From the mountains to the skies: The story of Hue Thao

Bounkeo Lor 

I knew Hue Thao and his story before the Lord took him home. I hope he will forgive me for putting words in his mouth so he can tell you his story in his own words. Hue Thao would tell you the following:  

“The oceans belong to the fish;
The sky belongs to the birds,
The mountains belong to the Hmong.” (Hmong saying) 

My story begins in the mountains of Laos. That’s where the Lord gave me life, although I didn’t come to know him until many years later. I grew up and developed a love of learning. I was one of the few fortunate enough to attend college. I became a school teacher in the village of Nammoung, Laos.  

Because of dangerous conditions in Laos following the Vietnam War, I fled to Thailand in 1988, and I stayed in the Ban Vinai refugee camp, not far from the Mekong River, for many years. I studied medicine and became a physician’s assistant. I met Bounkeo Lor, but he was just an acquaintance at that time.  

Then I had the opportunity to come to the United States. I settled in Fresno, California, and drove truck, ran a laundromat, and did other things to earn a living.  

Something marvelous 

A few years later I moved to Kansas City. That’s where something marvelous happened. The Holy Spirit brought me to Jesus. I had known a few Hmong Christians over the years. I knew a little bit about the religion, but nothing clicked. Then I met Bounkeo Lor again. Now he was the pastor of Grace Hmong Lutheran Church.  

A relative of mine is married to his sister, and we both happened to be at their house one day. We got to talking, and he invited me to his church. I attended a worship service, and he invited me to meet with him later that week. We sat down, and he presented the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had never really heard God’s grace explained to me before. If I had heard this earlier, I might have become a Christian years ago! But this was the time God chose to work in my heart and lead me to faith. My wife, Mai Vue, and I were baptized at Grace on Jan. 5, 2012. 

Something exciting 

The Holy Spirit kept up his work. I was excited to learn more about Jesus, to study his Word, and to bring the good news to my people who are still under the power of Satan. The Lord gave me opportunities to do all this. I also started theological studies in the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) run by professors from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. 

In the fall of 2016, I was called to be an evangelist at Grace Hmong Lutheran Church. I was excited to go and make contacts with the Hmong community. I enjoy talking and building relationships. I also continued my studies with the PSI. It was a one-year call, and I was looking forward to serving another one-year call as a pastoral vicar. I was hoping to hear in February if I would be asked to do this.  

I also started helping Pastor Lor with his work in various ways. I often served as his much-needed chauffeur. On one occasion I drove him and two visitors from Vietnam to meet Synod President Mark Schroeder in Wisconsin. I also served as a driver when we met some contacts in Laos two years ago.  

Pastor Lor invited me to go with him to Asia on several trips. While I was not ready to do any preaching or teaching myself, except for parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, I was part of his support team. I was hopeful that in the future I would be able to help with the preaching and teaching as well. 

The Lord gave me a love of music, and I wanted to use this talent in the Lord’s service as well. My wife, Mai, is frequently asked to sing at various events in the Hmong community, and we have put together several CDs with Hmong songs. Recently we were working on a CD with Christian music. I was hoping to use this CD to bring the gospel to more Hmong people.  

Something unexpected 

Then something unexpected happened. Early in the morning of Feb. 18, 2018, the Lord called me home. It was a bit of a surprise, because I was not suffering from any major illness.  

And so my story ends, or should I say, begins, in the skies. Could I have reached more souls if I had lived longer? Our loving Lord in his wisdom had other plans, and his plans are always the best. But there are still many more souls to reach. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth workers into the harvest field.


Bounkeo Lor is the Hmong Asia ministry coordinator for WELS.  


Hue Thao’s funeral 

Bounkeo Lor 

Hue Thao’s funeral was an interesting hybrid of Hmong customs and Christian doctrine. Hmong funerals last for days, and many in the Hmong community come to the funeral, even if they do not know the deceased personally. The custom is to serve big meals for everyone who attends.  

According to Hmong custom, the coffin is made out of wood, not metal. Hmong traditional religion teaches that after death the soul director guides the soul to its birthplace to retrieve the placenta with which it was born because it is considered as the person’s original clothes. Then the soul director sends the soul to hell. The Christian teaching is much different. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism to clothe the soul with Jesus. He has directed the soul to the one thing needful: faith in Jesus. In other words, the Soul Director guides the soul of the believer to heaven to be with Jesus.  

Hue’s funeral started with a worship service on Saturday, April 14, followed, of course, by a meal. Another worship service followed on Sunday. This service lasted almost three hours! There was a sermonette in English, followed by a full sermon in Hmong. Hmong choirs from Grace Hmong Lutheran Church sang songs of comfort and hope. Then there was a meal with about 250 people in attendance. Many of these people were not Christian. The worship service was a great opportunity to present the gospel of Jesus Christ and to invite the people to worship at Grace. After the sermons on Sunday evening, a family in Hue Thao’s relation brought two of their sons to me to ask for theological training. They wanted to follow their Uncle Hue’s footsteps to serve the Lord.  

One pastor chose the words of Jesus for his sermonette: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4,5). Hue’s early death is a reminder that our time is short. We need to use it wisely, to get to know Jesus better through his Word, and to share him with others.  


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Author: Bounkeo Lor
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Part 2

Listening 

Donn G. Dobberstein

The average human speaks 125 to 150 words per minute, but the human brain is capable of comprehending and listening to 600 words per minute. We listen to music and movies for enjoyment. We listen to directions to reach our destination. We listen to podcasts and educational videos for continued growth.  

Given all the listening that we do, you would think we’d be good at it. Yet researchers believe we only remember somewhere between 25 to 50 percent of what we hear.  

We don’t really listen 

Why is that? I’ll venture out on a limb to give some answers:  

  1. People like to talk more than they listen.

Studies have shown that 40 percent of everyday speech is devoted to telling other people how we feel or what we think. So for most of us. we think we know where the conversation is going and begin formulating our response. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy preparing our reply or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view. We’re half-eared, because our attention is divided.  

  1. People are more interested in what they are doing. 

How many of us haven’t been part of a conversation that goes something like this: 

Mom: “Hey Sweetie, can you take the recyclables out to the garage and take the laundry basket of clothes to your room?” 

Distracted teen watching TV or playing a game: “Uh, yeah . . . okay.” 

A half-hour later . . . 

Annoyed Mom: “Didn’t I ask you to do something? Why haven’t you done it yet?” 

Distracted teen: “Yeah, I heard. . . . I’m going to do it in a sec’.” 

Another half-hour later . . . 

Exasperated Mom: “Why does everyone around here ignore what I say? I feel like I’m talking to myself!”  

You may ask them to repeat back what you just said to see if they were really listening. Even if they regurgitate it correctly, it still doesn’t address what annoyed you in the first place or what they think is more important. It’s the frustrating feeling of not being heard.  

Jesus shows us how to listen 

In John chapter 4, Jesus models what real listening looks like in a short conversation with a Samaritan woman. During those few minutes, Jesus took the conversation from friendly and casual to deeply spiritual and personal.   

The conversation went something like this: 

Jesus: “Can I have a drink of water?” 

Samaritan woman: “Are you sure you want to ask ME for a drink?” (Jewish men did not talk to women, and she was not with the women of the village.) 

Jesus: “If you knew who was asking you for a drink, you’d ask him to give you a drink of living water.” 

Samaritan woman: “Are you saying you’re greater than our ancestor, Jacob, who made this well?” 

Jesus: “Jacob’s water will leave you still thirsty. The water I give takes away thirst forever.” 

Samaritan woman: “Give me some of your water so I don’t have to keep coming back here!” 

A discussion about water led Jesus to speak about spiritual thirst that only God can quench. Every response to her questions led to deeper conversation. Jesus did it in such a way that it did not end the conversation, but rather steered it toward her personal life, which mattered most to him. Even when the woman later tried to redirect the topic away from her marred, marital history toward the location of worship (4:16-24), Jesus kept the focus on her heart with simple, sacred truth.  

Jesus did more than talk. He listened.  

With every word he spoke, Jesus was telling her, “I’m listening to you.”   

Listening is a way of loving 

There is a direct connect between the words love and listen. When you really love someone, you desire to hear them. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains the ways we listen: 

  • We ignore a person (not listening at all). 
  • We pretend to be listening (“Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.”) 
  • We pay close attention to what someone is saying (active listening). 

But the highest form of listening is the kind that dives into someone else’s world in order to understand his or her perspective. How many of your best friends are your best friends because they truly “listen” to you? Is not listening a way of loving? That’s Jesus!  

He walked straight into this alienated woman’s world of isolation and brokenness. He observed her hands drawing water—out of the sight of others—and understands why. He knew her crushed heart and the baggage she was carrying inside. He listened and watched to understand her questions.  

We don’t possess Jesus’ ability to see within a person and know their real needs. How much more then our need to listen rather than talk! Are we losing the ability and willingness to love by listening to people who sound and look nothing like us? Does prejudice block our ears? We say we love people, but do we show love only if it is on our terms or if they are interested in coming to our church or if they respect our way of life?  

Listening is important. When you need to pour out your heart or seek sound advice, to whom do you go to talk? Is it someone who can talk a good talk or someone who intently listens to you because they genuinely care about you? 

Jesus engaged and listened to a Samaritan woman because he genuinely loved her. Our love for others often takes a back seat. It’s me and my self-absorption that doesn’t like to listen to someone who may have absolutely nothing to offer me in terms of personal friendship. Self-absorption is not love.  

Listening helps build relationships 

Listening is one of the most important skills you can have in building relationships with others for Jesus: 

  • Listening provides a direct connectionwith people. It is a way to engage in a relationship. The better we get at listening, the less scary it is to share our faith.  Becoming a better listener can improve your ability to influence with God’s Word. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. 
  • Listening createsspace for someone else to open up and talk. It will mean you have to be quiet. Can you do that? Can you set yourself and your life aside in order to focus 100 percent upon another person? Some have said that the best conversations with me were the ones I hardly said anything! I just listened to them as they unburdened themselves. 
  • Listening sounds easy, yet it’s one of the hardest things to do.It takes time and practice. And, it takes a caring heart.  

Next time you’re in a conversation with someone, try giving both ears to him or her! Listening tells people they matter. If love for God begins with listening to his Word, then love for others is learning to listen to them. 

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). 


Donn Dobberstein, director of discipleship for WELS, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


This is the second article in a four-part series on evangelism lessons from the account of the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4.


 

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Author: Donn G. Dobberstein
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we support a child who is struggling?

How can we support a child who is struggling? 

What’s the best way to support our kids when they’re not the best at something? Do we reward effort and encourage them to keep trying? Steer them toward areas in which they excel? Praise mediocrity? Offer honest feedback? As with so much of parenting, the answer probably changes depending on the child and the circumstances.  

