Return to District President

President’s Blog

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch
LCMS North Dakota District President

‘With All the Company of Heaven’

All Saints Day is one of my favorite Sundays in the Church Year because it’s about the unity of the Church Militant (us here on earth) and the ChurchTriumphant (the saints in the glory of heaven, who had faith in the One to come, the One who did come and the One who will come again). Let it be clear to you: There is only one Church and it includes a unity that exists between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.

We both gather before the throne of God to sing our endless praise for the victory Jesus has given us in His life, death, and resurrection. We do it with St. John, who in Rev. 7:12 gives us the revelation of the glory of the saints in heaven:

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

For the Church Militant, our praise ascends even though we continue to cope with the sting of death of our loved ones and eventually ourselves. This sting of death comes from original sin and the actual sins that we do in thought, word, and deed — your thoughts that shouldn’t be; your words if even said under your breath; your deeds of what you have done and haven’t.

We all have sinned and deserve eternal death from the Almighty God, into the fires of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It would be good that we keep this in mind. For death, at any age, should never be a surprise to us. If it is, maybe you do not understand death. As Scripture clearly says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). And yet we praise God because our Lord Jesus identifies with and connects Himself to our grief in the face of death — our death and the death of those we love when He came in flesh to die. “Death was swallowed up in victory” as He rose from the grave. Because of this victory, we have a unity that exists between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.

In Revelation, God comes to John with visions, and at the core of those visions is the central theme: “God wins!” Sin, death, and the devil are defeated! The Church reigns triumphant, and she enjoys an eternity with Christ, who loved His body, the Church, unto death, even death on a cross.

In Revelation 7, John gives us a glimpse of that eternal glory that is ours in Christ. Listen to it carefully and picture the one you loved who has died and is now enjoying the victory that is theirs in Christ:

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ‘Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” —Rev. 7:14-17

Even as God dries the tears of those in the Church Triumphant, so He dries our tears as well. Grieve not, my friends, for those whom you knew, for they now see “face to face what we can only know dimly, as in a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12). God wins!

“Death is swallowed up in victory!” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. — 1 Cor. 15:55-57

As you wait for that great reunion day, when those separated in death are joined before the throne of the Lamb, take comfort too in the unity of the Church Militant with the Church Triumphant.

When serving a parish, I remember a woman who lost her husband in death. As you would expect, she grieved tremendously over her loss, and I noticed that she wasn’t coming to communion. I went to her and asked why. She expressed her sorrow of going to the Lord’s Table alone. I, of course, had no magical remedy for taking away her pain. So I spoke of the resurrection and the life of the world yet to come. She, of course, was comforted by that promise. Still, she said, “Pastor, I’m grateful that my husband is in heaven and at peace.” The problem is, “I want him here with me!” Such is the pain of sin and death.

I believe firmly what is confessed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, namely that we, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven laud and magnify the Lord’s glorious name.” So I said to this grieving woman, “When you come here to this communion rail, God unites you with your husband in a way that your eyes cannot see. As surely as your neighbor kneels beside you at the rail, so your husband joins you in the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood from the other side of the communion rail; you from the Church Militant, he from the Church Triumphant.” Oh, that our eyes could see the true unity of the Church expressed so beautifully at the Lamb’s High Feast.

So take comfort, my friends, in that unity that you have with your loved ones who have gone before you in Christ. For they, like the rest of the Church, join in that endless song of praise to Christ who loved them unto death, even death on a cross.

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Convention Postponed

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” -James 4:13-15

Visiting with the district vice-presidents, Rev. Kirk Peters (first vice-president) and Rev. Steve Schulz (second vice-president), about this Scripture reading from James and tying it in with the convention being postponed, Pastor Schulz wrote, and I quote: As you know, the children of God live with a dilemma (even when planning district conventions!): On the one hand, we need to live as though we will die tomorrow or that Judgment Day will come tomorrow. On the other hand, since the Lord may not come for centuries, we need to plan and work on the assumption that we will live a long time yet and that our congregations and districts must survive for centuries. James is presenting here only one side of that dilemma. He is not condemning long-range planning committees (or saving for retirement). What he is condemning is ignoring the fact that our Lord has the final word on all the decisions that we make — including the district convention. God is displeased with the boasting and bragging about what people think they are going to do. He alone knows the future, and he alone governs the present.

Our North Dakota District Convention was to be held Jan. 24-27, so I thought it would be good for me to explain why it is not happening at this time and when and how it may go from here.

First of all, there were some concerns the North Dakota District Board of Directors had regarding the restrictions that would or could be in place in Fargo at the time of which we were to have the convention. For instance, we were planning on having the opening service at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fargo. Due to present restrictions on gathering sizes in the church, we would not have been able to have service with all of the delegates in the church. Next, we were not sure how or if the hotel convention center would be able to hold and serve the convention due to the restrictions imposed on them.

Also, I received concerns from individuals in the district, such as:

  • With Fargo having restrictions on the size of gatherings, doesn’t the Fourth Commandment compel us to follow the city’s governing guidelines where we will meet?
  • How will the reputation of the North Dakota District be portrayed statewide if we ignore the safety recommendations and gather anyway?
  • Recognizing that the longer we put off a decision, the cost of canceling the venue could rise as we get closer to January, why are we waiting?
  • How will we explain ourselves to our own congregations if we go forward and some delegates get the coronavirus and possibly even die?
  • How many delegates are at high risk?

I was in a Zoom meeting with the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) in November. The COP is comprised of the district president from each district, the LCMS vice-presidents, and LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison. We had an extended discussion about the district convention schedule for 2021. First, let it be known that it is not up to the COP to postpone district conventions, but some district presidents were unsure if their convention could convene at all this year. The COP voted unanimously to encourage President Harrison to put before congregations a proposal to delay the 2022 Synod convention a year to 2023, extending the window for district conventions to include the calendar year 2022. The vote, which requires the participation of at least one-quarter of the Synod’s congregations, will conclude on Feb. 15.

Therefore, because of the unanimous vote of the COP to extend the 2021 district convention cycle because of COVID-19, and because our district convention was scheduled to be held before the conclusion of the congregational vote, I postponed our 2021 district convention to January 2022. This means that all elected officials will remain in office to continue the district’s work for one extra year. Term limits will not be affected. District conventions and the LCMS convention will still be held every three years, with this triennium having four years instead of three.

I thank all of you who have made overtures, chose delegates, and planned on being at convention. We will begin the process all over again in March 2021 for the January 2022 convention. If you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to contact me.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Why is it a Merry Christmas?

To answer that, first of all, I want you to remember that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. They had it all—perfect bodies, perfect minds, a perfect place to live; no sickness, no hurt of body or mind, no war, no worry regarding their next meal. No abuse of any sort is to be found—self-inflicted or from others. Best of all, they were in perfect harmony with each other and, especially with God!

And then, Adam and Eve, in their foolishness, traded all the good, all the perfection, and all the pure joy and contentment they had been given. They traded it all for a lie! They bought into Satan’s promise that they could be like God; actually, they thought that they could be God themselves. They need only do the one thing God had forbidden them to do; to eat fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And, of course, they did just that. They fell into sin and lost everything they had been handed on a silver platter, their perfect place, their joy, and their contentment in being in perfect harmony with each other and with their Creator. All of that was gone!

And yet, “In the cool of the day…” God comes searching for Adam and Eve after they had broken faith with Him and fallen into temptation. Pathetically, on their own, they try to undo the horror that they had unleashed on the world. They try to hide their nakedness in sin. They even try to hide themselves from God! But rather than kill them on the spot for their betrayal of His love and good gifts, God promises to send a Savior, a Redeemer, who would make right what they had made wrong. God promised a Savior when He said to Satan in Genesis 3:15 (and Adam and Eve were present to hear):

“I will put enmity (conflict) between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” This Coming One would restore everything that they had thrown away by their willful sin.

Since then, Adam and Eve’s sons and daughters had to live with the consequences of their first parents’ sin. Sickness (COVID-19), war, frail bodies, abuse of all sorts—self-inflicted and that from others—now are to be found everywhere. Those descendants—every man, woman, and child—not only must live in the sin-fallen world that their parents created, but they also contribute to it, very often eagerly and willingly!

Yet, God, in His love and mercy, does not abandon His children. He provides for their earthly needs, even giving them “the promised land” of heaven for eternity that they can call their own until they are fully redeemed from their sin and free from this fallen world.

Still, in the face of God’s continued promise and provision of their earthly needs, His people find false gods to follow time and time again, from generation to generation. Although there is no real and lasting peace, joy, or contentment to be found in such things as money, material possessions, illicit sex or drugs, or earthly power and prestige, God’s beloved children remain hell-bent on pursuing them.

All of these things rightly ought to give God even more cause to abandon His people to their sin. He could let us go merrily on our pigheaded, self-destructive path away from Him, and His promises, and His love!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

“Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!”

“Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!” is the Convention Theme for the North Dakota District Convention this coming January 24-27, 2021, in Fargo, ND. This is from Philippians 4:4ff.

Now you may ask, “How is it possible to “Rejoice in the Lord always?” For, it is easy to rejoice when things are going well in life; but what if things are not going so well?”

Luther writes from his “Fourth Sunday in Advent Sermon”: “Joy is the natural fruit of faith….Until the heart believes in God, it is impossible for it to rejoice in Him. When faith is lacking, man is filled with fear and gloom and is disposed to flee at the very mention, the mere thought of God. Indeed, the unbelieving heart is filled with enmity and hatred against God. Conscious of its own guilt, it has no confidence in His gracious mercy; it knows God is an enemy to sin and will terribly punish the same. Since there exists in the heart these two things—a consciousness of sin and a perception of God’s chastisement—the heart must ever be depressed, faint, or even terrified. It must be continually apprehensive that God stands behind ready to chastise….It must be the just and the righteous who are to rejoice in the Lord. This text, therefore, is written, not for the sinner, but for the saint. First, we must tell sinners how they can be liberated from their sins and perceive a merciful God. When they have been released from the power of an evil conscience, joy will result naturally.”

In other words, to know that sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ, your Savior, and knowing that where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation, you can rejoice always! Even when there is no gold or silver, eating or drinking, strength or health, skill or wisdom, power, or honor, there is rejoicing. These are and can be temporal things to rejoice in, but they are far from the eternal rejoicing that is yours already.

Part of that rejoicing is demonstrated in our churches’ great hymnody. Our hymns tell of life’s problems and how the Lord takes us through them. And then most hymns place us in heaven. In my study of the hymnody of our Lutheran Service Book hymnal, which will be a presentation at the District Convention (which you may come and hear), I have discovered that over 50% of our hymns place you in heaven on the last or second to the last verse. Very often, if heaven isn’t mentioned in the last verse, it is mentioned in the second verse when the doxology (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is in the last verse.

So St. Paul tells us to “rejoice” always. Not just part of the time when things are going well, but at all times. For instance, when St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 8:35ff.,

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So even though at Thanksgiving, we are usually very verbal in thanksgiving to God for all the blessings of this life, we can especially be thankful for the blessing of eternal life in Christ.

In my devotion this morning, I read a writing from Benedict of Nursia that seems to fit well here: “’I will sing praise to You in the sight of angels’ (Psalm 138:1). Therefore, let us consider how it benefits us to behave in the sight of God and His angels, and let us then stand to sing, that our minds may be in harmony with our voices.”

Again, I end this and quote Luther, “Thus rejoicing, even if we should sometimes fall into sin, our joy in God will exceed our sorrow in sin. The natural accompaniment of sin truly is fear and a burdened conscience, and we cannot always escape sin. Therefore we should let joy have rule, let Christ be greater than our sins. John says (1 John 2:1-2): “If man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; He is the propitiation for our sins.” Again (1 John 3:20): “Because if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.”

This is why St. Paul writes, and we can “Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!”

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Christian Voting

If you are like me, you are tired of hearing about the Presidential Election coming up. It is in the newspapers, mailings, TV commercials, radio, social media, and talk among us; and now I am going to comment on voting also. Sorry, kind of!!

Because it is the time of Presidential Elections, it is only right and salutary for a Christian to consider God’s Word. Let’s start with Matthew 22:21: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Here we have the basis for the understanding of the two kingdoms, sometimes mentioned as the kingdom of the left and the kingdom of the right or the physical kingdom (left) and the spiritual kingdom (right)! The physical kingdom is the world in which we live, and the spiritual kingdom is our eternity already now and into all eternity.

We do draw a line between these two kingdoms! A Christian does participate in the kingdom of the world! Along with that, there is the eternal kingdom, which gives us guidance on what is right and wrong.

