The Book of Revelation: Part 6

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 12 to 15 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Seven churches. Seven sealsSeven trumpets. The next grouping is comprised of seven mini-visions. They are recorded in Revelation chapters 1215. We’ll cover the first three this month.  

The red dragon 

The first mini-vision plays out in three distinct but interconnected scenes. We see a woman, glorious, “clothed with the sun” and reigning “with the moon under her feet. The 12 stars in her crown tell us that she represents the church, the bride of Christ, gloriously dressed in the shining righteousness of Jesus, living and ruling with him. Satan, the enormous red dragon, ferociously tried but could not defeat Jesus or derail God’s salvation planSo the dragon, hurled to the earth, turns his murderous attention to ruining the church, the offspring of the woman 

The church seems anything but glorious and influential as she flees into the wilderness. It might even appear that she is abandoned by the Bridegroom and left to fend for herself. But no. She is taken care of by God in that place.  

How? The next scene beautifully reminds us. The accusing dragon is powerless against the works and Word of Jesus. God’s people are shielded from Satan’s rage by the power of the Spirit in the gospel of forgivenessWhile he has time during the New Testament age (42 months), the devil will try his worst, but, armed with the gospel, the church will prevail 

The two beasts 

The second and third visions remind us of Satan’s two powerful allies. They are represented by a pair of strange-looking beasts. The first emerges from the sea. There is unmistakable parallel between it and a vision seen by the prophet in Daniel chapter 7. This beast from the sea has characteristics of Daniel’s four beasts, whom we’re told represent four kingdoms of the earth. So we identify the first beast as representative of ungodly, anti-Christian government during the New Testament age. 

All human government derives its ultimate authority from God. However, the prince of this world seeks to use God’s gift for his own wicked purposesHuman governments often fall under Satan’s evil influencesometimes even using their authority to wage war against God and his church.  

The second beast comes from the earth. It is lamb-like in appearance but dragon-like in speech. This second beast is closely connected to the firstIt usurps and wields the power of the first beast; it works wonders to deceive the earth’s inhabitants into worshiping the first beast and its image rather than God. Itinfamous number is 666. This number seems to represent a counterfeit covenant, seeking to replace Christ and his Word but always falling short of his perfect covenant of grace.  

This beast is deceptive and represents false religions that claim a way to God through works not Christ. It includes groups that claim to follow Christ but show a beastly character by teaching other than what Christ has taught. This beast includes the visible Christian churches that teach a false gospel based on human effort or righteousness. The preeminent example would be the Roman Catholic papacy, which claims to possess Christ’s authority over all Christians. The beast appears innocent but points people to their own goodness and works for salvation. Ultimately the message of this beast drives people away from trust in Christ alone.     


Reflect on Revelation chapters 1213 

  1. Why do you suppose 12:10a is used in communion liturgy (ChristianWorship, p. 34)?

  2. How does chapter 13 help us better understand the past, present, and future when it comes to human governments and religious institutions?


Contributing editor Timothy Westendorf is pastor at Abiding Word, Highlands Ranch, Colorado.


This is the sixth article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after May 5.


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?

What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?

It’s not often that I don’t chime in with my opinion on a topicbut this is going to be one of those rare moments. My oldest just turned 13, and although the prospect of dating is getting closer every day, this is not a topic with which I have any experience. Honestly, just the idea of my daughter dating makes me a little panicky. That’s why I’m grateful that I can turn to wise Christian parents who have been through this stage of parenting—and in some cases still are navigating it—for tips and advice.  

Do you have any anecdotes or advice to share about how to approach your child’s dating years? If so, e-mail fic@wels.net or comment on the articles posted at forwardinchrist.net 

Nicole Balza


I remember when my oldest son went on his first date as a high school freshman. It was hardly the stuff of romantic legend. Since neither he nor his girlfriend could yet drive, their “date” consisted of sitting in a corner booth at Culver’s while I parked myself in a booth nearby and tried to be inconspicuous. I think the date may have ended with an awkward handshake. If only dating could remain this innocent! But as our teens get older and their relationships become more serious, what’s a parent’s role as a child dates? How much—or how little—do we get involved? 

From the outset, be very clear about dating parameters. Ask where, when, and what questions. Give firm expectations about rules and curfews, and enforce consequences when rules are broken. 

Meet your child’s date and connect with his or her parents, if possible. Even if you can’t meet in person, connect via phone call or text and communicate often. If it’s more than a couple of dates, it’s very important for both sets of parents to be a “team” when it comes to dating expectations and guidelines. 

Have THE TALK with your child—again. Sorry, I know it will be cringe-worthy and awkward, but your child needs to learn about sex from you, not the Internet or peers. Look at what God says about purity in relationships (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and read Galatians 2:20 together to remind your teen that Christ lives in him. Discuss the very real consequences of a sexual relationship outside of marriageeverything from STDs to pregnancyand the emotional and spiritual impacts it has 

Be your child’s “brain.” It’s a scientific fact that the brain isn’t fully wired until about age 25. So . . . the developing teen brain + raging hormones = the opportunity for some very poor choices. Parents can help be their child’s surrogate brain during the teen years. Although teens have to learn to make their own choices and understand the consequences of their actions, we can help guide them through the dating minefield. 

Model healthy and loving male/female relationships in your home. Dads, cherish your wife in front of your daughters. Moms, hold your sons accountable by teaching them to respect you and respect women. Also talk about what is and is not acceptable in a dating relationship. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse are NEVER okay. If your child is uncomfortable or injured in a relationship, teach him to speak up. 

Be realistic about your teen’s dating journey. Are you married to the first person you dated? It happens, but it’s not likely. Keep in mind that dating for our teens is about exploring who they are and what they are looking for in a future spouse. Don’t push too hard or encourage your child’s dating relationship to be more serious than it should, yet don’t be so hands-off that you are unaware of what is happening. 

Pray continually. I recently told a friend, “I will pray for you. It’s the least I can do.” She gently corrected me, “No, it’s the most you can do.” She’s right. We forget how powerful and effective prayer is. Bring your child’s dating relationship to God in prayer. Ask him to help your child remain pure, make wise choices, and stay safe. Also pray for a God-fearing spouse for your child someday, if they choose to marry. Finally, pray for patience and understanding and to be able to lovingly keep the lines of communication open with your teen as he navigates the world of dating. 


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest. 


I’m a parent of 2 boys and 2 girls ages 15 to 22. I have a frontrow seat to view the corn maze called courting. I admit to thoughts of electronic surveillance, homing devices, and background checks. Making it more complicated is that the way my kids date is as unique as they are. They open up to my wife and me in different ways and to varying degrees.  

Along the way, I have learned a few things: 

First, crushes are an innocent way of saying, “I like you and want to spend time with you.” Young teens are practicing their dating legs. They are learning social skills. The early years are building the skills they need for future and more serious relationships.  

You can never prevent them from getting hurt. Sometimes a parent sees and offers caution such as, “Does the person to whom you’re giving your heart make you a better person or bring you down? Liking someone is one thing, but if he makes you feel worse about yourself, ditch himI don’t care how good looking he is. Yet they still get hurt . . . and your heart breaks when your child’s heart breaks.  

Take their feelings seriously. I never joke or make light of their feelings. I may view it as puppy love. But when seen through the lens of a teenager, those feelings of the moment are under a magnifying glass. They are huge and all-consuming. Validate that their feelings are real . . . and realize that these feelings may change at any moment. 

I’m still learning . . . 

To know when to quit talking so I can be a better listener. A good listener will be able to repeat everything back. deep listener internalizes it, mulls it around, and empathizes with a child. A note of cautionbeing a listener doesn’t qualify you as their “relationship fixer. Parents can’t fix relationships. I may want to offer advice on every conversation point. But more important than getting my point across is allowing them to share. That may mean your tongue will bleed from biting it.  

Not to be afraid to ask the hard questions: “Does your boyfriend drink?” “Are you getting in the car with him?” Will there be parents supervising that party? 

Sometimes, a boyfriend/girlfriend can be controlling, like when you see a child with ONLY this one person and no longer with his friends. But differentiate between a red flag and a child who is just private. There’s a difference between hiding things and not wanting to talk about things.  

Finally, I believe that the best way to model dating for your children is to treat your spouse well. It’s like the map that helps them through that corn maze.


Donn Dobberstein and his wife, Beth, have four children ranging in age from 15 to 22.


 

Ah, the halcyon days of dating! The excitement, the romance, the mystery! Will he call? Does she like me? But now, you are the parent, and the word dating seems more worrisome than wonderful. What is your role as a parent in Christian courtship? 

Pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God would have us pray about everything. Certainly early and numerous prayers for our child and his or her future spouse and all things dating fall under this category.  

Teach (Proverbs 22:6). Godly conversations about the blessings of dating, marriage, and sex should also start early and continue age appropriately as your child matures. Not entirely comfortable with these conversations? Christian books to the rescue! Always remind your child that he or she is a special and loved child of Godsingle, dating, or married. 

Model (1 Corinthians 13). Actions speak louder than words! Pray that God gives you the strength to make your marriage a Christian model of sacrificial love. Show your child that your marriage is a priority and a blessing. Fathers, show respect to your wives and daughters. Mothers, encourage your husbands and sons in their Christian roles. 

Advise (Psalm 119:105). As dating age approaches (in our family rules, that’s approximately age 16, because that seemed like a good age, and it’s no fun to have your parents drive you on dates), look for moments like car rides or walking the dog that are good talking and listening times. You can regale your children with stories of your own courtship and marriage. But also remind them that while dating can be fun, the ultimate purpose is to look for a husband or wife, and that is serious business. Most important, continue to point them to God’s Word. How about a Saturday coffee outing that includes a Bible study with your child, looking at passages on God’s love for us, our love for God and others, friendship, marriage, God’s timing, temptation, true beauty, forgiveness, what to look for in a marriage partner, how to handle a break up?  

Host (1 Peter 4:9). As dating age approaches, plan gatherings for your child’s classboys and girlsat your home. Encourage your son or daughter to have their boyfriend or girlfriend over for game nights, baking, movies, and devotions. We call this “family dating.” It’s a cheap date, but it’s also a way for the boyfriend/girlfriend to get to know you, the other siblings, the dog (a true test!)and the Christian values your family holds dear.  

Dating. Ever since God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” in Genesis 2:18, men and women have been seeking the perfect partner. Welcome to this exciting/scary/exhilarating/wonderful phase of parenting! God’s blessings as you pray, teach, model, advise, and host your dating child of God, relying on God’s good guidance and timing.


Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 14 to 23. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 7

Face opposition with courage and confidence 

Eric S. Roecker 

It was a fabulous fall day. The sun was shining. Brightly colored leaves were floating downward from the trees. The air had just a hint of the crispness that makes fall feel like fall. 

It was a fabulous fall day. And I was doing what I lovedwalking a neighborhood near our church, handing out invitations. Where there was no one home I would leave the invitation at the door. But where someone was washing the car in the driveway or trimming the bushes, I would hand out an invitation and say, “Hi! I’m the pastor at the church down the road. I just wanted to invite you to visit us sometime. We would love to have you!” 

Often people responded to my little speech with a smile, a nod, and a wary thank you. I could see in their eyes and the way their body seemed to stiffen what they were thinking. I could read their thoughts as if I were reading a book. “I hope this guy isn’t going to waste the next hour of this beautiful day talking to me about religious stuff.”  

But once in a while, the person lit up like a Christmas tree, eagerly taking the invitation and asking, “Where is your church?”  

“Just down the road. The one with the tower.” 

“Oh! Sure. I drive by every day on my way to work. It’s beautiful. I’ve actually thought about stopping in some Sunday. We haven’t been to church for quite a while and have been meaning to get back into it. So what kind of church is it?” 

And we would be off and running. I would share information about the church. My new friend would ask questions. I would do my best to answer. Sometimes the conversation lasted five minutes. Other times it lasted an hour. Every time it was exhilarating.  

So there was a bit of a bounce in my step as I made my way down the sun-drenched street of the subdivision that Saturday, looking forward to my next adventure. Whom would I meet? What would they say? What would they ask? Where would our conversation lead? God only knew.  

I certainly didn’t know. And it is probably good I didn’t. Otherwise, I might have been tempted to turn around, get back in my car, and head home for the day.  