This month’s authors give us some go-to options when our children are struggling with the very real feelings that go along with realizing that they are not going to be the best at everything, that some things are hard. If you don’t have time to read all three articles, I’d encourage you to at least read the last paragraph of each one. A wealth of godly wisdom is found in those final paragraphs. 

Nicole Balza


My husband and I have raised three boys who are incredibly different from one another and have very different gifts, despite their shared DNA. It has made parenting them interesting . . . and challenging. What came so easily to one was a struggle for another. One lived for the grade school science fair and eagerly cultivated bacteria in petri dishes for weeks. The other started his project the night before it was due.  

Sound familiar? As parents, how do we support our kids when they don’t excel in a certain area? 

First of all, remind your kids (and yourself!) not to believe everything they see on social mediaA scroll through your Facebook feed will convince you that everyone else’s kids are destined to be doctors, pro athletes, rocket scientists, etc. Don’t buy into the lie! Discuss with your kids how social media can be about sharing “mountaintop” experiences—the perfect facade people present to the world. In reality, all kids fail, feel excluded, and struggle with self-doubt. They just might not show it.  

Help your kids realize that struggles in this sinful world are inevitable. Satan has made sure of that. The important thing is what we do with those struggles. We don’t let them define us; we let them teach us. Sometimes our kids’ struggles will lead them down a path they never would have chosen for themselves. Help them identify the valuable life lessons that can be learned from struggles. 

Remind your kids that struggles are in God’s perfect plan for their lives. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Remember that God knows what our kids need better than we do. In our time-bound, earthly thinking, we cannot comprehend how all the disparate pieces of our kids’ lives—their successes and struggles—are part of God’s divine plan for them and fulfill his purposes. 

Gently help your kids deal with failure. Kids no longer know how to fail! This sounds odd, but think about our society. It rewards kids with medals and trophies just for participating. Our attempts not to let any child’s feelings get hurt are doing kids a disservice. When they get older, they will not always be #1 or #2 but might be #27 or #1,127. Kids need to learn how to deal with failure and how to work through the depression and anxiety they might feel when they realize they aren’t #1 at everything they do. At the same time, remind your kids that the “place” or “rank” the world has assigned to them in no way changes the way you, or their heavenly Father, love and cherish them. 

Help your kids identify and cultivate their God-given gifts and areas where they excelThink about what motivates them. What makes them come alive? What can they do for hours without looking at the clock? Sometimes it’s easier for us, as parents and observers, to see where our kids’ gifts lie. It is our job to help them discover and use those gifts for God’s glory. Remind them that God gives everyone different gifts (Romans 12:6-8) and that they shouldn’t compare their gifts to the gifts of others. Assure them that God’s love does not depend on their success and neither does your love for them. 

Ultimately, let’s pray for God’s guidance in teaching our kids that their most important status is that of redeemed child of God, purchased with Jesus’ blood on the cross. 


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


My three teenagers experience a fair amount of worldly success in academics, sports, and music. This is not a bragging moment; it is simply an acknowledgement that God has given my kids a range of abilities, which are gifts they can’t take credit for in the same way they can’t take credit for their natural hair color. (Curious about this? Check out Letter 14 in Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.) 

So, for those who are used to consistent success, what happens when they encounter something they’re not naturally good at?  

Well, first, we simply accept those weaknesses. Society, in the name of well-rounded kiddos, places an awful lot of pressure on them to do everything. In reality, it’s refreshing to say, “We’re not even going to worry about that.” Not pressuring them to strive for things that aren’t in their wheelhouse gives them a chance to celebrate others’ success and gifts.  

Then, after our kids accept their weaknesses, we encourage them not to completely accept their weaknesses (and not just because we’re trying to mess with them!). The parenting cliché “You don’t have to be the best, but you need to do your best” is a good one to use here.  

Kids can’t just blow off math or English because it’s not their gift. Certain skills do need to be learned. Plus, with so many things, kids are accountable to a team or a group, so they need to work on their portion of the robotics project or practice free throws or rehearse their music. People are counting on them to contribute. This is where character is built. As kids struggle, they learn perseverance, determination, empathy, and humility. They learn that there is often a greater sense of satisfaction that comes along with hard work than from accomplishments that came easy. 

Mainly, it boils down to giving thanks. We give thanks for the natural gifts God has given our kids. Then we give thanks for the lessons they learn as they work through their struggles. 


Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, have two daughters and a son.


“I’m no good at anything!” 

“Sam is the best. Why can’t I be like him.”  

“Everyone else can do it but me!”  

Do these words activate your parent panic alarm? These phrases and others like them are a common and normal part of the growing process. However, as a parent I feel the need to spring into action and do something. My child feels like he/she is not good at anything. No way! This can’t happen! My natural instinct is to argue, “You are good at many things.” Enter kid response: “No, I’m not.” Followed by my educated, all-knowing parental response, “Yes, you are.”  

Perhaps in my panic of seeing my child hurting in some way, this “No, you aren’t/yes you are” approach could turn into more of an argument than anything else. I have found it a little (maybe a lot) more challenging for me to take a more unnatural approach during times like this. In fact, I have had to tell myself to STOPand just listen. An expression of feelings associated with not excelling in a certain area can first be acknowledged—then argued with (kidding about the arguing). Here’s my secret template.  

“Sounds like you felt a little (insert feeling word here) when (insert event here) happened.” 

It feels a bit unnatural to me, but I have found that if I do not give our kids an understanding of how they feel, nothing else I say seems to be heard. It makes me think of the accounts in Scripture when Jesus sat with the woman at the well or walked along the road to Emmaus with the disciples. He seemed to join them and express his understanding before teaching them a new way.  

So what’s next? I’ve joined my child and expressed an understanding of how he feels about not excelling in a certain area. Now it’s time to debate, right? Set this child straight and tell him what he is good at and he will walk away with new confidence, right?  

Maybe sometimes that approach is needed. Maybe it helps at times to minimize a mistake or encourage hard work and practice. Maybe sometimes it is an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and not the end result. Lots of helpful approaches can be used at different times and special situations. As I keep my radar up for a teachable moment, one thing I tend to be on guard for in my kids is the sense that Mom and Dad will only love me if I am the best. Wrong! I think there may be a sense of that conditional acceptance in all of us at times. This becomes a great opportunity for a reminder of God’s unconditional love. He loves us all with our successes and failures. That’s how we as parents try to use that as our guide. While we were still sinners (failures, broken, not good at anything), Christ died for us. There was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. It is unconditional.  

As parents, we can remain watchful for opportunities like this to express understanding when our kids experience disappointments and do not excel in a certain area. Let’s ask for the Lord’s guidance to help us use the best tool of redirection at the right time and always be aware of the moments we are given to remind them of God’s unconditional love.  


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


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 08
Issue: August 2018

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

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A hallelujah helper

Hallelujah! . . . The LORD’s works are great. . . . He has sent redemption to his people. He has ordained his covenant forever. Psalm 111:1,2,Christian Standard Bible 

Daniel J. Habben 

Millions have used Hamburger Helper since 1971. You may even have a couple boxes in your pantry. The dry mix makes a quick dinner for everyone in the family.  

Just as we need help with meal prep from time to time, we Christians often need help with our praise prep. Isn’t that especially true during the doldrums of August? The excitement of Easter is long past, and our favorite Christmas hymns are still five months away. Fellow members are away on vacation, so worship lacks its usual energy.  

What if there was a product that could fill our mouths and hearts with praise every day? Hamburger Helper can’t, but Psalm 111 can. It’s a hallelujah helper.  

God is worth praising 

Psalm 111 begins with “Hallelujah!” or “Praise the Lord!” Why praise? For one, because “the LORD’s works are great.”  

Just think how awesome it is that God created the universe in six days. I truly appreciated God’s creation feat after being involved with a church building project. In all, it took more than 250 skilled workers 285 days to refurbish our 1,600 sq. ft. church and to build a 3,200 sq. ft. addition. Even then, it wasn’t perfect. It took another two years for the finishing touches. And yet when God was done with his work of creation on that first-ever Friday afternoon, he looked with satisfaction on stars, comets, oceans, animals, and two people named Adam and Eve, and God declared them all to be very good. Wow!  

But then sin came into the world and ruined everything. So perhaps you don’t feel inclined to raise a hallelujah for God’s work of creation—not when your summer has had too much family tension and conflict, even on vacation. But Psalm 111 offers another motivation for our hallelujahs: God “has sent redemption to his people. He has ordained his covenant forever.” A covenant is like a contract. I saw a lot of those with our building project. Each contract stated what the plumber or electrician would do in exchange for our payment. Compare those contracts with the covenant God made with you in Baptism. God washed your sins away, gave you the Holy Spirit, and granted you eternal life. What did it cost you? Nothing. So how can we not respond with a hearty, “Hallelujah!”?  

His Word shares his great works 

And yet days can go by without praises parting our lips. We get too busy to reflect on God’s blessings. Psalm 111 describes God’s people studying God’s great works. The word study in Hebrew means to “visit often.” Do you visit God’s Word as often as you visit Facebook? It’s true, the content of Faithbook doesn’t get updated like the content on Facebook, but don’t let Satan convince you that it’s pointless to open your Bible frequently. God’s Word doesn’t change, but your life does. A psalm you read last year may not have seemed to say much to you at the time, but what about today? What new challenges confront you that God’s multifaceted Word would speak to?  

When you’re stuck for a meal idea. you can reach for Hamburger Helper. But when your hallelujahs get stuck in your throat, reach for a hallelujah helper like Psalm 111. Be reminded of the many daily reasons you have to praise the Lord. Your awesome God has saved you from your sin, and he never takes a break from caring for you. Hallelujah! 


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


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Light for our path: Second Baptism?

My godson was baptized 20 years ago in an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America church. He has been very involved in his college campus ministry and has decided to be baptized again. What reason would this campus ministry be giving him to be baptized again, and is there spiritual damage they are causing by doing this? He felt that his infant baptism was his parents choosing a faith for him as a child, and this baptism is his choosing the faith he would have. 

James F. Pope

Your godson’s situation illustrates the need to clarify several important points about Baptism.  

Infant baptism 

The Bible provides three compelling reasons for baptizing infants:  

(1) Children are part of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19), the object of the church’s “baptizing” and “teaching.” “Nations” consist of people of all ages, including infants. Consider that it was the practice of the apostles to baptize households.   

(2) Because children are sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5; John 3:5,6), they need the forgiveness of sins. Peter encouraged, “Be baptized . . . for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). The water and Word of God bestows forgiveness and remains valid for children as well as adults.  

(3) We baptize children and infants because Scripture tells us they can believe (Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:15-17; 2 Timothy 3:15). They can believe because God is the one who creates faith in people through the gospel (Hebrews 12:2; Romans 10:17).  

In carrying out infant baptism, your godson’s parents did the right thing. 

Baptism into the holy Christian church 

A second important point about Baptism is the meaning and significance of your godson’s infant baptism. While his baptism took place in a Lutheran church, the result of that action went far beyond denominational lines. Baptism works forgiveness of sins and gives eternal salvation just as God promises. Therefore, it brings people into the holy Christian church. 

