Let God’s light shine

Christmas can be a dark time. We need to share the light of Jesus so all can see what their Savior has done for them. 

Nathan W. Strutz 

Christmas. The day is supposed to be filled with such happiness. Who doesn’t love gathering with family? Who doesn’t love seeing a tree with presents that fill the living room?  

A time of darkness 

Maybe you don’t. Maybe your family is not a happy gathering. Grandma’s place at the table is dark because Grandma isn’t there anymore. Your nephew Jimmy will be there, but not with the wife and kids after their recent divorce. Uncle Joe hasn’t come in years, because he’s been estranged so long. Maybe there isn’t a room full of presents. 

Instead there’s a heart full of fear, a darkness that there won’t be enough money to pay the bills. Maybe the lights don’t brighten your heart because all you can see is darkness. 

Sadness spikes in the winter time. Suicide rates go up around the holidays.  

Too many think, I’m supposed to be so happy, but I’m not. I’ve done my share to make the family gatherings awkward or haven’t done anything to reach out to Uncle Joe. Maybe it’s my fault. I could have worked harder and been nicer to the boss. Then money wouldn’t be so tight. If I had just made better choices, just worked a little harder at being happy, I could really enjoy Christmas. 

Jesus is the light 

There is hope. Jesus is the light for that darkness, especially at Christmas. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). 

Jesus brings light to lighten your eyes beyond your earthly troubles. Jesus loved you so much he made you part of his perfect family. The holy God is your Father, loving you so much he sent his Son into a manger, to a cross, to rise from the dead to give you the light of life. Jesus is your perfect brother, the brother who took all the blame for all your sins. What other brother would do that? Jesus did! Jesus, our perfect brother, piled all the darkness for all the guilt of everyone on himself. That means your guilt is gone. Your darkness has become light. 

Jesus provided your greatest need: forgiveness. Jesus will take care of all your other needs as well. 

Jesus has given you a heavenly mansion, monogrammed with your initials, already waiting for you. He signed it with his blood, sealed it with his empty tomb, and delivers it to you in water and his Word, “You are baptized! You are my child!” 

We must share the light 

This light needs to be shared. Just as the shepherds shared it on the first Christmas, just as a parent or friend shared the light with you, so you get to share this light with others. Who wouldn’t like to hear, “Your guilt is gone!”? Who wouldn’t love to hear, “Your sins are forgiven!”?  

We’ve set a goal as a church body to reach one million people this Christmas with the good news of great joy that is for all the people: A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. One million sounds like a lot of people. But 35,000 people get this magazine. They—you—are today’s shepherds. I encourage all of you to do what the shepherds at Bethlehem did: “Spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). If each one of you would share the light of Jesus with 10 neighbors, friends, or relatives, we would be on our way to reaching one million.  

What a merry Christmas that would be!


Nathan Strutz is pastor at Resurrection, Verona, Wisconsin. 


Learn more about the goal to reach one million people with the gospel message this Christmas at wels.net/c18


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Author: Nathan Strutz
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 2

So many need to hear about Jesus. Pray for them and for the opportunity to share Jesus with them.  

Kenneth L. Brokmeier 

“Prayer changes things!”  

Go ahead! Google “phrases about prayer.” You quickly can find yourself immersed for hours sifting through the sites, uncovering little snippets about prayer. Some excerpts are authored by well-known believers like Martin Luther, and other quotes are by those who aren’t even Christian.  

Prayer is an important part of our calling as Christ’s disciples. We pray because we are connected to Jesus. But like so many other facets of our Christian life, sometimes prayer can seem almost non-existent . . . until crunch time. You know what I mean. Suddenly there is trouble! That’s when we take God’s invitation to call upon him (Psalm 50:15) rather seriously. 

Those on the wrong road 

Well, there is trouble out there right now. There is a whole world without Christ, and they on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Jesus knew it. He described them as harassed and helpless—sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)—people misled by the lies and philosophies of the world and, sometimes, even the church. Before his very eyes were souls who were still looking for answers because their own solutions always brought the same dead-end results. Jesus had compassion on them because they didn’t even realize their great need. They had numbed themselves into thinking that there is no God or that Jesus can’t be God’s answer.  

The years and the faces may have changed, but the problem is still there. It’s not just on the other side of our planet but right in our own families, friends, and neighbors. It is on the campuses and classrooms of not just colleges, but all levels of education. Do you see them? The sheep? Sheep who think they know better, even though they were once Jesus’ little lamb. Sheep who are wearing the glitter and glitz of their own self-righteousness. Sheep who think they have all the answers to life’s questions because of their education. Sheep who are quick to tell you to your face you are foolish for following your Good Shepherd. Sheep. And all of them are unaware they are lost because they don’t have the heavenly Shepherd named Jesus. What’s a person to do?  

Listen to Jesus. Pray! That is what Jesus tells his disciples to do—pray, literally beg the Lord to send out more workers.  

Our prayers as God’s ambassadors 

But wait! Are you ready for this? Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for more workers and then he sends those same disciples out as those workers (Matthew 10). When we pray, he sends us out as his workers. 

Knowing that we are the answer to our own prayer leads us to pray more fervently and zealously to the Lord, “Help!” And he does. We have examples from Scripture of ambassadors praying to the One they represent for help. Look at Daniel (chapter 6). Daniel knew the king’s decree that anyone who prayed—except to the king—would be thrown into the den of lions. Yet Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day, just as he had done before. I can imagine Daniel begging God to be with him so he could testify boldly when he stood before the king. God answered Daniel’s prayer.  

Paul and Silas prayed (Acts 16:25). They had just been beaten and locked up, and yet they prayed and sang hymns. Can’t you just picture Paul begging God to open doors for the spread of the gospel? God answered Paul’s prayer. He not only opened the prison doors but also the heart of the jailer to believe in the Lord Jesus!  

God also promises to answer our prayers as his ambassadors. So pray! Ask boldly that God will give you wisdom so that you may know him better and trust his incomparably great power that is at work in you (cf. Ephesians 1:17-22).  

When you pray, trust that God will keep his promises that he will never leave or forsake you (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) when you are called upon to witness.  

Pray dangerously. Challenge or beg that God would permit your life and the life of the one for whom you are praying to intersect so that you can be God’s ambassador. Then look for God to open those doors to encounter others with whom you can share the news of Jesus. Most of all, be ready to walk through those doors when he opens them!  

Pray with urgency. After all, billions are still in the state of spiritual darkness or unbelief. Scripture clearly teaches that if they remain and die in that state, their destiny is more than just darkness. It is the eternal misery, pain and suffering of hell, where “their worm that eats them will not die, the fire that burns will not be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24).  

Our personal connections 

Sometimes that sense of urgency can wane, can’t it? We don’t always picture the mass of humanity on the other side of the world who are hellbound without Christ. After all, we are busy with our lives of tweeting, texting, or updating our status on Facebook with the latest picture of what we deem to be important.  

But then it hits us. A friend. Someone with whom we have broken bread at many meals. Someone with whom we went to Lutheran grade school and high school. Slowly they have stopped coming to church. Or they head off to college and we lose touch and, before you know it, they are caught in the web of ungodly philosophies.  

Or it might be a family member—a parent, sibling, child, niece, or nephew. “What happened?” we ask ourselves. We might, humanly speaking, know the answer. But, more important, we know the solution: Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus!  

So pray! Because “prayer changes things.”  

My family knows this to be true.  

There were six children in my family growing up. We all had received the blessings of a Christian upbringing, including attending a Lutheran grade school and high school. But something happened, spiritually, with my brother. He made poor choices and drifted, slowly but surely, away from his Savior.  

Those who loved him—his parents, siblings, relatives, pastors, and teachers—spoke words of concern, warning him he was on that broad road. He would often respond— sometimes saying the right things—but his actions were also speaking, unfortunately, louder than his words. The drifting continued.  

Those who loved him prayed for him. We prayed boldly. We prayed dangerously. We prayed with urgency!  

God answered . . . with an accident. An accident that suddenly found my brother teetering between life and death. An accident that would leave him needing care 24 hours per day for the nearly 16 years remaining in his life. But, most important, God answered our prayers with an accident that opened the heart of his blood-bought child to once more hear, believe, and completely trust that Jesus is the only Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). 

And so, as his ambassadors, we pray!


Ken Brokmeier is pastor at Our Savior’s, Brookings, South Dakota.  


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


What’s your story? How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear your stories. To whom in your life did you reach out? What barriers did you have to overcome? How do you prepare yourself for these outreach opportunities? 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: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can our families stay focused on Jesus this Christmas?

How can I help my son grow into a godly man? 

Sometimes providing ideas to tackle parenting challenges can get complicated. We deal with some complex issues as we raise these little people. Other times it’s surprisingly simple. 

This month, our authors remind us that we don’t need to go to great lengths to focus our families on Jesus this Christmas. Simple traditions, simple questions, simple explanations can provide rich opportunities to worship our King and celebrate his birth.  

Interested in beginning your own family Advent devotion time this year? Visit forwardinchrist.net/chrismons for a resource that can help you put together a devotion similar to the one the Geiger family enjoys (see Anna Geiger’s article).  

Nicole Balza


During most of the year, our family gathers each evening for a Bible story and song. But we take a break from our regular devotions for Advent. Instead, we sit at the dining room table around a lovely handcrafted Advent tree, a gift from my father-in-law.  

Simple Advent devotions 

First, my husband lights one or more candles, depending how close we are to Christmas. Then we choose a Chrismon (a Christmas decoration with a Christian symbol) to hang on the tree. My husband leads an impromptu devotion based on the symbol we’ve chosen, and we conclude with a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” 

The short devotions are often simple. The cross reminds us that Jesus died to take away our sins. The shell reminds us that God forgave our sins and brought us into his family through Baptism. The lamb is a symbol for Jesus, the Lamb of God. 

Sometimes our devotions are a little more complex. We may talk about the fish being an ancient Christian symbol because the letters of the Greek word for fish stand for Jesus. We may talk about the Chi-Ro, which looks like a P with an X on top. These two letters are the first letters of the Greek word Christos, which means Christ. 

Our five oldest kids (4, 6, 8, 10, 11) take turns doing different jobs. One chooses the Chrismon, another places it on the tree, a third child turns out the lights, a fourth child passes out the music, and a fifth has the favorite job of blowing out the candles. Because our youngest will be turning 3 this Advent season, he will be part of the devotions as well. I suppose we will need a sixth job . . . but I don’t think we’re ready to let the kids take turns lighting the candles! 

A meaningful tradition 

With a houseful of young children, I wouldn’t exactly call our Advent devotions peaceful. And the proximity of children to open flames keeps my husband and me at the edge of our seats. But all of us look forward to this simple family tradition. Not only does it distract us from the hustle and bustle of the season, but it also keeps our eyes on our coming Savior.  


Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wisconsin. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. 


 I can see the candlelight in her eyes. It flickers there in the dark sanctuary. It lights up her small face in constantly new ways as the flame dances, pushing shadows off her face. It was Christmas Eve 2014. She was singing “Silent Night.” 

I almost lost it. I hope it wasn’t just sentimentality. I doubt it was. I long for something as a father. I pray for it more than most anything else in my life. It makes me do things like ask my daughter every day on her way to school, “Who are you?” Just to hear her say back, “I’m a blood-bought child of God.” It makes me haul out my little devotional every night at dinner or lay on the Bermuda grass outside just so I can point to the stars and say, “Look at what God did.” I want my daughter to see the Lord just like Job once did (Job 42:5). 

There are few better places to see him than the manger. I’ve got no secret sauce for that. I’m not sure we even have totally rooted family traditions around Christmas yet. I do know that I’ve done some things now for a few years. I love to walk with her up to the Chrismons. I love telling her what they mean. I love talking to her about the lights on the tree and how they point to the Light of the world. I love talking to her about the Christmas lessons she learns every year at Sunday school. I love interrupting her occasionally to remind her to back out of the commercialism and to ask her what the season is really about. I love to open the presents with her and tell her where they all ultimately come from and what the best gift of all is. I love to bust out the hymnal and sing a Christmas hymn before we go to sleep. I love to help her with her recitations just so I can make a comment to her about what they mean.  

I hope you know I’m not slavish about how I lean into unique Christmas moments. I’m not. There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes it’s best simply to grab some Christmas cookies together and laugh about how crazy her dad is. I do, however, at Christmas time maintain the regular ways I disciple my daughter and always look for opportunities to use the uniqueness of the season to connect truth to her soul. No, it’s not a secret sauce. It’s just real life, trusting the Spirit to use the Word in my daughter’s life.  

I love my daughter. More than anything else I want her to have the joy of seeing the Lord in her life. I want that because I know that is what will chase away the shadows and darkness that lie within her and will make light dance in her little heart in new ways all year long. 


Jonathan Bourman is a pastor at Peace, Aiken, South Carolina. He and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter


It’s almost Christmas. Time stops for no one. So we dash through the snow to pick up kids. Buy the latest toy. Find dresses for the girls and suits for the boys. Bake Christmas cookies. Help the kids memorize their part in the Christmas services. Set up Christmas get-togethers with our family and friends. Bake more Christmas cookies. Schedule and wrangle crabby kids to get family pictures taken for the two hundred Christmas cards we have to order, address, place in envelopes, buy stamps for, and send. Decorate upstairs. Decorate downstairs. Decorate outside. Did I mention bake cookies?  

My house, inside or out, doesn’t look like a Pinterest page. My kids might be wearing hand-me-down dresses and suits for the Christmas services. My gifts might not be wrapped until the night before Christmas Eve (and might just be placed into a gift bag!). We will eventually get the Christmas tree up. And perhaps a string of lights outside . . . if we’ve taken them down from last year. My cookies just might be bought from the local grocery store. But, this is what allows our family to savor and enjoy Christmas. The simplicity.  

You don’t have to spend hundreds of hours or dollars making a perfect Christmas. We already have a perfect Christmas with the most perfect gift—Christ Jesus. Our focus should not be on making more work for an earthly perfect—one that takes the center of attention away from the true meaning of Christmas—but on how to bring our loved ones closer to the manger.  

