The Book of Revelation: Part 9

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 17 to 19

Timothy J. Westendorf 

The vision of the seven bowls (worsening spiritual plagues from the proliferation of false teaching) leads to another vision. The connection between the two, reminding us that we’re still dealing with similar subject matter, is that one of the bowl-carrying angels speaks to John and takes him to see “the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters.” That is the focus of the next three chapters.  

Babylon, the prostitute 

In chapter 17 John is carried in spirit by the angel to “a wilderness” where he sees “a woman.” We’ve encountered this imagery before (cf. chapter 12). There we see the woman (the church), pursued by the dragon (Satan), fleeing into the wilderness (this world). She is attacked and harassed there by the dragon and his two allies, the beast from the sea (ungodly government) and the beast from the earth (ungodly religion).  

The surprising thing is that the woman is described very differently here. She is no longer running for her life. She is now sitting on the beast from the sea and even taking on its characteristics! The name written on the woman’s forehead is significant. It is called a mystery, something that would remain hidden to human understanding if not revealed by God himself. The woman is described as a prostitute named “Babylon” (a representative title for the enemies of God’s people) 

To understand what John is seeing, contemplate his reaction. He is greatly astonished. Something is terribly wrong with the picture. The bride has forsaken her relationship with the Bridegroom and has committed adultery with the powers of the world! This picture is all too familiar to those who know the history of Old Testament Israel. When that special nation turned from faithfulness to the Lord and his Word, running instead after other gods, he called her an unfaithful and adulterous wife (e.g. Jeremiah 3:20). An unsettling reality is shown to John: The same thing would happen in the New Testament eraThe unfaithful (“apostate”) church would turn from trust in the Savior’s Word of grace and forgiveness, adopting the world’s religion of self-righteousness. By her words and actions she would promote spiritual drunkenness, causing people to become confused and befuddled about God’s truth and a Savior from sin. She would become wealthy and prestigious. She would even wage war against the faithful bride of Christ who refused to join her ranks!  

While there are details that deserve further study and explanation, suffice it to say for this brief overview that church and world history, with far too many examples to mention here, have borne out the truth and accuracy of this revelation. And until this present age comes to an end we can expect to see more of the same.  

Babylon, the fall  

This vision is as troubling to Christ’s true and faithful church today as it was for John so many years ago, but chapters 18 and 19 bring comfort to conflicted souls. Jesus is still faithful and true. Jesus still sees what is happening in this world. Jesus is still the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus still lives and rules all things for his believers, the church.  

The unfaithful church will have her day, but it will come to a fateful end. Until that time, when all believers will rest and rejoice at the wedding supper of the Lamb, Jesus calls us to listen to his Shepherd voice and place our confidence in his promises. 

He is trustworthy. 


Reflect on Revelation chapters 17 to 19 

  1. Give three reasons why the woman would become a prostitute on the beast.
  • The once faithful bride of Christ (the church) has abandoned the teachings of the Scriptures because the teachings of men are more attractive. The beast is a liar and has been a liar from the beginning. Just as Adam and Even listened to him, so some have listened to his lies and abandoned God’s truth.
  • Jesus said that those who listen to his voice would experience difficulties and opposition in this life. Some have abandoned the foolishness of God that brings so much opposition so they will not have to suffer persecution, ridicule, and opposition. 
  • Satan tempted Jesus and said that if he would bow down and worship Satan, Satan would give him all the world’s glories. The temptation remains for believers: trade Jesus for wealth, power, and prestige. Note the description of Babylon’s fall. She is dressed in purple and scarlet with gold, precious stones, and pearls.  The merchants will weep at her fall; their source of wealth is gone.  
  1. Think of ways you might incorporate the thoughts of this section into your personal prayers this week.
    We pray that the Lord would keep us faithful to his Word. 

    • We also pray for strength to resist the temptations that surround us to place life’s blessings—including its financial blessings—before the One who has shed his blood to redeem us. 
    • We pray that we do not become so short-sighted about things in this world that we lose sight of our eternal home and our Savior who secured it for us. 
    • We pray not just for ourselves, our friends, and our congregations to remain faithful, but we expand our prayer to include Christians all over the world.   

     


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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: Is is a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?

I am dealing with a terminal illness and am tired of the suffering and pain this icausing me and my family. I am scared to die, but is it a sin to want to die so I can go home and be with Jesus? 

James F. Pope

It is definitely not a sin to desire to leave this world at God’s time and be with Jesus. That, finally, is the goal of our faith. It would be good to review what Scripture says about Christians and death. 

Longing for heaven 

The apostle Paul longed to be with God in heaven. When Paul was first imprisoned in Rome, he wrote to the Christians in the city of Philippi. He confessed that he was conflicted over the thought of continuing his life on earth or joining his Lord in heaven. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21-24). Paul also spoke of “longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:2). The apostle Paul found joys in his earthly life as a child of God, but he knew there was something much, much better awaiting him, and he looked forward to that. 

Job, in the Old Testament, did as well. When he thought of his new life with God, he exclaimed, “How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:27). If you agree with Job, it is because you also agree with the writer to the Hebrews, who compared this life to the next in concrete terms: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).  

While you and I look forward to the perfect life that is to come, we recognize that our life is in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15), so we do nothing that would hasten our death.  

Looking at death 

Death is inevitable for us all unless the Lord returns visibly to this world on the Last Day before we die. Ththought of death can be unsettling even for Christians. Death is an unnatural intruder into God’s perfect world; death was never a part of God’s design for life. Death is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). The unnatural origin of death, along with not knowing what it is like to take a final breath, can generate fear. 

What we want to remember is that Jesus has taken away every reason for fearing death. Jesus, after all, lived and died as our perfect substitute and then rose triumphantly from the dead. Those people in the Bible who were raised to life eventually experienced death as the end of their earthly life. Jesus rose from the dead as “the firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23). He was the first person to die and rise from the dead—never to die again. And as the firstfruits, that means there will be others like him. Christians who die will be raised to life on the Last Day and will never experience death again.  

So take heart in the works and words of Jesus. They give us sure confidence for the future. 


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 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 Book of Revelation: Part 10

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 20

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Chapter 20 introduces the seventh and final vision. Many Christians have been taught to expect a coming millennial (thousandyear) reign of Jesus on earth based, in large part, on the words of this chapter 

On the one hand, we will be sympathetic to and patient with those who are troubled and confused by this section of God’s Word as they seek his truth. On the other hand, we’ll want to read these words carefully and compare them to the rest of the Bible.  From that study, we conclude that the so-called millennium is not taught anywhere in Scripture.  

Thousand-year reign 

Chapter 20 begins with the dramatization of a historical truth and the ongoing reality that results from it: Jesus, the angel from heaven, has defeated Satan, the dragon, by his life, death, and resurrection. That good news of Jesus’ victory, the gospel, keeps the devil chained up from fully and freely deceiving people and nations with his wicked lies. The dragon will be bound for “a thousand years,” a complete number (10 cubed) representing a definite and determined time from Jesus’ ascension until shortly before his return in glory. 

During that same time, we’re told that a group of people, those who have taken part in the first resurrection, reign with Jesus. Who are those people? When we remember the Bible teaching that all human beings are born dead in sin, we understand the first resurrection to be the new birth given by the Holy Spirit through faith. These are all believers in JesusWhile they take part in the first death, a physical one, they all have eternal life in Christ and need not fear the second death (eternal separation from God). Along with all people, they will participate in the second resurrection, a bodily one at Christ’s return. In the meanwhile, saints in heaven and on earth live and reign with their living and ruling Savior.  

Satan’s short season and final demise 

At the end of this periodSatan will be loosed from his chain and allowed to deceive widely and freely. This vision tells us that it will be a “short time (v. 3)We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:21-25, where he speaks of a time of severe testing but promises that he will mercifully cut that time short for the sake of his peoplePrevious visions in Revelation also point to this time when gospel witness will be nearly or completely silenced. But that short season will come to an end. That end means final judgment for the old evil foe.  

That end also means Jesus’ return to judge the living and the dead. Those who stand before the judge without the righteousness of Christ by faith are justly sentenced based on their own faulty record. Those who are found in Christ, who are written in the book of life, are judged on his perfect performance and guilt-removing sacrifice. They have life and peace with God through Christ and need not fear his judgment now or ever.  

Jesus himself, the victor over sin and Satan, is our life and hope, our comfort in every conflict. 


Reflect on Revelation chapter 20 

  1. Read Ephesians 1:1-10. What reasons to praise the Lord are similar to those in Revelation 20?Revelation 20 shows us the results of Christ’s work of redemption, picturing the saints in heaven who were faithful to the Lord even during persecution. We see the end of Satan’s reign on earth and his eternal destruction, which involves torment day and night for ever and ever. John also writes what God revealed to him about the resurrection—the first resurrection, that is, the coming to faith, and the second resurrection of the dead as humanity of all kinds stand before the judge. Those whose names are written in the book of life receive life, but those whose names are not written in the book of life—those who did not do what God demanded, that is, believe in the one he had sent, Jesus Christ—are thrown into the lake of fire. 

    Paul’s words in Ephesians praise God for the blessings we have in Christ. He has chosen us to be his eternally. We are holy and blameless in his sight because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We have redemption through Christ’s blood, forgiveness, and eternal life. All these blessings depend on the pleasure and will of God—his grace.  

    Both sections focus on the same things but from different perspectives. Paul sees these blessings through the eyes of faith. John sees them all accomplished at the end of time. 

  2. How do the words of Jesus in John 5:24-30 teach the same lessons as Revelation 20?Jesus is the judge who will raise the dead and welcome all those who believe into eternal life. The words of Jesus point us to the events John sees in Revelation 20.  

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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 11

Knowing when to say when 

Jonathan P. Bilitz   

One day about two years ago, the desk phone in my office rang. When I answered, I wasn’t prepared for the conversation that would span the next hour. The caller identified himself as Jacob. He wanted to talk about Hebrew words in the Old Testament and how I (and the Lutheran church) defined and explained those words. 

Don’t be afraid to engage in conversation 

I felt woefully inadequate to answer his questions. But I was intrigued, so I listened and scrambled to find every Hebrew resource I had on my bookshelf! Though I wasn’t sure I could give every answer he might be looking for, I am thankful for my college and seminary training. The Hebrew I learned in preparation to be a pastor allowed me to at least engage in this conversation. 

I remember saying a quick prayer as Jacob launched into his first question. My prayer was simple“Lord, whatever happens in this conversation, give me the words to say so that Jesus and his love for all people shine through.” No matter how able or unable I was to answer the questions, I knew God was at work through his Word. 

Jacob’s first question involved the Hebrew word for virgin in Isaiah 7:14, The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Jacob asked me, “How do you translate the Hebrew word for virgin? I explained that I thought virgin was a proper translation. He asked, “But doesn’t the word almah (Hebrew) simply mean young woman? How can we know for sure it is referring to a virgin?” 

His question was a good one. The word doesn’t necessarily mean virgin. But the New Testament gives us all the evidence we need to translate the word as virgin. Matthew clearly tells us the birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 7. He wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”)” (Matthew 1:22,23). As the gospel writer speaks about Mary and Joseph, he uses these phrases: “Before they came together” (v. 18) and “he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son (v. 25). Those words clearly indicate that Mary was a virgin.  

Jacob respectfully listened to my answer and did not object to my reasoning. What he said next, however, made me realize this conversation was a challenge. Jacob remarked, “I guess that is a good explanation if you believe the New Testament.” If you believe? I was speaking with someone who perhaps did not consider the Bible in the same way I did. Suddenly I knew that Jacob and I lived in different spiritual worlds.  

As we spoke about some other Hebrew words and I frantically paged through resources to maintain the conversation, he expressed an appreciation that we were able to engage in this way. He mentioned that he had called other places and had not been successful in getting anyone to talk to him.  

Jacob then confessed, “I am the rabbi in the synagogue in town. I enjoy hearing what Christians have to say about the Old Testament and have a personal mission to correct some misconceptions.” His admission didn’t completely surprise me. His Hebrew knowledge certainly surpassed my own. Several times I said to him, “I will have to do a deeper study on that word.” He never seemed put off by my disclosure. His comment from earlier about the New Testament now made perfect sense. 

Look for opportunities to share Jesus’ love 

What could I say? How could I witness to him? I kept asking myself the question, “Where can I direct him so that he can see Jesus as the Savior?” The words of Isaiah 53:5,6 came to mind: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I asked him for his interpretation of the passage. In my mind, this passage clearly referred to a Messiah who would suffer as a substitute for sinners. 

For the first time in the conversation, Jacob surprised me. He said, “Those verses don’t refer to a single Messiah, but the nation of Israel collectively. The nation of Israel has and continues to suffer for the Lord.” He continued by offering proof. He said that the people alive when Jesus came weren’t looking for someone to suffer for them and even Jesus’ own disciples objected when Jesus repeatedly predicted his death. He went on to claim that the Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not read this prophecy as a Messiah suffering in their place. 

I tried to explain that one of those disciples, Peter, later demonstrated a different understanding, an understanding that was more complete:  ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24,25). Clearly, Peter was referencing Isaiah 53 and connecting it to Jesus. 

Jacob didn’t back down. He was cordial, but he could sense that he wasn’t changing my mind. I was reading him the same way. At this point, I said, “Jacob, I appreciate this conversation. I have learned from you. But I am afraid that we approach the Bible in two different ways. My understanding of the Old Testament is completely influenced by the events of the New Testament. I view the Bible as a seamless account of God’s love for us through Jesus. If we cannot agree about that, we will struggle to agree about much else.” He agreed, thanked me for my time, and hung up. 

I pray that the testimony about Jesus will change Jacob’s heart. Isaiah planted the seed. God can make it grow. In that conversation, no common ground could be reached. I had to know when to say when.  

Cling to Jesus throughout 

As you testify about Jesus, recognize not everyone has the same capacity for a conversation about every aspect of the Bible. If you don’t know something, you don’t know something. Knowledge doesn’t make you a child of God; Jesus does. If you don’t have an answer to every objection that can be raised, that’s normal. Cling to Jesus and the salvation that belongs to you through him.  

Even when you don’t have the answer, speaking about Jesus and his love for all people is always good. That includes someone who might disagree with you or for whom you don’t have an answer. Most ambassadors for Jesus come to the end of their knowledge and ability. What a blessing to say, “I don’t know about that, but I do know Jesus loves you, me, and everyone!” 


Jonathan Bilitz is pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin. 


This is the eleventharticle 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? How did you respond to a know-it-all? 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. 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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: Are we modeling kindness for our children?

