Category Archives: uncategorized

A Letter from the Editor Regarding Luther’s Protest

Dear fellow servants of the Word,

Wise King Solomon observed, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). That certainly is true of books in general, and we can also safely say that it’s true of books about Martin Luther and the Reformation. In fact, it has been said that more books have been written about Martin Luther than any other person in history, except for Jesus Christ. I have never seen actual statistical evidence to back up that assertion, but it does seem reasonable. And over the years Northwestern Publishing House has contributed more than a few titles to that ever-growing list of books on Luther. This Reformation 500 anniversary year, NPH has published four new Luther titles and brought back into print or reissued new editions of several older Luther books. Some are aimed at younger readers and people with little knowledge of Luther. Other books are aimed at pastors and teachers, as well as laypeople who already have some knowledge of Luther and the Reformation. Continue reading

A Letter Regarding the New Catechism

Dear Brothers in Christ’s Ministry,

Luther wrote his Small Catechism to help pastors teach God’s Word, especially to children. He could not have imagined the sheer numbers of students who would be armed with the Word of Truth through his little book. No other book of Christian instruction has endured for almost 500 years. Not one! No other book of Christian instruction has been so widely used. It is with a deep sense of awe and gratitude that we consider the blessings God has given to the church through this book. It is truly amazing. Though our world has changed in innumerable ways over these last five centuries, the value and relevance of Luther’s Catechism are just as great today as when it was first written. Continue reading

A Letter from the Editor regarding 2000 Demons

Dear fellow soul-tenders,

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us . . . (CW 200:3)

Will you be singing that hymn a few extra times in your congregation this year as you celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation?

What will those first two lines of the third verse mean to most of the people in the pews? What do they mean to you? I would have to admit that this is not the way I personally perceive my reality, my everyday life: that it is filled with fallen angels who, if they could have their way, would devour me and all that I hold dear. How often do you take that reality seriously? How often do the members of your congregation face up to this ever-present, world-filling threat? Continue reading

Being “Quick to Listen”: A Letter From the Editor

“That was more meaningful than any baptism in a church that I’ve been to.”

“There’s a feeling I get [there] I never got at church.”

“It was those moments when she realized that she didn’t need religion to tap into that feeling.”

I finished reading a helpful book yesterday, written by an atheist mother of three. Continue reading

A Letter from the Editor regarding A Christian Guide to Mental Illness, Volume 1

Dear brothers in Christ,

Once in a while I run across a book and I think, “I wish I could have had this book at the beginning of my ministry.” A Christian Guide to Mental Illness, Vol. 1: Recognizing Mental Illness in the Church and School is just such a book. The subject of ministering to people who are suffering from mental illness was not covered in any detail in our seminary training. I remember hearing the good advice that if we suspected that someone was suffering from a mental illness, we should advise them to see their doctor or refer them to a qualified mental health professional—sound advice. At the same time, though, pastors are still responsible for ministering to their spiritual needs. This book goes a long way in helping pastors and Christian teachers understand the subject of mental illness and how it may affect the people we serve in our churches and schools. It will help us to better understand the struggles they and their families may be going through, the stigma Christians often feel (as if mental illness is caused by or a result of a lack of faith) and how to better empathize with them as we apply the comfort of God’s Word to them. Continue reading

Priorities Chapter 4: Priorities for Our Souls

14040344199_4c1c070a97_oThe morphine that quieted Art’s pain did little to quiet his troubled thoughts. He tossed and turned, unable to escape the accusing glare of the pictures from his past. Unfortunately, Art never reached for the one medicine that could have given relief—the message of forgiveness in Jesus. He had become just another statistic, succumbing to the deadly combination of selfishness, materialism, and greed that had hurt his marriage and his family and that would eventually be the ruin of his soul.

It is sad when the joy of the wedding day eventually gives way to the ache of loneliness, when a well of love dries up and a marriage shrivels, or when a lack of attention crushes a child’s spirit. But the same skewed priorities that yield a harvest of broken dreams and anguished hearts can be the cause of even greater ruin—the loss of souls. Jesus’ parable of the sower illustrates the sad consequences of priorities gone wrong.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up” (Matthew 13:3,4). The seed represents the Word of God. The paths are the hardened hearts that won’t let the seed of God’s Word penetrate. We can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness as we read Jesus’ words, because we know we have met some of these people.

