He’s got the whole world in his hands

Although God’s plans for her are still unknown, a college student places her life into her Savior’s hands. 

Elisabeth Hahm 

“I don’t know what’s wrong,” he said. “I see no reason why an 18-year-old girl’s hands don’t work. This should be the peak of your health.”  

The hand surgeon was apologetic, but he remained detached and businesslike as he continued, “Unfortunately, I don’t know where to go from here. I’m sorry, but you’ve hit a dead end.” 

It was Christmas break of my freshman year of college. I had experienced a rough first semester. My hands, which had always gotten sore and weak after playing too much piano, suddenly stopped working. They would grow cold and stiff, the circulation became poor, and they simply didn’t function. I could hardly type or write. I stopped playing my beloved piano, and I had to drop the organ class I was taking. Living the life of a college student became a daily struggle and required concessions from my professors.  

By the time I visited the hand surgeon, I had already seen my family’s doctor, a therapist, and a neurologist. I had undergone numerous tests: blood drawn, X-rays taken, and shocks sent up and down my arms to check the nerves. No one had a solution. This hand surgeon was our last hope. But he didn’t have answers either. 

Driving home from that appointment, it was all I could do to hold back bitter, sorrowful tears, but I knew if I started crying my mom would start too. We were desperate and discouraged. My mind was restless as I pondered the same questions over and over again. I wondered why my hands didn’t work like everyone else’s. I wondered if I would ever play piano again or learn how to play organ. I wondered if I could complete the music minor I had hoped for. I wondered why the doctors couldn’t help me. 

That evening my dad set up a speech-to-text program on my computer. As I tried to make sense of my life, my thoughts tumbled out of my mind and onto the screen, and I spoke the first draft of this very article. 

Some days life is just rough, but God is with me. He gives me the strength to go on, and he also gave me loving family and friends to support me. I am immensely blessed. Still, sometimes my tears fall, rolling silently down my cheeks when I’m on the phone or storming in a violent downpour when I’m alone. 

But it’s okay.  

I have realized that nobody’s life is perfect; everyone has trials. Life is a rocky road that dips and falls. The gravel is loose and the way is treacherous. Sometimes, we may get a flat tire. Sometimes, we may be stranded on the edge of the road and look up at the sky and say, “Why God? Why are we here? Why can’t we go where you promised?” 

The Bible reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). It’s hard to give up control. I had grand plans, and I thought I knew exactly which path my life should take. But that wasn’t what God wanted for me. Maybe he wants that for me in the future, and right now he’s telling me to wait. Or perhaps he’s saying, “No, I have something different in mind for you.” I can plan, but I don’t have the final say. God has control. 

In my human heart, I want to be in charge, but it is actually a beautiful gift that God is presiding over all. Sinful humans deserve only hell. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to climb out of the dark hole of sin; there is no way to earn heaven. But God loved this sinful world, and he sent Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life. Then, he stretched out his arms, and nails were pounded through his hands. He hung on the cross. Jesus died and rose again so that we can one day live in perfect bliss where there is no pain or suffering. There my hands will work again, and God will dry every single tear that falls from my eyes—and yours too. 

So what about the time I live on this imperfect, painful earth? Well, it is my prayer that God uses me. I want my hands to be normal and healthy, but even without them—even if I never play piano again—God can work through me. I can still speak, teach, and show love. 

I know that “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). I can tell people, “I know you’re hurting. I know life is hard and stressful and sometimes it doesn’t make any sense. But let me help you. I know about a God who loves you more than the most loving father ever. He saved you. I know peace, and I know about heaven.” 

Today, I am a sophomore in college. Though it has been almost a year since my hand problems became severe, we have not found answers. Last summer consisted of various doctors’ visits, trying even a cardiovascular specialist. No diagnosis.  

My hand problem continues, but I am learning to survive. I am learning to write fewer notes during class and to take tests using speech-to-text. I am learning to be joyful for others, even when they are experiencing blessings I can’t have because of my hands. Though my hands haven’t changed, I am more comfortable in my situation this year than last.  

Every step of the way Jesus provides for me. I will always remember the professor who took me under her wing one day when I was broken. She held up her hand; it only had four fingers on it. She lost a finger in a car accident. This professor is a role model for her teaching ability, her kindness, and her Christian walk, but at that moment I only remember a feeling of peace and relief. I knew she understood.  

When I grow weary, I am always given peace through comfort from a friend, one-on-one time with God, or a hymn like this one:  

“Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand;
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light.
Take my hand, precious Lord; Lead me home.”
(Christian Worship 451:1) 

Sometimes my heart is so heavy I can’t sing the words, but I send them silently as a prayer to my Savior. Someday, I will be home with him, but while I am here God can use my frail hands. As I live in this world, I have strength, because God gives me this comfort: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).  

Even when my hands fail me, my all-powerful God holds me safe in his righteous right hand. 


Elisabeth Hahm, a sophomore at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at Prince of Peace, Fairport, New York. 


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Author: Elisabeth Hahm
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Light for our path: Where was he?

After the news of the church shooting in Texas last November, a friend askedA shooting in church? 27 killed? Women and children? It’s God’s house. Where was he? How do you answer a question like this? I didn’t know what to say. 

James F. Pope

When a tragic event like that takes place, people can easily question God’s power and love. Others do more than question God; they blame him. Their words can make it seem like God is even more at fault than the perpetrator. You can respond to your friend’s questions by pointing to God’s power, wisdom, and love. 

Unlimited power 

Could God have prevented that church shooting from taking place? Certainly. God can do anything. When Sarah laughed at the Lord’s promise that she would become a mother in her old age, the Lord said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:14). Years later, the prophet Jeremiah was on the receiving end of a similar question. “Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?’ ” (Jeremiah 32:26,27). The biblical account of creation reveals God’s unlimited power. With powerful words, God called all things into existence. By his powerful word, the Lord sustains all things (Hebrews 1:3). 

God could have prevented that shooting from taking place. Going back in time, God could have prevented the fall of Adam and Eve—the event to which all sins find their origin. If we back up to eternity, God could have prevented the fall of Satan and the other evil angels. God did not prevent those twin falls from taking place. God does not explain why he allowed those events to take place—nor does he have to. 

Unsearchable wisdom 

Could God have prevented that massacre from taking place? Certainly. But when God allows tragedies and disasters to occur, we need to bow in awe of God’s wisdom. God knows what he is doing, and in the Bible God reminds us how his wisdom far surpasses ours. He assures us: “ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:8,9).  

The apostle Paul leads us in a doxology of God’s wisdom in the book of Romans: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ” (Romans 11:33,34). You and I cannot pretend to know or understand completely God’s ways. What we are happy to know in faith is the love of God.  

Unparalleled love 

Years ago, I read about a man whose son died fighting in the Vietnam War. This man was angry at God and asked a pastor, “Where was God when my son died?” Among other responses, the pastor said, “The same place he was when his own Son died.” In other words, the death of a loved one does not mean that God has withdrawn his love. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, displays a love that is unparalleled in human history (1 John 4:9,10).  

While these thoughts may not answer every question of your friend, perhaps they can address some. 


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 02
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Deliver us from evil

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

Peter M. Prange 

The question my wife’s grandfather asked me was completely sincere and has been asked or at least thought by many others: “Didn’t anyone who died on 9/11 ever pray ‘Deliver us from evil’? And if they did, did God simply ignore their prayer? Or was he unable to deliver them from evil?”  

He could not imagine a greater evil than the one committed on that bright September day. Nor could he imagine that only unbelievers had perished in those murderous attacks. Surely, at least one among the dead had faithfully prayed, “Deliver us from evil”! So where was Jesus? 

Using evil for good 

The answer is both simple and complicated. Grandpa had misunderstood the meaning of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. He was defining evil far too narrowly. We all do that. It’s natural for us to define evil as those things that make our earthly lives uncomfortable and unsatisfying. If it hurts, if I don’t like it, if I’d rather have it be a different way, or if it leads to death, it must be evil! 

But God responds, “Not so fast!” Consider the example of Joseph. He suffered the worldly evil of his brothers selling him into slavery. It hurt. It wasn’t enjoyable. He certainly prayed for it to be different. This was pure evil, right? Well, yes and no. 

Through the Spirit’s working, Joseph gradually learned and later proclaimed to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph’s brothers had done their best to inflict evil on him, and they had. But God delivered Joseph from evil. No, God didn’t immediately change the outward circumstances. Joseph suffered evil. What God changed was Joseph’s perspective on that evil, and in time he transformed human evil into divine good. Joseph perceived God’s gracious work—yes, even through evil!—and he was perfectly delivered. 

Fighting eternal evil 

So if God uses evil for good, what is truly evil? The Scriptures teach us that true evil is being separated from God’s eternal love. True evil is someone forfeiting the eternal blessings Jesus has won for all sinners. True evil involves us turning our ears away from God’s saving Word and treasuring instead the things of this condemned world. That’s the true and hidden evil to which we sinners are so naturally blind and vulnerable, an evil that daily surrounds us and lurks deep within us (Mark 7:21-23).  

So we fervently pray, “Deliver us from evil,” something only Jesus can do. And he does. Every time, in his own time, and at just the right time. And sometimes he uses the greatest evil to do his even greater saving work (Acts 2:22-24). 

Our Savior never promises to spare us from every worldly evil. If anything, he promises that we will endure evil regularly, especially as his people, but for our ultimate good. Make no mistake about it. “In this world you will have trouble.” And why is that? Because Jesus’ far greater desire—his only mission— is to deliver us from the brand of evil that lasts forever. 

So we live day by day in the confidence of knowing that Jesus hears our prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” and answers as only he can: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” In Jesus alone we are truly delivered from evil forever. 


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


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 3

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Saving the best for last (John 2:1-12) 

When Mary tapped Jesus on the shoulder at a wedding in Cana, informing him of the soon-to-be-discovered faux pas, she got a “Not yet,” from her son (John 2:4). Didn’t he get it? Didn’t he know how embarrassing it would be for their friends to run out of wine at their own wedding? An array of thoughts might have filled Mary’s mind as she walked away from that conversation, with her patience likely tested by Jesus’ “not yet.”  

What thoughts fill your mind when you tap Jesus on the shoulder with your prayers and get a simple, “Not yet.” “Jesus, I’m a little short this month on my bills. Is that new job going to happen?” “Not yet.” “Jesus, I’m running dry here. Can you at least pour me a drip of hope? A drop of joy? A dribble of peace?” With every “not yet,” Jesus seems to fill our whine glasses with disappointment, anger, frustration, and many other blends that test our patience. 

But before you completely lose your patience, pause. Hold Jesus’ “not yet” up to the light and examine it a little closer. Give it a swirl and a second sniff. What do you notice? “Not yet” does not mean no. “Not yet” may test your patience, but it also holds out promise.  

To Mary’s credit, she got that. That’s why she cued the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). She realized that the impending problem maybe wouldn’t get solved in her way or on her timetable. But it would get solved.  

And did it ever. Jesus miraculously turned 180 gallons of foot-washing water into 908 bottles of top-shelf wine. Just like that, Jesus’ “not yet” turned into the best yet. Jesus promises the same to you. In his wisdom, he may not always fill your glasses with whatever you want. He may test your patience with one “not yet” after another. But he also promises that his divine solution will be the best yet. 