First comes our beautiful Christmas Eve service filled with children’s voices, praises to God for sending his Son, and the comforting passages and hymns we have committed to memory. 

Then our family continues in sharing God’s goodness in our living room. Sharing the blessings he has given us, reminding our children of the best gift that allows us to give them gifts, and reveling in the love of family—one of the most marvelous gifts God has given us on earth.  

Traditions are wonderful and can be an amazing blessing to you, your children, and your grandchildren. But in the busyness of Christmas, might I suggest keeping it simple?  

Set aside time to spend with your family.
Find a Christmas service or two.
Remind your loved ones of the greatest gift of Christmas.
Breathe in the crisp winter air (or the warm breeze).
Take in some twinkling lights.
And feel the love of Jesus envelop you.   


Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, are raising four children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?

Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?

James F. Pope

Your question illustrates the need to bridge the culture gap of marriage customs and laws that existed in biblical days. 

A marriage established by commitment 

In our society today, we are familiar with relationships that progress from friendship to dating to engagement to marriage. Because we are used to this sequence of events, we might think that people in biblical times followed the same pattern. That was not the case. 

“Betrothal,” as the term appears in some Bible translations, was not the engagement of our day and age. Betrothal in biblical days was the time when the bride and groom, or their representatives, signed papers to commit themselves to each other and to establish the beginning of their marriage. From that point on, the man and woman were legally married, but they did not have the right to live together as husband and wife or have sexual relations with one another. They lived separately for a time until the wedding celebration took place. Then, the man and woman lived together as husband and wife. Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) illustrates the interval of time between the beginning of a marriage and the wedding celebration. 

When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant (Matthew 1:18,19), the couple was between the time when they had established their marriage and before any wedding celebration was going to take place. They were legally married. Only death or divorce (Deuteronomy 22:22-29) could break the bond they had established, and divorce was on Joseph’s mind. 

A marriage rooted in love 

Joseph is the forgotten man in the account of Jesus’ birth. In the Bible, Mary receives appropriate attention as the one whom God graciously chose to be the one to give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:30-33). But what about Joseph?  

We first come across Joseph in the family tree of Jesus’ human ancestry found in Matthew 1:16. We learn that Joseph came from royal lineage, but we know little else about him. We are aware of what Joseph was thinking when he realized Mary was pregnant: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).  

Mary’s miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit put Joseph in a challenging situation. Without knowing about the Holy Spirit’s work in Mary, Joseph could only conclude that Mary had been unfaithful to him. If Joseph had wanted to press the issue, the results could have been disastrous for Mary and the unborn child in her womb, the Messiah (Deuteronomy 22:23,24). Love for God and love for Mary led Joseph to pursue a different course of action—a divorce that was intended to shelter Mary from public shame. 

God thwarted that plan by directing an angel to inform Joseph in a dream that Mary’s pregnancy was the result of the Holy Spirit’s work. We see Joseph’s love for God in his next waking moments: “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). The last words of that verse demonstrate that Joseph and Mary were legally married at this time. 

Joseph was a man who displayed the kind of love that reflected the love of his foster son and Savior: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Joseph and Mary’s marriage was established by commitment and rooted in love. 


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 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 11

Zechariah: “Merry Christmas, with love” 

Thomas D. Kock

As he stared into the mirror, he hated what he saw. Memories of what had happened flooded his mind. It was what he had done. How could he?!? He knew it was wrong. He KNEW it!  

And now? The guilt was horrible!  

reflection of guilt 

Oh, it hadn’t started out that way. The temptation had sounded so good! It was as if Satan was whispering pleasantly into his ears: “Oh, try it! It will feel great! You’ll be so much happier, so much more fulfilled if you try it.” The “voice” was smooth and enticing.  

Once he did it, the same voice berated him. “You jerk! You knew it was wrong, but you did it anyway! You must be the worst ever! How could you?!?” He heard that voice over and over as he stared into the mirror.  

Maybe that was the voice which was playing in Joshua’s ears. No, this isn’t the Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho. This Joshua was the high priest at the time of Zechariah and Haggai. Zechariah recorded the vision given by the Lord: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him” (3:1). That’s what Satan does—he accuses. In fact, Satan means “accuser.”  

And he’s really good at it! His ultimate goal is to lead us away from God forever. After he woos us into temptation, he turns around and points his finger at us and says, “You! How could you?!? You horrid, horrible person!”  

In the vision, Zechariah saw Joshua, the high priest “dressed in filthy cloths.” He was guilty. 

A reflection of forgiveness 

We’re thrilled to hear what happens next: “The angel said . . ., ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’ . . . So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by” (3:4,5). In a visual way, God showed the glory of forgiveness by immaculately re-clothing Joshua!   

God has re-clothed you, too. God has taken away your sin. In his eyes, you’re re-clothed in glorious finery! And so when you look into the mirror, you no longer have to cringe because of the sins committed the day/week/year before; God has forgiven them all!  

Oh, but don’t take sin lightly! God is serious about sin. When we sin, we spit in God’s face. Do NOT play with sin!  

But God promises, “See, I have taken away your sin!” Jesus came to this earth to pay for your sins and to win perfection for you. He did it! That gives us the reason to love God and avoid sin.  

So look in that mirror! Do so with joy! See a forgiven person, someone who glows where it matters most—in the eyes of God.  

Merry Christmas, with love!  


Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.


This is the 11th article in a 12-part series on minor prophets.


ZECHARIAH

Lineage:  A prophet, son of Berechiah, grandson of Iddo. A priest named Iddo is named in Nehemiah 12:4. Is he the same Iddo? If so, Zechariah is also a priest.   
Date of writing:  Late October or early November, 520 B.C.December, 518 B.C. (Haggai is a contemporary.)   
Unique feature:  Amazing oracles with vivid imagery. Quoted often in the New Testament. 
Key verse:  Multiple prophecies of Jesus’ passion: 9:9 (Palm Sunday); 11:12,13 (Judas’ betrayal); 12:10 (Jesus’ crucifixion); 13:7 (the disciples being scattered). 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Pastor Lau

Hmong outreach in Vietnam

The fields are white for the harvest in Vietnam, and through the gospel, the Holy Spirit is bringing many to faith. 

Jonathan Bare as told to him by Wasa Lau 
Translated by Bounkeo Lor 

Pastor Wasa Lau is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Lau serves Immanuel 1997 church in Laichao province.  

Here is more of his story of faith as told to Jonathan Bare, PSI team member, and Lor:  

People in my area started becoming Christian already in 1993 when we heard radio broadcastings about Christianity. From 1993 to 1997, Christianity spread very quickly in our area. We heard that if you believed, you would be released from Shamanism and Satan—so within a short amount of time, the whole area believed. I believed in 1997.  

Persecution 

One of my uncles served in the army. When he found out that we had become Christians, he was so angry. He brought many guns to our house, and he wanted to kill us. He also brought a big pot and was going to build a big fire and boil our whole family one by one for being Christian. But he drank a glass of alcohol and fell asleep at the table. Early in the morning, he woke up and left. So our family was spared. 

In the end, they arrested the whole village. The local government forced us to make bricks, cut plants, and build houses. For one week we did hard labor for the government in our area. They brought us all together, and the local officials would point a gun at the leaders of the church. “If you don’t renounce your faith, we will kill you,” they threatened. But no one would renounce their faith. Since no one would renounce their faith, the government couldn’t do anything. They just put them in prison or sent them to do hard labor. I was a leader already at that time, but I wasn’t teaching the Bible yet so they didn’t point a gun at my head. But I did get sent with the other leaders to do hard labor.  

After they released all of us believers, we went back to our village. But the local government officials didn’t allow us to worship. So I remember we woke up at 1:00 in the morning to worship God. We couldn’t turn on any lights; we just used some oil lamps. We did that from 1997 to 2000.  

Education 

In 2005, I received some theological training from the Vietnamese Fellowship Church, and I passed my test in 2011. In 2011, they called me to serve Immanuel 1997 as pastor. There were some good things we learned in the training, but it was difficult because Vietnamese [the language they taught in] is not my first language. There were six courses we needed to study. They covered basics of salvation, faith, baptism, and how to administer the church. Once you pass the test, you can be called as a pastor in the church.  

But I needed more. I started receiving training from Pastor Lor in 2013. The first few years I still had a lot of confusion because the training I had received in the past was too limited. But in 2016, I finally understood Lutheran doctrine. Since that time, I have grown in my ability to pass it on to my members and local leaders.  

Currently, in my church, I serve 220 members. I also oversee 7 pastors and 37 leaders who serve a total membership of 1,179. Our relationship was a struggle at first. Before the training from the Lutheran church, each of us had received training from other churches. Now, though, we have a very stable relationship because we all have the same training and doctrine. Now we don’t allow other churches from the outside to provide training to our leaders or our churches. After I get back from the training session in Hanoi, two other students and I work together to provide training to all of our local leaders. We call together over 100 local leaders for three 3-day training sessions to share the training we received in Hanoi.  

One blessing is that in class we receive textbooks that we use to study the course with the professor. The textbook is in Hmong, so we can take it back and print more to use with the pastors and leaders we are training.  

I had dreamed for such training for a long time. Many members would come and ask me to share the Word of God with them, but I didn’t know how to do it. Since receiving training, I have grown in my confidence in what I believe and in sharing God’s Word. I am certain of this: If the Lutheran church did not come to do the training, the Hmong congregations throughout Vietnam would have continued to suffer a lot due to theological differences.  

My own ability is limited. I am not an educated person. But through the training we are receiving, we have materials that we can review. Also, when we attend class, we can listen to the professors in person and ask questions about what we are learning. This has given me a lot more confidence. This has been a big change for me and for the congregations under my leadership. We’ve stopped searching for theological answers and materials from other churches. We know we have the truth now, and we know where to find it!  

Prayers 

The Hmong Fellowship Church currently has more than 300 congregations, but we still lack many things—especially training for all of the leaders of these congregations. We need more training from the Lutheran church. That is what we are looking for now: for generation after generation to grow in the proper understanding of Scripture. That’s what WELS can do for us.  

I also ask that you pray for us. My congregation has a small building for worship. In the past, we had cut down a bunch of trees from the jungle for building a larger space, but someone came and burned all the wood. We’re starting to go back to cut more wood to expand our building, but this project will take a lot of work and we don’t have much money. Pray that the Lord will motivate our members to support it with their offerings so that we can expand the church in the future.  

And more important, in my area many people are believers, but surrounding our area many are not Christian. We don’t have the financial backing or a plan for reaching them. Some are donating money to send evangelists. Please pray that more of my members will support this effort so that we can continue to do more outreach in our area.  


Jonathan Bare, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


Since WELS began providing training to these leaders in 2013, the HFC has grown from 55,000 to 100,000 members and has formed hundreds of new churches. The communist government now is offering WELS an opportunity to build a permanent facility in Hanoi for theological training. Learn more in this month’s WELS Connection and at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Account of the rich young man: Part 2

Always be prepared to . . . ask a question

James F. Borgwardt 

Witnessing to strangers doesn’t come naturally for many Christians, myself included. But like anything else, it becomes easier with practice.  

The essential elements for every Christian witness is God’s law and gospel. But how do we get from a cordial “Hi” to the message of sin and grace? My favorite tool is a question. 

Actually, there are three specific types of questions that help move conversations in the direction I want. The first question turns the dialogue spiritual. The second helps to assess and clarify the non-Christian’s views. And the last draws us to our destination: to the cross of Christ.  

All of them help keep the conversation cordial and non-threatening when they are used with people like Joe. 

The first question 

Joe sat in the next seat on our flight to Chicago and struck up the conversation. His story of leading multiple successful business ventures in the city matched his style and appearance. My story as a pastor didn’t share much in common, except that I have a brother serving a congregation on the north side of Chicago. That was my segue to Question 1: “Do you have a church home?” 

He didn’t. It wasn’t long before he shared his view of religions: “All of them teach basically the same thing. How can Christians insist that they’re the only ones going to heaven?”  

The second question 

Would you have given a quick answer? Jesus wouldn’t. At least he didn’t when the rich young man in Matthew 19 asked him a question about eternal life. Jesus responded instead with a question of his own. Answering a question with another question was common for Jesus. He often extended conversations with questions and not answers.  

This is another evangelism lesson we can learn from Jesus’ dialogue in Matthew 19. When someone comes to you with a question about the Christian faith, don’t always be so quick with an answer. Try a question instead.  

“A man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ 

‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied” (Matthew 19:16,17). 

Jesus fielded questions from a variety of people with a variety of motives. Some raised question to trap him.  Others were hurting souls who approached him in desperate need. They pleaded for mercy from the only one they believed could help them. 

The rich, young ruler fit neither of these extremes. His question was both serious and seriously misguided. He respected Jesus as a great teacher. He approached him with a genuine desire to receive new insight into his godly living. He loved the law of God and convinced himself that he had kept it. Yet he felt that he was missing something—something that would finally give him the peace with God that he craved. He figured that the renowned rabbi from Nazareth could prescribe the elusive, extraordinary work that needed to be done. He was ready to carry it out and thereby earn the assurance that life everlasting was indeed his reward. 

This young man came to the right man for the wrong reasons. And Jesus could have told him as much. But a question was the more effective tool.  

The same is often true in our witnessing. 

Granted, Jesus was far better at this than we could be. He knew the perfect response to a question long before it was asked. Not being God, we can’t do that. 

But questions do serve us well in these crucial conversations. They help us assess the person and their situation. They buy us time as we think how to best lead this soul to the cross.  

More than that, asking questions helps us in similar ways to how it helped Jesus in his ministry. Questions display that we’re genuinely interested in the person with whom we’re speaking. And questions lead that person to do some important self-reflection. They are a polite, non-confrontational tool to help the other person re-examine their assumptions. 

When Jesus replied with “Why do you ask me about what is good?” the man had to start digging into the assumptions that were buried beneath his question. 

