Flipping Through the Hymnal

The hymns and songs of the church help me understand the timeline of the year. When I flip through the pages of the Lutheran Service Book, I notice the different sections of hymns. The hymnal is not organized in a progression of hymns from favorites towards clunkers. Organizing a hymnal from favorites towards disappointments would require a flexible binding because of the variety of opinions of favorites. The hymns of the church support both the life of the congregation moving though the church year and the life of our members as we move through our lives. The church moves each year through the birth of Christ to the End Times. As followers of Jesus, we also move from our baptisms, through difficult times and celebrations, and conclude with the joy of the resurrection into the kingdom of God.

Martin Luther Chapel, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines

The Church Year

The first section organizes the hymns by the movement of the church year from Advent through the End Times. This section also includes the hymns for the feasts and festivals that will occur throughout the church year. My favorite hymn in this section is “Christ Has Arisen, Alleluia.” I love how this hymn echoes in our home every Easter with its powerful refrain, “Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy.” The tune from this hymn is from Tanzania and the rhythm gives me the encouragement that this good news is for all the nations.

Person and Work of Christ

The second section of hymns praises God for the person and work of Jesus Christ. These hymns give the Church the opportunity to put to melody praise and thanksgiving for our redemption and justification. In this section I enjoy singing “By Grace I’m Saved.” This hymn begins every verse with the words “by grace,” and each verse celebrates the different ways God’s grace changes our lives.

The Christian Church

The third section of hymns gives voice to the activities of the Christian Church. In this section I find hymns that celebrate the Word of God and the Sacraments. I find it difficult to highlight just one hymn in this section. Each page takes me to another hymn that reminds me of different moments in my work as a pastor. If I had to highlight one, the hymn “What Is This Bread” invites us to receive the wondrous love of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. I think this hymn is a wonderful study of the mystery of God’s love that Jesus reveals for us in this meal of bread and wine, body and blood.

The Christian Life

The fourth section of hymns highlights the personal life of a Christian with hymns about trust, hope, prayer, stewardship, mission and witness, and marriage. I enjoy singing “Listen, God is Calling.” I like that this hymn has a call and response pattern that gives the song a pattern of participation instead of just observation. The leader starts with the word, “Listen.” The people answer, “Listen, God is calling.” The leader and the people encourage one another to hear God’s offer of forgiveness, comfort, and joy.

Times and Seasons

The fifth section highlights hymns that support morning, evening, harvest time, and the New Year, which are all opportunities for us to sing in thanksgiving to God. I remember fondly singing, as a lullaby, to our children the hymn, “Abide with Me.” I also sing this hymn at the bedside of a person approaching death. I have confident hope in the words, “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.” Where no other helper will assist me, I know that God will be my shepherd through life and death.

The Service

This next section includes hymns for the beginning of the service, the close of the service, and also biblical canticles. The canticles are songs from the Holy Scriptures that help us sing along with Simeon, Mary, Zechariah, and other faithful saints that have gone before us. At the close of the service, the hymn “Go, My Children, with My Blessing,” provides a benediction full of promise. I appreciate the closing hymns of a service that keep me singing in my heart throughout the rest of the week.

Nation and National Songs

The final section in the hymnal is a small collection of hymns that support community and nation with trust that God is sovereign over both the church and the state. This section is not a songbook of secular patriotic songs. These hymns are Christian prayers and praises to God. I know that during patriotic holidays I receive requests for a number of songs that are not in our hymnal. At St. Paul Lutheran Church we have developed the tradition of singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and God Bless America, neither of which are in our hymnal, because these are songs that remind us of times in our country when we have been reminded to rely on God. Of the three hymns in this section, I most enjoy singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

I would like you to take some time and look through the The Lutheran Service Book and share with me your favorite hymns from each section. You can find this hymnal in our pews. I would also be interested in hearing from you your favorite hymn that is not included in our hymnal. You can place in the comments some of your favorites. I will focus on contemporary songs in a future article.

New Growth in the New Year

I am interested with how God will grow our membership as a congregation in 2017. Connection to a local community of believers is important. St. Paul wrote to the people in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is in the local church that we have the opportunity to experience unity with those the Spirit has called to faith. Jesus love His church, and so should we.

There is nationally a decline in church membership, and I am interested in slowing this decline at St. Paul Lutheran Church. To turn the tide against decline, I believe that God is providing our congregation with the gifts and resources necessary to reach the unreached and raise faithful children. God provides to us His Word which leads us to trust in Christ. Everyone who believes in Jesus Christ is His witness. We all can share the good news of Jesus with our friends and neighbors and invite them to church.