Are we modeling kindness for our children?

“Forming character in children combines parental instruction and modeling,” notes Kenneth Kremer in his book Embracing Godly CharacterWhen parents lead a moral life, God gives them many opportunities to be godly examples for their children. But the models we provide will never be perfect, because all parents are sinners. Our children need to be able to see us finding peace from our guilt and receiving God’s assurance that we are forgiven.” 

This month’s article gives us a real-life example of Kremer’s words. Read on and see if you relate to Nicole Smith’s story as much as I do. Have your own parenting story to share? Send it to me at fic@wels.net 

Nicole Balza


“Use kind wordsgentle hands, and find someone who needs a friend today,” I said to my son as I dropped him off at the gym day care. 

“I will, Mommy, I will be kind today. I will share,” he replied as he bounced away gleefully. 

Kindness with our children 

It is so important to me that my kids are kind; in fact, sometimes I think I place a little too much emphasis on it. In a world that so desperately needs more kindness, I want to make sure I’m raising boys who love God and love others unconditionally. 

For as much as I give verbal reminders, true kindness is shown by modeling the behavior—seeing kindness in action. So when my son reminded me, “You need to be kind, Mommy!” when I was asking him to do something, it made me stop in my tracks. 

How often am I really modeling kindness for my sons? 

“Don’t do that.” 

“Hurry up!” 

“Get your shoes on, NOW!” 

Commands that are often heard throughout our day blare like sirens in my brain when I lay down at nightAm I nurturing my boys and showing them kindness? 

Kindness with our spouses 

Recently my husband and I—just the two of us—went out on our first date in more than eight months. We have an eight-monthold baby at home, so I’ll let you do the math. To be honest, it felt like a chore to get that date planned. It seems the longer you don’t give a relationship proper nurturing, the harder it is to get back to that baseline foundation. Once we were out, we had a blast, but it’s the getting out that is hard right now. 

At one point during our date, I found myself apologizing for not expressing gratitude enough. The truth is he works really, really hard so that I can stay home with our boys. We both work hard to make our home what it is, but stress can take its toll on each of us. 

Jesus quoted words from Genesis, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Matthew 19:5). 

When is the last time we felt we were a united front or on the same exact page? When is the last time we were truly one? I wondered. 

Like most couples with young kids, we are sleepdeprived and over scheduled. Many evenings and weekends are jampacked with obligations, home improvement projects, grocery shopping, cleaning, bathing our children, and keeping them alive. I admitted honestly to him, “You know, I wonder what our marriage would be like if I spent as much time working on being a better wife as I do trying to be a better parent.” 

Just like my kids feel they can be sassy and defiant to me, I often feel I can be sarcastic and harsh with my husband. That’s never easy to admit, but the more and more I think about the example I want to set for my children, I recognize that I need to start with me. 

Power in our weakness 

This admission may seem like I’m airing out a vulnerable weakness, and if that’s how you see it, you’d be correct. The truth is there are many days I wonder if God picked the right woman for the job. Raising kids in a sinful world is no joke! 

In her book You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons says, “God demonstrates his power through our frailty. In fact, this is the only thing we can boast in: His power is made perfect and on full display in our never-enough-ness. When we are weak, we are actually made strong in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10). 

God nurtures us in the most perfect way. First, when I’m falling short, full admission of my weakness and asking God for forgiveness helps me seek forgiveness from my husband, my kids, or anyone else I’ve wronged. His forgiveness sets me back on the path he created for me. 

So, while modeling kind words, gentlenessand love is extremely important in raising empathetic and God-fearing boys, so is admission of sin and forgiveness. Recognizing that I’m not a perfect wife and mother doesn’t make me want to give up, but rather helps me recognize that I need God more than ever and makes me want to try better next time. A heart full of thankfulness for Jesus’ love on the cross motivates me to display that love in all my relationships.  

It’s not always easy to admit weakness (sometimes the list feels so long that I don’t know where to even begin), but I’ve regularly been asking God to show me areas of my life that I need to work on, areas that could use a little nurturing. My son pointing out that I wasn’t using kind words could have made me angry, but it didn’t. I believe God was using that sweet boy to kindly point out that Mommy needs to remember that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45). 

Lyons also writes and reminds us to take action, “God delights in us. He doesn’t want us to live in bondage. . . . He comes and says, ‘Let’s nail this thing. Let’s not dance around it, perform around it, or seek validation to make it feel better. Let’s just go after it.’ ” 

Strength from God 

So now, instead of just repeating my mantra when I drop my son off to play with other children, we speak it every morning, together, as a reminder for us both: “Today we will try our hardest to use kind words, gentle hands, and to be a good friend. With God’s help, we can do it!” 

God’s calling to nurture and love my husband and these boys doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, but he has fully equipped me with Christ’s example and his promise that we are in this together.  


Nicole Smith and her husband are raising two young boys in Sussex, Wisconsin. This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.coma blog for “imperfect women spurred on by God’s perfect grace.”


Character formation can be messy 

“Though the plan for character formation, along with the tools to make it happen, come from God, the process doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes it isn’t even linear. Character usually forms in a herky-jerky rhythm, with awkward starts and unexpected fits of regression. It can be clumsy, uncomfortable, challenging, frustrating, disappointing, depressing, costly, and messy. This is because human relationships can be messy. Nonetheless, character never forms in a vacuum. Our relationships, rooted in our relationship with our loving Lord Jesus, are the critical mass that God uses to get the job of character formation done. Our homes are His preferred culture for getting a good head start.” Excerpt from the book Embracing Godly Character: The Christian Community’s Response to a Godless Culture by Kenneth Kremer, pp. 42,43. Available through Northwestern Publishing House at nph.net or by calling 800-662-6022. $14.99. 



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Author: Nicole Smith
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Be imitators of Jesus in doing good

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9,10) 

Peter M. Prange 

Do you think Jesus has ever been tempted to quit his job as our Savior? Do you imagine he ever becomes fed up with our weaknessesWould it be possible for him to ever become weary in doing good? 

Jesus didn’t give up 

Sometimes in the gospel accounts you can detect a tinge of frustration in Jesus’ words, even whenno, especially when!—he’s speaking with his closest disciples. For instance, when those disciples once attempted unsuccessfully to cast out a demon, our Savior exclaimed, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41). On the night Judas betrayed himPeter denied him, and the rest abandoned himJesus questioned his snoring supporters indignantly, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).  

Already through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, our Lord Jesus had vocalized how wearisome the object of his saving work would become. There he lamented, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (Isaiah 49:4). Do you think Jesus has ever been tempted to quit his job as our Savior? Certainly so! 

Despite that frustration, however, Jesus has never given up. He’s never submitted his letter of resignation. He’s never stopped loving us, forgiving us, saving us, and carrying our burdens. Though tempted to do so, Jesus has never become weary in doing good. 

What’s stopped him? First and foremost, his love for all people is so unfailing and so flawless. But he also knows that there is great, eternal reward in doing good to others, even if that reward isn’t immediately obvious. Jesus understood that, as his words through the prophet indicate: “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s handand my reward is with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). 

We should not become weary 

Like Jesus, we’re often tempted to become weary in doing good. Unlike Jesus, we succumb to that temptation all too often and all too easily. 

But consider what would happen if Jesus ever quit his job as our Savior and threw in the towel. We’d be finished immediatelyLife would consist of nothing but death. Without Jesus working for our good, every blessing would instantly vanish. Thankfully, Jesus hasn’t and won’t become weary in doing good to us, and that’s a promise (Hebrews 13:5). 

As his dear children, then, neither should we become weary in doing “good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. True, our service to others might not have the same impact as Jesus’ work, but our Savior has called us to serve as his hands and feet, his mouth and eyes in the world. We are Jesus’ coworkers. Through us, he comforts others (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). Through us, he cares for others (2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Through us, he saves others through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22). Through us, he does good to others. What a thought! What a privilege! What a joy! 

So be imitators of Jesus: Don’t become weary in doing good, “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” The fruits are eternal, both for us and for those we are called to serve. 


Contributing editor Peter Prange is pastor at Bethany, Kenosha, Wisconsin. 


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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God’s gifts, our giving: Part 1

First things first 

Aaron L. Christie 

Americans have an issue with discerning theory from reality. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but they are friends in theory. In reality, we don’t know many of them. We have gym memberships to help us get in shape. Unfortunately, we don’t get in shape in theory but by making real choices on diet and dedicating ourselves to exercise. 

If we struggle with theory and reality as Americans, we struggle far more as sinners. Do we love the Lord in theory? Or in reality?  

The First Commandment comes first for a reason. The Lord unapologetically asks to be first on our life’s list. We are to fear, love, and trust in him above ALL things. We all know that. We are quick to say that the Lord is the Lord of our lives. God comes first! 

Showing the reality of our priorities 

But does he?  

Is God really truly the Creator of everything that exists? Has God personally blessed us with eyes, ears, mind, members, strength, and abilities? Does everything we possess really come from him? We talk about questions like these as if they were theoretical. In reality, all of these questions are either yes or no.  

In order to help make loving and trusting God into something real, tangible, and personal, the Lord commanded his Old Testament believers to offer him their firstfruits: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9). Whether the offering was one of grapes or grain, the first and the best of the harvest went to the Lord.  

In other words, it is an easy thing to say that the Lord is “Lord of the harvest.” It is an entirely different thing to recognize him as such with the tangible very first portion of the harvest. It is one thing to say that the Lord will “take care of us.” It is an entirely different thing to offer him the first portion of the harvest—even before you have fed your family or stored away seed for the next planting. The Lord’s commands regarding giving firstfruits helped the Israelites put the Lord first—not just on paper, but in practice. It helped them live by faith in God’s providence. God did not intend for them to give just with words but also with faith-stretching deeds. 

Humanly speaking, firstfruits offerings don’t make a bit of sense. Investment professionals tell us that if we “pay ourselves first” and invest it carefully over time, our money will grow. Human logic tells us that if we make the Lord’s work our firstfruits priority, then that means we have less for every other area of life, including important things like mortgages and medications. It’s true: Humanly speaking, giving firstfruits doesn’t make a bit of sense. 

It’s also true that giving firstfruits goes against every inclination of our sinful nature. The default setting of our sinful nature is to keep stuff, stockpile stuff, even hoard stuff in a never-ending quest to look out for number one. We call it the good life. God calls it greed. We call it being sensible. God calls it sin.  

God takes many positions in our lives, but second place dare never be one of them. There is no theory here: Our offerings either recognize God’s position of first place in our lives or they don’t.  

Reflecting God’s attitude 

There are consequences to putting God first in theory, but not in practice. Take a moment to read the major stewardship message contained in the book of the minor prophet Haggai. Look how the Lordnot in theory, but in realityturns people’s eloquent excuses for withholding their offerings upside down: You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. . . . You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little (1:6,9). In other words, the people had less, because they gave little. God himself was seeing to that with one drought, one holepurse at a time! Think about it. The God who once fed five thousand hungry stomachs using only a boy’s picnic lunch is the very same God who can ensure that a stockpile of stuff won’t be able to make ends meet. 

But even more wonderful, giving firstfruits recognizes and reflects the giving nature of our God. He himself practiced giving firstfruits. He didn’t place our salvation toward the bottom of the list of things that needed to be done. He didn’t give us a bite of daily bread to keep us from starving until he sent us to the hell that our misplaced priorities deserved. What did he do? The giving heart of the Father gave us his first and best: His firstborn, his only begotten Son. First things first! And with his Son, he graciously gives us all things! “God so loved the world that he gave . . . (John 3:16). 

The point? Offering our firstfruits in Christian freedom is more about an attitude of gratitude than agriculture. It is more about God being our priority than it is about our personal property. It is about being who we really are in Christ: The firstfruits of all creation (James 1:18); blessed with the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23); and rejoicing in Christ, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).  

In offering our firstfruits, we are simply reflecting the giving nature of God who gave us his first, his best, his only begotten Son! 

 


Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


This is the first article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10. 


A different way to give 

When you read the Bible, it tells all over the place about giving your firstfruits,” says Becky Wagner, a member at The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “I’m just so thankful for everything I have and have been given to take care of in this life, and I want to use my time, talents, AND treasures to give back.” 

Wagner uses Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to give her offerings to The Vine. This commonly used payment method allows Wagner to set funds to be transferred directly from her bank account to her church on a recurring basis.  

“It’s nice to have that knowledge that it is taken care of because it is automatic. It’s done; it’s set,” says Wagner. “It’s not anything to question—Did I do it? Did I forget? You don’t have to worry about it because you know you’re doing what you want to do.” 

Kevin Schultz, pastor of The Vine, says about ?? percent of his members use EFT for their regular giving. He says it’s a convenient way for his members—and himself—to give that also offers accountability. “I tell my members don’t think of it as paying a bill once a month or once a week. Look at it as an opportunity to give without the devil getting his hand in there,” he says. “We’re making a commitment to God, and we want to fulfill that commitment without having those temptations to go back on our promise.” 

The Vine also offers the traditional envelope system as well as one-time online giving through a giving app for those who don’t carry cash or a checkbook. “It’s not that one way is better than another,” he says. “It’s just offering multiple ways to give in a culture that requires multiple ways.” 

To consider: Have you thought about giving your firstfruits offering via EFT? If so, why so? If not, why not?


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Author: Aaron L. Christie 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 stories

How I shared Jesus 

We asked, and you shared! Here are more stories from you, our readers, on how you let your faith shine in your daily lives.


Witnessing through the written word 

I had the blessings of sharing Jesus with many children for 22 years. I retired from teaching in 2003.  

That year a unique opportunity to share Jesus with adults began. Our daily newspaper has a Public Forum column for readers to share their thoughts. One day a writer accused Martin Luther of removing the Apocrypha books from the Bible, thereby removing evidence of the existence of purgatory. 

 I felt compelled to reply about the completeness of Jesus salvation with Bible passagesThat started a correspondence in the paper on a variety of religious topics that was to last until 2007. 

 In my research on the Apocrypha I learned that St. Jerome was the first to state that seven books in the Old Testament were useful for history but not of the same quality as the other Old Testament books for doctrine. He suggested that these books be grouped together and placed at the end of the Old Testament.  I wrote that Martin Luther was the first to follow St. Jeromes suggestion. Luther did include the apocryphal books in his German translation of the Bible, but it was the Puritans who requested that the apocryphal books be removed. 

 The necessity of purgatory continued to be discussed at least once a month. One day the writer shared this thought: Whenever I pass a cemetery, I pray for the souls there, that they may be received into heaven.  