Such as, it can easily be said that Christians are supposed to love their neighbor. That is what Jesus summed up in the law of God as love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Earthly life is about loving your neighbor. Because of Jesus and what He has done, we are set right with God. We do not need to worry about doing anything more to please God. But God has put us in this world to serve our neighbor by showing real love to them. This does not just mean talking about Jesus with them, but doing the earthy things too, like taking care of their person and property. This means that we help them in times of need, and we are there for them when the reality of the fallen world sends its suffering on them.

The election season is upon us, and it is very common at this point to be weighing out the issues and candidates and seeing which ones we would vote for that would line our pockets. But is that all a Christian should be doing when considering which candidate to vote? Certainly not, because a Christian lives this life to serve his/her neighbor. That goes for voting as well. Which candidate has the best policy towards helping my neighbor? That has more importance for Christians than our pocket lining and wants.

All of this may cause you to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is everyone, from the unborn to the elderly in our nursing homes. From the womb to the tomb, these people are our neighbors. How can I vote to serve that neighbor best?

The economy has always been an important issue for all of us. We can look at policies and promises made by the candidates and judge which one is going to serve us best, but what about our neighbor?

You see, an issue at hand is that of human life. Human life begins in the womb at conception. That is the truth that the Bible teaches and medical science supports. This means that in consideration of how to vote, we need to consider these unborn children as our neighbors. How best can our vote help them? Indeed, if I were to vote for a candidate who does not protect the children in the womb or soon after its birth but seeks to kill them, I would be doing evil to my neighbor. Actively seeking or even allowing death for the neighbor is not love. That also goes for those at the other end of life. Christians vote out of love for their neighbor.

For, life is the first need that we have. Without life, we cannot really have any other needs. We would not have to be concerned about the economy if we didn’t first have life. We wouldn’t have to worry about wars if we didn’t first have life. Not to minimize other issues, they certainly have importance for our neighbors too. Still, every other issue builds upon this first need, the need for life. Without life and the chance to be born, nothing else matters. That makes human life issues the most important issues in loving our neighbor. That means human life issues should be the main issues in our making choices for elections.

As we consider who to vote for in local, state, and national elections, let us look to the needs of our neighbor. Their first need is life, and we must seek to guarantee that for all of our neighbors. After that first need has been met, we can look at the economy, national security, energy policy, and so forth.

Remember, you are in the kingdom of God because God has brought you in, and you are in the kingdom of man because God has put you there, as a Christian, to do His will.

That brings us to the other half of what Jesus says, “Render to God the things that are God’s.” What are the things of God? Dear Christians, you are The Things of God. He has created you. He has, by Christ Jesus’ sin-atoning death and victorious resurrection, provided an accomplished salvation in which He desires you to be His own once again. By His grace, mercy, and love, you bear the image and the inscription of God. The inscription of His cross was placed both upon your forehead and upon your heart at your Baptism. And while we are not yet standing in Paradise, and that is a future event for each one of us, we stand here in anticipation of that joyful eternity. What a blessed truth that is for which our thanks and praises are given to God! Truly, as one of His own, “you are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Again, you and I, first and foremost… are The Things of God. By His grace, mercy, and love, you bear the image and the inscription of God. Therefore, when Jesus says to render unto God the things of God, He is referring to you.

What you need to do is vote. God has placed the government over us to protect us in this earthly realm (Romans 13:4). Without government, nobody or nothing you own would be safe. Thank God that in this country, we have the privilege and right to elect those who will govern us. Christians should be voting in a God-pleasing way and not just their pocketbooks or what they want God to be. It is part of good Christian Stewardship to vote!

How should you vote, or should you vote? Answer: Vote in a God-pleasing Christian way and definitely vote!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

The Holy Trinity

Seven little children dressed in green; Tried to fly to heaven in a flying machine; The flying machine busted and all of them fell; And instead of going to heaven they all went to …; Now don’t get excited and don’t get misled; Instead of going to heaven, they all went to bed.

The meaning behind this bedtime rhyme is: Don’t try to fly up to heaven. You can’t. Don’t try to figure out God. You can’t. Don’t think that you can find God by your own spiritual powers. You can’t. God must reveal Himself to you. That is the only way you will ever know Him. God must come to you as He chooses to come. There and only there can you meet, know, trust in, love and serve Him.

We Christians worship one God in trinity and trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. The Holy Trinity is God. God is the Holy Trinity. There is no God but the Father, who has begotten the Son from eternity, and from whom the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds. There is no God but the Son, who is begotten of the Father from eternity, and from whom the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds. There is no God but the Holy Spirit, who from eternity proceeds from the Father and the Son. Yet there are not three gods; but one God.

We did not invent this God. We know that God is triune because of the clear teaching of the Holy Scriptures. We confess that God is triune in the creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian. We know that God is triune because God tells us He is in the words of Holy Scripture.

All Christians are Trinitarian. Jesus sent out the disciples with the command to teach and make disciples of all nations. How? By baptizing and teaching. Baptizing and teaching go together. When God baptizes you, He lays claim to you by putting His name upon you. We don’t choose God’s name for Him. He is our Father. We are His children. Thus, His name comes before our name. His name is who He is. As He said to Moses, “I am who I am.” Therefore, when Jesus says to His ministers that they are to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, He is saying that God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The name of God identifies God.

That God would identify Himself by name and then join His name to us means that we are His children. Holy Baptism is how God makes you His child. You are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are not baptized in the name of the Creator and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier. You are baptized in the name that God chooses; not the name that you choose. That’s because Jesus, who is God in the flesh, is the One doing the baptizing. We know this by what He says to His ministers whom He sends out.

He says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them…” — Matt. 28:18-20

Jesus is laying claim to all authority as He is sending out His disciples to baptize and to teach. This means that when Christ’s ministers baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Christ is the one who is doing it. Ministers do what they do by His authority, and He has all authority in heaven and on earth. You see, God baptized you. And yes, it is true that He used the hands and the voice of a man; but it was God who did the baptizing.

Sometimes I hear people say I was baptized Lutheran, or I was baptized Catholic, or I was baptized Methodist, or I was baptized Baptist. Any Christian church that baptizes in the name of the Triune God baptizes you into Christ and not into a church. A church cannot save you; only Christ can do that. You or their false understanding about Baptism does not make you baptized into a denomination. It was not a decision you made or an act that you performed that saved you.

In your baptism you are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection. Because He died you cannot. Because He lives so shall you. If you do not understand your baptism, it means nothing to you. If you do understand your baptism, it means everything to you.

I can’t figure out God and neither can you. If you have ever read or listened to Jehovah’s Witness propaganda against our Christian religion, you may have noticed how strongly they attack our belief in the Triune God. They argue that the doctrine of the Trinity is impossible to understand, whereas their god is easy to understand. Perhaps that’s a reasonable argument, but it’s a false one.

We Christians don’t claim that you must be smart to be a Christian or to know God. That God is three distinct persons and one divine essence is not a theological problem to be figured out by super-smart theologians. In fact, our faith in the Triune God is very simple. We look to Jesus on the cross dying for our sins, and there we see the Holy Trinity. There is the Father’s love. There is the Son’s forgiveness. There is the Spirit’s power. Three is the number of God throughout the Holy Scriptures. The word for God in the Hebrew is Eloim, which is a masculine plural noun meaning three.

St. Athanasius was a great defender of the trinity of God and the true deity and humanity of Christ. The creed that the church has named after him stands as one of the most beautiful confessions of the Christian faith ever written. (I recently heard a confirmation student, of the church I served as pastor and am still a member, recite the Anthanasian Creed for me. It was amazing).

When God shows Himself to you as He really is so that you can worship the unity in trinity and the trinity in unity, He shows you how much He loves you. He doesn’t leave it up to you to figure Him out. We can’t. When He puts His name upon you in Holy Baptism, He forgives you all your sins.

That forgiveness is not just a onetime pronouncement on the day you were baptized. It is a river of grace flowing through your entire life, keeping you pure and holy by washing you in the blood of Jesus every single day. In your baptism you claim the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as your God — and He claims you, now and forever.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

A Blessed Summer

     I pray that this summer has been a blessed one for you.  Hopefully, you have been able to get away or at least to have some quiet time away from work and the usual routine. 

     My summer has been busy because of the Lord’s blessing of my work.  I have been busy with Ordination and Installation Services throughout the state.  As of the time of this writing, all calling congregations in the process of calling a pastor have had a pastor installed or soon to be installed.  Two congregations are not in the process and are in a vacancy at this time. 

     The District has been blessed with three candidates (new pastors from the seminaries); one (Rev. Brian Doel) to Our Savior in Minot, one (Rev. Brock Schmeling) to Trinity in Great Bend and Peace in Barney, and one (Rev. Justin Woodside) to Bethel and Shepherd of the Valley in Bismarck.

     I say the Lord has blessed my work for these Divine Calls.  Do understand; I do not place these pastors; God does.  He works through His Church; you, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).  Allow me to explain: When a congregation needs a pastor, they contact the District President, who lays out the process for calling a pastor.  First, the congregation does a Self-Study.  This gives the District President an idea of the type of pastor that has the abilities and talents to serve that congregation best with God’s Word and the Sacraments.  What that entails is if this is a small congregation, a large one, or a medium-sized one.  Is the congregation rural or small town or larger city?  The pastor should be comfortable serving the Lord’s people where they are.  A pastor who is from New York City may not adapt well to rural North Dakota.  Also, from the Self-Study, it can be determined if the congregation would be a congregation that can have patience with a candidate (new pastor) right out of the seminary.  New pastors are often eager to do many things that the congregation is not quite ready to attempt.  Also, new pastors will make mistakes (they are human), and the congregation needs to be willing and able to forgive and move on with the minister and ministry. 

     When a congregation calls a pastor from the field (one who already has a call to another congregation), they call from a list the District President has put together. This list is put together by looking at the congregation’s Self-Study and looking at the pastor’s PIF [Pastor Information Form] and SETs [Self Evaluation Tool] (resumes).  After the congregation looks at and studies these PIF and SETs of the different pastors, they choose one by a majority vote to be their new pastor elect.  Then the congregation has a vote to make the majority vote a unanimous vote for the pastor elect.  The pastor elected is called to see if he can consider a call.  For, he may have some things going on in his present call that he couldn’t possibly consider a call somewhere else at this time.  If he cannot consider a call, then the congregation goes back to the list of pastors and does that procedure again.  If the pastor can consider a call, then he is sent the call documents, which include information about the congregation and the area that he is asked to serve.  The pastor then prays if this is God’s will for him and considers if he has the abilities to fulfill that call.  He then either accepts the call or declines it.  This may all seem a little complicated, but it shows how God is working through the Church (you) and through the pastors; thus, it is a Divine Call.

     Therefore, since this is God placing the pastor in the church to proclaim His Word and administer His Sacraments to His people in that place at this time, it is not a hire and fire mentality.  God has placed this man to serve His people in that place for a specific reason, and that reason may not be evident to many. 

     I knew an elderly wise man (who is now with the Lord) who said that they once had a pastor that not many if any cared for in the congregation, but he loved him.  That love was because this pastor was able to bring his father into the church, to be baptized, and then he became active in the church.  That pastor was maybe there to do the Lord’s work to bring that one soul to be saved.  There was another congregation who said their pastor had good sermons and good Bible studies, but he was quirky, so they wanted him to resign.  I mention these two illustrations because; the important thing is that the pastor is faithful with preaching God’s Word in all its truth and purity in both Law and Gospel. 

     Pastors are humans with personalities that make them unique, like every other child of God.  Again, the important part is that they preach and teach all of God’s Word, which can be hard at times in a society that wants things different than what God has given to us.

     Remember, it is God’s Word that has brought you to faith, kept you in faith, and strengthens you in faith for all the stuff that comes to you in this valley of the shadow of death.  It is the Gospel that shines the bright light of salvation and eternal life in this world-leading you to the next. 

     So it was a busy summer but a blessed one doing the part that I do for God and for you!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Should Christians believe in the “Separation of Church and State?”

Greetings to you all,

     Due to this coronavirus, COVID-19, there have been questions and concerns on how much we should be following or allowing the state (government) to control how and when we have church and on how much we should allow the government to help the Church in times like these.

     First, let me state that the government and those in authority are a gift from God (Romans 13).  Next, that we do give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes to provide and protect us in times like these) and unto God what is God’s (Matthew 22:21).  So, in this time, we have obeyed government officials who have stated how to do things for our safety and the safety of the nation.  Because the people of the church pay taxes and the government wants to help with money to keep the churches open, there is no biblical reason to not work with the government.

     In other words, a simple “yes” or “no” answer cannot accurately state the Biblical teaching on the relationship between the Church and the State.  I’ve been doing some reading and studying on this “Separation of Church and State” and have concluded that a better term than “Separation” would be the word “Distinction.”  

