The Joys and Promises Made in Confirmation

The Joys and Promises Made in Confirmation

Grace and peace to you from our Risen Lord Jesus Christ!
The month of May can be a very busy time in our lives. Especially with many graduations going on in the communities, such as there are 8th-grade graduations, High School graduations, college graduations, and even graduations from our seminaries and schools for commissioned workers in the Synod. On top of those many activities, there is confirmation day in many of our churches. Notice that I did not call this a graduation. I will get back to that later.
When I was starting a new year of confirmation classes, I would ask the youth if they knew why they were here. Very often they only knew that it was their parents who were making them go because this is what the church has always done with youth and this will continue with them also. It made for a great teaching moment. I would explain that, for many of them, they were brought to the Church when they were infants or toddlers and were baptized. At that baptism, God promised that you were now His child connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-5). Then I would explain how their parents, their sponsors, and the congregation made a promise to God that they would see to it that this child (who is now God’s child) was entrusted to parents, sponsors, and the congregation to be raised in the faith and to know God’s promise given in Holy Baptism. I would explain to the youth that when they refuse to come to confirmation or not do the work assigned they were asking their parents, sponsors, and congregation to not keep their promise to God. (Yes, that is Law.)
Also, I would point out that at their Baptism parents, sponsors, and the congregation had answered for them (because they had not yet been instructed in the faith) these questions: “Do you renounce the devil?” “Do renounce all his works?” “Do you renounce all his ways?” “Do you believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as recited in the Apostles’ Creed)?”
Now, then, on Confirmation Day you will be asked: “Do you acknowledge the gifts God gave you in your Baptism?” “Do you renounce the devil?” “Do you renounce all his works?” “Do you renounce all his ways?” “Do you believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (as recited in the Apostles’ Creed)?” Therefore, when Confirmation Day comes, parents, sponsors, and the congregation are in great joy; for they had kept their promise and now you are making your own confession of faith in God’s promise to you at your Baptism.
This is where many consider this a day of graduation; which is so wrong! For then the added questions are asked of those to be confirmed (and it is good for the rest of us to remember our answers also). “Do you hold the Prophetic (Old Testament) and the apostolic (New Testament) Scriptures to the inspired Word of God?” “Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know them from the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?” “Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully?” “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” The answer to all of these is: “I do, by the grace of God.”
There is your help “By the grace of God.” For you to fulfill these promises, it can only be done by continuing in the “Means of Grace!” “The Means of Grace” are Word and Sacrament (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). These are God’s way of giving, strengthening, and keeping you in the true faith.
You see, in the hearing of the Word of God the focus is taken off of yourself (in what you do, have done, or haven’t done) and refocuses you on what Christ has done for your sin and your salvation. Such as God becoming man to fulfill God’s Law for you and to save you from your sin where you have fallen. This of course was done by His Son, Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, who shed His holy, precious, innocent blood for the payment of your sin and He then rose from the grave defeating death. Oh, what a joy it is to know and be refreshed in this truth often in the hearing of God’s Word and the receiving of Jesus very body and blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
You see, Confirmation Day is not the end of a task like graduation. It is the beginning of continuing and growing in the faith for this life and the eternal life that is yours through Jesus Christ.

Blessings to you in the risen Christ! Alleluia!

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

Questions Answered: Why is Easter so early? and more.

 Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
    This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.
This Month’s Question: Why is Easter so early this year and why don’t we just keep it at the same time every year?
    The calculations for the date of Easter are somewhat complicated. In the Early Christian Church (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th 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 was sacrificed as was the lamb in the Old Testament Passover Meal.
    The 14th/Nisan also reoccurs several other times throughout the Old Testament with other events and happenings in regard to God’s people, especially, centuries later, the time of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the “Lamb of God.” But for our interest in this article it 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.” (Exodus 12:14 RSV)
    By the 3rd century the Church, which had become gentile-dominated, wanted to distinguish itself from Jewish practices. The tradition that Easter was to be celebrated “not with the Jews” meant that Easter was not to be celebrated on 14th/Nisan. It was at that time that talk started to change the day of the Easter celebration.
    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 Colossians 2:16-17, we see that it was 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 it when we wish, although it would be a good tie to the Old Testament foreshadowing the New Testament fulfillment in Christ.
    In the front of our hymnal the LSB (Lutheran Service Book), (p. xxiii), it says: “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 Easter scheduling following the moon: 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 did, however, fall on March 23 in 2008, but will not do so again until 2160.
    Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it did fall on April 24, just one day before this latest possible date, in 2011. The cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5,700,000 years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times.
    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 rather than the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    Please take advantage of this Lenten Season mid-week church services as we see the Lord Jesus approach Calvary’s hill to suffer and die for our sins. Lent enlivens the rest of the year as we celebrate every Sunday the Resurrection of Jesus showing that He has conquered sin, death, and the devil.
         I am sure that many in this post-Christian era see it as appropriate that Easter is celebrated this year on April Fool’s Day; because for many Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are only something for fools to believe. This should not surprise us; for as the Psalmist writes in Psalm 53:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.” Also, St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:20-27, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
    For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
    I pray that all of you have the joy of hearing and celebrating that Easter joy of the Resurrection once again; even on April Fool’s Day! That you hear of the defeating of death by Christ and that you have been connected to that victory through the waters of Holy Baptism; so that you do not die but have life and salvation for eternity.
    For, if we celebrate Easter every Sunday then it doesn’t really matter which day we actually set as Easter Day.
Your servant in the Resurrected Christ Jesus,
Rev. Arie D. Bertsch
North Dakota District President

Convention Recap

Well, the 59th North Dakota District Convention in Dickinson, ND, January 21-24, has come and gone. Now we move forward in the future of Christ’s Church as a District of congregations and pastors of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

I am honored to have been elected as the North Dakota District President and look forward to humbly serving you the congregations and pastors of the ND District. Therefore, I have resigned my call to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Minot, ND after being their pastor for 16 plus years. This made for some sadness but also an opportunity for them to move to the next chapter of their ministry and me to move to the next chapter of my life and service to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Now, I will be able to give all of my attention and focus to the District as I have been elected to do.

The Convention theme was “Unity in Christ” from Ephesians 4:1-16. We were blessed with Synodical President Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison preaching for the opening worship service and also a presentation on the Synod followed by a Question and Answer time.

During the convention the invited Keynote speaker was President Dr. Lawrence Rast of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne Indiana. His presentation was: “De Ceremoniis Ecclesiasticis: On Church Usages or Ceremonies, Sometimes Called Mitteldinge or Adiophora”. President Rast’s presentation brought together adiaphora (things neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word) and unity as we walk together as a synod. Along with that we had presentations in God’s Word by district pastors on: Unity in Baptism, Unity in Communion, Unity in Confession, and Unity in Mission.

One of the resolutions adopted at convention was a resolution to extend term limits for the District President from 3 (3 year) terms to 5 (3 year) terms.

Another was the location for the District President’s office and place of residence was to be where the District President and the Board of Directors of the District decided.

Two resolutions on the mission side were to give $10,000 a year to Christ’s Care for Children-Kenya and to help fund ministry to the LCMS South American Missions in Santiago, Chile at $25,000 per year.

Also, to build on unity of walking together within the District, a resolution was adopted to form a handbook on policies, procedures, and guidelines to be distributed to pastors and congregations.

I close with St. Paul’s words, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Arie Bertsch

ND District President

Questions Answered: Why do we have church on New Year’s Eve?

From the District President
President Bertsch! What’s this about?

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

Over the years as a pastor, I have found that many times people have questions that they are bashful to ask or think that they are the only one with that question or concern. Of course, you are not all alone; so I have taken that opportunity to teach with newsletter articles. Hopefully, you find these enlightening for yourself, also.

This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.

This Month’s Question:

Pastor why do we have church on New Year’s Eve?

Many of you may not recognize the significance of New Year’s Eve/Day in the church if you have asked yourself this question also.  So I will give answer to the question with the hope of raising your understanding to cherish this day also in perspective to Jesus rather than just the start of another New Year and football.