I replied that it was kind of him to think of others salvation, but it was not necessary to pray for those who have already died believing in Jesus as their Savior. I had already shared Jesus words about passing from death to life. This time I used 1 John 1:7: The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. I ended with this question, If Jesus death purified us from all sins, what is the need for purgatory? 

 That 1 John verse ended the discussion of purgatory.  

Later I discovered one special result of sharing Jesus through the newspaper. A few years ago, I was visiting an elderly friend in a nursing home. The last time I saw him, he said, I have read all your letters, and they comfort me. I want to ask you a question. Do you have to belong to a certain church to be saved? 

 No, I replied, if you believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, when you die, you will be with him in heaven. 

 With tears in his eyes, the gentleman grasped my hand and smiled, thanking me for coming to see him. 

 A few weeks later, my husband and I attended his funeral in his hometown church. I found myself startled to hear these words after the homily: He was a fine Christian man, but when he died he still had icky things clinging to him, like we all do. You can help him be found worthy in Gods sight by praying for him and offering the sacrifice of the mass. 

 Later my husband and I shared our thankfulness that our friend knew the truth: We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10).  

 Trudy Madetzke
Zion, Russell, Minnesota


Opportunities at an assisted living facility 

I volunteer at the local assisted living facility. It is a way that us laypeople can share the good news of Jesus. Our witness plants the seed of faith in some. For others it encourages them in their faith.  

I have two memorable events concerning sharing the message of Jesus at the assisted living facility: 

  • I was engaged in conversation with several elderly men.Somehow the topic of discussion shifted to circumcision. The discussion centered around reasons for circumcision. There were the typical comments of ouch. One man said he was circumcised at age six.  

How can a conversation about circumcision be turned into a gospel message? I asked myself. 

My contribution was telling them the good news that we no longer have to follow the Old Testament law of circumcision because Jesus took our place and died on the cross to fulfill the law and pay for our sins. I found it to be a unique opportunity for sharing the gospel message.  

  • After our chapel services, I help push the wheelchairbound residents to their respective lunch rooms. 

One lady complimented me on the service while I pushed her chair. I thanked her and then asked if she got anything out of the message. Her reply? Yes! Lots of questions! 

What kind of questions? I pressed.  

She replied, Too many to ask here. Then there was a long pauseHow can I be good enough? How do I know if Ive done enough good things? she suddenly asked.  

That was my “jailer of Philippi moment! I knelt by her chair and told her, You dont have to. The beauty of it is Jesus has done it all. He paid for all your sins when he died on that cross for you. 

Ministry at assisted living facilities is awesome.  

Jim Baur
Christ, Baxter, Minnesota


Outreach at 35,000 feet 

It was a simple question that normally would have a simple answer. But the young man next to me on the plane did not anticipate my response.  

I was quietly reading my Kindle when he asked. Likely he thought I would say I was reading John Grisham or Danielle Steele. Instead, I told him I was reading a book about the culture war against ChristianityHe seemed surprised. But that answer led to a conversation that lasted for the duration of the flight.  

He was a well-mannered young man in his late 20s or early 30s. I am in my 60s, so I was surprised he engaged me in conversation. Yet, it was clear the conversation was led by someone other than us! He said he was raised in the church and had good parents, but he had not been to church in years. We talked about marriage and its importance, and he agreed that a Christian marriage was important and he would only marry once. I shared that my own marriage was 45 years old, but my relationship with Christ was lifelong. I told him how important church was to my life and how engaging with God’s Word kept my faith strong. We discussed how today’s social upheavals have changed the culture, and I told him these changes resulted in moving “boundary stones” and could destroy our country but not God’s Word.  

The young man was polite and receptive. He did not offer much in the way of argument, and he seemed to be thinking about what he was hearing. As the flight came to an end, he told me he did not feel close to God. I said, “There is a verse in the Bible that says ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you ” (James 4:8). I asked him to keep that verse in mind, and he said he would. 

I have no idea if this nice young man ever thought of our conversation again. I do know that whenever he comes to my mind, I pray for him. I pray for a nice, Christian young woman to enter his life. And I pray that he comes near to his God.  

Mary Snyder
Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tennessee 


 

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? How did you respond to a know-it-all? 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: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 8

Cross-centered life and thought 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Her first restaurant job was nothing like cooking at home. Personal safety videos. Rigorous sanitation rules. Strict food handling standards. Weeks into the job, she had no chance of forgetting them. Multiple signs made safety an ever-present issue. Other cooks didn’t tolerate shortcuts. Managers kept constant vigilance.  

Likewise, Christians benefit from keeping the basics of the faith in focus at all times. That means that the cross is an essential part of our lives of faith. The cross of Christ and what it means for us is not something we can move beyond and leave behind. Martin Luther adopted a motto to encapsulate his Reformation rediscoveries: “The cross alone is our theology” (Crux sola est nostra theologia) 

Seeing life through the cross 

Christians see everything in our lives through the prism of Jesus’ cross. From a purely human perspective, the cross of Christ is a crashing defeat for his ministry. Yet far from a failure, the cross of Jesus meant he accomplished the rescue of humanity just as he set out to do. So, his cross enables us to see everything in life through the perspective of what we have from Jesus.  

Why is the cross such a crucial and constant element to our faith? Just think back to your default reactions when you experience painful suffering or injustices. Do your prayers accuse God of being unfair? You might never actually say it in these exact words, but when you are faithfully studying God’s Word and spending time in prayer, do you expect favorable treatment from God? 

When Paul says the cross is “is the power of God” for believers (1 Corinthians 1:18), he wants us to know the practical, ongoing value of the cross for our daily lives. Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) for us when we experience struggles that induce doubt, confusion, and uncertainty in our faith. The cross is the key to trusting in God when things in life seem incomprehensible. Luther commends the believer who “comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross” (The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis #20). 

The cross means Jesus fulfilled every condition laid down for the salvation of every sinner. The cross of Christ means we get to enjoy God’s unconditional love because of what Jesus did for us. The cross helps us see our ultimate problem in life isn’t self-improvement, but ingrained and pervasive sin in our hearts. The cross gives us a constant reminder to find meaning in life from the sacrifice Jesus made and the victory he secured for us.  

Living life by the cross 

As we study Scripture, we gain a deeper understanding of who God is. As we meditate on his gospel promises, we are drawn into a great appreciation of his gifts. As our hearts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, our prayers are shaped by the cross of Christ. Every aspect of our lives flows out of God’s riches to us in Jesus.  

The message of the cross is something we need to preach to ourselves. The cross of Jesus is the dual destroyer of both our pride and despair. Infinite riches are ours through the grace of God poured out on the cross. So, the finished work of Jesus provides certainty in the middle of our confusion and a solid foundation for faith in a chaotic world. The cross is something we never outgrow. 


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


This is the eighth 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 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 5

Dissentions and factions create roadblocks along the Christian Way. 

John A. Braun 

Paul’s acts of the flesh include some hazards we must avoid on our journey. He lists them as dissensions, factions, and envy. But he does not leave us paralyzed, unable to move toward our heavenly goal. He also cites two important fruits of the Spirit to help us make progress: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Acts of the flesh: Dissensions, factions, and envy 

Paul’s world was different from our own. It’s hard to imagine that Paul faced protests for civil rights, abortion, or other political causesRoman law and power settled almost all such issues. Most found little tolerance for social or political protestsYet Paul was in the midst of a vehement protest with Demetrius and the silversmiths. That disagreement turned into a riot in Ephesus (Acts chapter 19). That was an example of dissention, faction, and envy caused by the message of the gospel.  

It was ugly and dangerous. “Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there [in the theater] (Acts 19:32). Finally the city clerk quieted the crowd and told the people to take their grievances to the courts, warning them of the danger of causing a riot. The crowd melted away.  

In our own age, protests and divisions are part of our everyday newscasts. Differences escalate into heated confrontations. Like the riot in Ephesus, some shout one thing and some another. Perhaps such displays of factions and dissension are part of our system of government. We vote and contend for our positions in a way people in Paul’s world did not. Roman soldiers did not stand by in riot gear awaiting flying stones.  

That factor doesn’t matter much today. What does matter is that dissensions, factions, and envy have not disappeared. The sinful nature within asserts itself from time to time and creates conflict. Paul’s list is not just a list of ancient characteristics we no longer have. His acts of the flesh persist in our age because the sinful nature persists. Envy persists. Factions persist. 

Paul adds envy to the list, I think, to help us understand. Envy distorts every thought to help others. It is subtle at times; at other times, it is blatantly obvious. Sometimes we allow envy to blockade our ability to listen and love. As a result, we become harsh and hostile, ready for a fight or argument. It’s so much a part of our world, we are carried along without thinking. We fall for the temptation to be disagreeable, assert our own rights or thinking, and oppose others.  

It is bad enough that the conflicts arise in our country and society, our marriages and families, our neighborhoods and our government at all levels. Sadly, they also arise within the churchamong God people. Paul was no stranger to them. To the Galatians he warned, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (5:15).  

Yes, these negative attitudes reside in Christians as well. Paul saw divisions rise up in the churches he founded. He warned against “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ,” reminding the Corinthians that even Satan masqueraded as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:12-14). He also told the Romans to avoid those who taught false doctrines (Romans 16:17).  

Paul’s view of the future of the Christian church emerges from his words to Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3,4).  

Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness and gentleness 

Throughout history, the church has often had to contend with those who have not put up with sound doctrine and claimed to be right. Sadly, they claimed to be righter than right. That sentence doesn’t make any sense grammatically or theologically, but it raises the question of who is right and who isn’t. There can’t be two rights or a righter than right. How do we navigate differences and factionsPaul suggests two fruits of the Spirit: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Faithfulness first. The antidote to all the false teachers and heretical factions wasand still isfaithfulness to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has created a desire within us to treasure the Scriptures that tell us of Jesus and of all of God’s promises. So we remain faithful to the Scriptures. They are our authority for truth, our Supreme Court, to decide what is right and what is not. Faithfulness to that truth will move us to compare anyone’s teaching with the Scriptures and evaluate it on the basis of that standard. John suggests, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  

Then, with firmness in the truth, Paul advises gentleness. Peter advises the same attitude when he said that we are to share the hope we treasure with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). No one wants divisions, and we must deal with love and kindness with those who think differently. When they will not listen to the truth, then we have no alternative but to avoid those ideas and the groups that proclaim them. 

But not all disagreements are about doctrine. Sometimes Christians have arguments and quarrels about whether or not to have carpeting in the church and what color it should be. Some question which preacher is better—even Paul mentioned this disagreement (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)others anguish over how the budget was set and whether we should spend money on the school or on the front steps of the church. Every church has these differences or others like them.  

Faithfulness and gentleness are valuable in all these discussions. We remain faithful to God’s Word and also faithful to Jesus command to love one another. Then we can be gentle in our disagreementsnot belligerent or harsh. 

Dissensions and factions dog every step of our journey, and our sinful flesh is often tempted to feed them. They become group activities. One person solicits support from others who are like-minded. Then another person gathers others who disagree. The result can be belligerent, bitter, and divisive.  

We should not let differences get out of hand. Even everyday disagreements may become roadblocks to the Christian concept of loving one another and may block the work of the congregation and the larger church. They will turn the character of a congregation sour. Perhaps they also will turn some away from the path we follow together. Let us walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:16,25,26). Remain faithful to the Scripture and gentle in our dealings with each other. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fifth 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 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Pray for workers

Jesus reminds us to pray for more workers in his harvest of souls. 

John A. Braun 

Northwestern Publishing House hosts a luncheon every spring honoring graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. I sat with six men who would be assigned to begin their service as pastors.  

Earlier I had just heard a report that we have 121 fulltime parish pastor vacancies and 26 seminary graduates. I know that interpreting those numbers depends on a number of factors. As it turned out, 30 men were assigned. Added to these graduates were four from previous classes. I remembered Lord’s words, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Those words flowed from his compassion for the crowds “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36). He saw the need and, it seemed clear to me, that the need has not disappeared. 

I decided to spend a few minutes with these six men to explore what motivated them to begin training for the pastoral ministry. So I asked them. I only said that they could not take the easy way out of my question. They could not say that the Holy Spirit led them to become pastors. Not only is that an easy pat answer, but it is also true for all of themall who are serving today, and all who are still preparing to serve.  

My goal was simple. I wanted to share their stories in the hope that others would pause and think about serving as pastors.  

The first to respond was Aaron Platzer. He began, “I attended public school.” Then I asked what led him to want to be a pastor. His simple answer was, “My pastor!” In many ways the pastors who serve our congregations now are key to finding more workers for the harvest. Aaron went on, “He confirmed me and encouraged me. I didn’t think much about it in high school. But he kept encouraging me and then when I was thinking about college, he thought I should give Martin Luther College (MLC) a try. So I did. 

Tristan Paustian graduated from Shoreland Lutheran High School, Somers, Wis. He, like some of the others I talked to that day, has a family filled with called workers. But he said, “I didn’t want to be a pastor. I wanted to do something else with my life. I thought I could serve God in another way.” His family understood. He ended up going to MLC in order to be a teacher. But in his second year, he decided to shift from the teacher track to pastor track. The pastors in his family were the quiet and persistent model he chose to follow. 

Nathanael Jensen had an easy answer, “I remember that from kindergarten, I always wanted to be a pastor. My father was my role model. I never wanted to do anything else.” His father is a pastor in Watertown, Wisconsin. Nathanael quite naturally attended Luther Preparatory School (LPS) in Watertown and then went on to MLC and the seminary. I know that some young men echo Nathanael’s words. Some see their fathers as role models, but others have found role models in the pastors that confirmed them. In all of these six cases, their families encouraged them along the way. 

Hans Thomford attended Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) in Saginaw for high school. He said that he saw himself as a vet, farmer, or engineer. At MLS he received support to think about pursuing the pastoral ministry. “I got encouragement from the teachers and especially the tutors. I had so many experiences which led me to head to MLC and try it for a year,” he said. After I had one year in at MLC, I knew this was something I wanted to do full-time in my life and for the Lord. I don’t think you get that kind of encouragement anywhere else.” His father, a pastor, was a great influence in encouraging him to pursue serving the Lord as a pastor.  

Dan Rodewald attended LPS. He also received encouragement from his family and especially from the tutors in the dormitory and the teachers in the classroom. I really appreciated all the emphasis on ministry I got at LPS from everyone there, he says. But he still was not sure, even though he went on to MLCHe still had doubts at the seminary. Then he was assigned as a vicar, where he worked under the supervision of a pastor in his congregation. Dan said, “I remember talking with one man and sharing the comfort of the gospel with him. He died a few hours later. I was the last person to talk with him. I knew then that I was sure I wanted to be a pastor. 

