected finances of the mission look like? How long until this mission might be able to become self-supporting, under God’s blessing?
  • What does the ministry plan look like for the new mission? Have they given some serious consideration to how they plan to bring the Good News of Jesus into the hearts and lives of the people in their community?

Each spring, the BHM Executive Committee looks at anywhere from 15 to 25 new start requests. We evaluate each request based on the criteria listed above. We interview the District Mission Board chairman and Mission Counselors prior to meeting to get a better feel for the mission. We discuss among ourselves each new mission start. Most importantly, we pray for God’s wisdom to make best decision for the good of his Kingdom.

There are three things that can happen to a new mission request.

  • Deferred: We may feel that the new mission is perhaps a year away from being started. The core mission group needs to do a little bit more work to build itself up and determine its ministry plan.
  • Denied: A mission request may be denied if we feel it doesn’t fit the criteria of what WELS Home Missions is commissioned to do.
  • Prioritized: The new mission start requests that we feel are ready get prioritized (or ranked) from top to bottom. Depending on how much funding is available, the missions prioritized at the top are able to be authorized and may begin calling a mission pastor and working their ministry plan. Some years its as many as 6-8 new missions, maybe more! Other years it may only be 2-3.

Sadly, this spring we were only able to authorize three new missions–and only because they were able to come up with their own local funding for the first year or more. Two more were prioritized, but we have to wait to see if we have the funds later on in the fiscal year to give them the green light to call a mission pastor and move forward. Declining congregational mission offerings (CMO) subscriptions affect WELS Home Missions and that’s why it’s looking like we can’t approve as many as previous years. Let’s join in praying that God not only send workers into his harvest field, but that he also sends gifts to support starting new missions. The harvest is ready in many fields across North America!


This is the third article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies. Stay tuned the rest of this month for an additional blog from the Administrator for Home Missions.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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Starting a new church: Why we do it

Rev. Keith Free, Administrator for WELS Home Missions, serves full-time out of the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The Home Missions Administrator is an advisory, non-voting member of the Board for Home Missions (BHM) and is responsible for executing the decisions of the BHM. 


Perhaps you know a family that drives many miles to worship at the nearest WELS church. Growing up, there was a family who drove over 75 miles one way to worship at the church where my father was pastor. Think about an unchurched family or an unbeliever. . . To my knowledge, when growing up or during the many years serving as a parish pastor, I can’t recall any unchurched person making a specific effort to travel any great distance to worship with us.

Why do we plant mission churches? We do so in order to have another outreach center; another location from which God’s Word can go out to people who need the message of sin and grace and law and gospel. We do so in order that folks blessed with faith in Christ Jesus can invite their neighbors, co-workers, or friends to join them in worship at a convenient spot.

If you’re skeptical of church planting or believe the widespread myth that new church plants just “steal sheep” from other flocks, that simply is not the case. Yes, there are going to be people who start attending a new church who were part of a different church. There is no denying that it does happen. Generally speaking though, when a new church plant is engaging its community, is persistent in inviting the folks in their vicinity to worship, and encourages its members to invite their unchurched friends, typically there are going to be people reached who either have no church background or haven’t been in a Christian church in years. They’re lost in their sins! They need to hear about Jesus Christ; his perfect life, his Good Friday death, and that incredible resurrection on Easter Sunday that was done to save all those lost in their sins.

Yes, established WELS churches engage the unchurched and lost just like mission churches do. Yet, by their very nature, established churches do a lot to serve the already reached—which is vital! There are more hospital visits, more counseling sessions, more meetings. There can be more worship services and Bible classes. A lot of time is spent feeding God’s people with the Means of Grace, just like it should be.

By its very nature, a mission church focuses most of its time and energy to reach the unchurched. A mission church looks to share God’s truths in Holy Scripture with the lost. The reality is that planting new churches is most often the single greatest way to reach any culture far from God: that is the intent and purpose of the mission church.

When someone tells you, “We already have a lot of churches. . . we don’t need to plant another”, remind them that we need thriving bodies of gospel-motivated people hearing Jesus’ directive who gather and then scatter to very intentionally and assertively fulfill the Great Commission. You can never go wrong supporting and praying for the people who are a part of a church plant. You can never go wrong in giving to WELS Home Missions so that church planting can continue in WELS. New churches make a difference—an everlasting difference. God bless our synod as we keep on planting mission churches.


This is the fourth article in a four-part series about WELS Home Missions and how new missions are explored and started throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies.


To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

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A rare and precious gospel

There were already a lot of churches in Morristown. In this medium-sized manufacturing town in the hills of East Tennessee, it seemed like there was a different church on every corner.

When I arrived at Living Promise almost eight years ago, there were 153 churches already in Morristown. With a population of less than 30,000 this meant that there was more than one church for every 200 people. I had to wonder what sort of future lay in store for us at Living Promise and would there be any need or room for us in Morristown. . . How would the community take to another church, this time started and pastored by outsiders? Would anyone care what our church had to say when there were already so many churches saying so much?

There was a lot that I found that didn’t seem all that remarkable as we began to introduce ourselves to the community. Morristown was a lot like most of Appalachia—most people grew up pretty familiar with a church. Most people believed that Christianity was a good thing. Most people, at least at some level, believed in God.

Community event at Living Promise

What still amazes me, however, is the impact that the truth and the gospel would have in our little community. As we continued to preach and teach the Word of God, people showed up. Even in a town where most people had never heard of a Lutheran, people walked through the doors of a Lutheran church. As we knocked on doors, followed up with people, and planned kids camps and events to meet our community, God blessed our efforts. While during our first year most of our worship services had attendance in the single digits, this last year we have crept over 100 more often than not—all of this by the grace and power of God.

God sent souls to us who had been hurt by other churches. He sent souls to us looking for an answer to quiet a guilty conscience. He sent souls to us looking for Biblical answers to some hard questions. As God sent us these people, we realized how rare and precious the gospel truth that God had given us to proclaim is. While there were already a lot of churches in Morristown, the true gospel in many ways was still rare. People in our community were still crying out for the gospel we had to share.

All of this has encouraged us all the more in our gospel proclamation. We still know that there are a lot of churches in Morristown. Even more, we know that the gospel we have is rare and precious and that God will use it to gather his people.

Written by Rev. Matthew Westra, missionary at Living Promise Lutheran Church in Morristown, Tenn. 

To learn more about WELS Home Missions and how you can support mission work in the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, visit wels.net/homemissions.

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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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