First of all I don’t think it pays to try and have a New Year’s Day church service because many are tired after bringing in the New Year and also to try and compete with football games on New Year’s Day.  Thus we have a New Year’s Eve service.

Now for the Christian aspect of the New Year: In the Old Testament God demanded that His people would circumcise the boys on the eight day.  Therefore, on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day we focus on the circumcision of our Lord.  Jesus was brought to the temple by His step-father, adoptive father, or earthly father, Joseph and His mother Mary to fulfill this command of God on the eighth day.  Counting the Jewish way, we count the day of the celebration of Jesus’ birth and we end up with January 1 as the eighth day.

Now the next question might be: Why celebrate the circumcision of Jesus?  The answer is: Your God always has worked through means.  That is, He works through stuff that we can see, comprehend, and grasp.  God who made all stuff, who sustains all stuff, also works through the stuff of His making for your good!  In the Old Testament God attached His Word to external inanimate objects, to stuff.  In circumcision, however, God attached His Word of promise to man’s flesh, literally.  It wasn’t just spoken to you by a priest, but done to the flesh.  Circumcision was God’s promise that He would look upon you in grace and mercy and not in wrath against your sin.

But circumcision was a sacramental sign pointing ahead to a future fulfillment.  That fulfillment came in the circumcision of Jesus, eight days after His birth.  Jesus had no original or actual sin yet He submitted Himself for you and me in circumcision of His innocent flesh by shedding his first drops of blood.  Jesus, therefore, submitted Himself to the Law to keep it for us where we fall miserably short.

Because of Jesus’ circumcision in the flesh, you are God’s child today.  This is not by the shedding of your blood, but by faith in God’s Word of promise in the flesh, Jesus Christ.  He submitted Himself under the Law to fulfill it by dying in your place and rising from death.  By this death and resurrection He gives new and eternal life to all who are born again with Him in Holy Baptism and faith.  As saint Paul writes in Romans 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 we too might walk in newness of life.  And if we have been untied with Him like this in His death we will certainly also be untied with Him in His resurrection.”

The new life began on the eighth day, the day of our Lord’s resurrection, reinforces the connection between circumcision on the eighth day and Holy Baptism.  As Colossians 2:9-12 clarifies for us: For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.  In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

In the Church, the numeral 8 is symbolic of the fulfillment of God’s work of recreating His sin-broken humanity.  The new life begun in Jesus’ resurrection on the eighth day will never end.  The eighth day is literally the day on which the sun will never set (Revelation 22:5).  That is the day and new life into which you are baptized.  Therefore, to be baptized is literally to be born again, to a new life that will never die.

As the world celebrates the beginning of a new year this day and remembers the passing of the old, so the Church celebrates the new life in the innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ.  In Holy Baptism and faith you are connected to the blood of Christ.

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Arie Bertsch

ND District President

 

Questions Answered: Advent and Lent; when did they come to be and why? Why should I go if I can’t find it in the Bible?

From the District President
President Bertsch! What’s this about?

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

Over the years as a pastor, I have found that many times people have questions that they are bashful to ask or think that they are the only one with that question or concern. Of course, you are not all alone; so I have taken that opportunity to teach with newsletter articles. Hopefully, you find these enlightening for yourself, also.

This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.

This Month’s Question: 

Advent and Lent; when did they come to be and why? Why should I go if I can’t find it in the Bible?

It is the beginning of a new Church year. Advent is the beginning of the Church year because advent means “coming.” With that, we begin having mid-week Advent Services. These services aren’t meant to be a burden but another opportunity to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ, your Savior, from your sin of thought, word, and deed. In those services, there is focus and preparation on God’s promise to His people and its fulfillment in Christ.

Every family is shaped by holidays it keeps together. Each society is identified in part by its common celebrations. So the church has a calendar that revolves around Jesus Christ.  By its observance faith is shaped and nourished.

Obviously, this annual cycle is not commanded in the New Testament. In many ways though, it is a Christian replacement of the calendar of the Old Testament. God gave Israel feasts and celebrations to keep. Through them, God’s involvement in Israel’s history and the lives of its people was to be regularly remembered. Many practices of Old Testament priests and worshipers were no longer possible after the temple was destroyed. Thus, only the Jewish synagogue worship has survived.

