The Promise at the End of Suffering

I want a show of hands. How many of you watched all of the Packers/Bears game on Sunday night? You’re good fans. You witnessed a thrilling 24-23 come-from-behind victory as the Packers scored on three straight fourth quarter possessions.

I want another show of hands. How many of you turned off the game at halftime? Only me? I’m OK admitting that I’m a fair-weather fan. The franchise quarterback looked like he was out for the season and the backup quarterback allowed a fumble sack and a pick six. It was ugly. I had better things to do than watch what I thought would be a 54-0 debacle.

When I woke up Monday morning, I checked the score on my phone. I couldn’t believe it! I had to turn on SportsCenter to watch the highlights of the fourth quarter.

“Ephphatha!” – “Be Opened!”

Jesus is nearby! Dan, Joe, and Ben excitedly find their friend, Kophi. The last time Jesus was in the area, He healed two crazy men of their demon possession (Matthew 8:28-34).

Dan signs the name “Jesus” to Kophi. Kophi has been deaf from birth. His parents named him after his physical disability – “Kophi” – which is similar to “kophos,” the Greek word for “deaf.” Kophi’s deafness also created a speech impediment.

Kophi doesn’t quite understand what the big deal is about going to see this Jesus. Obviously, he hasn’t heard about any of Jesus’ healing miracles. But, he has nothing else to do. So, he joins his friends. On the way through the Decapolis, Dan, Joe, and Ben take turns signing to Kophi about all the healing that Jesus has been doing in their region and how Jesus is the promised Son of God.

Don’t Forget Who You Are

A few years ago, Joe Bieger, a Texas football coach mysteriously vanished one morning. Joe went outside to walk his dogs and promptly forgot who he was.

Joe had a small stroke which caused a psychogenic fugue, an extremely rare form of amnesia, which left him unable to remember his name, recall his family, or recollect what he did for a living. Joe had lost the ability to recall where he lived. It was this last part, being unable to find his residence, which caused him the greatest difficulty.

Family, friends, neighbors, all were searching for him. His high school football team was so distraught that it canceled its season.

The Counter-Culturalism of Christianity

The 1960s were a period when long-held values and morality seemed to break down, particularly among the adolescents and young adults. Many college-age men and women pushed back against the perceived “Establishment” of previous generations. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and antiwar protests were badges of belonging.

Radicals and hippies urged people to kick down “Victorian” and “Puritanical” restraints on their freedoms and behaviors. The results were free sex, living together, birth control pills, unwed mothers, feminism, increased divorce and abortion.

The countercultural revolution has changed people’s behaviors over the following decades.

Living in Evil Days

The statistics don’t look good. Pastor Jon Hein, who works in our Synod office compiled a comprehensive demographic study of the WELS and other Christian denominations.

The study reveals that if the downward trends continue in the WELS, in the next two decades, we will lose approximately 106,000 members. That’s a 29% decline in membership across the Synod.

The Missouri Synod (LC-MS) loses a higher percentage of its membership annually than the WELS.

This denominational decline is not unique to Lutheranism. The largest Presbyterian church body in America has lost almost half of its members since the 60s. The same is true for the Episcopal Church. The Methodist Church is down 33%. The Reformed Church in America is down over 60%.

Fast Food vs. Eternal Food

When we were on vacation in Cincinnati last summer, my family stopped for a snack at Tom and Chee’s restaurant, which is across from the Newport Aquarium. We ordered their world-famous Grilled Cheese Donut. It is exactly what the name implies – a perfectly made melted cheese sandwich on a wonderfully grilled donut. It was heavenly! (Although, I’m probably going to heaven sooner after having eaten it.)

Sheep Without a Shepherd

I recently read an article entitled, “How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches.” It was written by Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, who is not a Lutheran pastor. In the article, the author suggests that churches will not grow numerically if the pastor is busy visiting the sick, the elderly, the infirm, and the straying. Taking the time to do that work means that he does not have time to plan, organize, and evangelize.

Bread for the Journey

Have you ever felt discouraged? Despair? Depression? Loneliness?

Depression is a fog that surrounds you. It clouds your mind. It saps your energy. It distorts your view of reality. When depression descends, you can’t see anything good, everything feels sad, everything appears gloomy and dark. Then, the loneliness can set in. Friends and family leave you alone because depressed people are not especially fun to be around.

He's More than the Carpenter's Son

As you read these words, an old adage (saying) comes to mind: Familiarity breeds contempt. Someone once said that 48% of those who live within five miles of Disneyland have never visited the park. That seemed odd to me until I realized that I have lived in Wisconsin for over 30 years and have never been to the House on the Rock, or even to the Racine 4th of July parade for that matter. The old joke is that you have to move away from the state so that you can come back as a visitor to see the sights you never took the time to enjoy. Familiarity breeds contempt.