In the Office of the President we are presently engaged in a series of visits to all of our 35 districts of the Synod. This is part of the work of visitation our Synod as a whole seeks to strengthen throughout our life together – see 2013 Synod Resolution 7-01A.
Visitation of the districts consists of several elements. The district visitation team (consisting of the President of the Synod or the First Vice President, plus the appropriate regional Vice President) meets with the district board of directors to hear what the Lord is doing in that district and to communicate how God is at work through our joint efforts in the national Synod. We talk about what we can do to support one another in the work God has given us. We also spend time with the district president to encourage him (from the Word of God) in his difficult work of visitation and ecclesiastical supervision. Depending on local circumstances in each district, we spend time with the district staff and/or circuit counselors/visitors and in some cases have conducted an open forum for anyone interested.
In all cases, our main purpose is to listen, to encourage from the Word of God, and to listen even more. We seek to foster evangelical visitation throughout our life together as a Synod, in the spirit of the apostles who said,
“Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36).
As our Lord animates our witness and mercy, so visitation is part of our life together.
This visitation is not in the way of the law as though our primary purpose is to come and check on you to see where you are wrong. Instead, visitation is in the way of the Gospel, through which we strengthen one another in the Word of God, as Paul sought to do with the Church in Rome,
“I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11-12).
It is in the way of Christ Himself, in whom God was visiting and redeeming His people (Luke 1:68; 7:16).
Christ is our life. We visit one another to share in that life together He gives in His Word. We visit one another to encourage one another in witness and mercy so that more will receive life in Jesus. We recognize much visitation already takes place, in districts and congregations, but we pray that it may grow and increase. As of this writing 3 districts have been visited. That means we have 32 more to visit this year and next! Pray for us. Pray for your district president. Pray for your pastors in their work of visitation with the Word of God.
Yours in the peace of Christ,
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President
Are sinners really welcome in our churches? Well, of course! Lutherans know this instinctively. Our Divine Service almost always begins with a clear confession of sin followed by absolution. If we ask if some are better off than others, we know the Scriptures:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
In other words, we know that when we say the creed, we can believe the “holy Christian Church” is “the communion of saints” only because of the next phrase in the creed: we believe in “the forgiveness of sins.” So… there’s only one kind of people: those who every day need the forgiveness of sins.
Is there any class of sinner excluded? Well, no. We take the Gospel everywhere we can. We go with Jesus into prisons, into hospitals, wherever there are broken people (since we are all at some point broken). We take the Gospel to the streets, wherever the Lord leads. Are we always good at doing so? If we’re honest, no we’re not. But theoretically, at least, we know that if any class of sinner were to be excluded, then we might someday also be excluded.
All sinners are welcome. That’s why with our mercy work we care for people, all people in need. We cannot ask first – do you have faith? – before we extend care. We seek to help PEOPLE with the church’s work of mercy. That’s how some are drawn to Christ, because someone cared when they were hurt or broken.
What about becoming part of the church? A full professing member of the body of Christ? Are sinners welcome? Of course! Every member of the church is a member of the body of Christ for one reason. The Spirit of God is leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus. When Peter finished his sermon on Pentecost, his hearers were cut to the heart and were asking, “Men, brothers, what shall we do?” To that Peter responded,
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:37-39).
That’s the way it’s always been. That’s the one way in. Repentance and faith in Jesus!
So we welcome sinners. But we do not welcome or condone sin. We cannot excuse sin, for if we do, we miss out on forgiveness. We can never minimize sin, for living in unrepented sin can separate us from God forever. The Scriptures say,
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of The Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Our hope is only in Christ. So there are two sides to our answer. The church welcomes sinners – always! The church cannot welcome sin – not ever.
For if we minimize sin, or if we say that something God has called sin really is not sin, we are saying that Jesus is not really needed for that part of life. I don’t need Jesus to be Lord there, but I can be in control of that aspect of life myself. Minimizing sin, we minimize Jesus, the Savior from sin.
Whoever we are, whatever we have done or not done, there is only one way to stand before God, and that is by faith in the shed blood of Jesus. Anything we put forward ourselves will be swept away as tainted by sin. Only in Jesus, God in our flesh, crucified and raised from the dead for us can we stand. Again, here’s the Scripture in Romans 3:
“There is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (3:22-25).
Propitiation means Jesus stood in our place, took our punishment, suffered our death. That’s why it’s all gift, all grace, and it’s all for you. It covers every sin.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
So yes, sinners are welcome! All of them! Even you. Even me. Every day through repentance and forgiveness in Jesus. It is just as Jesus said to a woman caught in sin,
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
Every day, we live by God’s grace alone in Jesus. Every day, the Word of God leads us to repent of sin. But even more, every day His grace abounds.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Now go revel in that grace – it’s for you!