That’s so evident as we begin another season of Lent. At first glance, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are an odd combination for Feb. 14. But they beautifully go hand-in-hand. On the surface, Valentine’s Day is all about our present wants: chocolates, courtship, and the like. Ash Wednesday kicks off our Savior’s journey to the cross. After saying on numerous occasions, “My time has not yet come,” the time came for Jesus to offer his life as payment for our sins. The season of Lent doesn’t paint a pretty picture with its strokes of suffering, shame, and sacrifice. But they were all part of God’s saving plan. They were necessary for what followed. First came the cross. Then came the crown. 

Because of his Easter victory, be assured, he’s saving the best for last. Therefore, like that wedding couple in Cana, may we invite, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Then, with eager anticipation, even in ways unknown to us, watch how his gifts to us will be blessed.  


Food for thought 

  1. What significance is there in knowing that Jesus was an invited guest to a wedding?

    Considering this is the first week of Jesus’ public ministry, it says something about his care and concern for people and their daily lives.  Especially when you consider that wedding celebrations were sometimes a week long in their culture, Jesus’ attendance shows that he wasn’t “too busy” for people.  The Almighty didn’t act high and mighty.  Similar to the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” this accounts that we can bring any request to our Lord in prayer.  There is nothing too small for him. 

  2. Recall a time when God’s “not yet” turned out being a blessing in your life.

    Answers will vary.  While not a theologian, consider the country songwriter Garth Brooks and his song, “Unanswered Prayers.”  After talking about how a high school fling didn’t end up in marriage he sings, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”  When we look back on our lives, often we can see how temporary “not yets” from God ended up being a blessing.  In heaven, we’ll see the “best yet.” 

  3. Why did Jesus ask Mary, “Woman, why do you involve me?” (John 2:4)?

    Jesus’ answer sounds disrespectful or uncaring to our ears.  But by calling her “woman”, he is reminding Mary that his work as Savior does not hinge on her.  In a way, he is distancing himself from her.  She is no longer a boy that she raised in Nazareth, but he has just entered the “public” ministry.  
    In regards to his public ministry, Mary was a sinner who needed to be saved, just like you and me. 
  4. Besides meeting the immediate need of the host, what purpose did Jesus’ miracle serve?

    The closing phrase, “his disciples believed in him,” shares the bigger blessing of this miracle.  His disciples had just started following him.  They already had faith in him as the promised Messiah, but this sign (or miracle) strengthened their faith in Jesus as the Son of God.  Consider the words of John 20:30-31 and how they relate to this account, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples… these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.


This is the third article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Feb. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 02
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Salt of the earth: Part 8

Peace! The last word of the Benediction sends us out into the world with the privilege of sharing his peace.

Glenn L. Schwanke

The service is almost over. In a moment, your pastor will raise his hands for the Benediction. The words he will speak are the same as those the Lord first instructed the high priest Aaron and his sons to use as a blessing for the Israelites some 3,500 years ago! Well not exactly. Back then, those words were spoken in Hebrew, but they carry just as much meaning and power when we hear them in English today.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and + give you peace” (Christian Worship p. 37).

Think of it! We’re sent out those church doors and back into our everyday lives with the threefold blessing of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

A powerful reminder

But maybe we haven’t thought much about the Benediction lately. Maybe, because we’ve heard these words so many times over the years, we’ve allowed them to become little more than the obligatory “Amen” that signals the end of our worship. And if the service is running a smidgeon long—because of the pastor’s seven-part sermon—maybe we even sneak a peek at our watch, as we worry, “I hope I can still make the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet at Bubba’s, because it only goes ‘til 1 p.m.”

Well, maybe Bubba’s will keep the buffet open a little late for us. And if our pastor actually did preach a seven-part sermon, I pray every word was anchored firmly in God’s Word and seasoned liberally with God’s grace. Because then our pastor’s message—as well as the Scripture readings for the day, the prayers, the hymns, the choral anthems, and the liturgical responses—have all prepared us for this mountain-top moment—the Aaronic Benediction!

That Benediction is so much more than an “Amen” that punctuates our worship. It’s so much more than having the Lord, like a kindly grandpa, wave farewell from the porch of heaven as we wave back, jump in our car, and head home. Our God explained exactly what was important about this blessing: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27 English Standard Version [ESV]).

What? The Benediction is a powerful reminder of the new names we first received when, through water and the Word, God’s Spirit washed away the filth of our sin and instead gave us pure, clean clothes as we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 ESV). Then “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV). Then we were declared “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). Through Baptism, our Lord adopted us as his own.

The Benediction reminds us of that miracle of grace. It reassures us that we leave God’s house with the promise our Lord once shared through his prophet Isaiah. “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ ” (Isaiah 43:1 ESV). We don’t need to face Monday alone, empty, and afraid. We don’t need to be consumed with worry over whether the next mass shooting will be in our town, or God forbid, even our church. For with the Benediction, our Lord has served notice to the devil himself: “This one is mine! Marked with the blood of Christ. Hands off!”

This is the lasting comfort that is ours, when our pastor raises his hands for the Benediction and, once again, our Lord puts his name on us!

A solemn privilege

But it’s not just for our comfort, is it? The Benediction also brings with it a solemn privilege. After all, we’re carrying God’s name out into the world. But will we act like it? Will we be the “salt” that Jesus called us to be in his Sermon on the Mount? (Matthew 5:13)

To help us remember the name we bear and the salting we’ve received, in some of our worship services, just before the pastor raises his hands in blessing, he speaks the following words: “Brothers and sisters, go in peace.” That sentence is nothing but the sweetest gospel. For you and I have true, lasting peace. It is the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that no one in this world can earn and no amount of money can buy. It’s peace with God!

Then, “serve the LORD with gladness.” Those words from Psalm 100 remind us why our Lord has given us a pulse for yet another day in this world. We do not live for ourselves, but for the one who bought and paid for us (cf. Romans 12:1; Romans 14:8).

But wait a minute! Didn’t we skip something? “Live in harmony with one another.” That’s the niggling sentence that sometimes catches us and trips us up. Did you know that’s a Bible verse too? It’s Romans 12:16. It was Paul who gave us this inspired command.

But what exactly does it mean? Is “harmony” to be understood the way our society

currently defines it? “Your spiritual truth works for you. My spiritual truth works for me. I’ll accept your truth, but you’ll also need to accept mine, because there is no absolute truth.” That can hardly be what our Lord had in mind, because he also moved Paul to write, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV).

“Live in harmony with one another.” Does that mean if your sister or brother in the faith is walking down a dangerous path of sin, that you won’t get involved? That you’ll let sleeping dogs lie? If that’s what these words mean, then why did Jesus bother to give us the guidance of Matthew chapter 18?

Perhaps if we take a closer look at the rest of this verse, we’ll understand the words “live in harmony” better. Paul continues, “Do not be arrogant, but associate with the humble. Do not think too highly of yourselves” (Romans 12:16 Evangelical Heritage Version).

Now do we get it? By grace, we’re all members of God’s family, but the Lord definitely doesn’t want us to act like squabbling siblings who can’t stand one another. He doesn’t want cliques in the church. He doesn’t want us to look down our aquiline noses at fellow Christians who don’t participate as much as we do or give as much as we do. Such snobbery is little more than stealth self-righteousness. It will undercut our witness. It will dilute our saltiness.

But when we “live in harmony with one another,” then we’re carrying God’s name in a way that brings him glory. And that is what it means to be salt.


Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


This is the eighth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Majoring on the minors – Part 1

Hosea: I’d like you to marry . . .

Thomas Kock

The final 12 books of the Old Testament are called “the minor prophets”—minor because of their length, not because of their importance. These minor books are full of major truths. In this series, we will major on the minors! Let’s start with Hosea.

Our unfaithfulness

I never, ever thought about praying for what we’re about to discuss.

My wife and I have been blessed with four children. Knowing that a spouse has a major impact on a person’s life, I began praying when my kids were young for their future spouses. I prayed that God would guide and guard them. I prayed that God would work strong faith in their hearts. I prayed that their parents would stay married, that they might have a good role model for marriage.

But I never, ever thought about praying like this: “The LORD said to [Hosea], ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife’ ” (Hosea 1:2).

Can you imagine Hosea’s reaction? “You want me to do . . . what?!?” Yes, God wanted him to marry an adulterous wife. I never, ever prayed for something like that for my children! Why would God do this?

At God’s command, Hosea married Gomer, and they had three children. But there’s big trouble! We read: “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley” (Hosea 3:1,2). Can you imagine? He had to BUY his wife back! Had she married another man? Perhaps so.

God’s faithful love

But did you hear the key point? “Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites.” God often describes his relation to his people as a marriage—God is the husband; the church is the bride. Whenever the church fails to love God with all her heart, whenever the church gives her love to other “gods” (money, fame, work, recreation, etc.), the church is committing spiritual adultery. In Hosea’s day, many of the Israelites were giving their

love to other gods. And so God decided to work through Hosea to paint this concrete picture of what God’s love is all about. Although Gomer was unfaithful, Hosea was to love her faithfully, just as God would continue to love his people.

February is the month of love because of Valentine’s Day. Do you look forward to this month or dread it? Unfortunately, too many people have experienced faithless love and have been hurt by those who ought to show them love. But far more terrible, each of us has shown lack of faithfulness—lack of love—to the One who is love itself.

Yet God continues to love us faithfully, no matter how often we have failed to love him.

And he always will.


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


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


Hosea

Background: Hosea was the son of Beeri and a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel, c. 755-720 B.C.

His family: Hosea married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim. They had three children: Jezreel, whose means “the LORD plants and sows”; Lo-Ruhamah, whose name means “no pity”; and Lo-Ammi, whose name means “not my people.”

The book’s major truth: God’s faithful love.

Interesting fact: The New Testament quotes Hosea 30 times! Of the prophets, only Isaiah is quoted more!


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How can we reflect God’s love in our community?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

If we allow ourselves to wallow in the news that is broadcast on our many devices throughout each day, it’s easy to become depressed pretty quickly. A feeling of hopelessness can settle in too. That’s why I think it’s more important than ever that we reflect God’s love to those around us. Our world needs that love—a love grounded in Jesus that has eternal benefits but comes with great benefits here on earth too. Forgiveness of sins. God’s peace. Hope in his promises. These are treasures that our neighbors need.  

So, how do we reflect God’s love in our community? Jonathan Bourman and Liz Schroeder share their thoughts here. If you want to chime in with ways your family is reaching out with God’s love, e-mail fic@wels.net 

Nicole Balza


I’ve learned an awful lot from my daughter. The wonder and adventure of life with Jesus. The trust in him that is so simple and pure. The creativity that comes from looking at something from a relatively blank slate. The importance of really sinking into the perfect hug. She’s taught me a lot. Especially about how to notice people. She waves from our busy corner lot to everyone who drives by. She pets every dog who walks by and greet all of their owners. She tries to engage every possible person like there is seriously nothing more important in all the world to do. She’s taught me a lot about that. 

And I have a lot to learn. Because I’m an adult, and I have an iPhone. And an inbox. And a busy job. And a busy mind. And perhaps most troubling of all—a busy heart. Most adults do. It’s what we’ve started calling “adulting,” right?  