This is why there is no need for a rebaptism if a person changes church membership and affiliates with another Christian church: A valid Baptism establishes membership in the church that supersedes membership in any earthly church. The blessing of forgiveness in Baptism stands on God’s promise. 

Baptism as act of God 

Finally, your godson’s desire to be re-baptized to “choose his own faith” reflects another misunderstanding of Baptism. Some churches turn Baptism into a human work. It becomes an act associated with a person’s decision to follow Christ. It then amounts to a person’s confession of faith. 

That is not what the Bible teaches about Baptism. Scripture explains that Baptism is an act of God. In Baptism, people do not do anything for God; God does something for them. The Holy Spirit works through Baptism to change hearts by connecting them to Jesus Christ in saving faith. Scripture teaches that, in Baptism, people are on the receiving end of God’s powerful work and promise.  

So, is there harm in being baptized again? The spiritual harm of another baptism—as in the circumstances you described—is that the person’s actions can amount to a rejection of what the Bible teaches about the power of God in baptism and a denial of God as the creator of saving faith. You will know whether or not those are the thoughts of your godson only by asking him.  

As one of his sponsors, do what you can to remind your godson of what God has already done for him in his infant baptism and continue to remember him in your prayers.


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 08
Issue: August 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 9

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

“Did you wash your hands?” (Luke 11:37-54) 

Moms, how many times have you asked the question, “Did you wash your hands?”? And if your child says yes, what’s your follow-up question? “Did you use soap?”  

Washing hands before you touch food is a good routine. And yet, it’s something that Jesus intentionally refused to do on occasion. Strange, isn’t it? Even a bit uncivilized. Why did the Savior, who deemed it necessary to wash his disciples’ feet before they ate his special meal, refuse to wash his hands when he was a guest at another meal? 

It had nothing to do with hygiene. It had everything to do with hypocrisy. Jesus was willing to risk some germs on his hands so he could address the sin germinating in the heart of his host. “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). 

Whoa! That’s pretty bold for Jesus to address the host in such a way. To call the host out was a feather-ruffling, wave-making statement, especially when you consider the host didn’t even voice his disapproval of Jesus’ dirty hands. He simply noticed it (v. 38). But Jesus wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and address the host’s sin straight on. For the many times that we dance around addressing sin because we don’t want to “offend someone,” appreciate Jesus’ comments. Appreciate Jesus’ love and concern and his willingness to do the dirty work. He didn’t care about whose toes he stepped on or about which tradition he broke. Even when others chimed in, “Hey, that hurts my feelings. You’re insulting us also” (cf. v. 45), Jesus didn’t let their feelings get in the way about how he felt about their spiritual condition. Six times Jesus scolded, “Woe to you.”  

Considering we live in a society that promotes so much tolerance, Jesus’ willingness to have tough conversations catches our attention. His “woes” make us say, “Whoa!” 

But should we be surprised? Jesus was always willing to do the tough thing. He doesn’t just love people enough to address sin with his words. He was also willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to address sin with his actions. As he went to the cross, he carried in his hands our lack of love. His hands were stained with our pride, our poor leadership, our hypocrisy. For all the times we hid the gospel from someone or unnecessarily burdened their consciences, Jesus took matters into his own hands. Jesus got his hands dirty so he could wash our hearts. As we see Jesus’ hands dirty on the outside, know that it was because he wanted to make us clean on the inside. 

And so, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts”—your willingness to call sin a sin, but also your willingness to cleanse our hearts—“to us be blessed. Amen.” 


Food for thought 

  1. What traditions may get in the way of the spiritual condition of our hearts?Answers will vary. Examples may include things like church membership or Confirmation. We may be tempted to think that as long as our names on the books of some congregation, that’s all that matters, instead of being concerned about our personal relationship with Jesus. Or we may feel Confirmation is necessary because that’s just what you do, but we fail to put into practice the importance of being in the Word outside of Confirmation class.
  2. “The church is simply a bunch of hypocrites!” How do you respond?Christians often are accused of hypocrisy – saying one thing and doing another. Instead of putting up our defenses, better to repent. Hypocrisy is a sin of which all our guilty, often being more concerned about what’s on the outside instead of the inside. But having repented, also know that hypocrisy is a sin that Jesus was willing to carry to the cross. He forgives us our hypocrisy.
  3. Jesus calls out six particular sins of the Pharisees and experts of the law. Which sins most apply to you? To our culture? 

Answers will vary depending on your personal situation. Answers may even vary by the day or hour. As a culture or society, we may want to take to heart Jesus’ “woe” in Luke 11:44. There, Jesus is addressing how we lead people into sin, allowing themselves to be defiled unknowingly. In the name of “tolerance” or our personal fear of getting our hands dirty and having tough (but loving) conversations, other people may keep on sinning without even knowing it.


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


This is the ninth 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 August 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 08
Issue: August 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 7

Nahum: A prophet of . . . comfort?!?  

Thomas D. Kock

Nahum means “comfort.”  

But Nahum’s prophecy begins: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath” (1:2).  

That’s . . . comfort?  

Let’s talk about it.  

A messages of wrath  

The book of Nahum is directed primarily against Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians built their empire by ferociously attacking other nations, killing, pillaging, then exacting exorbitant tribute. Indeed, Nineveh’s cruelty was breathtaking. History records the Ninevites flaying some of their prisoners or impaling captured peoples on sharpened poles. Their warfare was brutal.  

Yet what did God do? In amazing grace, God sent Jonah to prophesy to the Ninevites, probably around 760 B.C. And amazingly, the people of Nineveh repented! Jonah’s book ends with a beautiful statement of God’s love even for Nineveh: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” (Jonah 3:11) 

But it wasn’t long until Nineveh was back at it. About 40 years later, they would conquer the Northern Kingdom, killing or exiling most of its inhabitants. The Assyrians then imported other captured peoples into the conquered north, and the intermarriage between them and the remaining Israelites resulted in the people called Samaritans. Later (about 701 B.C.) they would invade Judah and decimate most of the country, but God miraculously intervened and preserved Judah (cf. Isaiah 37:36,37). 

Now it’s Nahum’s time, and God’s patience with Nineveh had run out. Yes, God is “slow to anger,” but he also “will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3). Although “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (1:7), it’s also true that “with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh” (1:8). God had been incredibly gracious! He’d even sent a prophet to Nineveh. But Nineveh had abused his patient grace. So, now they would feel God’s severe punishment: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses” (3:3). Naham concludes his prophecy: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (3:19). 

Jonah taught us that God graciously cared for Nineveh; Nahum tells us that the Ninevites, who scorned God’s grace, would feel his wrath.  

A message of comfort for believers 

And this is comfort?  

For the people of God, yes, it’s comfort, for it reminds us of important truths:  

  • God will not be mocked. Those who stand against God will eventually feel his wrath.
  • God advanced his plan of salvation through the Ninevites. Their judgment meant God was serious about disobedience and rebellion, and that judgmentbrought the Southern Kingdom to its knees in repentance.  
  • Even in the middle of this great judgment, theLord held out grace and mercy to his faithful. 

Yes, that’s comfort!  

And, those comforts remain today. Those who stand against God will feel his wrath. God acts sometimes with brutal force to bring people to repentance. But we find comfort because “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (1:7). 

And that’s a great comfort.


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


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


Nahum

Home: Elkosh. Maybe in southern Judah?  

Date: Sometime between 663 (fall of Thebes) and 612 B.C. (fall of Nineveh).   

Unique feature: Almost completely directed against one nation—Assyria (and Nineveh, its capital).  

Key verse: 2:13 and 3:5. “ ‘I am against you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Wise use of pastors

Mark G. Schroeder

Our synod is experiencing a shortage of called workers. The shortage of pastors is especially a concern. Prior to assignment day in May, there were more than one hundred pastoral vacancies in parish positions. Even with the assignment of graduates, the number of remaining vacancies is higher than it has been in recent years. It’s not a crisis, but it is a concern.

We continue to believe that this shortage will be temporary and will end when God in his love and wisdom decides otherwise. In the meantime, while we recognize that God is the one who provides workers for his church, all of us need to do our part to encourage young men to consider the pastoral ministry for their life’s work.

Recently, I received a letter from a WELS layman who asked some good questions about how we use our pastors in this time of a pastoral shortage. He noted that we use pastors to fills many roles other than that of parish pastor. He asked if it is necessary for pastors to serve in those non-parish roles and if we had considered using non-pastors for those positions.

For example, many of the tutors, who serve as dormitory supervisors and teachers at our ministerial schools, are graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and are ordained pastors. We believe that tutors are some of the best recruiters for ministry. So, rather than looking at the tutor position as taking away pastors, we believe that more young men are gained for the ministry precisely because we have pastorally trained tutors interacting every day with students.

At Martin Luther College, over 20 members of the faculty are pastorally-trained men. Could non-pastors be used to fill those positions? Since MLC is our college of ministry, where pastoral training takes place on the college level, we believe it is vital that men who have seminary training make up a good share of the faculty. We do look to use non-pastors in subjects where it is not vital to have a professor who is trained as a pastor. Similarly, pastorally-trained faculty members are vital at our prep schools as well.

Could the administrative and other called positions at the synod level be filled with non-pastors? Laymen and teachers do serve in various roles whenever it is appropriate. But in other cases, when the main job involves working with other pastors and congregations in carrying out ministry, pastoral and congregational experience has proven to be indispensable for that work.

What about pastors serving on the faculties of area Lutheran high schools? Most area Lutheran high schools have at least one or two pastors on their faculties, but the overall number of pastors serving in area Lutheran high schools is not large. The high schools have found it important to have pastors serving on their faculties as teachers of religion and languages, as well as pastoral counselors and recruiters for the pastoral ministry.

The Conference of Presidents (COP) is looking for ways to ease the shortage of pastors in the short term. District presidents provide counsel to congregations on how best to provide pastoral staff during a time of shortage. In addition, the COP continues to look for a long-term solution by encouraging efforts to recruit young men to consider the pastoral ministry.

To ask whether pastorally trained men need to fill various roles that take them out of the parish ministry is a good and necessary question. But sanctified human judgment concludes that filling a role with someone pastorally-trained is important and is beneficial to the kingdom.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Our treasure: the gospel: Part 3

The gospel changes our outlook.

Aaron T. Mueller

The following letter with a sizable amount of cash was placed on my office computer keyboard a few months back: “Pastor, please gift this money to the family who has a past due account. I’m not concerned about the tax deduction, so there is no need to record this anywhere for my purposes. I know the parents have struggles. The husband loves the outdoors and allows it to take him away from worship. It may even be that the couple has the funds and simply prioritizes and spends them on other things. Sadly, I once was like that. It wasn’t until I met my [Christian] wife, came to church here, and got into the Bible that I realized how blessed we are by the sacrifice Jesus made. I like to think it is because of God and our church that I am where I am today. I don’t know if this donation will help this family reconsider the love we have for them as a church, and in turn the love God has for them in Jesus. I like to think it will. Either way, please anonymously gift this to them.”*

What makes the difference?

