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The Communion of Saints

There is another holiday in November besides Thanksgiving.  It is the church festival of “All Saints Day” which is November 1.  In order to understand “All Saints Day,” you have to first understand the “Communion of Saints.”

So, I start there: The Communion of Saints spans two different worlds.  Here on this earth, the Communion of Saints struggles with life in this sin-soaked world.  We are the Church Militant.  Even though Jesus has defeated Satan with His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, Satan still fights and the Church Militant is the battlefield.  We continuously look to our Champion, Jesus Christ to give us the victory.

Then there is the Church Triumphant gathered at the throne of the Lamb, “the ones who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  They are in Paradise.  They are without sin, without hunger, without misery, without tears, and without death itself.  And the one called the Lamb is their Shepherd – who leads His own lambs to living fountains of water.  All memory of pain, death, sin, sickness, poverty, hunger, persecution, and hatred are wiped from their eyes along with their tears.

Even though this church spans two worlds, there are not two churches: one here on earth and another in heaven.  Rather we “believe in one holy Christian and apostolic church.”  (from the Nicene Creed). The oneness of the church is not destroyed even by the separation of death.  For where Jesus is, there are the saints – those here on earth, and those who have “come out of the great tribulation” of life in this world.  The church on earth and the church in heaven unite around the throne of God and in the presence of the Lamb.

When we gather around the altar for Holy Communion, or Saintly Communion, we know that our deceased relatives and friends who have likewise “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb” are right there with us.  When we sing “Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world,” we sing along with the countless Christians of every age.  When we sing “Holy, holy, holy,” we do so with billions of the faithful from every time and place.  And when we come for the body and blood of the Lord, we are united with those whom we wish we could speak to, but can’t.  We join with those whom we love but can no longer embrace.  We are not only in the presence of Jesus, but are also surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses; this host arrayed in white, those who fall on their faces night and day before the Lord Himself.

And so, it is proper that we praise God for the men and women of faith whose works of love inspire us and set an example of the godly Christian life for us.  It is appropriate that we honor the work that God has done in their lives to give them the true saving faith.  It is also appropriate that we honor the work that God has done through their lives to affect the lives of the people around them.  It is appropriate that we honor those who have preceded us into the Church Triumphant.

For when we honor the redeemed, we are also honoring the Redeemer. The saints who are holy in God’s eyes testify to the only One who is eternally holy: our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is His blood that covers our sin and allows us to stand in His presence.  It is being baptized into His death that gives us a white robe.  It is His Word and Sacraments that usher us into the throne room where we will never again suffer or be unhappy.

Living above with saints we love, that will be grace and glory; but living below with saints we know, that is a different story.  Life in this world is hard.  We live in the great tribulation.  Although we are saints in God’s eyes, we still sin.  The battle with sin rages around us and in us.  So, what shall we do while we wait for our turn to leave the battle of this world and enter the rest our Savior has prepared for us?   We continually focus on the cross through hearing God’s Word and receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

For, Jesus Christ, our Savior promises never to leave us or forsake us.  Though we live in a mortal body decaying with sin, these bodies will be raised and made new.  Though our worship is imperfect, it will be perfected.  Though our voices crack and squeak, they will one day sing in perfect harmony with angels.  Though we’re tired and distracted, hungry and bored, we will one day be so alive and filled with joy that we will never grow weary of joining this great crowd in heaven, singing and praising God.

You see, by faith in Jesus Christ, you are already saints, holy ones, children of God.  By His death on the cross, the Lord Himself clothed you with His righteousness, and through His resurrection He will one day shepherd you to everlasting life.  In that blessed place, you will experience the eternal joy of God’s presence along with the rest of the Communion of Saints.

To relate the significance of this I share this event with you:

I once had a married couple, in their 50’s, who were faithful in their church attendance.  Suddenly the husband was struck by a terminal illness.  After he had died, I noticed that his wife was no longer coming to the Lord’s Table for Holy Communion.  After this happened several times when the Lord’s Supper was offered, and she did not come forward I asked her what was going on.  She said, “My husband and I always did that together, and I can’t get myself to go alone.”  I then explained to her that this is the time when she could actually be the closest to him until she joins him in heaven.

For, there is a lot happening during the Lord’s Supper.  We’re not the only ones at the Lord’s Table.  The communion liturgy has a phrase in it, “Therefore, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name.”  Notice there is all the company of heaven.  You are kneeling on this side of the communion rail but on the other side is all the company of heaven.  They are all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Everyone who has died and walked into the glories of heaven by faith in the Lamb is joining us at this Table.

