The ELS web site has a growing number of resources from past times. One of these is the collection of convention essays delivered over the years. Keeping in mind that our synod’s rebirth in 1918 was a humble event, and insignificant in worldly eyes, it’s not hard to imagine that the fledgeling “Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church” had a lot of work to do. Yet very early in our history, the topic chosen for a 1921 convention essay was “Christian Day Schools.” In this essay, Pastor Torgerson identifies the need for our churches to teach the faith, and considers several options. It is worth our time to listen to his message. You can find it here.
There was a person who was blessed to be born with all of the usual parts. Dad counted the fingers and toes, and was relieved to find that the number was exactly right. No birth defects, and everything was in working order.
Later in life, one of the toes began to say to itself, “How important could I be? There are four other toes on this foot, and they can surely get the job done without me. It would please me more to take my rest, and let them handle all that the foot needs. Besides that, it seems to me that toes on the whole don’t have much to contribute.” So this toe began to enjoy life more, and didn’t concern itself with the usual toe activities like sensing the balance of the foot and the contour of the ground beneath, or giving a little extra push when the foot was walking, running, or paddling through water.
After some time, the toe also began to say to itself, “Since I’m doing my own thing now (and enjoying it), I don’t really need all of this oxygen and nutrition that the foot is sending my way. It would be better to let the other toes have more of those things: they’re working so hard. (What a great thing they’ve chosen to do!) But I will shrink the vessels that bring these things from the foot. No need to be selfish.”
This thought may seem alarming, but the toe didn’t mind. It was enjoying the sensation of freedom that comes with relaxation. “Sometimes a toe just needs to dangle,” it would say to itself.
More time passed, and the toe (which now had plenty of free time to notice and ponder other things) began to notice that there were other bodies in the world. Some were furry, and had toes with claws. Some were scaly, and to the the toe’s amazement, had no toes at all! Some bodies were much like the body of the toe, except those ones were doing much different things, and going to much different places. The toe began to wonder what it would be like to be attached to one of those bodies. Would it be better? Maybe the other members of those bodies would think more like the toe, and less like the four other toes on this foot. Maybe they would all enjoy life more. Maybe they would all enjoy the kind of freedom together that the toe had discovered: freedom from such strict discipline that the toe’s own body wanted to follow. Of course, there was no way for a toe to switch bodies, but it did not stop the toe from wondering and dreaming about it.
Soon the dreaming turned into longing, together with something the toe had not experienced before. It began to look down upon the other toes on its own foot, and even the foot and the body itself. It began to despise the body for its demands and discipline, and to loathe the way the body wanted all of its parts to work. It never occurred to the toe that it had begun loathing itself, for it was attached to the body.
The toe sometimes dreamed of a day when it might fall off the foot and be separated from its body. During this time, it continued shrinking the vessels that brought oxygen and nutrition from the foot.
At this time, the toe thought it knew the purpose of the body, and it considered the body to be failing in its purpose. It didn’t wish any harm to the body, but wanted it to do better by relaxing the discipline and the demands that the body made on all of its members. What’s the use of working together so well, when the result is something as uncomfortable as exercise, or as bland as an oatmeal breakfast? The toe doesn’t even get to taste the breakfast, anyway! All of the other members should become as free and relaxed as the toe. They should loosen up, and consider how life could be better.
Are you like the toe? What do you think is the purpose of the Church, which is the body of Christ? Are you helping to fulfill its real purpose, or are you mistakenly working against it, to your own harm? If you have ever had an injured toe, you know that even if your body is still capable of doing many things, the whole body is also affected by the injury. If you have been shrinking the connection between you and the body of Christ — especially the Word and Sacraments, which are provided in the Sunday Divine Service, how do you think that has affected your faith, your perspective, and your spiritual health?
The good news is that the body in question went to see a doctor, who noticed that the toe was weakened and malnourished. With treatment, the toe’s connection to the body was restored. All was forgiven, and the toe once again saw how its own contribution to the body provided the greatest possible satisfaction. Even better, the toe was able to encourage all of the other members to remain steadfast, so that the body worked together to accomplish greater things and receive greater blessings.