Wouldn’t you be humbled to find, open, and read that letter? The giver was selfless and generous. The gift had no strings attached. The funds were offered without any expectation of results. Yet most revealing of all was why it was given.

The donor recognized a major change had taken place in his own life. That change, by his own admission, was his whole outlook. So much had changed: his priorities, life habits, time allocation, financial giving, his attitude toward God and the Word, and even his dealings with other people. How did that happen? Paul wrote, “For Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). The cause was the good news about Jesus. The gospel made all the difference by revealing God’s forgiving heart for sinners in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It also created faith, faith that grasped that truth about Jesus.

Without that good news, there is no difference. Paul writes the same, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22,23). When it comes to sin, the whole world has it and is accountable to God for it. Apart from Christ, no sin-debt can ever be met before God. That means generous people without Jesus, in spite of their earthly generosity, are still on the path to hell. Kind letters and actions without the kind of heart God shapes by his gospel still earn God’s wrath. The powerful gospel makes all the difference between sin and grace, hell and heaven, death and life.

It is dangerous to be indifferent to the gospel. Peter modeled that very truth when he stood by the fire as Jesus was on trial. Warming the body at the expense of the soul never turns out well. But warming the soul with the power of the gospel will turn out well, because the gospel makes all the difference.

The difference it makes

The difference the gospel makes in our daily lives is like night and day. Having a police officer tail you with the lights on is a very different scenario than having a police officer flip the lights on to lead your car safely to the hospital. Having the Lord actively pursue you with the law is very different than having him lovingly lead you forward in life by the gospel. Knowing by faith how God deals with us in Jesus Christ winsomely changes our day-to-day thinking from worldly to spiritual.

Scripture drives that point home in various ways. While a thief on the cross suffered the punishment he deserved, Jesus led his heart and mind to see what was right in front of him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). When a paralytic was lowered through the roof and placed before the Teacher, Jesus lifted his soul right up to his heavenly Father’s forgiveness, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). When the Ethiopian eunuch heard the gospel, he wanted more of it. He said, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). God’s people crave the gospel. They daily want to see heaven is their outlook through the forgiveness of sins Jesus won. Paul placed that same truth in front of the Philippians: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

Making a difference

The night-and-day difference shows itself in a joyful anticipation of heaven. Even more, it shows up on the calendar of events and priorities in our lives.

One of my elderly members frequently quotes her confirmation verses when I visit: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Those verses are set for her funeral text. It’s Jesus, not the world, who is to be her lasting confession. Even before she dies, she is confident she died to the world! She wants the miracle story told of how the gospel changed her thinking, her life, her will, and her choices. And it did just that. She raised her family in the Word and still daily reads the Bible. She gave one of her sons over to public ministry. Jesus was visible in her life and prioritized on the calendar.

By the gospel, Jesus is writing a very similar life letter to the world through your daily activities. Paul wrote, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:2,3). Can you see heaven in your future? Can that vision help you see the handwriting of God in your present? Take a look back over your years. Would your life letter look similar to the earlier one in this article?

We were all born apart from God. We confess with David, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). But the gospel changed us, and because of that our priorities also changed.

Growth is ongoing. Day after day, God works by his Holy Spirit in the Word to mature us, train us, and shape us for him and for his heavenly home.

And he’s not done. Until God puts his final punctuation on your life, let the gospel mark your life, your thinking, and your entire outlook. Make the gospel the difference.


Aaron Mueller is pastor at St. Paul, Howards Grove, Wisconsin.


This is the third article in a six-part series on the power of the gospel.

*Permission from the letter’s author was given for this article.


 

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Author: Aaron T. Mueller
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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Trees

John A. Braun

Warm weather and more sunshine draw the leaves of the trees out from their winter nap. They soon soak up the sunlight, allowing the trees to grow wider and taller. The tree we want so desperately will get larger, but we must wait for the slow process of growth. In a world where we want everything instantaneously, impatience nibbles away at our resolve to wait. 

Yet we know about the slow process of growth in our own families. Children enter our lives as little babies and slowly grow to adults. I think we sometimes become impatient with their growth, especially when they do not grow spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually as we want. But growth does not happen quickly or even in a straight line. Ups and downs, advances and retreats, become chapters in any kind of growth. It takes time to grow.  

The pictures of the graduates of Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary are part of this issue (pp. ??-??). Like the trees, they did not suddenly appear as graduates ready to serve our churches and schools. Once they were little saplings—perhaps a little awkward and weak—babes who were baptized and brought to faith and life by the Holy Spirit. God placed them in Christian families, and they grew. Yes, by Word and sacrament, they learned to treasure their Lord Jesus.  

I remember my own early growth—a little sapling in grade school always interested in my studies and especially what I was learning about Jesus. I grew to appreciate my pastors and sought ways to imitate them. I remember “playing” church. I was part of a junior choir, and we had choir gowns we brought home until we needed them in church. I made use of mine at home by pretending to be a pastor and leading a church service with my family. My mother always announced at the end of our little game that there would be an ice cream social after the service.  

My pastors encouraged me to grow, and he bent this young sapling in the direction of becoming a pastor. The journey wasn’t a straight line to the seminary any more than it is for almost anyone else. Ups, downs, doubts, and certainty—often repeated over the years—became the rings of growth one can see in any tree. Turning from the little sapling to a mature tree took time. Grade school, high school, college, and seminary are measured in years, not hours, days, or months. 

As you look at the pictures of the graduates this year, thank God for their growth. They are ready to serve. And remember they will not stop growing at graduation and after their assignments to their first years of service. The next years will bring experiences that become additional rings of growth for them as trees that provide the shade of the gospel for young and old.  

Remember also that the need for full-time workers in the Lord’s church does not end with these graduates. Jesus reminded us, “ ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’ ” (Matthew 9:37,38). 

So we all have a task: pray for workers. In addition, we can encourage those we think have the gifts and inclination to be pastors and teachers. Parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, and every member of God’s church can look for and encourage the little trees. Then depend on the Lord to grow them to serve him in public ministry. It takes time to grow pastors and teachers, but it starts early with prayer and encouragement. 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Bedtime Routines

What does your family’s bedtime routine look like? 

I was considering titling this month’s column, “How can I get my kids to bed without screaming (me) and crying (them)?” but that wouldn’t fit in the title space. You see, by the time bedtime rolls around, I am done. I enjoy the books and the songs and the prayers—as long as my kids cooperate. And let’s be honest. It’s bedtime. They’re done too. So most nights are not idyllic.  

If you’re still working on finding the right bedtime routine, consider the ideas shared by our authors this month. And don’t be afraid to keep adjusting the routine. What works at one point in your family’s life may not work at another. With that in mind, I’m going back to the drawing board.   

Nicole Balza


When our oldest child was a baby, we established a bedtime routine of stories, prayers, and hymns.  

We have a set of four prayers that we speak or sing each night. We speak “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” sing stanzas two and three of “Now the Light Has Gone Away” (Christian Worship [CW] 593), sing a bedtime prayer that has been used by at least two generations in my family, and close with the Lord’s Prayer. This was my childhood bedtime routine, and I’m happy that it is being passed down to my own children. 

After these nightly prayers, everyone gives good-night hugs and kisses to one another, and then my husband or I tuck our two littlest children into their beds and sing them a hymn. Some favorites have been “Jesus, Shepherd of the Sheep” (CW 436), “Children of the Heavenly Father” (CW 449), and “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” (CW 432).  

Sometimes we sing songs that match the seasons of the church year. Last fall, we often sang all four stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (CW 200 and 201). The kids quickly memorized the entire hymn, and they joyfully sang along at the Reformation services we attended. At Christmastime, we often sing “Away in a Manger” (CW 68). Our three-year-old daughter loves “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (CW 61), while our five-year-old son’s favorite is “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” (CW 152). Now they request those hymns all year long! 

As our children have gotten older, we’ve added a new tradition after our nightly bedtime prayers. We help the kids to create their own prayers. We ask them to share things for which they’re thankful and think of people for whom to pray. Then we put their thanks and requests into a prayer. As the children have gotten older, we encourage them to think of and speak their own prayers. Then, my husband and I also add our own prayers.  

Sometimes the kids’ prayers reflect their age. After a Christmas of Frozen-themed gifts, our youngest daughter thanked Jesus for her Frozen castle, water bottle, and suitcase—for three months! But as they’ve grown, we have seen them learn to recognize that people around them need prayers. Our children pray for family members or friends who are hurting and people affected by disasters in the world. They also thank God for blessings big and small. 

Busy family schedules sometimes keep all of us from participating in bedtime routines every night. So, we try to find a little time to connect with them every evening on a meaningful level before they go to bed. It doesn’t always work, but it is our goal. We hope that the habits we’ve established with our bedtime routine will last throughout our children’s lives, and they will create a bedtime routine for their children that helps them to pass on the faith too. 


Emily Gresens Strey and her husband, Johnold, have four children ranging in age from 3 to 13.    


“Organized chaos” may be the best way to describe our family’s bedtime routine. With six kids ages 2-11 (two girls and four boys), there’s bound to be noise. But we have a consistent routine that works for us. 

The routine 

When we finish supper around 6:15, the kids are dismissed to do their evening jobs. Depending on their age, they tidy the playroom, wash bathroom counters, load the dishwasher, or start a load of laundry. Meanwhile, I clean up the kitchen while nagging —ahem—encouraging kids to finish their chores. 

Around 6:30, my husband gets our toddler ready for bed and reads him a Bible story from My First Bible* by Kenneth N. Taylor. After good-night songs and a prayer, our toddler goes to bed.  

After the older kids finish their jobs, they change into pajamas, brush their teeth, and gather in the living room for an evening devotion. 

We pile on our two couches, and my husband reads the Bible story. Currently we’re re-reading the excellent book Family Time.* After the reading we discuss the story, sing our good-night hymns, say our good-night prayer, and give hugs and kisses. The kids head upstairs. 

By this time it’s around 7 or 7:15 p.m. Our 4-year-old goes right to bed. The big kids (ages 6 and up) are allowed to read or play quietly in their rooms until 8. After that, it’s lights out.  

I suppose the big kids could stay downstairs and read or play until 8. But to both preserve my sanity and give me quiet time to work on my at-home business, the early bedtime is a good fit for our family. 