He was standing in the middle of his front lawn, rake in hand. There was nothing extraordinary about him. He was middle-aged, brown haired, wearing khaki pants and a flannel shirt. He looked like he belonged there. Just your average middle-class American homeowner doing his weekend duty taking care of his yard. 

I approached cheerfully and began my now-familiar speech, “Hi! I’m Eric Roecker, the pastor at . . .”  

I didn’t say another word for 20 minutes. I couldn’t. The air was too full of other wordshis words.  

He began with a general tirade against religionall the evils it had brought into the world, all the cruelty, from ancient Christian crusades to modern Islamic terrorism, from the scandals of televangelists to the scandals of Roman Catholic priests.  

I had heard his objections beforemany times. What surprised me was the anger. I was completely unprepared for it. His voice grew louder and louder. This man was angry. 

What should I do? What would you do? How should a Christian react when facing such opposition? Although the Bible does not give us a playbook that spells out the specific steps to handle every uncomfortable interaction with an unbeliever, it does tell us the following: 

  • “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”(John 3:16). The red-faced man screaming at me in his front yard was loved by Godso loved that God sacrificed his son to save that man’s soul. 
  • “We love because he first loved us”(1 John 4:19). Rather than hating this man for hating people like me, I loved him and wanted him to know the joy and peace and comfort I know because I know my Savior. 
  • “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”(1 Peter 3:15,16). 

So, what did I do? I listened. By God’s grace, I didn’t get angry. I didn’t shout back. I just listened.  

Eventually, his tirade reached a kind of climax, and he began to speak more quietly. He was still angry and still attacking, but he was losing steam. Finally, he stopped. Now I was able to respond.  

I did not respond to everything he had said. Instead, I decided to address the last point he had made to see where it might lead. He had pointed out that there were many different religions in the world and they all basically taught the same things. Christianity wasn’t anything special. 

“Well,” I replied, “You are right, of course, that there are many different religions in the world. However, they are not all the same. Hinduism, for example, teaches that there are thousands of gods. Christianity teaches that there is only one God.” 

“So, who’s to say Christianity is right!?” he shouted angrily. 

“My point isn’t that Christianity is right,” I answered. “I am simply pointing out that Hinduism and Christianity cannot both be right. Either one is right and the other is wrong or both are wrong. But they cannot both be right.” 

He thought about that for a moment. His face was now closer to its original color than the crimson red hue it had been for the past few minutes.  

“I suppose that’s true,” he said. 

“Obviously, as a Christian pastor, I believe that the Christian teaching about God is the true teaching about God. And that truth about Godwho he is, what he’s like, what he has done for you and for meis incredibly comforting. I don’t want to take up the rest of your afternoon, but would it be alright if I very briefly shared it with you?” 

He never did visit our church. But he did hear about Jesus that fine fall day. And, where the good news about Jesus is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit of God is at work. 

Remember this the next time you face opposition when witnessing: You are not alone. In the very last verse of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20).  

I was not alone on that lawn. My Jesus was right beside me, giving me the love and patience I needed to tell this angry man that his God loved him. And Jesus will be right beside you every time you tell others about him


Eric Roecker, director of the WELS Commission on Evangelism, is a member at Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.  


This is the seventharticle in a 12-part series on sharing your faith.   


Sidebar:  

What’s your story?How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear from you. To whom in your life did you reach out? Did you employ the KISS method? E-mail responses tofic@wels.netwith the subject line: “How I shared Jesus.” Include your name, congregation, and contact information. Questions? Call 414-256-3231. 


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Author: Eric S. Roecker 
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Ambassadors: How I shared Jesus – submissions

Through several different seriesForward in Christ authors have been providing tips and encouragement from their own personal experiences about how to share God’s Word with people who desperately need to hear about God’s grace.  

We asked for your feedback, and several of you have shared your own tips, encouragements, and outreach stories. Take a look:


A waiting room opportunity 

Betty Pfeiffer, a member at Heritage, Gilbert, Arizona, shares her story of praying dangerously for the opportunity to tell someone about God’s love [“Praying dangerously,” Feb.]. 

My husband needed an eye exam, and it was going to require dilation of his pupils. I went along to drive him home. I was in a hurry and walked out without a book to read. None of the magazines in the waiting area held any interest for me, so I sat there figuratively twiddling my thumbs. 

Until an older man sat next to me and started a conversation. He asked me if I believed that the world is billions of years old. 

I replied with a smile, “No. I’m a Christian.” 

“Well,” he responded, “do you believe in spirits that live in heaven and come down to earth to inhabit earthly bodies?” 

“No. I don’t believe it that either.” His premise was becoming clear to me. He was a Mormon. So I asked, “Are you a Mormon?” 

“Yes, and we believe . . .”  He started to tell me about the necessity of good works to get into heaven. 

When he paused, I (more or less) responded, “I know that’s what you believe, but you see, I can’t find any scriptural foundation for that. Remember Christ said on the cross that it is finished. That is, he completed all that was necessary for the forgiveness of our sins.” I went on to quote the book of James that says faith without works is dead, but that means only that if we don’t love one another enough to help them in ways we can, we don’t love Jesus enough to follow his commandments. Our works come from our faith, through our love. They won’t earn us anything more. Christ has done it all. To think we can add something more or better to our salvation than when he said “It is finished” is arrogant. 

I quoted a couple more passages as the gentleman sat there quietly blinking. Then he was called in for his eye exam. 

I have prayed that God would give me opportunities to share his good news, but I never really expected an encounter like this. Did I say anything that would change his beliefs? Only the Holy Spirit knows. But I am glad that I forgot my book.


Coffee evangelism 

Scott Albrecht talks about a unique evangelism program at Beautiful Savior, Grove City, Ohio. He writes:  

Coffee Evangelism is a weekly meeting of evangelists at our local diner where we fellowship over coffee briefly but then get it in to-go mugs as our meeting is half fellowship/half evangelism (half and halfhonestly didn’t see that joke coming). 

One of our members maps out a neighborhood near the diner. After our coffee, we hand out coffee sleeves to those who answer the door and leave them for those who dont. The sleeves have information about our church on one side and an invite on the other side to join us at the diner next week to learn more about our church—coffee is on us! 

After a year we have visited over 1,600 households. Many friendships have been madeand visitors at our church are on the rise.  

The level of skill or education to go door to door is not daunting. The presentation is easy: The ask is to have a cup of coffee for free with church members or attend a service if they do not have a church home.  

I pray this idea may inspire others to come up with creative new ways to share God’s message


A meaningful day 

A story from Thomas Gumm, a retired pastor, shows that you will never know when God will give you an opportunity to proclaim his name. You just need to be ready.  

Yesterday I had a young man come in to get info on a storage unit. After talking with him, he told me he was a pastors kid but was the black sheep. We talked for an hour. He was guiltridden and unable to forgive himself. This was causing great problems in his marriage. I took him for a walk to the cross. I explained Gods forgiveness. I also explained that God loved him because God wanted to love him. Tears flowed a number of times. It was a very meaningful day.


 Taking time to reflect  

In his article “KISS them” [March], Ken Brokmeier recommended that after an evangelism opportunity, we should take time to evaluate and reflect on the encounter.  

Ann Behrs, a member at Christ Alone, Mequon, Wisconsin, shares that she writes down a synopsis of each encounter she has. As part of her summary, she asks and answers some simple questions—questions ranging from What can I do to start a conversation? to How did the conversation transition to something spiritual? to How can I get to know this person better? She says, It’s a great way to try to understand if it was effective, what worked, and what didn’t.” 


Lessons from the county jail 

Dan Krueger, a member at Mt. Zion, Kenosha, Wisconsin, leads a Bible study in a county jail. He shares the following things he learned from his experiences: 

  1. The men at the weekly meeting have different experiences than me, and not just because they spend their days and nights in a cavernous room of 70 bunk beds, a few tables,and a TV, with others who are accused of breaking the law. They ask my opinion about personal situations that are new to me. When you talk to other people, they may bring up something in their past that surprises or even shocks you. But it’s an opportunity to point out the biblical principles that address the situation. You can plainly state you don’t have a simple answer but offer to help them look at what God says. 
  2. The people you meet may not know their Bibles well. If you are talking to others about Jesus, look for opportunities to assist them in opening a Bible so they can read it for themselves. 
  3. In the county approved sessions, we have a strict warning to avoid doctrinal differences. Your unchurched friends may ask about something unique to their church background,but it’s likely they are just trying to put things into perspective. You can stick to the basics of sin, grace, and peace in Jesus.   
  4. The faces at the prison Bible study can change from week to week. It can be daunting knowing that you may only get one meaningful conversation, one opportunity to tell them what Jesus has done for you and what Jesus can do for themIt’s a good reminder that our task is to get involved and then let the Holy Spirit continue the work.   
  5. Feeding yourself at Bible study, especially at church, is huge. The pastoral insight on the context of passages and how they relate to our modern culture gives you confidence, credibility, and flexibility when witnessing. The other benefit is listening to the questions and answers of other members. Just like the unchurched people we want to reach, other members may view the question from a slightly different perspective or background than your own.  

What’s your story?How have you shared Jesus? E-mail responses tofic@wels.netwith the subject line: “How I shared Jesus.” Include your name, congregation, and contact information. Questions? Call 414-256-3231.


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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Various Submissions
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Our very great reward

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1             

Daniel J. Habben 

What is the greatest reward you’ve ever received? Your fifth-grade spelling bee trophy? A medal from a race in which you set a personal recordA work-related bonus delivered to you personally by an appreciative boss?  

The best reward possible 

God once told the patriarch Abraham that he was Abraham’s “very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). I love that phrase. God didn’t just say he was Abraham’s reward. He didn’t even say that he was his great reward. He said that he was Abraham’s very great reward.  

Think of how that phrase highlights this truth: Our God doesn’t deal in minimums! He didn’t, for example, send his Son Jesus just to forgive past sins and enter us in the race for heaven—leaving it in our hands to finish securing eternal life. No way! Through Jesus, God forgave our past and future sins. Because of Jesus, we look forward to an eternal life of happiness.  

To put this mind-boggling gift in earthly terms, that’s like saying that even though we’ve cheated on our taxes, the tax auditor not only refuses to press charges, but he also gives us a check for a million dollars! Likewise, Jesus doesn’t just keep us out of hellhe also gives us heaven.  

A reward we do not earn 

But how can God really be our very great reward? Isn’t a reward something that is earned? 

If we’re honest, we have to admit that we’ve done nothing to earn God’s favor. Even those kind words we spoke this week—weren’t they partly shared to feel good about ourselves and to receive praise from others? Or consider why you’re reading this devotion. I hope it’s because you want the Holy Spirit to work through the message to strengthen your faith. But isn’t there also a part of you that picks up this magazine because, well, you paid for the subscription, so you might as well read it? You’re expected to keep up with what’s going in our church body anyway. I know I approach the study of God’s Word that way sometimes—as if it’s just a textbook that I use in my preaching and teaching.  

So how can we say that God’s love is our reward when we often do the right things for the wrong reasons? We can because whenever the heavenly Father looks at us, he sees his perfect Son to whom we have been joined in Baptism. It’s like Jesus is the star vocalist in the choir who covered up my mistakes. “The choir was great today, Pastor!” members often comment. Ah yes, by joining his voice to the choir’s, the star vocalist makes the congregation smile. Jesus, of course, doesn’t simply add to what we have done. No, his life and his death are the sole reasons that heaven is ours. What we have done—no matter how great—is not enough. The reward that we have received from him is a reward of grace.  

I am your very great reward. God gave Abraham this reminder after the patriarch had returned from a successful commando-style mission to rescue his nephew Lot, who had been carried away as a prisoner of warMaybe Abraham felt on top of the world after that experience. Yet God reminded Abraham, and now he reminds us, that no matter what success we enjoy in life, there’s only one reward that matters: the very great reward of his grace.  


Contributing editor Daniel Habben is pastor at St. John, Saint John, Antigua.  


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben 
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 4

Prayer comes from the heart 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Once preschoolers have acquired the ability to talk, their words just pour out. What tumbles out of their mouths can be a source of great entertainment. What might be slightly embarrassing for parents is mildly amusing to grandparents. Nonstop chatter around exhausted stay-at-home moms converts into a delightfully endearing experience at the infrequent visits with grandparents. They can’t get enough. They soak up every word. They cherish every moment they get to spend with these wide-eyed explorers. While grandparents appreciate the childishness of grandchildren, they still cheer for their growth and work to develop their maturity.  