In contrast, the Christian calendar is not focused on a single place of celebration like the temple in Jerusalem. It is meant to fit over a secular year. Indeed, it has been moved from one culture to another.  When its pattern is kept, the Christian is helped to remember God’s words and actions. It gives regular occasion to recall God’s love in sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world and of Jesus’ sending the Holy Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify the Church.  It is a tool to keep the church “with Christ in the one true faith.”

The components of the Christian Church year include Sundays, Major Festivals, Special Occasions, the use of customs and colors, and readings from the Bible that mark each event along the way.

Time in our daily lives is marked by cycles. The minute hand and the hour hand advance around the face of the clock. The days accumulate into months, months to years, and decades into centuries. Our days involve patterns of meals, work, and rest. Our years are measured by holidays, special weekends and vacation time.

Without some anchor of meaning these are empty cycles. Self-interest, career, or family or national interests fill the void.  For Christians, the pivot point is obvious: all of life hinges on Jesus Christ. He came from heaven. He was born in Bethlehem (Christmas). He revealed the Father’s love through His miracles and His teachings. But, most especially, Christians acknowledge His death and resurrection (Good Friday and Easter) as the saving acts that made eternal life possible for all who believe. With the ancient church and with believers today, Christians remember this daily, weekly, and yearly. They want worship to focus on Jesus who gives meaning to everything in life. Let the weekly gathering for worship reflect this priority.

Thus, the rhythm of daily life is interwoven with the story of salvation through Christ. That helps give significance to the flow of time. The earthly cycles of seasons, the phase of the moon, and alteration of day and night are combined with incidents in the life of Christ and events in the history of the Christian Church.  Though this Christian calendar is of human origin it is valid for its purpose.

Therefore, the simple answer to the question is: Advent and Lent are a great opportunity to prepare for the coming High Festive days of the Body of Christ, the Church, you, for the Savior’s birth and His death and resurrection for you.

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Arie Bertsch

ND District President

 

Questions Answered: What has happened that more people do not attend church on Thanksgiving Day?

From the District President
President Bertsch! What’s this about?

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

Over the years as a pastor, I have found that many times people have questions that they are bashful to ask or think that they are the only one with that question or concern. Of course, you are not all alone; so I have taken that opportunity to teach with newsletter articles. Hopefully, you find these enlightening for yourself, also.

This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.

This Month’s Question: 

What has happened that more people do not attend church on Thanksgiving Day?

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 tell the congregations 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?

For, 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. But many secularists and atheists have a problem with this.

You see, as many secular and atheist groups are aggressively arguing for the elimination of religion from the public square, they are taking away the very meaning of days like Thanksgiving.

They are fine with the idea of a day of giving thanks. They just don’t want us to actually thank anyone—especially not God. Does this sound confusing? Good. It should!

Suppressing the religious nature of holidays, and leaving only meaningless days off work, is a sure way to beat down natural human expression. Religion is part of what gives our country a vibrant, thriving culture.

Years ago, Becket Fund founder Seamus Hasson wrote a brilliant piece about Thanksgiving and why religious holidays are an appropriate and positive piece of American culture. I found the article interesting and want to share it with you.

 

Forgetting the holy; The Feast of the Intransitive Verb

Published Thursday, November 25, 1999, in The Washington Times

By Kevin “Seamus” Hasson

 

“Every fourth Thursday in November work and school are canceled so that families can gather together for the day and thank – well, we’ll get to just who it is they may be thanking in a minute. They also enjoy good food, good company, and good football. The holiday is currently called Thanksgiving, although there is reason to think that may have to change.

 

Just about every other religious holiday has been stripped of its original meaning and transformed into a more secular version of its former self. Why should Thanksgiving be any different? In Pittsburgh, Christmas and Hanukkah morphed into “Sparkle Season” and then disintegrated further into “Downtown Pittsburgh Sparkles.” Public school systems across the country are renaming the Easter Bunny the “Special Bunny.” Even Halloween is being transformed out of concern for its rampant religiosity. In many places, it is now the “Fall Festival Celebration.” Surely Thanksgiving, a state-sanctioned holiday that purports to give the nation a day to thank God, cannot withstand the small, furious army of radical secularists determined to take the “holy” out of our holidays. A day set aside to thank God can hardly be appropriate when the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and even Halloween has become taboo. Something will have to be done.