Variations 

  • On Saturdays, we go around the room as each family member offers a personal prayer.
  • When we have a nursing baby, I feed him/her while my husband handles the evening routine himself. Unless he’s at a meeting—then it’spure chaos while I try to juggle it all. 
  • At differentperiods we’ve had two separate Bible story times—one for the big kids and one for the littles. We have found that our 2- and 3-year-olds don’t do as well with the whole family Bible story because they need more focused attention and a story written at their level.  
  • When we’re out late at an evening event, we do our Bible story and songs in the car on the way home. Then the kids cango right to bed when we arrive home. 
  • Currently, instead of singing our regular good-night hymns, the kids take turns choosing from a songbook that I typed and printed. It includes familiar hymns as well as all the hymns they’ll be expected to memorize at school.  

Challenges 

Our routine is great on paper, but real life often intrudes. As the kids get ready for bed, the toddler has a meltdown, siblings squabble in the bathroom, or someone remembers that there’s a paper for me to sign for school the next day. During their quiet time, kids argue about whose turn it is with a book, our kindergartner is upset because his older siblings won’t play a game with him, or the older kids come downstairs to tattle . . . one right after the other. 

Even in the rough moments, I’m learning to remember that it’s a blessing and privilege to serve the little souls right in my house—to forgive them, love them, and exercise patience with them. I thank God for the joy and privilege of raising his lambs! 


Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wisconsin. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. She recommends her family’s favorite Bible story books at themeasuredmom.com/favorite-childrens-bible-story-books/. 

*Available at nph.net


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 07
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Unexpected joy

We may never clearly know why something happened and what purpose it served. But comfort comes from the Lord in his promise of plans that give us hope and a future.

James D. Roecker

Milestones in life are occasions for celebrations. A couple makes special preparations for their 25th wedding anniversary. Surprise birthday parties are planned and sprung on someone’s special day. UW–Stevens Point graduates cap their completion of school with a graduation celebration. Those involved know the moment will come and the experience will most likely be enjoyable. Planned events come with expectations, especially when you know what’s coming. Aside from a surprise birthday party, all these milestones have an expected joy attached.

The opposite also can be true. Regardless of how meticulously you plan a celebration, unexpected things may pop up. Your entrée choice at your wedding anniversary restaurant is unavailable. The birthday cake is forgotten for the surprise party. Not enough food was ordered for the graduation party, so some people leave hungry and a tad disappointed. The unexpected threatens to ruin the joy of special celebrations. Uncertainty tends to undermine owning the joy of the moment. Even the encouragement—expect the unexpected—does not really help put the mind at ease.

Plans we make and the expectations we have for them pale in comparison to the plans the Lord has for his people. And the Lord’s plans always come to be just as he prepared them. The Lord even gives us this promise: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Life brings moments that we do not fully understand. We may never clearly know why something happened and what purpose it served during our earthly journey. But comfort comes from the Lord in his promise of plans that give us hope and a future. We now can live in peace and joy with eyes that look forward to an unknown future that culminates with a life that lasts forever in the glory of heaven.

Serving as a campus pastor brings with it certain expected joys. Preparing Bible studies with collegians solely in mind brings joy. Creating an environment that encourages questions and sharing personal spiritual struggles is a unique experience. The Holy Spirit is surely at work, strengthening faith and encouraging Christian brothers and sisters in their walk of faith. Each pastor collegians encounter during their lifetime will, Lord willing, show them Jesus. God will surely make faith grow through Word and sacrament. God, through the apostle Paul tells us: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). Those who share the Word are coworkers in service to God.

Joy in campus ministry can also be unexpected. Texts and phone calls can come at any time of day. Some struggle with temptation and sin. Others want clarification on how a certain portion of Scripture applies to their life. Certain collegians are coming back to the church after a long absence. In these unexpected conversations, the joy is always in showing them Jesus. He alone gives us an enduring joy, an unexpected joy, because he has given us something we do not deserve—forgiveness of sins and life eternal.


James Roecker is pastor at St. Andrew, Saint Paul Park, Minnesota.


 

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Author: James D. Roecker
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Devoted to the cross

Becoming a Christian teacher is an opportunity to share Christ’s love with another generation.

Jason Zweifel

My Martin Luther College (MLC) story started long before I stepped on campus. As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to serve God and other people with my life. Growing up with Christian parents and attending a Christian grade school, I learned about the grace of our God from a young age.

When I was a sophomore at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wis., my childlike faith was tested when my brother Ryan passed away in a car accident after completing his freshman year at MLC. The next few years were a challenging season in my life.

However, I received comfort from the gospel and from the Christian people around me. Time and perspective granted me insight into the glory and plans of God. As an 18- year-old senior, thanks to the encouragement of teachers, pastors, other adults, and my parents, I decided that I wanted to be able to pass on the peace of faith in Christ that I had received. I decided to enroll in MLC.

MLC offered me many different opportunities to grow as a Christian man in this world. Along with taking classes on campus, I also went on two immersion trips to Argentina and Chile and studied marine biology in Jamaica. I was able to play and coach football, go on a mission trip to Colorado, and make lifelong friends. In the 2015–16 school year, I took an emergency call and served as a fifth and sixth grade teacher in Neenah, Wisconsin. There I received a personal and up-close introduction to the joys and challenges of teaching. That class will always have a special place in my heart.

After reflecting upon my educational experience at MLC, I feel as if I have been uniquely prepared for a career as a called worker. I have learned education theories, teaching strategies, inspiring content to teach, and a philosophy of education in which I believe. I have accumulated a wealth of firsthand teaching experiences in a wide range of settings. I have received a state license that qualifies me to teach.

However, all of these things are achievable at any great teacher preparation college and not unique to Martin Luther College. What is unique to MLC is a systematic focus on what is the most important part of life: Christ. Being a part of a community of people who are devoted to the cross is something special.

When I step into my own call, I look forward to the opportunity to impart the Christ-centered attitude that I have developed as a result of my experiences at my Christian grade school, high school, and college. I have learned so much through the daily interactions that I have had with other Christ-centered people. I thank God for the people that he put in my life and the course on which he has led me. I can think of nothing more worthy to do than to pass on the type of training that I have received to the next generation.

My prayer for my future classroom and students is that I will be able to faithfully model this Christ-centered attitude to the next generation just as it was modeled for me.


Jason Zweifel is a member at St. Paul, Lake Mills, Wisconsin. He graduated from Martin Luther College this May with a double major in elementary education and secondary Spanish education. He elected international service and will be serving in Ecuador.


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Author: Jason Zweifel
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: La Salle

In our troubles and challenges, God sends us people who help us grow in our faith and live as his children.

Dawn E. Schulz

Every once in a while, God brings someone into our lives who changes us because of how they’ve been changed by him. They wrap their arms around our shoulders, redirect us to Jesus, and walk with us through the tough times. Through encouragement and consistent reminders to stay focused on Jesus, they help us get a firm footing on God’s promises. When we reflect on God’s goodness through them, we realize the best way to say thanks is by doing the same for others.

Anne La Salle would say that person was her mother-in-law, Viola La Salle. Viola saw Anne through many difficult times with a loving, encouraging, and generous spirit that always pointed to Jesus.

Help in difficult times

Anne’s parents emigrated from Scotland when she was a baby and settled in the greater Toronto, Ontario, area. Although Anne’s mother grew up in the Catholic Church, her husband was an agnostic. So the family did not attend church.

This didn’t stop Anne. From the age of seven, she remembers having an interest in church. She joined a nearby Anglican church and attended off and on throughout her teenage years. Unfortunately, a Christian lifestyle was difficult to maintain without supportive parents. By the time she went away to a university in Ottawa, she was spiritually drifting.

But while at the university, Anne met her husband, Charles. He was a member of St. Paul in Ottawa. Anne soon became a member and developed a relationship with her mother-in-law, Viola.

From the early days of their relationship Anne says that Viola saw her through the “curves and bumps” in life and was there to “steer her in the right direction and cheer her on.”

What Anne was so graciously referring to are the difficult circumstances she experienced as she entered her adult years. Anne’s unbelieving father was a difficult man to live with, and eventually her parents divorced. There was no one in her family to guide her through life’s challenges.

While Anne was pregnant with her first child, her brother died. Emotional turmoil continued for Anne as she aged. Her marriage suffered under the stress. Anne considers it one of the most difficult periods of her life.

These devastating heartbreaks can leave a person flat, without hope or direction. Only those experiencing these things know the hard questions and faith-challenging uncertainties that relentlessly attack a soul.

Only that person and God.

Viola was God’s blessing to Anne at just the right time. Viola helped to ground Anne. As a young woman dealing with these difficulties, Anne needed purposeful words that pointed to Jesus and gave peace.

Then her life became even more complicated. Anne became a single working mom with three young children. Viola was there to help with these curves and bumps too. She didn’t take sides or judge but instead gave meaningful and authentic support. She shared God’s words and encouraged Anne not to dwell on the grief, remorse, or guilt that comes with loss and difficulty. Instead, she helped Anne see it wasn’t about her at all. It wasn’t even about the other person. It was about God. “All of life points to Jesus and is part of God’s plan.”

Encouragement in daily life

Viola encouraged more people than just Anne. Viola lived her Christian life in a career in health care, but more important was her role as a child of God, then wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Even if Viola and her husband had done nothing else, their presence in church at every worship opportunity alone was a fine example. There was never a complaint about aches and pains or weather. You could tell that they concurred with David, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’ ” (Psalm 122:1).

Viola found opportunities to encourage her church family, both locally and abroad. She served on the altar guild and was president of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) and Ladies Aid organizations. She was always a hard worker, often toiling behind the scenes. But even more, she shared her life. She always had time for a conversation or an open invitation for Christmas dinner. She always had the words to weekly encourage a missionary through handwritten letters.

Anne tells the story of Viola’s intervention in the domestic issues of a neighbor. The husband across the street was abusing his wife. One day, seeing the neighbor beating his wife on the front lawn, Viola called the police, even though it would have been easier to close the curtains and look the other way. Viola expected the man to be angry.

Instead, the husband was appreciative and brought gifts to show this. Over time Viola was able to be a Christian role model to their family.

Inspiration for humble service

About six years ago Anne was diagnosed with an immune disorder called sarcoidoisis and was hospitalized. The disease and a subsequent heart attack damaged her heart, leaving her with a chronic condition that needs constant monitoring. Anne had to change her lifestyle and diet to avoid further damage. At the time, Viola was in a senior home, living with her own heart failure. As often as she could, Anne would visit Viola, and they would share a diet-controlled meal and talk. Discussing heart health issues, they spoke about the new “normal” they were both living.

Viola encouraged Anne to share open and honest statements of how she was feeling and the fears of uncertainty that plagued her. Anne says that Viola helped her “get a grip on everything and see my life’s not over. I’m not going to die today. And even if I do, my Savior is going to take care of me.’”

Knowing that she could do little to care for Viola’s earthly needs, Anne decided to follow the path her mentor had laid out so many years ago and give to others. Anne got involved with the women’s group at St. Paul’s and the LWMS. She currently spends time volunteering at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, counseling and supporting women dealing with the effects of heart disease. And she tries to be a role model to her children, who know how important her church family is to her.