What’s this have to do with reflecting God’s love in our community? Everything. Absolutely everything. We’re not going to be available to the people in our community with an open hand and a warm smile and a ready conversation unless our hearts are unbusy. We’ll be there, but not really there. I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean by that. 

The only person I know of who can change that in me is Jesus. He’s the one who unburdens my heart. Who can take my heart from a tossing sea and turn it into water that softly ripples. He does that by paying attention to me. By giving me his very real, personal attention through his Word. And when he does, he tells me that he is the one who gave himself not only to my heart, but also for my heart. The one who came not only to forgive my turbulence but also to lessen it—to secure me with his promises so that I don’t have to busy myself with . . . well . . . myself. I can be free—just plain free—to busy myself with the people I bump into along my path. 

It’s actually quite the adventureliving that way, I mean. To see each person whom I run across as someone to be loved right then and right there. To see that each intersection doesn’t merely have to be transactional. My family and I went to the zoo the other day, and we talked to the guy with the corn snake and really got to know him. And we went trick or treating, and we hit up the neighbors sitting by their doors with a smile and a name and a handshake. We chatted up the hygienist at the dentist’s office and wished the tired-looking cashier at Aldi a good day with a hearty thank-you and a sincere smile. We pet the dog who walked down the street and talked about Goldendoodles with the owner. We even got into a conversation about Jesus at the Apple Store of all places and tacked on a very appropriate invite to our church. All because Jesus had made us emotionally and spiritually available as we were doing our callings in life. 

I could write more about how we love our communities. Much more. Things about staffing soup kitchens or mowing lawns for the elderly or checking on neighbors who are sick. I’ll let someone else do that, though. What I want to say here and now is that my heart sees a culture that’s having a hard time looking up from a screen. And in a culture and community like that, perhaps the most important love my family can show in our grocery stores and doctors’ offices and restaurants and wherever else it is that we may be, is a face that not only looks up, but also looks at those around us with a heart and a mind that’s spiritually and emotionally available. That’s a powerful, powerful gift we all can give—a gift we’ve all personally received in spades from Jesus. He’s the one who frees us to simply and truly be there in a moment for others.  


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


As a mom of five, I admit to times of spiritual and physical exhaustion when I barely reflect God’s love to my own family, let alone my community. This seems like an overwhelming task, and the last thing you or I need is one more item on our to-do lists. The beautiful thing about Jesus is that when I get stressed out about the things I have to do, he reminds me of what he’s already done. In order to reflect God’s love to your community, first reflect on God’s love for you. 

As a parent, I see the best and worst parts of myself and my husband mirrored in our kids. They pick up on all of our sins—ones we’ve fought for years and new ugly sins that might have remained dormant had we not signed up for this lifetime tour of parenting. Can you relate? Has raising little sinner-saints unearthed any ugliness in your heart? One of my sweetest friends confided to me with wide eyes, “I had no idea I struggled with anger or fits of rage before I became a mom!” Bless her heart!  

Mom, Dad, your parenting sins are gone. Empty tomb-gone. Drowned in the baptismal font-gone. This promise of rebirth and renewal is crucial. We cannot hope to pour out to the people around us without first filling up on grace.  

Just as our kids are always copying us, parents need a model to follow. Who better than the sinless Son of God? How did Jesus engage his community? Before completing his redeeming work, the Bible tells us he wept, he showed compassion, and he retreated to quiet places. 

Jesus wept. New tragedies come at us every week. Terror, bloodshed, self-worship, injustice, and disaster fill my newsfeed. It is tempting to squeeze my eyes shut and hide the horror from my kids. Instead, we open our eyes and weep. We talk through the news at a level their maturity can handle, and we pray through the pain. 

Jesus showed compassion. The thing about living in a sin-darkened world is that it doesn’t take much light to make a big difference. Consider the impact of scheduling buffer time for everyday errands like trips to Walmart and the gas station, and asking God to send someone messy your way who needs the gospel. Messy people are everywhere, but we normally give them wide berth. A big reason for that is we have no margin in our schedules for interruptions.  

How many miracles happened when Jesus was on his way to another town and he interrupted his journey to show compassion? I bet there was at least one disciple shaking his head and saying, “Jesus, we don’t have time for this.” I hear those voices too. But may this one be louder: “God, I don’t want to miss your divine interruptions just so I can get my milk and bananas home faster!” Lending a hand to messy people, listening to their stories, or sharing the message of Jesus takes a few minutes, but at the end of the day, don’t you want your minutes to count for something with eternal impact?  

Finally, Jesus retreated to quiet places. For those in the trenches of toddlerhood or teen angst, this is just a metaphor. There are no actual quiet places for you right now. Ha! But if you have a teammate in this parenting thing, you can create places of rest and quiet. Jesus promises rest to the weary; read his words and think of his love for you.  Let that be your mountainside to pause. Help each other get there to recharge frequently.  

Parenting articles are usually filled with tips and tricks, but reflecting God’s love to our community can’t be boiled down to catchy quotes. It starts and ends with soaking in the grace that Jesus won for us. We ask for God’s eyes to see his hurting children. We lay the idol of our busyness on the altar. We recharge by the power of God’s love in Christ. By God’s grace, our kids will pick up on that too. 


Liz Schroeder and her husband, John, live in Phoenix, Arizona, with their five kids. They serve as lay leaders at CrossWalk Church.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 02
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

New movie focuses on outreach

Filming starts in January for the final movie in a series of four outreach movies that are a collaboration between WELS Commission on Evangelism, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc. 

Mike Hintz, who recently retired as director of WELS Evangelism, says that while the first three movies—Road to Emmaus, Come Follow Me, and My Son, My Savior—focused on the life and ministry of Jesus, the final movie will follow the apostle Paul and his work in Philippi. “Our goal for this movie is to show in a dramatic way how the gospel is spread into the world following the command of Jesus and to show how it impacted people’s lives,” says Hintz, who continues to serve as a member of the movie production team. 

The title, To the Ends of the Earth, is taken directly from Jesus’ command to his disciples at his Ascension: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  

The goal is to complete the movie by the end of summer 2018 in time for congregations to use the film and accompanying materials in the fall for a special mission emphasis Sunday.  

Hintz says the movie would not be possible except for funding help from Church Mutual Insurance Company Foundation; WELS Foundation’s Shared Blessings donor advised fund; Multi-Language Publications; and gifts from groups, congregations, and individuals. 

“In the end, the movie is to help us see that this continues to be a wonderful privilege for us to continue this work of sharing the Word so that many more can come to faith,” say Hintz. 


Did you know? 

Road to Emmaus (2009), Come Follow Me (2013), and My Son, My Savior (2015), the first three movies in the outreach series, have . . . 

  • Had more than a million viewers through TV, DVDs, and online media.
  • Had more than half a million DVDs distributed.
  • Received critical acclaim from a number of Christian film groups.
  • Been translated into a dozen different languages, including Spanish, French, Mandarin, and Nepali, and shown in at least 24 countries.
  • Been downloaded more than 115,000 times in Spanish from academiacristo.com.

All three movies are still available from Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net. Learn more about these movies at wels.net/evangelism. 


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Forgive us our sins

John A. Braun

Forgiveness! Jesus wanted us to pray for the forgiveness we need in our daily lives. How often we stray from God’s will. Our words, our thoughts, and our actions always seem to define what it means to miss the mark. So, in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for forgiveness. 

Possessing God’s forgiveness by faith is one of our core needs. In this prayer, it comes after we ask for “daily bread.” We understand our need for daily bread to live in this life and serve God and others. But an even greater need is the forgiveness that Jesus has accomplished for us all. We need that forgiveness if we are going to stand before him when we no longer need daily bread. 

So humbly, with each repetition of this prayer, we come for the forgiveness Jesus has achieved by his pain and blood. At those times when we lose the comfort and confidence in the gospel of forgiveness, the words of this petition turn our attention away from what is inside our hearts and to what is inside God’s heart—unconditional love in Christ and forgiveness. We need the consolation that we are indeed forgiven children of God. 

The forgiveness we possess by faith transforms us and empowers us. It awakens in us a desire to thank God. It moves us to desire to please our God for the forgiveness Christ has paid for so dearly. A part of that transformation is the willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven. 

This petition does not limit the forgiveness of our sins to only when we will forgive others. That would only drive us all to despair. No, God’s forgiveness is freely given before we can think, say, or do anything good—yes, before we can forgive. It’s by grace; there is no condition on God’s forgiveness. And it transforms us, bending our attitudes to forgive others rather than hold a grudge or seek revenge. 

I think this prayer is an essential part of our lives together as believers in his church. How often do family feuds divide the work of the church? How often do the real and imagined insults and slights color our attitudes and sour our work together? How often do decisions of the council, committee, or the pastor create not just differences of opinion but real animosity and bitterness? The apostle Paul warns, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). He advised earlier, “Serve one another humbly in love” (v. 13). Forgiving each other is as important in the church as it is in marriage. When personalities, opinions, and visions of what is best clash, forgiveness is required. 

The wonder of it all is that we are all forgiven by a gracious God. Jesus provides not only the motivation but also a pure example for us to follow. Jesus endured pain and suffering at the hands of sinful humans. We may not have been there, but our sins caused the scourging, the insults, and the mockery. But Jesus did not retaliate. He forgave. He said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). When we grasp what Jesus endured to forgive us, then how can we refuse to forgive others—especially other believers in his church?  

When you are tempted to hold a grudge and withhold forgiveness, think of Jesus. Who has inflicted as much harm and misery on you as we have all inflicted on Jesus? So we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Confessions of faith: Porter

Through questions and the Word, one man finds his final church home. 

Gabriella Moline 

Sept. 11 is a somber day for many people in the United States. But Sept. 11, 2016, gave Greg Porter something to celebrate. He describes this date as one of the happiest days of his life. On that day Porter officially became a member of Abiding Grace in Covington, Ga., the place where he finally ended his search for peace and truth. 

Asking questions  

For the first 45 years of his life, Porter was a member of the Baptist church. He grew up in a house with strong Christian ideals and actively participated in his congregation. But after studying certain passages in the Bible, Porter saw some issues with the doctrine being taught in the Baptist church.  

One of its central teachings is that if a person was baptized as a baby or was not fully submerged during his or her baptism, then the person must be re-baptized. That troubled Porter. He turned to the Bible for answers. When he read Ephesians 4:5, he discovered that Paul says there is only “one baptism.” Then looking at Matthew 28:19, he found that Jesus said that we should baptize all nations. That includes babies.  

In addition to the teachings on Baptism, Porter also found issues with the Baptist teaching on Holy Communion. For the Baptist church, the bread and wine are only symbols of the body and blood of Christ. They are not truly the body and blood of Christ.  

Porter wanted to find a church that addressed his questions and taught what the Bible taught. He looked at Lutheran churches, but he was not sure about the theological differences between the many different denominations. At first he avoided Lutheran churches. But he saw that Catholicism only had one branch. There were no different denominations, so Porter started attending a Catholic church. 

He said it “started off well,” but over time he developed new questions about some of the Roman Catholic teachings. These included the Catholic church’s stance on divorce, as well as certain rules on Holy Communion. Porter attended the church for eight years but could not reconcile these issues. In addition, he felt uneasy that the Catholic church made salvation so difficult. Instead of saying that Jesus paid for all sins on the cross, Catholics still had to do things to undo their sins and failings.  