We want people to do the same thing. This is where Question 2 comes in handy. It’s the question, “What makes you say that?”* 

In my conversation with Joe, I responded to his claim that all religions basically teach the same thing with, “What makes you say that? In what way are they similar?” 

Like the man in Matthew 19, Joe held the natural opinion that good works gain the reward of eternal life. He didn’t understand grace. Outside of Christ, no one can. 

The third question 

At the time, I responded with a C. S. Lewis illustration of how the one word that separates Christianity from all other religions is grace. And that opened into a law and gospel witness. 

But thinking back on it, I could have asked Joe a third question that’s become my favorite. Sometimes it’s the only one needed. It’s direct and polite at the same time. Question 3a is, “What you do believe about Jesus?”  

Try it. And after asking the question, just listen. The response could be a hundred different kinds of wrong, but fight the urge to correct the person. People appreciate that you don’t want to argue. By listening you’ll earn the right to speak. When they’re done, ask permission to do so with Question 3b, “May I share with you what I believe about Jesus?” Then share the good news of God’s eternal love for all people in Jesus. And the Holy Spirit will bless it as he sees fit. 

Someone may be thinking, That’s all fine and good. But the apostle Peter commanded a different approach: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). He told us to be prepared to give an answer, not a question. 

Yes, we need to be prepared to give answers too! Read 1 Peter chapter 3 in its entirety. People will ask us about our eternal hope when they see us respond to evil with love and grace. They’ll want to know why. They’ll cut right to the point. And so we respond. 

Paul, Silas, and the jailor (Acts 16) lived out the exact scenario that Peter outlined. When the Philippian jailor fell trembling before them and asked a question of desperation and hope, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” it was clear to the evangelists that this man was in a far different—and far better—spot than the man in Matthew 19. He was ready for the gospel. 

So Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30,31).  

God grant that we’re all prepared with questions and answers pointing to Jesus. 


James Borgwardt is pastor at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  


This is the second article in a three-part series on evangelism lessons from the account of the rich young man in Matthew chapter 19. 


*Thanks to Christian apologist Gregory Koukl for these insights.


 

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Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 1

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 1 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Introduction 

The title is one of the opening words of the book. “Revelation” is an accurate and helpful translation of the Greek word which is also rendered “Apocalypse.” Immediately we hear that the book’s ultimate author is Jesus Christ, who gives it to show (make known, reveal) what is going to take place. His intended audience is “his servants,” those who already know him and listen to his voice.  

As always, when Jesus speaks he does so not to confuse and discourage but to comfort and encourage his flock. Although his words are sometimes difficult to understand, we remember that these words are spoken by our Savior. He has spoken to us before. We look to other words he has given us, remembering that he is our Good Shepherd. He speaks in order to lead and guide us. We trust that he won’t tell us anything in this revelation that goes against other very clear words that he has revealed to us in the Bible.  

We’ll approach our study with humility, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal his truth to our hearts. These words are from God himself, through Jesus Christ, given by an angel to John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  

Conflict 

That’s important to remember! Like John, all those who hear these words are loved by the One who speaks. That’s important to remember because it wouldn’t have looked like that at first glance. It may not have felt like that to John and his fellow first-century believers. It sometimes doesn’t look or feel that way for 21st-century Christians either.  

John was in exile. He was on an island . . . literally. He had been forcibly removed from family and friends, congregation and comforts, to Patmos. Because of his faith in Jesus and his faithfulness in proclaiming the good news of Jesus, he was punished.  

The year was likely A.D. 95. The Roman Emperor Domitian was leading an active and often brutal persecution of the Christians in his empire. There was conflict for the church. They might have been asking, “Does God love us? Does he care about us? Are we precious in his sight? Are we sons and daughters of the Great King? Will he come for us?“ 

Comfort 

The church is his bride and needed to hear from her Bridegroom. She needed assurances that he was still in charge. She needed reminders of his real and unfailing love. She needed to hear that she was his precious possession and that she possessed all that was rightfully his. She needed his comfort in the midst of conflict. And that is what he graciously and generously gives her.  

We need to hear his voice too. We need comfort in the midst of our conflicts. Our prayer is that we would hear just that as we study this beautiful Revelation of Jesus.  


Reflect on the Revelation chapter 1 

  1. Read vv. 4-8. How does God comfort us in these verses? Compare these verses with 1 Peter 1:1-12 and 2:9,10.
    God—Father Son, and Holy Spirit—identifies himself at the author of this revelation. He has only our good in mind, giving us peace and grace. Consider all the blessings we have: he loves us; he freed us from our sins by his blood; he made us a kingdom; he made us priests to serve him; he is coming again. (Peter says the same things and summarizes our status before God in 1 Peter 2:9.) 

    God is Alpha and Omega and endures from the beginning of time to the end. He is everything—A to Z according to our alphabet and Alpha and Omega according to the Greek alphabet. 

  2. Read vv.9-20. In what ways is the vision of Jesus both frightening and comforting? (Note John’s reaction and Jesus’ words in verse 17.)

    Consider the way Jesus is pictured: eyes like blazing fire, feet like bronze glowing in a furnace, a voice like rushing waters, his face like the sun. These and other things about him made John fall down as if dead. But he is the son of man, like us only glorious, and he touched John gently and spoke, “Do not be afraid” He wants us to benefit from his resurrection and victory over death and hell. 

  3. Reread v. 20. Explain the comfort you can have from the vision of Jesus walking among the lampstands holding the stars in his hands. (Note: The lampstands are the churches, and the stars are the angels or messengers of the gospel.)
    Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus continues to be present in your church and in other churches as he has promised. As long as they proclaim the gospel, he holds the pastors or messengers of his truth in his hand, protecting, guiding, and caring for them and the message they proclaim.


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


This is the first article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after Dec.5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Confessions of faith: Asongo

Songs come from the hearts of African immigrants who love Jesus. 

Daniel J. Laitinen 

On a typical Saturday afternoon when most people are doing chores, watching TV, or just checking out after a long work week, you will find African native Israel Asongo making music at his church in Austin, Texas.  

Israel and his pastor have gathered a group of African immigrants from the area who meet every week to learn Bible stories, practice English, pray, eat, and sing together for the entire afternoon. With every Bible story comes a new sense of awe about God’s rich love for them. Scribbling down a weekly Bible passage in English, they are eager to practice their pronunciation.  

Then Israel plugs in his keyboard, turns up the speakers, and cues his choir. His bright demeanor is enough to fill the space. When the music begins, you are transported to a country and culture far away from a little church in central Texas. “It’s not like the music you’re used to in church,” Israel says with a smile. They worship all afternoon using every vocal chord and muscle: singing and swaying for Jesus. The music is unlike anything this church is used to.  

God’s grace in Africa 

So how did God bring about this opportunity to bless both immigrants in the Austin area and Holy Word Lutheran Church? 

Born in the Congo, Africa, Israel has had an incredible journey. His father was a Christian preacher, his mother a full-time parent of 11. His first memories of the gospel and music were with his family in the home. They would sing traditional African hymns and songs late into the evening.  

Israel’s love for sharing the gospel is inspiring. He once went into the African bush to share the gospel with a primitive—and sometimes suspicious and violent—pygmy tribe. Israel says, “If you want to share the gospel with them, you must first find a translator from their tribe willing to accompany you. Then, before you go, you must dress like them. I had to change out of my clothes and put on basically leaves you find along the way. Otherwise you are a threat and they will not speak with you. Then you must eat whatever they put before you. They roasted a small animal on a stick over a fire and told me to eat it like they do. Then, once they saw me eat it, they were pleased and said, ‘Okay. Now give us your message.’ You cannot start by just telling them about Jesus. You must start with who God is because they do not know. I told them, ‘The rocks and trees and river, these are not gods, but there is a God who created it all.’ It all takes time to teach them what they never knew.”  

Life in the Congo can be dangerous for Christians like Israel. His father was persecuted and killed for his faith. “Some of my family, I don’t know today whether they are alive or not,” he says. Faced with persecution himself, Israel made a daring escape. “Many people wanted to kill us Christians. They gathered hundreds of us in a stadium to be executed. As the executioner was on his way, we ran for the exits—some of us this way, some of us that. They began shooting. By God’s grace, I escaped.”  

After living in the bush for ten days surviving on only sugar cane, Israel crossed two countries and could have been deported back to Congo. Finally he arrived at a refugee camp in Kenya. “All by God’s grace,” he says. 

Life in the refugee camp wasn’t easy either. Divisions between religious groups, poor shelter, sickness, and persecution continued. However, Israel met his wife, began a family, and shared the gospel even in this harsh environment. Speaking six languages and understanding ten, he became a teacher and interpreter for the United Nations.  

Finally, one day he and his family were selected by lottery to be relocated in the United States. His son was very ill at the time, and the news came as a huge relief. “It was an answer to prayer!” Israel says. 

God’s grace in America 

Today Israel lives in Austin, Texas, with his family. Life in America was another major adjustment. He recalls one summer evening in his new home when he heard what seemed to be gunshots, bombs, and explosions outside. Remembering similar violence in Africa, he feared for his family’s life. He assumed that death was imminent. He gathered his wife and children into the corner of their apartment. He prayed to God to spare them. The next morning they woke up, alive. He went outside. To his amazement there was no damage or injury to people or property. It was the morning of July 5!  

One day Israel was at a store when he heard a man singing a Christian song one aisle over. Israel began singing along. The two voices found each other at the end of the aisle. They laughed and introduced themselves.  

“Do you have a church home?” Israel’s new friend Stacy asked.  

Israel said he did not.  

“You do now!” Stacy said, inviting him to his church, Holy Word.   

Months passed, but Stacy still hadn’t seen Israel in church. When they ran into each other once again, Stacy said, “Israel, come home.”  

Israel smiled and said, “I like that!”  

From then on Israel began attending Holy Word. I invited him to Bible information class. As we studied the Word together Israel soon knew he had found a home.  

“Why did you choose our church?” I asked.  

He replied, “Because you teach us about the Bible: sin and Jesus. Not every church does that.” 

One Sunday Israel approached me with a request: “I want to share what I learned here with more people like me. Can I invite some immigrant friends in Austin to meet here, sing, and learn God’s Word with you?” Within a month Israel’s Saturday group was studying God’s Word, praying, and singing. After several months, the group performed an African music concert for the congregation that drew in many visitors and other immigrants to Holy Word.  

Israel’s choir has changed the perspective of Holy Word members as well. Lynn, a weekly volunteer who brings food for the group, says, “Israel’s group is such an encouragement to my faith. Most of the choir members are older teens and young adults, and it is so inspiring to experience their joy as they worship the Lord. In their young lives they have undergone trials and poverty that I as an American cannot really imagine, yet they are filled with thanksgiving for what they have. Their joy and love for Jesus shines in their faces and through their voices. It is a blessing for our church to be able to connect with brothers and sisters from across the world, and they remind us of how much we too have to be thankful for.”  

One Saturday evening on the car ride home, a choir member asked Israel, “Why is this church doing this for us? What have we done to deserve food and kind treatment?”  

Israel replied, “Because they have Jesus in their heart.”  


Dan Laitinen is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.


Check out a short video of the African music concert at Holy Word, Austin, Texas, at https://vimeo.com/300502188 


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Author: Dan Laitinen
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Teen Talk: Addiction comes in many forms

If you suffer from an addiction, you are not alone. Jesus wants to help you. 

Dinesh Ting Tadepalli

Most days during summer break, I would wake up around 8:50 a.m., turn on the TV, and just lie on the couch. 

Here’s the problem: There are shows always airing on TV, 24/7. Because of this, I would constantly watch TV, while also constantly text on my phone. I never wanted to miss a single episode on TV or text from my phone. It was clear that I was addicted. Overall, I was pretty sluggish during summer break. I didn’t want to do anything else. 

And it did not work out for my good. Heading toward the first day of the school year, I was very lazy. Though I didn’t often watch TV during the school year, I was on my phone frequently. I was addicted to my phone. You could say my motto at that time was “First play, then work.” I wanted to know what the next message would be. I’d tell myself every couple of minutes to do my homework thoroughly and diligently. But later, I found myself cramming in my homework at the last second before school.  

My irresponsibility eventually led to a huge blow when I saw my first quarter grades. It was the worst quarterly GPA of my high school years. I wanted to hide the grades, but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t go back in time and change them. What happened happened. The toothpaste was already out of the tube, and I couldn’t put it back. My addiction was controlling my life and my grades. What happened during summer break had taken over.  

I know I’m not alone. Others daily and excessively use drugs and/or cigarettes, play video games, watch pornography, or text on their phone. They sacrifice what is important for their addiction.  

And the worst is that your addiction cannot be seen as okay, because it’s slaughtering your faith in what matters most—Jesus Christ. You think of him less and less. It may happen that what you want becomes more important than your faith.   

Jesus is what should be meaningful in your life. He lived a perfect life and died not just for your addiction, but also for all of your wrongdoings. There may be consequences of your addiction, like my poor semester grades. But God annihilated the spiritual consequence—eternal death. God doesn’t see you as a filthy sinner. Despite your addiction, he sees you as his holy and righteous child. Because of Jesus, God delights in you. 

When you remember that, you can do something about your addiction. To destroy a sinful addiction, you have to take it out by the root. If you are addicted to drugs and/or cigarettes, throw them all in the garbage. If it is video games, uninstall all your games and use your computer less frequently. If it is pornography, block it and get rid of your computer. If it is texting, power off your phone and do something that gives glory to God. You may also need to seek counseling. But what’s even more important is to stay strong in your faith. 

If you think that you’ll never get rid of your addiction, you’re actually right. You probably can’t get rid of it. But Jesus can. Nothing is impossible through him. With his strength, you can conquer your addiction. He is always by your side.


Dinesh Ting Tadepelli, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at Eastside, Madison, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Dinesh Ting Tadepalli
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Great news for WELS Home Missions

The WELS Board for Home Missions celebrated a number of milestones this September. During its fall meeting, the board approved funding for three new missions starts.  