     For, if there is a “separation,” how does St. Paul say that civil authorities are “instituted by God” (Romans 13:1)?  If there is NO “separation,” why does Jesus say, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21)?  With the term “distinction” rather than “separation,” one can understand that God has authority over all things, physical and spiritual.  Church and State are both areas of God’s authority, but that authority is given to two different people, for various purposes, and using different tools.

     Therefore, in both Church and State, God is the ultimate authority.  It is, therefore, wrong to understand “separation” in such a way that God’s authority is confined to the Church and can have no power over the State.    The “separation” phrase is commonly used by those who want to exclude all “religious” talk, activity, or compulsion from government functions.  But, no government has the right to force on its citizens those things that are a sin against God.  If they do, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

     Although God rules both, there is a clear distinction between Church and State.  It is also wrong to deny “separation” to such an extent that Church and State are one and the same.  This is known as “theocracy” (literally, “rule by God”), in which the rulers of the Church also rule the State, or vice versa.  Luther was against the Pope’s claim that he had authority over the Church and the State. 

     So let’s focus on the “DISTINCTION” between Church and State.  The State is ruled by the “Power of the Sword” (Romans 13:1-7).  The State exists in the physical realm of this world to maintain justice and peace and an order in society to defend lives and livelihoods from enemies within and from outside.

     The Church is ruled by the “Power of the Word.”   The Church is not an institution of the Law but of the Gospel.  God’s “justice” is carried out not by punishing the evildoer, but by the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross instead of sinful man.  God creates and sustains His Church not by force but by the Word of God, which is “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” preached in the name of Christ to all nations.  The Church cannot force compliance with the Ten Commandments or with other laws, but proclaims the Word of God and trusts the Holy Spirit to work on the hearts and minds of the hearers.

     In conclusion, there is a “distinction” between Church and State, and yet Christians are both simultaneously and without contradiction members of the Christ’s Church and citizens of the State.  As members of the Church, Christians are bound to the Word of God as the source and norm of life and doctrine.  As citizens of the State, Christians are free to exercise all the rights and freedoms and responsibilities of the State.  Remember the “DISTINCTIONS” between the Church and the State and remember the “DISTINCTIONS” between your vocation as a member of the Church and a citizen of the State and know that God rules over both.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Do Not Neglect Meeting Together

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:23-25

Grace and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ,

Over the years, I have often heard the suggestion or asked why that in this day and age of technology, we can’t or shouldn’t have virtual or satellite church services for the small congregations or those who cannot afford a fulltime pastor? Now, with this coronavirus threat so that we have not been able to gather together in church services but have had to have what I call “Couch Church,” I am hearing many saying, “I am so done with this stay at home church.  I need to get out and be with people.  I need to go to church with other Christians.”

Understandably, for this short time, this “Couch Church” was a blessing and a good way to remain in the Word.  Think how blest we are in this day and age to have been able to do this, whereas not that many years ago this wasn’t a possibility. 

For myself, “Couch Church” in my home makes for too many distractions.  Such as, for three Sundays in a row, a squirrel (who became known as the Sunday morning squirrel) would be jumping from tree to tree outside of the living room window.  This was a great distraction for me because I call them “tree rats” for reasons I will not get into now.   This was a distraction from the devil to lure me away from God’s Word.

Many years ago, there was a show on TV that was called “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”  On that show, they would show the different animals of the world. I always remembered the herds of animals in those shows congregated together with lions and tigers roaming around the perimeter of those herds. Those predators were waiting for one of the herd to wander from the protection of the herd to devour them.  Sometimes, some of the herd members would come to the rescue to save the one who had wondered; other times, the lions or tigers would win and devour the Wanderer.

All of this reminds me of God’s Word and warning in 1 Peter 5:8-11,

“Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself, restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To Him be the dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”

Now, back to the “Wild kingdom”: As the animals’ graze, they make sure they are “assembled” or “congregated” together. They congregate together for protection from the lions and tigers that stray.  Similarly, this happens with Christians.  The apostle Peter was well aware of how the devil works when he used the image of the lion: “Be alert…the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

In His Word, God warns you that the devil is always prowling around not far from you, waiting for the time when you will stray from the congregation of believers. For this reason, your loving Father desires that you remain congregating together in a Christian congregation that assembles regularly.  In the assembly, you will receive God’s protection with His life-giving Word and Sacraments and the tight congregating of other members who will watch if you wander from the body of Christ in sin and the luring of false theology.

You see, when you regularly congregate together with other worshipers, you will experience their love and concern for you in the same way that congregating with them you show your love and concern for them.  Although God desires that you love all people, He wants you to show special love to fellow members of a local congregation.  As we hear from Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”  And from Romans 15:2, Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”  And from 1 Corinthians 14:26, “When you assemble, let all things be done for edification.”  And from Ephesians 4:12, to the building up of the body of Christ.”  Again, as we congregate together with others in the Body of Christ, the Church, we protect each other.

In Jude 22-23, we read how Christians are urged to uphold the doubting and bring back to faith, into the body, the congregation, those who are straying. The protection from the devil which God provides through His congregation is one of the most important things for you.  Let us not neglect to meet together!

We pray, Dear Lord Jesus, continually remind us that where two or three are gathered in Your name that You are present.  Help us always to be aware of the spiritual food we receive from Your Word and Sacraments and the fellowship with others that encourages and looks out for us. Strengthen us to stay together with a congregation that is protected by You.  In Your name we pray.  Amen.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Screen Shot 2019-09-17 at 3.12.43 PM.png

“The people of Israel brought a voluntary offering to the LORD.  Every man and woman whose heart was willing contributed to all the work which the LORD had commanded Moses to do.”

Exodus 35:29

 The North Dakota District is adopting a new model for funding the missions of the District. This model was first implemented in the English District in June 2018 and commended to all Districts by the Synod in Convention of July 2019.

1-1-1 Logo.jpeg

EVERY BAPTIZED MEMBER of the Body of Christ in your congregation, from the newest baby baptized to the oldest member, is involved.

1 Dollar – 1 Baptized Member – 1 Week, every week.

It demonstrates the power of the body of Christ working together within our own North Dakota District, prompted by faith.  It shows how much can be accomplished by many, giving little.

That is $20,163 for Missions every week!  That is $1,048,476 for Missions every year!

Think of the Possibilities: Over one million dollars to share the love of God in Christ Jesus with the people of North Dakota and the world.  This giving would be in addition to congregation’s regular offerings to the District, but would not be included in the tithe to Synod. 

Think of the Possibilities – 

  • Christ Care for Children/Kenya = $10,000 per year
  • Iglesia Luterana de Chile = $25,000 per year
  • Church Work Student Aid = (estimate) $41,500 per year
  • Youth Ministry = $7,000 per year
  • Main Street Living = $2,000 per year
  • Deaf Ministry = $5,000 per year
  • Life Skills and Transition Center = $13,200 per year
  • Wittenberg Lutheran Chapel = $109, 530 per year
Screen Shot 2019-09-17 at 3.20.01 PM.png

All these missions of the District fully funded would cost $213,230 per year!

Even if only 1/3 of all baptized members participate, that is still $349,491 per year!

That leaves $136,261 for further mission work!

It is entirely voluntary, but we believe that as God’s people see and hear what is being accomplished specifically and directly in support of existing missions and development of new missions, more and more of us will want to be involved.

This funding model is based on the belief that “there is power and strength in many giving a little.” Loving our neighbor includes caring for their spiritual well-being. This is why the need exists for God’s people to come together in support of missions that are bearing kingdom fruit.

God’s generosity is not lacking! The gifts are there. Where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity and the Sacraments are administered according to their institution by Christ, there are ample resources to do this ministry.

Q & A:

Is this $1 included in the members’ regular stewardship giving?  No.  This is $1 extra given every week.  Please do not subtract a dollar from anywhere else.

Can an individual’s offering for 1-1-1 be made in a periodic lump sum?  I encourage participating individuals to utilize the dollar a week theme and action when they donate.  A single check for $52 in lieu of a dollar each week is not in line with one of our stated outcomes, which is to support a mission and stewardship lifestyle in us and our children and our grandchildren: “The power and strength of many giving a little.”

Are these extra dollars for missions used in the local congregation?  No.  The purpose of this model is to gather dollars for missions outside of the local congregation or community.  They are intended for the missions that the District has been asked to support by you the members.

Why are baptized children also included and not just communicant members?  They are members of the body of Christ.  Their parents or grandparents can give the dollar for them.  This model incorporates the whole body of Christ working together.  Letting young children put their dollar in the 1-1-1 collection box (if you can’t find it ask your pastor where it is) teaches them from an early age to be involved in the support of missions.

How can our congregation obtain more information about a specific mission 1-1-1 is funding?  Please check the District Website ( or contact me at ( and I would be more than happy to visit and present the missions and 1-1-1.

May the Lord bless this effort and work,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Fear and Anxiety

Grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

     Hopefully, by the time you are reading this, the fears and anxiety of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) have passed or at least plateaued.  As I am writing this in March, there is much unforeseen or unknown about how serious or how many people will be infected by this and how it will affect our lives.  What is known and seen right now is that many are living in fear and anxiety about the possibility of the shortage of food and other necessities if there is a quarantine.  Due to that fear, many have begun to hoard items in anxiety about what may be coming. 

     Many grocery store shelves are empty of hand sanitizers, toilet paper, paper goods, meat, eggs, and bread.  Now some of this sudden abundance of purchasing may be due to the request of people to not go out into the public, such as restaurants.  Therefore, many who maybe did not prepare meals or many meals in the past at home had to start doing so.  Thus, you suddenly had a demand for food from the grocery stores rather than the restaurants.  Also, due to the supposed high level of contagiousness of the virus, a lot of hand sanitizers and hand soaps were on-demand, and shelves are empty.  And then, of course, the first thing to have empty shelves was toilet paper.  Now with toilet paper, there should not have had to be an excessive need for more toilet paper.  So, therefore, I conclude that there was hoarding going on of toilet paper.  All of this reminds me of the Hebrews when they were set free from Egyptian slavery and lived in the wilderness (Exodus 16ff.). 

     In the wilderness, they were being tested if they would trust God and follow Him.  They complained about food, and God sent them food; bread (mana) from heaven.  They were to gather enough for each day and only for that day, and on the sixth day, they were to gather enough for that day and the seventh day.  They were not to gather more than they needed.  Of course, they tried to hoard, and the leftovers bred worms and stank.  They even tried to go out and gather more on the Sabbath, the day they were to rest.  

     In many ways, our lives could also be likened to them in the desert.  We may have had enough food for a week or two to be quarantined due to the pandemic but decided that we needed to stockpile more.  Now we should plan, for God does expect and bless good planning (Matthew 25:1-13).  And yet, we shouldn’t hoard so that others won’t have what they need also.  Understandably, sometimes we may hoard because others are hoarding, and we fear for our livelihood.  However, God wants you to build your plans on Jesus’ words:

“Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

(Matthew 6:25-34)

These words of promise will enable you to say, no matter what you experience in life,

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

(Job 1:21)

     Hopefully, you have seen how God blesses you through worries, anxieties, and afflictions so that you will turn to Him for help each day.  Luther explains how daily dependence on God exercises and strengthens your faith:

“The exercises of faith are necessary for the godly; for without them their faith would grow weak and lukewarm, yes, would eventually be extinguished.  But from this source they assuredly learn what faith is; and when they have been tried, they grow in the knowledge of the Son of God and become strong and firm that they can rejoice and glory in misfortunes no less than in the days of prosperity and can regard any trial at all as nothing more than a little cloud or a fog that vanishes forthwith.”

(Luther’s Works, vol. 5, p.56)

     Sometimes things come along and happen in our life for the benefit of others.  I think of Joseph (Genesis 45-47), who was sold into slavery by his brothers.  It was meant for evil by his brothers, but God meant it for good, so that many would be saved.  Time may tell what God meant for good from this pandemic.

     Maybe at this time of your reading, the COVID-19 virus is still an ongoing concern and even a pain in the butt because of the hoarding of toilet paper.  At least it is not a “thorn” in the butt!  In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, St. Paul acknowledges that God gave him a “thorn” in the flesh!  For Paul, this thorn was an ongoing and painful affliction that God would not remove.  “I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me,” Paul says.  But God did not remove it from him.  It was to keep Paul from becoming conceited.  That is, to keep him humble.  

     Martin Luther writes: “For the divine promises are not given to make us smug; but as St. Paul says in another place: ‘A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, to harass me’ (2 Corinthians 12:7).  Why?  Lest the magnitude of the gifts of the grace and mercy of God elate me.’  Therefore God sends wrestling, trials, and struggles in order that from day to day, we may understand and cling to the promises of God more clearly and certainly….Therefore [we] must be disciplined [by any thorn in the flesh], in order that [we] may retain faith, hope, and the expectation of the promises” (Luther’s Works, vol. 5, p. 255).