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The growth of the membership in our congregation will happen in more than one way. Congregations gain the overwhelming majority of their membership from natural growth, which is what happens when families in our congregation have more children. Our easiest growth is from children of adult members raised in the faith. As couples have children and the children are then baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church, our congregation will experience growth. We had some joyous baptisms in 2016, and I look forward to more in the new year. Infant baptism is a wonderful opportunity to witness that faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit and not a work of our own reason or strength.

infant-baptism

As our congregation grows through infant baptisms, we remain concerned that these children remain connected to a local church. I want all children baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church to be nourished and strengthened by God at work in His Word. The LCMS has lost 1 in 5 baptized members since the peak membership in the 1970s. The backdoor loss of people concerns me. We need to plan effectively for the spiritual care of people who are baptized at St. Paul Lutheran Church so that they remain connected to Jesus. Handing down our faith to our children and our children’s children is important. Our congregation has joined the Family Friendly Partner Network to be better equipped as a church to partner with homes to pass on faith in Christ. Throughout 2017 we will look for opportunities to provide families the resources they need to be His witnesses.

We will also experience growth in 2017 through Lutherans from other congregations moving into this area and transferring their membership. As people move around they have to search out new banks, doctors, grocery stores, and also a new church. Church shopping can be an exhausting experience. I hope people visiting St. Paul will find a community of welcome and grace that helps them feel at home. When looking for a new church, people should place a high priority on joining a congregation where the Word of God is clearly preached and the Sacraments properly administered.

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We will not only experience growth through our own tribe (German-American Lutherans), but we will also discover that God is sending people to St. Paul who have not grown up Lutheran. I find it exciting when new people are present on a Sunday morning at St. Paul. I am encouraged when I see people going across the aisles and introducing themselves to guests. Outreach to people in our community is important. We desire to be a community that welcomes people who come from all sorts of experiences because we trust that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all the nations.

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There is a decline in religious identification in the United States. The recent dramatic increase in the number of people who claim no religious identity or affiliation is alarming. Our task is clear in this age of declining identity with religion. We will witness to people the truth. We are sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus is this Savior. Our message must remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the United States the attitudes of young people on average is negative towards religious institutions. There is a growing skepticism concerning any institution that claims authority. This negative attitude of young people may not be new, but it does remind me of the need for us to share Jesus Christ more than share the building or institution of the church. We do not invite people to join a corporation. We invite people to join the Body of Christ gathered at St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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I trust the Holy Spirit has placed in our community people who will believe the Word of God and find welcome at St. Paul Lutheran Church. I am confident the Holy Spirit has gifted each person in our congregation to be His witnesses. Please pray to God to send the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to see the people He places into our lives.

Why I am Lutheran

Why Should I Be a Lutheran?

I know that some of you know my heritage in the Lutheran church. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all pastors.

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Great-grandpa Henry Gaertner

You may think that my blood flows with little lutheran seals imprinted on my red blood cells. I have every reason to claim my identity in the Lutheran church through my family ties. But no parent can guarantee the faith of their children. No single generation of the church has been able to ensure the faith of the next generation by bloodlines. I am follower of Jesus because of the extravagant love of Jesus Christ. I hope that my children continue to hold onto Jesus. If one of them becomes a pastor that would be pretty cool, but most importantly I pray that they remain full of faith in the promises of God.

I want to share with you some of the reasons why I am a pastor in the Lutheran church, and I think you will notice that none of these reasons include my family tree.

I believe Jesus Christ is my Lord and my savior. Amazingly God is willing to claim me as a member of his family. Why should I be numbered among the saints? I have not done any miracles. I struggle to wake up with my alarm in the morning. I am certain my many snoozes on the alarm torture my home in the morning. Why should God know me?I know that God does not know me through my works. I believe God knows me because of the amazing love of Jesus. Jesus has claimed me.

