Posts tagged Witness
“Who were the three people who never had parents?” Answer: “Adam and Eve,” of course, and then also “Joshua, the son of Nun” (Josh. 1:1).
The riddle came to mind with all the talk these about “Nones,” the 30 percent of our population today who, when asked for their religious affiliation, answer “none.” A goodly number of these people once graced the pews of our LCMS churches. Among them are the children who were baptized but not confirmed, or the children who were confirmed but did not stay with the church as young adults. They may still consider themselves Christian, but their priorities have been changed by circumstances surrounding or impacting their lives. To such, immersed in today’s Internet-driven, “modern” way of life, the simple story of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus can easily seem out of touch.
While it is certainly not safe to stay away from the church and the means of grace, hopefully many of these Nones will be okay. When times get tough, as they always do, many of them, brought up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), will not have entirely departed from it, as promised. They will still remember their baptisms, their upbringing in Christian homes, the consolation of the 23rd Psalm. A spark of faith is a powerful thing.
Of greater concern must be the next generation, the sons (and daughters) of Nones who will not have a Proverbs 6:22 background. Through no fault of their own, they won’t be able to recall their baptisms and upbringing in Christian homes. There may not even be a spark to be fanned into flame. How important it will be for the church to remember them as it plans its outreach, helping them to become comfortable when they show up one day, catering to their particular interests and needs, holding out the Gospel to them as the one thing needful, being there for them when they begin to realize that they are falling, providing opportunity for the Gospel to reach their hearts–even though they happen to be sons and daughters of Nones who never had parents who were active Christians.
Some years ago I was working with a small congregation in a small town during a vacancy in the pastoral office. The congregation, never large, had been declining in recent years. The previous pastor had left for a more attractive position in another state.
When I asked them why they had no Sunday School, they told me there were no children in the congregation. When I asked them what their mission was, they insisted that just about everyone in town already had a church. They thought there was no mission field.
I decided to challenge them. “Go to every other church in town and find out what their average church attendance is, then add up those numbers for all the churches in town.” Several weeks later I heard their discovery. On any given Sunday less than half the population of the town was in any church, and many of the congregations also drew from the surrounding country-side. “There’s your mission field,” we said.
Every one of our congregations is surrounded by a mission field – even yours! I do not know of a single county in the USA where more than half of the population is found in church, and in many, many locales the percentage is far less than half or even 25%.
No, this is not the time for blame! Don’t be saying, “Well if these people were more welcoming or if our members were truly Lutheran, or whatever, we’d be able to do more.” Don’t be thinking, “Well, if our pastor were a better preacher, or more with the times, or whatever, then we’d…”
Instead, here are some other questions, some basic “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” questions, to ask together, and with God’s guidance seek positive answers, TOGETHER:
Witness: Who are the people around us who do not know Jesus? Or have become disconnected from Him? How might we connect with some of them? Where are they? Who among us meets them as part of our various vocations? How might we get to know them so that we have the opportunity to confess the name of Christ? How might we find ways to baptize and teach them?
And we have seen and testify (witness!) that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God (1 John 4:14-15).
Mercy: What are the needs in this community? Who are the “invisible” people in the community? The people no one else notices? How many folks in your community are hurting? Why? Who are they and what are their needs? What do we have to offer them in the name of Christ? How can we be the arms of Christ’s mercy for them? How can we find them?
We love because he first loved us. If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:19-20).
Life Together: What is the health of our fellowship? How are we connected to one another? More importantly, how are we connected to Jesus Christ? Are we regularly in the Word of God, remembering our Baptism, receiving our Lord’s body and blood, in which He gives life? How many of our people are? Does our congregation live in love with one another as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us?
If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:6-7).
In other words, the things we do as the body of Christ in “Witness, Mercy and Life Together” are part of sanctification. That is, they grow from our justification. Christ has made us His own, forgiven our sins in the blood of His cross, and declared us righteous by His resurrection. Receiving these gifts by faith, we can revel in them, knowing our connection to Christ is sure. Living as His forgiven people, witness, mercy and life together are simply what we do as the body.
Our congregations are all outwardly different. The communities we serve vary significantly. The specific answers to these questions may also look different on the surface. But the purpose is the same – drawing people, by the Spirit’s work in Word and Sacrament, into the worship of the Holy Trinity, the only worship that gives life. We witness so that the Spirit might connect some to Jesus. We show mercy that hurting people may receive the love of Jesus. We live together in Christ’s Word, because
God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9).