 

So I have a modest proposal: Let’s practice truth-in-labeling and call the November holiday that was formerly Thanksgiving, “The Feast of the Intransitive Verb.” Intransitive verbs, as we all remember from those unpleasant days of diagramming sentences in grammar school, are verbs that do not require an object. Verbs in sentences like “The horse ran” and “The wind blows” are intransitive because the horse doesn’t have to run anything or the wind blow anything. They can simply run and blow without any object at all. Well, what about the verb “to thank”? It’s supposed to have an object. You can’t just sit there and “thank.” You have to thank someone. Which is why secularists don’t use that word much in late November anymore. Their creed requires them to celebrate the day by being grateful while thanking no one. And it’s embarrassing to have to choose between being politically and grammatically correct. So secularists prefer the circumlocution “to give thanks.” It doesn’t require an object. You can get away with “giving thanks” without having to be grateful to anyone in particular. It’s much more comfortable that way. Thank whomever you want. Or, don’t thank anyone; it’s entirely up to you. Either way you can still “give thanks.” That’s the beauty of using an intransitive verb; it doesn’t need any object.

 

Of course, once the object of our gratitude is out of the way it’s all downhill. The rest of the day is uncommonly easy to secularize. It has none of the outward trappings of a religious holiday. There are no babes in mangers or symbolic candles to remove from courthouse steps. No one is ringing church bells that require silencing or allowing children to hunt for eggs that must be renamed. The staples of Thanksgiving – turkeys, cornucopias and pumpkin pies – in and of themselves present no real threat to the secularist ascendancy. And the football games are an absolute godsend (so to speak) for secularists. After all, the more distracted we all are the easier it is to forget about the one to whom we owe gratitude.

 

So let’s hear it for the Feast of the Intransitive Verb. It’s a worthy companion to “Sparkle Season” (formerly known as Christmas), “Special Person Day” (previously St. Valentine’s Day), and the “Spring Festival,” which was once Easter. Of course, if all this isn’t agreeable to you, if it all seems just a little bit extreme, or even if you’re just worried that turkey and cranberries may never taste the same again, you could always be a thumb in the eye of the radical secularists. You could insist on thanking God, and not settle for generically “giving thanks.” You could tell your neighbors that you’re grateful to God for all He’s done for you. You could even go so far as to tell your children to do the same – to make sure that amidst all the construction paper turkeys they fashion in school they get the message across that they, too, are thanking God.

 

Defending the public integrity of our holidays is not just petulance. Cultures are built, and eroded, by a succession of public acts both great and small. Everything from the arts we exhibit to the table manners we display makes a difference in building up or wearing down our culture. Public holiday celebrations are particularly potent engines of culture – which is why the secularists have poured so much energy into changing ours. Pittsburgh’s “sparkle season,” for example, has done great damage, not only to Christmas in Pennsylvania, but to our culture nationally. But the fight is far from over. So this month, enlist in the culture war and thank God.”

 

Psalm 118:1-4, 28-29: Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let Israel say: His love endures forever. Let the house of Aaron say: His love endures forever. Let those who fear the LORD say: His love endures forever.

You are my God; and I will give You thanks; You are my God, and I will exalt You. Give thanks to the LORD; for He is good; His love endures forever.

 

Blessings to you from our Lord Jesus and Happy Thanksgiving to our Lord Jesus,

Your servant in Christ,

President Arie D. Bertsch

Questions Answered: “How can I ‘forgive and forget?'”

From the District President

President Bertsch! What’s this about?

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

     Over the years as a pastor I have found that many times people have questions that they are bashful to ask or think that they are the only one with that question or concern. Of course, you are not all alone; so I have taken that opportunity to teach with newsletter articles. Hopefully you find these enlightening for yourself, also.

 

This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.