This is the impact Jesus intends when he said, “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Viola agreed. She told Anne repeatedly, “You are here to give glory to God. You should remember that in everything you do. Everything you do. As much as you can. And when you fall away, you can repent and come back because you’re saved. It’s all a good story—it’s all good news.”

On Oct. 25, 2013, Viola went to heaven. Anne, family, friends, and members of St. Paul miss her dearly. However, her memory continues to encourage a focus on Jesus. Her stories continue to inspire humble service. And the thought that Viola is perfectly giving glory to God in heaven continues to bring a smile.


Dawn Schulz is a member at Divine Savior, Delray Beach, Florida.


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Author: Dawn E. Schulz
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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The center of the universe

Andrew C. Schroer

In his book, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams states the obvious: “Space is big.” But have you ever wondered how big space really is? A friend of mine recently shared with me the following analogy.

If the ballpoint of the pen on my desk was the earth, the sun would be the size of a ping pong ball about 15 feet away. The nearest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, would then be another ping pong ball located in the city of Toronto, Canada. I live in Edna, Texas, by the way.

There are more than one hundred billion stars in our galaxy, all of which are trillions of miles farther away. And that’s just our galaxy. Scientists estimate that there are more than two hundred billion galaxies in the known universe, each containing between one hundred billion and one trillion stars.

Douglas Adams was right. Space is big.

From the perspective of the moon, the earth appears to be the size of a marble. From the perspective of other galaxies, the earth is imperceivable. It is invisible. It is nothing.

So what does that make us? We aren’t even a microscopic speck in God’s universe. King David once wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3,4).

If you have a chance this week, read Psalm 8. It gives us a proper perspective of our relative size and place in God’s universe. We are insignificant microscopic specks. Yet God knows and loves each of us personally.

We need that perspective because so often our perception is skewed. Like the warped images in a fun house mirror, our sinful mind distorts how we look at ourselves. We see ourselves as bigger than we really are. We make ourselves the center of our universe.

My life, my goals, and my happiness become the purpose of my existence here on earth.

God made us tiny specks to be the crown of his creation. And what do we do? We treat him as insignificant. Instead of our lives revolving around him, he becomes a small satellite that enters our orbit only when we think we need him.

The amazing thing is that God loved us rebellious specks so much, he didn’t want us to suffer the punishment we deserve for our distorted views. The God who created and fills the vastness of the universe became an insignificant microscopic speck just like you and me to take our place and die our death.

And because he did, we are forgiven for all the times we have made ourselves the center of our own universe. We are forgiven for all the times we have relegated God to being simply a small satellite that revolves around our world.

The God who created and fills the vastness of space does not treat us as we deserve. He loves us. He forgives us. He gives us heaven.

Keep that perspective. Remember your place in God’s universe. Remember who you are and what he has done for you. Don’t make him simply a satellite that enters the orbit of your life every so often. Don’t relegate him to being just a part of your life. He is your whole life. Everything you have and everything you are is because of him.

May God always be the center of your universe.


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Pray, Christian, pray!

We are to pray at all times. When one engine of Southwest Flight 1380 exploded forcing an emergency landing, prayer became vital.

Alicia A. Neumann

Timothy Bourman, pastor at Sure Foundation, Queens, N.Y., says he’s been doing a lot of praying in the aftermath of his flight on April 17, 2018. Bourman was heading to San Antonio, Texas, with his wife, Amanda, to attend Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Grow in Grace retreat and celebrate his 10th year in the ministry. But the Bourmans never made it to Texas.

A terrifying experience

“It seemed like any other flight,” says Bourman. “It was totally packed. We had checked in almost last, and thankfully we found two seats together in the back of the plane.” After they were settled into their seats, the Bourmans started playing Sudoku to pass the time.

“Right after we finished the puzzle, I heard a loud blast,” he says. “One side of the plane just completely dipped. It felt like a nosedive, a descent like I’ve never experienced. The engine was gone; there was no power left. Our masks came down. I thought this was it. This was the end.”

Shrapnel from the engine had blown out the window, and the cabin depressurized. “It was terrifying. It was a scene I never want to see again.” Bourman says the first thing he did was start praying. “I grabbed Amanda’s hand and said, ‘Dear Jesus, send your angels.’ ”

After they finished praying, the Bourmans tried to turn on their phones to get a message to their daughters, Tayley (6), Brooke (4) and Felicity (2). But they couldn’t get reception. So in the midst of all of the chaos, they managed to purchase in-flight wifi and got a message to go through. “It was all garbled. It said, ‘Pray. Engine exploded. We are going to try to land. Tell the girls that we love them and to never lose their faith in God,’ ” says Bourman. “I was thinking about my daughters and how it would be after God takes their Mommy and Daddy away from them when they are so young. And I just didn’t want them to lose their faith. So I wanted them to have a text message from Mom and Dad that they could always have.”

Soon, they heard the pilot’s voice over the speakers, saying they were going to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. “I didn’t think we would make it,” says Bourman. “When we came below the clouds and I could see the ground, the flight crew was yelling, ‘Brace for impact, brace for impact!’ I put my head up against the seat ahead of me and held on.”

Bourman says the landing was “rather intense,” but by the grace of God, they didn’t crash. “It was quite amazing, the whole thing,” he says. “It took 22 minutes from the time the engine blew until we landed. I knew everything was in the Lord’s hands, one way or another, but until the plane actually came to a stop I didn’t think we were going to make it.”

As soon as they landed, Bourman started high-fiving the passengers around him. “The guy who was sitting next to me said, ‘You were so calm! You kept me and everyone else around you calm too.’ But I didn’t feel calm,” he says. “At that point everyone was trying to figure out what just happened to us.”

Meanwhile, firefighters had rushed onto the plane to help the injured passengers, and the pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, came out of the cockpit and started personally ushering people out. The Bourmans were one of the last ones off the plane, and they shook the pilot’s hand and thanked her. “When I prayed to God to send his angels, he had already answered my prayer before I even uttered it,” says Bourman. “He sent Tammie to save our lives.”

The aftermath

When they were finally given the all-clear to leave, the Bourmans rented an SUV for their journey home. When they got back to New York a couple of days later, they didn’t waste any time reuniting with their daughters. The two older girls were in school, so the Bourmans met them there. They rushed into their daughters’ classrooms and hugged them. “The teachers didn’t know what was going on until we said, ‘We were on flight 1380,’ ” says Bourman. “It seemed like everyone knew about the flight but didn’t realize we were on it. So it was very emotional.”

Bourman said their homecoming was also very emotional for his father, James Bourman, who was watching Tayley, Brooke and Felicity, and had received the text message as the plane was going down. “For him, it was like getting a son back. He was just holding me.”

In the days that followed, Bourman says things got back to normal pretty quickly for his daughters, who never really grasped the gravity of the situation. But it was a different story for him and Amanda. Getting back to their regular lives was tough—especially when the media started calling.

“They found our numbers, and our phones started blowing up,” he says. “So Amanda and I just made a conscious choice: We were going to start telling people about what Jesus did for us.” Amanda shared her photo of the plane’s engine on Instagram, and soon the Bourmans were contacted by outlets like the Associated Press, CNN, New York Times and People Magazine. “We picked what we thought were the most powerful media out there, and we started taking interviews,” he says.

Bourman says it hasn’t been easy, but it’s good to talk about the experience. “I’ve been thinking about how the truth of the gospel worked in our hearts in such a way that we weren’t worried about whether we would meet God or not. What a way to live!”

He says he’s also been reflecting on all of his blessings, including the love and support he’s received from family, friends and his congregation. “I think we take for granted the gifts God gives us in a Christian church and Christian community,” he says. “These people are holding me up right now. It’s really beautiful stuff.”

Moving forward

Bourman says this whole experience has crystalized some things for him. “If I could share anything with my fellow believers, it’s pray. Pray with great expectations. God made a promise that if we call on him in our day of trouble, he will answer. We should take him up on this promise. I am living proof that God answers prayer.”

He also says he knows God will use all of this for his good. “It’s all still so new to me; I’m not sure of the profound impact it’s going to have on my life,” says Bourman. “But I do know that you can look at this and see a cloud of gloom, but that’s where the Scriptures help you give thanks for salvation and give you a resurrection perspective. Living in that thankfulness and looking at this and seeing the Lord’s hand in it makes all the difference in the world.”


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


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 6

Micah: A King who’s a small-town kid

Thomas D. Kock

I want him to understand me! I want him to relate to me!

Is that the goal of the reporter’s question?

People who find it hard to relate

During presidential campaigns, reporters sometimes ask the candidates if they know the price of milk or bread. They may not actually ask that question, but they want to know if the candidate “gets normal people.” It amuses me. Are most of our presidential candidates regularly in the local grocery stores, comparing the prices of bread or milk?!? I suppose that maybe some do. I don’t know.

Wouldn’t the difference be even more pronounced for those who are royalty? The prince who grows up in the palace, served by all sorts of people—what would he know about “normal people” or about “normal life”? Probably not much!

A God who “gets it”

Now let’s take it another step. What does God know about us humans? Oh, sure, one could say, “Everything, because he’s God,” and that would be completely accurate. On the other hand, he’s God! He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent. He’s love. He’s the source of all things. What does God have in common with us humans? By nature, nothing.

So what does God do? God comes to earth, as a real human being. Yes, he comes as royalty. Jesus is the Son of David, the rightful heir to the throne.

But he’s also a small-town kid. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which at that time was a “nothing” little town, a “little sister” to Jerusalem, a few miles away. Jesus spends most of his childhood in Nazareth, in Galilee. The “upper crust” at that time looked down on the Galileans. Regarding Nazareth, Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). By our parlance, Jesus is a small-town kid.

So what do we have? We have a Savior who “gets it.” He gets what it means to be a normal person, because that’s how he grew up. He grew up as a normal person in a normal place.

That means he gets you, and he gets me. He understands the challenges of life because he has experienced them. He understands the joys of life, the sorrows, the day-to-day grind. He “gets it”!

And yet he’s also the King! He’s the ruler of all, guiding and directing all things for your benefit, ruling the world for the good of his people.

What a combination! We serve God. We serve the King. He has all power. But we also serve a small-town kid. We serve someone who understands us through and through, the one who was born in a little town, in Bethlehem. He relates to you. He relates to me.

Yep, he knows the price of milk. Bread too.


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


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


Micah

Name meaning: “Micah” means “who is like the Lord.”

Background: Contemporary of Isaiah (late 700s B.C., perhaps early 600s B.C.) from Moresheth (sometimes called Moresheth Gath, cf. 1:14), about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Unique feature: Jeremiah 26:18 quotes Micah 3:12.

Key verse: 7:18: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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When everything seems lost

Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” John 20:10-13

Joel C. Seifert

There was something that seemed desperate in Mary’s actions. Jesus—the one she followed as her Lord and Savior—was dead. She went to anoint his body in a tomb she knew she couldn’t open. And now that the tomb was empty, she began to search for his corpse. What was she hoping to accomplish?