Only one of these young graduates was left, Tim Priewe. He went to Wisconsin Lutheran High School (WLHS) in Milwaukee but had no inclination or plans to be a pastor because he was always on the quieter side. Unlike the others, there was no pastor in his family, but he grew up with the example of the dedicated service of his parents in their church. When he came to WLHS, he decided to take Latin because his brother had taken it. When his first year was over, he chose a second year of Latin. His sister, who already was at MLC, convinced him to stick it our for the third and finally a fourth year. Halso began meeting with MLC recruiters. At graduation he applied to only one college, MLC, and enrolled in the pastor track. 

I decided to ask them all one more question, “What do you tell people who want to know why you want to be a pastor?  

Dan answered by returning to the story from his vicar year. “I tell them that I want to share the message of the gospel. That’s the bottom line. I like to use that question to tell people law and gospel and share.”  

The others all agreed.  

Aaron added, “When some of my high school friends and family ask why I want to be a pastor, they see the eight years of study and then the salary and wonder why you spent all that time to be a pastor. They only see the money and the time. But it’s like Dan said, its sharing the gospel that’s most important.” 

Now I think of the congregations and the people they will serve. I look beyond those congregations to see the crowds like Jesus did. I see a world in need of what we all treasure—Jesus and his gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. And I pray, “Lord, send workers into the harvest.”  

Then I also begin to look for students who have the ability and the inclination to serve as pastors or teachers. The harvest remains plentiful, and we all need to pray for workers and then actively encourage those we know to pursue training for the public ministry. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.



By the numbers 

30Men who received assignments into the pastoral ministry this year, including the six seniors interviewed in the article. 

6Pastor assignments made to U.S. home mission fields 

60Requests made by congregations, schools, and other ministries for a pastor, 30 of which went unfilled. 

104Synodwide vacancies for pastor-trained men after assignments, 90 of which are for parish pastors. 

47Men who graduated from MLC’s preseminary program in 2019, the largest class since ?? 

124Anticipated enrollment at WLS for the upcoming 2019–20 school year, up from 110 for the 2018–19 school year.


Did you know? 

A ninth-grader who begins his pastoral education this fall will not be ordained as a pastor until 2031.  


Where they went 

Nathanael J. Jensen to Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.* 

Tristan D. Paustian to Bethlehem, Hortonville, Wis.* 

Aaron J. Platzer to Peace, Loves Park, Ill.* 

Timothy T. Priewe to associate for the Northern Wisconsin district president at Mount Olive, Appleton, Wis.* 

Daniel L. Rodewald to Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Ariz.* 

Hans J. Thomford to Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.* 

*Read the complete assignment list at wls.wels.net/about-wls/assignment-list/


Did you know? 

Pastoral candidates can receive a variety of assignments, from serving aself-supporting congregations to starting new home or world mission fieldsEach year, several graduates also are temporarily assigned to Martin Luther College and WELS’ two preparatory high schools, Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich. They will teach, coach, supervise, mentor, and encourage young adults as they prepare for the gospel ministry. Some graduates become associates to district presidentsallowing the district presidents the time they need to travel and serve in their districts, as well as fulfill their role as members of the Conference of Presidents. 


What can I do? 

Pray for more workers 

Identify young people you know who might make a good pastor, teacher, or staff ministry. Encourage them to consider the ministry. 

Submit names of possible candidates to Martin Luther College at mlc-wels.edu/go/recommendMLC will ask permission to send the student information so they can consider ministerial training for their future. 

Support current ministerial education students from your congregation. Pray for them. Send them cards and care packages. Ask them about their classes when you see them. 


A prayer for more workers 

Lord of the harvest, give your church men and women who are eager to prepare for service in your kingdom. Help me to encourage not only my own pastor(s) and teachers but also to encourage young men and women I think have the gifts to train for ministry.  

In your name,
Amen.
  


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Author: John A. Braun   
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 desperate need

Earle D. Treptow 

recent college graduate, with what appeared to be a bright future, tried to end her life. Her boyfriend of three months, who she thought was “the one,” had broken off their relationship. Without him, she could see no reason to liveNo one loved her, and no one ever would. Or so she felt. 

young man, for whom his teachers and mentors had harbored high hopes, moved from one crime to the next, from petty theft to grand larceny to armed robberyOnly when he had money in his pocket could he experience joy in living. Or so he felt. 

To hear such storiesand stories like that multiplyis to come face-to-face with the identical issue, though revealed in different outward manifestationsPeople regularly look in the wrong places for joymeaning, and purpose in life. They’ve been misled by their sinful flesh and deceived by the Liar. The recent college graduate and the young man, as it turns out, have the same need. They both need to hear God’s Word. That should be said more strongly: They desperately need to hear what God has to say, both about their sinfulness and about his gracious solution to the problem they cannot solve. You can probably identify a few people who rise to your top ten list of people in our life who desperately need to hear God’s Word.”  

But then the devil sees an opportunity. He seeks to convince us that we are slightly different. Yes, we need to listen to God’s Word, but we are not like those who desperately need to hear itThe difference between “need” and “desperately need” is subtle, but significant. While we still recognize our need to hear the Savior speak to us, we consider it far more critical for those who do not know God’s love to hear the Word of God.  

In heart and mind, we begin to think that our need for God’s Word is like our need for exercise. All would readily acknowledge the importance of exercise and its value for a person’s physical and emotional health. But, as some of us have provenone can continue to live even without vigorous exercise four days a week. Some of us have skipped exerciseor at least skimped on itwhen life is busy, and we have lived to tell about it. We may need exercise, but apparently, we don’t desperately need exercise.  

But is that our relationship with the Word of God? One might compare it instead to our relationship with oxygen. We desperately need oxygen; without it we die. We don’t just need to listen to our Savior. We desperately need to sit at Jesus’ feet and hang on his words, for they alone give and sustain lifeThe devil loves it when we think that it’s others who desperately need the Word and we don’t.  

Think of what Jesus said to Martha when she was frustrated with her sister. Martha thought Mary should have been helping her serve the Savior and support him in his ministry to those who desperately needed to hear his Word. She felt that there would be other times for Mary to listen to Jesus teach. The Lord’s words to Martha were clear and powerful: “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42 NIV 1984). Mary recognized that she didn’t just need to listen to her Savior; she desperately needed to do so 

So do we. 


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, president of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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God’s policy of love

John A. Braun

The song “Jesus Loves Me” has come from the voices of little children for as long as I can remember. Their voices move us to smile and to appreciate the lesson they are beginning to learn: Jesus loves them and all of us. So says the Bible, as the children remind us.  

A few years later, wlearned of his love as children too: “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). God’s love is sacrificial and gives the best gift—his one and only Sonfor the world.  

“Jesus Loves Me is a worthy theme. Love is God’s guiding principle. We notice his love for all humanity in so many ways. God gives us life and breath. He sends rain and sunshine—and not just for those who believe in him (Matthew 5:45)Other regular blessings also flow from his love. People fall in love, marry, have children, work to support their families, and enjoy food, clothing, and shelter. 

When little children grow older, they sometimes wonder about God’s love. Moses wrote that no matter how old we become life is still filled with “trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 90:10). As children we may have been sheltered from some of those troubles, but later we often question God’s loveJob had questions. So did Jeremiah, and troubling questions have also burst into our thoughts. 

The Lord’s policy of love doesn’t mean a troublefree life here. He sends troubles. Yet we confess that his love endures forever (Psalm 118:1-4). He helps us when we have questions.  

  • First, he promises never to forsake us.We all have favorite passages to cling to in our difficulties.  
  • Second, he has also revealed that he will guide all things for our good (Roman 8:28). 
  • Third, he is our loving Father who at times uses difficulties not to punish us but to discipline us (Hebrews 12:7) 
  • Fourth, he reminds us that this life and all we experience here are temporary. “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Our coming deaths and the deaths of those we love point us to the salvation his Son has accomplished for us. We are reminded, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31,32). Eternal peace and joy await all believers. 

God in love wants all to be with him. (1 Timothy 2:4). He will dry our tears and soothe our pain. But God does not enable unbelief. And for those who do not know Jesus, God exercises a tough love. He challenges them with the sorrows and troubles of life so they might realize that this life is often filled with troubles. In those trials, he lovingly invites them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mathew 11:28).  

When we suffer, we find one more reason why God in his love sends such troubles. As we suffer and live with others who suffer, we have opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ—to witness and to show compassion and to point others to the glory that awaits all those who trust in Christ. The troubles of life often open doors that in other times remain closed.  

Yes, Jesus loves me, this I knoweven in difficult times.  


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Roller-coaster ride

A family endures the ups and downs of life, always trusting the providence of God. 

Ann M. Ponath 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day a truck arrived to move all the Sonntags’ earthly goods from Cadillac, Michigan, to Bozeman, Montana. Pastor Jeff Sonntag had taken a call to serve Shining Mountains in Bozeman. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day they heard that their unborn 21-week-old baby had a hole in his diaphragm and other health challenges.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The same day they learned no medical facility in Montana could handle these challenges.  

Trusting in God’s providence, Jeff and Anne, their two children, Ellie and Micah, and the unborn baby proceeded with their move to Montana. 

Continued blessings 

Life went on. The Sonntags spent the summer getting to know members at Shining Mountains and settling into their new home. Extra prenatal doctor appointments kept them busy. Their Michigan specialist, who by God’s design just happened to visit Montana periodically, was only three hours away. Ellie started kindergarten in the local public school. 

In mid-September, when Anne was 36 weeks pregnant, the president of the congregation loaned the Sonntags a van to drive across the mountains to Seattle where medical facilities were equipped for special deliveries. Just as the Sonntags crossed the border into Idaho, they received word that a room at the Ronald McDonald House just a few blocks from the hospital had opened upanother real blessing!  

After getting Anne and the two children settled in Seattle, Jeff flew back to Bozeman. As the waiting and doctors’ appointments dragged on, the family made an important connection with CalvaryBellevue, Washington. Ellie continued in kindergarten there, and it gave the displaced family a routine and Christian friends, friends who would prove a definite blessing later on. 

A challenging beginning 

Finally, on Oct. 5, Caleb Jonathan Sonntag was born via C-section. The doctors had prepared the Sonntags for the worst. Everyone was surprised when 9 lb., 9 oz., Caleb burst into a lusty cry. The words, “He shouldn’t be able to breathe on his own!” were heard! After a few minutes of being held, a baptism in the room right next to the operating room, and a quick kiss from Mom, Caleb was whisked to the children’s hospital where the staff quipped, “What is this big, chunky baby doing in the NICU?”  

Three days later, newborn Caleb underwent surgery to repair his diaphragm and give his left lung room to fully develop. Although the procedure “felt like forever,” it was completely successful. Just a few days after surgery, Caleb was moved out of the NICU. Recovery took six and half weeksa little longer than expectedas a high flow respirator aided breathing and inflated the underdeveloped lung to help it grow. Caleb was also kept on a 24/7 feeding tube for just enough nutrition, but not enough to over-fill his tiny stomach and affect his breathing. 

God provided for them during this time, including help from fellow Christians. Anne recalls, “Our story about our stay in Seattle is not complete without mentioning the outpouring of love and support from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at Calvary in BellevueWhen our stay extended beyond the point that our family could be there, I knew I had to ask for help, even if asking for help was hard. I asked some of the ladies if they would come lend a hand at the hospital snuggling Caleb so I could focus on the older two for that time. Our new friends were so helpful, making it fit in their schedules and braving downtown traffic to help us not only in the afternoons but also some evenings that week. The prayers, the food, the supportit meant the world to me and was such a beautiful reflection of God’s love working in their hearts.” 

God’s protecting hand 

Finally, Caleb was given the okay to return to Montana Thanksgiving week. But the excitement was not over yet. On day two of their journey, coming down Lookout Pass on the border of Idaho and Montana, the van hit an icy stretch. “I didn’t have control,” Jeff remembers, as the van slid, then rolled two or three times, and finally landed on its right side in a field. But God provided again, sending his angels to protect them. Anne had a bump on her head, Jeff, a cut and broken finger, Ellie and Micah, not a scratch, and Caleb slept through the whole thing.  

 “It’s amazing how the Lord took care of us!” says Jeff. Five accidentsone which included a fatalitytook place in the same location that same day.  

The family stayed overnight in a local hotel until the next morning when the church president brought a new car to take them safely back to Bozeman just in time for the Thanksgiving Eve service. They attended the service and shared the account of God’s protecting hand on their journey home. There were “lots of tears.”  

Repeated prayers 

Six month later, Caleb is off oxygen and the feeding tube and “looks like an average seven-month-old baby.”  

Looking back on this experience, Anne says, “It was definitely a roller coaster. First, the excitement of Caleb being born stable enough to be able to hold him right awaysomething we usually take for grantedto then being separated and spending the next 36 hours recovering sans new baby on the maternity floor with all the other moms with their babies. Then making great progress in the NICU and thinking our hospital time was almost up to a step backward the next day with his oxygen level that meant our stay was increased by at least a couple of weeks. There were lots of tears, lots of ‘why’ questions floating around my head. 

She continues, “One of the Bible passages that really stayed with me and became a repeated prayer were the words of Psalm 51:10,12, ‘Renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  

For Jeff, Caleb’s experience has solidified that “the Lord knows what he’s doing. He’ll take care of us. . . . His care, love and protection will work for our good.” Jeff says he is so thankful for “so many messages of people praying for us. The congregation was amazing with prayers and support.”  

As for Caleb’s name, that has a story too. Anne remembers, “Part of our prenatal care included a three-hour specialized heart ultrasound to make sure every last part of the heart was in its proper place. After an extra 45 minutes solely trying to get a picture of the elusive aortic arch, his heart was cleared. Shortly thereafter, we were discussing names and looking up the meanings. When we found out Caleb meant ‘whole-hearted,’ it seemed a perfect fit.” 

 


Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North St. Paul, Minnesota. 


Update: On May 18, 2019, a day of vomiting and severe stomach pain took Caleb back to the Bozeman hospital. A chest x-ray revealed a re-herniated diaphragm and a bowel blockage. Anne and Caleb flew via medical transport to Seattle. Successful surgery followed. Caleb was “sore, worn out, and once again connected to lots of cords,” says Anne. But nine days later, he and his family were home. “Caleb is back to his happy self and we are happy to be home,” report Jeff. Another example of God’s amazing love and providence!