Prattling our childish prayers 

Christians can appreciate our relationship with our God in the same way. Our Father loves to hear from his children. He is always available. He invites us to come to him whenever with whatever is on our minds. He cherishes our time with him.  

Yet our sinner-saint status distorts even our devotional life. Our natural, default mode for prayer is to approach God to get things we want in life. We blurt our verbal vomit, foaming up out of our feelings about what we think we need. Hearts filled with pain overflow to express our suffering before God. Anxious, wondering minds prattle incomprehensibly. Awestruck shock at life’s unexpected plot twists leaves us open-mouthed and speechless before our Creator. Unexpected joy runs over in blathering ecstasy, unleashing giddy ramblings to our all-knowing God.  

Through it all, God delights to hear from his children. Yet our childishness in prayer reveals more about our own hearts than it does about God. We assume we know what is best for God to give us without first consulting God himself. We struggle to find the right words but know exactly what we expect in return. 

Developing a childlike faith 

Skim through the book of Job. After repeated examples of venting frustration at God’s silence (Job 7:11), Job gets a dose of humility. When God finally answers (Job 38 & 39), Job becomes aware of the childishness behind his arrogance. God-granted humility strips him of his assumed certainties. Job was made to stand dumbstruck in silence before the awe-inducing omniscience of the Lord (Job 40:4,5). He matured. Childlike trust developed where there had been childish demands to God.  

Reexamine some of your most cherished psalms. King David and other psalmists express themselves to God, pouring out their souls, exposing the raw emotions of their hearts (e.g. Psalm 4:1; 5:1; 12:1,2; 13:1,2; 60:1-12; 70:1,2). Yet as we work our way through their poetic outpourings, they take us on a journey of faith development. God directs the psalmists back to his promises. They come to understand that God is not removed from the pain of his children. He’s not standing aloof from our concerns just because he isn’t granting our every request. Neither, though, is God our personal assistant scurrying after our every whim, hoping his frantic positive responses will bring us the satisfaction we seek.  

Prayers come from the heart. But devotional life centered on God’s promises transforms our hearts. God’s promises show us a Father who gave us his best when he gave up his Son for us. God’s promises guarantee God’s unconditional love for us through everything life throws at us. God’s promises direct us away from the mess of our own hearts to see him as the true source of our joy and hope. As children of God, we come to our Father with childish prattle, looking for repeated assurances of his love. God gives us that assurance in his Word. That reorders our hearts. Prayer then becomes a response of faith to God’s gracious words of promise.  


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.  


This is the fourth article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life. 


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?

Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?

James F. Pope

Your question leads us to look in Scripture and examine how the devil measures up against God and people. 

The devil and people 

The Bible makes it clear that the devil has abilities superior to those of human beings. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11,12).  

While the devil’s abilities are superior to people’s, they are inferior to God’s. That brings us to the heart of your question. 

The devil and God 

As an angel—a fallen one at that—the devil is not omniscient. Only God is. The devil cannot read hearts and minds. Only God can do that (1 Kings 8:39). The devil operates by observing patterns in people’s lives. As an angel, the devil is not omnipresent either. Only God the Creator is (Psalm 139:7-10). Much as the human soul, housed in a body, can occupy only one space at one time, so the devil, a spirit being, can occupy only one space at one time.  

Yet, as a spirit being without a body, the devil is able to move from one space to another faster than human beings can. And move he does. Job 1:7 and Job 2:2 describe the devil “roaming throughout the earth.” 1 Peter 5:8 states that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Roaming and prowling describe the devil’s non-stop activity as he moves from person to person, seeking to destroy them. 

Although the devil himself may not be able to “tempt you and a lot of other people at the same time,” he has helpers to assist him in his dastardly work (Matthew 25:41). The devil’s minions flit about from person to person on seekanddestroy missions. 

The devil and the sinful nature 

More than having helpers in the form of evil angels, we need to recognize that the devil has an accomplice inside each person. The sinful nature, passed on from generation to generation, is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7). The sinful nature hates anything good and godly and desires to do the devil’s bidding (Galatians 5:19-21). So while the devil is not personally present in the life of a Christian 24/7, his ally, the sinful nature, is. 

With intermittent and ever-present enemies like these, what is a Christian to do? “Put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13) and launch a counter-offensive. That is not a foolhardy course of action. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) is God’s instruction and promise. More than that, we combat our sinful nature through daily contrition and repentance, and we build up the new self through God’s gospel in Word and sacrament (Ephesians 4:22-24). 

Finally, we remember that our spiritual enemies are not permanent. Our sinful nature is limited to life on this earth. Satan is an enemy whom Jesus has already defeated (Genesis 3:15). One day, he will lose all ability to tempt us (Revelation 20:10). 


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Lore

An assault survivor shares how her life went from tragedy to triumph and how that has helped her reach out to others.  

Alicia A. Neumann 

Jay Lore says there was “nothing spectacular” about the way her story started. She was born to a working-class family in New Jersey in the late 1950s. She says they weren’t especially religious, but she and her brother did attend the Baptist church down the street. “I learned the Bible verses. I learned Jesus loves me. I listened to the felt-board stories about all the people God uses to do mighty things.”  

She says her mom described her as a “happy-go-lucky kid.” But that all changed when she was four years old and she was sexually assaulted by her older sister’s husband. “He was a monster,” Jay says. “He said if I tell [my family], they wouldn’t love me. So what choice did I have? Who else would I tell? Who would believe me?” She says it wasn’t a topic that anyone talked about in the 1960s. 

Spiraling downward 

Afraid of the consequences, Jay says she kept silent for years as the abuse continued. She eventually turned to drugs to numb the pain. “I worshipped the euphoric, pain-free feeling,” she says. “That became my mission: to numb all feelings. I was hell-bent on self-destruction.” By the time she was 16, Jay says she had tried suicide twice. “I was filthy, inside and out. Tainted. Broken. I felt like the great God of the felt-board stories was absent and silent; he had better people to take care of anyway, she says.  

She calls the next decade her “drug years.” She says, “It was just a messThings got progressively worse. I started dealing drugs to support my habit.” During that time, she also had three children. “I thought I was going to screw up three more lives,” she says. “It was a frightening thing. I thought, How do I protect them if I can’t protect myself?”  

Things finally reached a breaking point in 1987. Jay describes that night: “I decided I had had enough. There was nothing left to lose. I had lost my house, my car, my kids, my dog, my hope. And now I was going to lose myself. I remember screaming at God with fists clenched, ‘Where are you? You’re supposed to be so great and good! What have I done to deserve this?’ I laid down to die. A billion thoughts were racing, then everything got so still. I thought, This is it. In the stillness, a voice said, ‘Jay, come.’ I turned my head slightly, and a hand wiped a tear. I could not move. Hallucination from drugs? A desperate mental hope? Jay is convinced it was Jesus.  

Discovering forgiveness 

A few days later, Jay went to a nearby clinicthe first step in her long road to recovery. With the help of her counselor, she was able to get sober and finally start processing everything that had happened to her. Eventually, her counselor invited Jay to attend a Lutheran church. “When I got there I thought the roof would fall on my head!” she says. “But then I realized this is what’s been missing. I heard that Jesus loves me and my sins are forgiven, washed away. The more I heard it, I thought, Really, even me? And the answer was yes, even me!” She continued attending and was eventually baptized.  

As Jay continued her recovery, she got her kids backand she insisted they go to counseling. “It wasn’t just me who suffered,” she says. “They needed help too.” She says it took time, but they worked through it together. “My son was in the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in school and he wrote an essay on me and my recovery and how proud he was. He won the D.A.R.E. bear for his essay and gave it to me. That meant so much; I still have that bear.” 

Jay started helping her counselor give presentations to different community groups on the topic of abuse. She also began reaching out to other survivors. “Those who have experienced it are the best counselors,” Jay says. “I tell them, ‘I’ve done everything, I’ve made mistakes. You’re not alone anymore. You don’t have to dry your tears. I’ll hold your hand, I’ll walk with you through it.’ I want to help them take that first step.” 

Finding a home 

Fast forward to 2016. Jay was asked if she could help start an adult support group in Colorado. After a lot of consideration and prayer, she loaded all of her possessions into her car and headed west. She was staying with one of her friends in Commerce City as they worked to get the new group started, but then her friend unexpectedly died. “I looked to heaven and said, ‘Now what?’ I had no family, no friends, no place to stay and I was a stranger in a strange land.” Soon after, her car blew up. Jay was stranded.  

“I have an issue with depression, and I could feel it hovering,” she says. “I knew despair wasn’t far off. I was sinking into the muck. Old, ugly thoughts started rising. I thought of taking my own life. I was in deep trouble.”  

Living Hope was across the street, and she felt that being in God’s house would help. She said the people were friendly and it was a good experienceuntil communion. “About 20 people went up and I was left sitting alone, excluded from the Lord’s Supper,” she says. “I was offended. A vicar was preaching that day, and I asked him about it, but the poor guy couldn’t answer my rapid-fire questions. I left, vowing never to return.”  

But then the new pastor reached out to Jay. They talked about the church and the practice of close communion. “He asked me to visit again, and I said I’d think about it, but I didn’t,” she says. “I wasn’t going back there, period.”  

But she did return. “If that wasn’t the Holy Spirit moving me, I don’t know what is,” she says. When I got there, I made eye contact with the pastor and I knew I was home.” 

Jay says her fellow members at Living Hope have shown her the goodness of God. They provided her with transportation and helped her find a place to live. “It was an answer to my prayers,” she says. “I have found a home here among these folks, and I can’t do enough for Godnot because I need to, but rather because of all he’s done for me.” 

Now, Jay greets everyone at the door each Sunday. She calls herself an “ambassador for Jesus” and hopes that sharing her story with others will show them what God can do.  

“My life went from tragedy to triumph; I went from a mess to a messenger,” she says. “I live in the joy of the trial. I sometimes wonder what potential was stolen, but it’s all good. I’m glad God thought I was strong enough. And I truly believe we all go through what we go through in hopes that we turn to God and he can give us the triumph.” 


Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit : Part 1

We are surrounded by immorality, but we are different. In the love of Jesus, we find strength to love. 

John A. Braun 

When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, he sets us on the path to heaven. The early Christians described that path as the Way (Acts 9:2; 24:14). We know Jesus is the Way. Wwalk on that path through life to the destination of heaven, but it is also a way of acting and thinking.  

As we follow the path, we encounter crossroads that can lead us in different directions. We know they lead us away from the Way, and our sinful flesh is often tempted. As saints and sinners at the same time, we often need correction to avoid paths that lead us astray 

In Galatians 5:19-23, the apostle Paul warns us about the crossroads he calls acts of the flesh, and then he encourages us to retain the fruits of the Spirit.  

First on the apostle’s list of acts of the flesh is “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.”  

Acts of the flesh: Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery 

These acts of the flesh are not hard to find. Again and again they cross our paths to lure us from our way. We see them as we browse the Internet, as we watch television and the movies, and as we read magazines or books. Their temptation invades much of what we hear and see in our entertainment choices. And because we still have the sinful flesh, we are not immune to their attraction. 

We find ourselves leaning a bit toward immorality. We laugh at situations and jokes that are off-color. Our entertainment choices push the buttons on our desires of the flesh. We monitor what our children watch in order to shield them from the worst influences, but our own choices sometimes reveal a compromise with the acts of the flesh. We find it difficult to resist some of the influences, and sometimes we pause at the crossroad, looking longingly down the road of temptation. 

But it all leads in the wrong direction. Child pornography and sexual misconduct lead to latenight news stories exposing teachers, politicians, reporters, clergy, and even news agencies. Some lose their jobs. But the immorality persists. Even these consequences are not enough. Some of it still attracts us and can lure us into sin.  