Finding answers 

Over the years, Porter received cards in the mail from Abiding Grace Lutheran Church, inviting him and his family to attend its Fall Festival, an annual event featuring lunch, games, and a worship concert. In 2015, he finally decided to attend the event. 

“I always thought, These look like nice people,” Porter says. “So I thought I would go and check it out. There would be other people there so they wouldn’t know I was visiting.” 

During the worship portion, Porter filled out the church’s friendship register, where he checked off that he would not be interested in a visit from the pastor.  

“He didn’t listen,” Porter shares with a laugh. “He came to the house to visit anyway.” 

But Porter is glad that Jonathan Scharf, pastor at Abiding Grace, ignored the card. This visit began Porter’s journey in the Lutheran faith. He soon began attending weekly Bible information classes with Scharf to learn more about Lutheran doctrine. Porter found that there was not enough time in the classes for all his questions. He wanted to speak more with Scharf, so he asked to meet with him outside of class. 

“I wanted to make sure that when I made this change that it would be the last change that I ever made,” he says.  

So Porter meet with Scharf before class each week at the Waffle House for breakfast to privately discuss more about the Bible. Porter had a hunger to learn, reading about the congregation and its teachings on its website. Scharf answered any of his questions that came up, giving him more materials and passages to read. Their discussions ranged from creation versus evolution to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  

“He had a lot of questions, realizing that a lot of the different teachings he had heard in his previous churches weren’t lining up with Scripture,” Scharf says.  

Porter says Scharf was extremely patient in answering all his questions. “He has a way of explaining the Bible in a way that no one else has been able to.” 

During one of their breakfast sessions, Scharf loaned Porter his Lutheran Confessions, a collection of confessions written by Marin Luther and others during the time of the Reformation. The collection is not a small pamphlet, but a large heavy textbook. Within the week, Porter had read the entire book and had passages picked out that he wanted to talk about. Scharf was amazed at Porter’s passion and devotion for God’s Word, even while balancing a full-time job and a family.  

“He has this insatiable desire to keep learning and is excited to have an opportunity to learn and grow in God’s Word,” says Scharf. 

Before joining Abiding Grace, Porter took several months to think and pray about becoming an official member. He had a lot to consider. He had to think through his early Baptist background and his current Roman Catholic membership. Was he sure he wanted to turn his life in a new direction? When Sept. 11 finally came, Porter was ready to make his final change and become a Lutheran.  

Still learning today 

Today, Porter still has his enthusiastic drive to learn more about the Bible. In addition to attending church on Sundays, he also listens to sermons from other WELS pastors and reads Meditations and Time of Grace devotions. 

Scharf and Porter still meet regularly, never running out of new topics to discuss. They also attended the National Worship Conference in Kenosha, Wis., together this past summer. Porter is heavily involved in Abiding Grace, volunteering to help whenever he can and participating in Bible studies and choir.  

“He has really jumped in anywhere there has been a request or opportunity,” Scharf says.  

Porter reflects that becoming a Lutheran and finding answers through the Bible has been a great comfort in his life. He knows that the Bible is the final authority, providing clarity to all of life’s questions.  

“It gives me a type of freedom knowing that you don’t have to jump through any hoops,” he says. “You’re free in the truth that Jesus gave us.” 


Gabriella Moline is a member at Zion, Crete, Illinois. 


 

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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Souls, not statistics

Mark G. Schroeder

It’s January, and that means WELS congregations have tabulated and submitted their statistics for 2017. Those statistics track membership, worship attendance, baptisms, confirmations, members joining and leaving, as well as congregational finances.

It is no secret that total membership in our synod, both baptized and confirmed, has been on a slow but steady decline for more than a decade. A good part of that decline can be attributed to simple demographics, particularly in terms of the number of infant baptisms. WELS mirrors the trend in our society in which young people are marrying at a later age and having fewer children than in previous generations.

Even though WELS membership has declined, our synod has not experienced the large percentage losses of other Christian denominations. We are thankful for that. But the fact that our losses are not as great as others does not remove the concern about the downward trend.

Pastor Jon Hein, director of our WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, has prepared a detailed study of WELS membership trends. In addition to the demographic information mentioned above, the study addressed the “graying” of our synod, the number of adult confirmations, and the reasons why some leave our synod. Last summer he presented the study to the synod convention and outlined plans to help our congregations address these challenges.

Congregations will be given guidance and resources in many areas as they carry out their work of proclaiming the saving gospel. The various commissions of WELS Congregational Services will be working with those congregations to help them plan for the future in a way that will best serve God’s kingdom.

Three areas to be addressed seem to stand out:

● First, demographic changes have brought challenges to many of our rural congregations in the upper Midwest. Added to the fact that there are few young people to begin with, a growing number of young adults in rural congregations are leaving for education and work elsewhere. With decreasing membership, those congregations are finding it increasingly challenging to maintain their ministry.

● Second, the matter of members leaving congregations for various reasons will be addressed. WELS has always experienced this to some degree. Our examination of membership trends leads us to recommit ourselves to addressing this problem. It has always been the case that the greatest number of membership losses occurs with young adults in the years after confirmation. We are convinced that there are many things that congregations and parents can do to keep their young adults connected to and involved with congregational life.

Other “backdoor losses” occur when church members simply stray from regular worship and reception of the Lord’s Supper or when they are attracted to other churches outside of our fellowship. Congregations will be encouraged to take steps to address these losses.

● Finally, congregations will be encouraged to mobilize their members to become even more active in bringing the unchurched to their congregations to hear the saving gospel. Only with the blessing of God can we reverse our membership decline. Currently, it takes about 80 WELS members to produce one adult confirmand. If that could be improved to having one confirmand produced by 40, the downward trend in our synod membership would be reversed.

In the end, it’s not demographics and statistics that should be our focus and interest. Our interest should be in the souls that have been bought by the blood of Christ and in remaining faithful to holding onto and proclaiming the message of the gospel. As we address the challenges together, we look to God for the blessings that only he can give.


Learn more about Pastor Jon Hein’s study at wels.net/ccc.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

What is truth? – Part 1

One way to seek truth is to think through human experience and knowledge and use our reason to find it.

Arthur A. Eggert

Pilate was not looking for a reply when he asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). He was scoffing at the idea that this lowly Galilean might actually have the correct view of the world. Pilate could consult numerous schools of philosophy about the definition of truth, and he had plenty who appeared before him who were willing to twist any situation to gain his favor. Pilate had heard it all, and he was cynical. We can deride him for his attitude, but his question still deserves an answer for our sakes, if not for his.

The search for truth

If we think about it, however, formulating a satisfactory definition of truth is not easy. A former United States Supreme Court justice said, “I can’t define pornography, but I sure know it when I see it.” Many people feel the same way about truth; they think they can recognize it when they encounter it, but its precise definition eludes them. For example, many courts require people to swear “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Unfortunately, if one does not have a reliable definition of truth, one cannot avoid being deceived by false statements that only have the appearance of truth.

We can perhaps understand the issue better if we consider a few examples. A major Russian newspaper is called Pravda, which means “truth.” Most people would not agree that everything printed in Pravda is true. In fact, it has often been used as a propaganda tool to distort the truth. In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote that “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are . . .” Many Americans are willing to believe Jefferson’s words, even though his standard of truth was murky at best. Jefferson was not a Christian and believed that truth was formed directly in the human mind. Because the Bible did not meet his standard of truth, he edited it with a scissors, producing what is called the Jefferson Bible.

In searching for the truth, we engage in a process called reasoning. There are two components to reasoning: what we start with and what we get as the product of our reasoning. We call what we start with “assumptions,” “premises” or “propositions.” We

call what we end up with “conclusions” or “consequents.” In order to get truth from the reasoning process, the process must be “sound,” that is, the assumptions or premises must be true (well-grounded) and the path of argument between premises and conclusion must be free of inconsistencies (valid). But we cannot take it for granted that what is offered up as “truth” these days is either well-grounded or the result of valid reasoning.

Politicians, editorialists, humanists, religious gurus, and others whom we see and hear in the media are, in effect, philosophers, and their statements are often inaccurate abstractions or overstatements of what is known. These speakers are not so much interested in convincing us with evidence as they are hoping to strike an emotional chord that will cause us to respond in the way they desire. This is called “philosophical reasoning” because the speaker is trying to get us to accept his philosophy and, therefore, the truthfulness, even without presenting well-grounded evidence or valid reasoning.

Well-known philosophers’ versions of truth

Philosophical reasoning is particularly dangerous when applied to religious and moral matters.

Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, claimed that emotions result in errors of judgment. The path to happiness for humans was, therefore, not to allow oneself to be controlled by desires for pleasure or fears of pain.

Epicurus, the founder of Epicureanism, taught that the happy life resulted from living in peace with one’s neighbors and avoiding fear and pain through a self-sufficient and self-indulgent life surrounded by friends.

Thomas Aquinas tried to prove the existence of God based on reason and the ordinary experiences of nature. He argued that everything that moves has a mover, so the first mover had to be God.

René Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” He then argued that the existence of God could be demonstrated philosophically, an assertion that most philosophers even at his time rejected.

John Locke claimed human nature was characterized by reason and tolerance. Believing that Christianity represented the highest form of religion, he tried to ground it in reason as presented in The Reasonableness of Christianity.

Voltaire argued that God existed and created the universe, but that he does not meddle in its operation. This concept of deism became popular among the leaders of the American Revolution but led to Voltaire’s condemnation by the Roman Catholic Church.

David Hume said, “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of passions.” He rejected the idea of abstract moral principles given to man from a divine being.

Immanuel Kant argued that all our knowledge, including that of God, comes from experience, but we must be active reasoners to grasp the truth because it would not come to us in a passive manner.

Karl Marx proclaimed that religion was a form of false consciousness through which people deluded themselves into accepting less than what they deserved from society. He maintained that religion effectively drugged people.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that religion had its roots in weakness and sickness and serves as a means to keep power away from the strong and healthy. He believed that God was not the source of morality.

Uncertain vs. certain truth

While numerous other philosophers could be cited, it is clear that philosophical ideas of truth always come from within the philosophers themselves, from their hearts, which the Lord describes in Jeremiah as “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (17:9). It is therefore not surprising that the ideas of various philosophers do not agree with each other, for they are built on egocentric foundations. The Christian must reject rather than be taken in by the “cleverly devised stories” (2 Peter 1:16) that such philosophers spin.

Sadly, despite its inherent lack of soundness, philosophical reasoning is widely used in searching for the truth by most people today because it gives them a feeling of power to proclaim their own ideas of truth without having to support it with verifiable evidence.

But if all of the above searchers for truth with their use of philosophical reasoning fail to find truth, how and where should we look for truth with the certainty of finding it? The Bible uses the word truth in different ways. Consider three statements of Jesus in John’s gospel. In 8:32, the word truth is used to designate knowledge: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” In 17:17, it includes the whole revelation of God: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” In 14:6, Jesus equates himself to truth: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” We will return to the biblical concepts of truth later in this series.


Dr. Arthur Eggert is a member at Peace, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.


This is the first article in a four-part series on different ways the world finds truth and where we as Christians should look for truth.


 

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Author: Arthur A. Eggert
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Salt of the earth: Part 7

Because of everything Christ did, you have been given the perfect perspective on mourning and rejoicing.