May you also enjoy the certainty of God’s forgiveness, which Jesus has won for you by dying once for all on His cross. Now, let us thank Him by bearing our crosses with the same joy that he had in the love of the Father. You are a member of the body of Christ. What could be better than that?
We love Him because He first loved us. -1 John 4:19
When you were conceived, you did not think about God. In fact, our inability to love, honor, and respect God as we should goes back to our first parents. Our original sin, our inability to love God as we ought to, goes back to when Adam and Eve decided that they would disobey God and then there was no longer a proper love for Him. When you were conceived you did not love God, you did not honor Him, you did not respect Him; from your conception, you have been a sinner.
When you were a little child you did not love God as you should. Beginning as an infant all you cared about was where the warmth came from and where your next meal was going to come from; you did not love and honor God. When you grew into a toddler, maybe you knew who this God was, or were told about Him, but you did not love Him. You loved your parents, you loved your siblings (if you had any), you probably even loved your pet… but you did not love God, you did not honor God, you did not respect God. Even while you were an infant and a toddler, you were a sinner.
When you grew up and became a teenager, then you really did not love God. As a teenager life truly got in the way of loving and respecting God and His word. As a teenager, you knew better. God did not know what was best for you, you did. As a teenager, you did not love you parents and honor them and sadly you did not love and honor God as He deserves. Yes, during your teenage years, you were a sinner.
When you went away to college things really got interesting. Alcohol, friends who didn’t like or go to church, the opposite sex really started to come into play; so many new and exciting things and God didn’t always fit into that mold. God was someone that you might visit if you needed to pass a test or if you decided not to stay out too late on Saturday night but otherwise you did not love and honor God as you should have. You put other things, things of this world, first. Friends were first; Grades were first; Pleasures were first; God was not first. When you were in college, no matter how smart you were, you were a sinner.
As you grew up middle age did not treat you well at all. You got married and began to have children and they became first in your life. The wife needs your time, the children need your time, the job needs your time; God has to wait. “Maybe next weekend” became an all too real thought and answer. Not able to pull yourself up to go to church but you religiously cheered for and went to those sporting events. During the middle of your life, God was not first, you were a sinner.
Finally, old age came. Old age hit you like a ton of bricks because now you were faced with your own mortality… maybe for the first time. You got a little bit slower, you got a little more frail, you didn’t think or reason as fast as you used to, time caught up with you, and still, God is not first. Children and grandchildren, spouses and remaining family, medications and television shows; all of these take up precious hours, but God is still left in the corner… just waiting for you, waiting for you to love Him.
Because you see, God did love us first. When our first parents sinned, God set His plan in motion. He knew that we would not be perfect children, He knew that we would sin, and so He made sure that we would not have to worry about that. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to live the perfect life for you and to die the innocent death for you. Jesus came into this world to bear all of your sin upon the cross and to give you all of His righteousness. Jesus bore on the cross all the times you did not put God first, all the times you knew better than God, all the times that God was not worthy of you… He bore them as He suffered and died; and why? Because God loved you first.
God loved you from the beginning. God loved you when you were conceived and he knit you together in your mother’s womb. God knew you as an infant and toddler and He watched over you as your parents brought you to Him when He baptized you. God knew you as a teenager and, though you did not have time for Him, He made sure that you heard His word and were taught His truths. When you entered into middle age God was still there for you, loving you and making sure that no matter the struggle nothing would be too hard for you to handle… nothing was out of His control. And God knew you in old age. God knows the pain and the struggle that you go through and He is there allowing you to lean on Him, to place all your cares and anxieties on Him, allowing you to know Him and plan eternity with Him.
Yes, God loved you first and He loved you much. So much, in fact, that He sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins, so much that He wrote His words and helped you to read and understand them, so much that He claimed you as His own in baptism, and so much that He gave you the very body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. God loved you first… and because God loved you, you love God. Thanks be to God for loving me.
by Bob Gove
High in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, the Skagit River starts its journey to the sea. Down through a couple dams, past the little towns of Marblemount and Rockport – – – then by the unique town of Concrete .