     Let us not be weary, fearful, or anxious about this thorn of the COVID-19 virus, but rather remember St. Paul’s words:

“God has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

     Through all of this, I pray you have been and are continuing to be fed with God’s Word to remember your Baptism as God’s dear child connected to Christ’s death and resurrection so that no matter what may come in this life you may endure “the thorns in the flesh” whatever they have been, are still, or are to come assured of the forgiveness of sins and therefore eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch 

LCMS North Dakota District President

The Season of Lent

Greetings to you in this Lenten Season,

     Yes, it is the season of Lent; Lent is a penitential season.  Meaning, Lent is a time of the church year before Easter in which we look at the reason for Christ Jesus to have gone to the cross.  It was because of our sin, not only everybody else’s sin but my personal sin.  Thus it is a season of penitence because Jesus had to die to make payment for sin.  Sin had to be paid for in order for you to receive life and salvation.  This is what Jesus has done for you.

     Thus, the reason that the season is more somber, and there is a bigger emphasis on Confession and Absolution!

     First off, confession is what Christians do.  We confess our sins and hear from God that our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ. 

     Confession and Absolution is one of the first things that we do every Sunday in the church service.  For, from God’s Word, we understand and confess our sins because we know that we are born with sin and therefore have a sinful nature.  Psalm 51:1-5 states:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.   Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” 

     From Romans 5:10, we hear that “we were God’s enemies.”  We are enemies because, since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, all humans are born with sin.  That is why we die, “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  That is why even babies die.  And so, we confess, from God’s Word, that we are sinners who deserve to die.  For, as we say in the liturgy from 1 John 1:8-10,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

     In the Absolution, we hear from 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”   He made payment for our sin so that we are no longer in our sin.  Therefore, we are able to approach God.  Before our confession and absolution, we are unable to approach God because in our sin we cannot be in the presence of God.  Holiness and sin cannot be together.

     Now that we understand that we are sinners and that Christ Jesus has made payment for and removed our sin, how is it that we receive this forgiveness, absolution?  In John 20:22-23, we understand that God does this through those who are called to proclaim this to us.  “Jesus said, (to the disciples before He ascends into heaven)‘‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  Many are surprised today to hear that Jesus has given His church on earth the power and authority to forgive and retain sins.

     In Matthew 16:19, we read, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”  From Luther’s Small Catechism we confess, teach, and believe that Jesus calls this authority His “KEYS.”  Jesus’ keys can be briefly described as “the peculiar power which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of the penitent sinners, but to retain the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent.” 

     Jesus has given to each congregation these keys and the congregation uses these keys, working through the pastor, the authority to forgive your sins, to open the door of heaven, and to retain sins, to close the door of heaven to those who refuse to repent.

     In other words, Jesus has authorized pastors to announce the forgiveness of sins that He earned through His bloody death on the cross.  They are the vessel, the tool, or the instrument through which God speaks to you.  This is known as the absolution.

     The absolution is not simply talking about God’s Gospel of peace, pardon, and forgiveness; it is the announcing of God’s peace, pardon, and forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Maybe this example will help you understand this better: Let’s say you are sitting in prison for a crime that deserves death.  While you are waiting for your death to happen, you hear much talk about your pardon, forgiveness, and freedom.  This is fine to talk about and to hope for.  But until you hear the warden or governor say, “You are pardoned,” will you experience the joy of the pardon?  No!  So it is when you hear from the pastor, as from God Himself, that your sins are forgiven and you will not die but you will live.  This is just as valid here on earth as in heaven. 

     God could have done this pardoning many different ways: Sending angels, putting the message right into your heart, calling all people to Himself, or proclaiming it with a loud voice from heaven.  Instead, He uses men.  That is why Jesus said to his disciples, ‘‘the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38)

     After that, He said, “Go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8).  As they were able to heal and cleanse in Jesus’ name, so they were able to forgive sins in Jesus’ name. 

     God has used the church with the “KEYS” to open or shut heaven for you.  The church calls pastors to announce that your sins are forgiven, and they are forgiven!

     May this understanding create an urge to hear the forgiveness of your sins every week!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch 

LCMS North Dakota District President

Dual Membership?

     Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

     Living here in the great north country of North Dakota, we have a lot of members of our churches who travel south for the winter (known as Snow Birds).  Occasionally, I have pastors and or congregations ask me about dual membership.  Here is how I would answer that type of thinking or the actuality of it:

     First, understandably, sometimes, when people have two different homes in two different areas of the country, they faithfully attend two different churches (this is good to be in Word and Sacrament).  Or if you are a snowbird that travels south in the winter and back north in the summer, you faithfully attend two different churches (and this is good that you are in Word and Sacrament) and you may feel that you belong to two different churches.  Some consider this “Dual Membership.”

     Here is a scenario that happened when I was a pastor of a congregation: A church secretary from another church misunderstood the pastor’s directions to her, and she sends the membership of the person (with the birth date, baptismal date, confirmation date, etc.; who already was a member of the congregation I was called to by God) instead of asking for her membership to be sent to them.  Are you confused, so was I.  How is it that a member of one congregation is listed by another congregation with all of their information?  It is called “Dual Membership.”  (I didn’t have to look up or send their information; because they already had it.)

     There is no such thing as a “Dual Membership.”  You can only belong to one body at a time.  Either you are a member of one congregation, or you are a member of another congregation.  And God forbid that it would be in another church body with a different confession of faith.  For here, as you can only be a member of one congregation, you can only have one confession of faith of one denomination. 

     St. Paul writes to the Corinthian Church, in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13,

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.  So it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” 

You see, whatever part of the body that you are, you cannot function that function in another body.  Think about it: You can only be one heart in one body.  You can only be one liver in one body.  You can only be one tongue in one body and so forth.  Now from the text from above, one could venture to say that baptized into Christ, we are all of the one body in all of Christendom.  In a sense and in a degree, we are, by faith.  As was the case in Acts 11:27-30:

“During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch.  One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world.  (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)  The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea.  This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.”  

We see here that the greater church, Christendom, was helping each other from different regions or churches.  But yet they each belonged to a smaller body of the whole and each was a body member of one of the body parts of the whole of Christendom. 

     Such as: You are a member of the body of (fill in the name) Lutheran Church, (fill in the town or address) North Dakota of which Christ is its head.  That Lutheran church is a member of the body of the LCMS North Dakota District, of which Christ is its head.  The North Dakota District is a member of the National LCMS of which Christ is its head.

     Maybe a different way to understand the importance or understanding of belonging only to one church at a time is the sad thing of: What if there needs to be church discipline?  If a member is or needs to be under church discipline for unrepentant sin, it can only be done by one congregation.  And when one body of the church does discipline the whole body acknowledges it and respects it.  

     Therefore, you can only be a member of one church at a time.  You can belong to the larger denomination and receive its blessings as you travel or winter or summer in different areas of the country; but you do not hold a “Dual Membership.” 

     For a better understanding of all of this, please read 1 Corinthians 12.  Yes, the whole chapter!

     I close with 1 Corinthians 12:27:

“You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Not a Plastic Jesus

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Epiphany to you!

     For any of you who have been to the District Office in Minot (my home, where the office is) between Thanksgiving and Epiphany (January 6), you would have seen this plastic manger scene visible from the open hayloft door of the barn at my place.  I simply open the hayloft door and there it is.  You know the kind of manger scene I am talking about; about third-life size, brightly colored, illuminated at night, and all with the lifelike joy of a department store mannequin.  The set includes a sheep and a cow, Mary and Joseph (no Wise Men) and all are focused on the baby Jesus with dead plastic eyes.  A star is in the peak of the barn with rays shining down on each side of the scene.  These plastic figures are so light that they have to be screwed down to keep the wind from blowing them away.

First, I mention this because the Christmas season in the Church Year first begins on the 25th of Christmas and ends on January 6. Thus the 12 days of Christmas. In my opening, I said Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Epiphany to you! That is because these are all significant days in the 12 days of the Christmas Season in the Church Year. Christmas, of course, is the birth of Jesus. New Year’s Day is the Circumcision of Our Lord and Epiphany is the season of light as the wise men are led by the light of a star to locate the Promised Savior to worship Him and share that Light to the world.

Society has started Christmas earlier and earlier every year with decorating and retailing. I also have lit my manger scene earlier than the actual season of Christmas in the Church. After Christmas Day, you will quickly see the Christmas decorations go dark and go away in the community and neighborhood.

Hopefully, it would cause you and others to ask, “Why is your manger scene still lit?” That allows me to share that Christmas is still here today and every day throughout the year!

Unfortunately, the Christmas celebration of the present-day thinking isn’t anything more than the plastic manger scene. As soon as any tribulation comes or crisis of the soul, any trial or suffering, the imaginary Jesus just blows away with the winds of trouble in need of our rescue. The plastic Jesus of popular thinking neither suffers nor shares life’s experiences with us poor sinners. 

The joy of Christmas Day is that the Jesus born of Mary is not a hollow plastic saint who comes to make a good scene or fine appearances. Instead, He takes our flesh and chooses to bear all its burdens and sins for our sakes. His taking our true humanity frees our humanity from the corruption caused by sin. He doesn’t need us to rescue Him, but we need Him to rescue us. 

So that we might be rescued, He was willing to be circumcised on the eighth day for us. He places Himself under the Law for us. He is real enough to undergo a bloody circumcision as a sign of His further shedding of His blood. The cross is not far from the temple of His body. But He bears the burden of the body and carries it all the way to the cross.

The joy of Epiphany is that Gentile Magi come from the East to see the promise they heard was to come for all mankind. A light of a star leads them to this promised Savior so that they may share it with their families, their friends, and their neighbors. Thankfully we have received it also through those in our past who have seen the Light of Jesus so that we may share the Light into the world.

Unfortunately, we who ought to depend on the Promise can easily lose the focus of the season, for we can easily get pulled into the plastic Jesus of the world around us. We can easily cover-up and turn off the light of our joy and celebration by leaving out Christmas and New Year and Epiphany along with the rest of the Church Year when we quickly turn to the ways of the world and our lack of being fed with God’s Word and Sacrament.

We are plagued by the weakness of the flesh, and we think that we do not need to rely on God’s Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament). We want to rely on our work into God’s good grace. But God desires us to rely on His grace. It is this relying that is the basis for our whole life and existence. Our self-generated egos keep us from relying on the work of the Savior in the flesh. We often think that “Jesus has done His part and work, and now it is up to me to prove myself worthy of receiving His benefits.” 

We do not mount up to find Him; He comes to us. He stoops down to find us amid His bloodied weakness, which begins at His birth and circumcision. He does this by taking on our human flesh of and by the Virgin Mary. He becomes visible, touchable, and audible. He becomes the one upon whom we look when He was pierced for our transgressions. He becomes the one who was susceptible to brutal treatment under rough hands that we deserved. He becomes the One who for us was nailed to the accursed tree of the cross.

In the flesh He Himself fulfills the whole Law, He becomes flesh, He undergoes circumcision and in that shedding of blood foreshadows yet more blood being shed from His own veins. That flow of blood clears us of the Law’s full penalties under the wrath of God. 

Jesus is not a plastic mannequin, for His blood was shed for your forgiveness of sins so that you would have life and salvation.  Therefore, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Epiphany!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was a light to men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:1-14

In the Beginning

Merry Christmas!  And now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about the beginning.  That may sound kind of abrupt or merry-less; especially as you may be expecting something in this issue on Christmas and now I am going to talk about the beginning.  Well, the beginning is what makes this a Merry Christmas.  Therefore, let’s get to the real meaning and joy of Christmas; starting with, “in the beginning.”

It’s no surprise to find God “in the beginning,” as we do in the first verses of the Bible in Genesis.  There it is that we see God as uncreated, infinite, and eternal.  He always has been, and He always will be.  He is without beginning and without end.  If it were any other way, He wouldn’t be God.  Everything else, everything that is not God, whether visible or invisible, is part of His creation.  For Moses says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  He made it out of nothing, spoke all creation into being with His word: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

Like Genesis, the Gospel of John starts with creation with the words “in the beginning” but offers this twist: “In the beginning was the Word.”  Prior to the creation, when there was nothing besides God, there was God’s Word.  The Word wasn’t created.  St. John puts it like this, “The Word was with God.”  The Word and God are described as two distinct persons.  Personal pronouns, such as “He” and “Him” and “His,” must be used for the Word.  He’s a divine person.  In short, “The Word was God,” uncreated, infinite, and eternal God.     Through the Word, there in the beginning with God, “all things were made.”  He was the agent by whom God spoke the entire creation into being, “like a master workman,” as it says in Proverbs 8:31.  Light and life have their beginning and source in Him.  The Word was there when the sun came into being…and snow and evergreen trees—and reindeer and Adam too.  He was there in the beginning and it was very good.