Aaron H. Goetzinger

Joe was a young officer assigned to the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum in northern New York. Joe’s move there turned his world upside down. He understood that his orders could change suddenly. He knew he faced the possibility of deployment. But life at his previous duty station had been really good. He had gained some success as a young officer. He got along with his superiors, and his subordinates respected him. He also was becoming more serious with his girlfriend.

But Fort Drum changed all of that. He was ordered to go to Fort Drum. It wasn’t on his short list. In fact, it wasn’t even close to being on the short list. He knew no one within hundreds of miles. The area has long winters and shorter summers. He liked having access to shows and live music, but northern New York is not a hot bed for culture. When he arrived at his new unit, it was not what he expected. To compound matters, his superiors had a hard time understanding his perspective. And to make matters worse, his girlfriend dumped him.

When Joe put on his uniform in the morning, he also put on a good face. But once he got home and the uniform came off, he mourned. As a result of his mourning, he started to become skeptical of authority. He could only see what was wrong with his unit. He convinced himself he had been dealt a bad hand. He even began to shut himself off to anyone who could possibly help. He wasn’t fun to be around; matter-of-fact it was downright difficult to be around him.

Our sinful nature objects

How willing would you be to be around Joe and mourn with him? Or if you were Joe, how willing would you be to rejoice in the success of someone else?

On the surface, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” is a nice passage. To borrow words from Solomon, we probably agree that there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We all have those times in life. Yet Paul challenges us to consider someone else’s rejoicing and mourning.

Our sinful nature objects: “Sure, rejoicing and mourning have their proper time . . . as long as each is within my time.” We know how difficult it is to rejoice when we don’t feel like it and to mourn when we want to rejoice.

Ever encounter someone who is down in the dumps when you are high on life? It can be hard to relate, can’t it? Why would a person who is loving life and rejoicing in its blessings want to get down into a pit of mourning? Not many of us want to because we’re so focused on the happiness and joy we feel. We don’t want anyone to bring us down.

Consider the opposite, rejoicing when it seems you can only mourn. Ever encounter someone who, in your estimation, is unrealistically chipper when all you want to do is wallow? It can be hard not to see that kind of joy and optimism as grating. When the darkness of life comes creeping in, it’s easy to see darkness as our only reality and the light of rejoicing to far away to be realistic.

Both mourners and rejoicers have their excuses. The rejoicer might say, “The mourner just needs to suck it up and get on with his life.” Whereas the mourner might say, “Why does the rejoicer get all the happiness?”

God’s mercy moves us

But the apostle encourages us to see things differently. He simply says, “Rejoice! Mourn!” If we struggle with mourning and rejoicing along with others when it doesn’t fit within our timeframe, then all we can say is that we fail at it because considering the needs of other people in addition to ourselves is so foreign to us.

Earlier in Romans chapter 12, Paul focuses his readers’ attention on God’s mercy. That’s what moves God’s people to action: “In view of God’s mercy” (v. 1). Those words point to the source of our Christian life. In his mercy God not only consoles us, but he also gets down into the pit of life with us.

In mercy God saw our sin-filled situation, wept with us, and then entered into our world. He thought of us. In mercy he sent Jesus, who took on our selfishness and our tears and went to a cross with them. In mercy he gave us his righteousness so that we may rejoice in the heights of heaven. Jesus come to mourn and rejoice with us in order to save us. He came to turn our tears to joy, to take our broken hearts and fill them with his love, to remove our sorrow and give us eternal happiness, and to one day permanently change our mourning to rejoicing.

Because of everything Christ did, you have been given the perfect perspective on mourning and rejoicing. Because of Christ’s mercy you can see a person as a soul loved by God, and then you are enabled to either mourn or rejoice with them. You can help

them see life’s highs and lows for what they are: opportunities to help, to share, to witness. The sooner your eyes focus on God’s mercy for you, the sooner you will make yourself available to others and be present in their lives.

When the Spirit breathed spiritual life into us, one result is that we become compelled to live for others. In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminded Christians that each of us, with our unique gifts and abilities, serve as irreplaceable parts within the church. He wrote, “Its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (12:25,26). Any one of us can provide this kind concern for others.

And notice when Paul said, “Mourn and rejoice,” he said simply that. It doesn’t mean that you have to solve the situation. It doesn’t mean that you have to fix the person. Just mourn. Just be with them. Likewise, rejoicing doesn’t mean that you have to be the emcee at the party. It doesn’t mean you have to be the lead cheerleader. Just rejoice. Just support them.

Because Christ’s mercy is so rich, deep, high, and free we look for opportunities to rejoice and mourn not only with people in our congregations but also with everyone in our lives. Rejoicing and mourning with others then always have their proper time. Each and every time is a proper time to show someone the love and mercy that is theirs in Christ. We can be salt in this world and provide help, compassion, love, and a Christian witness to others who need what we possess—Christ.


Aaron Goetzinger is pastor at Redemption, Watertown, New York.


This is the seventh article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Aaron H. Goetzinger
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

The heart of the issue

Andrew C. Schroer 

For nearly three years now, I have had the privilege of serving on the ethics board of one of our local newspapers. The ethics board consists of various personnel from the newspaper, including the publisher and editors, together with three at-large members of our community. We meet monthly to discuss controversial articles, concerns readers have voiced, and the overall ethics of journalism. 

Recently the newspaper published an exposé on a local politician who is now embroiled in controversy. Almost immediately people began accusing the newspaper of having a political agenda that was clearly biased. The complaints were that the editors were getting revenge for previous wrongs or just didn’t like the politician. 

Having been allowed to peek behind the curtain and listen to the discussions beforehand, I am fascinated by how painstakingly the editors sought to be objective and evaluated the ethical ramifications of what they printed. 

Are they always perfectly objective? No. Do personal feelings at times affect decisions? I’m sure they do. But overall, I’ve learned that they truly do seek to be honest and objective. 

The comments I read from various sources this last week remind me of something God once said to the prophet Samuel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

Only God knows what thoughts and feelings fill our hearts and minds. 

Yet, so often, we fall into the delusion that we are God. We fancy ourselves mind readers. We presume to know other people’s reasons and motivations. 

When your husband suddenly doesn’t answer you, he must be mad at you because of what you said to him in the morning. When your coworker doesn’t respond right away to your text, she must be ignoring you because she is a jerk. When the newspaper runs an article that says something negative about a certain politician, it must have a political agenda and is therefore biased. 

That could be true. Or maybe your husband simply didn’t hear you. Maybe he was distracted. Maybe your coworker’s phone died. Maybe the newspaper is simply trying to report the facts its journalists found in their investigations. 

One of my favorite phrases from Martin Luther comes from his explanation to the Eighth Commandment. As he expounded what it means to not give false testimony against our neighbor, Luther encourages us to “take [their] words and actions in the kindest possible way.” 

In other words, don’t assume the worst. You cannot read minds. Only God can do that. You don’t know why they did what they did or said what they said unless they tell you. 

Remember that, especially when you and your spouse are having an argument. You can’t say, “You said this or did that because. . ..” You can’t see into your spouse’s heart. Don’t assume you know why. Talk about the behavior. Ask why. Tell your spouse the impression it gives you, but don’t assume you know. Only God can see into people’s hearts. 

Are people, politicians, and news organizations at times driven by selfish and nefarious motives? Of course. In this sinful world, all of us at times are moved by misguided motivations. But be careful. As sinful human beings, we tend to assume the worst about people—particularly those who have hurt us or with whom we disagree, and especially in our politically charged world. 

May God forgive us our sinful assumptions and give us generous hearts that take other people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.  


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Our heavenly homecoming

We long for the glory of heaven though we live as sinners in a sinful world.

James D. Roecker

Homecoming is a big deal for college campuses across the country. There is usually a theme associated with a weeklong celebration of school pride. Parades and football games are hallmarks. Alumni are welcomed back to their college campus with open arms. Homecoming can be the perfect opportunity to reconnect to the alma mater and reflect on the good old days.

This past year, UW–Stevens Point celebrated homecoming under the theme “Blast through the Past.” Stevens Point residents were invited to travel through the decades with the Pointer community. Some of the student activities for the week included a 1950s photo scavenger hunt and a trivia night focused on the 1990s. Each weekday event provided the opportunity to reflect on a specific decade of the past along with all its cultural impact and influence.

As one year ends and a new year begins, the church will do some reflecting of its own. Many churches have the tradition in New Year’s Eve services of reading the names of those congregation members who have departed this life to be with Jesus in the past year. Family members may continue to mourn such a loss, yet they have comfort because Jesus has triumphed over death and sin.

John, in Revelation, describes heaven this way: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The homecoming celebration of heaven that he has won for you and me will be majestic and marvelous. Believers across the ages will be united in the glory of God’s heaven. What an amazing thing to look forward to! What comfort comes to Christians who fix their eyes heavenward toward their heavenly home!

But we have trouble holding on to that vision. So much in this world distracts us: anxiety, grief, loss, and trials. The college experience brings its own distinct challenges and struggles. Really, each season of life is unique and brings different struggles and temptations that lead to fixing our eyes on things or solutions other than God. We find ourselves enslaved by our sin.

None of us can stand confidently before a righteous and holy God with the corruption of sin we have at our core. Because of it, God threatens to bar us from his heavenly home. In humble repentance we fall on our knees at the cross of Christ. His Holy Spirit’s work of faith in our hearts clings to that cross, a source of comfort and confidence. In Christ we have freedom from sin.

Paul encourages the Christians in Galatia this way: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). God, through his Son, has lavished his grace and love on the world. Through faith we receive God’s blessings: forgiveness and new life. Each of us has a line in God’s book of life with our name on it.

Our life’s journey continues so long as God sees fit. We long for the glory of heaven though we live as sinners in a sinful world. Our feelings and frustrations will fluctuate and change with each new day of grace God gives us. We can rejoice in our Redeemer who never changes. We can be confident Christ will go all out for our heavenly homecoming celebration.


James Roecker, pastor at Divine Word, Plover, Wisconsin, does campus ministry work at UW–Stevens Point, Stevens Point, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: James D. Roecker
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

God’s love: Our song forever – Part 7

We want our tunes to carry Christ-centered texts. They need to touch not only our emotions but also our minds.  

Aaron L. Christie 

It was the season for high school musicals. The long months of winter rehearsals were finally at an end. The curtains cracked open for a packed house to a production of The King and IAfter three hours of sights and sounds, the senses were most certainly satiated—or saturated! 

One of the songs that always received thunderous applause was “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” Governess Leonowens whistled her happy tune to her son Louis when they arrived in Siam fearful of their future in a new home in an exotic country. The lyrics aren’t exactly Shakespeare, but the tune certainly is sunny.   

Thirty years later, I can still hear the whistling. 

More than a tin-whistle hymnody 

When it comes to the tunes and harmonic settings of the hymns in Christian Worship (CW), people haven’t always whistled for joy. As it turns out, one person’s “whistler” is another person’s “groaner.” The Hymnal Committee has received significant feedback on the musical elements of the project. Some comments come from trained musicians with significant experience. Other comments come from brothers and sisters without musical training. Their comments often involve the difficulty of some hymn tunes.  