A fascinating phenomenon existed in that little town sixty years ago – maybe it is still the same today; I haven’t had opportunity to re-visit.
A cement manufacturing plant was the main reason for the town’s existence (hence the town’s name – “Concrete”). Its presence was obvious as one entered the town, for everything was encased in cement. Over the years dust emitted from the cement plant had settled on the roofs and fences and everything else that wasn’t moved frequently. When rain fell, it combined with this cement dust, encasing everything in a rock-like coat. It hung heavily from the power and telephone wires all over town. Some wires had become as thick as a baseball bat, with long rows of cement “ice cycles” hanging from them.
In the years since being there, I have often wondered if the inhabitants suffered ill effects from breathing air so full of cement dust.
And some spiritual lessons came into focus too. For instance — consider how the influence of the world effects you. Unless you thoroughly bathe your mind frequently with the cleansing Word of God, the “dust” of the world’s attitudes will cling and harden around your heart, closing off any compassion you might otherwise express to a hurting soul. “ –but you were washed , you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Another reason for such frequent cleansing is to rid ourselves of the self-defense mechanism many of us resort to; that of erecting a hard shell of isolation against the cruel words and actions of those we must contact every day.
God put us here to be “salt and light” in this sick and sin darkened place. Let’s forget the defensive tactics; “The best defense is a good offense”. Our acquaintances and co-workers are not the enemy — recognize the real enemy; see the havoc Satan has caused in their lives, and wash it away with the all powerful Word. They need Jesus just like we do.
“For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4: 12
We haven’t written letters to one another before, and it seems that letters are becoming more rare everywhere, but they still have their uses. You might say I could have just texted you this message, or sent a message on Facebook. But it’s hard to express things of a deep and personal nature that way, especially because a short message runs a great risk of misunderstanding. You might say I could have called or visited so we could make this a conversation, but the things I have to say all hang together, and they will take a while for me to say them well. It takes a lot of patience and goodwill to have a back-and-forth conversation about deep, personal things like this. We all tend to interrupt instead.
So I’m writing you this letter. I may never send it. Maybe I’ll just gather my thoughts here and God will give me an opportunity to express them to you some other way. You see, they must be expressed. There are some things too important to be kept silent or ignored. One of them is the matter of your life.
You have been blessed with a pretty good life. You can count many blessings, if you stop to consider them. Yes, there are many challenges too, and I can see how they could get you down. But overall, your life is a blessing, just like mine. I’m glad to be alive, and I’m glad to know you, too. Because I care about you, I want you to think about not only your life on earth, but your future life that will come afterward. I’d like to share that blessing with you, too.
We used to see each other not only at the supermarket or at special occasions. I enjoyed visiting with you at church. That’s not the main reason I was there, but it was one very good part of it. Why haven’t you been coming to church lately? In fact, I think it’s been months since you were attending every week. I suppose one obligation or another got in the way, and maybe you were sick. But church used to be a priority for you. So what happened?
Have you forgotten the reason for going to church? It’s not just some old tradition. You didn’t go because of some threatening commandment from God. Oh, I know there is one: the Third Commandment: “You shall keep the day of rest holy,” as it’s written in catechisms these days. But you know it’s not just about a certain day. It’s about our connection to God, the link He has made from us to Jesus. It’s the only way for us to reach heaven! Besides heaven, it’s the only way for us to have a truly fulfilling and content life on earth. God didn’t give us that commandment just to make you hurt with feelings of guilt and shame. He gave us that commandment out of love, so that we might not neglect His most precious gifts and lose out on what they bring.
Now, maybe you think God should give you heaven and all the best blessings some other way. “If He loves me so much, why doesn’t He give me my Sundays off to enjoy instead of making me uncomfortable? Can’t He do that and give me eternal life at the same time?”
Dear N., He can do anything, but He gets to choose how He does it! Remember who He is, here: God. And remember that you are not God. The way He gives you eternal life is through that connection: His Word and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those things are non-negotiable, because they are the God-given connection to the one-and-only Savior for human beings. That’s Jesus, of course.