But we don’t like to hear that word sinThat word confronts us with its accusation. If as children of God we use it to describe these acts of the flesh, we are sometimes ridiculed as prudes, oldfashioned, and out of touch with the modern worldWe live in that world and mingle with people who have a different attitude toward sexual immorality. We do not wish to be ridiculed for our morality so at times we go along and hide our Christian way of thinking 

The world doesn’t think carefully about how destructive these temptations become. A family is destroyed by sexual unfaithfulness. A child is murdered by a live-in boyfriend who is not the father. Pornography addiction quietly ruins relationships and marriages. Drugs and human trafficking flow from these acts of the flesh to destroy men and especially women. Children are considered objects of desire, not precious gifts of God. Love is distorted, as some look for love only in intimacy. It results in a “total eclipse of the heart,” as the popular song even acknowledges. 

But we must not become Pharisees and point the finger at all this evil as if it remains on the other side of the street. Christian marriages are sometimes heaped on the jagged rocks of acts of the flesh. Lives have been destroyed. Pornography seeps quietly into Christian lives, destroying some and altering others. It distorts the attitudes of Christian love and marriage. Parents don’t teach their children about alternatives to immorality. Pastors, teachers, church leaders, friends and relatives abandon fruits of the Spirit for acts of the flesh and discredit the message of Christ. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Love 

The Holy Spirit through the gospel has created a new attitude within us. We are children of God by faith (Galatians 3:26). But we are not perfect yet. Within us we still carry the old sinful nature and the desire to yield to those temptations of the flesh. We want to live as children of God, but so often we discover a desire to be rebellious and disobedient renegades. We struggle. Paul says the Spirit and the flesh are “in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5:17). Paul mentioned sexual immorality first among the acts of the flesh. He also mentions love first among the fruits of the Spirit 

The path to sexual immorality will frequently beckon us. When it does, the love of Jesus gives us strength and the willingness to take positive steps as children of God. Love is part of our thinking and acting on the Christian way. We love. Of course, love has many applications. One of them is that it is the opposite of the sexual sins. So Paul mentions it here. 

While many have a distorted view of love, Christians understand love from Jesus. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). How different the Christian concept of love is. Paul expands the definition: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9,10; cf. 1 Corinthians 13).  

Jesus unselfishly did what we could not do for ourselves. He shed his blood for us, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He gave himself for us. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are his. We love and have the fruit of the SpiritWe have an unselfish concern for others that changes our relationships and alters the way we think of sex and immorality.  

Paul encourages us to turn away from acts of the flesh. Love, as Jesus taught it, helps partners in marriage remain devoted to each other and find a Godpleasing place for sexual intimacy. Our relationships in families and friendships honor others and seek their good. We do not exploit others to gratify ourselves. We pursue what is good and turn from what is evil.  

Yet we struggle with our sinful nature. We may have seriously underestimated its grip on us, even as Christians. Acts of the flesh may have destroyed our relationships with spouses, children, friends, and others. The boundless love of Jesus calls us to repent, turn away from our failures, walk by the Spirit, and refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The loving arms of Jesus are always ready to embrace us with forgiveness and strength. When we stumble, he can plant our feet firmly on the correct path and keep us headed toward our room in his Father’s mansion.  


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the first article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Trophies of grace

A heart attack opens the door for the gospel to win a soul for Jesus. 

Eric S. Hartzell 

In 1919, a white man stepped into the Apache reservation in Arizona to share God’s message of grace and forgiveness in Jesus. He was Pastor H.C. Nitz, and over the years he witnessed the miracle of the gospel winning the hearts of people. He wrote about these trophies of grace among the Apache nation. 

His experiences are like so many others in many other settings. The gospel wins the hearts of people; they become trophies of grace. Each one of us is also a trophy of God’s grace because he has called us by the gospel and made us disciples of Jesus. 

I have a story of two trophies of grace to share. I met them in Georgetown, Texas. I’m going to call them the husband and the wife, because what their names are is not as important as who they are. It is only important that Jesus knows their names. And he does.  

The husband is a Vietnam veteran who was severely wounded in the war. His awful wartime wounds were not as painful, however, as the wounds he suffered at home from an unappreciative and uncaring public. The best thing he did—and he will tell you this today—is that he married his wife, who is a strong believer in Jesus and who tried to get her husband to believe like she did. It was to no avail though. He loved her dearly, but he just couldn’t believe in Jesus. That’s what he said. Maybe he was talking like a soldier, but one time he said, “I think it is a real bad idea if someone would have to die for my sins. If someone needs to die for my sins, it should be me.” 

One day his wife and I were working together with other members of the congregation at booth for the church in GeorgetownWe were trying to get some publicity for the little Lutheran church and invite people to come. My cell phone rang with a call from the neighbor lady who lived across the street from the couple.  

The lady on the phone said, “They are working on him right now. Apparently, he has had a bad heart attack.” The wife left right away to be with her husband at the hospital, and I promised to come to the hospital as soon as the event was over that evening. 

When I arrived at the hospital later that evening, things had stabilized. The husband was laying on the hospital bed. His wife was there, and I offered a devotion as I tried to talk about Jesus. The husband was polite, and he listened. What choice did he have?  

Then a doctor came into the room to tell the couple where things stood. I stood off to the side to let the doctor speak to the couple. The doctor was from one of the countries of the former Soviet Union, and he spoke with a very heavy accent. He told the husband the bad news and what he would have to do now.  

When he left the room, the husband looked at his wife and said, “We have to do what this doctor says. We have to believe what he has told us.” Whether those were exactly the words or not, it doesn’t matter. That was the gist of it.  

I stepped up to the bed at that point and said to the husband, “This doctor came into your room and you could hardly understand him. He’s from another country. You are just a patient of his, and you believed everything he told you. People who love you are here, and they are telling you to believe in Jesus and have life and you won’t believe them.” And then I left the couple and went home. 

Early the next morning my cell phone rang. The wife announced, “Pastor, he’s ready to talk to you now. Can you come?”  

And now it would be possible in a way to say, “And the rest is history.” The gospel had begun to claim another trophy, and it was handsome! From “I can’t believe in Jesus,” it was now, “I want to believe in Jesus.”  

The gospel continued to work, and, after some time of rehabilitation, the husband asked if he could be baptized. It happened with water from a white Dixie cup in another hospital room. The words of promise were from the Word that says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).  

It still wasn’t easy. The husband’s health was shaky. He went home, but there were questions and some doubts expressed along the way. His wife was there every second for her husband. He steadily became stronger. 

But it was not over yet! After some time, the husband and wife were away at a gathering, and another heart attack came. My cell phone brought the news. The EMTs were a half an hour away, and they were bringing the husband to the hospital. His wife was coming in another vehicle and would get there as soon as she could.  

Inside the emergency room, a small group of believers in Jesus gathered and waited for the wife. The EMTs were working frantically on the husband. Under their breath, we heard the EMTs say, “How long are we going to keep this up?” The pounding on his chest and the other measures weren’t helping. They packed him in ice to keep the swelling down in his brain. It had been a half an hour, and his heart was stopped. “Please wait until his wife gets here before you stop trying to revive him, the forlorn little group pleaded. 

And then we prayed. The prayer of this hopeful but helpless group was, “Jesus, please help this man. He knows you and he loves you. Save him. Please.” Our prayers continued when the wife arrived. 

Then there was a blip on the screen . . . and then another. The husband started fighting the respirator and the breathing apparatus and began to breathe on his own. “Get that ice off of him,” and they did. “I’m holding your hand now,” the wife told her husband. “If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.” His hand squeezed hers! Then he opened his eyes. After a while someone said, “What was the score of the football game yesterday?” and he answered . . . correctly. 

Everyone who was there is still convinced that they saw a miracle that day. But actually, the real miracle had already happened when the husband said, “I want to believe in Jesus.”  

Today it is also a wonderful thing to hear the husband’s confession, “Jesus has saved me.” He’s not afraid to tell anyone. In fact, he tells everyone. He and his wife are now charter members of Redeemer, St. George, Utah.  

Together with other members, they are all God’s trophies of grace!



Eric Hartzell is pastor at St. Peter, Globe, Arizona.



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Author: Eric S. Hartzell 
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Becoming “those people”

A knock on the door brings tragic news and a need for Christian comfort. 

Brian D. Guhr 

During my career as a deputy sheriff and detective for a local sheriff’s department, I found that making death notifications was the most distasteful of all my duties. Oftentimes this notification was received from another jurisdiction where the death occurred. The information we received usually only contained the names of the deceased and the next of kin. We never delivered the information alone, and officers told the surviving family to contact the other agency for any additional information.  

It was difficult. We would arrive at a stranger’s home, wake them in the early morning hours, and deliver the worst of all news: A loved one had passed away. We would stay for a short timeoffer condolences and any services we could provide, and then leave. We were not to be clergy or counselors, just messengers.  

I always wondered what became of “those people. 

The knock on the door 

On Feb. 13, 2017, my wife and I were awakened by a pounding on our front door at about two in the morning. Two officers told us that our oldest daughter had passed away. Since all deaths are investigated, they told us to contact the department that was handling the investigation. Along with offering condolences and any services they could provide, they offered us the services of their department chaplain. We thanked them and told them that their chaplain was one of our pastors. They stayed for a short time and left. Ironically, we had just become “those people.” 

At my daughter’s funeral, when receiving condolences from family and friends, a good friend from our church’s Saturday morning men’s Bible study gave me a hug and whispered something in my ear. I was a physical and emotional wreck so I had to ask him to repeat it. He whispered, “Romans 8:28.”  

I had read and meditated on that passage many times before: “We know that in all things God works for the good of all those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This time, because of my emotional state, I wasn’t feeling “the good, but those words stayed with me. 

For the funeral service, our pastor chose Jeremiah 29:11 as the text for his message:  ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” Pastor told us that in all the years of his ministry, he had never selected this text as a basis for a funeral message but felt that it would be a comfort to us. 

Months earlier, my wife and I had booked our winter vacation to Punta Cana. We were scheduled to leave on Feb. 23, ten days after the knock on the door. The days between our daughter’s death and our departure were spent wavering between going or staying. With the encouragement of our family and friends we decided to go. Our winter vacation history is that of “planting” ourselves at the resort. We don’t stray, but keep close to our room, the beach, the groomed grounds, the beach, the dining room, and the beach. We would have ample time with our thoughts. 

Once airborne, I remember thinking that the weather and our vacation routine would probably be good, but then we would have to return home. Nothing would have changed. Our daughter would still be gone, and my grieving would go on. The sorrow I was feeling for my loss overwhelmed the joy of knowing that our daughter was with our Lord and Savior, Jesus, in heaven. 

Our meditation 

My wife and I spent countless hours in prayer and meditating on God’s Word and promises as we lounged on the beach. My prayers were for God to send his Holy Spirit for comfort and peace. My meditations focused on some of these important verses and readings:   

  • Exodus 14:14: “The LORDwill fight for you; you need only to be still.”  
  • Psalm 46:10: “Bestill, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  
  • Matthew 8, Mark 4,and Luke 8: The account of Jesus calming the storm“Quiet! Be still!” was an important verse to remember. 
  • Deuteronomy 31:6:“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave nor forsake you.”  
  • Joshua 1:5:“No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I treasured the promise that I will never be alone in my storm.  
  • Romans 8,especially verses 26-28. 
  • Hebrews 11 (Byfaith).  
  • Jeremiah 29:11: the versethe pastor preached on at my daughter’s funeral.  

With my focus now on God’s truths, the scales began to tip in the favor of joy. The return home was not as dreadful as I had imagined. 

Continued comfort 

Over the years, our daughter had become a not-so-frequent church attendee. My wife and I had some concerns as we had modeled and expressed the importance of regular worship to all of our children. After we returned home, our daughter’s brothers and sister were cleaning out her apartment. Among her possessions they found her Bible and a small plaque that she had purchased. On it were the words of Jeremiah 29:11. 

As the grieving process continued, I realized that I had never experienced anger. My wife and I went through this process together as well as individually. My wife also never experienced anger. The only conclusion I could come to was that deep in our hearts we have the blessed assurance of knowing that one day we all will be reunited in heaven. God, through his Holy Spirit, has strengthened my faith using his Word in Isaiah 57:1“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil,” and James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” 

My wife and I continue our worship, small group participation, and individual Bible studies at home. The peace and comfort we receive from God’s Word and promises, our daughter’s plaque on our mantle as a daily reminder, and the fellowship we share with our Christian brothers and sisters bolster our faith. I now better appreciate the words: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1).  