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Author: Ann M. Ponath 
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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More about the divine call

Mark G. Schroeder

The news usually comes in an announcement after worship. Your pastor or one of the teachers in your school has received a divine call to serve in another place. That announcement comes as the result of a process that began with the vacancy in the other church, and it signals the start of another process as your called worker now prayerfully considers and decides where he or she will serve in the future. 

Although calls for staff ministers and teachers are similar, for simplicity’s sake, let’s use the example of a pastoral vacancy. When a congregation has a vacancy in the office of pastor, the leaders of the congregation typically take time to discuss and determine the ministerial needs and ministry plans of the congregation. Often the district president takes part in that discussion, providing advice on the factors that the congregation should consider and listening carefully to the needs of the congregation. Relying on that information, the district president compiles a list of pastors who, in his judgment, would fit the needs of the congregation. He shares that list, which includes biographical information and a brief summary of the skills and previous experience of the pastor, with the congregation. 

For the sake of good order and out of consideration for congregations and pastors, district presidents follow several guidelines. One guideline is that pastors should serve in a congregation for four years before receiving another call. In addition, pastor should receive a call no more than every six months and should receive only one call at a time. Sometimes circumstances indicate that exceptions to these guidelines should be made, and, despite efforts to avoid it, a pastor may receive two calls at the same time. 

Once the district president presents the list of candidates to the congregation’s voters’ assembly, they pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, discuss each candidate, and conduct an election. When one person receives the majority of the votes, a motion is made to make the election unanimous. This emphasizes that all members are expressing their full support of the new pastor if he accepts the call. 

The pastor is informed that he has been called to the new congregation. Now begins his prayerful consideration of where he will serve.  If the pastor is serving in his current congregation by a call from God, why does he decide where he will serve? The answer is that he now has two calls, both of which are from God. 

How does a pastor decide between those two calls? He considers many things. He talks to the leaders of both congregations. He consults with coworkers. He discusses it with his wife and family. And, most important, he prays for God’s guidance. 

A pastor will think about several factors. He might naturally consider the health and welfare of his family and the availability of Christian education for his children. But these alone will not determine his final decision. In the end, only two questions will bring him to a God-pleasing decision: “Where can my talents and abilities best be used in God’s church? Where will my weaknesses and limitations do the least harm?” Those are questions that require a pastor to take a careful and honest look at himself and how he will best serve God’s people. 

The answers to those questions will determine his decision. And when those questions are sincerely asked and honestly answered—regardless of what the answer is—the pastor has his decision. In that decision, both congregations and the pastor himself are blessed. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Academia Cristo brings new opportunities to share the gospel

Academia Cristo began in 2015 with a primary goal to help people start churches in Latin America that faithfully preach and teach God’s Word. “We provide resources, and train and connect people to a network of mentors as they work to share their faith and start churches,” says Missionary Mike Hartman, coordinator of Academia Cristo and Latin America Missions.  

Academia Cristo, academiacristo.com, offers self-study Bible studies, music, and training courses for leaders. More than eight thousand people have signed up for Bible courses through Academia Cristo. Its Facebook page, where it shares daily Scripture-based messages and regular live devotions, has more than one million followers. “We want to be known as an entity that has a Christ-centered, biblical message,” Hartman says. 

This online presence has led to mission opportunities throughout Latin AmericaIn these places, church leaders have connected with Academia Cristo to access the available resources. During the last years, “we saw a lot of people in Paraguay signing up for courses,” Hartman says.  

To make face-to-face connections, missionaries traveled to the country to meet with Academia Cristo students who were interested in using the resources to share the gospel with others. Later in 2019, two WELS missionaries, Abram Degner and Joel Sutton, will be moving to the city of Asunción, Paraguay, to continue meeting with these individuals. There they will study with them and show leaders how to share the resources with others. 

The missionaries will be located near individuals such as Carlos Fernandez in northern Argentina. Fernandez started studying with Academia Cristo more than two years ago. Previously, he had served as a pastor and missionary for a different church body. He left the church 10 years ago for doctrinal reasons. “I realized I was just preaching and teaching rules that people had come up with, rather than teaching people about Christ,” Fernandez says.  

As he studied the Bible and read it on his own, he realized salvation is through faith by grace. Fernandez, who lives in the Chaco province of northern Argentinawanted to start a church that was faithful to Scripture. In his search for truthful resources, he came across Academia CristoDuring the last two years, missionaries have visited him three times, and now Fernandez is in doctrinal agreement with WELS.  

Now a missionary mentors Fernandez, who then trains other men in the Chaco province who want to start Bible-based churches.  

For years, WELS members in the United States have reached out to missionaries in Latin America in an attempt to share the gospel with loved ones in other countries. Academia Cristo is able to help these members connect with family and friends in Spanish-speaking areas and share the gospel with them. For instance, several years ago, members of a WELS church in Sarasota, Florida, began working with contacts they had in ParaguayThrough Academia Cristo, they can coordinate with WELS missionaries to share the gospel with people in these areas.  

Another WELS church in Arizona has contacts in Cuba. Together with missionaries, members are using Academia Cristo to learn how to share the gospel and start churches in Cuba. Missionaries mentor these members and their connections to help them set up a ministry plan and reach more.  

“People are interested in these areas and searching for the gospel,” Hartman says. “They are looking for someone who will teach them about the Bible and Christ.” 


Rachel Hartman 


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Author: Rachel Hartman 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Returning by the power of God

A native Paraguayan finds motivation from the gospel to revisit her country and share the message of Christ with residents there.  

Rachel Hartman 

Earlier on in her life, Juliana Kennell left Paraguay with the desire never to return. Now, years later, time and again she has gone back to the country. The change of heart, she says, can only be accredited to God and his powerful Word. After finding a Lutheran church in the United States, Juliana realized she could find ways to help others in South America learn more about Christ. 

Early years in Paraguay 

Juliana was born and raised in Asunciónthe capital and largest city in Paraguay. She lived with her mother, who raised her and sent her to a Catholic school. “It was an all-girls school run by a nun,” Juliana says.  

When she was older, Juliana got married and had a child. Her mother moved to New York, but Juliana remained in Paraguay with her family. Her life quickly took a troubling turn when her child passed away at the age of six. “I was very hurt and felt very bad,” she says. “It took me years to move on.” She found her life empty. 

During this sad time, Juliana’s mother developed a heart condition and grew ill. “She invited me to go see her in New York,” Juliana says. Accepting the invitation, Juliana recognized the chance to move on from her past. “I closed the door on Paraguay,” she says. When I left, I said I would never come back.”  

A new life in Florida 

Juliana stayed with her mother in New York for some time. Eventually, when she was again single, she moved south to Florida and began to rebuild her life. One evening, she went fishing at a beach park. During the outing, she met LaVonThe two exchanged phone numbers and two years later, got married. A little later, the couple had a child they named Abby. Life in Florida was a new beginning.  

After LaVon and Juliana got married, LaVon wanted to see the place Juliana had come from. Even though Juliana had vowed never to return, she decided to take a trip to show him what life had been like. When their daughter Abby was just nine months old, they made their first visit back. “My stepdad has a ranch, and LaVon loved it there,” she says. The couple appreciated the way their daughter was welcomed and appreciated in the setting in Paraguay. 

They returned to Florida and soon began thinking about Abby’s education. She was just a toddler, but based on their assessment and comments from others they felt it might be helpful to have their daughter in an environment where she would feel challenged 

One evening, the family went out to dinner. While there, they struck up a conversation with another diner who intrigued their daughter. During the chat, they realized the person was the preschool director at a nearby WELS school.  

Based on the initial encounter, LaVon and Juliana decided to check out the preschool. The place offered a program for children prior to preschool, and they opted to enroll Abby in it. “We started with the school and really liked it,” Juliana says.  

Soon their toddler was exposed to chapel and the Bible. The couple watched as their daughter developed in a Christian environment. It was a place that Abby visibly enjoyed.  

At the time, the family was attending a different evangelical church. While they went regularly, they didn’t find clear teachings regarding the law and gospel. They also came across few resources when looking for further instruction for their daughter. 

The situation led them to turn to Ascension Lutheran Church, Sarasota, Fla., the church connected to the preschool Abby was attending. “I wanted her raised in the truth,” Juliana says. The preschool director invited them to try a Bible class. They soon discovered the church offered a Bible study for adults and a Sunday school for children. 

Growing in the Word 

Juliana appreciated the chance for her daughter to learn more about the Bible and soon found herself absorbed in the Word too. “I knew very little with my Catholic background. I never understood the Bible,” she says. From her past church experiences in Paraguay, she remembered not being able to ask questions to gain a deeper knowledge. 

In the Lutheran church, the Bible was explained, and Juliana learned of the free and full forgiveness offered to her from Jesus. She was eager to study, learn more, and become a member. “I fell in love with the church, she says. She was drawn to the opportunities to talk about God’s World and apply it to daily life. 

Living in Florida, she was far from her other family members. Yet she found a sense of belonging in the congregation. That is the amazing part of Ascension. It’s a small church and feels like family, she says. 

Reaching out back home 

LaVon and Juliana kept making trips to Paraguay and discovered they could help those living thereThe elementary school, for instance, had a green board that was nearly the same color as the chalk they used. This made it difficult to read what was written on the board. The couple came up with an idea to take slatecolored paint for the board when they next visited. 

During following visits, Juliana brought clothes and supplies for family members, friends, and community members. “We started helping people,” she says. On one occasion, the family noticed that elementary children were drawing water from an open well every day for school. They helped oversee a project to put in a cistern and change the well structure, making it an operation that used gravity to draw water. This created a safer source of water for the children who used the well every day 

Back home, the family continued to attend Ascension and grow in the Word. “I like the Bible classes,” Juliana says. “The more I learn, the more I know and can share with others.” Over time, LaVon and Juliana realized they could do more to help those in Paraguay; they could help with the spiritual need they had observed. “The priest comes just once a year,” Juliana says. “The Spirit led us to the opportunity to bring the gospel to the village.”  

Juliana felt God had put her in a position where he could use her to share the message of Christ. “I can explain things in my own language, and I have the experience from the time I spent there before, she says. She could relate to the people and bring the gospel to a place that was hungry for it.  

Now Juliana has made numerous trips to ParaguayHer congregation got involved, and the pastor and other members organized a mission board called Solo Cristo. They also reached out to WELS World Missions and are working with missionaries to spread the gospel further there. 

Juliana recognizes her mission efforts stem from the Word being present in her life. “It’s not what I did; it’s what he did,” she says. “He put us together to work for him.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida.


Read more about how Ascension is involved in outreach in Paraguay at ascensionwels.org


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Author: Rachel Hartman 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Welcome Home: Part 3

An elder appreciates the opportunity to encourage other members to stay close to Christ. 

Rachel Hartman 

After first hearing of Jesus as a child, Jim Plumlee was baptized as an adult. He now serves as chairman of the board of elders at CalvaryDallas, Texas. He has learned many lessons. “The spiritual wisdom and strength that come from the Word and volunteering time and talent to God’s church is priceless,” Plumlee says.  

Moving around 

Plumlee was born in Dallas but moved to Alabama when he was one year old. Then he moved to North Carolina. “Dad was in a retail tire business and traveled the East Coast,” he says. His grandmother lived with the family and helped care for Plumlee and his three siblings.  

After the family had settled, World War II broke out. As a result, tires were rationed, and the family moved back to Dallas. Plumlee’s parents took jobs at North American Aviation and helped build the B17, B-25, and P-51 Mustang airplanes. Both worked ten-hour night shifts.  

During that time, Plumlee’s grandmother helped care for the children. In addition to cooking and cleaning, she looked after their spiritual needs. On Sundays, “Grandmother had us children walk the 2.5 miles to a Methodist church,” Plumlee says. “There I was taught about Jesus. . . . . Sunday fried chicken dinners and fruit cobbler were a reward,” he says.  

When Plumlee attended high school, he continued to look for ways to learn about Christ. He went to meetings run by an organization called Young Life and purchased his first King James Bible. At graduation, a neighbor gave him a small book of Proverbs. “These two books made a difference to me,” Plumlee says. 

Then Plumlee went to Texas A&M UniversityHe kept attending Young Life meetings and went to a Methodist church when he could get a ride into town. He listened to preachers on the radio and looked for ways to learn more about God and help others. “Texas A&M was an all-male military college back then, and as a senior I was appointed Assistant Corps Chaplain on Corps Staff, he says.  

Taking on new roles  

Plumlee got married and went into the manufacturing industry after college and military service. He spent 32 years helping build a family company, serving as CEO the last nine years. The family sold the business in 1982, and he purchased a ranch near Athens, Texas. After some time and a move back to Dallas, Plumlee’s wife, Joyce, wanted to operate bed and breakfast. The couple decided on a location in East Texas. 

While Plumlee and his wife were overseeing their bed and breakfast, a friend invited them to attend Grace, Scroggins, Texas. The couple went and were happy with the experience. “It was awesome,” Plumlee says. They began attending as often as they could, and Plumlee got baptized there. “The congregation was kind and loving, and the pastor inspired me to a faith in God through Jesus so real, which had been absent in my life for so many years.”  

After seven years in the business, the couple moved back to Dallas and transferred their membership to Calvary. They attended regularly and continued to grow in the Word. When the pastor encouraged Plumlee to consider leadership roles, he took on the duty of congregation secretary. He also began serving as an elder. For the past four years, he has been the chairman of the board of elders. 

Encouraging others 

The elder program at the congregation is set up as three groups, designed to help care for the spiritual wellbeing of members. The first group consists of eight core elders who oversee administrative tasks and meet once every two months. Another group of eight duty elders rotate duties for worship services. Sixteen visiting elders, made up of the core elders and eight additional elders, visit members. 

As an elder, Plumlee has become familiar with the system the congregation uses to identify members and record their attendance. During worship, attendees fill out a sheet in a book on the pews. They note the date, their family name, and visitor or membership status. “From these pages from each service, a spreadsheet format is used to enter the attendance information for that family as it accumulates each month,” Plumlee says.  

The spreadsheet shows how many worship services were available during a month and the number of services each member family attended during that time. This information is compiled into a report every two months and is also listed as a running total for the calendar year. The ratio of the number of services attended compared to the number of services available is converted to a percentage for each family member. “This is an extremely valuable tool for our visiting elders,” Plumlee says. “They can see at a glance from their group of families who they need to contact either by phone, text, email, or in person.”  

Elders first undergo training from the pastor to gain insight and direction. They then reach out to members who rarely attend or don’t attend at all. They ask for the reason the family is not able to worship more consistently and then ask them to aim to attend more services. “The family needs to be in the shelter of God and within the arms of Jesus Christ,” Plumlee says. “All joy and peace come from it.” 