A saint is not someone who is nicer or more religious than anyone else.  A saint is someone who is on the most important list of all, the Lamb’s Book of Life.  The saints are those both dead and alive who have been forgiven by Christ Jesus.  The Lamb’s Book of Life is a book with the names of all those who you knew who have died in the faith of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

All praise and glory and honor to the Lamb who has written your name in His Book of Life.  The Lamb’s Book of Life is His promise that you and the whole company of heaven, including those who you knew and know, and who you loved and love the most, will be praising and glorifying the Lamb with you in that incredible place of light and safety and beauty forever.

There is yet one more thing that needs to be stated about those who have departed in faith and are around the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  Over and over again I hear in music, in poetry (and sadly, often on the obituary folder), and from believers the idea that those who have departed are looking down on us.  THIS IS NOT TRUE!  They are in heaven, protected from all of this on earth.  Where their souls are until Judgment Day, the Bible assures us that they have no more pain or sorrows or tears.  If they were able to look down on us, they would be sad to see us sad at their death and departure from us.  Also, they would be sad to see us sinning and jeopardizing our chances of being with them in heaven for eternity.  Even though we do not pray for them, they are in heaven praying for us (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 230:9) [along with the angels (Zechariah 1:12), Jesus (Romans 8:34), and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26)] but they are protected from anything that would make them sad and shed a tear.

May these truths bring you great joy about your loved ones now with the Communion of Saints until you join them also in great joy!

Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Arie Bertsch
ND District President

 

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Faith and Thanksgiving

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.”
This ditty comes to mind when I think about things being linked together. Next month we celebrate Thanksgiving. Therefore, I would link together the words: Faith and Thanksgiving.
When I was growing up one of the most important rules in our house was the “thank you” rule.
I would venture to guess that your families and mine have this in common. Gratitude is something we learn as we grow, and expressing gratitude is just as important as feeling it.
Over the years of ministry, on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving, I would tell the congregation members that they would want to get to church early on Thanksgiving day so that they will have “their place” or “a place” to sit due to everyone coming to church to give thanks to God. For, how else would you celebrate the day?
You see, in order to say “thank you,” you need to be thanking someone for something. You don’t just sit around alone in your room saying “thank you” to nothing and no one in particular. Or do you?
For most Americans, Thanksgiving is a day set aside for us to give thanks to God for our many blessings. Faith knows that God blesses us with all the blessings we have in this life and in the future life which is ours already by the faith God has given in the Savior from sin, Jesus Christ. They are absolutely linked together.
The Christian faith is about our rescue from sin and death and hell. Being a Christian – or believing in God – is not a defining characteristic of wealth, or success in the world, or health, or un-interruptible happiness in this world. Faith in the Gospel and believing in Jesus Christ is the way of life eternal, for it receives the blessings which Jesus procured for us by His life and death in our place, and His resurrection to new and everlasting life (of which we are baptized into, Romans 6:4-6).
Christians still have to deal with this world and ordinary life in it, troubles and all. We just get to have the advantage of knowing how the story ends – or that it does not end, to be more precise. Some of us believers will be wealthy, and some of us will be poor. Some of us will be giddy with happiness most of the time and others will wrestle with troubles and sorrows, and even depression, most of the time. Some of us will be so healthy that when we die it will be of nothing serious, and others will fight bad health for decades before they pass on. And some of us will not have long lives at all, at least on this side of the grave.
But every single believer has the forgiveness of sins. Each one of us, without fail, will rise from our graves and join with the family of God in paradise, to sing God’s praises of thanksgiving throughout eternity. And while we live here, we know that God loves us and that we can call on Him for help, for rescue, for strength, for comfort in our troubles.
Many Christians seem to be looking for something that will help them overcome all obstacles in this world. But the Gospel never makes that promise. God does help us in times of need, but not always in the way we start out with hoping He will. Sometimes He has something better in mind. Sometimes He teaches us patience and humility. Now and then, He even shares with our hearts the secret that winning or losing in this world is not truly significant. Standing faithfully, however, is.
If we believe that we have nothing to worry about, but that the grave is but a door to fuller and richer and happier life, and all of that is true because of Jesus, and that God loves us with a deep and powerful and everlasting love, then we just want to rejoice and give thanks! Today is the day that the Lord has made – and given to us as a gift. It cannot hurt us, for He is our Shield and Protector. Let us rejoice and give thanks! Faith and thanksgiving go together.
My point today is that faith and thanksgiving are linked. If you believe God is concerned about you, and watching over you, and that He has saved you, you will be brought to give thanks. You will want to give thanks. No matter what happens, God is with you to keep you. When everyone says that it is all over, with you, it will just be beginning, for God has given you eternal life because of Jesus Christ. Sickness can only do so much, and then it must let go. Only so much can go wrong, and then you will be standing with the Lord. Even when it looks like you are beaten, you win, because Jesus has already won and given you the victory. All that is left for you to do is give thanks!
But you can only honestly do that if you sincerely believe it. If it isn’t real to you, then there will be nothing particularly worthy of genuine thanksgiving. If church, for example, is just to help you feel good, then feeling good is all that you should expect. But if you know the truth, you should be comforted even when you don’t feel so hot. And you should know the love of God – the love which He has for you – which gives you not just comfort, but hope even in difficult situations!
When trouble cannot do any real damage, you just want to give thanks! When danger cannot really hurt you, you just want to give thanks! When sickness can no longer really frighten you, you just want to give thanks! When you believe that the world is stacked to your advantage by the great love of God, you want to give thanks. Faith and thanksgiving go together naturally. It is the work of the Spirit and the clear will of God.
Like love and marriage, faith and thanksgiving just naturally go together!