On the other hand, even if the thought is rarely stated, each comment also comes with a personal preference attached. There are 375,000 WELS members who know what they like and like what they know. And here we face a musical temptation. We need to be wary of stopping with what we like and know. Worse yet, we need to be careful of projecting our preferences on a denomination of people. 

Dr. Martin Franzmann pokes this tendency in the eye: “Another argument might be called the ‘tin whistle’ argument. Its essence is something like this: ‘After all, a man can make music on a tin whistle to the glory of God, and God will be pleased to hear it.’ True, true, true—if God has given him nothing but a tin whistle; but God has given us so infinitely much more. When He has given us all the instruments under heaven with which to sing His praises, then the tin whistle is no longer humility but a perverse sort of pride” (Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets, p. 92).  What is true about tin whistles and trumpets is also true about the notes that those instruments play. 

God has given WELS much more than a tin-whistle hymnody. He’s given us two thousand years of singing the Savior’s story! What does Christian music sound like? It sounds like Gregorian chant (“Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel,” CW 23, the most sung hymn in WELS according to surveys!), the folk music of Europe (CW 369) and America (CW 379), the cathedrals of England (CW 594), and the mission chapels of Africa (Christian Worship: Supplement 719). It sounds like the chorales of Luther (CW 200). Our music is as old as the Psalms and as recent as tunes and settings composed this year. In short, the Holy Spirit does not create Christian monotones!  

Music to bring Christ-centered texts 

Unlike Governess Leonowens, it is not enough for confessional Lutherans to whistle happy tunes to convince themselves that they aren’t afraid. Instead, we want our tunes to carry Christ-centered texts that drive out fear. Our tunes need to touch not only our emotions but also our minds. Lutheran tunes are often less, so that hymn texts may be more.  

This ministerial view of music is at least as old as the ancient church father St. Augustine: “Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer” (Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of the Enlightenment, p. 49). 

In other words, is this a piece of music that carries the gospel to my heart and thereby leads me to the heart of Jesus, or does it lead me to the music? Both are emotional experiences. Only one, however, is a Christian worship experience. Music must be content to remain the text’s servant, never the text’s master. 

Tunes that touch the heart 

Our tunes are also meant to serve hymn singers. This does not mean that every tune will be immediately accessibleWhy? Because music that is immediately accessible often makes for music that is quickly expendable. No one had to teach children born in the ’60s and ’70s the theme song of Gilligan’s Island. Its music is immediately accessible. We had to work a bit, however, to learn the melody of the National Anthem. Thirty years from now, the National Anthem will still be taught and sung. The theme song of Gilligan’s Island will remain a childhood curiosity and most likely be forgotten.  

Our tunes also serve singers by giving sound to the entire panoply of human emotions. We grieve over our sins (CW 305) and rejoice in God’s forgiveness in Christ (CW 390). We struggle with the ever-present difficulties in life (CW 444) and rejoice that in Christ we have the ultimate victory (CW 428). There are times in life when we are called on to stand up for Jesus (CW 474) and fight the good fight of faith (CW 457). There are other times where it is best to be still and know that our Lord is God (CW 415). Some tunes are happy, others sad; some tunes lead to grieving, others to rejoicing. Why? Because all of these emotions—and many more—are felt by the family of believers this side of heaven. Tunes that are only and always light and happy can lead to a Leonowens-esque view of the Christian life—all happy, all the time. The book of Psalms puts the whole spectrum of human emotions on our hearts and lips.  

Thank God that Lutheran music is never an exercise in “whistling past the graveyard.” Instead, we sing the gospel of the One who conquered the graveyard. Our music is never an effort in happy-sounding self-deception; instead, it serves as a vehicle for the gospel. God has blessed us with so many wonderful sounds through the centuries. Our century and our new hymnal will be no exception! 


Aaron Christie, chairman of the Hymnody Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project, is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.  


 This is the seventh article in a nine-part series on hymns and their use in our churches.  


The WELS Hymnal Project wants your feedback as it works on finalizing which of the more than 700 hymns from Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Supplement will be included in the new hymnal. Every month the WELS Hymnal Project will post a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. You can view the monthly list and, if you want, choose up to 10 hymns from the cut list that you would like to see kept in the new hymnal. To review this month’s list of hymns and take part in the process, visit welshymnal.com.


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Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Celebrating the Reformation at home and abroad

In October and November 2017, congregations, circuits, and districts around the synod gathered to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Missions and sister churches around the world also took part in the celebration. From smaller gatherings to districtwide assemblies of close to 5,000 people, from locations in Africa, Asia, and Europe, these services all concentrated on the truths brought into focus through Martin Luther: grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone, all through Christ alone.

View photos from some of these celebrations.

 


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

A long journey

Along a long and difficult path, the Lord has proven to be a Good Shepherd. 

Amanda Klemp 

Shong Thao, a member of Grace Hmong, Kansas City, Kan., was a lay delegate to the 2017 synod convention. But his journey to Watertown, Wisconsin, last summer was longer than most. 

Thao was born in Laos in 1958 at the cusp of the Secret War, a civil war between the Communist Party and the Royal Lao government. 

The Shepherd 

Thao was born into a Christian family, one of the first in Laos. Prior to knowing Christ as their Savior, his clan had strong and deep roots in the Hmong religion. In fact, his grandfather was considered a powerful shaman in the region, with many families asking him to “remove evil” (heal the sick) in their households. After one particular attempt at “removing evil,” his grandfather came down with a sudden and severe illness and died.  

Not long after his grandfather’s death, Thao’s uncle, the new clan leader of the Thao family, met a Christian missionary. Thao’s uncle listened to the missionary, realizing that the traditional religion might not really be the answer. The Holy Spirit led his uncle to share Christianity with the entire clan.  

Christianity was an entirely new concept to the Thao clan, but the missionary spoke Laotian and could teach the faith to the family. It’s a faith that would help Thao and his family alone their decades-long journey of danger and uncertainty. 

Through the valley 

Thao was the smallest of eight children. He said that he was born small and didn’t grow because of poor nutrition in his early years. His father worked on a farm to support the family, but by 1960 the political tensions reached his village and signs of conflict appeared in the form of helicopters and a military presence. The family moved from village to village to stay safe.  

Thao’s older sister, at 16 years old, married a military captain. His mom saw this as an opportunity to keep Thao safe and ensure he received an education. So Thao went to live with his sister and stayed there for three years without seeing his parents. He says he remembers crying and wanting to be with his mom, but his sister reassured him that she would care for him. 

After three years with his sister, he moved again to live with one of his brothers in a different city, but fighting broke out in the region and they had to move again. His family trekked through the jungle for a week to reach a safer city. Thao, now about 10 years old, was finally back with his parents, but soon his mom died.  

Despite the war and the constant moving, Thao continued attending school and graduated from the Laotian school system when he was 15 years old. The war had been raging for more than a decade, and it seemed no end was in site. After graduation, he wanted to go into the military with his cousin and become an officer. 

The United States was heavily involved in the Secret War. The policy at the time called for the CIA to coordinate the Hmong people to form an army and defend the country. At 15 years old, Thao got his first job working for the CIA as a mechanic. 

Through all of this—the hunger, separation from his parents, treacherous journeys through the jungle, constantly moving, and the raging battles of war—Thao knew that the Lord is his Good Shepherd, who guides him and keeps him safe. 

Green pastures 

The war finally ended, but because of his work with the CIA, Thao’s life was in danger in Laos after the Communist Party took over the country. After six months in a refugee camp, he was granted refugee status, and at 17 years old he arrived in Wausau, Wisconsin  

Despite finishing his education in Laos and already working for the U.S. military—experiences unlike anything U.S. teenagers would have endured—his next big battle would be enrolling in an American high school to study English. He said that he felt like a “dummy.” When the school year ended, the church that sponsored him as a refugee offered him a job as a summer custodian at the school.  

When fall came, he didn’t go back to high school but rather attended a technical school and began working full time. He eventually enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh to study social work.  

Between working and going to school, he met his wife, who joined the church and was baptized after meeting him. By 1980, the first of his eight children was born. In a few short years, as a young man, Thao was making a life for himself in the United States. He finished his degree in social work and ended up working to help other immigrants as they settled in the U.S.  

But the demands of work and education while in the the early days of starting a family as well as the harrowing events and images he couldn’t shake from his youth took their toll. He suffered depression for many years and, at one time, was even hospitalized for it. Thao, who readily attests to the power of prayer, says he prayed to God for peace the whole time he was in the hospital. He credits his Good Shepherd with providing comfort in his darkest hours. While the memories and images of war have never left him, he says he knows God is always with him, guiding him and taking care of him. 

Thao and his family didn’t stay in Wisconsin, and he didn’t spend his whole career in social work. He says he liked to experience different types of jobs, and they moved around the country a few times, each time finding a new church to join. 

Dwelling in the house of the Lord 

It wasn’t until they moved to Kansas City three years ago that they joined their first WELS church. Grace is a predominantly Hmong congregation, and Thao says he felt drawn to it because he wanted to see it grow. Attending the synod convention this summer reinvigorated him and helped him grow in his conviction that Lutherans teach the true Word of God. He says he wants more Hmong people to know Christ as their Savior. 

In the last few years he has experienced some significant health problems, including more than one heart attack and bypass surgery. Although it was scary and painful, he says he knows it was another thing that God guided him through. He’s knows he’s here because God has a purpose for him.  

Now his children are all adults and living on their own, each attending church regularly. He also has seven grandchildren. With the perspective he has from his life experiences, he says the number one thing he wants for his children is to “love their Christian family and love each other.” He teaches them never to have to depend on anyone but God and, at the same time, always to be willing to help someone else. 

Through his trials, he sees all the times God has protected him, blessed him, and put people in his life to help him. Now his goal is to be able to help others. 


Amanda Klemp is a member at Gethsemane, Davenport, Iowa. 


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Author: Amanda Klemp
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Light it up!

God lit up sin-darkened Magi hearts with Jesus the Light. Jesus is our light too, a light we need to share! 

Daniel M. Schroeder 

The spotlight lights up the face of the actor on the stage. The light draws your attention. It shines on the important.  

In this month of January, you will hear the word epiphany. The word epiphany means to reveal or make known. The Greek origin of the word has the picture of shining a light upon something, lighting it up. For over 1,800 years Christians have celebrated the second oldest festival of Christendom—the Epiphany of Our Lord—on Jan. 6.  

At the time of Jesus, if a king or emperor made an official visit to one of his cities, it was called an epiphany. When heavenly King Jesus made his appearance as a baby in his village of Bethlehem, the King of kings had officially arrived for his subjects. God was revealing to the world—lighting it up—that the King was making an official visit: an epiphany. 

Magi from the East, well acquainted with stars and prophecy, arrived in Jerusalem to find the promised King whose star they had seen. Although Israel awaited the Messiah and knew Bethlehem as the Messiah’s birth-town, not one of them went with the Magi to find the King. No interest. You can sense a darkness.  

Thick, spiritual darkness covered Judea, Galilee, Persia, and the rest of the world. It was a darkness that blacked out all hope of life with God. And then God sent his Son Jesus, the radiant Light to destroy sin’s darkness. The Spirit had the prophet Isaiah put it this way, “Arise, shine, for your light has come. . . . The LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (Isaiah 60:1,19). The Savior is the light who never stops shining to defeat the darkness of sin, death, and Satan. 