Each elder oversees between 7 and 15 members, who are divided up by geographical location. If a family’s attendance level declines or drops to zero, the congregation takes notice. “This is one of our church’s concerns and has high priority,” Plumlee says. “Finding WELS Christians who are attending worship just a little bit or not at all has the attention of leaders because it generally is a soul, or family, who is hurting. And Christ and the Word is the answer. 

Growing spiritually 

Helping others stay close to the Word has helped Plumlee place a priority on his own spiritual well-being. “By being more active in the needs of our church, the efforts become the nutrients of growth, spiritually and health wise,” he says. He views the journey of faith as one that needs a continual connection to the Word. “If you plan corn without water, good soil, and sun, it will stunt or die. Faith is like that.”God’s Word and the sacraments are the water they need, and attending church is where they can get watered. 

During his time as an elder, Plumlee has also had the opportunity to see younger members take on new roles in the congregation. “It is a blessing to me that we are experiencing a younger generation of active worshipers,” he says. “I encourage young people to choose to volunteer time to benefit their church.” Even if a member is only able to help in a small way, that initial start is worth the effort.  

Plumlee adds. “They can grow from that as time passes.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida. 


This is the final article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 


There are approximately 155,000 WELS individuals who attend worship three or fewer times a year. Having a strong elder program in place can help a congregation as they encourage those who are not attending worship regularly. WELS Congregational Services has produced an online video elder training program as well as resources to help congregations track member attendance. Find the materials at welscongregationalservices.net 


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 10

Be careful of the facts! 

Samuel C. Degner 

I was lingering in the plumbing aisle when an employee noticed me. “Can I help you find something?” he asked. I explained what I needed. He picked up a part and told me it would do the trick. I had put in a few hours of work that morning and two trips to other stores. I had learned enough to know that he was wrongSo I politely thanked him and kept looking. He had lost my confidenceIt’s not that I thought he was deceiving me to make a sale. But his error led me to question his ability to help me. 

Can we, as ambassadors of Christ, have the same effect on people? 

Our conversations with the unchurched of this world can be far-ranging. Our goal is to proclaim the gospel, but often witnessing opportunities arise in the context of back-and-forth discussions. People ask tough questions. They are skeptical—or even hostile—toward what the Bible says. In those kinds of situations, we may want to reach for outside facts that can help us defend biblical truth. 

Make sure of the facts 

While I think it’s rare for Christian witnesses to be purposely deceptive, it’s probably not as uncommon for us to be careless with the facts we present. That fact that you readthe one that supports your biblical point of view—what’s the source? Where did you hear that statistic? The internet is notoriously fraught with misinformation. That something comes from a Christian source doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, no matter how much we want to believe itA person may have a PhDbut that doesn’t make him an expert in everything. It may not even mean he is respected in his own field.  

This isn’t about biblical truths that can only be accepted by faith, like a six-day creation or life after death. This is about facts that have to do with observation and reasonAsk yourself: Is this information reliable and respectable? You might even go a step further and ask whether non-Christians will find it persuasive—or at least worthy of consideration. If not, that doesn’t necessarily make it untrueit just might not be useful in your witnessing.  

Last summer I took my family to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky. This full-scale model of Noah’s ark was built to persuade skeptics of the plausibility of the Bible’s flood accountThe interior is outfitted to demonstrate how the eight passengers could have lived and taken care of the animals on board. Displays describe how the biblical flood could have caused the geological and fossil records we see on earth today. The experience helped us appreciate how big the boat was. It was heartening to see fellow Christians unabashedly proclaiming the Bible’s truth—including the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Nonetheless, as I walked through the ark, I found myself wondering what a scientist or skeptical layperson would think—not about the biblical message, but about the science they use to support it. I had the sneaking feeling they might shake their heads at some of the theories presented. And while these were offered only as possible explanations of what happened in Genesis, I wondered how many Christians would go home and repeat them as facts in future evangelistic conversations. That might not seem to be a problem. But what if the person they’re speaking with finds valid holes in those facts? What if those particular models are refuted by solid science? It wouldn’t make the flood untrue, but it would make the ones who shared those theories look untrustworthy. 

This is just one exampleConsider others, like the statistics Christians sometimes present on the effects of divorce, homosexuality, or abortion on people and society. Think of archaeological evidence that speaks to biblical accountsCertainly, it’s refreshing to hear a Christian perspective in fields like science and historyespecially for our young people in secular schools who are constantly bombarded with anti-biblical points of view. It can be gratifying to see God’s wisdom for human thriving confirmed by secular studies. It’s good for people to hear legitimate interpretations of data that are compatible with Scripture. Still, caution is in order.  

In our day, many consider truth to be malleable (like the presidential counselor who coined the phrase “alternative facts”). This is one result of postmodernism’s creep into every crevice of our society. But that doesn’t make it okay to play fast and loose with facts—especially for us who follow the one who calls himself the Truth. It doesn’t excuse laziness in vetting information before passing it along. In fact, it means we ought to be more careful than ever. People are wary of the spin. They know they’re constantly being marketed to. If we’re careless with the facts we present, people may see us as untrustworthy and be less likely to listen to the gospel we want to share.  

Use the one fact wknow 

Yes, we need to be careful about the facts . . . but not so cautious that we avoid conversations for fear of saying the wrong thing. Remember, the sacrifice of the Savior who never once spoke falsely atones for all the times we have done so, even if unintentionally. His resurrection guarantees forgiveness for our imagined need to prop up his gospel with feeble factsMoreover, that same Savior gives us his Word of truthwith which we can navigate this whole issue of facts without fear. Trusting in that Word, we can look for—even patiently wait for—opportunities to unleash its power.  

We have an objective standard like none other. We have a Scripture that “cannot be broken” (John 10:35 CSB). This means that we can compare anything we hear to what God has already said. If it contradicts his truth in any way, we know we need not be influenced by it, no matter what “authority” decrees itIf what we hear is not in conflict with Scripture, we can consider it. We’re cautious, of course. We use our God-given reason and resources to evaluate it. But we need not be afraid of it nor enthralled by it. 

Furthermore, our Spirit-worked confidence in the inspired Word frees us from the need to latch onto any extra-biblical facts that seem to support our messageWe don’t have to search for science that backs up our belief in a six-day creation or a global flood. We aren’t waiting for the latest archaeological finds to confirm that what God said happened or for studies that show God’s commandments are goodThese kinds of facts can be valuable for starting or prolonging conversations with skeptics. But our witness in no way depends on them. God’s truth stands on its own. The gospel is God’s power to change hearts. Jesus died and rose for us—you can never go wrong with that fact! 

Unlike me in the hardware store, many people in this world don’t know what they’re really looking for. We have iteternal salvation in Jesus—and want to help them find it. That desire to share the truth heightens our concern for truth in everything we say.  

 


Samuel Degner, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


This is the tentharticle 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? How did you respond to a know-it-all? 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: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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God’s actors

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21) 

Peter M. Prange 

God works in mysterious ways. We’ve probably all had opportunity to experience that reality. For instance, we may have the feeling at times that God has abandoned us in our time of need, only to have the problem were facing resolve itself in a way we could have never imagined. With a smile, we conclude, “God works in mysterious ways. 

His mysterious ways 

The Scriptures indeed tell us that God works in mysterious ways. He’s acting behind the scenes, so to speak, hidden from our eyes. That’s what a mystery is: a reality hidden from sight. 

The Old Testament believer Joseph had a wonderful and heart-wrenching opportunity to suffer God’s behind-the-scenes work in his life, only to have God’s good purpose revealed to him much later on. He went from being a young prisoner sold into slavery by his jealous brothers to second-in-command over all Egypt and in a position to save his family and many others from starvation. “You intended to harm me,” he reminded his brothers, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). 

The reality is that God is present with every person every moment of the day, acting in and through the people of this world, both believers and unbelievers. “For in him we live and move and have our being, St. Paul taught the skeptical crowd at Athens about their “UNKNOWN GOD (Acts 17:23,28). But our loving Father’s acting in us and through us is hidden from our eyes and the eyes of the people around usWe don’t normally see or understand it because God works in mysterious ways. 

His actions through us 

Have you ever considered yourself one of God’s actors? That’s what you are. Martin Luther described all people as “masks of God” to illustrate how God is acting through us. Especially as someone who trusts in Jesus, God employs you and your spiritual gifts to bless the people and world around you. He has sent his guiding Holy Spirit into your heart to lead you gently in all your thoughts, words, and ways. “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Yes, God has been acting inside you and through you in a mysterious way, even if you didn’t realize it! 

And what’s God’s ultimate “good purpose” for your life? Simply put, he doesn’t want you to “be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good.” God is good, and he can do nothing but good, even when we initially judge his work in our lives to be evilIn all circumstances, God has called us to be his actors in a spiritual war against evil. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood [i.e., human beings],” Paul reminds us, “but . . . against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). We need to realize that our enemy, the devil, also works in mysterious ways, “looking for someone to devour.” We need to be alert (1 Peter 5:8). 

How do we win this spiritual war against our unseen, evil enemy? By putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), which will protect us when the day of evil comes. Then the devil won’t get the best of us. Instead, God’s Word will lead us in victory over Satan’s evil schemes, as we allow our loving God to reveal the good he desires to produce in us and through us as his actors. 


Contributing editor Peter Prange is pastor at Bethany, Kenosha, Wisconsin. 


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange 
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?

Years before I became a mother, I wrote a news article for Forward in Christ in which I interviewed a dad who described his nightly ritual of blessing his young daughter before she went to sleep. He noted, “Blessing your child is not hocus pocus. When I bless Kayla, I am asking the Lord to keep my daughter in the faith forever. It’s another tool that I can use to demonstrate my love for Christ and for my child, based on the love that Christ showed for me.” 

That idea resonated with me, and after my daughter was born, I began blessing her each night. I’ve continued the ritual with my sons as well.  

Do you have a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with you through the years? If so, please share it with us! We want to compile feedback from our readers to share in the November issue. Send your advice to fic@wels.net 

And that dad I interviewed? When I started compiling authors for this column, I knew I wanted him to be a part of it. So, you can find his advice on the next page. He’s contributing author Dan Nommensen 

Nicole Balza


What’s the best parenting advice you received?


There have been a number of people in life who have either demonstrated or shared this important piece of parenting advice that I have kept on my heart. In our confessional Lutheran understanding of Scripture, we treasure a right understanding of the importance of God’s law and gospel. Yet I must admit that my tendency is to lean on the law side of my parenting approach. The encouragement that I have received, and try to pass on to others, is not to neglect the importance of the gospel. The pure understanding that I am forgiven, a saint, a new creation through the work of Christ is what sets my heart looking for ways to demonstrate my love for Godnot because I have to, should, or must, but because I can’t help but look for opportunities to be thankful. This is our treasure! Don’t leave it to a chance understanding for your kids. Live in joy with your children and be intentional in sharing the gospel with them so they too can be motivated by Christs love. 


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son.   


Sam and I have given this some real thought. Independent of each other, we both wrote down the same parenting advice my father gave us early in our parenting journey: Dont sweat the small stuff, and pretty much everything is small stuff. Such a seemingly simple saying and yet so full of wisdom!


Mary Clemons and her husband, Sam, have three children and seven grandchildren.


Heres mineI got it from a priest named Zechariah (Luke 1). 

Take your child in your arms every night and speak into their heart the truth. Dont be afraid to tell them what this world is really like. Its dark and deadly outside, Zechariah said (cf. Luke 1:79). Then show them GodSon who has come to dispel the darknessHis love arises for us like the sun each day, bright and warm. Say something like, Tomorrow, my child, you will awaken to a bright new day in God’s love. Let it be the lullaby of their life that wraps them up secure each night no matter what the darkness. 

Im borrowing metaphors and images from Zechariahs great canticle and imagining the scene there where he sings by the Spirit, saying, You, my child (Luke 1:76). Luke marks it in Scripture as a truly Spirit-led parenting moment. 


Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter. 


What parenting advice do you give?


I have two pieces of advice.  

First, I encourage young parents to cultivate a spirit of empathy and service in their children. Start early by finding a cause that your family is passionate about and volunteer for that cause regularly. Help kids to understand the motivation behind serving others (1 John 4:19) and the joy it brings to all involved. Send a clear message that serving others doesn’t need to come with compensation or reward—we do it out of love for those around us and for the God who created us. In serving, we also come to appreciate all the blessings that God has showered upon us! 

Then, I encourage parents to teach children the value of work and how to work, starting at a very young age. As soon as they are able, give children age-appropriate chores, then add responsibility as they get older. Teach them that all members of a family need to contribute to keep a household running smoothly. Once they are old enough, encourage them to secure a job outside the home to help them learn the value of work and responsibility with finances. After all, one of our main jobs as parents is to raise our children to be productive members of society! 


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three 20-something sons.


My favorite advice: Say yes first.  

My toddler wants ice cream right before dinner? “Yes! That sounds yummy. Let’s eat supper as fast as we can so we can have ice cream!”  

My over-stretched middle schooler wants to take on a paper route? “Yes! That sounds great. What are some factors to think through before you sign on? Can you foresee anything you wouldn’t like about it? And you do know I won’t be getting up to help you, right?” 

My high schooler is thinking about studying art or music at a pricey college? “Yes! How could we make it work? And what will you do with your art or music degree?” 

When we say yes first to our kids, we’re shifting the responsibility to them. They have to weigh the ramifications. And if they choose unwisely, they have to live with the consequences. That’s what growing up is all about. 

And the best benefit? Saying yes means they’ll keep coming to us with all their schemes and dreams. They know we’re not the dream crusher. We’re the cheerleader! We’re excited to watch them decide how they’re going to take a big bite out of life and make a mark on the world. 


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her adult daughter and son and his teenage son.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 7

Heart transformation

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Fall sports seasons are preparing to reboot. The starting quarterback reports to camp in excellent shape. Over the summer he has been training vigorously. Intense workouts got his body ready for peak performance. Hundreds of times each day he repeated the same movements to improve arm strength and accuracy. He’s ready.  

But the first time he goes under center and delivers a pass to an open receiver, the coach immediately halts practice. Something is amiss. The long, hard hours the quarterback spent over the summer getting into better shape and improving his skills were flawed. Improper mechanics had been repeated over and over. Poor form had been ingrained. The coach has no choice. He has to strip down the entire throwing process and start all over.  

Going back to the basics 

Christians know God’s Word is good for us. We spend time in prayer, Bible study, and meditation with the best of intentions. We know God will bring us personal benefits. Occasionally though, it’s good to take a step back and remember our natural need for the work God does through his Word.  