As two of those people,” we thank God for all of you, our brothers and sisters in Christ. 


Brian Guhr is a member at St. Paul’s, Muskego, Wisconsin.



 

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Author: Bryan D. Guhr
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Novotny takes over for Jeske at Time of Grace

Pastor Jeske leaves a legacy of teaching the Bible in a way that is accessible, interesting, and grace-centered,” says Mike Novotny, pastor at The CORE, Appleton, Wis. “The most frequent feedback heard at Time of Grace is that Pastor Jeske always teaches you something new while still coming back to the old story of Jesus’ love. 

Mark Jeske, pastor at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis., helped launch Time of Grace in 2001. Since then, he has served as the lead speaker for the half-hour weekly television program as well as the writer of many Bible studies, devotions, and books for Time of Grace’s international outreach media ministryJeske will appear for the last time as the main speaker of the program on April 21. Mike Novotny will then take over as the lead speaker. 

Pastor Mike knows his Bible well, is a great story-teller, has a terrific smile and sense of humor, and really seems to grasp the power and delight of mass media ministry,” says JeskeHe has a deep passion for people and gospel outreach.”  

Novotny developed a rapport with Time of Grace’s audience when he became one of the presenters of Time of Grace’s video devotions, “Your Time of Grace” (now known as “Grace Talks”). Launched in 2016, these short video devotions are followed by more than 270,000 people on Facebook and YouTube. So, Novotny’s face is a familiar one to many in Time of Grace’s audience. In addition, Novotny has been serving as a guest speaker on the Time of Grace television program as he transitions to taking over full time for Jeske 

What interested Novotny in taking on this role? 

As he explains, Time of Grace takes the gospel you hear locally and shares it globally. When I preach about Jesus to my congregation, there may only be a few hundred faces in front of me, but through the lens of the camera is a crowd that no stadium on earth could contain. These are real people with real stories and real souls who get to hear about a real Savior. That fires me up in a big way! 

Tim Lehman, president and CEO of Time of Grace, reports that the Time of Grace television program averaged 438,000 viewers each week in 2018. “Based on research, we know that 15 percent of the television audience states their religious affiliation as atheist/agnostic/none,” says Lehman. “So each week 65,000 people who are not connected to Jesus hear the gospel message. In addition, Time of Grace can be a resource for those unable to make it to church and as a supplement to those who can.” 

Lehman adds, “Time of Grace would not be in the position it is today without Pastor Jeske’s tireless efforts. He stayed grounded at all times and knew this was about telling people of Jesus, it was not about Pastor Jeske. His messages connected people to Jesus so they knew they were loved and forgiven because of what Jesus did.


To learn more about Time of Grace, visit timeofgrace.org 


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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New mentoring program helps congregations reach those in need

What do you do when someone comes knocking on your door asking for help? 

That’s a question the pastors and several members of St. Paul’s, New Ulm, Minn., asked when people would stop at the church looking for a handout. Or when recently released inmates from the nearby county jail would visit because they had nowhere else to go. A gift card to the local gas station or money to help them get by just didn’t seem like the right answer. “You’re trying to help but what you’re doing doesn’t really help them,” says Nate Scharf, pastor at St. Paul’s. “You feel like an enabler. That was what was on our hearts.” 

So they contacted WELS Prison Ministry and Institutional Ministries* to find out what else they could do to help both the ex-convicts in the area as well as others in the community in need. 

From there, the New Ulm-area congregations created the Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program, which offers a Bible-based, Christ-centered growth program to those just released from prison as well as others in need. “For our congregation, it went for a large part from a system of well-intentioned handouts to a system of how do we engage [people in need] and point them to Christ,” says Scharf. “We don’t want to ignore their needs, but we want to meet their needs in the right order.” 

Scharf says the group started by developing boundaries and safeguards for both the mentors and the mentees and compiling a list of community resources and aids to which they could refer people. Workshops were held to train mentors who would be willing to help and support people in need.  

Jeff Boyce is one of those mentors. When he attended his first mentoring training session, he wasn’t so sure he was cut out for it. “I had a lot of questions and concerns. We were talking about people in prison or getting out of prison. It was dealing with an entirely different slice of life that I knew nothing about,” he says. “It was truly a case of the Scripture verse that says, ‘In your weakness, my power is made perfect.  

Once Boyce decided to become a mentor, it didn’t take long for him jump in. A few weeks after training, Scharf asked him to witness the baptism of a man who was out on parole. Boyce began working with this man, but after only a few weeks, the man broke parole and ended up back in jail. “That’s when my ministry changed to ministering to those in prison,” says Boyce. He began visiting the man in jail, e-mailing him encouragement, and correcting the Bible study tests he took from the WELS Prison Ministry booklets. When he was released, Boyce helped the man find a place to live and connected him to community services for other helps. Boyce also helped him find a job and then worked with him to get financial aid when he wanted to go back to school.  

And all the while, Boyce let Christ shine. “One of my jobs as a mentor is to give them a new way of looking at things, and the best place for that new look to come from is the Scriptures,” says Boyce, who shares that he likes to use verses from Proverbs to encourage those he is mentoring. “And whenever I share the Word, I end up being strengthened as well.” 

Boyce shares that being involved in this program also has changed his outlook. “It made those words of Jesus about loving those who are in great need very real to me,” he says.  

Currently the Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program has about 8 active mentors. More than 30 more people have gone through training. The mentors support and encourage people who have gone through a crisis, ex-convicts who are trying to re-establish themselves in society, those struggling with alcoholism, and even members who just need help dealing with life issues. Monthly meetings allow the mentors to encourage and offer advice to one another.  

The Minnesota River Valley Mentoring Program also is sharing resources and information with other area congregations that are interested in getting involved. 

“As Christians, we have something to offer,” says Scharf. “We have the Bread of Life to give.” 


If you are interested in exploring a mentoring program like this for yourself, your congregation, or another group, contact Dave Hochmuth, director of WELS Prison Ministry, at prisonministry@wels.net414-256-3243. 


*A WELS parasynodical based in Wisconsin that partners with WELS Prison Ministry. 


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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New Kids Connection segment can star your church or school

My School is a special new segment of the monthly video news magazine Kids Connection. Each month, Kids Connection will visit a school or church to share a story of that organization’s unique ministry efforts in God’s kingdom. 

“The idea originated with people saying, ‘We would love to have Kids Connection come to our school,  explains Steve Boettcher, producer of Kids Connection. “We thought if we create an easy way for people to reach out to us with an email and an idea, we could make it happen.” 

The first My School segment appears in this month’s episode and features Zion Lutheran School, Columbus, Wis. Students and staff at Zion raised money for a local Make-A-Wish Foundation child named Lucas, who suffers from leukemia. Collecting donations and hosting raffles, the school raised more than $1,800 to send Lucas on a vacation to Florida. The amount was revealed at a pep rally at the schoolThe Lakeside Lutheran High School marching band played, and the crowd dressed in blue, Lucas’ favorite color. 

“We wanted to let our light shine and show that we believe in God and be kind to others,” said Grace, a sixth grader at Zion. 

This story shows the focus of My School: to celebrate the special ways WELS churches and schools and their young people share God’s love and mercy. 

Though submissions have only recently begunKids Connection has already been blessed with several uplifting storiethat will be featured in upcoming videos: 

  • A school in Green Bay, Wis., works on a unique community project each year.
  • A school in Citrus Heights, Calif.,organizes a local basketball league. 
  • A school in Tomah, Wis., provides therapy animals to serve in their area.

Kids Connection is a ministry of WELS Discipleship.


Would you like Kids Connection to visit your school or church and feature your story in an upcoming episode? Send an email invite to kidsconnection@wels.net. To learn more about subscribing to Kids Connection for your church or school, visit wels.net/kidsconnection.



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Author:
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Moments with missionaries: Waukegan, Illinois

Two Cultures. One Ministry. 

Seth P. Haakenson 

I often tell people that the first thing theyll say in heaven is not Wow!, but Oh! In other words, in heaven we’ll have a better understanding of the reasons why God did things here on earth. I’m sure I heard that line somewhere along the way by one of my own pastors. It’s a line I’ve used several times with the Martinez family in the wake of their daughter’s death.   

When the Lord called Susell to heaven in November 2018 there were a lot of why? questions. Why did God give her only four years? Why did she have to live three of them battling a brain tumor? Rather than spend our time answering questions God hasn’t given us the answers to, we turned to the questions that he has answered. 

Such as . . . iSusell in heaven? That answer is a resounding yes. How do we know? Susell was baptized, and in Baptism the Holy Spirit had graciously clothed her with Christ.  

How about: Was God angry with her family? No. All of God’s anger toward sin was satisfied by Jesus as he hung on the cross. The good news we can now share with people is that, in Jesus, God has reconciled the world to himself.  

Today that same world continues to come to America. Oftentimes, the immigrants of this vast planet come walking right through our church and school doors. What to do? No doubt the answers vary, but the following is what Gods people did at Immanuel in Waukegan, Illinois., when this Spanish-speaking family walked through the church’s doors five years ago. 

First, they taught the Martinez family English. Second, they visited them in their home. Third, they prayed for the family. When Susell was diagnosed with her brain tumor, our elderly members started a weekly prayer group for her, a group that continues to exist today. Who knew? Who knew that God would use a four-year-old girl to impact the prayer life of an entire congregation 

And then this same congregation used Susell’s death to honor Christ by holding a Christian funeral. Dont let that adjective go unnoticedThey gave her a Christian funeral. Through it, two hundred people heard in their native language of Spanish that the dead in Christ will rise. They heard that Susell will rise. They heard that the reason she will rise is because Jesus lives victoriously over death. How many of those people came to faith that evening? Only God knows. 

What we do know is that in heaven we will better understand why God decided to use this crazy, messy, and mixed-up melting pot of a nation as a staging ground for the hearing of the gospel. Some of those who hear the gospel will join our churches. Others will move on and take the gospel someplace else. You and I dont know how it will all work out. But God does. And when we get to heaven, one of the things we‘ll find ourselves saying is, OhNow I get it! And well praise God for that.



Seth Haakenson has served as a home missionary at Immanuel, Waukegan, Illinois, since 2017. He works with the congregation to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community. 



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Author: Seth P. Haakenson
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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No time for silence

Mark G. Schroeder

“For you created my inmost being;you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). 

David knew. He knew that his life began not when he was born, but when God gave him the gift of life at conception. It was then that God brought together everything needed to create a human life. David knew that, and that’s why he could refer to himself as “me” before he was born 

Human life begins at conception. This is something that we know from common sense, something that we understand instinctively from the knowledge that God has written in our hearts, and something that has been demonstrated by science. Because we know that truth, we find it incomprehensible that so many in our society deny it 

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Roe v. Wade case in 1973, states have been unable to outlaw or ban abortions. In recent years, however, there have been successful efforts to pass laws that restrict when and how abortions can be legally carried out. Some states have passed laws stating that abortions cannot be performed after a fetal heartbeat has been detected or after a certain point in time of the pregnancy.  

Others have banned the practice of “partial birth” abortions. Still other states have forbidden the use of tax dollars to support the practice of abortions. In some cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that states do have the ability to impose “reasonable” restrictions on abortion without violating the Constitution or the Roe v. Wade decision. 

Reacting to these successful but limited attempts to restrict abortion, pro-abortion forces have responded with an all-out effort to legalize even the most radical abortion practices. Last year, Illinois passed a law expanding the use of state tax dollars to pay for abortions; in January its new governor boasted that Illinois was now the most “progressive” state when it comes to access to abortion. In January, New York passed a law that permits abortions until the time of birth. The gruesome law that will end the life of fully viable human being was celebrated by lighting the One World Trade Center in pinkAt least six other states are considering similar laws. 

WELS takes a clear and consistent stance on the issue of abortion, publicly declaring our opposition both on biblical grounds and on the basis of natural law. 

We testify that only God creates life and only God has the right to end it. We encourage our members to exercise their rights as citizens in efforts to put an end to the barbarity of abortion. We assert that unborn children not wanted by their mothers will be welcomed and wanted by those who are seeking to adopt a child. We support women who choose life for their babies, even in the most difficult and challenging circumstances. 