God lit up sin-darkened Magi hearts with Jesus the Light. The Spirit lit up the Magi’s faith to see that Jesus is the darkness-defeater, not just for the Jews but also for the world. 

Jesus is our light too. Don’t keep the Light only for family, friends, or familiar faces that look like us. Also send the Light across oceans to continents where Satan continues to rule darkened hearts blinded in unbelief. 

For the last 1,400 years, Epiphany worshipers have prayed, “Lord God, by the leading of a star you once made known to the nations your one and only Son . . .” Resolve this Epiphany season to be part of making Jesus the Light known to the nations.  


Dan Schroeder is pastor at St. Peter, Modesto, California. 


 Putting Epiphany into practice 

Here are some ways for you to help reveal the Light: 

  • Pray for and send an offering to a mission effort in a country from which your ancestors originated.
  • Write a letter of encouragement and, with help from some friends, send a care package to a missionary and his family.
  • Select a mission field in a country you know little about. Find out more about that country. Pray for the gospel workers there and the unique challenges they face. Send an offering to support that mission work.
  • Arrange for a mission dinner at your church.Serve dishes native to a world mission (include kid-friendly food as an option). Use it as an outreach event to invite and connect others to your church. 
  • Along with a mission dinner, use Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, or another application to “bring” a missionary to your church.

Your pastor or the WELS World Mission office at (414) 256-3234 or bwm@wels.net can help you connect with a world mission field. 


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Author: Daniel M. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Heart to heart: Parent conversations : Should we encourage our kids to make resolutions?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

I always feel like a loser when New Year’s rolls around. Friends and family are busy making resolutions, and I just don’t. When asked what my resolutions are for the new year, I usually mumble a feeble, “I don’t have any.”  

It’s not that I’m anti-resolution. I think I’m just anti-failure—and most New Year’s resolutions seem ready-made for failure. The parents writing Heart to heart’s column this month really get at the heart of where I’m coming from. They put into words the way I’ve felt for years but could never express. So, read through their articles and resolve away! Or, perhaps even better, sit down with your family and create some realistic goals that you can work on achieving with support from one another. 

Nicole Balza


It’s a running joke every January at the fitness club I attend. One of the “regulars” looks around the packed club and grouses, “Why are there so many people here?” Someone else inevitably replies, “Just wait until February.”  

It’s so true. If you search online for the “top 10 broken New Year’s resolutions,” losing weight and getting fit is number one. Another online statistic reports that about only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions keep them. Ouch. I’m no scientist, but attempting something repeatedly with such low probability of success seems a little futile. 

So why do we even bother to make New Year’s resolutions? Maybe it’s human nature to want a fresh start in a new year. Maybe it’s in response to eating way too many Christmas cookies and not wanting to buy bigger pants. Whatever it is, it’s also a part of human nature to try—and sometimes fail—at making lasting, positive changes in our lives. 

So should we even try? And should we encourage our children to set New Year’s resolutions? I think that everyone needs some achievable, tangible goals, even if they aren’t written in red pen on January 1 on our calendars. But here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  • Resolutions should be realistic, measurable, and tackled in manageable chunks.Instead of vowing, “I am going to lose 50 pounds this year!” perhaps start with: “I am going to commit to walking for 30 minutes, 3 times per week.” And who doesn’t want to commit to spending more time in God’s Word? So, if “I am going to read through my entire Bible this year” seems too daunting, try: “I am going to find a manageable Bible reading plan and read my Bible for 10 minutes each day.” 
  • Accountability can help us make positive changes in our lives.There are times my husband has had to pull me, groaning and griping, off the couch to get me to exercise. There are times I’ve done the same for him. Families are great accountability groups. Parents, try sitting down with your kids and asking them for three realistic, measurable goals for the new year. Ask: What steps do you need to take to achieve these? How can I help you stick to these goals? Then parents, you do the same. Set goals for yourselves, share them with your kids, and ask them to keep you accountable. Pray as a family for God to bless your efforts and give you strength to achieve your goals. And don’t forget to celebrate every little victory along the way. 
  • Ask God’s forgiveness—and forgive yourself—when you stumble.We’re human. We fail every day. What a comfort it is having a loving God who forgives our failures through the blood of his Son, Jesus! 

And ultimately, remember that even the best resolutions can fail. We can plan and plan and try and try, but some things are beyond our control. Stuff happens. Remember, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Some things we want just aren’t in God’s plan for our lives, and that’s okay. Knowing that our loving God already has the entirety of our lives mapped out in his perfect plan is a huge comfort to us—and to our kids. 


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


Hudson, my man! Let’s talk about the club we’re starting.” 

Hudson is my eight-year-old grandson. In January 2018, Hudson and I are founding a photography club.  

“I have ideas about how to make sure our club doesn’t fizzle out,” I say. “Want to hear them?”  

“Sure.”  

I show him the note app on my phone. “I have seven suggestions. Tell me what you think. The first is that we promise each other to keep our club going. Can we shake on that?” 

Hudson slaps his hand into mine. We shake hands like we are making a million-dollar deal.  

The second thing is to tell others about our club. It will be harder to quit if others know we’re doing this. Better yet, we can give permission to one or two people to encourage us. I’m going to tell Nana. Whom will you tell?” 

His face squinches in thought. “Mom and Dad.” 

“Good choice. They’ll want to help.”  

“Here’s the third thing. We can tell Jesus we’re doing this and ask for his help. Would you be willing to pray about our club?” 

Hudson nods his commitment. 

The next thing we can do is schedule our club meetings. If I don’t put a meeting on my calendar, I probably won’t have time for it. Would the second Saturday of each month work for you?” Hudson looks uncertain. “Let’s ask your parents if that would be okay.”  

Number five: we need a sign to remind us. Something for my office. Something for your room. Would you make us each a sign? Maybe it could say, ‘Remember the photography club.’ ” 

“I could do that, I guess,” he answers. “I could draw with a bunch of colors so we won’t miss seeing it.” 

“That sounds great. Thank you.” 

Number six is that we reward ourselves for sticking to our commitment. What if we go to Culvers for a frozen custard cone in July?” 

“Yes. That would be cool!” 

“Okay. I have one more idea to help us keep our New Year’s resolution. Let’s decide we will do our photography club first of all to thank Jesus for loving us. Does that make sense?” 

Hudson ponders for a moment. “Yes, it does,” he says. “Papa, I can’t wait to start our club. It’s going to be fun.” 

“It will, Hudson. Let’s hug on it.” 


James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren.  


I’ve never liked the term resolution. It has an ugly connotation in my mind of failed attempts at weight loss and unsustainable, temporary life changes. For several years now, my husband and I have spent New Year’s Eve setting goals rather than resolutions for the coming year. We record them on one of our phones and keep each other in check on achieving those goals. This process is meant to be fun more than anything—a chance to learn a new skill or shave a few minutes off a race time, but they can also be geared toward strengthening our faith life, both personally and as a family. 

Our kids are often a part of this process, more our daughter than our young son (who would rather just snitch leftover Christmas cookies while the grownups are distracted!). We encourage Anna to set goals for herself as well. Anything from learning a new skill to reading the Bible daily to training for a race. 

When I think of goals versus resolutions, one thing stands out to me. Resolutions tend to be an immediate, often dramatic change in behavior, while goals are achievable, eventual changes that can be measured. Teaching our kids to work toward goals will be a huge help to them as they grow in their personal and professional lives, and we’re (hopefully) showing them that it’s not a scary process to tackle. 

Setting goals for personal change can be a good thing, if we don’t allow it to become an idol for ourselves. I believe involving our kids in our tradition allows them to see their parents working toward—and often achieving—fun and reasonable accomplishments. It also allows them to see us struggle or fail occasionally. We can pray about our progress together. We can work together on spiritual goals like family devotion time or family service projects. Working toward and achieving goals as a family and supporting each other in our personal goals has been a wonderful bonding experience for our family—something we all look forward to each year. 


Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have two young children—nine-year-old Anna and five-year-old Henry.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 2

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Smells better than dinner (Mark 14:1-9)

Fresh baked bread. Chocolate chip cookies. Simmering cinnamon sticks. French roast coffee. Go ahead . . . take a whiff. Did you crack a little smile? It’s hard not to.

When Simon the Leper invited Jesus to be his dinner guest, I’m sure Jesus did not miss all the smells. Baked bread with dipping oils on the side. Fresh cut oranges. The catch of the day. And a crowded room of perfumed, curious people.

Then, cutting through the smells, Jesus got a whiff of something that brought a smile to his face. It was a “beautiful thing” (Mark 14:6) as Mary, the one who chose the one thing needed (Luke 10:42), needed to pour out her love before the One who loved her. When she saw Jesus, the One who changed her life, her appreciation and love welled up and overflowed. With no concern of a shard that may have cut her hand, she broke the neck of that expensive alabaster jar and poured the whole amount over his head until it dripped and dribbled down to his feet.

Proud papalike approval

This dinner at Simon’s table tells us much about Mary. But it also tells us much about our Savior. Look at his response. More than just acknowledging her gift, he called it “beautiful.” Wow! The God who crowns the sky with seven-layered rainbows and paints the sky at sunrise and sunset—the God who dresses the fields with sprays of flowers and invented 33 million times more scents than Bath & Body Works—that God, that creative, full-of-beauty God, called her act of faith “beautiful.” Ours too.

Why? One reason: he loves us. And love affects our perspective and our actions. Just like a proud dad thinks his kindergartner’s art is so beautiful that he displays it at work for all to see, God values our fruits of faith. They may not measure up to the world’s standards for beauty, but they are beautiful to him.

Mama bearlike defense

Moreover, his love leads him to defend us in the same way he defended his dear friend Mary. When the crowd questioned her, Jesus roared back like a protective mama bear, “Leave her alone” (Mark 14:6).

Usually when we pray that the Lord would defend us, we are looking to his mighty power for help. But it’s not just his might that comforts us. It’s why he wants to defend us that gives us his reassuring strength. He holds us in his protective embrace for one reason alone—because he loves us.

Promise-keeping Savior

It didn’t stop there. Having captured the attention of the crowd with his signature “Truly I tell you,” Jesus went on to promise this: “What she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). The fact that I’m writing—and you’re reading—about it today is convincing evidence that Jesus keeps his promises.

A proud papalike approval, a mama bearlike defense, and a promise-keeping Savior. What gifts Jesus put on display as a mealtime guest! Gifts that lead us to pray, “And let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”


Food for thought

  1. Evaluate this statement: Love is not love if it neatly calculates the cost. 

Just because Jesus commended Mary for her gift, that doesn’t mean we necessarily should use our offerings for things that could be deemed “wasteful.” Biblical stewardship principles still apply. However, two things stand out in Jesus’ evaluation of Mary’s offering: 1) he recognized that it was a gift for him (“She has done a beautiful thing to me.); and 2) he acknowledged the timing of this gift (he was about to be buried). As good managers, we too will want to encourage and give offerings that are 1) to God’s glory; and 2) appropriate for the time.  

  1. A Christian man donates $10,000 for a mural in his church, even though the congregation has an outstanding debt of $1.2 million. Apply this biblical account to the situation. 