Well, what happened to the congregation I was visiting? The Lord sent them a pastor who helped them discover children in the community who needed a place to go after school. Their Sunday School never really revived, but their three hour program for kids Wednesdays after school regularly drew dozens, and even brought parents and families. People were connected to Jesus, and the Spirit grew the congregation.
How will you prayerfully ask these questions in your congregation?
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
What do you think of that statement? There is only one life. In some ways it sounds wrong. Is this all there is? Is our present life on this earth the only life we get?
Many naturalists and secularists would agree. Our natural, physical life here and now is all we know. You are born, you live and you die. Hopefully you can give your life some meaning and purpose by what you do, but don’t look for anything more. This is all you get. There is only one life.
What’s the matter? Have I lost my faith? No, not at all. But I still say, there really is only one life. You may be thinking that I am referring to a distinction between physical life and spiritual life. Yes, but not entirely.
You see, there is only one life, and that is the life God gives. When you were conceived in your mother, your life was worked by God (Psalm 139:14f). Every breath you take is a breath God gives you. You are alive because of God.
Yet we still die – life ends. “Sin pays off in death,” the Scripture says (Romans 6:23). Death contradicts God’s work of life. It even seems to have the last word, for we all die. No one is excepted.
In the face of this reality, the Scripture says of Jesus Christ:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
There is one life death could not destroy. Oh, death thought it had Him (if we can speak of death thinking) when Christ was dead and buried. But death could not hold the one who is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25-26). God’s gift of life cannot be extinguished, for Jesus lives, and lives forever.
Now Jesus promises,
“This is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3).
There is only one life – this life, the life of Jesus Christ. Knowing Him you have His life. Anyone who does not have Jesus has no life (1 John 5:12).
“The thief,” Jesus says, “comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
So, you see, there is only one life, the life God gives, the life that is ours in Jesus. It begins now but continues forever.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24).
Eternal life is a present possession for the believer in Christ. And when Christ returns, this eternal life will be revealed in the resurrection of the body.
One more thing. You probably already know that Jesus gives this life wherever people come together to hear His Word and to receive His body and blood. But do you know anyone else who does not know or trust in Jesus? Who is not close to Him? Without Jesus, they have no life.
You have this life. Did you know you can give it away? Tell them about it. Tell them what you have. Bring them into the worship of the Triune God where life is given. For there is only one life. His name is Jesus.
Did you know that your congregation is a mission outpost? A place where Jesus gives His life for you and for others? You also are sent by God to bring life, to invite people you know to receive life in Jesus. As Jesus promised,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).
So it’s true. There is only one life – eternal life in Jesus.
+Herbert C. Mueller
First Vice President
Have you ever realized what a great evangelism opportunity Lent is? Here you have six special Wednesday evening services (many congregations even serve dinner), each service focused on some aspect of our Lord’s Passion.
In many of our churches the passion history is even read as part of these services (if not, why not ask for it?). Even if the passion is not read, the services will be Christ-centered and cross-focused.
What an opportunity! It’s ready made for inviting friends and family who do not know Jesus or have become disconnected from Him to come to church with you.
What an opportunity for your church to live out the fact that it is a mission outpost where Jesus gives life. Lent is a great time for your church to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel into your community. Everyone in your town belongs to a church? Don’t be fooled. Demographic studies show there is no portion of our country where church goers number more than 50% of the population. Not one. Wherever you are, your congregation HAS a mission field!
Find those people and invite them to church with you this Lenten season. They’re all around you – at work, school, in your family. Now is the time (Lent is only two weeks old) for you to talk to your pastor and to the leadership of your congregation regarding what your church will do to bring people to worship during Lent and Holy Week. Now is the time for you to pray about whom you will invite to come with you.
Some of you may feel embarrassed doing this. That’s OK. Do it anyway! Perhaps you think your church is too small or there are too many problems. That’s OK. No church is perfect, but we do have a perfect Savior, Jesus, who will make up for any imperfections on our part.
Besides, Lent is all about living in repentance – indeed, the whole of the Christian life is one of repentance and faith in Christ crucified for us. In the book of Acts, when Paul finishes his speech to all the Greek philosopher types on Mars Hill in Athens, he tells them,
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed, and of this He has given assurance to all people by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31).