But these recent efforts to promote later and even more horrible abortion procedures should lead us to do more. We need to hold on to God’s truth more firmly in our own heartsWe need to resist the temptation to become calloused toward a tragedy that continues unabated. We need to thank God that there are churches and individuals that stand with us in defending the unborn. We need to testify to God’s truth more diligently—whether people want to listen or not. We need to be the salt that brings needed change to a decaying world. We need to pray that God will rekindle a love and respect for human life that seems to be disappearing in our land. 



Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.



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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The shroud

John A. Braun

On more than one occasion we have been delayed by a serious accident on the freeway.  At some of those scenes, emergency personnel erected canvas tarps to prevent us from seeing the damaged vehicles and, in some cases, the dead. The tarps also prevent gawkers from causing additional accidents. But, of course, it is customary to cover the dead, even at accident scenes. Those who are covered need no medical help. The living—those still uncovered—are rushed to hospitals. 

Battle fields are different. I walked the “Bloody Lane” at the Civil War battleground in Antietam. The dead were long gone, but old pictures of the scene were taken when the bloody bodies were still there, uncoveredThe pictures are difficult to forget. I remember some of photographer Mathew Brady’s other pictures: one uncovered dead sharpshooter at Gettysburg and another of the dead at Vicksburg who were covered with shrouds, awaiting burial. 

I walked the graveyard at Gettysburg and have seen photos of Civil War graveyards made in haste with stones crooked and leaning. I also walked the neat rows of white gravestones marking the Americans dead in Luxembourg. The dead are not visible in those places—only stones to mark their remains. At the burial, the coffins wore American flags as shrouds on the final steps to their final resting places. 

The war dead continue to come home to rest, draped with American flags—their returning shroud. From before the Civil War to long after the most recent war, the dead do not stop coming.  

But death does not take lives only in war. Closer to our personal lives, our families are not immune to death’s infection. We have laid to rest many we called dear. Their bodies were covered and, out of sight, transported to the funeral home to be prepared for burialWe saw their lifeless bodies again as we said good-bye and consoled each other with family and friends.   

We have all been infected. I have known some who are in the habit of reading obituaries so they don’t miss the passing of a friend or relative.  

This is not the way God intended things to be. He created us to live. When death became our heritage because of sin, he stepped in and provided an alternative. He sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus’ body was wrapped in a shroud and laid to rest like most of the dead, but Jesus promised he would not remain in the tomb. On Easter morning he arose. The grief and sorrow that still come with death are not permanent. Life has triumphed. Jesus has triumphed, and he promised, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).  

The shroud Jesus wore is worthless now. If it exists, it’s only a curiosity. He doesn’t need it to cover his dead body. He’s not dead.  

When I hear that the body of Jesus was “wrapped in linen,” I remember a beautiful passage from Isaiah that pictures what happened on the raised ground of Golgotha and the adjacent tomb in Joseph’s garden. Isaiah wrote, “On this mountain  [the LORD Almighty] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples; the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:7,8).   

Death has been swallowed up in victory as Paul wrote, as Christians throughout the centuries confessed, and as we sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! (Christian Worship 152:1). We don’t need shrouds. We will live.  



John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.



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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Teen Talk: Proof doesn’t change anything

Thomas wanted proof. We simply believe what God tells us. 

Gilbert Haw 

Do you remember the story of Thomas?  

After Jesus rose from death, he appeared before his disciples. Most of them, anyway. Thomas was not present. When the others told him what they saw, Thomas didn’t believe. He said that if he did not have proofseeing the marks from the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet and the stab wound from the spear in his sidehe would not believe (John 20:24-29). 

When I was younger, I don’t think I understood this. Why would Thomas doubt what the people he’d been traveling with for three years were saying? Why should he need proof? Jesus said he would rise!  

Unfortunately, that opinion begins to change as we leave our Christian bubble. As we go and see the rest of the world, we don’t see universal support for our beliefs. We see a morally decayed world abandoning the God who created it and encouraging others do the same. We are taught to demand absolute, irrefutable proof to justify our beliefs. It becomes easier and easier to question God. After all, how can we possibly prove that anything God has told us through his Word is true? 

The only honest answer to that question is that we can’t. Like it or not, it is simply impossible to prove, one way or the other, that God created the world in six days or that Jesus actually turned water into wine. While our faith is centered around the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which could, in theory, be proven, that will not happen until the Last Day when he comes again.  

We don’t like having to just trust someone. Like Thomas, we always want proof.  

Fortunately it isn’t having undeniable proof that saves us. In fact, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus knows that it’s hard to trust him when we don’t have proof. Yet he tells us that we are blessed for believing without proof of seeing him, his miracles, his death, and his resurrection.  

While this may be difficult to accept, it important to remember that we are not saved by proof. When Jesus told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, he said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Jesus tells us that all we need to know is in the Bible. Proof, even if  someone rises from the death before our eyes, won’t change anything. We believe what God says. It isn’t proof that will give us faith. It’s his Word.  

Throughout life, it’s pretty much inevitable that we will experience doubt. We, like Thomas, will want to demand proof before we believe. Despite this, we should know that we are forgiven for our doubt and that it is through Jesus that we are saved just as Jesus said and as we read in the Bible. We are not saved by absolute certainty of any proof, except the words of Jesus 

It may be difficult to accept that, and it won’t get any easier as time goes on, but we can take comfort in knowing that God will keep us in the faith and will strengthen that faith as we hear his Word and receive his Supper. We may not be able to satisfy scientists and intellectuals with proof of our faith, but with God’s help and through his grace, we can be firm in what we believe.  


Gilbert Haw, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at St. Paul, Lake Mills.  


 

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Author: Gilbert Haw
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Book nook: Quick to Listen: Understanding Viewpoints that Challenge Your Faith

The very first sentence of the forward perfectly prepares the reader for this book: “This is not an easy book. You, dear reader, should know what you’ve gotten yourself in to. 

Reading Quick to Listen: Understanding Viewpoints that Challenge Your Faith demands your ability to momentarily put aside your faith lens and to see the world through the eyes of others. This is not an easy task. While reading the book, you will often feel the knee-jerk reaction that we, as Christians, have when someone questions our faith. However, if you can get past that reaction, you will find that the ability to listen first and to seek understanding is an essential practice that followers of Christ need to learn if we will ever create meaningful relationships and share the truth with those outside our faith family. 

Throughout the book, you hear the words of people who take various viewpoints contrary to what WELS believes. The book then offers a view into the thoughts behind their beliefs. It’s not a textbook of what to say in response, but an encouragement for all of us to really listen to our neighbors and to understand them before we begin to share our faith. Besides creating clear pictures of what the participants believe, the writers provide the Scripture that supports what we have been taught in our church body. In reading the book, I enjoyed the challenge of trying on another perspective, holding it opposite to my thoughts, and carefully examining the two.  

The authors illustrate wonderful examples of Christian love and patience as they model through their questions and writing how we can understand and listen in love. It challenges us to show Christ’s love through our ability to connect with others by being quick to listen. This is an excellent book for readers who are strong in their faith and looking to expand their knowledge of how to reach others with varying faith backgrounds and viewpoints. 

Leah Adams
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 


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Author: Leah Adams
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Judgement-free zone

Andrew C. Schroer 

On July 22, 2018, a 34-year-old man named Eric Stagno walked into a Planet Fitness gym in New Hampshire. He stopped at the front counter, took off all his clothes, and then proceeded to do yoga in the buff. Those exercising at the time were both shocked and disgusted. The police were called immediately. 

Upon his arrest, Stagno claimed he thought he was in a “Judgement Free Zone,” referencing the company’s longtime slogan. 

With 1,500 locations and over 10 million members, Planet Fitness is one of the most successful gym franchises in the world. Its claim to be a “Judgement Free Zone” resonates with many people. The pressure of exercising with sculpted body builders and embarrassment over their own bodies often keep people from going to the gym. 

They feel like they are being judged. 

Planet Fitness has found a way to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for the casual gym user. But, as Eric Stagno found out, there is no such place as a completely judgement-free zone. 

One of the things our world today fails to distinguish is the difference between judging and being judgmental. Being judgmental means being quick to judge or harsh in your judgment. It means setting yourself above other people or thinking you are better than them. 

God doesn’t want us to be judgmental. We have no right to set ourselves up as judge and jury for someone else. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks strong words about those who pridefully judge others (Matthew 7:1-5).  

God, however, does judge. He is the Supreme Court of all creation. His moral code will be the standard by which we will all be judged one day. Every single person will be judged by God for what they do in this life. Before God there is no such thing as a judgmentfree zone.  

When we as Christians lovingly and humbly share God’s moral code with the worldwhen we call sin “sin”we aren’t being judgmental. We are simply sharing the decrees of the Judge of all creation. 

Our world, however, calls that judgmental. It doesn’t want you or me to say that certain actions or attitudes are wrongThat is considered unloving and intolerant. For our world, love is living judgement free. 

But then when a guy gets naked in a gym or a pedophile molests a young boy or a terrorist massacres the innocent, suddenly the world sees the importance of judges and juriesThen there is a higher moral code by which people should be judged. 

Deep down we all know there is a higher moral code. We know we haven’t lived up to that moral code. We deserve to be declared guilty by God the Judge. 

And yet because Jesus lived and died in our placebecause he suffered our guilty verdict in our placeGod declares all those who believe in him to be innocent of all charges. Through faith in Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of judgment day. 

But that doesn’t change the fact that judgment day is coming. Even here on earth there are no judgement-free zones, as Eric Stagno discovered. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all judging is judgmental. God wants us boldly and lovingly to proclaim his moral code and his judgments even when people don’t want to hear it. Only then will they be able to see how desperately they need Jesus as their Savior. 

There is no such thing as a judgement-free zone.


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.  


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A new story

The stone marks the place of those who died. But one cemetery tells a different story. 

John P. Bortulin 

The sights and sounds and the subdued quietness of the 9/11 Memorial on the southside of Manhattan told a story that left a sobering mark on us.From there my wife and I headed a few blocks east and stumbled across a historic church with a cemetery filled with markers dating back to the late 1600s. 

Cemeteries tell stories, and this one was no exception. 

“Here lies the body of . . .” was inscribed on stones all around us. The oldest stone belonged to a five-year-old boy; not far from there a 37-year-old doctor.Next to it a small stone read, “In memory of eight children of . . .” and “Of such is the Kingdom of God.” Heartbreak at every turn. Walk a little further, and there lies the body of Alexander Hamilton. 

Cemeteries tell the same story, stone after stone: young and old, rich and poor, famous and infamous and insignificant, this unwelcome intrusion into God’s good and perfect world called death plays no favorites.Same story, death wins. 

A different story 

Death wins, the women must have thought that first Easter, with their burial spices in hand. Did they kick the dirt and did tears sting their eyes as they went to anoint the dead body of the one whom they loved, the One who loved them? Could this really be the end of his story?  

Cemeteries tell stories, and that one was no exception. Except on that Easter morning, that cemetery told a different story! A holy angel had moved the stone away so that he could tell the story that Job would have inscribed in stone forever. 

 ‘Don’t be alarmed, [the angel] said. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you”  ” (Mark 16:6,7). 

Did you catch it? The turn in this story? He’s alive! Jesus the Nazarene, the one crucified for your sins and the sins of the whole world, the one who did not cry out “it is finished” until it really was, the one who was an answer for this unwelcome intrusion into this worldan answer for sinfor the women, for Peter (and have you had any Peter moments lately?) and for you. Most important this Easter—for you. 

A victorious story 

Cemeteries tell stories, and this one was no exception. 

I think of cemeteries far removed from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan (with the street vendors peddling hot dogs and gyros and three “I Love NY” hats for $9.99). I think of cemeteries I have stood in next to knee-high corn or in bitter January winds. I recall cemeteries I’ve muddied shoes in as pastor, family member, and friend.  I think of stones with names of those I love. Yet every one of those stones marks a victory, because in every one the angel’s message still rings true: “He has risen. He is not here.”  

It’s a new story. A beautiful story. Death loses, Jesus wins.Those who die in Christ, live in Christ.Here’s the story: He lives for the women and Mary and the disciples and Peter and you.  

“Here lies the body of . . .” Not foreverEaster says, not forever. “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”   

Cemeteries tell a story but none greater than the empty one on Easter morning. For the Lamb once slain is resurrected. Victorious. Alive.  

