Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. - 1 Peter 2:16


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The Whole Pcture Needs the Full Gospel

In early 2007 I was in Rio de Janeiro during a visit to our son and his family, while he served as a WELS missionary in Brazil. The view from Sugarloaf Mountain gave me a panorama that included Copacabana and Ipanema Beaches as well as the Cristo Redentor statue on Corcovado Mountain. Breathtaking beauty! Anyone watching scenes or newscasts on this summer’s Olympics has surely seen how picturesque the location is. But what about the “whole picture”? Well, six years ago Rio De Janeiro suffered from torrential rains and deadly mudslides followed by extreme waves and a massive storm surge. Then there are the many favelas (slums) of Rio and the thousands of homeless children who live on the streets of Rio. Abject poverty and rampant disease have found a home near landmark sites known for beauty. News releases linked to the Olympic Games have underscored these and other sad evidences of “trouble in paradise.”

In January of this year I was in St. George’s, Grenada, visiting a daughter and family where her husband pastors Grace Lutheran Church. The landscape I observed was the view from Richmond Hill that included the world-class Grand Anse Beach, the scenic Carenage harbor, and lush hillsides and cityscapes that delight the eye. And, again, what is also part of the “whole picture?” Hurricane Ivan, which damaged 90% of all homes on Grenada a dozen years ago, is still the topic of conversation by islanders. And I should mention that my memorable view was from a nursing home/care facility located on the same promontory point, one that our mission in Grenada, working with WELS Kingdom Workers and Wisconsin Lutheran College students, is working to refurbish and restore for the benefit of the aged and infirm Grenadians who live in the home. Again, natural disasters, poverty, illness, and aspects of ugliness are adjacent to renowned places of beauty. My visit and observations of various residents of the facility remain distinctly in my mind and heart alongside the panoramic view.

Unless by God’s design my future includes advanced Alzheimer’s or severe dementia, I don’t think I will ever forget these scenes of incredible beauty accompanied by stunning ugliness that a sin-ravaged world must now endure.  What contrasts! What lessons we learn in regard to God’s power and ability to give us breathtaking beauty – and sin’s power and ability to create hideous pain and ugliness that are part of our fallen world. 

Isn’t the same general truth at the heart of issues that Christian Life Resources gives attention to? Physical landscapes are not the only sources of beauty and cause for human awe. Conception, pregnancy and childbirth are works of God – miraculous wonders that invite us to submit humbly and thankfully to the Creator’s handiwork. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3 NIV). The same may be said for old age. The promise stands firm: “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4 NIV). Yes, so-called beginning-of-life and end-of-life events are cause for praise and awe from us. But, again, what is also part of the “whole picture”? Pain in childbirth arrived with the Fall into sin (Genesis 3:16 NIV) alongside difficult complications. The hardships that accompany aging and old age are also prevalent worldwide. Add to this the murder of millions in the womb for the sake of personal convenience under the guise of freedom. Include the despising of old age even to the point of terminating life under the same banner of freedom coupled with an unwillingness to bear hardships or allow God to direct our fondest hopes heavenward rather than to let them be earthbound. Do we get the point? What contrasts! God’s ability to give us beauty and blessing must contend with sin’s power to create hideous pain and ugliness that are now a part of our fallen world.

I have no doubt that you have taken note of the same kind of stark contrasts that may be found so often and in so many places. Remember the reality! Ponder the “whole picture” of the earth that we now serve as citizens and representatives of heaven! Forget neither the beauty nor the contrasting disfigurement of God’s creation and its inhabitants! Remember the cause of the inelegance around us, namely sin. Ponder the Lord’s loving use of sin and its fruit to impress on us and others the need for and value of pardon and cleansing through Jesus! We all need the full gospel of divine grace in Christ.

What brought me to Brazil in 2007 and Grenada in 2016? As already mentioned, my wife and I were visiting family members who are also siblings in Jesus and heralds of the gospel centered in Jesus. And what will bring you, repeatedly, to places where pleasure and pain intersect, where God’s handiwork and Satan’s accomplishments are on display at the same time? Gospel service to souls. The sharing of God’s Word centered in Jesus. You are continually surrounded by evidences of divine goodness and love for his creatures just as surely as you are continuously confronted by attestations of fallen mankind and fruits of the sinful nature. 

May God continue to give you insight into the realities that you observe from day to day! May you from the heart continue to testify to the truth that explains how and why God’s perfect creation became so imperfect. May you especially testify with clarity and love how and why “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:22-24 NIV).

Rev. Robert Fleischmann


Rev. Forrest Bivens is a retired professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin. He is a member of the CLR National Board. Bivens and his wife, Sue, live in Greenfield, WI.

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