“I’m not interested in anything religious,” the lady says politely but firmly when we offer an invitation to the Christmas service. The grand house, the nice neighborhood, and the luxury car in the driveway all reveal where her priorities lie. Those things are what life is about for her. She has no time or need for “religion.”

“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root” (13:5,6). The membership rosters of most congregations are sprinkled with the names of people who have drifted from their fellowship. Some of them probably even served with great enthusiasm at one time. Later, because they didn’t sink their roots into the life-giving nourishment of God’s Word, their enthusiasm—and their faith—expired. Perhaps jobs, sinful relationships, hobbies, activities of their children, or other impediments became so important that eventually these distractions consumed their lives. The faith that once lived, died just as Jesus described in his parable. In the shallow soil between the rocks, the seeds spring up quickly. But because they can’t sink their roots into nourishing soil, they wither and die—just like the once vibrant faith which failed to sink its roots into the nourishing Word.

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” (13:7). So many people are caught in snares of worry or concern—often over the minor details of this life. Eventually these worries loom menacingly over them and strangle their faith. Jane’s is a typical case. As a single Christian, Jane yearned for a husband. She worried that she would never marry. When a man finally showed some interest, she readily accepted his marriage proposal—even though he was an atheist who resented her love for her church. To please him, she stayed away. Without life-giving support from the Word, her faith ebbed, flickered, and finally perished.

The list of worries, concerns, and misguided priorities that can choke a person’s faith is as endless as the supply of weeds and thorns that can strangle a farmer’s plants. A farmer, facing the kinds of obstacles the parable mentioned so far, might grow discouraged. But this farmer found that his work was not in vain. “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (13:8).

From the time we first heard this parable, we have probably hoped this fourth soil—the good soil—would always represent us. But do our priorities always reflect that hope? That question is too important for just a passing thought. We need to stop and ask: Do our eyes regularly scan the pages of God’s Word? Do we take every available opportunity to go to the Lord’s Table to receive strength from his body and blood? Do we take the time to talk to our children about the things that are important to them and to us—and equally as important, do we listen? Do our lives demonstrate the comfort, strength, and contentment we have found in God’s Word? Do we seek the counsel of our pastors or fellow Christians when faced with challenges or opportunities? Yes, ask the question: Do our priorities reflect our hope that God’s Word will produce a harvest in our hearts?

When our eyes regularly scan the treasures found in God’s Word and our ears listen attentively in the sanctuary of our church, we discover very important truths. We learn that the well-being of our own souls and those of our spouses and children is of the utmost importance. It becomes a priority that we share a common faith with our spouses, that we rejoice together in the Savior, and that we share a goal of bringing our children to him.

The more we feast on the Bread of Life, the more we learn to trust in God and to rely on the guidance he has given in his Word. Then, when an offer for a job promotion arrives at our desk, we can recognize the important issues. If the new job requires an inordinate separation from our family or from a church of our fellowship, we can choose what will be best in the long run—and trust that God will take care of us. We can pass up the higher salary confident that God can provide for us as we seek first his kingdom.

If God’s Word is always close to us, we will cherish God’s guidance, especially when challenges touch our lives. We will rejoice in the wise counsel of our pastors and fellow believers as they share God’s Word with us. We will recognize that the world’s trophies of success are nothing compared to the joy of being able to teach our children “when [we] sit at home and when [we] walk along the road, when [we] lie down and when [we] get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19) in order to lead them to Christ and to heaven. We will thrill as our family worships together, a united expression of our trust in God.

As the light of God’s grace shines brightly in our hearts, we will recognize the privilege God gives us to be able to serve him. Though we are sinners, caught for a time in this world, we long to use our time to serve a higher kingdom. We want to use our talents to glorify God and to use our treasures to spread his Word. Realizing that the soul that dies without the Savior is lost for eternity, we recognize the privilege that God gives us to point others to eternal life. We are jars of clay, simple vessels entrusted to carry a precious gospel treasure to relatives, to neighbors, and to coworkers.

And when telltale signs of age remind us that we won’t live forever, we will find comfort in the promise of the heavenly mansions our Lord has prepared for us. The world can offer nothing even close in value, certainly nothing worth the price of exchange.

In the rare moments when he could focus through the morphine induced haze, Art noticed that the nurses were very quiet. In hushed tones they informed visitors that Art’s organs had begun to shut down. It wouldn’t be long.