In the example of the $10,000 mural gift, one would want to rejoice over the man’s motives, if they were indeed out of gratitude for the Lord. Second, one would want to consider the timing. In this particular case, the gift seemed appropriate as it brought him much gospel comfort: he had recently lost his wife. The mural would help him; it reminded him every week when he walked into church, “Take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.” It was a way for him to remember the gospel and Jesus’ love. In addition, it was to proclaim the gospel to others as they entered the house of God. 

  1. Read the three accounts of Jesus being anointed (Matthew 26:6-13;Mark 14:1-9; John 12:1-8). Which details do you appreciate the most?  

Together, the three accounts paint a beautiful picture. What you appreciate the most will vary. When studying a portion of Jesus’ life, it is often helpful to look at the various gospel accounts that record it. In this case, I appreciate that John shares the identity of the anointer. But I also appreciate some of the smaller details. For example, Mark tells us that she broke the alabaster jar. In other words, she wasn’t just willing to pour out a year’s worth of wages on Jesus; she even dedicated the expensive container. Or how about the fact that Matthew chimes in that the “disciples” (plural) thought this was a waste, not just Judas. What a reminder about how we too can get caught up in considering certain offerings to be wasteful, even though we’re not thieves like Judas. 


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.


This is the second article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Jan. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Light for our path: Satan rendered powerless?

Since Jesus has crushed Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15), doesn’t that mean Satan has been rendered powerless?

James F. Pope

Your question leads us back to the Garden of Eden where God prophesied the defeat of Satan. The answer to your question takes us on a journey to Holy Week and the Last Day.

Crushed by the risen Christ

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the Creator did not remain silent. He disclosed sin’s consequences, but then he revealed himself as their Savior-God. What is fascinating is that God promised a Savior to Adam and Eve while addressing Satan. God uttered the words of Genesis 3:15 to Satan, but he delivered them especially for the benefit of Adam and Eve and all their descendants.

God announced that from that moment on there would be animosity between his followers and those who are on the side of Satan. God then declared that one of Eve’s offspring, the promised Messiah, would crush Satan’s head. Keep in mind that Satan is a spirit being, a fallen angel, having no body of flesh and bones. Because Satan does not have a physical head capable of being crushed, God’s promise pointed to a crushing blow to the power of Satan, symbolized by his head. Jesus delivered such a blow when he rose triumphantly from the dead and then descended into hell to demonstrate to Satan who had won the battle between them (1 Peter 3:18-20).

Does this mean that Satan has been rendered powerless? No, but the day is coming when that will be the case.

Banished by the powerful judge

What we can say from Scripture is that Satan is presently a defeated enemy of God.

While he cannot do whatever he wants (Revelation 20:3), he retains the ability to tempt people. His goal is to prevent people from coming to saving faith in Jesus and to rob Christians of their faith. Satan goes about his work with a sense of urgency because “he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). Only God knows when the Last Day will take place, but Satan is keenly aware that the time is approaching when he will lose all influence. So, until that time, he is on a mission of spiritual destruction.

On the Last Day, all his activity will cease. Jesus Christ, the King of kings and judge of all people (Matthew 25:31-46), will banish Satan and his minions to hell forever (Revelation 20:10). Never again will Satan be able to bother Christians.

As you and I await that glorious day, we recognize that Satan remains a dangerous enemy of ours. Scripture does not portray Satan as a harmless kitten but as a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). On our own, we are no match for Satan (Ephesians 6:12), but with God on our side, Satan is outmatched.

While the historic Reformation anniversary has come and gone, the truths that the Reformation restored and emphasized remain. “Scripture alone” is the source and foundation of our faith, and Scripture is our powerful weapon against Satan. “This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done! One little word can fell him” (Christian Worship 200:3). While we wait for Satan to be rendered completely powerless on the Last Day, we daily use God’s Word to send him reeling in defeat.


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 01
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Confident and persistent prayer

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Luke 11:9

Daniel J. Habben  

I think Jesus made a mistake.

It just doesn’t seem that his promise in Luke 11:9 is true. I’ve asked, I’ve sought, I’ve pounded on the door to God’s heavenly treasure room, but I haven’t always received what I wanted.

Getting what we need

How are we to understand this promise about prayer? In the short parable before the verse, Jesus describes a man who received an unexpected midnight visitor. He had no food to offer this visitor, so he went to his neighbor to beg for provisions.

Knowing that the neighbor represents God, how would you have written the ending to the parable? Would the neighbor in your version of the story have whipped up an omelette with all the fixings? Would he have insisted on personally hosting the unexpected visitor? Isn’t that what we want God to do—to put to bed all our problems? Instead, the neighbor in the parable told his friend to go away! Are we supposed to think of our heavenly Father as a grumpy neighbor who won’t help?

But Jesus doesn’t make mistakes. The parable doesn’t end there. One key to understanding this parable is to remember that Jesus never promised to give us whatever we ask for. No, he said that God would give us whatever we need. In the parable, the man boldly asked. As a result of the man’s bold asking and knocking, Jesus said his neighbor gave him just as much as he needed.

Dealing with the unexpected visitor

Unlike the grumpy neighbor’s first response in the parable, God delights to hear us knocking at his door. And he loves to answer us in just the right way. But what if I’ve persistently prayed for financial stability only to have my car break down? That “unexpected visitor” makes me realize just how ill-prepared I am to handle life’s trials on my own. It sends me running again to my loving Father, my heavenly neighbor who can supply all my needs. If I ever doubt his willingness to help me. I need only consider the cross. It is God’s perfect answer to the problem of my sin: his son Jesus.

Jesus himself knows what it’s like to deal with a “midnight visitor.” Maybe it was around midnight when he was on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane praying that God would remove the cup of suffering he was about to endure on the cross. Jesus was persistent in that prayer, asking three times for it to be removed. But each time he also added, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus was confident that his Father knew what was best. And his Father did provide what Jesus needed. He gave him the strength to finish his work of earning salvation for a world full of sinners.

God may not rescue you from your financial mess in quite the manner you prayed for, but he will give you the calm to handle the crisis. If your midnight visitor is a difficult coworker or your own grim diagnosis, God may not deliver you from those situations by making them suddenly disappear. But he will give you enough strength and patience and peace each day to handle your hardships.

So keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. The door to God’s heart is open to you. He’ll always give you what you need.


Contributing editor Daniel Habben is pastor at St. John’s, St. John’s, Antigua, West Indies.  


Note: The artwork is a painting called “Midnight visitor.” It features Luke 11:9 in Japanese: Motome. Sagase. Tatake. (Ask. Seek. Knock.)


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 9

Milestone moments and unexpected crises are the perfect opportunities for heartfelt repentance. Then we note God’s deliverance.

Samuel C. Degner 

Milestones have a way of making us stop and think. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirements—all are natural times to pause and reflect on the path we’ve traveled so far and the future that lies before us. Other occasions have the same effect: a health scare, an unexpected move, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job.

Soul-searching moments

The people of Israel were at one of these soul-searching moments. Idols were everywhere. The tabernacle had been destroyed, and the ark of God sat in storage. The people knew something was wrong. “Then the whole house of Israel longed for the LORD” (1 Samuel 7:2 Christian Standard Bible [CSB]).

The prophet Samuel knew the people were turning in the right direction. He encouraged them to show their repentance by getting rid of their idols. They did just that; then they gathered together as a nation at Mizpah to confess their sins to the Lord. As we look back at our past, it’s good to confess the sins committed there. It’s always a good time to turn to the Lord.

While Israel was gathered together at Mizpah, the Philistines decided it was a good time to attack. When Israel heard of their attack, they turned to the right place. They said to Samuel, “Don’t stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, so that he will save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8 CSB). Samuel offered a lamb on behalf of the people. The Lord heard their cry. He sent thunder so loud that the Philistines were thrown into a panic and were routed by the Israelites.

God never leaves his people helpless. When we turn to him in repentance, we trust that we have a perfect Prophet, Jesus Christ, mediating for us. He offered himself, the spotless Lamb, on our behalf. He never stops crying out to the Lord our God for us: “Father, remember the sacrifice I made. Forgive their sins. Help them in their trouble!” The Father always hears his cries and helps us in just the right way and at just the right time, just as he helped the Israelites.

Stones of help

After the battle, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer (“stone of help”), saying, “The LORD has helped us to this point” (1 Samuel 7:12 CSB). It was a monument to God’s help that day—and all the days before it. More than that, it was an encouragement for the future. If the Lord had helped them to that point, surely he would help them the rest of the way.

As you look back at your life, consider how the Lord brought you through each crisis. See how he moved you to repentance and forgave your sins. Marvel at how he blessed you at each stage. Those big moments in life weren’t milestones after all; they were Ebenezers. Look back on the road you’ve traveled and see stone after stone, each one set a little farther than the next, each one reminding you that the Lord helped you that far.

Then look toward the horizon of your future with confidence. The Lord will be there to help you until the next stone is set in place, and the next one and the next—until the last one is set on heavenly ground.


Contributing editor Samuel Degner is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin. 


This is the final article in a nine-part series on Old Testament monuments and what they mean to us today.  


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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Teen Talk: Thankfulness

Sometimes our “thank yous” become only words. We can become more thankful by practicing thankfulness. 

Lukas Heckmann 

Today many of us live in a world of many blessings. God has blessed us with education, family, friends, and faith. But how are we doing at thanking him? 

I don’t mean just saying thank you, because we say thank you a lot. Think about Christmas. We receive gifts from family, friends and coworkers. Many of the gifts we receive are things we’ve wanted and feel we need, but sometimes we receive a gift that we feel we don’t need and don’t have a use for. When I get a gift like that, I say thank you, but only because I don’t want people to feel I’m ungrateful.  

Is that how we treat God’s gift of Jesus? Do we thank God because it’s the nice thing to do? I know I do that a lot. During church, I frequently thank God for his blessings, but during the week I find myself doing opposite of what he told me in church. That is one of my useless “thank yous” to God. If we thank God like we thank the relative who gave us the gift we’ll never use, then God doesn’t want our thanks.  

In the book of Malachi, the people of Israel were giving useless offerings or thanks to God. They, like us, said thanks to God only because it was a tradition. Here is how God responded. “ ‘Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will accept no offering from your hands’ ” (Malachi 1:10).  

So how do we become better at thanking God? How do we live our lives out of thanks to God? Like everything else, it takes practice. A golfer doesn’t become a better putter by running eight miles every day, and a basketball player doesn’t become a better three-point shooter by swimming laps in the pool. These things might indirectly improve their skills, but not directly.  

If you want to become a better three-point shooter, the key is repetition. Shoot a hundred threes with perfect form. The same thing goes for giving thanks to God. If you want to give God the thanks he deserves, practice—and repeat it every day. We are encouraged to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 

It is not that hard to find God’s blessings in your life if you take a minute to look. If you’re reading this article, you woke up in the morning. Thank God for something as simple as that. The past two years I have had the privilege to participate in an eight-miles-for-water walk, which replicates what people in Africa need to do just to get a drink of water. It involves carrying 70 pounds of water from a spring two miles away, twice a day. So next time you walk to the faucet to pour a glass of water, thank God because even something that small is a blessing from God. Thank your parents when food gets put on the table, because your parents and the food on the table are huge blessings from God.  

Finally, thank God for the gift of Jesus. Let that gift help you see all the other blessings God has freely given to you. Give thanks. 


Lukas Heckmann, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at St. Andrew, Middleton, Wisconsin.  


 

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Author: Lukas Heckmann
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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