If Jesus was crucified and stayed dead, then don’t come to church. In that case, I shouldn’t go either. But did you know that the best historical evidence all supports the fact that Jesus rose to life again? If you believe in Julius Caesar, then you have every reason to believe even more strongly that Jesus Christ rose to life on the third day. And if you believe that, then you also should believe what He said it means. Do you remember John 3:16? It’s Jesus’ promise to you: forgiveness and eternal life.
You may have some hangups about all of this, and I’d like you to tell me about them. Don’t worry, I won’t blow you off or make fun of you. I’ll listen, because this is serious. I want you to share eternal life with me.
The congregations of Bethany and Concordia decided on February 28 to extend two pastoral calls. One of the calls is to replace the call of Pastor Jacobsen, who has been serving as the sole pastor of the two churches since 2006. The replacement call was extended to Pastor Jacobsen to serve as senior pastor, but to focus his work on being the principal of Columbia Lutheran School and teaching the upper grades. A second call is also extended by the two churches for a new pastor to serve their pastoral needs full-time. The decision was to request a pastoral candidate from Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota. That’s the seminary of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, from which Pastor Jacobsen graduated in 1998.
After prayerfully considering it for two weeks, Pastor Jacobsen decided to accept the new call extended to him. He is now preparing to teach full-time in the upper-grades classroom, and managing the school’s transition to serving students from kindergarten through 8th grade.
Columbia Lutheran School was started in 2014 with Mr. Doug Radliff (a Concordia member with his wife, Lilly) as the kindergarten-4th grade teacher. He came to Columbia with many prior years of teaching, most recently the first and second grades at Covenant Christian Academy. Bethany has always had the long-range intention of operating a school with the usual “elementary” grades for a Lutheran parochial school, which extend to the 8th grade. After researching the start of Columbia Lutheran School, there is also an intention to open an early learning center for pre-kindergarten students.
Lutheran parochial education has a long tradition in the United States and elsewhere. Unlike a public school education, it includes biblical teaching as the foundation of every subject. The greatest benefit of literacy, for example, is to read and write the timeless truths of God’s Word. This helps us to grow in our faith, to glorify God, and to further the spread of the Gospel. Likewise, the study of mathematics and science is the study of God’s creation and its design.
Columbia is also distinguished in being a classical school. This is a return to the principles of learning used for many centuries, rooted in the foundations of western civilization: the Greek and Roman worlds of antiquity. A classical school teaches the history, languages, and literature from the classical period of time together with later times, but it also applies the teaching philosophy and methods developed from that time until now. Its purpose is to help our students grow into their full God-given potential as human beings redeemed by Christ, with dual citizenship in heaven and on Earth. Columbia’s mission is “To provide a quality classical Christian education for the families of the Mid-Columbia area, preparing students for their current and future God-given roles and supporting parents in their vocation to educate and nurture their children.”
Pastor Jacobsen will be fully engaged in the work of the school, especially in his first year of full-time classroom teaching. The school is an outreach ministry of Bethany, and benefits from the generosity of many people at Bethany, others in our fellowship, and even nationwide. The prayers of many ELS members are with us in this endeavor. Until the new pastor is installed, Pastor Jacobsen will be able to serve our churches as a vacancy pastor. That means he will conduct services and help to meet basic ministerial needs, but most of his attention will be on the needs of the school. After the new pastor arrives, Pastor Jacobsen will continue to be involved in our services, but on a much more limited basis.
We will hear in the first half of May whether a seminary graduate is assigned to our parish. If there is one assigned, we can look forward to celebrating that with an ordination and installation service for both pastors over the summer months. If not, then the congregations will join together for another call meeting and extend the call for a second pastor to another qualified man.
Your prayers and generosity with your time, talents, and treasure are both appreciated and needed by your congregation, and by Columbia. Please continue to pray for God’s blessings upon the work of Pastor Jacobsen, because they will also run over into blessings upon your congregation and its other work in the Gorge. Just as importantly, please remember to speak well of the work that God is doing among us, so that your neighbors, friends, and coworkers are aware of it in a positive light. This opens a door for you to help in the spread of the Gospel, and the strengthening of our Lord’s Church.