+ Herbert Mueller
First Vice President – LCMS
A friend of mine, and long time brother in the ministry, Pastor Mark Willig, recently sent me a hymn he had written, asking my thoughts. I thought it quite good and a great confession of why Christ has come. With brother Mark’s permission, we bring this new hymn to you here. Pastor Willig says you can use it, if you wish, so long as you do so with attribution, not changing anything, and including the copyright mark. Christ IS your Immanuel! Enjoy! Yours in Him, + Herbert Mueller
He’s Your Immanuel!
(Sung to the tune Forest Green, the alternate tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem” LSB # 362)
(Note: words and syllables underlined are sung to 2 or more beats.)
1. O sing to God a brand new song,
For now the world’s redeemed.
For He has giv-en us His Son
And in that gift received,
Our hearts He calls from wan–der–ing
Away from His embrace.
And brings us to the man-ger light
That we might see His face.
2. The gentile kings from far a-way
Have heard the prophecies
And bringing gifts they wor-ship Him
Who brings our souls release.
In-to His courts the na-tions come,
Are welcomed by the Son,
That we might live through end-less days
With God the Three-in-One.
3. Into Je-ru-sa-lem Christ rode
As dark-ness gathered round.
In deepest ago-ny He prayed,
Sweat fall-ing to the ground.
A-rested, bea-ten, scourged and mocked
To Gol-go-tha He went,
And there to purchase souls from death
His ho-ly blood He spent.
4. The dawn-ing sun on the third day
Reveals the wreckage well
It’s not His kingdom ly-ing ruin’d
But rath-er death and hell.
The tomb is bro-ken Je-sus lives
And we are sent to tell,
Oh, world, He’s not for us a-lone
He’s your Im-man-u-el!
Copyright © 2013 Mark S. Willig
November 17, 2013, St. John Lutheran Church, New Minden, Illinois (pastored ably and faithfully now for nearly 26 years by Rev. Timothy P. Mueller) was struck by a tornado for the third time in its history.
Several homes of members across the street were also destroyed. No congregation members were killed, but two people in the community, who had been visited by Pastor Mueller, lost their lives. Both Pastor and people are bringing God’s comfort and peace to family members and to many others.
Some years ago, for the 150th Anniversary of St. John’s in 1996, Pastor Timothy Mueller edited a history of the congregation, which of course included descriptions of the previous two tornados – May 27, 1896, the same day as “The Great St. Louis Cyclone,” which killed hundreds, and again on June 7, 1907. When St. John’s was hit for the third time in its history, we remembered a dedicatory prayer included in the history, a prayer written by the then pastor of St. John’s, Rev. Emmanuel Koestering, for the occasion of the dedication of the renovated church on November 10, 1907. See especially how the prayer strikes a note of humble dependence on the grace of God, submitting to God’s chastening, yet trusting His mercy in Christ and holding God to His promises:
O Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, unsearchable in the unity of Your essence and the trinity of Your persons, and at the same time incomprehensible in the judgments and ways in which You deal with Your children on earth! In deepest humility and veneration we appear for the first time in our renovated house of God before Your holy face. You have permitted us to experience Your judgments out of Your mighty hand. Twice You have spoken to us by means of storm and weather. Twice You have placed members of this congregation suddenly in the dust of death and have left behind deeply wounded and bleeding hearts. Twice You have allowed this Congregation to weep upon the ruins of their church. Deeply You have humbled us before our brethren in the faith and before the mocking world, as if we were great sinners more than others and not Your dear and precious children on whom You bestow Your hearty and good pleasure for the sake of Your dear Son, in whom we believe and who is the joy and comfort of our hearts at all times. But, dear heavenly Father, although we humbly confess to be great sinners before You who have deserved all Your temporal and eternal punishments, yet Your faithful Word stands before us as a brightly shining sun: “Whom I love, him I chasten” (Hebrews 12:6). And we believe firmly without any doubts, that You have visited us, not in Your wrath but in Your fatherly love and grace and through Your faithful sufferer Job You do call to us: “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty. For He bruises, but He builds up; He wounds but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles, yes, in seven no evil shall touch you” (Job 5:17-19). And You have permitted us to experience the truth of this word now. Yes, You have not only struck and wounded us, but Your faithful and merciful hand as Savior has again raised us up, healed us, and filled our hearts with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. We have been able to kiss Your chastening hand because we recognize and believe, as You have convinced us, that Your eternal grace and mercy lead us through the sorrow of death to heavenly joy, and from deep outrage to the heavenly crown of glory. See, dear Father, for that reason we appear before You today with joyous praise and thanks to Your divine name in our newly given House of God and confess from the bottom of our heart: This is the Day the Lord has made for us. “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good” (Psalm 136:1). You have done great things for us. We rejoice in it. O Lord, help! O Lord, let it turn out well for us! But we ask now, Lord God, Father, You, the Lord of our life, abide with us; it is almost nighttime, the day of this world is declining, its end is coming near. The Judge is at the door. O abide with us with Your grace, with Your Spirit, with Your comfort! Protect this precious house of God and retain in it Your pure Word for us. May Your Word ever be our heart’s rejoicing and comfort! May we, like the wise bridesmaids, watch and pray with patience and good works, seek after eternal life, and be clothed with the garments of the righteousness of Your dear Son Jesus Christ, that when our hour comes or You appear in the clouds of heaven for the final judgment, we be found worthy to stand at Your right in the shining forth of Your eternal glory and may hear the most blessed greeting: “Come unto Me, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for You. O pious and faithful servants and maids, come, enter upon the eternal joy of Your Lord!” (see Matthew 25:34). Amen, may it be true for us all. Hallelujah! Amen. Amen (from a 1921 History of St. John Lutheran Church, New Minden, Illinois, quoted in Our God, Our Help in Ages Past: 150 Years of Documents, Pictures and Other Tokens of God’s Blessings upon St. John’s Lutheran Congregation, New Minden, Illinois, edited by Pastor Timothy P. Mueller, published by St. John’s, New Minden, Illinois, 1996).