I am Lutheran, because in this church I hear the promise of God and I hold onto this promise through faith. This faith I have is not possible through my reason. God’s love is beyond my reason. This faith I have is not possible through my strength. I do not have enough muscle in me to lift myself up towards God. This faith is possible because the Holy Spirit has called me to believe through the good news of Jesus that has been shared with me. I am Lutheran because in this church body I am honest about my weaknesses and rejoice in the strength of God’s steadfast love and mercy

I am Lutheran, because the concrete promises of God are delivered to me in the waters of baptism, the body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and in the inspired Word of God. I know that many of my goals remain elusive from me and my targets change so that I never know if I have done enough. I am just a lost boy when I try to find hope all by myself. Yet God stands strong and present for me in a way I can always find him. In the lavish washing of the forgiveness of sins found in my baptism I rejoice that I am a child of God. In the simple seed of wheat and the clusters of grapes that are combined with God’s Word I rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. In the Bible I discover that God’s story from the very beginning has included me. I am Lutheran because in this church body I can stand on the concrete promises of God even while the rest of the world of quick sand swirls around me.

I am Lutheran, because I know that I am a part of something bigger than just me, myself, and I. I am not an isolated individual living on an island searching for God. I am a part of the communion of saints. The communion of saints is all those who believe in Jesus. We are no longer bound to sin, death, or the devil. In every place and time we are bound together by more than nation, tribe, or language. In Christ we are a community. In Christ we go into the community. When I join with other brothers and sisters in this family of faith I know that we are all sinners struggling on our own and rescued by Jesus Christ. I am not under any illusions that we are a perfect family through our own efforts. I trust Jesus saves me through His work, and so I also trust He saves our community of faith through His mercy. I am Lutheran because in this church body we are honest about sin and we celebrate God’s steadfast love and mercy. We rejoice in the unity of the church through Jesus Christ. We trust that in every place and time in this world before and after us we are big family.

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Yes there are other church bodies that share in this good news. I rejoice that where God’s Word is shared the Holy Spirit will bring people to saving faith in Jesus. Everything I have written is intended as positive encouragement. I have not intended to create negative impressions about any other church. I do not think that only Lutherans are true Christians, but I do think that we got something pretty good going on in the Lutheran church. We have a rich history and tradition that is bound to continue insofar we keep reveling in the power of God’s Word to deliver us to salvation.

If you are looking for someone who is better with words than me describe why he is Lutheran, I encourage you to read Trevor Sutton’s book, Being LutheranTrevor is one of the pastors at St. Luke Lutheran in Haslett, Michigan. This guy rocks with words.


I know there are some funny idiosyncrasies about being Lutheran. I enjoy the jokes, but most of all I enjoy following Jesus.

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Baptism is for Infants and Adults

ainfant-baptismThis is written in response to Wes McAdams blog article in which he attempts to explain why it’s not biblical to Baptize an infant.

http://www.radicallychristian.com/why-its-not-biblical-to-baptize-an-infant

First, he says, “Infant baptism is usually NOT even ‘baptism’”

Wes McAdams makes his first point because he believes that the Greek word for baptism means immersion. This Greek word is used in Scripture to refer to “washing.” He is mistaken to require of all hearts to believe in their baptism that they must be immersed.

The Greek word can mean cleansing or washing as well as immersion. It is just bad use of a dictionary to say that in Greek the only definition for this word is “immersion.”

Second, he states, “An infant cannot believe.”

I’m not really sure what Wes McAdams would do with the passage in which Jesus says, “Let the little children come onto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14) The word “little children” is a specific Greek word that is used to describe an infant. The infants are the focus of the passage. Jesus speaks to us the promise that faith is an act of trust even before it may be words upon our lips.

Baptism of an infant is an opportunity for us to witness that faith is not a work of our reason or strength but entirely a work of the Holy Spirit, at work in the gospel, turning our hearts to trust in God to be our salvation.

Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit for an adult and for an infant. Adults in their arrogance are taught a lesson when they confess that the Holy Spirit may provide faith to an infant. We all were once dead in our trespasses and we are saved purely through the work of Christ (Ephesians 2:1-4). We receive this work of Christ through faith. Our saving faith is a gift from God that comes through Word of God (Romans 10:17).

In Matthew 28:19 Jesus said, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” All nations is a phrase that has been understood to mean “everyone.” Jesus desires that His saving messages be shared to everyone, regardless of race, color, sex, age, class, or education. If we say that infants are not to be included in the command of Christ, then where will we stop?

In the Old Testament an infant boy entered into a covenantal relationship with God through circumcision when eight days old. In Colossians 2:11-12, Paul shows that baptism has replaced circumcision.