That’s not just the end of the story. It is your story! 


John Bortulin is pastor at St. John, Mukwonago, Wisconsin.



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Author: John P. Bortulin  
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Risen indeed!

The reality of Christ’s resurrection affirms our faith. 

Michael J. Berg 

Christianity is the only religion that claims it can be proved false.  

This sounds odd, but it is exactly what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). It is as if Paul wrote, “Show me the dead body of Christ, and I will not believe and neither should you.”  

Christianity offers a way to invalidate its own teachings and does it in its own sacred texts. No other religion does this. Why would they? 

Fact: Jesus rose 

I do not mean that Christianity is actually false; I mean that Christianity relies on facts. If the stories of Christianity, specifically the resurrection of Christ, turn out to be mere myths, then the whole thing falls apart. What would be the point of following Christ if he cannot fix our ultimate problem: sin and the death that follows? We would then remain in sin and have no hope past this life (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Is he only a moral teacher then? Is he really any better than any other inspiring figure if he remained in the grave? And why should I listen to him and not another teacher since they all die and stay dead 

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, as Paul so beautifully proclaimed (1 Corinthians 15:20)Paul’s proclamation is backed up by eyewitness accounts to this historical fact. When Paul was on trial for preaching Christ, he made this defense: “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25,26). Paul was saying that the actions of Christ are verifiable facts. They were not done in secret (in a corner) but out in the open. Go investigate! There are eyewitnesses. This really happened.  

This is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and other religions. Christianity is concerned with reality. It is not a religion of mere morality, useful myth, or personal enlightenment. It is a religion of history. Other religions are not as concerned with these matters. Their purpose is to be a path to enlightenment or a useful story which helps humans navigate life. They offer a personal spirituality divorced from historical fact. Their ultimate goal is not correspondence to historical reality but rather a spiritual journey or moral code. It is not their ultimate end. Not so for Christianity. If Jesus did not pay for sins and conquer death with his resurrection, then Christianity’s teachings are lies and should be shunned. This would also mean that the followers of Christ have been duped and should be “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  

Our faith is not a blind faith. Yes, faith is being certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1), but it is not blind. It is based on fact. The facts of Christ’s life and death are independently true of our believing them to be true. It is the Holy Spirit who makes our irrational and unbelieving hearts certain. What comfort! These facts of history remain true whether I have a good faith day or a day full of doubt. I do not have to base the truth of my salvation on my feelings but rather on the historical fact of the resurrection and the promises of the Holy Spirit to strengthen my faith.  

And what confidence! You can almost see Paul’s confidence leap off the pages of his letters. It is as if he said, “Go ahead and investigate. I am so confident in these facts that I will even give you a way to debunk my faith. I know for sure that Jesus actually rose from the dead.” A personal confidence and comfort then emerges in the face of death. Listen to Paul’s challenge to death, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55). Paul’s bold taunt to death is only possible because Christ won an actual victory in an actual time and in an actual place. This is no myth, and his faith was no placebo.  

Another fact: You were baptized  

Another fact of history provides you with the same confidence: your baptism. There were eyewitnesses to this event. You probably have a certificate that documents exactly when and where you were baptized. You may have pictures or a video proving it happened. You might even remember it! Your baptism is a fact of history like any other fact. As assuredly as the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 or last night’s basketball score, your baptism is a fact of history that cannot be undone. You cannot unring that bell. Your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, which is also a fact of history that cannot be undone, means that your resurrection is secure.  

So Paul’s confidence is your confidence. It’s a confidence in the face of death and, really, before any challenge in this life. You have already died with Christ. Paul reminds us, “Dont you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). Why should death scare us when we have already been crucified with Christ? We have already been through a death and came out the other side unscathed. Our sinful natures were crucified, died, and were buried with Christ. We were resurrected with Christ in his righteousness. We are forgiven. We rise to live a new day every day until that one day when we enter paradise. Christ gives us permission to go through any tragedy, darkness, challenge, or heartbreak in this world. We have already been through a more daunting experience with Christ than anything this world can throw at us. Our historical baptisms connect us intimately with the historical death and resurrection of Christ. Our faith is built on a solid foundation that cannot be shaken.  

Frame your baptismal certificate and hang it on the wall in your bedroom. Look at it every morning and say, “Bring it on, world! Whatever you have in store for me today, I will survive. You can rip away from me my wealth or my health, my job or my house, even my life, but you cannot undo these facts of history: Jesus rose from the dead, and I am baptized into his death and resurrectionMy inheritance of heaven is secure. Nobody can take that away from me. 

We echo Paul’s confidence every day: Where, O world, is your power? Where, O devil, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  

So we sing with joy this Easter season, a joy grounded in the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection 

This is a sight that gladdensWhat peace it does impart! 

Now nothing ever saddens The joy within my heart. 

No gloom shall ever shake, No foe shall ever take 

The hope which God’s own Son In love for me has won (Christian Worship 156:3). 


Michael Berg, a theology professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at St. Philip, Milwaukee.  


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Author: Michael J. Berg
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Where are they now? Divine Savior Ministries

In Forward in Christ, we report the news but aren’t always able to follow up. “Where are they now?” is our way of giving you the rest of the story. 

In 2014, we reported that Divine Savior Academy, Doral, Fla., was embarking on another building project—an 88,000-square-foot high school, that would double the size of its campus. It’s five-year-goal was to have 1,000 students from PreK-3 to 12th grade getting a quality education and learning about their Savior. 

So where are they now?   

Divine Savior Academy–Doral has 950 students and still is growing. Divine Savior Church reaches out to the school families and community in Doral as well as serves more than 400 members with Spanish and English ministries. 

But perhaps the biggest change is that its church/school model has now spread, with four additional Divine Savior campuses in Florida and Texas.  

“As a group, we had always focused on outreach—not only in our community but kingdom wide,” says Carlos Leyrer, president of Divine Savior Ministries.  

Leyrer says that for years Divine Savior–Doral had been using a percentage of its budget to give grants to congregations across the country. Several of these congregations asked for more help with long-range planning and program development. “That led to a consulting arrangement,” says Leyrer, noting that they were happy to share best practices and advice. 

But when another South Florida congregation approached Divine Savior–Doral for help on potentially starting a school, Divine Savior offered more than just advice. It merged with the group and with another congregation in South Florida, and they all worked together to start a new church and school in Delray Beach (read the full story on p. 26).  

Soon after, two additional sites were added in Texas—one is an existing school in Sienna Plantation and another is a new mission church looking to start a school in Liberty Hill. 

“We did not look for new campuses. That was never the goal,” says Leyrer. But these are just God things.” 

As a multi-site ministry, Divine Savior is both collaborative and independent. This network of churches shares a logo, brand, website, school system, and philosophy of ministry, yet each congregation and school remain autonomous as they conduct the day-to-day work. Offerings stay at each campus and each congregation has its own budget and council, yet all contribute to a global fund that supports marketingcommunication, and other joint efforts across all the sites. The pastors meet regularly to plan sermons seriesBible studies, and worship plans, yet each congregation has its own events and ministry plans that work within their unique communities. 

To coordinate and support the growth of these ministries, a new organization, Divine Savior Ministries, was formed, which provides financial, long-range planning, communication, education, and administration systems and expertise for all the sites. 

Leyrer shares that where you can really see this efficiency is in thaccreditations that Divine Savior Academy in Doral holds as well as in the specialized school systems like a tuition payment app that the academy spent years to develop. Any site that shares its name can share in those benefits.  

“We’re not innovators,” says Leyrer. “We’re just doing what everyone in the world does, which is don’t do something twice when you can do it once.” 

Divine Savior Ministries has big goals for its future. It is hoping to break ground on Divine Savior Church and AcademySanta Rita Ranch this summer, opening this new Liberty Hill school in the fall of 2020. It is working to increase enrollment at the new academy that just opened this past fall in Delray Beach. Finally, it is looking to open a school on the Doral campus for children with special needs.   

John Boggs, pastor at Divine Savior–W. Palm Beach, Fla., says this ministry model could not exist without the support of the synod as a whole. More than 70 MLC-trained teachers work at Divine Savior Schools, and several of the congregations are home mission churches. WELS CEF provided grants and loans for both the Santa Rita Ranch and the Delray campuses. “We are thankful for the support of the synod and our joining together in the same exact work that our brothers and sisters around the world are doing,” says BoggsYes, it looks different, but God is blessings all of us as we move forward to his glory.”


Learn more about Divine Savior Ministries at divinesaviorministries.org. 



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Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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WELS members support Christmas outreach program – C18

Approximately 70 percent of WELS congregations participated in the synodwide Christmas outreach program known as C18. WELS Congregational Services created a myriad of materials for congregations to use to encourage members to reach out to the unchurched and to promote the theme “A Light in the darkness.”  

When we began C18,” says Jon Hein, director of Congregational Services, “we said our goal was to reach one million souls prior to and on Christmas Eve. I realize reach is a nebulous term. That was intentional. It is impossible for congregations to track how many people a member invites to Christmas Eve. So it is hard to quantify. What I can report is that at least 1.2 million ‘A Light in the darkness’ Christmas Eve postcards were shared.” 

Hein also notes that through follow-up surveys, he has discovered ancillary benefits to this Christmas outreach effort. One of those benefits is a renewed focus on evangelism in some congregations.  

One survey respondent commented, “I have prayed for years for God to make me bold enough to share the gospel. I have now done this . . . several weeks in a row for C18 and have had very positive results. I plan to continue this method of inviting neighbors to my church year-round for different events. 

Another said, “Our congregation did more evangelism in the past 3 months than we have done in the 20 years I have been a member here. 

In addition to evangelism materials, Congregational Services offered worship resources to congregations. Hein believes these resources helped congregations see the potential for worship in two ways. First, they illustrated the potential for liturgical variety. Liturgical worship has been proven for centuries to let the gospel predominate. When done properly, it also demonstrates a rootedness, illustrating that the Church deals with ancient threats and universal problems. However, the liturgy also allows for appropriate flexibility, opportunities to bring out . . . new treasures as well as old (Matthew 13:52). It seems people appreciated that. Second, C18 illustrated the potential to use worship as a part of your congregational evangelism efforts. Worship folders make it extremely easy for someone who has never been to church in their life to follow along and not get lost. 

This was borne out by one survey respondent who commented, “I have at times been afraid to invite friends to church because I was not sure if they would get how it works. The worship folders take away that fear. It was the first time my church has used them. I hope we use them more often. 

Congregational Services also used this Christmas program as an opportunity to promote family Advent devotions. Thousands of families used the materials developed by WELS Discipleship and WELS Evangelism, based on the popular WELS Daily Devotions. 

As one WELS member wrote, “I loved that C18 focused on reaching unbelievers. But I also love that it stressed feeding our children with God’s Word.” 

After hearing from WELS members about the blessings that this Christmas program offered, Congregational Services is now planning resources for C19.  



To read Jon Hein’s full report about C18, visit welscongregationalservices.net/c18-our-christmas-efforts 



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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Women’s ministry conference – being “living stones”

“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5). 

The focal point of the upcoming 2019 WELS Women’s Ministry Conference, being held at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., July 18–20, is living stones and how Christian women are called to be a part of something bigger. Dawn Schulz, conference coordinator, says the committee chose 1 Peter as the conference’s inspiration because it’s a great encouragement to women.  

“A living stone is a woman who uses her God-given talents and gifts to build up God’s kingdom and bless those around her, wherever that may be,” Schulz says. “Just like Jesus, we are special to God. We are chosen for a reason.”  

A range of speakers will discuss the topic of living stones in keynote addresses and breakout sessions. One of the main points of the conference is how Christians fit together, like stones on a building. Each stone possesses unique qualities to serve God’s kingdom. To emphasize this point, the speakers have a range of backgrounds, including a lawyer, a pastor, and a ministry coordinator.  

“We wanted to provide opportunities for a wide scope of presentations,” Schulz says. “The speakers that were chosen are people that have been speaking and researching God’s Word and will bring light to the fact that God uses every single person in his kingdom.” 

The conference will also dive into how Christian women should look at the individuality of each person to more effectively share the gospel. For example, a young adult ministry professional as well as a panel of college students will emphasize how to reach younger generations today. 