Galatians 5:17 tells us about a real and persistent conflict competing for dominance in our hearts: The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” God points his people to the heart transformation worked by the Holy Spirit when we take advantage of time in his Word.  

As we embark on our journeys into God’s Word, Luther’s first of the Ninety-five Theses gives a good reminder: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” As we pray in Jesus’ name, we recall the benefits of his life and work. As we grow to know God better, we have confidence in the forgiveness he freely offers. Repeated repentance becomes a crucial component to our spiritual growth. 

Devotions for Christians aren’t just about developing habits or gathering information. Even as we grow in the Christian faith, we still need to strip it down to the basics. Repentance and forgiveness are key to seeing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. 

Reaping the harvest 

As we watch athletes appear on fields and take their places on courts, we are reminded of another seasonal reality. Soon summer heat will transition to fall chills in many parts of our country. Minor weather alterations remind us harvesttime is near. In my state, freshly picked chiles roasting outside grocery stores will send pungent aromas into the air. Trucks filled with Colorado peaches will soon rumble into town, loaded down with their sweet goodness.  

God’s people can expect a different kind of harvest from the Word planted in our hearts. The Holy Spirit plants the seed of faith in our hearts and causes it to grow. Repeated use of God’s Word pushes out the weeds of anger, anxiety, discouragement, and relational strife. His rays of sunlight warm what he has planted until sprouts of kindness, goodness, and faithfulness break into view. Faith flowers into joy, love, and peace in the soil of believing hearts. God benefits our lives and the lives of those around us with a harvest of gentleness, forbearance, and self-control.  

Our prayers, Bible study, and meditation take various forms. But through that focus on God’s Word, we reap a necessary harvest. God breaks it down to basics and transforms human hearts by the power of his Holy Spirit. 


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


This is the seventh 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 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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: Applauding in church…what advice can you give?

Recently our congregation has begun applauding the singing groups in our worship services. This offends some people. If we discouraged applauding, others would be offended. What advice can you give? 

James F. Pope

It is not likely that I can resolve this tension, but I hope I can give both groups spiritual food for thought.  

Applause in society 

There is nothing innovative about applause. History is replete with examples of applause in the politics and theater of ancient civilizations. Regardless of the venue or the objects of applause, people have long seen clapping as “a pat on the back from a distance,” in the words of sociobiologist Desmond Morris. With applause in society, people are stamping their “secular Amen” on the efforts of others.  

Informal worship styles and cultural differences among Christians worldwide are among the factors that explain the presence of applause in worship services. As your question illustrates, that can create tensions in congregations. 

Freedom in church 

Christians will want to recognize that the Bible does not address the topic of applause in worship services. Certainly, Scripture states, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” (Psalm 47:1). Those instructions of clapping and shouting, framed in the language of Hebrew poetry, guide children of God in their overall praise of the Lord. Yet Scripture is silent on applause—for songs or sermons—in worship services; that practice is one that God neither condemns nor forbids. That means there is Christian freedom in this area of worship. 

Christian freedom is definitely a topic the Bible addresses. 1 Corinthians chapter 8 and Romans chapter 14 instruct Christians to exercise their God-given freedoms with an eye toward others. While the sinful nature in us likes to assert our freedoms “because we can,” the new self in us is very willing to pull back on those freedoms for the same reason: “because we can.” Christian freedom is also the right not to do something out of consideration for others. Christian thoughtfulness and selflessness can go a long way in resolving differences of opinions and personal preferences in congregations. 

Gratitude to God 

If applause in worship services remains a practice in your congregation, perhaps there is a way for those who are bothered by it to adjust their thinking. Rather than seeing the singers as the objects of applause, perhaps they can view the acclamation being directed to God. That suggestion is not far-fetched. 

In one of the congregations I served, volunteer help for church cleaning and lawn maintenance was essential. To recognize efforts and express appreciation, the Sunday worship folder listed the names of the volunteers under a simple heading of “We thank our volunteers.” One family that volunteered regularly did not want any public expression of thanks. If I had honored that request, one could have wrongly concluded that our volunteerism was suffering or that church maintenance happened on its own. So I asked the family what they thought of having their names listed in the service folder under a new heading: “We thank the Lord for our volunteers.” They were okay with that, and a new custom started. 

That custom was not new to the apostle Paul. He informed the Christians in Thessalonica: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). The faithful lives of Christians moved Paul to thank God for them. Likewise, the singing efforts of others can move us to thank God—perhaps even in audible ways. 


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 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 4

Solomon wrote, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Yet sadly those on the Christian Way easily turn down the road to jealousy and anger. 

John A. Braun 

Road rage is a relatively new term. One expert said that it was coined in 1988. Today the local news frequently carries a story about two drivers enraged and creating danger not only for themselves but also for other drivers.  

The apostle Paul never drove a car or truck down a freeway, but he listed “fits of rage” in his list of acts of the flesh. Two additional attitudes—jealousy and selfish ambition—help us see what lies within us allPaul also knew the fruits of the Spirit—kindness and goodnessthat were different and part of the Christian way of life.  

Acts of the flesh: Jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition 

All three of these acts of the flesh—jealousy, fits of rage, and selfish ambition—flow from the natural sinful tendency within us. Sometimes they lie hidden behind a face of respectability. At other times they erupt into acts that are destructive and sometimes violent.  

For example, a driver cuts another driver off, almost oactually creating an accident. Most of us have been in that situation. We feel the sudden surge of anger. We may control the impulse and drive on, still seething. But the urge doesn’t disappear all at once. At times it explodes like a volcano, sending sparks and hot angry retaliation. We don’t even think. We just react as our blood pressure spikes and our sinful natures take over.  

We easily see the trouble with road rage. It’s explosive and dangerous. Yet fits of rage also show up in marriages. Ask any police officer about domestic abuse calls. Bruises, broken bones, even gunshot wounds are familiar to police who must calm a fit of domestic rage. Shelters for abused women and children exist because of such fits of rage. Some of those angry outbursts hide behind closed doors and never rise to the level that requires a police report. 

There are victims. Children are abused, starved, beatennot just by fathers and boyfriends, but also by mothers. Sadly, children sometimes are in the middle of a family dispute and are hurt in the crossfire of words, fists, and whatever else is handy to throw. These acts of the flesh are obvious as Paul says (Galatians 5:19), and they are destructive at so many levels. Even if we have escaped the worst of the consequences, wall have felt the anger and rage within. Sometimes we have painfully learned how destructive rage can be. 

Jealousy and selfish ambition may hide from public view, but they also lurk in the sinful human heart. They quietly take over, sometimes with just a slight bump of discontent. Shakespeare described jealousy as a green-eyed monster in the Merchant of Venice. His story tells how jealousy can destroy love, distort words, imagine the worst, and bring destruction. Jealousy sours marriages, families, and friendships. It removes contentment not only from the vocabulary but also from the heart. All the while it hides behind that face of respectability while consuming us from within.  

Is selfish ambition any different? Maybe a little, but it’s related to jealousy. Perhaps it does not hide as cleverly as jealousy. We should remember that there is nothing wrong with ambition and a desire to achieve. But selfish ambition drives people to action in order to seek an advantage over someone else at all costs. A person’s desire to move ahead can leave wounded and bruised people who have been sacrificed for advancement. The wounded know they have been run over or used, but they are in the rear view mirror of selfish ambition and no longer count. The greatest casualty of selfish ambition is love and concern for others. The same casualty comes in the wake of rage and jealousy. Personal agendas and desires trump love for others. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness and goodness 

The counterweights to rage, jealousy, and selfish ambition are kindness and goodness. These are created within us by the Holy Spirit. We remain sinners, forgiven, but still retaining our sinful flesh. So the works of the flesh show up in our lives, and at the same time so do the fruits of the Spirit. We are both saints and sinners.  

Others, even those that do not know Jesus, are often gentle and good. We should rejoice and give thanks for those qualities no matter where we find them. They contribute to the welfare of our neighborhoods and society. At times they put Christians to shame. Yet our kindness and goodness on the way to heaven has a distinctively Christian characteristic. 

What lies behind Christian goodness and kindness? Two things. First, our faith in Jesus has changed us. We know the love Jesus has for us unworthy, angry, jealous, and selfish sinners. We are deeply loved and forgiven. That warms our hearts and changes our attitudes. We see things differently. Second, our attitude has changed so we want to do as Jesus directed. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. . . . The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself  (Mark 12:30,31). We are familiar with his two commandments and also know his example. We understand his compassion for us and for those who suffer in this world. We know that he did not show rage, jealousy, or selfish ambition while he lived here. We are his disciples here and now and want to be like him. We want our lives to show our compassion, our generosity, and our willingness to do what is right and good for others. 

So the Christian Way is a path of kindness and goodness. It is also a way of repentance. We all find it difficult at times to wrestle with and control the acts of the flesh when we feel the strong urge to be angry, jealous, or selfish. Again and again we must repent of our failings, turn toward the mercy of our loving Savior, and resolve to be better disciples.  

The works of the flesh erupt so quickly in our marriages, families, and daily lives. It’s no wonder that we learned “the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desire be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism, The Mean of Baptism for Our Daily LifeFourth). Note the word “daily.” 

We are to be lights in this world and let our good deeds—including our kindness and goodnessbe seen so others can give glory not to us but to our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). When our light is dimmed by our rage, jealousy, or enmity toward others, Jesus beckons to us embrace the forgiveness we need, to turn away from those acts of the flesh, and to repent, so that we can reignite the light of kindness and goodness on the way to heaven. 

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fourth 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 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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: Beasley

woman finds true peace after learning about God’s full forgiveness and grace.  

Alicia A. Neumann

“Never have I felt so loved, valued, and taught correctly in my life.” Those are the words of Gina Beasley, member at The Vine, Couer d’Alene, IdahoGina was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and never thought that someday she’d be part of a small, Lutheran mission church. 

Growing up Mormon 

Gina was the youngest of eight kids and went to church every Sunday with her familyShe says she always grew up having faith in God and Jesus, but “there were a lot of morals and standards to live by,” Gina remembers. “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or do anything bad or wrong.” Based on what she was taught, Gina says that God’s love seemed conditional. “It was, ‘Do this or you won’t live with your family in heaven, ” she says. “And that’s a tough one to swallow when you make mistakes.” 

After high school, Gina moved to Utah to get a job. She met a man who converted to Mormonism, and they got married in the Mormon Temple. However, after three years, they divorced. Around that time, Gina started withdrawing from the Mormon church. “I wanted to go out with my friends on the weekends. I wanted to participate and have a drink. But I felt guilty because drinking was against the LDS Word of Wisdom. It was against their standards, she says. 

Eventually she met Jason, who was Catholic. After they started dating, they talked about religion. “I wanted to see if our religious philosophies matched up; that was critical,” says Gina. So Jason read the Book of Mormon twice and visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to join. “He said he didn’t feel quite right about it,” Gina says.  

Finding WELS 

A few years went by and Jason and Gina hadn’t made any substantial decisions about religion. “We were working a lot, and honestly we wanted to sleep in on the weekends,” says Gina.  

It was around that time that Jason’s longtime boss, a WELS member, invited them to St. Matthew’s in Spokane, Wash. 

Ron was kind of like a father figure to Jason,” says Gina. “We had a really nice relationship with him and his wife, Margot.” Gina says she really appreciated how Ron and Margot invited them to church in a way that didn’t make them feel pressured, so the Beasleys decided to give it a try. “We would go with them every once in a while,” says Gina. “I felt really good in my heart about the messages I was hearing in the sermons. Finally, we decided we should just start going to Ron and Margot’s church. It just felt like it was where we needed to be, spiritually.” 

Eventually they started taking a Bible Information Class at St. Matthew’s, which was about an hour drive for the Beasleys. “I loved how the messages we were learning were straight up from the Bible,” says Gina. Even though I had heard them before, I had never fully grasped and understood them.”  

One of the lessons was especially eye-opening for her. “We were talking about God’s grace. Pastor said it’s like an umbrellayou just step under it, and you’re protected from the rain.” Gina says this was so different from what she’d been taught growing upthat you have to “do” something to receive God’s full grace and be able to go to heaven. She says she had always felt guilty and worried as a result. “But in that moment, I felt truly forgiven; it took off the huge backpack of rocks I felt like I was carryingThe guilt and shame were gone, and I felt peace,” she says. I am so grateful every day that we decided to go to that class.” 

Gina has been trying to share that same peace with her family members, who are all still part of the Mormon church. “I see them once a year, and I try to put my little words of love in there if we are talking about religion,” she says. “In the past when we’ve talked about grace, they’ve said, ‘Gina you are right,’ but they aren’t living that. They are living good works. I think deep down they know what’s right, but they are still on that hamster wheel of trying to get to heaven.”  

Gina hopes that someday her family realizes that they don’t have to be perfect and that God’s grace is not conditional. “I’m trying to help them understand and accept God’s grace and get the ultimate peace, she says. 

Thriving at The Vine 

A few years after the Beasleys got married, St. Matthew’s began a new ministrya mission church called The Vine in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, which was only 20 minutes away from them. “It’s been great being part of a small, mission-style church,” says Gina. She still struggles with Mormon teachings from time to time, and she appreciates being able to talk to her pastor anytime and ask him questions. “I also get to sing with the worship band and really utilize my talents. It makes me feel fulfilled,” Gina says.  

In addition to participating in the church’s outreach activities, the Beasleys now host a Bible study twice a month. “I invite people I’ve established a relationship with,” says Gina. “If you earn peoples trust first, they are more apt to come. She says some people are afraid to come to a class if they feel like they’re committing to something, so the Beasleys use a curriculum from their pastor that makes it easy for people to join in when they can. 

Gina also has had opportunities to share her journey of faith through connections she made with other moms at the local preschool her son attended. A couple of new friends from the preschool have met me and asked if I am Mormon because they used to be Mormon too. It’s been kind of interesting discussing my upbringing with them, she says. 

Gina says her upbringing has made a big impact on how she’s raising her own kids. “When I grew up, I would hear people ‘give their testimony’ at church. And as kids, they would teach us the exact words to say,” remembers Gina. She says it would have been much more helpful to learn why it’s important to pray and how to pray from the heart. “So, really try to be open with my children and talk to them about the reasons we believe what we do and provide them with factual structure, she says. 

Gina says it’s been really amazing to see what God has done for her and her family. “I am just so grateful for how God has orchestrated it all,” she says. “Someday when I’m an old lady in my rocking chair, I will look back at how God has connected all the dots and think, ‘Wow!  