That’s why Lent is an evangelism opportunity. To repent is simply to turn around – to turn away from sin to see Jesus crucified for us. It’s a turn around worked by God, but He uses us to extend the invitation to others. No one is left out, all are included. But there’s only one way, and His name is Jesus.
He lived for us, offered Himself for us and then died for us. Rising from the dead, He gives new life to all who believe in Him. Remember, at the end of Lent waits Easter with the Resurrection of our Lord.
What a fantastic Easter this will be for someone you bring with you to church this Lent, for whom God’s Spirit has the opportunity to work repentance and faith in Jesus! Then will come true for that person, and I pray also again for you, the words of Paul in Ephesians:
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light!” (5:14).
Bring someone with you on your Lenten journey of faith. Jesus will be with you on the way. For Jesus gives life at 6000+ mission outposts – the congregations of the Missouri Synod – and your church is one of them!
+Herbert C. Mueller
First Vice President
Has that question ever crossed your mind listening to the news? We know that Jesus is Lord of all for the sake of His Church and that nothing will happen outside of what He allows. Evil cannot have free reign, no matter what things look like. God is in control. The problem is, it doesn’t always look that way.
Perhaps more to the point, what is God up to in your life? Your congregation or school? What does the new year of 2011 look like for you? What will it bring? What’s going on in your personal life and family? Is there a plan? Does God know what He’s doing? We are tempted to ask, especially when everything is cloudy for us.
To find out God’s ultimate plan, of course, we have to turn to His Word. That’s the place where He lets us in on what He is really “up to.” Just after Christmas, in my church we read from Ephesians 1. Here are verses 9-10 (my translation, with comments):
“(He has) made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He put forward in Him (Christ), as a plan (an economy, a way of working things out) for the fullness of times, (a plan) to re-head all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, in Him.”
What impresses us here? Three times in these two verses Paul uses his favorite phrase in Ephesians 1 – “in Him” or “in Christ.” God’s plans are always centered in Christ. His purpose is “put forward” only in Christ. Without Christ crucified and raised from the dead we cannot see or understand what God is up to.
Secondly, in Christ God reveals to us His ultimate goal, what He is really after, no matter what else we talk about. God is in the process of re-heading all things in Christ. If you say, “Wow, that’s cosmic!” You’re right. The NIV translates this verse, “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one Head, even Christ.” (1:10b). All things means the whole cosmos, everything that exists. “To bring together under one Head” literally means, “to put the head on again.”
There was a time, you see, when the whole creation knew and lived under its Head. All things were perfect and the whole universe showed Christ as Head. “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Then sin entered in and the world lost its Head and began running around like the proverbial “chicken with its head cut off.” There’s a graphic picture for the world without Christ: running franticly perhaps, but having no real direction (no head) and as good as dead (the life-blood spurting from the headless neck while the unfortunate creature runs aimlessly for a minute or so – excuse me for indulging you in my adolescent memory of butchering chickens with my brother).
Running aimlessly, as good as dead – what’s God’s plan to deal with this? What is God up to now? God aims to put the head on again! To re-head all things in Christ. How?
He gave Christ into death for us, gave Him up for us on the cross where He took all our sin and evil. He raised Him to life, and with Him raised also us. He now gives us His Word to bring life and to reunite us with Christ, our Head.
And THAT is what God is up to in your life, your school, your church, when you hear, read, ponder, study, pray and teach His Word. Cosmic? Yes, beyond your imagination. When a child grows in faith, when anyone is baptized, when people hear the Word of God and take it to heart, when they receive His Body and Blood – it’s a cosmic event! God is re-heading all things in Christ! God is giving Christ as Head for YOU.
But when God unites you with Christ, He also unites you and me with everyone else who believes and is baptized into Christ. We have a life together in Christ. From that life we are called to be a witness to everything God has done to unite us with Christ and with each other. And with Christ as our Head, together we reach out in mercy to a dying world so that we bear witness to this eternal plan of God.
So, no matter what else appears to be going on, take heart in this. God has given you the privilege of being part of His cosmic plan. You have your life from Christ, He is our Head. You are part of God’s purpose to bring life to many more, to unite “all things, things in heaven and things on earth,” in Christ.
And there you have it! Witness, mercy and life together in Christ for a new year! That’s what God is “up to” here on earth, and in heaven above.
A blessed 2011 to one and all!