This Month’s Question:  
“How can I ‘forgive and forget?'”
     Last month’s article was on Confession and Absolution which seems to have stirred another question, “How can I ‘forgive and forget?'”
   Many people have spent a considerable amount of time trying to forget sin so that they can forgive or feel that they have forgiven others. One problem with this is the forgiving ends up in the one trying to forget. Another problem with this is that you think that sin is only forgiven if forgotten. In the Bible there are many cases of sins not forgotten, such as the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3), the sin of King David (2 Samuel 4), and the sin of the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), just to name a few. None of these sins have been forgotten. In fact, they have been written down for us to know what happened in the past to understand the future and guard and warn us from the present and the future.
     God gave you a subconscious mind to protect you. When you remember (say, bad things from the past that have happened to you, and they are happening again) the flags go up warning you of a danger that has happened before so that you may avoid it, if possible now, and in the future. Also, if you believe that forgiveness is based on your ability to forget, you are doomed. Actually, when someone tells you to forget something, you actually do the thing you are not to do. Try it yourself. For the next five minutes-do not think about a white buffalo.
     The more you try to forget it, the more you remember it. The more you remember, it the more angry you become, the more depressed you become, the more ______ whatever you become. The more thinking you do on negative thoughts, the more you forget specific parts of the event. When that happens, not every detail of the whole event is remembered. People will add details that did not happen, or they will eliminate details they did not think were important.
     All of this is important in understanding forgiveness. Let’s say you are in conflict with Jack because Jack reported at a voter’s meeting that you miscalculated the church budget. You keep thinking about the incident in your mind and you refuse to forgive Jack. There are three options available to you: (1) run from Jack, (2) attack Jack, or (3) forgive Jack. If you are unwilling to forgive Jack, you will do one of the other two things: run or attack. Running involves not serving the Lord at all in the church, quit going to voter’s meetings, going to a different time of church service, quit church completely, or go to another church even if the theology is wrong. Attacking involves verbally attacking Jack at the voter’s meeting, or via E-mail, or Face-book. You are getting your army against his army, so the war has begun. Whether you run or attack the problem is unforgiveness.
     Unforgiveness takes place when the sinful act is replayed over and over again in ones mind. You might be encouraged to forget or stop thinking about it. The thought is that by forgetting it you will have forgiven it. But when you tell someone to stop thinking about a sinful act against them they will remember it all that much more and the unforgiveness grows deeper. But remember the white buffalo? Unforgiveness needs to be interrupted.
     Forgiveness is always in the hands of our Lord: “By His wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).” The thinking that we must forget in order to forgive is not helpful. For the forgiving gets put in the hands of the one trying to forget. But forgiveness comes from the One who sacrificed Himself upon the cross, Jesus Christ. It is through His blood that you are justified and redeemed. By the water of baptism, by the body and blood of Jesus that you eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper, by the Word, and by the words of absolution you are forgiven.
     When God forgives He looks at us differently, He remembers us differently. God no longer sees our sin condemning us to the eternal death of hell. God sees Jesus justifying and redeeming you as resurrected children of God who have life.
     You can run from Jack, you can attack Jack, or you can forgive Jack. By the gracious work of Jesus, you can forgive Jack. The goal is not to forget but to forgive, and we forgive because of how Christ Jesus has forgiven us. You will remember what Jack did, but if you have forgiven him, you will remember it differently. Forgiveness ends the endless emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual turmoil. Forgiveness says that by the work of Christ I will not bring this up again or use this against them.
     You will probably remember your own sins and the sins of others against you, but there is great joy and peace knowing that the Savior has forgiven your sin, and you are able to forgive others. When you struggle with forgiveness, ask the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you where you cannot forgive perfectly (which you will never be able to do). Therefore, we remember sins of others against us differently; we remember them as being forgiven by the wounds of Jesus Christ.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Arie Bertsch

Questions Answered: What’s the proper way to dispose of unusable Bibles?

President Bertsch! What’s this about?

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

Over the years as a pastor, I have found that many times people have questions that they are bashful to ask or think that they are the only one with that question or concern. Of course, you are not all alone; so I have taken that opportunity to teach with newsletter articles. Hopefully, you find these enlightening for yourself, also.

This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.