Faith goes to Jesus, even when all seems lost

Over the years I’ve met many people who say, “I used to be a Christian, but . . .” They tell stories of how they were raised to believe in Jesus and the Bible and God’s love, but then faith let them down. They lost their job, and with their job their home, and with their home, their marriage. So they stopped saying, “I am a Christian,” and started saying, “I was a Christian.” Faith didn’t seem to matter anymore, so they stopped going to Jesus. It’s an awful trick of the devil: At the times we need Jesus most, it’s hardest to go to him.

I don’t know what Mary expected to happen. I think she just remembered what had happened. She was a lost soul; Jesus found her. So in his life and now in his death, Mary only wanted one thing: She wanted to be near Jesus, even if all seemed lost.

That’s where Jesus finds us. Things may seem pointless. You might not have any idea what kind of help you’ll find. Maybe you’re just going back to church or your Bible because once upon a time, it gave you hope, even if nothing seems to matter now. But when you’re near him, Christ finds you and shows you that he still loves you, lives for you, and calls you by name.

When faith goes to Jesus, he uses us to reach the lost

God gave Mary one of the most important tasks in the history of the world: She was one of the first people to ever tell anyone that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s important! Do you know what she did after that? I don’t either. Read through everything the Bible says about this important woman, and all you get is this: She wanted to be where Jesus was. So when he was preaching, she listened. When he was in need, she gave him her gifts. When she saw her living Savior, she told others about him.

That’s the importance you have too. When you’re there listening to Jesus’ Word, that’s important. You’re not just strengthening yourself; you’re encouraging and strengthening others. When you give your offerings to help keep his message sounding in the world, that’s important. People will hear the gospel because of you. When you tell others about Jesus, you become one of the most important people in the world to them.

Most people won’t list Mary side by side with Peter and Paul and James and John as one of the most important people in the Bible, and maybe there aren’t many people who will look at you that way either. But Jesus does. And no matter where you go with him in faith, he makes you important to others.


Contributing editor Joel Seifert is pastor at Beautiful Savior, Marietta, Georgia.


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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Light for our path: Paying taxes

In Matthew 22:17-21, Jesus instructs us to pay the taxes due the government. When we are informed that our government is using tax dollars for the support of wicked and sinful enterprises such as Planned Parenthood (abortion), how are we to look at paying taxes?

James F. Pope

Christians are rightly troubled when they recognize that roughly $500 million from the federal budget goes to Planned Parenthood each year. The organization is the leading provider of abortions in our country. The answers to your question will lead us to see our duty, limitations, and privileges when it comes to paying taxes.

Our duty

Paying taxes is not optional for Christians. In the section of Scripture you cited, a coalition of Jesus’ enemies tried trapping him with a question about the propriety of paying taxes to Caesar. Many people, even some outside Christianity, are familiar with Jesus’ answer: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Years later, through the apostle Paul, God expanded on that instruction: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:6,7). Part of our Fourth Commandment responsibilities is that we support God’s representatives in government through the paying of taxes.

Our limitations

Some representatives of God in government (and the church and the home) represent him well, while others do not. The Caesar whose likeness was on the coin presented to Jesus in Matthew chapter 22 was one of those authorities who failed miserably in representing God faithfully. That was also the case with the Caesar who was in power when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome. But neither our Lord nor his apostle qualified the directive to pay taxes to the Roman government, even though some of their taxes funded idolatrous worship practices involving state-paid priests. Neither our Lord nor his apostle burdened the consciences of Christian taxpayers by leading them to conclude that they were personally supportive of ungodly activities because their taxes funded those activities. Christians who paid taxes to Caesar could not control how Caesar used their taxes even if there were definitely limitations to how Christians wanted their tax payments used.

Christians in America face similar limitations. Whether it is funding abortion providers, sponsoring questionable research projects, or wasting money on overpriced expenditures, Christians recognize their role and the government’s role: Christians provide the revenue, and the government distributes that revenue through budgetary disbursements and appropriations.

But does that mean that Christians simply pay taxes and have no recourse but to grumble about the ways in which government uses their tax dollars? Not at all. Christians can contact their governmental representatives to express their displeasure when tax revenues fund immoral activities. Christian citizens can vote for candidates who will use tax revenues wisely.

Our privilege

Christians can do even more.

Christians can exercise the privilege they have of speaking to the King of kings in prayer. We can do what God’s apostle instructs: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2). It is good that God’s people remember their governmental leaders—at all levels—in prayer.

So, pray that God leads governmental officials to act wisely and to use resources in ways that benefit human life.


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 07
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 8

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

“Catch any?” (John 21:1-14)

“Catch any?”

If they have no fish, is there anything more annoying to fishermen than to hear that question? Even though a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work, “Catch any?” can be a fillet knife that cuts the ego of fishless fishermen.

Unfortunately, the knifing question, “Catch any?” is not limited to dock conversations. An aunt asks her single-not-by-choice niece, “Not married yet?” The ladies at church ask the young, infertile couple, “When are the little ones coming?” The pick-up basketball player asks his unemployed teammate, “Find a job yet?” Each question is just another way of asking, “Catch any?” Catch any men? Catch any kids? Catch any employment? While it may not show in the respondents’ faces, each question is a knife to the heart, as they’d love the reply to be anything but no.

What about when Jesus asked the probing question? “ ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered” (John 21:5). Yet when Jesus asks a heart-knifing question, the conversation doesn’t end at no. He provides the solution. To the fishless disciples, he directed, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat” (John 21:6). One hundred fifty-three keepers later, they trusted Jesus knew what he was talking about.

While we stand in awe of this abundant miracle, notice what Jesus was doing before he provided the blessing. He was getting the grill ready. Isn’t that neat? He knew how he was going to bless the disciples before he blessed the disciples. The same can be said for you. In his wisdom, he may not choose to bless you with what you long for most. But he’s getting the grill ready. He already knows how he’s going to bless you before he blesses you.

And here’s another detail not to miss. Jesus wasn’t only getting the grill ready. Look what was on the grill. Fish. Before the disciples hauled their 153 in, Jesus already had his own catch on the grill, ready to share. Jesus does the same for you and me. He’s preparing to bless you with your own individual blessings, but don’t neglect to see the blessings that he has already caught and invites you to enjoy with him. Hear him say things like, “Come. Come to my Table for the forgiveness of sins.” “Come. Come to the table that I’ve prepared in the presence of your enemies. You have nothing to fear.” “Come. Come to my banquet table where we can feast forever.” “Come. Come and drink the living water that I provide.”

Pray for the blessings that you hope God is preparing for you. But also pray for the blessings that he already has on his grill. As we pray, “Let these gifts to us be blessed,” we will be so amazed at what he serves that we won’t have to ask, “Who are you?” We’ll know: “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).


Food for thought 

1. Why does God allow our nets to be empty at times?

We have a tendency to forget our need for our Savior and his blessings when our nets are full. God may be gently, or not so gently, calling us to stay close to him and not to wander away in our prosperity. Sometimes “empty nets” can lead us to rely on God more than ourselves. One may consider how our prayer life increases when our nets are empty and how perseverance can be God’s way of developing our character (Romans 5:4). Also consider how God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8,9). That is a blessing when we consider that he will bless us in ways that are immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). 

2. Why does the Holy Spirit include the number of fish in this lesson?

While we cannot know exactly why the Holy Spirit had “153” included in the Scriptures, it can lead us to appreciate a few things about God and his Word. We might consider just how well God knows us. If we ask a fisherman, “Catch any?” and he’s had a good day, he’ll tell you precisely how many fish he caught. More than once I’ve heard a fisherman say, “17” or “23.” This little detail speaks of its importance to fishermen.  

The fact that the Holy Spirit shares this detail is a great way to remind us that our God is not just a God of generalities. He is a God of specifics. He knows the very number of hairs on your head. Appreciate that this powerful God who can bring about such an abundant miracle is concerned about the details of your life. 

3. Compare Peter’s reaction to two different miraculous catches of fish (Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14). Why the difference?

The contrast is fascinating. Doesn’t it show the difference Jesus makes in our lives? Before I spent time with Jesus, the biggest thing staring at me was my sin, and I was afraid to be in the presence of a holy God. After spending time with Jesus and seeing how he nailed my sin to the cross and buried in in the tomb where it will stay, I don’t have to be afraid of my holy God. I can jump in the water and go to him. One may also consider these words from Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” 


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


This is the eighth 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 July 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 07
Issue: July 2018

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Part 1

Engage in conversation.

Donn G. Dobberstein

According to an Expedia 2015 study, 66 percent of people dread sitting next to someone on an airplane who wants to talk the entire trip. Typically, midair etiquette calls for a little small talk, followed by ear buds, book-reading, or looking out the window. People want peace and quiet.

In-flight conversations

That’s how I thought one such flight was headed after an almost two-hour delay. On board, the seat next to me was empty. Tired, I exhaled with satisfaction and stretched out for a little shut-eye. A scant minute before the boarding door closed, the last passenger boarded and rushed to his seat next to me. Exhaling heavily, he said hello. I smiled and wearily asked, “How are you doing?”

What a dangerous question to ask. I’ve just expressed an interest in a total stranger and opened myself to a conversation that might go well beyond the single word answer of “Good,” which I honestly might have desired at that moment.

My flight seatmate happily shared he was on his way to meet his fiancée. It began a casual, friendly conversation. I learned how they met, where she lived, and all their wedding plans. I couldn’t have been happier for him as we walked off the plane and said good-bye.

A couple hours later on a connector flight, I’m buckled alongside a dozen passengers from England headed for a week of golf in America. I’m sitting next to 18-year-old Jonathan, who lived just northwest of London. Accents collided as the dangerous question was asked again, “How are you doing?” The ensuing small talk was casual and natural. He asked what I did for a living.

“I’m a pastor,” I answered, “… you go to church?”

“No,” he said.

“Ever wonder what they’re all about?”

“No,” was his answer.

“At our church,” I replied, “We tell people about Jesus. Ever heard of him?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, yeah? Where?”

“At school.”

“What’d they tell you about him?”

“That he lived and died. Crucified him, I guess,” he responded.

“Did they ever tell you why they crucified him?”

“No,” was his answer.

“Did you ever wonder?”

“No,” was his answer.

“Would you like to know?”

“No,” he said, with a shrug.

In my head, I was already dreaming of the first ever in-flight adult baptism using the little cup of water the stewardess handed to me. But it didn’t happen. I could tell he was visibly uncomfortable. The conversation returned to casual and safe.

Two days later, I’m boarding the return flight, wondering, Who will I sit next to this time? She was a well-dressed, sophisticated-looking personal financial manager of accounts exceeding a half-million dollars. After exchanging pleasantries, she initiated the conversation, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a pastor,” I answered.

“Really?!” she exclaimed with genuine surprise.