+ Herbert C. Mueller
More Reflections on Christ the King
[Shared as a devotion with the LCMS Board of Directors, November 22, 1963.]
Where were you 50 years ago this past weekend? Do you remember? Anyone old enough will remember the assassination of President John Kennedy November 22, 1963. Personally, being in 5th grade at the time, I remember coming in from recess to see all the girls in my class crying and the boys in stunned silence.
It was one of the shared experiences of our generation. It marked for many the death of the care-free 50s and the beginning spasm of the 60s. It was when many my age first realized the world is broken. Two other people died that same day, November 22, 1963, as well: C.S. Lewis, beloved Christian writer and Aldus Huxley, author of Brave New World. These two could not have had more different explanations of the world’s brokenness: Lewis, whose writings explained the Christian faith for many, and Huxley, who rejected God because God got in the way of what he wanted to do.
If you were God, how would you go about redeeming a broken world? How would you respond to a world of sinners? Who want to go their own way even if it leads to death? How would you save people from a culture that often sees death as a solution, even celebrates it?
If God can do anything He wants, why doesn’t He just, with a wave of the hand, put an end to all the evil in the world? All the sin and death with a snap of the finger? But if we are honest with ourselves, we also have to admit that, if He did, that would also put an end to me, to you.
Yes, God can do anything. “He does all that He pleases” the Psalm says (115:3). But one thing God will not do is go against His nature, His own person. God is just and cannot abide sin. God is love, pure love, and hates nothing He has made. And the mystery of both, God’s justice and God’s love, come together and are revealed in Christ, on His cross.
For Christ is King, from the cross. Read Luke chapter 23 to see it in full, in what He says and what He does. They nail Him up, but He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Of course, in their not knowing, they mock Him. Pontius Pilate, in his not knowing, ridicules Him and mocks the whole Jewish nation he has been sent to rule, with his inscription, “This Is the King of the Jews!” (Luke 23:38). The people and the soldiers do the same: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37).
But amazingly, one of the criminals was led to see through the mocking all the way to the truth, to catch a glimpse of the real nature of Jesus’ kingdom, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom,” your rule (Luke 23:42).
Here is the true King, the one in whom “all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Here is where Jesus rules, from the cross. Here is the mystery of God’s love revealed, and God’s justice satisfied, here in Christ the King, on the cross.
Here is God’s true response to the evil of sin, to the brokenness of suffering and death. He comes! He comes into our flesh. He comes to take it all into Himself, for us.
No, this is not some sort of divine child abuse, as some would have it, but this is the deepest love of all, as the beloved Lenten hymn, “O Dearest Jesus” will show it:
What punishment so strange is suffered yonder
The Shepherd dies for sheep who loved to wander,
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.
The sinless Son of God must die in sadness,
The sinful child of man may live in gladness,
Man forfeited his life, and is acquitted,
God is committed. (LSB 439, st. 4-5)
So here is our King. King Jesus from the cross, who has reconciled to Himself all things – even me, even you! – making peace by the blood of His cross (Colossians 1:20). For when we, like the thief on the cross next to Jesus, recognize our desperate need for Him, we also say, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” your rule. And He promises, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Today, you are mine, and I forgive you, He says. I have suffered your suffering and died your death. I will heal your brokenness, for I am the “first born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), for you. I have you now. You are with Me, He says, and I am your King.
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President