“Rejoice always! Pray without ceasing! In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16).”

Happy Thanksgiving!
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Arie Bertsch

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LSSND as RSO of the LCMS

 

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are like me, you do not care for acronyms.  And here I title this article with acronyms.  Please forgive me!

Acronyms do make for easier writing and reading if you can keep the acronyms straight in your head as you write and read.  (LSSND) stands for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.  (RSO) stands for Recognized Service Organization.  (LCMS) stands for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.  Therefore, the title means: Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota as a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

This is the definition of an RSO from the LCMS website: “To extend its mission outreach, education and social ministry, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod works with independent Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs) that agree to ensure their programs are in harmony with the doctrine and practice of the LCMS.”  And: “Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs) are 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations that are independent of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, but they operate ministry programs that foster the mission and ministry of the church.  RSO organizations reach out in mercy and love to meet the needs of those who are suffering, poor, sick or lonely.  They address human, social, economic, educational, and spiritual needs.”

Now, to the point of this article: The North Dakota District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod HAS BEEN (notice: the past tense; more about this later) working in conjunction with Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota for decades.  A little of the history (that I know) of that partnership is that a former district president was the chairman of the board of directors of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.  Also, a former business manager for the district and a district pastor were quite involved with the housing portion of LSSND.

The Board of Directors (BOD) for LSSND is comprised of the bishop and two members from the East Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) of North Dakota, the bishop and two members of the West Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) of North Dakota, and the District President (or his appointment) and one member of the North Dakota District of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.  Therefore, the West ELCA had three (3) BOD members, the East ELCA had three (3) BOD members, and the LCMS North Dakota District had two (2) BOD members.

Now, for the HAS BEEN: The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Recognized Service Organization requirements are that we have an equal voice on the board of directors of an RSO.  Therefore, LSSND was being asked to add another LCMS member to its board.  That was causing some strife to the LSSND BOD because of the lack of financial support from the LCMS members and churches.  The East and West ELCA churches and its members contributed $510,546 in the 2016-2017 year and the LCMS in the same year contributed $7082.  What I saw was that even with strong participation on the BOD of LSSND by influential members of the ND District LCMS over the years our financial support was low; thus telling me that our congregations, members, and pastors were not in support of this and it wasn’t fair to LSSND for us to expect more BOD participation.

Next, dealing with some theological issues: LSSND stated that they are supportive of life and of husband and wife (male and female) and do not encourage abortion or same-sex adoption.  However, they do take government funding and have to offer those services if they are asked.

Also, there has been discussion “to leave open the concept of embracing our full communion partners (defined as “those denominations the ELCA develops a relationship with based on a common confessing of the Christian Faith and a mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper”) to work together on projects of mutual interest and concern.  *Full communion partners of the ELCA are: Presbyterian Church (USA); Reformed Church in America; United Church of Christ; Episcopal Church; Moravian Church, United Methodist Church” (LSSND BOD Faith and Public Life Committee-Minutes, April 12, 2018).

For the reasons stated above the North Dakota District of the LCMS is no longer involved with LSSND and LSSND has decided not to continue as an RSO of the LCMS.

This does not mean that we do not continue to reach out in mercy and love to meet the needs of those who are suffering, poor, sick or lonely and address human, social, economic, educational, and spiritual needs.  We may continue to do this by support of LCMS World Relief, LCMS Disaster Response, individually reaching out to the neighbor in need, and support of our district missions (UND and NDSU Campus Ministry, Watford City Church start, Christ Care for Kenya Children, and Chile Mission support) who deliver God’s Word and Sacraments for spiritual needs.

This has been an article to inform you, and I leave you with these Words of God: From John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  And Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie Bertsch

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Baptism

 

Why do we have baptisms during church service and why is the Baptismal Font front and center?

Whenever possible, baptisms should take place in the regular worship service of the congregation. The child is being baptized into the family of Christ, of which the congregation is, and it only makes sense to have as many of the family members present as possible to witness this special event.  Through baptism, the child is now a member of the congregation and the congregation’s care, prayers, and support are a valuable resource for the future of this member remaining a member.