“The significance of Home Missions authorizing three new missions is that we now have three more dedicated locations where first and foremost the gospel of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed,” says Keith Free, administrator of the Board for Home Missions. “The mission pastor and mission members will have as their first objective to reach more people with the message that makes all the difference now and in eternity—Christ crucified for the sins of all.”  

New congregations are being supported in: 

  • Bluffton, S.C.,which has developed through the efforts of Risen Savior, Pooler, Ga. The new mission in Bluffton is likely to be part of a multi-site ministry effort with Risen Savior. This effort is spearheaded by Eric Janke, a 2018 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., who deferred an assignment due to his wife’s three-year residency to become a doctor. Janke has worked with Risen Savior’s pastor and members to develop a strong ministry plan for this new mission site. 
  • Mansfield, Ohio,where a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation is closing and contacted WELS to see if our synod might be interested in opening a mission in this area. The new mission will be buying the land and building of the former LCMS church. Some of the church’s members are planning to join the new WELS mission and are working with WELS members in the area to launch this new congregation. 
  • Richland Center, Wis., which is part of a multi-site effort being supported by St. John, Hillpoint, and Trinity, Lime Ridge, both in Wisconsin. St. John and Trinity currently share one pastor, who has been exploring the viability of a mission in Richland Center. The area seems well suited for a WELS mission start, and members of St. John and Trinity are excited to support this effort.  

These new starts are being supported by a $1 million special grant from the WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc. (CEF). CEF helps provide financing so mission congregations and established congregations with mission-focused initiatives can purchase land and either build or renovate a worship facility. CEF funds its loan program through individual WELS members’ and congregations’ investments in CEF financial products. CEF’s grant program is funded primarily through operating earnings of the CEF portfolio of loans and investments. 

“CEF’s financials are strong,” says Scott Page, executive director of CEF, “allowing the board to approve this special grant while continuing to provide a sound investment vehicle for WELS members and congregations.”   

As Free notes, “Over and above its loan and grant program, since August 2015 CEF has given more than $4.3 million to Home Missions’ operations budget. This has helped fund many of our new mission congregations and helped enhance outreach throughout the United States, Canada, and the English-speaking Caribbean.” 

Free is also excited to announce that many mission congregations launched their first public worship services in September, a milestone for these young churches. Launch services were held by Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Intown Lutheran, Atlanta, Ga.; Good News, Lehi, Utah; Huntersville Lutheran, Huntersville, N.C.; and Grace in the Ward, Milwaukee, Wis.   


For more information on WELS Home or World Missions, visit wels.net/missions. For more information on WELS Church Extension Fund, visit wels.net/cef 


Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tenn.: “Preparing for a church grand opening can be tough,” says Eric Melso, pastor at Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tenn. “You have no idea how many people will show up or how many donuts you’ll need. A grand opening in a movie theater has its own challenges. Which size theater auditorium to book? Will it look full or empty? What if people fall asleep during the sermon in those nice, reclining, leather seats? As those thoughts run through your head, God simply speaks from his Word, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10). And he also proves he is a gracious God. Sixty-eight people came to be filled with hope at Living Hope’s grand opening, but the most exciting part was seeing 20 new faces from the community and 18 returning prospects.” 

Intown Lutheran, Atlanta, Ga.: Lucas Bitter, pastor at Intown Lutheran, Atlanta, Ga., preached about “A God worth knowing” in his sermon during Intown’s opening service. Bitter talked about the beautiful message of grace that lies at the heart of Christianity. After the service, four first-time visitors signed up to attend a Bible basics class.  

Good News, Lehi, Utah: “We had a great turn out for our first worship service,” says Daniel Heiderich, pastor at Good News, Lehi, Utah. “Almost all of our core group was there. A couple of people we were able to personally invite joined in worship and stuck around for the meal. Plus, we had a couple of families come from door hangers.”  

Huntersville Lutheran, Huntersville, N.C.: Doug Van Sice, pastor at Huntersville Lutheran, Huntersville, N.C., says, “As I sat in my office the day before the launch, I prayed that God would bless our launch regardless of who or how many showed up. At the end of the day, numbers are not what is most important. What is most important is that the changeless message of the gospel is preached in its truth and purity and that God’s people are edified by that very truth. Not only did God bless our worship with his Word, but he blessed it with people. He brought 62 people through Huntersville Lutheran’s doors. It was incredible! More than I could have asked for or imagined.” 

Grace in the Ward, Milwaukee, Wis.: Grace, Milwaukee, Wis., one of the oldest WELS congregations, opened a second site in Milwaukee’s Third Ward earlier this year. Grace in the Ward celebrated its grand opening worship service on Sept. 16 with a picnic following the service and a food drive for Hunger Task Force, all open to the community.


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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WELS Mission Journeys

Short-term mission trips that inspire a lifelong journey of service and outreach.

SAN CARLOS RESERVATION, ARIZONA 

This past September, four members of Pilgrim, Minneapolis, Minn., and one member of St. John, Minneapolis, Minn., spent a week on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona to pass out invitations to the Apache mission’s 125th anniversary, to help clean up the church and school campus in Peridot in preparation for the October celebration, and to organize promotional items for the event. They also spent time sharing ministry ideas and encouragement with local Apache church members. “How different the people are who receive the gospel but how the gospel that we all receive isn’t different at all!” says Paula Schmeling, one of the participants. “We were immersed with adults and children who were a different skin color, who were at a different poverty level, who were experiencing different health issues and education levels, but we all held hands in church on Sunday and heard the Lord’s beautiful message of sin and grace! This was the same message shared 125 years ago when the Lutheran church began on the Apache Reservation! God’s love endures forever!”


Learn more about Mission Journeys and how you can be involved at wels.net/missionjourneys. 


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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A special day of baptisms

“We call this “special ministry,” but it’s really just plain ministry. It is God’s people using God’s Word to carry out the mission Jesus has given us. Because Jesus cares for us, we care for others by proclaiming Jesus our Savior,” says Matt Brown, pastor at Abiding Word, Houston, Texas, when reflecting on the joyous day he performed 13 baptisms for a special family. 

Sharon has adopted 11 children, all with a range of special needs. Her life is hectic, but full of love. Through the Jesus Cares program at Abiding Word, the Holy Spirit also fill her home with Jesus’ love. 

Sharon is not a confirmed member of the congregation, but she’s been taking her kids, as the family is able, to the Jesus Cares program for a few years. More recently, members of the congregation have been making it easier for the family by visiting their house to provide Bible instruction to the children.  

This past spring, Sharon asked if her children could be baptized—all 11 of them, plus one grandchild. While the family was being instructed in the home, one of the aid workers who helps with the children’s medical needs also heard the saving message of the gospel and asked if she could be baptized too.  

On May 5, eight members of the family were baptized at the Saturday Jesus Cares service at Abiding Word. Then, because some of the children were unable to come due to health limitations, a group of members went to the family’s home to witness five more souls receive the washing and rebirth of baptism. These special children were not only adopted into a loving home; now they are also the adopted children of God. 

“Jesus Cares has taught us to recognize the opportunities that God places before us,” Brown says. “It has reminded us that ministry blessings are not necessarily financial or church membership numbers but souls for whom Jesus died, souls to whom we get to tell that good news.” 

Abiding Word has had a Jesus Cares program for over ten years. Each week the Jesus Cares Sunday school gathers around God’s Word. On the first Saturday of each month, they meet for a craft and a snack and then head to the sanctuary for a worship service. A number of the participants have been confirmed after being instructed by congregation members. The program is largely led by lay members who are able to provide instruction through materials and a curriculum from The Lutheran Home Association, Belle Plaine, Minn., the parent organization of Jesus Cares. 

“When you see the blessings of the ministry in this way, it reminds you that it’s truly about souls and serving people with the gospel. It’s not about money or finances or numbers—not that those things are necessarily bad—but it’s about communicating the gospel to people,” says Brown. 


Learn how to begin a Jesus Cares ministry at tlha.org 


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Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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One of the other nine

For what are you thankful? In every blessing, every gift, every challenge, every crisis—you can thank God for his love in Jesus.  

Jonathan P. Bilitz  

You don’t know my name. You may have read a little about me and probably have a bad impression of me. I don’t blame you. I am a small part of a famous Bible story.  

Do you remember the story of the ten lepers? You know, the one where only the Samaritan returned to thank Jesus? That’s my story. I was one who did not return. I was one about whom Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:17). There are no excuses for what I did—or better, what I didn’t do. I simply pray you learn from my failure.  

I was dead. Or at least in the hearts of those who knew me, in the minds of everyone else, I was as good as dead. Death is the sentence of leprosy. I was living apart from the people I loved, living with others who were afflicted like me. No healthy person wanted to come near me. Worst of all, leprosy had no cure. I was dead. 

Can you imagine my anticipation when I heard that the great healer, Jesus, was going to be near? You can undoubtedly picture my joy as my body became whole on my way to the priests. Maybe you wonder, What was he thinking? How could he neglect to give Jesus a simple word of thanks? 

I have no excuse. I was thinking only of myself. I thought about what I was going to do with my new lease on life. How wonderful it was to be healed! Worse than my selfishness, I had no appreciation for the real Jesus. I have replayed that day in my mind many times. Oh, for a second chance!  

That’s why I am writing this letter. Time passed before I understood how wrongly I had acted. Then I heard news about the teacher who healed me. Jesus’ tragic death saddened me deeply. I heard stories about his resurrection. But that’s exactly what I considered them—stories.  

But something changed. As I looked at my life, I felt something missing. I thought I was happy. After all, the death sentence leprosy had pronounced had been miraculously lifted. Yet something wasn’t right. 

I began to learn more about my healer, and my eyes were opened. The Spirit of God used Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection to reveal he is more than just a healer and teacher. Jesus is the Messiah about whom the Old Testament prophesied. He is the Great Prophet about whom Moses spoke. He is the Lamb led to the slaughter that Isaiah presented. Jesus is my Savior, but not only from leprosy. He is my Savior from sin and death itself! 

Suddenly the guilt of my thanklessness seemed even greater. I had offended God himself! Then I saw that Jesus’ life and death were for me. Jesus lived perfectly when I could not. He suffered the punishment that should have been mine. My sin and my guilt were completely gone—just as my leprosy had been taken away! I am at peace with God.  

My joy overflows into words and actions with only one purpose—to praise and glorify the Savior who loves me so much he healed me twice. 


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


 

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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Jesus loves me!

Memory, strength, and balance all fade slowly as we age, but one things remains: Jesus’ love. 

Eric S. Hartzell 

On Saturday afternoons, we visit some people in our town of Globe, Arizona, who don’t know their own names anymore. Their minds and their memories are going away.  

These people stay in one of several homes that take care of those who can’t remember their names and have other related ailments and afflictions. When they are taken to those homes, everyone knows that the chances are good that they won’t get well and they won’t go home again. They have a room where they stay, and many of them have a roommate. They move carefully around the hallways in their wheelchairs, or they walk slowly and uncertainly with walkers. 

A song for all ages 

Even though they may have trouble remembering their names, there is something that many of them do remember. They remember the words of the song “Jesus Loves Me.” They gather with us in little informal groups by the nurses’ station or in the gathering place of the facility where, in our case most of the time, the TV is mercifully silenced. Business is going on as usual, but something wonderful happens when the song begins. Listless eyes look up. Lips start to form words. Smiles sneak across features that were blank. And sometimes down the hallway you can see people in their wheelchairs backing out of their rooms, looking our way because they hear the sound of that song. 

We just sing the first verse of the song. That’s the one everyone knows: 

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak, but he is strong.  

Then we sing the refrain:

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so. 

Anna B. Warner wrote the words of the song around 1860. She wrote her song for children, and maybe that’s why we like to sing it so much on Saturday afternoons. Its friendly familiarity is a comfort when the world around us gets foreign and strange—and when we forget who we are and where we are.  

Jesus tells us all that unless we believe like little children we won’t enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). In these places where these dear people are, they don’t need any “big or famous” people in the room or erudite people or clever, sharp people with intellectual acumen. We are all just children singing that Jesus loves us! We are certain of that fact because the Bible has told it to us.  

Our mothers taught us to sing this song when we were little. All those years ago things were different, but this one fact wasn’t and isn’t: We know that Jesus loves us. Even in the places I would not choose to go, my Jesus loves me! There is no disconnect between the place where I am and Jesus loving me. Even though my memory is going, this much I know: Jesus loves me! You can’t sing that song and not believe and know that Jesus loves you, regardless of what has happened to you or to your memory. The Bible tells you and me so, and we know it. Our singing right now is proof that we know it.  

A song for parents and children 

It is possible to visit your own mother in one of these care facilities and realize that she doesn’t know you anymore. She who gave you your name all those years ago doesn’t remember your name anymore. On her bad days, she doesn’t even know her own name anymore. But try singing “Jesus Loves Me” to her just as she perhaps sang it to you and see what happens. Maybe her eyes will tell you what happens!  

Perhaps someday you and I may not know our names anymore—it may come to that. But if we know that Jesus loves us, we know a great deal indeed! We know everything needful. There is nothing better for anyone anywhere to know! Nor is there anything better to share with a parent. 

Sing “Jesus Loves Me” to your father if he is having trouble with his memory. Sing it even if he isn’t! Your strong father, who may not be strong anymore, will be happy when he hears that even fathers can be weak because Jesus is strong. The song is for children and the song is for all those who are weak physically and mentally, yet still children of God.  

Because it really isn’t about their weakness that they sing but about Jesus’ strength. Jesus is strong! Old age whittles away at a father’s perception of himself. He isn’t happy when he looks into a mirror and when he sees his hands shake and his voice quiver. But your father can smile and sing when he knows he is weak because his Jesus is strong. It is good for the former proud and strong father to see himself childly weak and to realize that it really is Jesus who is strong in his life and in the lives of his family. What greater legacy can a man give his children or his grandchildren than that they heard him singing “Jesus Loves Me.”  