    It was very good as Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the morning.  There was a perfect communion with God.  But then Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan and communion and fellowship was broken with God.  And that brokenness was carried on through their children (you and me).  It is called original sin which causes actual sins.  To fix this brokenness God promised a Savior (Genesis 3:15) who would crush Satan’s head and renew the fellowship and communion of God’s pinnacle creation (created in His image and likeness) with Himself. 

Now, zoom through time from the beginning, until the present time, and what you find is darkness and deep gloom over the whole world.  A lot of the world in which we live doesn’t know God.  It’s spiritually ignorant and blind.  It cannot recognize its Maker, even though His imprint is still evident in the beauty and complexity and order of creation.  With a single word “darkness” John describes creation’s fall, sin, death, and hell.  The word “darkness” captures the confusion and misunderstanding and futility around us and even in us.  “Darkness” means that man can’t find God, no matter how many times he bumps into the stuff God made.  He is lost, disoriented, alienated, constantly inventing false gods and false worship to fill the void and the emptiness, serving the creation rather than the Creator.

    If the creation were to be saved, redeemed, and rescued from this darkness of sin and death, then God would have to make Himself known, point Himself out, reveal Himself to us.  God would come to the place where we are, descend to earth, enter His creation, so that we lost and condemned creatures might know Him and have communion and fellowship with Him again; as it was before sin entered into the world.

    This is what makes a Merry Christmas!  God shows up in a place where we certainly don’t expect to find Him.  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  God the Word, who was there in the beginning and participated in the creation of all things, took on a human nature like yours and mine.  The Uncreated became the created, the Infinite became limited and bound, the Eternal became subject to time.  The Word became flesh, the Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), the Child of the virgin, Immanuel, God with us, (Isaiah 7:14), Jesus Christ, true God and true man in one person. 

    The glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  He is the light of the world, the light that shines in the darkness, the light no darkness can overcome.

    This is why we have “Merry Christmas!

    The one who formed man from the dust of the ground has come with fingernails and eyebrows and kneecaps, to claim His creation.  He was born of a woman, Mary His mother, who wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger for a bed.  He was before Adam, and yet He can be found in Bethlehem as a tiny babe. 

     The One who made the forests and the mountains has come also with arms outstretched on a wooden cross raised up on a hilltop.  There the Creator of heaven and earth suffered and bled and died for His creation, you and me.  The One in whom “we live and move and have our being” was wrapped in linen and rested in a tomb, bursting forth on the third day as the first fruit of a new creation. 

    The One who made the wheat and the vine comes now in bread and wine to you.  His true body and true blood are present on the altar.  Eternal life, the light of the world, is given into your mouth and taken into your body.  He makes Himself known to you with forgiveness, life, and salvation.      For God the Word who was in the beginning is now and forever in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.  That makes Christmas a blessed surprise: the uncreated, eternal, and infinite God comes right here among you as your light and your life.  Merry Christmas!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Thanks for being Born Again!

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

     While growing up, I always knew that I was a Christian, a child of God.  I remember when I ventured out from my home and community, I had the questions asked of me, “Are you a born again Christian?” or “When were you born again?”  I was confused.  It caused me to question if I had missed something in my Christian upbringing in the church.  It also caused me to dig deeper to see if what I had been taught was wrong or something was left out.      Actually, there should be no question as to what the phrase “born again” means.  It is accurately defined and explained in God’s Word.  It is amazing, therefore, that within Christendom (all Christian denominations), there has developed some confusion as to the meaning of the phrase.

The confusion is in the question, “Are you a born again Christian?”  The Bible speaks of “born again” as a conversion.  In other words, they are synonyms.  If a person is born again, then that person is a Christian.  If that person is a Christian, then they are born again.  The two are identical.  The question implies that you can’t be a Christian without being born again.  Or it implies that you are a Christian, but you are missing something called “born again.”

     In John 3:3-6, and also in 1 Peter 1:3, 23, we are taught that born again is an opposite of unbelief.  The difference is between born of the flesh (which gives birth to death) and born of the Spirit (which gives birth to life).  The born of the Spirit is an everlasting life which comes from God.  The point is that the flesh cannot give birth to something spiritual; therefore, if we are to have the kingdom of heaven, it must come from God; His work on you either by the Word of God or by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  Thus for a Lutheran, when we hear the phrase “born again,” we should mention the day we, and or when we heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believed what it said was our salvation through Him. 

     When someone asks you the question “Are you a born again Christian?” they are generally saying or meaning that your faith is dependent upon a moving experience that you had and or when you gave yourself, chose, or decided for Christ.  In other words, if you haven’t had a moving experience or feeling, you may not be a saved Christian.

While it is true that there are levels of maturity and degrees of commitment among Christians, that should not be confused with the simple matter of belief or conversion.  Everyone who believes in Jesus’ work on the cross for the payment of their sins, regardless of how weak their faith may be, has been born again. 

    Never forget, faith is always a gift of God.  As Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly tells us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  If faith is produced by our feelings, a result of our feelings, or a date that we say we accepted, chose, or decided for Christ to be “born again” then it becomes a work of our own instead of a work and gift of God by the work of the Holy Spirit working through the Means of Grace of Word and Sacrament.

     So, the next time you are asked “Are you a born again Christian?” say, “Yes” Then give them the date of your Baptism; which was God’s work on you and His promise to you that you have been connected to Christ death and resurrection and read to them Romans 6:3-6: “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.   If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.”

This is truly something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Innocent Fun or Something to Avoid?

What I know is that Halloween has become a major commercialized and popular holiday, second only to Christmas.

Halloween is short for All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, a holy day on which Christians remember the heroes and martyrs of the faith. For us Lutherans, All Hallows Eve is also Reformation Day, when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis to the church door. In the Middle Ages, people had a sense for the demonic. People believed that the demons were especially active on the eve of All Hallows. People carved gourds with ugly faces and set them out to guard their homes. This was similar to the practice of carving grotesque gargoyles on the drain spouts of cathedrals to ward off devils. People paraded in the streets dressed in costumes and masks to confuse the demons and confound their schemes.

All Saints Day has all but died out, especially in Protestant Christianity. Our culture has latched on to All Hallows Eve and turned it into another money-making gimmick. Much of the fun is innocent, but bad for teeth.

There is a darker, more sinister side to Halloween. Satanic and pagan groups have made Halloween their own special “high holy day.” Animal shelters warn owners of black cats to keep them indoors so that they are not harmed. A night that was once a confrontation with the devil has become a celebration of all things devilish. Ought Christians participate? The easy answer would be no. But every road has two ditches, and Halloween is no exception.

In the one ditch, there is the danger of taking death and the devil too lightly. Make no mistake, the devil is real. He isn’t some red guy with a pointy tail and a pitchfork. Then we would know him by sight and stay away from him. He is a liar — the father of lies — and a murderer. He masquerades as an angel of light, appearing to be very religious in order to deceive people and draw their focus away from Jesus Christ.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of
Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It
is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of
righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”  — 2 Cor. 11: 13-15 

A baptized believer belongs to the Lord and has no fellowship with the devil or his demons. So when Christians take part in the darker side of Halloween, they may create the false impression that death and the devil are not serious business, or that it’s OK for Christians to dine with the devil once and a while, as long as their silverware is long enough. Christians who take sin, death and the devil seriously shouldn’t want anything to do with that.

In the other ditch, there is the danger of taking the devil too seriously. Contrary to what many believe, the devil is not all-powerful, all-knowing, almighty, or present everywhere. He is a fallen angel; a creature of God turned against the Creator. Luther calls the devil “God’s devil,” for God has power over him. He stands chained and defeated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is a liar and a loser, and his only hope with the short time that he has left is to convince the world that Jesus’ death on the cross isn’t enough to save us.

Jesus Christ has conquered death once for all people. He has defeated the devil by that death on the cross. A baptized Christian can live in confidence, free from the fear of death and the devil, knowing that God is at peace with us in the death of His Son, Jesus, that Jesus is risen from the dead and that we too will rise.

In the middle of the road, Jesus didn’t hang on a cross so that Christians could go around with a sad look on their faces, judging everyone around them.

When Christians become overly critical of Halloween, they may create the false impression that Jesus does not reign now over all things, including the devil; and that He has not conquered death by His dying and rising; or that the devil is to be feared more than God.

Therefore, what about Halloween? Well, I don’t expect to see you baptized Christians out dancing in the woods around a bonfire while chanting pagan prayers to the mother goddess or sanctifying or sacrificing black cats. On the other hand, the devil’s chief work is to draw us away from Christ’s death and resurrection, to focus on our works or the death and darkness that Satan has brought into the world.

How do we decide? What would your neighbor, family, children and brother or sister in Christ think of your Halloween celebration? Will it help or hinder their faith in Jesus? Does your Halloween fun witness to the victory and freedom of Jesus’ death and resurrection, or does it lift up the powers of darkness and death?

The best thing I can say about Halloween is to mock the devil, honor Christ  and take that mask off your face and show the child of God that you are in Christ Jesus. Remember who you are in Holy Baptism — a baptized priest in Christ’s holy priesthood, “that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).


Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Preach the Word

Pastors are told in 2 Timothy 4:1-5: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: PREACH THE WORD; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

     As I travel the North Dakota District visiting congregations on Sundays and worshiping with them, I have experienced different locations of this preaching of the Word.  Some preach from the pulpit, some preach from the aisle, some preach from a central podium, and some preach from down in front of the chancel area.  First let me say, preaching from the pulpit is not a law or a mandate.   But it is about: Location, location, location.

     In our churches, the pulpit is slightly elevated (some greatly elevated), they have good lighting and can be easily seen from all places in the sanctuary.  In preaching from there, the pastor can be sure that all may see and hear him.  By placing himself there, it gives the people an opportunity to adjust their position in the pew so that they are comfortable for the hearing of God’s Word that is about to be spoken and so that they can adjust themselves to see past the person in front of them.  I personally do that.  I have seen as a pastor; many adjust themselves so that I maybe couldn’t see them; just in case they were to fall asleep. 

     Now, in my opinion, when a pastor preaches from the aisle while moving up and down the aisle, it is hard to get positioned to focus on the preacher.  When the pastor preaches from in front of the chancel area, he is down so low in front that you can’t see him over the heads of others that are on that same plane.  And, when a pastor preaches from a podium, I see too much of the pastor’s apparel, which usually isn’t covered with an Alb when this procedure is used.  So, I do think that location, location, location is important in the preaching of the Word.      I do know that the pulpit is also kind of a traditional or a conditional place to hear God’s Word spoken. 

     I do know that the pulpit is also kind of a traditional or a conditional place to hear God’s Word spoken.  What I mean by this is that people expect this from the pulpit.  We know that’s what goes on there.  While Jesus probably did not preach from a pulpit, we are now conditioned to hear preaching from a pulpit.

     There is a piece of artwork that is called “Luther Preaching.”  It depicts Martin Luther preaching to the congregation.  Between the pulpit and the people stands a cross with a crucified Jesus on it.  While Luther is preaching to his hearers, he is pointing to the cross.  Luther is directing his hearers to the crucified Christ.  What Luther did in his preaching is nothing other than what any other faithful preacher would do, point his hearers not to himself but to Christ and Him crucified.  Therefore, many pastors preach from the pulpit, guarded by wood or stone, and wear vestments: to direct the hearers’ attention away from the pastor and toward Jesus.  You see the pastor in the pulpit.  You hear his voice.  Although, the word he proclaims is not his; it is the Lord’s.  The Sacraments are not his to administer; they are the Lord’s.  The Means of Grace are not the pastor’s playthings to give out willy-nilly.  The apostle St. Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” 

The word mysteries comes from the Greek and can be translated into Latin as “sacramentum,” from which we get the word “sacrament,” Pastors are stewards—caretakers—of the Sacraments, as well as the Word of God.  Pastors are to guard and protect the Word of God by their faithful preaching and teaching. 

     Guard the good deposit, pastors are told.  Preach and teach the Word of God faithfully, not adding anything to it or taking anything away from it.  Preach the Law.  Preach the Gospel.  Preach repentance.  Preach the forgiveness of sins.  Preach Christ crucified.  Preach the cross.