Wes builds on the idea that baptism only follows an oral confession of faith and he says that neither parents nor anyone else can make that confession for a child. I agree that a child is not saved through the confession of faith that a parent nor anyone else will make for that child. A child and an adult are all saved equally through the work of Christ. In baptism we receive this work of Christ by the command of Christ in the water and the word. The benefits of baptism are not provided in a mechanical way just by being near the water. The benefits of baptisms are delivered through the water and the Word and received through faith. Faith receives the gift of baptism. When we confess our faith before a baptism, we are putting to words the very same faith that the Holy Spirit is providing to us through the working of His Word. We are not offering our faith as effective for an infant, we are showing our unity with the same faith that this child is receiving in Christ.

Third, he states, “An infant has not inherited sin.”

At this point Wes McAdams has significantly diverged from the way sin is described in the Scriptures and by the church for centuries. Scripture teaches that we are sinners from the time of our conception. Psalm 51:5 confesses, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Also in Romans 5:12, St. Paul explains that death has come to all because one man sinned. In other words, we all experience the effect of sin; we all die. The fact that infants die is a sign that they are sinners. We sin because we are sinners. We all have this condition even as infants and little children. One way to describe sin is that we are unable to have true fear or faith in God. When we describe sin only as actions we make sin something we can overcome through our own efforts. When we properly describe sin as a broken relationship with God, that is something that can be overcome only through the reconciling love of Jesus. Also in Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) we find the truth that ALL have sinned and need the rescue of salvation that Jesus provides.

Now Wes uses Ezekiel 18:20 in an attempt to demonstrate that God does not hold the guilt of past generations upon future people. Okay, I am not judged on the sins of the past. Unfortunately, I am judged because I am a sinner.

Fourth, he notes, “An infant cannot repent.”

Repentance is the turning of a heart to trust in God. This repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit and is accomplished through the power of God’s Word. He turns repentance into an appeal to God, when in fact not one of us can make this appeal through our own human will. We are dead in our sins. We are blind in our sins. We are unable to turn to God through our own will. This failure of the human will is true for adults and for infants. The only ones that can be saved are those born again of water and the spirit (John 3:1-17).

Baptism is commanded by Christ and offers to all the benefits of the forgiveness of sins, rescues from sin and death, and grants eternal salvation.

Some other helpful places to read about baptism:

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism

http://wittenbergtrail.org/forum/topics/lutheran-responses-to

http://www.orlutheran.com/trinfbap.html

http://www.lcms.org/faqs/doctrine#baptism

One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

I believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. These are the words from the Nicene Creed that we regularly confess at St. Paul Lutheran Church. We say these words together with the confidence that we are united in our common faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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There is only one church. Yes there are many buildings, congregations, and denominations. There are fractions and divisions in this world among God’s faithful people that may make the oneness of the church difficult to see. You may have an urge to join a non-denominational church hoping that you will find a community where all the differences go away. Keep in mind that even when differences are not talked about or recognized, they still exist.

If we look at the church from God’s perspective, something else will be noticed. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about their unity with all believers in the world, “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” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

The one true church is not identified with any one congregation or denomination. The one true church consists of all believers in Christ. One common image utilized in Scripture to describe this truth is the body. There is one body that has many members and has Christ as the head. There is only one church, and it is made up of all who believe in Christ.
If you want to find the church, do not simply look for the sign out front or observe the holy works of the people. Look for Christ. Look for Jesus proclaimed in the Word of God and shared in the Sacraments of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and in the forgiveness of sins. The oneness of the church is not found at a church that calls itself one label or another. The oneness of the church is found where Christ is proclaimed.

Holy

We believe in one church that is holy. It may seem absurd to people to describe the church as holy since we know so well scandals and abuses have filled Christian history. Some may avoid organized religions because they are tired of hypocrites and pompous displays of holiness. I know I do not have much patience for people parading their good works for all to see. Church history is filled with the stories of sinners, and we do not help the defense of our faith if we try to whitewash this history. In fact we will help our defense of the faith if we are willing to share the ugly stories of our history because then we will no longer rely on the crutch of our own good works to be our publicity. The church is holy because her members have been clothed in the holiness of Jesus.

Catholic

Some may be uncomfortable with the confession that our church is catholic. Even the translation of the Nicene Creed in our hymnal replaces the word “catholic” with the word “Christian.” By definition, catholic is not the name of a denomination but is a state of the universality and unity of the church. Catholic is a word that describes how the members of the church come from every tribe, language, and nation throughout the world.

Apostolic

This word simply describes that what the 12 apostles witnessed from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry through his death, resurrection, and ascension is still being taught today. The apostolic and prophetic Scripture is still the only source and norm for what we believe, teach, and confess. The true Christian church does not invent new doctrine to suit the itching ears of the day, but we remain faithful to the inspired Scriptures, the teaching of the Apostles.