Thanks be to God!
Religion is on the mind of many people around the world. It has always been. Religious problems are connected with practical problems like terrorism, stewardship of natural resources, and the role of government.
Religious belief forms the core of who we are. Some think they are doing fine without religion, but it always turns out that they still believe and trust in certain things. Those things may be reason, progress, humanity, science, or something else. Martin Luther observed, “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart.” Even an atheist trusts in something, or else why does he look both ways before crossing the street? He may not call it “God,” but even by any other name, it still gives meaning and order to his daily life. In effect, it’s his god. That’s the meaning behind the remark, “God does not believe in atheists.”
Religion and history are intertwined with one another, but there are many people who don’t have time to think about either one. For a few, the daily necessities like food, shelter, and clothing take all of their attention. But is that so for most people? We do some things by our own choice and make them a convenient excuse for not thinking about religion and history. Why would we do that? Do those topics make you uncomfortable? Inadequate? Angry? Depressed? Afraid? The best way to deal with that is to learn more.
All religions are historical in some sense, but that usually doesn’t make them compelling enough to give them your time. Most are historical in the sense that people at some point in history have believed them and accomplished things in their name. Most are also historical in that a prophet or teacher founded the religion at a certain time. These things are usually easy to check up on, but they don’t help us to see which religions may be true and which may be false.
Religions also claim things that can’t be verified, because no witnesses or testimony exists about them. Reincarnation is one example. Another is a prophecy of some event still in our future. If these kinds of things are all you know about the many religions of the world, it’s no wonder if you’d rather not give them your precious time.
But there is one religion that is historical in a different sense. This one depends on history. It depends on a thoroughly-witnessed event that took place at a certain place in a certain time. If that highly unusual event could be disproven, this religion would die instantly. But if it really happened, then it will influence everyone, forever.
Each of the four Gospels in the New Testament describes the death of Jesus in detail, and each also describes his resurrection. For an event taking place thousands of years ago, the evidence is excellent, mostly written within a generation of the event itself. It has also found support in archaeology and writings outside the Bible. By the standards used in a present-day court of law, the most reasonable conclusion is that Jesus not only lived and died, but also rose to life again. This is the event that the whole Christian faith relies upon. Without it, there is no Christianity.
It’s easy to claim that Jesus did not rise, but the evidence shows that He did. There are “Bible experts” who love to contradict it, but when the New Testament is considered alongside similar ancient writings, the question becomes a matter you can see for yourself. Did Julius Caesar and Cicero exist? The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is even better. If you haven’t considered it, you should. Then, you need to ask yourself what difference it makes to you. If you accept the evidence, you’ll need to consider many other things in light of it. There are churches and Christians who take these things seriously, ready to help you with that.
What is the cost of being a Christian? It’s God’s demands. He’s a jealous God, not satisfied with only a part of your heart. He wants it all. He loves you so extremely that He even uses a cross to save you. First, the cross of Jesus, by which you were redeemed. Second, the personal cross that chafes and bruises your sinful flesh as you are forced to carry it through the winding course of your life. In this way, He brings you finally to heaven.
Besides demanding, sometimes Christianity also seems impractical. How can you fit such a religion into your life? Your boss and coworkers probably don’t appreciate how demanding your faith can be. Maybe even your family doesn’t quite get it. When you go to church, it’s likely you will see people there who have trouble carrying their cross more than a few feet at a time.
So how can we make Christianity practical?
Can your church membership get along with all of the other interests and obligations you may have? Sounds great. It’s like having a beautifully decorated wedding cake to enjoy in a glass case in your dining room forever, like a fine sculpture, while also enjoying a piece for dessert with a little ice cream from time to time.
It can’t be done. The difficulty is that the world around us entices the sinful flesh within to join in everything except whatever God wants. Sin excludes God, because God excludes sin.