So sing the song to him there in his room. Don’t be embarrassed to have passersby or visitors hear you singing. The work staff will be there too, maybe prowling around in the cupboard of the nurses’ station when you sing. You’ll even sometimes see these people who can’t help but eavesdrop mouthing the words and singing along. And sometimes you will see them smile and nod too. 

One more thing we do on Saturday afternoons is read Psalm 23. We ask everyone who would like to join us to do so. It is surprising how many people know the words, even if they say them in King James English. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” And just listen as we get near the end of the psalm, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” 

This leads us to sing one more song: 

I am Jesus’ little lamb;
Ever glad at heart I am.
For my shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my needs and well provides me.
Loves me ev’ry day the same.
Even calls me by my name (Christian Worship 432:1). 


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


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Author: Eric S. Hartzell
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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More than enough

We naturally want more pie and more of everything, but God has given us more than enough of his grace. 

Matthew D. Rothe 

My one-year old son can communicate with a few simple words. “Mama,” “shoes,” and “Da-da” are, as of this writing, all he has learned to say—and to my dismay, in that order. Despite his limited vocabulary, my son has no problem whatsoever letting us know when he wants more! It is unmistakably clear when he wants more food, more sleep, more story time, more pool time, more play time, more hugs.   

We want more 

He is his father’s son. In this case it is also to my dismay. Admittedly, more has often been the theme of my Thanksgiving celebrations. I will have more potatoes over which I will pour more gravy than is necessary. I will eat more pieces of pie than I should. Some of us will spend more time watching football than on any other day of the year. Others will spend the day wishing more family could have gathered together, while still others will do anything to get more time in the woods. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, some people will head to more stores, search for more deals, and spend more money on more things.  

How’s that for irony? The holiday designated for giving thanks for what we have is often spent treating ourselves to more than what we need.  

For some that’s true, but not for everyone. Many of you will wake up and give thanks to our Lord in worship instead of getting more sleep. Others may spend the day giving more time in service to others than to self and, ultimately, more praise to God.  

Yet can “more” negatively affect a Christian’s celebration of Thanksgiving? Of course. We naturally approach life with a scarcity mindset. We fear we have too little and need more to be happy, comfortable, and fulfilled.  

God’s grace is sufficient 

What if instead of scarcity, our minds could rest in a place of sufficiency? Thankfully, sufficiency is exactly what we have! What our Savior said to Paul, he says to us too: “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). That means you and I have enough! God’s grace is enough. His one-way, seeking-you-when-you-run, feeding-you- before-you-knew-you-were-hungry-type of love is enough.  

Thanksgiving is traditionally a celebration of abundance. By grace, simply having enough is equally worthy of celebration. Enough is a word often used for mediocrity, but enough in the context of a God who “is able to bless you abundantly” (2 Corinthians 9:8) with his grace is all the reason we need to give thanks!  

Our reality in Christ is that we can be thankful not only that we have enough but also that we have more than enough. Way more than enough! In all things, at all times, we have all that we need (2 Corinthians 9:8)! Because of God’s amazing grace we have more love, more forgiveness, more peace, more happiness, more meaning, and more hope than we can possibly imagine.  

This Thanksgiving, I will probably have one or three more pieces of pie than I really need, and I will inevitably end up feeling stuffed. I hope you feel full too, but not just from your Thanksgiving meal. I pray that you, whether you feel like it or not, know that you are full—stuffed full—with the abundant grace of an astounding God!  


Matthew Rothe is pastor at The Way, Fredericksburg, Virginia. 


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Author: Matthew D. Rothe
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Sorrow and outrage

John A. Braun

My heart sinks at recent headlines. The news from Pennsylvania has shaken the Roman Catholic Church. Sexual abuse—pedophilia by high ranking clergy and ordinary priests—has become public. These allegations have also surfaced in the Philippines, Austria, South America, and India.  

My heart sinks because of the victims whose lives have been altered. What frustration and anger fill their lives! But the abuse stretches into the lives of those who love them and have tried to help them. Yet the help for the wounds and scars left by trusted religious leaders was inadequate. A wall of secrecy blocked efforts to heal and comfort. Those who inflicted the abuse on these boys “weaponized faith” to maintain secrecy.  

My heart also sinks because of the pain many people beyond the victims and their families must now endure. They have been betrayed by their clergy. I’ve seen some turn their backs on the explanations provided, some walk out so filled with rage they cannot listen, and some protest the handling of the abuse. Still others call for the pope’s resignation.  

I have no joy in what I see and how it has affected and will affect so many. But I also will not adopt the pose of a Pharisee. I cannot stand in the house of God and say, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11). I know that our church has its own dirty laundry. I know that as long as we live in this world our sinful flesh remains. The darkness of sin and the paralysis of weakness lurk within each of us. 

My heart is heavy for those who hurt. Yet I find room for outrage. Men of power and influence preyed on the young they trained to respect them. My outrage extends to a systematic shell game used to hide the offenders and a structure that is built on the ordinance of celibacy. Celibacy and Holy Orders contribute to the problem. Those teaching are not biblical teaching, but human rules (Matthew 15:9). 

Such tragedies have no silver lining. They are deep and dark miasmas from which there is no exit except Jesus. Indictments, trials, and exposure of sin are only the first steps toward the light of forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7). I can only advise all those broken and abused souls—victims and all others touched by this evil—to move toward the healing of Jesus. When others abuse us in this life, Jesus stands firm in his love and compassion for all of us. We should pray for them all. 

Perhaps the deepest sadness I feel is that, for many, the healing power of the cross of Jesus may be difficult to find. Jesus made one complete and full sacrifice for sin, “once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27). “It is finished,” Jesus said. That’s the great testimony of his deep love for us—a reminder that God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). That love does not disappear in the abuse of others or in the great sins from which we recoil in outrage. It embraces the victims with healing and calls evildoers to repentance and renewal (Romans 2:4). 

What can we all learn? Pray! The days are evil (Ephesians 5:16), and that evil is real, perverse, and relentless in its efforts to corrupt every Christian no matter what denomination. Be vigilant in preserving the Lord’s truth for its power against evil. Then also demand godly behavior from those who lead us and our congregations (1 Timothy 3).  


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Confessions of faith: Johnston

A man learns that salvation is easy because Jesus has done it all, but that it cost Jesus, the Son of God, his holy precious blood. 

Wade R. Johnston 

“That’s too easy.” That was a refrain throughout my instruction in the Lutheran faith.  

I’d been kicked out of the group class. I think Pastor Karl Vertz could tell I might take a little longer and need more back-and-forth. Those who know me can understand.  

I will be forever thankful for that class. And, yet, as I studied and went through it, That’s too easy was a thought that often came to mind, if not out of my mouth.  

My Catholic upbringing 

I was raised in a good Christian home. If you’d have asked me when I was younger if I were a Christian, I probably would have said, “No, I’m Catholic,” but that would have been ignorance, not truth. I know the Roman Catholic Church in America has had its scandals, with shocking revelations coming from Pennsylvania as I write, but I had good priests. Fr. John and Fr. Joe were faithful, at least so far as I experienced.  

I was an altar boy, and I enjoyed it. It was fun being a part of the conduct of the Mass, and it drew me deeper into what the Roman Catholic Church believed and what life and death in it looked like. I was often dismissed from school to serve for a funeral. I learned the hard way not to let the incense burn me. I served for weddings when asked. I came to know the holy days and why they mattered. And, I can say, I’m glad for it. God fed me, even if the fare wasn’t as rich as what I’d later be served. And God prepared me; I was being readied for the message of unconditional grace.  

I went to parochial school until eighth grade: St. Robert Bellarmine, named after a Jesuit theologian known for his opposition to Lutheranism. My parents sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to study there. I had good teachers. I made great friends. When I was young, Bishop Moses Anderson, the first black bishop in the Archdiocese of Detroit, put his cap on me and told my family I’d be a priest someday. I have the picture to prove it.  

I went to a large public high school, once again, a good school. I was able to take a lot of advanced placement classes and other courses that challenged me to read. I really enjoyed reading about religion and religions. Later in high school I got a job dispatching semis on the weekend. I had a huge cell phone (this was well before iPhones). It made making it to church not the easiest, but my parents rightly expected me to make church a priority.  

My introduction to Lutheranism 

Here perhaps a tangent might be helpful. My mother had been raised Lutheran. She never officially became Roman Catholic. My grandparents on her side were still Lutheran, although I didn’t know much about what Lutherans were, what they believed, and what their churches were like. As I got older, I started to learn more.  

I don’t remember how I ended up going at Peace Lutheran in Livonia, Mich., for sure, but I’m guessing my mom or Grandma suggested it. Pastor Vertz didn’t mind if I brought my dispatching stuff. I also was intrigued. Peace had a nice area behind the sanctuary where I could sit and not disturb the service if I had to cut out to take a call. Those two things kept me coming back and led to me taking a class. 

I would love to say I took quickly to Lutheranism, but that wouldn’t be true. I resolved to do a thorough investigation. I had a notebook and drew two columns on page after page. I read church history and wrote notes in the “RC” and the “Luth” columns. I read the Bible and did the same. The book of Romans, which I now teach, was a mess of highlighting in that Bible. When all was said and done, I had some real thinking to do. 

My parents were amazingly understanding and patient. They were supportive of whatever I decided—whether it was remaining in the Roman Catholic Church or joining the Lutheran church. My maternal grandparents were happy but never pushed me. I grew a lot closer to Grandpa Pitts during this time. He was sick with cancer but clearly excited to see me taking such an interest in the classes. He died Dec. 21, 1995. It was the first deathbed of many at which I’d held a hand and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I was confirmed Dec. 31, 1995. I never got to commune with him, but I rejoice to know that we are of the same communion of saints and that I share the same confidence he had in a righteousness that was not his own, but freely declared his own in Christ. I still have his Bible, also marked up.  

My allegiance to Christ 

Why did I become Lutheran? When I honestly examined myself, when I thought long and hard about what the Bible, Pastor Vertz, and human experience teach about human nature after the fall, I couldn’t get around the fact that salvation was beyond my reach. We are beggars, not negotiators, before God. When sin sank in, grace made sense. I appreciated the fact that the Lutheran church was plain on the law where the Bible gave law, but refused to come up with its own excuses or laws—whether to ease up God’s demands or to exaggerate them. I was comforted by the fact that the church doesn’t have spiritual classes, that one need not forsake the world to serve God but rather God uses us when and where he places us in the world. I came to realize that justification by grace through faith isn’t too easy at all. It came at the price of God’s own blood. It involves our own death and resurrection, as the law does its work, accusing and killing, and as the Spirit does his, raising and renewing through the gospel.  

I found it freeing to know that true Lutheranism calls us to allegiance, not to an institution or to the decrees and statements of men, well-intentioned and sound as they may be or have been for their time, but to Christ himself, who is our hope and song and sermon.  

I’ve had my ups and downs, for sure, and Jesus and I have had our moments. At the end of the day, though, I find that my ministry and I both have been served best when what brought me into Lutheranism puts me in my place again—when God in his grace strips me of my pride and self-delusion and leaves me only Christ to lean on and proclaim. My hope and prayer are that the same is true for all of us and that the same will be true for the Lutheran church as well as we press forward in a world that needs nothing more and nothing less than the same, Jesus Christ.  


Wade Johnston, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at Nain, West Allis, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Wade R. Johnston
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Congregational planning provides direction and shows opportunities

September was a big month for Trinity, Waukesha, Wis. Not only did its school start its first year as a Wisconsin Parental Choice school partially so it could reach out to the lower-income Hispanic families in its neighborhood but also it found out that a Spanish-English bilingual pastor had accepted the church’s call to minister to those same families. 

This didn’t happen overnight. It was the result of God’s grace—and significant self-assessment and years of planning. 

“You take a solid look at your ministry; you listen carefully to what people are saying; and you open your eyes and take a good look around,” says Aaron Christie, pastor at Trinity. “Then you make some ministry decisions and put down some good plans. Will all these things happen exactly as you plan? Likely not. But can significant things happen in a timely manner? Absolutely!” 

The process started about four years ago when Trinity put together a five-year planning committee. Their plans were put on hold, however, when major church repairs were needed. When the church began to revisit the plans, it decided to use a synod program called Self-Assessment and Adjustment. Developed by the Commission on Congregational Counseling (CCC), this program helps congregations assess their current ministry and provides ideas and strategies for the congregation to adjust its ministry as needed. 

The process started with the congregation spending several months to put together congregational and community profiles as well as to survey its members about their views on the church and its ministry. 

Further assessment continued when a CCC counselor spent a day leading 50 congregation leaders in a Bible study about what Scripture says about various areas of ministry, including worship, outreach, youth ministry, governance, and stewardship. After this study, attendees broke out into small groups and talked about how the congregation was doing in these areas and what could be improved. The counselor then compiled a report of the key findings, listing ideas that the congregation could implement and resources that could help them. 

“You can get so focused on the everyday running of ministry that you don’t always see things that are right in front of your face, let along the big-picture items,” says Christie about the 1,450-member congregation and its ministry. “It was good to have Christian, cordial, and meaningful conversation about how we can serve the Lord of the church best with the people and the abilities that God has given us.” 

Among other things, Trinity determined that it wanted to increase its effort in reaching out in its Hispanic neighborhood. It began offering English as a Second Language classes and quarterly Spanish-language worship services. By winter 2017, the congregation had 40 people in ESL classes. It also spent the year registering its school for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Then in April 2018, Trinity received an enhancement grant from the Board for Home Missions so it could call a full-time bilingual pastor. Now with nine Choice students at its school and a new Spanish-speaking pastor coming, Trinity can move on to its next step to spread the gospel in its community. Each reached goal brings Trinity closer to its vision of becoming a church that is largely Spanish-speaking. 

Jon Hein, CCC director, says that this type of long-range strategic planning can be transformational for congregations. ““The proclamation of the gospel never changes, but how we carry it out might need to be adjusted, depending on our resources and what our community is like,” he says. “Strategic planning is assessing the current reality in your congregation and community, envisioning a desired future, and establishing goals that move you from that current reality to the desired future.  

He continues, “Once you have that vision, it allows you to make bolder moves in your ministry.” 