     (C.F.W. Walther writes) “O, glorious office!  [the office of the ministry] No matter how sick a person may be in his soul; the Gospel can heal him.  No matter how deeply a person has fallen into the corruption of sin, the Gospel can pull him out.  No matter how troubled, frightened, and afflicted a person finds himself, even if he is convinced that he must perish because of it, the preachers can confidently oppose him, saying: “No, as certainly as God lives, He does not want the death of any sinner.  You shall not perish; instead, you shall be saved.  Turn to Jesus, who can evermore save all who come to God through Him.”  And if one who lies near death calls out: “God, what have I done?  Woe to me!  Now it is too late!  I am lost!” the preachers should call to him, “NO, no, it is not too late!  Commit your departing soul to Jesus.  You too shall still be with Him in paradise today.”  O, glorious, high office, too high for angels!  May we always hold it in high regard, not looking at the person who bears it and despising his weakness but looking instead at the Institutor of this office and His exuberant goodness.  Let us turn to Him in faith so we can experience the blessings of which the preachers have spoken and, through them, be gathered together one day into the barns of heaven as a completely ripe sheaf.”

     I am also reminded of what my work is when I am in the pulpit: to proclaim Law and Gospel in the name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ.  This is a special work.  The pulpit puts a location for this special work for me and for you.

     The pulpit also conveys the relationship between the preacher and the hearer.  The preacher is set apart from the hearer, not because of his person, but because of his vocation and location.  The pastor is the messenger, prophet, shepherd, in the stead and by the command of Christ.  If you have noticed pastors preach differently than when they have normal conversation.  Preaching is “one” proclaiming to “others” the Word of God.

     That is why the pulpit is elevated because of what comes from it—the preached Word.  It is the way by which God gives His grace through a voice outside of the hearer.  It comes to you from above.

     Location, location, location.  There is much to be commended for locating the preaching of God’s Word in a pulpit. 

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

The Practice of Closed Communion

Greetings in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As I write this article, the Synod convention has not yet begun. I have just recently returned from floor committee meetings in St. Louis and am blessed to serve on Floor Committee 4, which is “Life Together.” We deal with overtures submitted by LCMS congregations and districts on various items, including “A Faithful Practice of Holy Communion.” What amazed me is the continued sending of many overtures dealing with the practice of closed communion. These overtures come because many are still not practicing what we believe is good and biblical teaching. A significant issue in the church of this day and age for our pastors is this practice of closed communion. We educate our youth to be confirmed in the faith before they receive Holy Communion, and yet many would expect any and all people to be able to come and receive communion in our churches.

Therefore, the issue is “Why shouldn’t we commune anyone who wants to commune,” and “Why shouldn’t we commune at other churches that are not LCMS?” First, we need to understand what church fellowship is. Churches are in fellowship when they believe, teach, and confess alike the teachings of God’s Word in all its truth and purity. Therefore, any church that has a different understanding of God’s Word (the Bible) — for example, we would say it is the Word of God and others claim it only contains the Word of God — has a different confession of faith. There is a different understanding of the rule and norm of what we believe, teach, and confess. A different confession of faith would be in opposition to God’s Word because it is not with the apostles’ teachings and fellowship. This we would understand from Acts 2:42-44: “ And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Some would say Holy Communion is an individual matter between them and God. The Lord’s Supper is not a personal matter, but rather about what we believe, teach, and confess as a church. The Bible teaches us that the church will have hypocrites who inhabit and serve her. There is no way to tell who is a true member and who is not, unless they have the integrity to actually put their theology on the table for discussion. The fact is we cannot see faith; we can only go by what is confessed with the mouth or where the membership is held (each denomination has a confession of what it believes, teaches and confesses).

If they want to commune while belonging to a different confession of faith, they either disagree with the teachings of their church or they are playing the hypocrite at the communion rail. To be a hypocrite is to “playact.” Here, they are play-acting as if they agree with the teachings of the church in which they are going to commune. If you join a church at the communion rail that does not confess the truth of God’s Word, you are saying and confessing that you actually agree with them and not with the church you belong to; or you are only “play-acting” so as not to have to make a statement of your faith that is true from God’s Word. The same is true if we allow those of a different confession of faith to come and commune at our table. We are allowing them to be hypocrites, and we also would be hypocritical because we cannot have two confessions of faith (one true and one false). As Rom. 16:17 reads: “ I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” In order to understand all of this better, we need to start with the Fifth Chief Part of the catechism, the Office of the Keys.

In John 20, Jesus tells the apostles to forgive and retain sins. Any pastor who will not take this responsibility seriously should be removed from the Office of the Holy Ministry, for he is saying that he is willing to do “harm” to souls. In 1 Cor. 11:29, we hear that people can take the Lord’s Supper to their “harm.” The King James translation says “damnation”; other versions say “judgment” and “condemnation.” A loving congregation and pastor would not want anyone to take this Means of Grace to their “harm.” When a person comes to the altar to receive communion, they are individually receiving the forgiveness of sins, which should never be said and proclaimed to someone who denies the truth, either by their membership and confession of another church body or as a hypocrite within the church. When the pastor communes someone who he knows does this “play-acting,” he is confirming them in their error. The church and the pastor — who is speaking “in the stead and the command” of Christ — are breaking the Second Commandment and are putting the soul at risk, for they are lying with God’s name and Word. In summary, we should commune only with those with whom we share a confession of faith. We can’t see the faith of others, so all we can go by is their confession of faith with their mouth and the church that they claim to belong to.

May we repent of our weakness in our understanding and practice of closed communion and come to the Lord’s Table to receive what Christ has promised — the forgiveness of sins. For where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. What a joy it is to come to the Lord’s Table and have our bodily senses tell us that we have received what Christ has promised. Our eyes see, our noses smell, our lips feel, our tongues taste and our ears hear that we have received what Christ promised: the forgiveness of sins, for life and salvation.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

The Debt is Gone!

The title of this July E-News “The Debt is Gone” is meant in two ways.  First, the most important, the debt of our sin is gone through Christ Jesus.  Any sin, no matter what degree we may place on it, either as a little or a large sin, deserves eternal death from God.  Eternal death means separation from God into eternal pain and gnashing of teeth and eternal torture in hell.  But Christ Jesus, true God and true man, made payment for sin on the cross for our sin so that we would not die that eternal death.  You see, God has only accepted one commodity for payment for sin and that is blood.  Blood that was foreshadowed in the blood of sacrifices in the Old Testament but then fulfilled in Christ Holy Precious Blood on the cross.  Therefore, connected to Christ death and resurrection in Baptism we have eternal life.  Because you can only die once, and Christ died that death for us, we cannot die the eternal death.  Therefore, “The Debt is Gone.”

The other way the title “The Debt is Gone” is meant is that in this earthly kingdom the debt of our Synod is gone so that we may do more freely and willingly the work the Lord has given us to do spreading the Gospel of Christ Jesus.   I share with you an announcement from Synod:By David Strand

By action of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Board of Directors (BOD) at its May 17 meeting in St. Louis, the generations-old “historic debt” of the Concordia University System (CUS) — and of its predecessor, the Board for Higher Education — has been retired. The arrangements to bring an end to the debt, requiring several steps over many months, were finalized June 19.

To cover the $13 million outstanding balance — accumulated operating deficits and capital-related debt at the schools — plus a $2 million line of credit extended to Concordia College Alabama in Selma before it closed last year, the BOD used a portion of the income from three sources, all in Asia: (1) the $2.2 million repayment of a startup loan by Concordia International School Hanoi, (2) a $4 million dividend from Concordia International School Shanghai, and (3) a combined $22 million from the sale of three properties in Hong Kong. From the outset of its discussions on how to use the Asia funds, the BOD has stipulated that none of the sales proceeds would go toward day-to-day operating expenses and budget purposes. Rather, the money first would apply to retiring the CUS debt, with the remaining funds allocated for strategic programs, to be designated by the Board, in consultation with its Audit Committee and the Synod’s Operations Team.

     With the cloud of debt cleared from the skies, the Synod will save $1.4 million a year in principal and interest payments. This is the first time in living memory that all Synod indebtedness to external entities stands at zero.

     “This is a milestone achievement,” said BOD Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael L. Kumm, “because paying off the historic debt will free up millions of dollars in mission and ministry funds for years to come.

     “The Board is grateful to all who played a part in bringing this to fruition. It is a very good day for the church — a great blessing from the Lord.”

     ‘God has blessed us richly.’

     “For the first time in many decades, perhaps in a century, the LCMS has no external debt,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. “During our tenure, God has blessed us richly. We began nine years ago, owing $21 million, and now we owe nothing.”   

     You may read the rest of this statement at 

Let us continue to pray and give thanks to God for “The Debt is Gone” of our sin and this earthly debt to continue to preach, teach, and confess salvation alone in Christ Jesus who has removed our debt of sin so that we have the joy of this life and eternal life.   

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie Bertsch,

LCMS North Dakota District President

Sing to the Lord!

     Greetings in the name of our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

     Often I am asked the question, “What are you doing these days?”  I may answer from the perspective of fun things or hobby things or things about work.  If I answer on fun things, I would respond about fishing.  But I won’t go there here (You might think they are fish stories; but they would be true fish stories). 

     What I have been up to pertaining to being District President is a project of looking at songs used in our North Dakota LCMS congregations that do not come from the hymnal.  As I make visits to congregations around the District and they use other songs than the hymns in the LCMS hymnals, I ask for the lyrics and am doing a study on them.  I hope to do a presentation on the results of this study in about a year.   

     As I collect these song lyrics, I am looking at how and why our different hymns are picked and placed into our hymnals and how we should evaluate songs from other sources.  As the ecclesiastical supervisor, it is now my job to oversee that proper hymnals, catechisms, and literature is being used in the churches by the congregations and pastors. 

     Let me begin with 1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”

     When looking at a hymn, it naturally will have its own emphases and strengths.  Nevertheless, it still should have the main focus of Christian faith: Jesus and His saving work for us.  While a hymn cannot say everything, it is important for it to say something about God and the Christian faith.  A problem with some hymns may be that they have false teaching, things that are contrary to the Word of God. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Galatians 5:9)  Another problem with some hymns is that they don’t say much of anything about Christianity.  It does nothing “for the strengthening of the church.”

     Here are a few questions to ask yourself about a hymn to see if it does or does not proclaim the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ “for the strengthening of the church”:

  • Does the hymn present Jesus as the Savior who died for sinners?  Or is the picture of Jesus merely that of a companion, friend, or model?
  • Does the hymn proclaim that we are justified before God only for Christ’s sake?  Or is the main focus, “Jesus and His saving work for us,” absent or somehow made irrelevant or unclear?
  • Is the Gospel presented in concrete imagery, drawing on the biblical witness?  Or is the Gospel presented in abstract terms like, “love,” “joy,” or “peace” without any concrete connection to the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ?
  • Does the hymn present good works as a response to the Gospel?  Or are our works seen as ends in themselves with the impression given that by them we merit and are worthy of salvation?

     Also, the hymns for a service should have a balance.  For example, there are hymns not only of “praise and adoration” but also of “cross and comfort.” 

     Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the balance of hymns used in a service:

  • Is the Gospel clearly and richly evident in the hymns each week?  Or is the focus unduly on the Christian’s response?
  • Is there a balance of hymns in a church service that both teach and proclaim the contents of the faith as well as give the people words of thanksgiving and praise? Or is the congregation’s hymns mostly limited to emotions, entertainment, and performance?

     The ideas and thoughts and directions for this article are from a “Commission on Worship” February 2004, article in the Reporter.  There is a book made available by the “Commission on Worship” called, Text, Music, Context; this is from Concordia Publishing House, phone: 1-800-325-3040, order no.: S05505.  Cost: $6.00 + Shipping and Handling. 

     I pray and hope this will help you when looking at hymns that are sung in other churches and the hymns that are in other hymnals and not in ours.  Let it be known: Just because a hymn is not in our hymnal does not mean that it may not be doctrinally sound and that it could be used in our worship.  Also, let it be known: it takes time for me to ask these very same questions and more about every hymn that hasn’t been looked at by our church. 

Psalm 95:1-7: Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

Your servant in the Risen Savior, Jesus Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Don’t forget mom… or Mother Church!

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

     In case you forgot, this month is Mother’s Day (May 12th).  It would behoove you not to forget.  I speak from experience.  My excuse was that as a pastor (with Sundays being my busiest day of the week) that I once forgot to call my mother on Mother’s Day.  Monday morning the phone was ringing, and I said to my wife, “Don’t answer it; it’s my mother calling me for Mother’s Day!”  It was quite evident that mothers stick together; she answered and said, “It’s your mother!”  I was a bad son (again).  The woman who brought me into this world nurtured and took care of me physically and spiritually I forgot to call and thank on a special day for her.

     And then, on the other hand, in the busyness of our lives with so many things to do, so many places to go and so many people to see as we seek to please others, and probably more honestly as we seek to please and satisfy ourselves, Jesus and the Words of His teaching in Church take a back seat.  