The world entices you with recreation. You are supposed to work enough that you can afford to spend as much time as possible enjoying yourself. When Thanksgiving arrives, the world says, “Be thankful above all for the conveniences and pleasures you have in your life — for all that makes you happy.” To the fallen world, that’s what life is all about.
But Jesus had plenty of practical things to say about that. For example, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). And again from Mark 8, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” In the ultimate “been there, done that” book of the Bible, Solomon speaks to those who value pleasure, accomplishments and experiences: “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment” (Ecclesiastes 11:9) And in the next chapter, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.'”
To be practical is to put something into practice. If you want to be a practical Christian, then you must put your Christian faith into practice. The psalmist writes (119:27), “The law [Word] of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.”
The world is horrified that we might turn away from thousands of coins of gold and silver. But God’s Word is worth more. It’s the only link He’s given to Himself. Only in His Word do we know our Savior. If that’s not more important to you than an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning, then what can I say? You’re like a pig staring at a priceless pearl, wondering how it tastes.
Practical Christianity means seeking God’s forgiveness by studying His Word. It’s available to you more richly than ever before: in print, in audio, on screen, or in braille. You can have it delivered to your inbox in measured portions. You can study it with friends at church. If distance is a problem, you can study it online, even face-to-face. God is finding new ways to bring it to you, but in the end, only you can put your faith into practice.
Jesus sent out His disciples saying, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). When you have received, it’s time for your faith to be active as well, showing God’s love to your neighbors. This is a life of faith, practical faith. Practice receiving God’s forgiveness. Practice reflecting it for others. This is practical Christianity.
We’re planning to hold Bethany’s Christmas children’s program this year again on the Sunday before Christmas. Technically, this means we’ll be stealing a Sunday from the Advent season, but it seemed to be well-received last year. On the first Sundays in Advent (November 29th through December 13), the participating children and adults will use their Sunday School time to prepare for the program.
Without a Christmas program on Christmas Eve, we will again have an opportunity to adorn the service with plenty of instrumental music. If you play any kind of band instrument suitable for harmonizing Christmas hymns, please consider getting it out and joining our practices over the next two months. We will meet on Fridays from 3:30 to 4:30: October 30, November 6 and 20, and December 4, 11, and 18. The music will be easy enough for most players. Most of our playing will be to accompany hymn singing, but some pieces may be played by the ensemble alone, and there may be some descants for soloists.
The joint Christmas Day service this year will be at Concordia in Hood River, which is an excellent acoustic space for music. Between December 20, 24, and 25, there will be three opportunities for our ensemble to play this Christmas season. Players will be encouraged, not required, to attend all performances.
Sunday School is a real challenge for us at Bethany and Concordia. A big part of the challenge is that families with children need to bring them to church on Sunday morning. A second major part is that being a Sunday School teacher is a thankless task, and can be stressful at times. But the most unusual challenge for us is that there is no pastor who can carry out a plan for Sunday School. What? No pastor? I thought we had one of those! Yes, we do, but during Sunday School, he’s away serving the “other church.” It may be comparable to poor Jacob who found himself married to both Rachel and Leah. Jacob knew that a marriage is a lifelong commitment. In his case, there were two lifelong commitments. Not exactly God-pleasing, not the best example for us, but the demands that naturally ensued between Leah and Rachel for their husband’s scarce time might be comparable to our two congregations during their Sunday School hours. Neither one can be entirely satisfied.
So the Sunday School Manifesto previously posted here will be saved for another day. It’s too ambitious for the resources available at Bethany. We’re going to do something a bit different. Two groups: adults and children, with a short-term class of only 4-6 weeks. The first class will be about Creation, dinosaurs, the Flood, and so forth. There will be refreshments, and especially for the adults, a time for visiting. When this is finished, the next few weeks will be preparation for a Christmas program: singing, instrument playing, etc. Come on October 18th if you want to see it from the very beginning, or come on a later Sunday to join the class in progress.
We care deeply about the members of our churches, including their children. So the effort to overcome our challenges and bring us together for continued spiritual growth should be well worth the investment. In fact, why not bring a friend or two with you? 9:30 on Sunday morning for fellowship, 10 a.m. for the start of classes.