Learn more about the CCC and its programs at wels.net/ccc. 


 Besides offering counseling to individual congregations, the Commission on Congregational Counseling offers a weekend-long School of Strategic Planning for groups of congregations that want to improve their short- and long-term planning. Jon Hein, CCC director, says more than two dozen of these workshops have already been offered around the country.  

Aspects of this program now will be offered online. Congregations can go through modules that discuss creating a mission statement, clarifying core values, setting goals, and developing a long-range plan through a program called Comprehensive Congregational Planning.  

The first modules are now available at welscongregationalservices.net 


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Same message, same power, same promise

Mark G. Schroeder

Does this sound familiar to you? 

  • A world that is hostile to God and to all that he stands for.
  • A society and a culture that is focused on materialism and the all-consuming desire for pleasure. 
  • A culture in which traditional moral values are eroding, where families are disintegrating, where human life is devalued,and where violence is rampant. 
  • A world obsessed with all things sexual, and in which unspeakable perversions are not only tolerated but glorified.
  • A society that embraces a belief system that denies absolute truth and rejects any distinction between right and wrong, good and evil. 
  • A world in which Christian beliefs and teachings are attacked and ridiculed.
  • A religious scene in which false teachers entice more and more people with their deceptions and lies. 

If that sounds like the world and the culture we live in, you would certainly not be wrong. But, in fact, this is also a description of the Roman world at the end of the first century—the very world in which God placed his first New Testament believers to carry out their God-given mission.  

It’s tempting to look around and conclude that the world we live in is worse than ever before and that today’s challenges of reaching unbelieving souls with the gospel are greater than in the past. But in reality, things today are no different from the Roman world and pagan culture. And just as today’s world presents the same challenges to God’s church, so it also has the same opportunities for the power of the gospel to work in the hearts of people. 

Consider what God did in that world of the first century. It was only a handful of disciples that gathered around their risen Savior on a hill outside Jerusalem just before he ascended. Jesus sent that little group into a hostile world on what must have seemed like an impossible mission. But armed with the power of God’s Word and with the unbreakable promises he had given them, those first believers did not retreat from that challenge. When Jesus told them to go, they went—with joy, with commitment, and with confidence. 

And God blessed their witness. The book of Acts tells us repeatedly that, as God’s people proclaimed the gospel, the Word of the Lord grew—despite the challenges and opposition. As the Holy Spirit worked, the Word grew in the hearts of people. It grew eventually to cross the oceans and to span the centuries. It grew and spread to the point where, through the faithful witness of generations of God’s people, it came to you and to me. 

The gospel still faces hostility and opposition in today’s unbelieving world. But that powerful gospel is still at work, changing hearts, changing lives, and changing eternities. We carry out the same mission as those first-century believers, and, like them, we are reminded wherein the success of our mission lies. Our mission and our witness does not depend on us, on our own cleverness, on our will power, or on our abilities. Nor is its effectiveness in slick programs or effective marketing strategies. The strength and success of our mission is found in the power, faithfulness, and love of a God whose Spirit works through the proclamation of his Word and the administration of his sacraments. The success of our mission lies completely in the hands of the One who has promised us that his Word will not return to him empty and that the gates of hell itself will not be able to overcome his church. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Drives me crazy!

Earle D. Treptow 

“Drives me crazy!” he said, after recounting his technology woes to a friend. Maybe you’ve uttered those same words, whether about technology or something else.  

So, what’s on your list of frustrations? What drives you crazy?  

Imagine posing that question to a thousand people. A handful might likely take the high road and say that nothing really bothers them. Most, however, would be able to rattle off a list, ranging from pet peeves to more serious matters.  

Sometimes it’s situations and events. Sentences that begin with “Traffic that makes a 15-minute trip take an hour,” or “The critter that thinks my garden is its café,” or “A cell phone battery that constantly needs be recharged” all end with “drives me crazy.”  

Popular ideas and attitudes may also drive us crazy. Perhaps it’s some political news or even some popular ideas about the Bible. When articles and books simply assume that the world evolved over billions of years, those who believe that God created the world might be annoyed. The Christian may also experience frustration at the idea that gender identity is only a social construct and not something God has designed.  

Often, it’s people who drive us crazy. Some act as if the rules don’t apply to them. The sign says, “Clean the microwave after you use it,” but you have to clean it before you can use it. Sometimes it’s what people say. They know all the answers and won’t listen to anything else. For example, when they assert that homosexual relationships are perfectly normal then charge us with being intolerant when we try to offer a different view. They won’t allow us to explain that homosexuality isn’t an unforgivable sin and that the Bible’s primary message is that Jesus died for all sinners. We may well find ourselves saying, “Drives me crazy!” They drive us crazy because they defy what God has to say in his Word. They imagine that they know better than God.  

Do you know the real reason people drive me crazy? It’s because I’ve forgotten what God says people are like by nature because of the sinfulness they inherited from their parents. It’s hardly shocking that those who do not know God’s Word would hold a position contrary to it and speak passionately against it. I ought to expect that people might lash out against any who would speak against their views, because by nature they think God’s Word is foolish. 

In the final analysis, people drive me crazy because I’ve forgotten who I am. If I knew myself the way the apostle Paul knew himself—as the worst of sinners and an unworthy recipient of God’s love—I wouldn’t be so easily frustrated with others. I would recognize that, were it not for the grace of God in giving me faith, I would be thinking, speaking, and acting the very same way they do.  

When the Spirit helps me remember God’s extraordinary patience with me, I strive to be patient with others. I confess God’s truth to those who do not know Jesus as their Savior and trust him to work through it in his time. I seek to bear with my fellow Christians in love, realizing that maybe, just maybe, I drive people crazy too. And then I thank God anew for covering me with Christ and choosing not to say of me, “He drives me crazy!”  


Contributing editor, Earle Treptow is professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, and a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Scholarships encourage military veterans

“It’s just amazing how God works,” says Nicholas Mount, pastor at Grace, Geneva, Neb. 

Mount, a 2018 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., and a veteran, is referring to a scholarship he received from the Lutheran Military Support Group. Mount says the decision wasn’t easy to train for the pastoral ministry as a second-career student with a wife and family. “For us to change direction, we thought, Where is the money going to come from? So every time we received a scholarship, it was an answer to prayer.” 

He continues, “The military connection never dies. . . . So to receive a scholarship from my brothers and sisters in the military who are also Lutheran was really special for me.” 

Prof. Stephen Geiger, WLS director of financial aid, is thankful as well. “These are individuals who have decided that they are interested in serving their Lord, and one of the ways they want to serve their Lord is by serving their country. . . . And now they’re here looking to help God’s people fight in the spiritual battle. The fact that these two are coming together and they’re being thanked for their service to our country in a way that helps them pursue an even bigger mission is a beautiful thing.”  

The Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG) began offering scholarships during the 2017–18 school year to military veterans or those in the reserves who are studying for the pastoral ministry in WELS or the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). Scholarships were presented to six WLS students and two ELS students at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary.  

Erhard Opsahl, LMSG president, says the group decided to offer scholarships to encourage prior military service members to become pastors. “We would like to improve the awareness in WELS/ELS congregations of the unique sacrifices and service provided by of our military members and their families. Who better than someone who has personally experienced it?” 

He continues, “In addition to the firsthand knowledge of military life and its ups and downs, prior service pastors also have a wealth of knowledge they can use for counseling their church members with many of life’s difficulties.” 

Mount agrees that his military and life experiences uniquely prepared him for the ministry. He says the military taught him discipline and confidence as well as showed him his knack for languages. As an adult confirmand, his thirst for learning all he could about God’s Word spurred on his study.  

Mount prays that he will be able to use his military past to continue to make connections. “A lot of times, 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.” 


Learn more about the Lutheran Military Support Group at lutheranmilitary.org 


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Praise God for his blessings!

The Common Doxology is familiar to most of usWe sing it often because our hearts are thankful for God’s blessings. 

Daniel G. Baumler 

At the end of the Bible study, the pastor suggests, “Let’s close by singing “The Doxology.” How many of you are humming it already? 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Christian Worship 334). 

In Christian circles it’s considered to be one of the world’s most famous hymns. Many of you know it by heart. Some of you instantly break out into four-part harmony when you sing it. You’ve likely sung it more than any other hymn in your life. Why? Because God is worthy of such praise. 

It’s not an overstatement to say that we owe everything to our true and triune God. We owe our existence to him. We owe our salvation to him. We owe our faith to him. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost indeed! 

Look at the hymn again. As you consider your great and gracious God and all the blessings that come from him, have you ever pondered the flow of those blessings? 

The flow of blessings behind a pepperoni pizza 

Consider a pepperoni pizza. I know it’s a strange illustration for Thanksgiving. We think of turkey with all the trimmings, but just follow the flow. Consider what goes into one pepperoni pizza and all the people involved. First to come to mind is the tomato farmer who grows the tomatoes for the tomato sauce. Then think of the crust and the wheat farmer who grows the wheat for the pizza dough. Cheese? Yes, the dairy farmer provides the milk for the cheese. What about the pig farmer who provides the meat for the pepperoni? Some like bland pizza, but others want a little spice. The savory taste to the sauce and the pepperoni comes from the herbs and spices another farmer provides. Your takeout pizza comes in a box. The tree farmer provides the material for that cardboard box. Are you overcome by the flow yet?  

We can go on and consider the factories, the distribution centers, the delivery trucks, the local pizza restaurant, and all the workers behind each and every one of these steps. Think of all that flows into those things just to have your pepperoni pizza. We haven’t even begun to talk about the flow of weather the farmer needs for you to enjoy your pizza. Yet you can go to Little Caesar’s® and your $6 Hot-N-Ready® is right there to purchase. Every time, it’s right there. 

Now consider your favorite grocery store or your favorite restaurant. Walk into your pantry. Open your fridge. There it is. The flow of blessings is everywhere! It’s mind-boggling to ponder all that goes into just one pizza. It’s absolutely overwhelming to think of the billions of mouths that are fed every day with a variety of food beyond pizza. More than anything, it’s humbling, because we are so undeserving. 

The flow of blessings in the desert 

Before the children of Israel came to the land flowing with milk and honey, blessings from God flowed to them in the desert. Every morning, other than the Sabbath, manna was there. In the evenings, the wind brought quail. When water was scarce, it flowed from a rock. The Israelites were never without.  

Yet in spite of the flow, God’s people had the audacity to whine and complain. “They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’ ” (Numbers 21:5). What? They did have bread, the manna, every day. They did have water, from a rock, on more than one occasion. No wonder then that “the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died” (Numbers 21:6). 

How easy it is to feel all self-righteous and think the children of Israel got what they deserved. You wouldn’t whine and complain like that, would you?  

Would you? While the blessings flow, how many of us grouse because we don’t know what to eat for supper? It always seems to be the same grub. While the blessings flow, how many of us can’t believe the store is out of the item we wanted? How dare they!  We ask, “Where’s the manager?” While the blessings flow, how many of us get on the phone to put the customer service rep in his place because someone processed our order wrong? Never mind letting our light shine or being the salt of the earth. Someone’s got to know how angry we are.  

Honestly, venomous snakes don’t seem enough punishment for our ridiculous whining and complaining. Paul knew what he was saying in Ephesians when he observed “we were by nature deserving of wrath” (2:3). 

The flow of blessings from our Savior 

But that venomous snake story didn’t end with just a bunch of dead whiners. Something else flowed that day, greater than any manna or quail or water. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness flowed. The children of Israel repented. “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived” (Numbers 21:8,9). 

How many times have you heard it flow from God’s heart through the pastor’s lips: “Grace, mercy, and peace are yours in abundance from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”? Those blessings flow because, “just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14,15). Immediately after those two verses flows John 3:16. You know it as well as the Common Doxology, right?  

Set the pepperoni pizza aside and consider the blessings that flow every time we go to church. Isn’t the greater wonder the inexhaustible flow of grace from Christ when we worship? Ponder that flow for a moment. When we confess our sins, absolution for those sins freely flows. We hear the saving news of Christ crucified and Christ risen, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding freely flows. We come forward to receive the body and blood of our Savior together with the bread and the wine, and forgiveness freely flows. Notice the emphasis on freely? Through faith in Jesus, all these blessings are ours. Every time we come, every time we repent, every time we hear, every time we receive, those blessings are there. God’s saving love is there. Not one of us is ever without. 

If you think about the flow of blessings, you can understand why the cornucopia is a symbol or picture of Thanksgiving. There is also a reason the cross stands on or above our altars. The flow is always there.  

Sing it: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  


Daniel Baumler is pastor at Christ our Redeemer, El Paso, Texas.  


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Author: Daniel G. Baumler
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Soul-searching

God gives the sword to take human life. He also provides forgiveness and comfort to those troubled by the power he gives. 

Paul C. Ziemer 

The e-mail read, “I think I am losing my soul.” 

It came from a member of one of the very elite groups within the U.S. Armed Forces at the height of combat operations in the Middle East. And it came from a new Christian. 

“I am too good at killing.” 

He had lived apart from God until war had made him face the very real possibility of death. Now he was facing the reality that he was very good at killing others. 

During his second deployment, a buddy shared e-mail devotions with him that were sent out by WELS Military Services. When he returned, he and his wife sought out the WELS congregation near his home. They were welcomed by wives who knew what it was like to send loved ones into harm’s way—and husbands who knew the burden of killing. 

But most of all, they were welcomed by their Savior, and they knew it. 

The warrior eagerly embraced the message of forgiveness in Jesus and adoption into his family. Another person might have used the expression, “I found faith,” or “I found God.” He said, “I found my soul.” 

When his unit was deployed again, he went with the words of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” singing in his heart. Then the music stopped. He was a highly decorated warrior, one of the best of the best. He knew what his superiors thought of him. They praised him. But now, as a Christian, he began to wonder what his God thought of him. 

Thus the words, “I think I am losing my soul. I am too good at killing.” 