     Lost in the busyness of life and trying to squeeze every drop of pleasure, accomplishment, personal fulfillment, along with and amid the setbacks and disasters that inevitably confront us in life we may put aside the more important things like mothers and especially Mother Church.

     And sad to say we seldom find joy in the fact that Jesus is in heaven while we are left behind here in this veil of tears.  No, we look for joy and gladness almost everywhere else first.  Do you need proof?

     Memorial Day is coming soon.  What happens to our church attendance as individuals and as a congregation during the summer months?

     Very few congregations even celebrate the recognition of the Ascension of Our Lord, May 30th, (one of the great festivals of the church because of its importance in showing the divinity of Christ) simply because it falls on a Thursday – a day when we have other things that take precedence.

     Think of the many reasons we use to convince ourselves that it is less than necessary on any given Sunday to attend church and receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith: 

     I really need my sleep, it was a tough week, and Sunday is a day of rest.

     It’s the only day I have to do yard work.

     Our guests from out of town will only be here until Sunday afternoon, and we only see them every other year or so.

     I can go to church any Sunday, but the camping/fishing/hunting/football/fill-in-the-blank season only lasts so long.

     We need to spend time as a family today.

     I can worship God in nature.

     You don’t have to go to church to be saved.

     Now please don’t think I am only pointing fingers, because the truth is, in my own sinfulness and weakness there are Sundays when the only reason I go is because I FEEL I HAVE to.

     Now with Mother’s Day, can you imagine substituting camping/fishing/hunting/football/fill-in-the-blank for honoring mom, and telling your mother that you can honor her in those places when she is not even there?  Can you imagine even thinking you don’t have to have a mother to live?

     We need Church as much as a child needs a mother.  She (the Church, the body of Christ) has begot you through the waters of Holy Baptism, nurtured you with the Word and Sacrament to sustain, strengthen and maintain your faith through life.  We confess in the Third Article of the Creed, I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

     What this means is: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

     In the same way, He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  In this Christian church, He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.

     The Church is to the baptized, to the Christian, what a mother is to her children.  Let us not fool ourselves dear baptized!  We cannot make much of a claim to love Jesus or His Word when there are so often so many things that we place before Him and the place where He gives His Word to be publicly proclaimed for the forgiveness of sins.

     But thanks be to God; He loves you and me!  Because in our sin we do NOT love Him as we could or should.  Yet, in Revelation 21:27 we read that our names, “are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

     This is why God sends His Holy Spirit to minister to us in Word and Sacrament to wash us clean and give to us again everything we need for our salvation and the building up of our faith so that we may be made holy for Him and His eternal kingdom.

     And rather than leave us convicted of our lack of love and obedience, He leaves us forgiven.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

     This peace He gives through His Holy Christian Church, the mother of all believers.  For Christ’s church is a revelation of heaven on earth.  Christ’s church is even today, as Revelation tells us it will plainly be at the resurrection of dead, where even now, “it’s lamp is the Lamb, the light by which people from all nations walk with God, where Jesus is the gate that is always open, and where there is no night.” Rev. 21:23-24

     So, whether you are coming or going, God is here to forgive, renew and lead you, and is with you always in His Church, the mother of all believers, even to the end of the age.  

Happy Mother’s Day mom and Church!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Late Easter… Early Easter

    Throughout my two decades of pastoral ministry, the question has often come to me, “Why is Easter on a different date every year? Why don’t we just keep it at the same time every year?”

    The calculations behind the date of Easter are somewhat complicated. In the Early Christian Church (first through fourth centuries) the date followed the Old Testament Passover celebration, which was to be celebrated on the 14th of the month of Nisan. Easter followed this time of celebration, because it was on the Passover that Jesus, like the lamb in the Old Testament Passover meal, was sacrificed.     The 14th of Nisan reoccurs several other times throughout the Old Testament, but for our interest in this article, this date marked the time of Passover from which the Israelites began their Exodus from Egypt into the Promised Land: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to The Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance forever.” — Ex. 12:14 RSV

By the 3rd century the Church, which had become dominated by gentiles, sought to distinguish itself more intentionally from Jewish practices. It was at that time that church leaders began talking about changing the day of the Easter celebration, so that Easter would be celebrated “not with the Jews” — that is, not on the 14th of Nisan.     

    Looking at the verse emboldened above, one might argue that we should still be celebrating Easter on that day (as many do try to emphasize) or three days after.

    But looking at Col. 2:16-17, we see that the Old Testament festival was ultimately a foreshadowing of what was to come and now fulfilled in Jesus Christ: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

    Thus we have the freedom to celebrate Holy Week and Easter when we wish, although it is still good to remember the Old Testament foreshadowing to the New Testament fulfillment in Christ.

In the front of our hymnal (p. xxiii), Lutheran Service Book (LSB), we read: “Easter Day is always the Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox on March 21. This full moon may happen on any date between March 21 and April 18 inclusive.

If the full moon falls on a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday following. Easter Day cannot be earlier than March 22 or later than April 25.”

    Here are some interesting facts about this lunar-based formula for Easter scheduling: Easter has not fallen on the earliest of the 35 possible dates, March 22, since 1818, and will not do so again until 2285. It will, however, fall on March 23 in 2008, and again in 2160.

    Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it fell just one day before the latest possible date, on April 24, in 2011. The cycle of Easter dates repeats exactly every 5,700,000 years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times, or 3.9 percent, compared to an average for all dates of 162,857 times, or 2.9 percent.

    It would sure seem to make sense that we would celebrate Easter on the same day every year, but traditions are hard to break. Personally, I like it different every year, because it makes it more difficult for people to plan it as only another vacation day (some would do that, maybe you?) rather than as the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

   While you wait for Easter, take advantage of the Lenten Season mid-week church services and see the Lord Jesus approach Calvary’s Hill to suffer and die for your sins. Lent enlivens the rest of the year as we celebrate every Sunday in the Resurrection of Jesus, showing that He has conquered sin, death, and the devil for you. As Paul says in Rom. 6:3-5: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

   In your baptism, you have been connected to Christ’s death and resurrection and have, with Him, conquered death. In other words, Christ has died the death that your sin deserved and you won’t die a death of separation from God. Because Christ has defeated the grave and risen from the dead, so shall you. That is why we celebrate Easter — on April 21, and every Sunday! He is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President


     The Bible records a lot of big things happening on high mountains.  Such as, Noah’s ark landed on Mt. Ararat, and there God promised never again to flood the entire earth.  Abraham climbed a hill with his son Isaac where God provided a sacrifice.  Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.  If you haven’t already you will hear the account of The Mount of Transfiguration.  A big thing also happens at this Transfiguration.  Jesus is transfigured. His clothes become radiant.  It shows that He is not just another man.  Yes, He is fully human, but He’s also fully God.  Before Peter, James, and John, Jesus gives them a brief glimpse of His heavenly divine glory.

     Another big thing that happened there was that Moses and Elijah are there.  We know from the Gospel of Luke that they’re talking about Jesus exodus from this earth and His work.  These greatest of prophets from the Old Testament are there to point again to Jesus, as they had done so many years earlier.  Peter, James, and John witness that Jesus is more than just another prophet: He’s the Messiah whom the prophets foretold was coming.

     That’s not all: God the Father overshadows them in a cloud and speaks: “This is My beloved Son.  Listen to Him!”  In a glorious and thunderous way, that complements Jesus’ radiant appearance; God declares that Jesus is His beloved Son, sent by the Father to do the Father’s will of salvation.  Peter, James, and John get a glimpse of heavenly glory.  They have normally seen Jesus as an ordinary and humble human being going about His work.  But here, for a brief time, they see Him glorious as He will soon be sitting glorious on the throne in heaven.  It’s only a glimpse though; glory like this is the stuff of holy heaven, not sinful earth.  God the Father recedes and the prophets disappear, leaving only the very ordinary-looking human Jesus standing in front of three bewildered disciples.

     You’ve heard God’s Word on this.  Now we must ask the question, “So what?”  Why is Jesus transformed?  Why then?  And why in front of Peter, James and John? 

     We don’t know all of the reasons why, but we do know some.  Jesus has already begun to tell the disciples that He is going to save the world not by a glorious triumph, but by His death on the cross.

     His enemies have already begun to plot His death, and He is on His way to be crucified.  Before Peter, James, and John see Him on the cross as the weakest and most condemned man on earth, they see Him transfigured and divine.

     But it’s a brief glimpse of Jesus’ heavenly glory.  From here the disciples will see Jesus rejected, arrested, tried, and crucified, with no glory to be seen.  They’ll see Him risen from the dead, and they’ll watch Him ascend into heaven; but there is no more radiant, intense, and dazzling white that the Scriptures record for us.  After He’s ascended, they’ll go and proclaim the Gospel.  Yes, the Church will grow as people are baptized and instructed; just as it does today.  In the meantime, the disciples will face setback, suffering, and even death themselves.  Life on this sinful earth will be like it always is: no heavenly glory, but labor and trouble, and yet hope.  Why hope?  Because of what the Father said at the Transfiguration: “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.”  Long after the glory is disappeared, the disciples will still have Jesus’ Word.  Even though they won’t see more glory in this world, they have God’s Word that heaven is theirs.  They have God’s Word that they’ll see His glory again.

     Well and good it was for Peter, James, and John; but once again we must ask, “So what?”  So what does this mean for you and me?

     To answer that question, remember that the disciples had the joy of witnessing Jesus’ glory at the Transfiguration before proclaiming it.  You weren’t on the mountain that day, and you don’t get to see Jesus’ dazzling glory on this side of heaven unless He returns soon.  But you have something better: you have Jesus’ Word.  Although you haven’t seen the Transfiguration with your eyes, you’ve heard the Transfiguration with your ears. 

     There are two basic ways to do theology; either a theology of glory or a theology of the cross.  If you’re into a theology of glory, you go by what you see.  You go by what you feel.  You look for God in glorious things on earth, such as beautiful sunsets, good health, and exciting experiences.  That is when worship is only about excitement and motivation.

     If you’re from a theology of the cross, you operate differently.  You see the cross in a different light.  At the cross, the Lord won salvation even though it didn’t look glorious.  His power and glory were hidden under suffering and death.  You trust that Jesus’ death is your salvation not because it looked good, but because you hear in His Word that it was there that Christ saved you.  Hearing His Word, you don’t look for God to act in glorious ways.  You look for God to work in ways where His glory is hidden, such as the cross.  Also, consider Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  They don’t look glorious, but those are Sacraments in which God gives you forgiveness for all of your sins.  It may not feel exciting; but there is forgiveness, life, and salvation there.

     So as Christians in this world, as theologians of the cross, dear people don’t go on with your eyes.  Even at the Transfiguration, God the Father said, “Listen to Him!” not “See Him” nor “Look at the under-shepherd I have sent you.”  Trust the Lord’s Word in spite of who brings it or who or what you see.  Simply know that the Lord has plans for you; plans for a future and a hope.

     And frankly, there will be times each day, or days and days, when you fail to live under the cross; when you give into this temptation or that one, when you cling to false glories of the world rather than God’s grace, when you fail to speak grace to your family, when you despair instead of rejoice.  It will be no different as long as you’re in this inglorious world.  But repent; and rejoice that you are not forsaken.  The glorious Son of God became flesh in this world to deliver you to heaven.  In that flesh and blood, He went to another mountain, Mount Calvary to make payment for your sin.

     You don’t see His glory, but you hear of His grace as you listen and hear His Word.  For now, you live by faith on earth by what you hear and not by what you see or who you see; but you will see in heaven: You will see your Savior face to face and join all those who have gone before you in the faith.  In other words, please remain listening to Jesus so that we will all be transfigured from our lowly bodies to a glorious body because of Jesus who has forgiven you all your sins so that you have life and salvation [already now] by the Word you have heard no matter whose mouth it has come from.

I look forward to seeing you in heaven; if not before. 

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

He First Loved Us

     So, what could, should, or would I write about in February?  Bear with me as I think out loud. 

     Let’s see, those of you in the One Year Lectionary will celebrate “The Transfiguration of Our Lord” this month; whereas those in the “Three Year Lectionary” will celebrate “the Transfiguration of the Lord” next month, therefore, I will skip that topic.  (I may have stirred your mind as to what I am talking about with these “lectionaries.”  If I have, please talk to your pastor to explain it.  Or stay tuned for another time that I may talk about it.)

Another thing that I could, should, or would write about that happens in February is “Valentine’s Day.”  Now, that may be considered to be a civil holiday; generally focused on our love to those closest to us.  But I think I will go with that.  

     To stimulate this thought on “Valentine’s Day” let me start by asking the old-old question:  Which came first the chicken or the egg?  This seems to be a major philosophical question to many.  Since God created the animals in His six-day creation, I’d say, “the chicken.”  