I am a Lutheran pastor because I believe that in the Lutheran Church I have an opportunity to participate in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. I want you to be a member of a Lutheran congregation because you will find the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church in a Lutheran congregation that proclaims the Word of God and administers the sacraments. This confidence is not rooted in the label Lutheran. Our cornerstone is not a denominational label. Our foundation and cornerstone is Jesus Christ.

 

Baptism

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I love performing Baptisms at St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Baptism of babies, young children, and adults are all priceless moments in the life of our congregation. When I speak the Word of God and I generously pour water over the head of the person, I trust God to be at work delivering the gift of the forgiveness of sins. I fondly recall looking into the eyes of babies as the water hits their foreheads and witnessing their surprise. Some babies have cried, some have smiled, some have tried to wiggle out of my hands, some have looked steadily over to mom and dad, and others have tried to stay asleep. For all of these babies, the Holy Spirit is at work delivering the good news of Jesus Christ through the water and the Word. Our Lord Jesus Christ commands Baptism, and these priceless moments are not just moments of tradition or family reunion in our congregation.

Water and the Word

Baptism is founded upon the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism is not an empty human ritual. Baptism cannot be ignored as the invention of the church. These words from Jesus demonstrate that Baptism is divine. To be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is to be baptized by God. As a pastor I speak the words of Jesus’ command and I pour the water of Baptism, but it is truly the work of God. The water of Baptism is water full of the commands and promises of God’s Word.

A person may wonder how a handful of water and some words spoken by a pastor help a person. Water is just water. Water can clean dirty hands, but how does water clean the stain of sin that weighs down the soul of a person? When the water is joined with the Word of God, at the command of Jesus, it becomes a work of God. We respect the power of Baptism because we respect the power of God to work through His Word (Isaiah 55:10-11).

The Forgiveness of Sins

Christ instituted Baptism to save us from our sins. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). God is at work in Baptism delivering to us His promises. St. Peter writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). When we talk about being saved in the church we are talking about being delivered from sin, death, and the devil. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).

Faith Grasps the Work of God

The great benefit and power of Baptism is received through faith in these promises. Without faith, Baptism is of no benefit. We do not gain or merit or receive salvation through our works or activity, faith receives the promises of Baptism. In the book of Hebrews we read, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). Also St. Paul writes in Romans, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Some may question if infants can confess with their lips that Jesus is Lord, but in Psalm 8:2 we are reminded, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” This psalm demonstrates that God has established that young children can praise God with their lips, even if it is in the broken babble of a child that we cannot understand.

Baptists and Lutherans agree that a person that believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. Lutherans and Baptists disagree on how a person comes to believe. We cannot come to Christ or make a decision for Jesus. As sinners we are spiritually dead and we cannot move to Christ on our own. The Holy Spirit delivers us to saving faith through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit gives this saving faith to a person as the person hears the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Whether a person believes in Jesus Christ because of a sermon that he heard or by the power of the Word combined with water at Baptism, it is always God and the power of His Word that creates saving faith. Baptism is a treasured means by which God promises to deliver to us the good news of Jesus.

Infant Baptism

Sadly, there are churches and individuals that deny Baptism to young children and infants. We perform Baptism for infants and children for the same reason adults are baptized. We are all conceived and born sinful and under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We all are in need of the mercy of God that is promised in Baptism. When Baptism is rejected or ignored for young children and infants, then a person is ignoring the command of God. In Luke 18:15-17, Jesus invites the children to come to him. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus states that Baptism is for “all nations.” On the day of Pentecost, Peter said about Baptism, “The promise is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39). When John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb when he heard the word of God (Luke 1:41-44), we find the gift of faith present in a baby.

How can a baby have saving faith in Jesus Christ? In the same way that any person believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives to us a heart that trusts the promises of God. We baptize babies because we baptize people in agreement with Christ’s command to baptize “all nations.” We trust the power and promise of Baptism is the work of Jesus Christ.

I encourage you to remember your own Baptism, and so remember the work of Jesus to deliver you from the domain of darkness into the eternal victory of Jesus’ resurrection. Martin Luther sums up well the joy and promise of Baptism when he writes, “We see what a very splendid thing baptism is. It snatches us from the jaws of the devil, makes us God’s own, restrains and removes sin, and then daily strengthens the new man within us.”