Then he did the unheard of. He asked to be removed from combat situations. His primary purpose in life had been to defend his country by killing its enemies. Now he lived to serve his Savior faithfully. He did not think he could do both. 

Surprisingly, he was not rebuked for taking this step. He returned stateside as a hero and rewarded with some choice assignments.  

He was at peace—until further soul-searching found a guilty conscience. In his words, “It burned my heart to think that I was safely in America living the good life, while my battle buddies were still fighting for their lives in the war zone.” 

He returned to war with the confidence that he was serving the Lord by defending his country. He had studied through the Bible passages that declared that God had instituted the government to protect its citizens. He knew that St. Paul had written that the ruling powers did not hold the sword in vain (Romans 13). He understood that today’s warriors are given automatic weapons instead of swords.  

“I know I belong here!” he wrote. “If I die here, Chaplain, I know I will see you in heaven.” 

“Why has God turned his back on these people?”  

Once again, his soul was at peace—until something happened that made him question the love of God. 

“Why has God turned his back on these people?” he asked in anguish. Then he explained why his soul was tormented. 

“On my last patrol, a young woman ran up to me and begged for my help. Her nose and ears had been cut off. She said this was done by the man her parents had given her to as a bride. His excuse was that she had not obeyed him well enough. 

“When she turned to her parents for help, they told her she deserved what happened. She needed to obey more quickly. The village elders told her the same thing. 

“When she saw my patrol walking with the American flag patch on, she ran up, grabbed my arm, and wouldn’t let go.”  

He had seen other sad sights in this turbulent country. It had made him shake his head and wonder how these people could live this way. Now he was wondering how God could allow it. 

Once again, the warrior was searching for his soul. He was asking the question, “Does God not care about these people?” 

The answer he received from me was the assurance that the love of God is not limited, and though there have been times in history when he rejected a nation, he had not yet done it to this one. 

“Alan, you are living proof of his love for these people who still do not acknowledge him as Lord! He sent you to be there for this woman in need. Your patrol was his rescue squad. You are not there only to take lives but also to save lives. Now you know one of the reasons you were led to return to this dangerous and desperate land. You came not just as an American. You are there as a servant of the God of grace and glory to carry out his work.” 

“He is the one your soul is searching for!” 

When Baptism brought us into the kingdom of God as infants, we grew up with the Holy Spirit within our soul. As we aged, questions grew within us. Sometimes we wondered about the ways of God, and sometimes we questioned them. 

But many of us knew that we already had the answers. Loving Christian relatives and teachers had given us answers even before we began to ask the questions. We merely needed to remember what we already knew. 

We are an answered people. We know where to look for even more answers. 

Those who come to saving faith as an adult begin with a backlog of unanswered questions. Most don’t yet know those wonderful Bible stories and probably have memorized few of the Bible verses we treasure. Those who have not yet come to faith are in greater need—even if they don’t know it. 

That’s where we come in.  

We might not be on patrol with an American uniform, but we are in the Armed Forces of our God. We have been recruited, trained, and deployed to a place that we describe with the words, “I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home” (Christian Worship 417). 

We see the misery and trouble of the people who pass through our lives. We want to offer them the freedom we have and the heavenly citizenship we own. But often it seems there is little we can do, and few of them want our help. 

But they are watching us. Our faith is the uniform we wear. It makes some wonder if they could be like us. 

They might be afraid to ask. They may be worried about the reactions of relatives and friends if they reach out to us. Yet, some of them will take that risk. 

The Savior God has not turned his back on the people with whom we mingle. He knows the needs of their souls. He knows us. He has sent us out into this world as his representatives. 

When he leads people to cross our path, we will do what Alan did. We will offer them the protection of the Commander that we serve and of the angels under his command. We will point them to Jesus.  

We will tell them, “He is the one your soul is searching for!” 


Paul Ziemer, a retired pastor who serves as the National Civilian Chaplain for the WELS Military Services Committee, is a member at Abiding Faith, Cape Coral, Florida. 


WELS Military Services offers spiritual resources for those in the Armed Forces. Sign up at wels.net/refer. 


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Author: Paul C. Ziemer
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 10

Haggai: “A need for peace”

Thomas D. Kock

Mom was visiting; the phone call about Grandpa was for her. “Your father just had a massive heart attack; we don’t think he’ll make it. If you want to see him, you better come now!” Shaken, Mom asked me to drive the one-hour trip.  

What did we need? On the way, I suppose we could have talked about my need for a new car, our favorite football team, or politics. But with Grandpa’s life hanging in the balance, none of that seemed important.  

Our real need 

Haggai wrote in 520 B.C., 16 years after a small group of exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. Almost immediately they began rebuilding the temple.  

And then they stopped. God confronts them: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house [the temple] remains a ruin?” (1:3). They had been busy with planting and working for themselves.  

But God says, “What you brought home, I blew away” (1:9). Why? “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house” (1:9). They thought they needed houses, crops, and wages, but they needed something far more important.  

So many of us in America have been blessed with so much. This Thanksgiving many of us will give thanks for food, clothes, jobs, houses, cars, boats, and so much more. Yes, those are blessings!  

But those aren’t the things we really need! Racing down the interstate to try to see Grandpa, I didn’t care about my car, my clothes, or the football team. God’s peace—that’s what I needed.  

Peace was what the Israelites needed too. For them, it was connected to building God’s house, so God urged them on.  

God fills that need 

And the Israelites listened! They resumed work (cf. 1:12-15). But this temple they built paled in comparison to Solomon’s grand temple, and the people became discouraged. God asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” (2:3). 

Keep building, God told them! For God promised: “ ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty” (2:9). Why so? The builders needed to look forward to the coming of the Messiah. The buildings—even Herod’s temple—were nothing compared to the arrival of the One who would bring peace. “ ‘In this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (2:9). The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus centuries later near this building would bring peace.  

Peace! That’s what I need. Peace of knowing that my sins are forgiven, that I’m going to heaven! Peace between me and my God! The peace that God earned—that’s what I really need!  

When we got to the hospital, Grandpa was dead. Or to put it far better, Grandpa was with Jesus, his Savior, and he was at peace.  

And so are we, now and forever.  

That’s what we really need.  


Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.


This is the tenth article in a 12-part series on minor prophets.


HAGGAI

Lineage: Haggai is described only as a “prophet.” 
Date of writing: August–December, likely 520 B.C. Zechariah is a contemporary. 
Unique feature: The words “LORD Almighty” occur about 14 times in 38 verses.
Key verse: 2:9: “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place, I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Give thanks for gospel partnership

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6. 

Peter M. Prange 

It’s worth celebrating. 

Exactly 150 years ago last month, on Oct. 21–22, 1868, ten pastors representing two church bodies met in Milwaukee to discuss possible gospel partnership.  

Unity of the Spirit 

For more than a decade, their Lutheran synods made accusations and counter-accusations, especially in print. In many ways, they hadn’t really taken the time to listen to one another and to understand one another’s story in Christian love. But now they put down their swords for a moment, opened their Bibles and their hearts together, and discovered a wonderful reality: They shared “the unity of the Spirit,” a unity God had called them to keep “through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  

After less than two days together, these representatives of the Wisconsin and Missouri Synods recognized each other as members of “orthodox Lutheran church bodies” and quickly resolved to “practice pulpit and altar fellowship.” The Missouri Synod’s theological giant, C.F.W. Walther, was said to have uttered a memorable lament about his newly-discovered Wisconsin brothers: “If we had known all this before, we might have been united ten years ago already” (The History of the Wisconsin Synod, pp. 129,130). 

It is a rare thing when believers agree on the teaching of the Scripture. It is sad to note that even this great fellowship has deteriorated and broken since that start 150 years ago. 

Fellowship of faith 

Fellowship is a precious blessing. The apostle Paul understood not only how precious it was but how important. As a faithful apostle of Jesus, he was determined to celebrate the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace and to be thankful to God for his gospel partnership with others. 

True, Paul had a sharp, theological mind and could debate scriptural teaching with the best of them (Acts 9:20-22; 17:2-4). When people stubbornly denied indisputable, scriptural truths, he shook the dust off his feet and moved on (Acts 13:46-51; 18:4-8). 

But Paul craved unity and pursued it feverishly. Like Jesus, he was exceedingly patient toward those who trusted in the Savior yet struggled to grasp his sometimes “hard-to-understand” (2 Peter 3:15,16) teaching. Paul learned that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). He realized that even inspired apostles were not finished products in knowing and understanding every sacred truth (1 Corinthians 13:12). God’s broken people live and die by faith alone, hopeful that the Spirit who began the “good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Only then will knowledge and understanding be perfectly complete. 

Until then, God’s people stumble along together imperfectly, united spiritually in the bond of peace. Yes, there are believers in many visible churches, but we don’t all believe the same. Sadly, we note those who do not teach God’s truth and avoid them for the sake of our own faith and to be faithful witnesses to God’s truth—like Paul. But we can thank God that we are not alone in our knowledge and trust of Jesus as the world’s only Savior. So we celebrate our deeper blessed fellowship of faith, pray for others with joy, and give thanks for the Lord’s work in creating faith in human hearts. 

It’s worth celebrating. 


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


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus

When we defend our faith, we have to be ready. We must study the Word. 

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

“You always go back to the Bible. I like that,” Dylan said as he plopped himself on a chair in my office for the third time that week. He wandered into our building a few months earlier, and we formed a friendship. Through our visits, one thing had become glaringly obvious: Dylan hungered to hear about Jesus’ love for him. 

Dylan expressed a frustration with his church. He felt organized religion let him down. He had been raised in a religious system where rules needed to be followed and threats for disobedience were real. He felt stifled by the rules and concluded that he was a complete failure. He needed help. He needed hope. He needed truth. The purpose and meaning of life became his quest. He needed Jesus. 

I panicked a bit about what to say. Do I defend the merit of belonging to a church and ease his discomfort with organized religion, or do I explain to him the errors of his previous church body? I decided to do neither but to read through Ephesians 2:1-10 with Dylan. He posed many questions. He listened. We read over some of the verses again. He wanted to hear again especially verses 8,9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Those words led Dylan to an eye-opening conclusion. “So,” he said to me, “living a good life doesn’t save me?” 

Dylan and I have conversed many times in the year or so since that meeting. We read the Bible together. I pray for him. He asks questions and tells me what he thinks a verse from the Bible means. He even came to church a few times. He still is not sure that he is ready to commit to join another church, but he enjoys hearing again and again the good news about Jesus. He visits me to confess his sins, because he yearns to be told he is forgiven in the blood of Jesus. He often remarks how free he feels because he is required to do nothing to be saved. Jesus has done it all. 

The Bible and the Holy Spirit 

It may have been our third meeting when he brought his Bible along with him. He had been reading it and had some questions on things he was reading. I thought that was amazing! Why? I’m not sure. We never want to underestimate the power of God’s Word. That Word changes hearts. It changes lives. It never returns to God empty but accomplishes what he desires and achieves the purpose for which he sent it (cf. Isaiah 55:11). God had provided me a front-row seat to watch the Spirit go to work in this young man’s heart. He did that work, not through my words, but through the Bible’s message. 

“You always go back to the Bible,” Dylan said as I tried to find a section in Scripture that answered his questions. His words were a revelation to me—a sudden sincere comment I had taken for granted. I had shared the gospel with him, and it was not just human opinion. The message had divine origin. 

That’s the Bible—the God-breathed words that give life and salvation. The Word is the way God reveals himself and his will to us in this world. The Bible delivers vital information that is found nowhere else. What God highlights in his Word is Jesus. He enlightens us to see Jesus as the way to be saved. The apostles said it this way: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 Evangelical Lutheran Heritage [EHV]). Yes, what the Bible contains is grace, the promise of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus and his cross even when—especially when—we fail.  

Dylan’s hunger for the life-giving gospel brought him into our building. God did the rest through his Word. He filled the emptiness with God’s love. He replaced fear with trust, and despair with hope. That’s the power of the Word. That’s the power of grace. Human words are no replacement for the message of Scripture. 

To our world, wisdom is not found in the cross, but in the intellect of human beings. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Maybe we fall victim to that trap more often than we care to admit. “If only I could say the right words . . . If only I could come up with the best arguments.” We don’t have to come up with the best defense. God does not require us to craft the finest sounding arguments. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (cf. Romans 1:16). 

Release the lion 

Charles Spurgeon, a 19th-century preacher, compared the Bible to a lion. To defend a lion, you simply need to let it out of its cage. So it is with the Bible. Spurgeon, when asked about defending his faith, offered his advice this way: “Many suggestions are made, and much advice is offered. This weapon is recommended, and then another. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion. Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.” 

That quote illustrates an important lesson when we consider defending our faith. We have the perfect defense: God’s own words. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “For even though we walk in the flesh, we do not wage war in the way the sinful flesh does. Certainly, the weapons of our warfare are not those of the flesh, but weapons made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down thoughts such as all arrogance that rises up against the knowledge of God, and we make every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 EHV).  

When sharing with others the hope that we have, our greatest weapon is being grounded in the Bible, the source of truth. Study the Word. Continue to be a student of the Bible. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. In your own heart, set apart Jesus as Lord. When it comes to answering questions, find comfort that it is not based on your own ideas but on what our Mighty God has revealed in the Bible. 

“You always go back to the Bible.” May God bless us through his Word so that others who listen to the truth about Jesus from us recognize the Bible as the source of all blessings—especially forgiveness for sin and the sure hope of eternal life. 


Jon Bilitz is campus pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin.  


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


What’s your story? How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear your stories. To whom in your life did you reach out? What barriers did you have to overcome? How do you prepare yourself for these outreach opportunities? 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: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Account of the rich young man: Part 1

The man who walked away 

James F. Borgwardt 

Imagine this scenario. You’ve been planning to invite your neighbor Dave to an upcoming service at your church. He’s gone through some dark times recently, and you know it’s time that you finally work up the nerve to ask him. It’s a Saturday morning, and you see that he’s out working in his yard. 