     How about this one?  Which came first – God’s love for us or our love for God?  Take your time, think about it; don’t answer too quickly.  

     There are a lot of people out there who say you have to decide to follow Jesus.  They say that you have to come to a point in your life where you accept Jesus into your heart and life.  This would mean, then, wouldn’t it – that our love for God comes first?

But then again, there are some that say, “well, there’s a little good in everyone, and at a certain time in someone’s life they begin following and believing in Jesus.”  This would mean, then, wouldn’t it – that our love for God comes first?

     Or, how about this one!   Be careful; this one’s a little trickier.  Some say God comes down to meet us halfway, but until we have the urge or desire to grasp His hand, we are not saved.  Even if we have some part in God loving us, could this be interpreted that our love for God comes first?    Well, none of the above is what the Bible says.  As a matter of fact, the Bible is very clear: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

    Let’s go back our worship practice in our church services where we confess that we are poor miserable sinners.  In that statement, we are confessing that there is no life, no good, and no love in us at all!  The Catechism is correct – we are dead!  Blind!  And enemies of God!   Not only do we not love God, but we also don’t want to love God!  Our sinful nature is continually and always persistently rebellious against God – and that puts us in an awful spot!  No one is exempt.  As we confess in the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”         But don’t fret.  God does love us.  God loves you.  His love is sacrificial.  His love is not a Valentine’s heart full of chocolates.  His love is that His heart stopped beating in His own death in order to give us eternal life with Him.  His love is not a Valentine’s card sent from heaven, but God Himself comes to earth to take our place as sinners in order to make us perfect and righteousin God’s sight.  His love is not a Valentine’s romantic dinner for two with wine and flowers.  His love is the giving of His flesh and blood in the Lord’s Supper where He feeds us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

God really does love us!  And He loved us first!  

       As God puts Himself inside of us as His Word enters our ears and His Meal enters our mouths – Love now lives in us because God is love.  Now, if Love lives in us, Love lives through us.  This love is lived out toward our neighbor.  This love is lived out toward our boyfriend or girlfriend, our fiancé, husband, or wife.  For that matter, our love is lived out toward everyone whom we see and with whom we interact.  Therefore, Christians love – because God loved us first.

     May you hear more about this Love as we enter the season of Lent!  Have a blessed month (and Valentine’s Day) in God’s Love!

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

Happy New Year!  What’s Your Resolution?

     For many, the New Year is a time for a fresh start.  Some people have made lists of things to change or to accomplish in the New Year.  Others have simply thought it over and have a strategy and plan to turn in a new and better direction.  How about you?  What’s your resolution?

     Is there some bad habit you want to break and leave behind?  Is there some better habit you wish to form?  Are you going to quit your gossiping and putting the worst construction on everything and everybody and, instead, start speaking well of everybody and putting the best construction on all things?  Some have had a bad year and are just looking for a new year.  You are not alone.  For some reason, a New Year gives us the sense of a fresh start and more promising future.

     But, unfortunately, we are often setting ourselves up for disappointment and a dream.  I have quit making resolutions because by February I have failed and my resolution has just become a nagging reminder of how difficult it is to change myself.  Can you relate to that?

     Last year, many of us maybe hoped we would slow down and spend more time with family and friends.  But we didn’t.  We thought we would be in better shape, lose some weight, quit a bad habit, get out of debt, and get organized.  But we failed.  Instead, we’re more disappointed than ever.

    And frankly speaking, these are the small things.  The things that we at least have a chance, that we are at least theoretically capable, of improving somewhat.  The bigger things that need to be changed we can’t change at all.  This year, last year, every year we’re on earth, we’re sinful.  By nature, we’re sinful through and through.  Try as we might; resolve as we might, we can’t do anything about that.  On our own, we are only self-centered, egotistical, and arrogant.  No resolution of ours is ever going to change that.

     Many of the things we’d like to change about ourselves are good and worthy of the effort.  But St. Paul offers us the best resolution we can have in Romans 8:38, its St. Paul’s resolution.

     St. Paul says, “For I am convinced (NIV).”  Or, I am sure (ESV).  The Greek word used could also be translated, “I am resolved.”  About what is Paul resolved?

     Paul’s resolution is not about himself.  It’s about his Lord.  It’s a resolution of faith.  He resolves that there is no safer place than the love of God.  It’s a growing trust in a loving Savior for whatever may come along.  He is resolved that nothing can surpass, overpower, or destroy the love God has for us.  “For I am sure,” resolved, convinced, Paul says, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

     Paul resolves that God is for us!  Our enemies don’t stand a chance.  He boasts, “If God is for us who can be against us.”  All these enemies of this world are being mocked.  So resolved is he, that he doesn’t even expect an answer.  “Who can be against us?”  No one or anything like illness or even death is of any significance or is a real threat if God is on our side.  God has not held back any of His resources and/or power—He has sent His Son for us all.  He died for us.  He was raised for us.  The Gospel declares us innocent for His sake.

     Paul tells us to be sure, to be resolved, to be convinced, to stand firm, in Christ and say to our accusers, “Your condemnation, your charges against me, a child of God—they mean nothing.  Your voice carries no weight in the courtroom of God’s justice.  God the Judge has cleared me of the guilt of my sins.  I have been declared ‘not guilty’ by the One mouth that matters.”

     So confident of this reality, Paul is not troubled over the suffering and death we experience in this life.  He asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble, or hardship, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?”

     Paul is persuaded, convinced, sure, resolved that the love of God through Jesus Christ is what the whole world needs.  It is the love of God that brought the Son of God to humanity.  It has bridged the gap between man and God.  It is the love of God that caused His Son to endure death on the cross with joy for your salvation.  It is the love of God that caused Him to be raised from the dead as a pledge and guarantee of your eternal life.

     Paul’s resolution is grounded on God’s resolution for us.  It’s a resolution in the love of God that has already defeated our sin and weaknesses.  It has already defeated death.  It has already claimed eternal victory for you.  Can anything we face in this life finally defeat us?  Paul’s answer is a resounding, No!  He boldly proclaims, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

     Sure, we face trials and tribulations.  But we have something even more awesome, even more powerful than all the forces of hell—the love of God in Christ Jesus.  It is Jesus, your Savior, who made the greatest resolution in all eternity; His love for you.  His love has never failed.  His plan to make you His own has never been forgotten.  He resolves to unite you to God and one another forever. 

     In John’s Gospel, we hear the Lord’s determination.  We hear His resolution for us in His own words.  He says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

     The Father is resolved; He sent His only Son to secure you unto life everlasting.  The Son is resolved; He lived, died, rose, and intercedes for you even now.  The Holy Spirit is resolved; He creates and strengthens faith in you through Word and Sacrament.  He secures you in the Gospel.  The Triune God’s grip on you is infinitely sure.  He is resolved never to let you go.  Even though you face a New Year of challenges ahead, you need not despair.  It is His resolution for you that really counts!  You can bank on that.  And not just for a New Year, but for eternity! 

     Our resolution, then, is not the one we make, and fail to keep, but the one that God has made for us.

     We begin this New Year confident, convinced, and sure of God’s resolution—“that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Amen.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

LCMS North Dakota District President

From the Desk of the District President…

Peace to You

Merry Christmas and peace to you!  And I pray that this is what you experience this month as we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus our Savior and that brings you peace!

The reality for many people (and maybe you) is that you would rather say “Bah Hum Bug.”  With all that goes on during this month of December with preparing for Christmas with family getting together and meal preparations and gift purchases and office parties you probably get to the point of wanting to say “Bah Hum Bug.”  It is just so easy to be dragged away from the real meaning of Christmas, and you end up with no peace.

My goal for you is to bring you the refreshing peace that we all need in this time of the year.  I bring you the one sentence sermon of the angels from Luke 2:14: ‘‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

In this one sentence long sermon the angels are able to sum up all of the Old Testament.  Oh, how sure I am, that the Lord’s people I was privileged to serve with Word and Sacrament over the years would have wished that I could and would have given a sentence long sermon; let alone the whole Old Testament!  What a piece of art and a peace it would be indeed because it would be short!

It is God’s desire that there be peace on earth.  Peace among the nations of the world and peace among people.   It is not God’s will and desire when neighbors do not get along together, when husband and wife are at each other’s throats, when children quarrel with each other, when Christians don’t work and live together in brotherly and sisterly love and when we get overwhelmed with preparations for the peace that God has given.  This peace is something that we as individuals work on by the Holy Spirit working in us.

But God has in mind a totally different peace when He sends the Prince of Peace into the world.  This peace to men is much higher and a much more noble peace.  This peace to men is a spiritual peace; a peace that is between God and man.

Looking at these angels one sentence sermon we first see that thanks and praise is being sung to God because of the peace to men being restored.  Peace that was lost from the beginning of time by Adam and Eve is now being taken care of by God.  There is going to be peace and communion again between God and people; peace that Adam and Eve had before Satan deceived them and all mankind fell into sin.  Because of that original sin, that we are all born into and have, there has been death.  Also, because of sin, there was and is no longer any peace with God without Jesus Christ.

God wanted peace again and sent His Son to be born among men.  To have flesh and blood, that He received from the Virgin Mary.  By that little Child in Bethlehem’s manger God makes peace with us; because, behind the manger is the cross.  “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.”  That was to be the work of this Child: To take upon Himself your and my sins and the sins of the world and by His death on the cross He would bridge the conflict that separated us from God.  That is the peace that He brings.  Now God is no longer angry with us.  He is at peace with us and asks us to be at peace with Him by believing on Jesus who was born that first Christmas Day.

Are you at peace with God?  You are, if with a humble heart your spirit kneels at the manger and you trust in Jesus Christ as Your Savior.  Consider looking at the church as the manger that you like a beast come to feed upon Word and Sacrament.  Peace can be lost in this world with all its false hopes of peace, when you are not feeding your soul.

Did you realize that we hear the “angel’s sermon of peace to men” in our worship at church?  We call it the “Hymn of Praise” or the “Gloria in Excelsis.”  The angels preached and sang this glory of peace to the whole earth.  And we sing it with the angels throughout the year with the angels present during our worship time, even though we sing it out of tune or with raspy, rough voices.

The theme of their song is that the Savior promised for so long has come, He is Christ the Lord, and lies in a manger.  The Savior comes as a baby.  Not only that, this baby’s birth is for the glory of God.  Their sermon was not intended to instruct us about things that we have to do to be saved; rather, it was what God was going to do.  For, “God so loved the world that He sent is one and only Son, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life,” all glory will go to God.  In other words, the angels declare that because this little Child lies in a manger, God will be glorified and praised; because everything the prophets foretold will now come to be.  Such as, “the seed of the woman will crush Satan’s head” and defeat sin, death, and the power of the grave.   Also, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” which means God with us, and “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us PEACE was upon him, and by his wounds, we are healed.”

With the angel’s sermon, we are able to know, trust, and believe what God has done by sending His Son.  So then, why isn’t there peace on earth?  Because, people do not recognize or believe this sermon by the angels!  They are without Christ.  They only hear the devil’s sermon, which says, “Gobble away here, guzzle there, steal here, fornicate there, hate here, murder there, and so on.  Therefore, there is violence everywhere; everyone is seeking to be number one by working for money, goods, honor, and power.  Often when a laborer has money, a student has intelligence, an employer has property, a president has power, a woman has a fashionable dress, a young girl has fancy boots or a stylish skirt, they want to be fussed over like a god, rather than giving glory to God.  It shows that they are focused on themselves and (at least momentarily) without Christ and don’t care to know Him.

The angel’s sermon turns all this around.  It takes away all that we are and have and shows us that we do have peace, not with earthly things, but with what God has sent from heaven, namely, His Son, of which the angels preached about.  People who believe in this Child will not only give God glory in all things but also themselves will be kind and loving to others because of the kindness and love of God to give them peace on earth.

This peace will assure all men of the goodwill of the Father in heaven with the Babe in the Manger.  This is so that we would have a happy and joyous courage against all suffering which may happen to us; so that we may say to the devil, “You can’t make life so evil or bad that you spoil my joy in this Child of Peace.  He gives me more joy than any sorrow that you can bring on me.

Dear Christian friends, remember, the angels said, “a Savior has been born to you.”  He came to bring you peace, peace with God.  When you have this peace, then all is well between God and you.  Your sin can no longer condemn you.  All other problems in life will work out to the good of those who love God and His peace, in the Prince of Peace.  When life is over, you shall be with Jesus in glory.

Why can you be happy and at peace today?  The Holy Child was born.  God’s angels proclaimed that birth.  God’s will and desire of peace was revealed in flesh and blood.  “Glory to God in the highest!  Peace to you on whom His favor rests!”

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie D. Bertsch

ND Dist. President


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


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


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



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


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

Permanent link to this article:

Quick Links