At the end of the conference, Schulz hopes women walk away feeling more confident in their purpose as a part of God’s spiritual house. She says, This conference is going to nurture women in God’s Word, encourage them by bringing them together with other Christian sisters, and equip them with resources.” 


For more information on the Women’s Ministry Conference and to register, visit wels.net/wmconference. 


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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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WELS EdTechLead conference to be held in 2019

The 2019 WELS Education, Technology, and Leadership Summit (WELS EdTechLead) will be held June 2527 at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. 

This new event combines the National School Leadership and the WELSTech conferences into one expanded convention. It offers information and fellowship to those interested in exploring ministry tools, techniques, and best practices in the areas of education, technology, and leadership.  

Created to be more sensitive to the time and funds of those who may have been interested in attending both conferencesWELS EdTechLead also aims to draw a broader audience than either conference might be able to alone. 

“I think the conference really is for almost anybody in ministry,” said Martin Spriggs, chief technology officer at WELS. “It’s an opportunity to help everyone put a bit more brainpower and a bit more passion into their efforts. It just makes sense to share that knowledge and energy and come up with better ministry plans and strategies together.” 

The speakers and sessions offered at WELS EdTechLead are not simply related to one of the three topics of education, technology, and leadership. Many demonstrate the intersections between the topics. For example, teachers will be able to learn about instructional technology at the conference, and school principals and early childhood directors will have opportunities to develop their leadership skills. 

The schedule is organized to allow attendees to experience a variety of workshops from each of the three fields. Half-day and full-day preconference sessions are also available to allow visitors to dive deeply into a specific subject. 

It’s to strengthen the network of support we have with one another in ministry,” said Jim Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools. “You are going to learn some tips and some tools, but, in many ways, this conference is to inspire you to move forward in your ministry.” 

Rademan envisions the summit to continue in this form in the future, recurring on a 3- or 4-year cycle like other flagship WELS conferences such as the National Worship Conference and the International Youth Rally. 


Registration for WELS EdTechLead is now open, with early bird discounts through May 1. Visit welsedtechlead.com to learn more and register. 


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Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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Students put their faith into action

Not all college students are planning to lie in the sun or ski the slopes during their Spring Break this year. WELS Mission Journeys is working with campus ministries at several colleges and universities to coordinate short-term mission trips this March. 

Teams from Wisconsin Lutheran College (WLC), Milwaukee, Wis., and the campus ministries at Michigan Tech, Houghton, Mich., and the University of Wisconsin—Madison are traveling to help missions in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Spokane, Wash. 

Shannon Bohme, coordinator for Mission Journeys, highlights the importance of providing these opportunities for college students. “They’re the future leaders [of our church],” he says. “The younger generations want to put their faith into action, so we’re trying to give them the opportunity to go and serve.” 

While some WELS high schools and colleges already have mission trip programs, Bohme says many don’t have the resources or contacts to do it on their own. By working with those schools, he can offer more students a way to experience a mission trip. He also plans to work with schools with existing programs to help coordinate needs and opportunities.  

Wayne Shevey, WLC campus pastor, says he appreciates the coordination that Mission Journeys provides. “[Mission Journeys] shares with us what their needs are. They do a lot of the leg work and then we connect them with the necessary students.” 

He continues, “This gives students a different experience than what they’re used to. Rather than being served as people in congregations, this gives them the opportunity to be of service.” 

WLC sent out its first group through Mission Journeys in January, when seven students traveled to Sahuarita, Ariz., during the college’s J-term to help Grace Lutheran Church with community outreach, English as a Second Language classes, and church property clean-up.  

Ryan Heiman, pastor at Grace, says the students’ work provided a boost to Grace’s ministry and its members. He also took this as an opportunity to expose the students to many different aspects of ministry work. “This might lead them down a path of being a pastor or a teacher or just get them excited about outreach and mission work wherever they may end up in their vocation.” 

While the students were able to help Grace with some practical tasks, they also learned lifelong lessons. “I learned that it often takes more than one encounter to engage others when it comes to speaking about church or Jesus. . . . Maybe the door in the face one time can lead to listening ears the next time. Who knows what God can work after that!” says Elizabeth O’Connor, a WLC sophomore and member at St. John, Lomira, Wis.  

David Wilson, a junior at WLC and member at St. John’s, Pardeeville, Wis., says that he could see some of the ideas and programs he learned about on the trip working in his home congregation as well as in his personal life. “I plan on taking this experience and utilizing what I learned to interact more with those I know who don’t understand the joy we have in Christ.”  

Both say that they would go again “in a heartbeat.” “These trips teach you how to engage others and instill a heart of service,” says O’ConnorFor those of you considering a mission trip, I strongly encourage you to go. There is nothing like it! You dont have to worry that you are too young, too inexperienced, too nervous, etc. God will use you! 


Learn more about Mission Journeys at wels.net/missionjourneys and in this month’s edition of WELS Connection. 


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Silent no longer

Nicodemus remained silent before Jesus died, but, along with Joseph of Arimathea, he broke his silence. 

Stephen G. Helwig  

Have you ever been there? In a hospital room? Next to a hospice bed?  Have you ever been there when someone diedWhat about the death and burial of Jesus? Nicodemus might have remembered . . . 

Mary, his mother, was there. She had been there when Jesusher sondied. A few other devoted and caring women were there. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was there. The centurion was there. They all had their own reactions. Gasps. Sighs. Beating their breasts. Shaking their heads. Holding each other. Consoling each other. 

Have you ever been there when they had to take the body from the room or when they had to close the casket for the final time? No one wants to do that. No one wants to be the person who is assigned that task. But Joseph of Arimathea and I knew it was time. In fact, time was short, and there was much to do. We had to act quickly. We needed to get into the city and ask Pilate for permission to take the body. 

We had to wait as the soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals and as they pierced the side of Jesus body. We waited as Pilate summoned the centurion to make sure that Jesus was dead. Then we headed back to Calvary with our spices and the linen. 

We had to figure out a practical yet respectful way to carefully remove his body from the cross. Imagine for a moment what that must have been like for me as held my Lord’s dead body in my arms. We washed his body before we wrapped it in the linens with all those spices. Then we carried it to a nearby garden and placed it inside the tomb that had been cut out of the rockFinally whad to roll a stone in front of that tomb to seal it off—all in a matter of hours. 

It was so sad, so disappointing, so frustrating. . . for me . . because it took the death of Jesus for me to become bold enough to express my faith in him. For too long I was afraid to be known as one of Jesus’ followers. Why? For what? My reputation? My office? It was Jesus who had told me nearly three years earlier that unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. But I didn’t understand. I was one of Israel’s teachers, and I didn’t understand. But then Jesus told me this: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him (John 3:14,15).  

On Good Friday I saw Jesus lifted up. I would be silent no longer. I would confess my faith in him by giving him a respectful and dignified burial 

Do not be silent; do not wait to confess your faith in him. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. I witnessed that firsthand. But I can also tell you that Jesus rose from the dead. Tell that to yourself. Tell that to others. Jesus is alive. Our debt has been paid. Our sin is washed away. Our guilt is covered.  

Tell yourself—tell others—what Jesus told me: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16) 


Stephen Helwig is pastor at Gethsemane, Omaha, Nebraska.  


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Author: Stephen G. Helwig  
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A Lutheran Lent

John A. Braun

On Ash Wednesday in some churches—some Lutheran churches too—ashes are placed on foreheads as sign of repentance. For many, Lent is giving up some indulgencelike candy, greasy food, or even red meatfor 40 days. Conversations often start with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Sadly the emphasis too often becomes a distortion of Lent.  

Lent is a valuable time for God’s people to focus on Christ and his suffering and death. That’s the essential element of Lent. Lent sharpens our focus on what God has given to us through the cross of Christ.  

For Lutherans that starts when the law of God brings into stark view what has caused his bloody death: our sins. We bow our heads as the publican in the temple did and pray, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).  

But Lent does not leave us in anguish and hopeless fear. The gospel raises our eyes to the cross where we see that Jesus has paid fully for our sins. Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Like the publican we go home with the comfort that we are justified—loved and forgiven by God because of Jesus. We offer God our praise and are filled with a renewed desire to serve him as dear children. 

But sin does not disappear from our lives. Like children we find the law accuses us daily for careless failures as well as for unloving and defiant disobedience. We discover that once we hear the gospel we struggle to be obedient children. Sin still lives within us. Like Paul we know, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). We are forgiven children but still disobedientsaints and sinners at the same time. So we return to the gospel—the Savior’s cross—for forgiveness and strength to renew our efforts to be the children God has made us. 

We cannot earn his love and acceptance. Peter stumbled miserably, and so did all the other disciples as they fled into the night. But Jesus embraced them in forgiveness. That forgiveness made them ready to serve. Reminders of his forgiveness sustained them in the years ahead as they, like us, struggled to live as disciples and children of God. Each Lenten season, we come to the cross, humbled by our sins but then rejoicing that God has done what we could not do even after we know Jesus. Only the cross brings forgiveness and strength to live as God’s children. 

Here’s where the distortion of Lent comes into view. “What are you giving up for Lent?” If you give something up for Lent so that you can think more often and more clearly about what Christ has done, there is no distortion. But if you think that giving up something for Lent makes you worthy of forgiveness and God’s approval, your picture is blurredYour vision shifts from the cross and God’s undeserved gift. 

Lent is a human practice; it’s not an ordinance from God. When we think that we can offer God anything for the gift of the cross, it is like trying to buy gold with play money. No matter how much we have, it will never be enough. Lent helps us focus not on what we can do for God but on the gold of forgiveness, life, and salvation that God freely gives to all sinners. 

That’s a Lutheran emphasis. When we understand this, we come back to the cross for comfort and strength, not just at Lent, but regularly in our worship throughout the church year.  



John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.



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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 2

Prayer in Jesus’ name 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Slumps affect all the greats. Last year’s baseball batting title winner might go through the first week of spring training without a hit. A sure-bet firstround NBA draft pick might go cold from behind the three-point line just as his team enters the conference tournament.  

Prayer slumps 

Christians can grow weary and tired in their devotional lives tooFor some Christians growing weary is just getting forgetful. They become so busy with daily trials and joys that their Christian faith weakens and they no longer have the strength to turn to God in prayer. Prayer feels more and more like an overbearing obligation than a gift from God. 

For other Christians, frustrations in their prayer life often come because of unrealistic, even unbiblical, expectations. Sometimes they pray and pray. They beg urgently and plead repeatedly. Then they wait, but they still don’t get the answer they are after. So they try harder. They convince themselves that if only they were following a better system, they would be more successful.  

But what is success in prayer? How do we define it?  

Is success in prayer defined by getting the results we are after? If we measure prayer by what we get from God, we reduce our heavenly Father to a coach. As if we followed the advice of a coach we would be able to sink every free throw. As if taking to heart the hints and habits of a hitting coach would enable us to hit one out of the park every time at bat.  

Successful prayer 

When Jesus teaches us how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-13)he encourages us to approach “our Father.” He urges us to be like little children as they come and ask their loving parents for whatever is on their minds. It’s a natural part of their relationship.  

Jesus created that relationship with our Father in heaven. Through Jesus, we know our Father loves us. Through his cross, he removed our sins so we can approach God as little children. He wants us to come to him with what troubles us and with what brings us joy and pleasure—like children do.  

Prayer is not an obligation we owe to God. Instead he has given us the privilege to pray, the gift of coming to our loving Father as his dear children. Prayer is simply a part of our relationship with God through the saving grace of Jesus. Prayer flows from the recognition that through faith in Jesus we are children of God.  

Our slumps in prayer life come to us at times when we forget that our Father loves us and wants what is best for us at all times. Sometimes we take him for granted as we are distracted by all of life’s daily schedules and experiences. At other times we are frustrated that our Father does not answer our prayers quickly or exactly as we want. So we give up. Our prayers seem unsuccessful and of little value. 

Our parents did not give us everything we asked for when we were children. Instead, they thought more about what we needed than what we wanted. Their goal was to see us grow and mature until we were ready for some of the things we wanted. Our heavenly Father thinks the same way, only he sees our future and our lives much better. With perfect love, he promises to give us what is best for us.  

The way out of our prayer slumps is to remember our Father loves us, listens to us, and can even turn our difficulties into good (Romans 8:28). And then simply pray.  

 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.  



This is the second article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life. 



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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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