When private baptisms become a norm in a church, the congregation is robbed of the privilege of celebrating the event, and the child is robbed of the prayers, concern, and promise of a committed church.

A congregation, along with the sponsors and parents, are making a pledge and promise to see to it that this child is brought to church to know, trust, and believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, of which this child is baptized into (Romans 6:3-5).  Usually, this bringing to the church first falls on the responsibility of the parents, then the sponsors, and finally on the congregation.

Baptism is not magic.  It is a gift from God.  In baptism, God gives the Holy Spirit which plants the seed of faith.  God then assigns the parents, the sponsors, and the congregation the task of being good gardeners.  They are to nurture and water the seed of faith.

To every congregation, God is saying: “Take care of this precious gift.  Do everything in your power to see that he/she grows up to know My love!”   The congregation, which is made up of individuals, is especially promising, to the best of its ability, to furnish training through the continuing of the church for Worship Service, Sunday School, Confirmation, and Bible Studies.  This is a commitment of individual people as a whole to support the church financially and in service for the furthering of God’s kingdom.

Concerning the second part of the question, the furnishings of a church state the theology of the church.  The theology of a church is what it believes, teaches, and confesses.  Baptism is a very central part of God’s grace on us.  It is a gift and God’s work on us.  The saving Gospel is never what we do but what God has done for us.  In baptism, God has given us faith and connected us with Jesus death and resurrection.  That means that we cannot die and we will be raised from the grave.  What is more central than this for your salvation?  Nothing!

My hope and prayer for you is that you continue to grow in the faith of Jesus Christ in whom you have been baptized and that it is ever front and center in your lives.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

ND District President

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Every Tongue Confess

 

Some have asked, “What do you do as district president?” Now I didn’t take it to mean that I am doing nothing; but rather, that they had no idea what it is that I do. Well, I believe that Philippians 2:9-10 sums it up pretty accurately. It reads, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The North Dakota District pastors and congregations have called me to oversee that the ministry here in the North Dakota District of the LCMS is working towards “every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Therefore, I visit and encourage the pastors and the congregations that “every tongue is confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That is done by listening to the pastors teach and preach and seeing how the congregations are responding to that preaching and teaching.

Also, I do ordinations and installations of the pastors and commissioned workers (that God has called through the body of Christ, the congregations) to serve His people.

Another part of my position is to see that what has been decided in convention (through resolutions) is accomplished. This is half of my work. For, our district congregations and pastors have stated that we want to support missions, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Our missions to accomplish this every tongue confessing entail the campus ministries of UND and NDSU, aid to students entering church work, the mission start in Watford City, Care of Kenya Children, and mission support to Chile.

These missions of our district are in two different groups. One group is the ongoing ministries we have had in the district for as long as I can remember. They would be the campus ministries of UND and NDSU and aid to students entering church work. The other group is those resolutions we have recently said we would support and are the mission start in Watford City, Care of Kenya Children, and mission support to Chile.

The difficulty in supporting these ongoing and mission resolutions is that congregational giving to the district has not increased enough to meet those desires. Congregational giving has been a flat line for the past 20 years.

Therefore, I am visiting congregations to encourage the support of what it is we said we are going to do as the body of Christ here in the North Dakota District. I am guessing that many of you did not know the facts I have just laid out for you. So I am asking for all of you individually to help me see that these missions are financially aided. You can each help in accomplishing this by simply starting with yourself. Look at what you gave as you have been blessed by the Lord last year and challenge yourself to add a half-percent or one-percent to it. It will help your church and in turn, look at what it is that your church gives to the district. Are they at a set amount or a percentage? I would hope that they would be at a percentage as you are. It’s called “First-fruits giving.” You are only giving a percent of the “First-fruits” of what the Lord has blessed you with and the church also could look at increasing their percentage by a half or one percent. A one-percent increase of congregational giving would cover these missions we desire to support. Or, if you have a heart for more of one mission than another, you can still give it to the church labeled for that mission. Notice, that I am not stating that you take from your general offering to the church but rather that you challenge yourself to contribute more for these missions that we said we would support.

For your information: The district, in turn, gives of the “first-fruits” (38%) from the congregations to Synod.

Tami Ulland, (the district business manager) and her daughter Haley, along with my wife Doris and I went to Chile in May. We were able to see and observe the mission there to bring to you the importance of the work they are doing there and the reason for our support.

“so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

Tami and I are looking forward to coming to your congregation to do a presentation on all of this. Ask your pastor or group to call us. For as Paul writes to the Philippians prior to what I have been quoting, 2:1-8, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This was for the forgiveness of your sins, and where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation; your life and salvation.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

ND District President

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