The headline in the waiting room newspaper the next morning was rather blunt: “Millionaire business guru succumbs to cancer.” The words beneath, scribbled by an anonymous reader, were even more telling: “He paid too much for his whistle.”

Let’s talk about this

Read Numbers 13:17–14:4.

  1. Why did the Israelites refuse to take the land God was giving them?
  2. Imagine that you are one of the spies who believes you should enter and take the land. Point out the reasons you might give in your argument against the rebellious spies.
  3. How do you explain the fact that the majority wanted to find a leader who would take them back to Egypt?
  4. Agree or disagree: Our skewed priorities often result from a lack of trust in God. Explain your answer.
  5. In what areas of your life does a lack of trust affect your priorities?
  6. Why do we have every reason to trust that God can provide for our every need?
  7. What assurance does Romans 8:32 give us that shows we can trust God to take care of even the routine issues of our lives?
  8. Evaluate your life. What changes do you expect to see in your life as your priorities fall in line with God’s promises?

Image by Lane Pearman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Listen Before Teaching

A pastor wrote, “Some of our members believe that receiving the Lord’s Supper when they are ill will make them die more quickly. Some will even excuse themselves from taking the Lord’s Supper when the pastor visits them.” That surprising comment came from a Malawian pastor. He was giving his input for an upcoming seminar on the Lord’s Supper. A seminary professor from Wisconsin was coming over to Malawi to teach. He had agreed to work together with me to design the seminar using a Dialogue Education ™ approach. Our first step was to send out a few questions to the pastors who would be taking the seminar.

In Dialogue Education parlance, asking for advance input on a learning event is called doing a Learning Needs and Resources Assessment (LNRA). I’ve found it to be a great benefit in preparing to teach. In the case of the seminar on the Lord’s Supper, the advance input clearly improved the course design. During one lecture, our visiting professor carefully explained what the Bible teaches about the health benefits of taking communion! Perhaps an odd point to include in a Western context, but the lively discussion following the lecture proved its worth.

Doing an LNRA is not just valuable in cross-cultural teaching. We might be planning a series of adult Bible studies on millennialism for our members. We could guess about what approach might interest them, but why not ask? We might be preparing a study of Christian rebuke for our church elders. Finding out what the elders feel they need to know would be sensible. If we are preparing a marriage seminar for area congregations, couples who sign up can give valuable input ahead of time.

How do you conduct an LNRA? Each teacher has to find the best way, considering his or her own personality and context. The request for input could go out by e-mail, text message, hard copy, an online survey, or a face-to-face. Maybe the input will be better if it is submitted anonymously. You may want input from everyone who might attend. Or you might find (as I have) that input from a sampling of participants is enough.

Assessment questions can be very general. “What are you expecting from this study?” Better results come from more specific questions. “Next month we’ll study Christian rebuke. A major theme I was thinking of exploring is ‘How rebuke is an act of love that maintains spiritual health in a Christian community.’ What are your reactions?” A request for input could include practical issues. “In our upcoming marriage seminar, we plan to meet from 9 to 11a.m., Saturday mornings, at St. Peter’s fellowship hall. What are your comments or questions?”

It pays to listen. Sometimes the input we receive challenges the assumptions we made. “Your proposed seminar theme isConflict Resolution in Marriage.’ We’re not newlyweds. We need to learn how to adjust to an empty nest.” Sometimes learning needs are revealed that might not have been predicted. “If you give handouts, could you make a large print copy for me?” Practical things come up. “That fellowship hall is deathly cold. Have them turn down the air conditioner.” Listening to advance input can improve your lesson designs, reveal needs, and even uncover practical issues that might interfere with learning.

Conducting an LNRA does one other thing. When you ask their advanced input, learners know you are taking them seriously. The implicit message is respect. Your desire for input says, “I appreciate the wealth of experience and the valuable ideas you adults bring into this course.” Mutual respect between teacher and participants helps promote learning.

Try asking some questions ahead of time. Listen to your prospective learners and see how it changes and improves the learning experience. As Calvin Coolidge said: “No man ever listened himself out of a job.

Video Extra: Teach the Word – Interview With Pastor Nitz, Part 4

This is the fourth article in a five-part series by Paul Nitz, a WELS pastor and missionary to Malawi. He teaches pedagogy at the Lutheran Bible Institute, the beginning level ministerial school that serves the Lutheran Church of Central Africa in Malawi and Zambia.