This Month’s Question:

What’s the proper way to dispose of unusable Bibles?

This is a good question, at least for a pastor to hear asked by one of the flock of believers. It means that a Bible has been used so extensively that its binding is falling apart and the pages are worn, torn, and stained from years of good hard use. However, it is sad how many Bibles are in mint condition, even after having been owned for decades. Bibles should be well-worn, underlined, and written on in the margins with personal notes and thanksgiving to God who sent His One and only Son in the flesh to die for our sins.

A side note from the question: Now I know there are some who feel that a Bible shouldn’t be written in or marked, but it is not the paper and ink that the Word of God is written on that is sacred. If marking and highlighting it makes it more usable and memorable as you study it, then it is a good thing. For the Word of God is living and supposed to be written on our hearts. As the Bible itself says, 1 Peter 1:23 reads, “For you have been born again, not by perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.” And another few verses from Proverbs 7:1-3: “My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.”

The last paragraph was a side note, although, it does point out what is understood about what the Bible is to you. Is it something that you carry under your arm or set on your end table like a lucky rabbit’s foot, or is it used as a means of grace (a way that God gives, keeps, and strengthens faith in you)?

The “Word of God” is holy and sacred, but the pages, bindings, and ink of the book are the vessels that carry them. Therefore, a Bible could actually be disposed of like any other book, especially, if you have not read it, never written in it, and for some reason just left it out in the rain, then dispose of it. I don’t believe God would be offended, as more Bibles will be printed than you can ever throw away. You could throw away one every day for the rest of your life and not have an affect. Better it is to read and write in it or give it away if you’re not using it.

But I personally would have trouble with this for myself. I still consider the Bible somewhat like my body that is the temple where the Lord lives. The words that come out of the Bible accomplish what they were sent to do (Isaiah 55:10-11). Therefore, it would be more proper for me to dispose of it in a non-defiling or non-irreverent way, such as not throwing it out with the regular household trash and allowing it to be subjected to gross conditions. Some would suggest burning it; but again, for me, that has a negative connotation because usually books were or are burned because of heresy or trying to keep the truth from being known. Some would suggest recycling the Bible with other paper products practicing good stewardship of God’s creation. Some would suggest burying it by wrapping it in a protective covering, placing it in a wooden box, and having an appropriate liturgy of committal. Such as:

Opening Sentences:
We gather today to dispose of these treasured texts, which have been used beyond being useful. We are burying them not because we idolize Scripture but because we honor it as a vehicle of the Spirit and Word of God.

Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Psalm 119:97-105

Prayer of Thanksgiving:
God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through the words of this book you have spoken to us, to our Church, to our children and more. We return these physical bearers of Your wisdom, guidance, and salvation to Your earth. We give thanks for the authors of these Scriptures, for translators and transmitters, for those who preserved and those who printed. But most profoundly we thank You for inspiring them by Your Spirit, for being present in them in moments and trials in life so that by these words we have known You and Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Hymns: “Jesus Loves Me” “I Love To Tell the Story”

Benediction: The Lord bless us and keep us. The Lord make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. The Lord look upon us with favor and grant us His peace. Amen.

As you have probably gathered by now (from my rambling), there is no set and proper way of disposal of a Bible. Whatever method of disposal you may decide to use, make sure that you thumb through it first, checking for notes or family history recorded with in it. A Bible that has been used for many years by you also may have many written notes in it. There is always room on a bookshelf somewhere for that Bible as a reference. You never know when an old Bible with notes will come in handy to remind you of a time in your life or an earlier walk with the Lord. Also, if it is your Bible, by placing it on a shelf, it could provide insight into your life for your children and grandchildren to witness the use that that Bible had by you. We can’t see faith, but we know that by the Word of God faith is given, kept, and strengthened. What a comfort this is for loved ones at the time of your departure from them. You could ask your family if anyone wants your Bible as a keepsake. My daughters have asked for my Bibles. You could even have in your funeral arrangements the request to have it buried with you. What better way to dispose of a Bible than to take it to the ground with you!

Your servant in Christ,

President Arie Bertsch

Questions Answered: What is the importance of Confession and Absolution?

From the District President

President Bertsch! What’s this about?