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


Learn more about the home mission The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is this month’s edition of WELS Connection. 


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 few words about the divine call

Mark G. Schroeder

What does it mean when your pastor or teacher receives a call to serve somewhere else? How is it that they were chosen to receive a call? If a call is divine (from God), why do they get to choose whether to accept or return a call? How does someone decide? Answers to those questions and others help build confidence in the calling process and in the person that God sends to serve us with his Word. But we must understand a few things first. 

Every Christian has been given the task of sharing and proclaiming the message of salvation. Jesus commissioned every believer to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). We do that in whatever situation God has placed us. All believers are to be ready to share the reason for the hope that they have in Christ. This is what we call personal ministry. These responsibilities and opportunities come from our Lord and Savior. 

But God has also established something called the public ministry. That means someone uses God’s means of grace—the gospel in Word and sacrament—in the name of, in behalf of, and at the request of other Christians. The called worker proclaims God’s message not just on his own, but as a representative of God and of other Christians. 

Throughout the history of the church, God has called individuals to serve in the public ministry. In biblical times, that call came directly from God. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush and called him to lead his people. God also spoke directly to Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets. Jesus called his disciples to leave their previous lives and to follow him. The risen Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus and called him as his messenger to the Gentiles. 

In apostolic times, however, God began to call his messengers indirectly through his church. The church in Jerusalem, asking God for his Spirit’s guidance, chose Matthias as the replacement for Judas. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem chose the seven deacons to assist them in their growing ministry responsibilities.  

Since that time, God continues to call men and women to serve in the public ministry through his church. The apostle Paul recognized that ministers of the gospel are called and provided by God: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11,12). 

The Lutheran Confessions clearly state that no one has the right to enter the public ministry by his own desire or decision. He or she does so only if properly called by God through his church (Augsburg Confession Article XIV). So today, God continues to provide workers for his church and calls them into the public ministry through believers. 

While we believe the call to ministry is from God through the church, we also recognize that God has not established or mandated specific procedures in the Scriptures for calling someone to serve. So, in our freedom as Christians, we have adopted an orderly process for extending divine calls. The process we have agreed to is not a perfect process. Human weaknesses and flawed human judgment sometimes insert themselves. But the possible flaws in the process in no way diminish the divinity or validity of the call once it is received. 

Next month, we’ll explore some of those questions and details about the divine call and the process for calling.



Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Lord, have mercy!

John A. Braun

On most Sundays, after we are reminded that we begin worship in the name of the almighty holy and majestic Triune God, we confess our sins. Together we begin, “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you . . . 

I admit to having a variety of thoughts when speaking those words. Sometimes I recite them without thinking much at all. They are routine words that tumble from my lips in the same way the Lord’s Prayer sometimes becomes a series of words spoken so often I don’t think about them. Another sin to add to my list. 

My list of “thoughts, words, and actions” also comes to mind. I can’t recall all that I have done wrong. There simply are too many of them. They are all lumped together and confessed as the sins I have done and the good I left undone. For them I pray, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

Another series of thoughts comes when I say that I am “by nature sinful.” I remember David’s confession, “Surely I was sinful at birth” (Psalm 51:5). I think of Isaiah who stood in the presence of God and said, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), or the words from the book of Job describing a human being as “only a worm” (Job 25:6). I confess that I am worse than the enumeration of wrongs I have committed against God and others. I am thoroughly corrupt by nature. 

I think, perhaps, there should be another series of thoughts because I stand with others who say the same words. I don’t know their thoughts, but we all stand before God as we are—sinners with our imperfections and acknowledging that we are flawed and defective—not at all as God created our first parents. We come knowing that we have no business standing before a righteous, almighty God. 

I wonder if this last thought is important for another reason. We invite visitors to worship with us. When we confess our sins publicly, are we telling these visitors that we aren’t better than others as so many imagine? We come before God with our faults, sins, fears, doubts, trials, troubles, mistakes, guilt, and fears. We challenge visitors to see us that way and invite them to join uwith their lists and the simple prayer, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” No pretenses, no pride, just recognizing ware all sinners in this condition together. 

But then. Then we hear the answer to our humble prayer. We hear that “God . . . has given his only Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I have come into God’s house just to hear this news again: My sins are forgiven because of Jesus. I remember that Jesus was like me—and all of us—except without sin. In prophecy he even claimed to be like us. David has the Messiah say, “I am a worm and not a man. . . . All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (Psalm 22:6,7). He took our place. His blood cleanses us (cf. 1 John 1:7). I hear Jesus say to me the words he spoke to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). 

Why do these thoughts come to my mind now? I have been reading some authors who do not share the treasure we all possess. They believe they can keep the commandments, be holy, and earn an audience with God. I choose simply to pray, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner and receive the undeserved gift of forgiveness. 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Accepted

College applications require good grades, good test scores, and more. Heaven is different. 

Leah M. Kuchenbecker 

When I hear the words college applications, I automatically think of all the stress and worry that comes along with them. 

As I was entering high school as a freshman, I was already thinking about getting into college and what I needed to do to be successful throughout my high school career. I was already worrying about keeping my GPA high enough to get into a good college.  

I took the ACT my junior year of high school. This test brought even more stress as I studied to get a good score and waited to see my results of the test, hoping that it would be as high as I wanted it to be. Sometimes I wished someone else would just do it all for me.  

Now it is my senior year, and I am applying to college and hoping that all of my work has paid off. I am writing essays, trying to keep track of deadlines, and filling our resumes. I am also beginning to think about how I am going to pay to go to college. I need to apply for scholarships and loans. While doing all of this, I need to continue to keep my grades up because even if I get accepted into a college, I still will need to send them my final transcript of gradesAll of this work and stress is sometimes really overwhelming. Somedays I just want to give up and not go to college. As I wait for an acceptance or rejection letter, I wonder if I have done enough to make it into college. I wonder if I will be accepted.  

Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t run heaven like a college! 

We are full of sin, and by ourselves we can’t do anything to get into heaven. God wouldn’t even consider us for heaven if we had to get there on our own. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  

Thankfully, Jesus did it all for usJesus came to earth as a humble, lowly child to live perfectly since we can’t. He died on the cross, covered in our sins, so that we are perfect in God’s sight. Finally, Jesus rose from the dead to give us a completely free entrance into heaven. “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). We don’t have to be perfect or make up for our sins because Jesus did it all.  

We don’t need an application to enter heaven. There are no fees to pay, essays to write, or deadlines to meet. There is absolutely no worry or stress involved in our path to heaven because Jesus did it all.  

We don’t have to worry about how to pay for heaven either. We don’t need good works to earn our place or money to pay our way in. Heaven is a completely free gift given to us purely through God’s unmatchable grace. We can’t be rejected from heaven, and God won’t change his mind on us either. We will be with God forever in heaven at no cost to us.  

College applications may be stressful and hard work, but our application to heaven isn’t. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t need to apply. We are already accepted! 


Leah Kuchenbecker, a member at Morrison Zion, Greenleaf, Wisconsin, recently graduated from Manitowoc Lutheran High School, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She will be attending Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, in the fall. 


 

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Author: Leah M. Kuchenbecker 
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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Not just the capital of Rhode Island

Andrew C. Schroer 

In December of 1630, Roger Williams, a Puritan pastor from England, boarded a ship called the Lyon and sailed to the New World. He and his wife, Mary, hoped to find peace from the persecution they had suffered as Puritans. They settled in the Massachusetts colony and began serving a Puritan congregation in the town of Salem. 

Williams, however, was soon expelled from the congregation due to his radical views. You see, Williams believed that church and state should be completely separatethat the government shouldn’t get involved with or regulate churches. To our modern sensibilities, such an idea is far from radical. In fact, it’s one of the founding principles of our countryin large partly due to Roger Williams. 

In the 17th century, however, the separation of church and state was considered fanatical and subversive. So Williams looked for a place where his family could live and believe what they wanted without government interference. He took a boat to a tiny island called Rhode Island, which at the time was inhabited almost entirely by Native Americans. There Williams founded his own settlementWilliams was so thankful God had provided him and others a refuge where they could believe and worship as they wished, he called the place “Providence.”  

But Providence isn’t just the capital of Rhode Island. 

It’s what God does for you and me every day: He provides for us. Just look around at all that you havehomes, cars, phones, beds, clothes, and TVs. We have so much food that we periodically have to clean out our refrigerators because it goes bad. We have so much stuff that our biggest frustration with our homes is that the closets are too small. Sit down one day and try to make a list of everything you owneverything you have. Just look at all the good things God has provided for you.  

Yet at times, we have the gall to consider ourselves poor, or at least not rich. We look at the “rich” people down the road. We don’t have what they have, so we think we must be poor. We fail to see that the poorest of us are richer than 90 percent of the world. 

But wait a minute, you may be thinking. God didn’t provide this. I did. I worked my rear end off to pay for all this stuff. Yes, but who gave you the opportunity to work? Who gave you the ability to work? Who gave you your body and mind? 

Everything we have is because God in his love has provided it for us. In fact, he has provided us with the things we need the mostforgiveness and heaven. Those are gifts we don’t deserve. You and I have fallen and failed so many times. We have thought, said, and done so many bad things in our lives. The only things we deserve are God’s anger and punishment in hell. 

But in his great love, God provided a Savior, Jesus, who suffered our punishment in our place. Through Jesus, God provides the forgiveness we so desperately need. Through faith in Jesus, he provides you a forever home in the riches and happiness of heaven. 

Look at all that God has done for you. Recognize what he has provided for you. Thank him every day. 

Because Providence isn’t just the capital of Rhode Island.


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Confessions of faith: Mount

A man’s “before and after” spur him on to become a pastor and share the message of salvation. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

Nick Mount, a new pastor serving in Nebraska, loves to tell people about Jesus. 

Maybe that doesn’t surprise you. I mean, what pastor doesn’t love to share the good news of salvation? 

But Nick has a unique perspective: He didn’t always have faith. 

“Members say, ‘He’s so enthusiastic,’ says Diana Mount, Nick’s wife. “I say, ‘Of course he is. It’s because he has a before and an after.’ ” 

Nick adds, “I know what it’s like to be without faith, and I know how scary that can be.” 

But he also knows the peace and joy that came from learning about God’s undeserved love for sinners. And that’s a message he wants to share with everyone. 

“Something missing” 

Although he was baptized as a baby in the Lutheran church, Nick didn’t grow up going to church. His parents divorced when he was eight months old, and he lived with his mother. “My mom’s side of the family was Catholic, and there was no emphasis on going to church,” he says.  

Although his dad would take him and his brothers to worship and Sunday school when they visited, for the most part Nick grew up in a household where God’s Word wasn’t present. “My mother’s side of the family had a bigger influence on me because I lived with my mom,” he says. 

When Nick graduated from high school, he joined the military. After serving for five years, including two tours of duty overseas, he returned to Wisconsin where he grew up. 

Nick decided to live with his father and go back to college, but it was a struggle for him to acclimate to civilian life. “I remember feeling lonely and disconnected from the community. I was nearing depression,” he says. “The whole time there was always something missing.” 

His father continued to share God’s Word with him over the next two years, but Nick wasn’t quite ready to believe it. “Going to church wasn’t something that I was hostile to, but it wasn’t something I did,” he says. “Things were starting to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t know what to do with my sin. I kept thinking, I’m a mess. What am I going to do about this?  

Finally, not knowing what else to do, he started praying. 

A captive audience” 

A few weeks later, Nick was out celebrating the end of the school year with his friends. As they were driving to a party, he was having an intense conversation with the driver about the existence of God. “Just as I was saying, ‘No, there has to be a God,’ right at that moment, we were hit by a drunk driver—a head-on collision,” he says. 

Nicholas woke up in the emergency room, not knowing what had happened. He had broken his tibia and fibula and had hit his head on the windshield. His dad nursed him back to health, the whole time sharing God’s Word with him. “I was a captive audience,” Nick jokes. 

But God worked through the Word, and Nick started going to church and Bible instruction class. 

“I had to be thrust back into the kingdom,” he says. “Ever since the car accident my life just went in a completely different trajectory. I can’t completely express what happened.” 

He continues, “You look back at the terrible things that happen in life and you realize that they can be the greatest blessings because my life completely changed at that point.” 

Besides going to church, he started getting involved at the Point of Grace, a WELS campus ministry for Milwaukee-area college studentsThere he met other believers—including his wife, Diana. “I look back and see how faithful God is,” he says. “The people I hung out with prior to the accident for the most part weren’t believers at all. But God just kept bringing people into my life who were believers so I was being nurtured.” 

“God’s grace” 

At that time, Nick still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. After he and Diana married in 2006, he even mentioned going to Martin Luther College to study for the ministry. But the couple dismissed the idea, and Nicolas finally decided to become a speech therapist. He began pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. 

But that path left him dissatisfied—especially in light of his newfound faith. “I wanted to help people [as a speech therapist], but [I felt] if I can’t tell them about Jesusam I really helping them?” he says. He began witnessing to people he met at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he worked as a security guard in the evenings. “Nick would look for every opportunity to share Jesus,” says Diana. “He would spend his shifts witnessing to people. I think that was his training ground.” 

Finally in 2012, Nick dropped out of his master’s program and again began talking about becoming a pastor. Things fell into place, and the couple decided to take a leap of faith and move their young family first to New Ulm and then to Milwaukee so Nick could study for the ministry. “We knew if we didn’t do this now, we would never do it,” says Diana. “Those six years were hard, but the Lord supplied all our needs.” Nick graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2018. 

The Mounts are quick to thank all those who helped them along the way. “We would not be able to do this if we would not have had support from countless Christians, countless WELS members, people we met along the way and people we never knew,” says Diana. “We didn’t have to ask for anything; it’s just God using people to provide for us.” That support came through prayers, encouragement, and monetary gifts. 

Nick noticed that same community years ago when he first was coming to faith. “It wasn’t just one person; it was a patchwork of people helping me and sharing God’s Word with me,” he says. 

He says that support—and also his varied life experiences—helped prepare him for the ministry. “I’ve been prepared from so many different places in my life,” says Nicholas. The military gives you a lot of confidence to face the battle, but it doesn’t prepare you to deal with somebody as a loved child of God. I developed that compassion when working in the hospital. 

His firsthand knowledge of what it’s like living without faith also spurs him on to share God’s mercy and love with those who are struggling, including veterans. “These guys are coming out of the military with questions like, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ Or the guys in combat who think, Did I just murder somebody? . . . It’s so important to be there with God’s grace.” 

 That grace made an eternal difference in Nick’s life—a difference he is all too happy to share. 


Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine. 


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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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