You’ve rehearsed different ways the conversation might go. Something like: “Dave, do you have any plans for Christmas Eve? If not, we’d love for you to join us for candlelight worship at Redeemer. It’s one of our favorite services of the year. It’s a beautiful service that tells how God brought light into this dark world when Jesus was born. I think you’d enjoy it.” 

You say a quick prayer and walk over to your neighbor. The conversation begins with some natural small talk before you transition into the invitation.  

Dave pauses. He hadn’t expected this from you. When he does speak, his disjointed thoughts meander back to his experience in the church he last attended as a teenager. 

He didn’t have many fond memories. You acknowledge that your church isn’t perfect, either, but the messages you hear and the friendships you’ve found there have been a great blessing.  

He politely ends the conversation by stating that he’s not very religious and then adds that he needs to finish some work before the football game starts. Before you can reply, he walks away. 

Witnessing goals 

Was that a failed witness?  

I suppose that depends on how you understand your witnessing goals. If the goal for your witness is to bring an unbeliever to saving faith in Christ, then get ready for endless failure. You’ll never accomplish your goal. Ever. You cannot change a person’s heart. That task is reserved for someone far more powerful—God the Holy Spirit. 

If the goal for your dialogue is to prove the truth of the Bible, you may win some arguments. But the poor soul that you embarrassed with your superior debating skills may still turn away. You could win the argument and lose a soul.  

Jesus never send us into the world with the words, “You will be my lawyers.” Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  

When you have another opportunity to witness, make sure you are clear that your goal is not to convert anyone. It’s not even to convince anyone. It’s simply to converse with them—to talk with them about your gracious God.  

And if someone walks away from you, don’t get down. It wasn’t a failure. After all, people walked away from Jesus too. And Jesus was not a failure. 

Two examples from Jesus 

People responded in all sorts of ways to the Savior’s witness. Sure, some came to saving faith that very day, like the Samaritan woman at the well, the tax collector, Zacchaeus; and even the criminal on the cross. 

But not everyone was converted on the spot. Consider Nicodemus in John chapter 3.  

In this profound nighttime conversation, the Pharisee was the first to hear the beautiful gospel summary of John 3:16. How did he respond to Jesus? We don’t know. John doesn’t record the man’s reaction. John simply leaves Nicodemus in the darkness as the gospel account moves forward.  

But if we’re patient and keep reading, we see clear evidence of saving faith many months later. When the beaten body of Jesus hung from the cross outside of Jerusalem, Nicodemus must have watched the events all unfold. No doubt he recalled Jesus’ words from that private conversation: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14,15).  

John reveals Nicodemus as the believer who stepped out of the shadows, lowered Jesus’ lifeless body to the ground, and helped lay him in the tomb. I love how John tells us the rest of the story with Nicodemus.  

In Matthew 19, there was another man who, like Nicodemus, enjoyed a life of privilege in Jewish society. And like Nicodemus, Jesus lovingly engaged him in a conversation about eternal life. But unlike Nicodemus’ story, we only hear of this man’s initial conversation with Jesus. Without a name given, he is often referred to by Matthew’s description as the rich young man.  

The account of Jesus’ conversation with this man teaches us lessons in evangelism that we’ll study the next couple of months. For now, we’ll begin with the ending. Jesus’ last words to him were an invitation: “ ‘Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad” (Matthew 19:21,22). 

The man walked away.  

We don’t hear about him again. He walked away and may well have stayed away. Jesus told us in a dozen different ways that this will happen for many people who will listen to our witness of Christ and will ultimately reject him and remain lost. 

The rest of the story 

Yet there will be plenty of others who may walk away at first, but—like Nicodemus—will have a “rest of the story.” 

Allow me to share one of those stories.  

J.T. was a man who had some Christian background from childhood, but he hadn’t been to worship in many years. In his young adult life, he even developed a strong aversion to preachers and the church. He once told his wife he wouldn’t give them the time of day. Yet, on a sweltering night in Georgia in July, he answered a knock at the door. The young pastor on the doorstep had just been ordained the week before and was meeting the neighbors in his early efforts to establish a new Lutheran church. 

When something like this happened in the past, J.T. would quickly close the door and walk away. That’s what his wife, Paige, expected him to do on this occasion. Instead, he listened. More than that, he invited the stranger inside. A few months later, J.T. and Paige finished our mission congregation’s first adult instruction class and Paige was baptized. 

Paige and I both found out why J.T. was willing to listen to me that night. During his last military deployment in Europe, he had hit a noticeable rough patch. A caring chaplain approached him and sat down with him. That Christian man shared compassion and God’s Word with J.T. at a time he needed both. Afterward, J.T. told himself that the next time he came across a preacher he would handle it differently. He would listen to the next pastor who wanted to speak with him. The next evangelist just happened to be me. 

Only God knows where he may put us in a line of witnesses on someone else’s path So be ready with your witness. And be ready for some to walk away. If it happened to Jesus, it’ll happen to you. But also pray another Christian down the road will witness again.  

Not all who walk away will stay away.  


James Borgwardt is pastor at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  


This is the first article in a three-part series on evangelism lessons from the account of the rich young man in Matthew chapter 19. 


 

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Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can I help my son grow into a godly man?

How can I help my son grow into a godly man? 

This month Rob Guenther writes about one of parenting’s essential questions—at least for those of us with boys. How can we help our sons grow into godly men?  

Guenther wrestled with this question and came up with a plan to help prepare his son for manhood. Read on to see what the “Man-up challenge” was all about, how you can adapt the challenge for your family, and how it really applies to all Christians. 

Do you have advice to share? We’d love to hear from you! Share your perspectives on being a godly man—or woman.  

Nicole Balza


“What does it mean to be a man?” That question ran through my mind as I considered that this might be my last year to have much influence on my oldest son, Josiah. Living in Alaska, my wife and I planned to send Josiah to Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., for high school. And that meant that his eighth-grade year was his last year at home. So, here’s what I proposed to Josiah: “Let’s challenge each other to ‘man up’ in three areas of life. Let’s grow stronger physically, mentally, and especially spiritually so that, with our strength, we can help those weaker than us (physically, mentally, and spiritually) to show our thanks to Jesus.”  

That became the beginning of the “Man-up challenge” for Josiah and me. So, what did the “Man-up challenge” look like? We discussed it and agreed that we would take Saturdays and Sundays off (or use them to “catch up” where we fell behind), but each weekday we would do push-ups (starting with one on the first day of school, doing two on the second day, etc. until we reached 100 push-ups per day), read a few pages of a book that would help us become lifelong learners (hoping to work through one book a month for ten months), and read a chapter of our Bibles (it just so happens that there are 260 chapters in the New Testament and almost exactly the same number of weekdays in a year). We printed out monthly charts that we could “check off” when we met the challenge for the day. And we left Saturday and Sunday to make up what we missed. 

At the start of the school year, we both struggled with 20 pushups. At the end of the school year, we could consistently do 100 pushups (sets of 25 four times a day), felt leaner and stronger, had some great discussions on what it means to be a godly man (looking for that theme in the books we read and especially in the New Testament), and grew in our relationship and in our faith.  

I asked Josiah what he learned over the course of the year and wasn’t surprised to hear him say: “I learned it was tough to keep our commitment. And I learned it was way easier when you pushed me to do it.” That’s what I learned too. 

Lesson #1: We need each other. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9,10). 

There were many days that I really didn’t feel like doing any more push-ups. But I knew that as soon as he got home from school, Josiah was sure to ask, “How many push-ups have you done so far today, Dad?” And I didn’t want to let him down by saying, “Zero.” So I got to it and did a set or two. Likewise, there were plenty of days that Josiah didn’t want to read a chapter of a book on church history I had chosen. But he knew I was going to nag . . . er . . . encourage him when I found out he had skipped two days in a row. We had to encourage each other along the way.  

And that’s not just true of a “Man-up challenge.” It’s true in life. There are times that I need a brother in the faith to pull me aside and lovingly rebuke me and offer a word of encouragement. It is so hard to preach the law to yourself, perhaps even more difficult to preach the gospel to yourself. We need each other. We need to cultivate close friendships with other Christians who will hold us accountable, lovingly tell us when we’re doing something stupid, or encourage us to keep going when we’re ready to give up.  

Lesson #2: We need more than each other. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24,25).  

As we made our challenge known to other men in the congregation, they too would hold us accountable in their own way. They wouldn’t nag us but would occasionally ask, “How’s the challenge going?” or “How many push-ups are you up to today?” or “How far into the New Testament have you made it?” This not only encouraged us to keep going, but it also encouraged them. Some joined us in reading their Bibles. Others tried the push-ups themselves. It became a bit contagious.  

But then, some of the men of the congregation got involved directly in our challenge. “Your son needs to learn how to change the oil in a car. I know you can’t do that, Pastor. So come over on Saturday. I’ll show you both how.” “I’ll teach you how to operate a chainsaw, Pastor, so you can teach your boys.” It takes a village to raise a child. And I am very thankful for the godly men in our church who taught my boys some life skills, but even more so, who modeled a humble and quiet confidence in God’s promises and a willingness to serve others in thanks.  

And this is true not just in a “Man-up challenge,” but also in life. God puts us together in communities, in the body of believers, where some are gifted with some skills and others have gifts in different areas. We all need one another. And what better place to find that community than in the church. Of course we need to go to church to hear the Word and receive the Sacrament. But we also need it to spur one another on and to encourage one another in our faith and in our life.  

Lesson #3: We need forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). 

We didn’t always do well. A day off of school, a busy week in Lent, or a week of tests would break the routine, and no push-ups or reading would be done. When we fell too far behind to catch up (400 push-ups is a lot to do on a Sunday afternoon!), we would declare a “Day of Jubilee” where all debts were canceled. We’d do a “reset” and start over on Monday, forgiving all the times we missed.  

We didn’t do the “Man-up challenge” perfectly, but when we failed, we owned it, we gave and received forgiveness, and we started all over again. And each time we reset, we did a little bit better than we did the last time. While it wasn’t a perfect run, we are both better—stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually—having made the attempt.  

Of course, this too is a lesson for life. We need forgiveness. Often. We need a regular reminder of what our Savior has done to win that forgiveness. But that forgiveness isn’t a license to wallow in our sin. It frees us to get back up and try again . . . and again . . . and again. And when we mess up—and we will—we go back to the cross to find forgiveness and the strength to give forgiveness. And that forgiveness drives us to try again to live for him with all that we are—body, mind, and spirit.  

Lesson #4: Celebrate the success! “The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great” (Nehemiah 8:17). 

When the challenge was over, Josiah and I hiked to the top of a mountain. At the top, even though we were already tired from the hike, we “manned up” and each did 100 more push-ups. We talked about the lessons that we learned during the “Man-up challenge,” the things we wanted to continue, the things we’d try to do better.  

At the top of the mountain, I then presented him with a set of printed “dog tags” that reminded him that he would always be loved—by me, but more important, by God. I gave him a copy of a book that I’d been editing over the course of the year—a book written by the godly men in his life—church members, uncles and grandparents, teachers, and strangers that he’d never met but who helped me to “man up.” They all shared their thoughts on what it means to be a Christian man and gave their advice to Josiah.  

We descended the mountain and continued the conversation over lunch to conclude our celebration. And with a sense of accomplishment, we gave thanks to God for helping us grow as men.  

We still have a lot of manning up to do—both of us. But we’re on the right track. And with God’s help, we’ll continue to grow stronger—mentally, physically, and spiritually—that we might better help others in thanks to God for all he’s done for us.  


To read a compilation of the advice Guenther received for his son, check out Man Up, Josiah! Advice on Being a Godly Man at amazon.com


Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, are raising four boys. They recently moved from Kenai, Alaska, to New Ulm, Minnesota.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Light for our path: Changing the Lord’s Prayer

Where in the Bible do I find that we rise to the east at the resurrection? 

James F. Pope

Addressing your question provides an opportunity to look at cemetery layouts, worship spaces, and the Last Day. 

Rising to a direction 

There is no passage in the Bible that states definitively that the dead will rise to the east, but over the years Christians have used various Bible passages as a reason for burying the dead with an eastward orientation: facing the east. Matthew 24:27 is one of those passages. Jesus said about his appearance on the Last Day: “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” The thrust of Jesus’ words is that his visible return on the Last Day will be evident to all at once—like a flash of lightning. Other Bible passages with an eastward orientation include Genesis 2:8; Isaiah 63:1; Ezekiel 43:1,2; and, Zechariah 14:4. 

A fascinating and unusual variation is that sometimes pastors were buried facing west. Why the difference? The thinking was that the resurrected pastors would be in a position, literally, to minister to people around them.  

Christians have used the Bible passages cited—and others—for guidance in serving the dead and the living. The thought that the Lord will return visibly from the east led to church floorplans that positioned individuals, standing or sitting, facing eastward when they worshiped. The rising sun that lit up the stained-glass windows before their eyes reminded worshipers of the returning Son.  

Rising to a division 

Rather than emphasizing which direction will be the starting point of the Lord’s return on the Last Day, the Bible points our attention to the division of humanity that will take place on that day. Jesus said, “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28,29).  

At death, when body and soul separate, judgment takes place, and souls go immediately to heaven or hell (Hebrews 9:27). On the Last Day, God will raise the bodies of all people and reunite bodies and souls. There will be a public proclamation of the private judgment that took place at people’s deaths, as well as a judgment of those who are alive on the earth on the Last Day (Matthew 25:31-46). Those with saving faith, evidenced by “doing good,” will “rise to live.” Those without saving faith, shown by “doing evil,” will “rise to be condemned.” The dead will be raised to go, body and soul, in different directions: to heaven or hell. 

A few years ago, I stood in Kensal Green Cemetery in London, England, marveling at a mausoleum. While the crypt had an aged and weathered look about it, the confident claim atop one of the walls was still very much legible: “I shall arise.” That statement applies to everyone who dies. God will raise all the dead on the Last Day. There is no question about that. The only questions are what will happen after that and where will people—body and soul—spend eternity. As Christians, what a blessing to know and believe God’s promise that we “will rise to live.” 


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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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: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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