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

Over the years as a pastor I have found that many times people have questions that they are bashful to ask or think that they are the only one with that question or concern. Of course, you are not all alone; so I have taken that opportunity to teach with newsletter articles. Hopefully you find these enlightening for yourself, also.

This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.

This Month’s Question:
What is the importance of 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 are the first things that we do every Sunday in the church service. Actually, it is the most important part of the service for you. After you have confessed your sins you hear that they are forgiven; and where there is the forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation.

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. But 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. Prior to 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. 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 that 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 have the joy of the pardon? 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,
President Arie Bertsch

Questions Answered: Easter

President Bertsch! What’s this about?

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

Over the years as a pastor, I have found that many times people have questions that they are bashful to ask or think that they are the only one with that question or concern. Of course, you are not all alone; so I have taken that opportunity to teach with newsletter articles. Hopefully, you find these enlightening for yourself, also.
Greetings, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is a continuation of questions that are brought to my attention and I am sure others have the same questions.

This Month’s Question:

Doesn’t it seem like Easter has lost its importance in our world?

The simple answer is “Yes”. But why has Easter lost its importance, maybe even for you? As the world around us, most certainly here in the U.S., loses the true God, then something else has to step in and take care of the number one enemy, “death”. That is why many consider death to be natural. With that thinking, we are born, we live, and then we die. That is the end of a cycle of life.

Originally, death was not part of man’s nature; he wasn’t created to die. He has died though and returned to the dust he was made of because of sin. Sin has provoked God’s anger and wrath. The wages of sin is death. We see that it is God Himself who executed the death sentence. So death is not natural; it was never meant to be.

But, if you lose this understanding of death, then there must be ways to avoid it or at least delay it. Advances in medical technology have prolonged life and have, at least temporarily, lessened the effects of aging and disease. Improved diet and regular exercise are thought to delay death. Efforts in education are done to increase public safety, making death less likely on the highways and in the workplace. There is a constant effort to renew and repair the body to maybe even make death obsolete. But again, when these things fail, we may try to set the time and place of death which, of course, only leads to the wrong things of euthanasia and or suicide.

For all of our attempts to naturalize death or prevent it, when we lose the true God with the link of sin to judgment, we then at least want to have our life mean something, to have been worth something. Thus, we see the long obituaries and eulogies at funerals. The only thing going for those who have lost the true God is their eulogy at the funeral. They attempt to justify or give God a resume as to why God should have this person in heaven. Think about this: if death is part of life, why do people work so hard to avoid it or to defend themselves against it?

Christians are able to see death for what it is-God’s own termination of sin. God’s law speaks and carries out a death sentence. Human beings are sinners who must die. The answer to death is not found in trying to find a way around death but to find the forgiveness of sins, for where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. Death is robbed of its terror by the forgiveness of sins. Death is swallowed up by the death of Jesus on the cross.

By Jesus’ death, the last enemy is disarmed, for where the forgiveness of sins is, death is deprived of its sting; for there is only life and salvation with sins removed. Easter robs death of the ‘dignity’ it claims for itself. It gives us the sure and certain word that Jesus died for our sins and, therefore, the grave cannot hold us.

Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is more than a confirmation that there is life after death. Death is not part of the inevitable cycle: life to death, and then back to life again. Jesus is raised from the dead free from our sins that He took to the cross; they are buried forever. Put to death for our trespasses and raised again for our justification, Jesus, through His resurrection, declares that our sins are forgiven.

All of us will die. Unbelievers die in their sins. The result of that dying in sin is hell. Believers die to their sins. The result of that is heaven. The forgiveness of sins gives the gift of the resurrection to life everlasting. That is what I am telling you in the absolution in-the-stead and by the command of Jesus.

Easter robs death of the dignity it claims for itself. Easter frees us from all the false ideas and false hopes that the society would want us to have. Easter gives us something far better. Easter gives us a sure and certain word: Jesus died for your sins. God raised Him from the dead. The grave did not and could not hold Him. Neither will it be able to hold those who belong to Jesus. Happy Easter! Alleluia! He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Arie D. Bertsch
North Dakota District President