It began a conversation that lasted the entire flight from runway to runway. She talked about the last time she went to church and how she hadn’t been back since—she was turned off by the “meat market” of singles. She talked about her friends in troubled marriages. I talked about the joys of marriage. She told me what she’s looking for in a church: one that can personally relate to her life, one in which she will leave on a Sunday and be able to take something with her through the week. She talked about her upscale world of fine homes, private jets, designer stores in New York City, affluent background, surrounded by materialistic people. She confessed there was something missing.

Engage the world

Jesus had conversations too that engaged an increasingly large world of people who needed more than small talk. We can learn from one conversation with a Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. “Now Jesus had to go through Samaria” (4:4). No, he didn’t. But in order to engage in conversation with total stranger, Jesus went through foreign territory for a Samaritan woman.

Their accents were different. Their cultures clashed. Their conversation was a social no-no (a strange man was not to be talked to in public). She was someone everyone wanted to avoid because she lived an immoral life.

Jesus asked, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). What a dangerous question! Jesus used it to begin an incredibly casual conversation that would break through all human barriers and obstacles. In a matter of minutes, Jesus engaged in talk that touched every aspect of her life. He exposed her moral failure with men, then proved himself to be the Messiah she most needed: “I am he” (John 4:26).

Jesus models for us conversation that engages the world. It may be true that the more secular our world becomes, the less inclined people are to “go to church.” But I believe people are still open to conversations with those who genuinely take an interest and care for them. There is an emptiness, a craving for lasting joy, a need to be known and loved, and a desire for greater meaning in our lives.

Why do we struggle in cultivating a normal conversation toward a faith discussion? The barrier isn’t an airplane seatmate, Samaritan stranger, or human deficiencies. It’s the Christian afraid to engage in conversation.

Why do we talk so easily and readily about work, our kids, the weather, football, but talking about Jesus doesn’t come easy?

Why can parents discuss schedules and family finances, but engaging in spiritual conversation and praying together? “Ah, I just don’t know how to do that.”

How come small talk with the checkout clerk is easier than sitting down with a child and having a conversation about Jesus? “Ah, but that’s just not me.”

Jesus models conversation worth talking about because the gospel is what it’s all about. It doesn’t mean the conversation has to begin with the gospel. It begins with you engaging someone in conversation. Say nothing, expect nothing. There are no shortcuts in relationships. It’s slow work. It’s soul work. But it’s so worth it!

The best part is a God who strategically formatted the gospel into words so that it can be part of our conversations with friends, family . . . or even with a total stranger. God wants us to talk about the gospel! Three flights and three chats with three strangers may not have ended with life-changing or Pentecost results. But they did happen. That’s the point. It proves that even the most casual conversation can turn into an opportunity to talk about Jesus.

“Do not be afraid to testify about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8).

Any conversation is an opportunity where small talk can turn to spiritual talk and where human needs can encounter gospel power. It can happen anytime, anywhere,

with anyone. It can happen over a cup of coffee, while waiting in line, in the backyard, and even on an airplane.

It can happen with you.


Donn Dobberstein, director of discipleship for WELS, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


This is the first article in a four-part series on evangelism lessons from the account of the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4.


 

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Author: Donn G. Dobberstein
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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“I do.” “He did.”

Glenn L. Schwanke

Statisticians inform us that 2.3 million couples wed each year in the United States. That works out to some 6,301 weddings per day. June is the most popular month for weddings. About $72 billion is spent on weddings each year. The average number of guests invited to a wedding is 178. The average wedding cost is $20,000.

That last piece of information brings a tear to my eye. Why? Lord willing, our daughter is getting married this summer.

The date the wedding is scheduled is June 9, thirty-nine years to the day after my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows on June 9, 1979, at St. John’s, Clinton Avenue, Milwaukee. (The congregation is now called Loving Shepherd.)

I wish I could tell you what the pastor’s wedding address was about all those years ago. But I was far too nervous to take it in. Nervous because of the vows that my wife, Teresa, and I sealed with the simple promise, “I do.”

And this June 9? I will be nervous again, but not because I haven’t performed weddings before. I’ve had that privilege countless times over the years. Yet this marriage will be unique in my ministry. It’s for our only child.

I’ve had folks ask, “Does a pastor walk his own daughter down the aisle?” My response, “I plan to.” When we reach the front of the church, I’ll lift her veil, give her a hug and a kiss, hand her to her fiancé, and give him a firm handshake. Then I’ll step up to the altar, turn, and begin the service in my role as pastor.”

“Will you get emotional? Will you cry?” “More than likely, but I trust God’s Spirit will help me get through the service.”

Don’t miss the point. The service revolves around a man and a woman standing before their families and friends in God’s house. There they publicly declare their commitment to each other with the solemn pledge, “In the presence of God and these witnesses, I take you to be my wife/husband. I promise to be faithful to you, as long as we both shall live.” The service is about the simple promise, “I do.”

Yet the wedding ceremony is about far more than that! Think of all the family and friends who come to the wedding. Some of them rarely, if ever, go to church otherwise. Maybe they’ve never cracked open a Bible. What do they need to hear on the wedding day? What do we all need to hear? “He did.”

Jesus did what no sinner, no husband, no wife, can ever do. As Paul explains, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. . . He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27 Evangelical Heritage Version). Because of what Jesus did, our Lord will shower his grace into our hearts and homes in this life and then wrap his arms around us in the life to come in heaven above! Knowing this, I’ll make sure all the worshippers at this wedding hear, “He did.”

And for the bride and groom? I’ll print copies of the address, just in case, they’re too nervous to listen closely during the ceremony.


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


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Oops, I did it again!

Though we constantly fall, Jesus forgives us and leads us on the path to heaven.

Deborah Koestler-Kuck

People that know me well have learned how accident prone I can be.

The pain of falling

There was the notorious “360 on a high heel” in the church parking lot. I got a 10 for that one! In June, I decided to carefully walk around a puddle at work. I was oh-so-careful. One step, though, and whoosh, boom, I was down on my knees. Only a few weeks ago, my sandal bottom stuck on the new carpet in my office, and I went flying into the door. My favorite coffee cup was in shards. Thankfully, it was empty. Whew. I’ve tripped up steps and fallen down them. I’ve slipped on nothing. I’ve broken plates, vases, and wine glasses.

Then there was the camera. Somehow or other, I managed to crack the lens on my friend’s GoPro while it sat charging in the bathroom. We’d been enjoying a fabulous weekend. I don’t even know how I did it. The question was simple, “Did you break it?” What? As I thought about it, yes, I moved something sitting on the counter so it didn’t get wet. Long story short, my friend thought I knew what I had done and kept quiet. I apologized. I had done it again. Klutzy me.

As I ponder on these examples, they were all accidents and unintentional. They all had rather costly consequences though. I ruined my nylons and broke my heel in the church parking lot. Both falls at work caused some serious knee pain and bruising, which lasted for a few months. Worst, though, was the camera incident. It caused tension.

The pain of sin

Now let’s compare all this to sin in our lives. I would never fall or break something on purpose, but we do sin on purpose. We sin without realizing it, or by accident, too. Do we sometimes offend without thinking about it? Does our behavior cause someone to go against what they feel is acceptable? Do we hurt others by silly jokes or teasing? There are so many ways each day that we absentmindedly go about our sinful ways without even thinking about it. What’s worse, though, is that our sinful behavior has serious consequences. Our sin may cause loss of possessions. Our sins may cause pain or injury to our physical bodies or others. But worst of all, it causes separation between us and a dear friend. That friend is Jesus.

But he is always true, kind, and loving. He not only overlooks our clumsy, klutzy ways, but when we follow him, he shows us a better way. He takes our hands so we don’t fall. He leads safely. And even if we trip and stumble, he catches us and puts it all right again. If we break his rules, he forgives us over and over. Then he directs us away from our sins. He died for the mistakes, whether intentional or not, that you and I make every day. And one day, we will leave this imperfect world to join him and all saints in glorious, accident-free, heavenly glory.

Knowing my two left feet, undoubtedly I will take a few more tumbles and break a few things along my road to heaven. I’ll be saying, “Oops!” until my dying day. But thanks to a loving Savior, when this life is over, one day I’ll stroll into undeserved glory with all the beauty, elegance, and grace I’ve always hoped for.


Deborah Koestler-Kuck is a member at St. Paul’s, New Ulm, Minnesota.


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Author: Deborah Koestler-Kuck
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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NPH adjusts to current market

Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) has announced it will close its retail store in the fall. The store, located in Milwaukee, offers Christian books, music, gifts, and church supplies. These items will continue to be available at NPH’s website, nph.net, or by calling 1-800-662-6022.

A WELS subsidiary and non-profit organization, NPH has served customers for more than 125 years with Christ-centered resources. Going forward, NPH remains committed to developing new materials. Planned titles include Ten Things to Tell Your Grandkids  and Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You. The final books in the Peoples Bible Teachings and Bible Discovery series are also being developed. In addition, NPH is continuing its work on the new hymnal and its accompanying resources, which are scheduled to be available by Advent 2021.

As the announcement of the store’s closing was made, NPH’s customers reacted to the news with both sadness and understanding. Many reminisced about the special atmosphere and products for which the store is known. Others voiced their support for NPH and its mission.

“A sad announcement but a practical one,” wrote Johnold Strey, pastor at Crown of Life, Hubertus, Wis.

“Glad you’re still going to have an online store, which reaches so many more people than one brick and mortar building could,” shared Lorraine Goward, a member at Christ, Oakley, Mich. “Sounds like an excellent use of your resources to close the store and pour more into the website.”

In a letter to customers, Bill Ziche, president of NPH, explained that Christian publishing has faced many challenges in recent years. “Publishers affiliated with church bodies have declined significantly in number and size,” noted Ziche. “For many retailers, there has been a dramatic shift by their customers toward purchasing online rather than at physical retail store locations. Northwestern Publishing House has been impacted by these trends as well.”

NPH’s retail store currently represents about 17 percent of total sales. As the store’s sales have fallen, NPH’s leadership began to anticipate this change and upgraded its website at nph.net. The site now provides better search capabilities and an improved customer interface.

In spring 2019, NPH will implement another cost-saving measure by transitioning its warehousing and distribution to an outside fulfillment partner that will ship orders to customers. NPH’s staff will also move its offices to the synod headquarters at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry. These changes will allow NPH to sell its current building and use the money to continue publishing Christian resources while developing even stronger relationships with WELS areas of ministry and commissions.

Mary Sieh, a member at Good Shepherd, Burnsville, Minn., voiced many people’s thoughts when she wrote on Facebook, “Thankful for you, NPH and staff! May God bless your efforts as you move forward in continuing to provide us with the biblically sound material we’ve come to know and love from you.”


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Some polls should be believed

Mark G. Schroeder

A recent survey of religious beliefs should be more than a little shocking to us. Here are some of the results when members of a large Protestant church body were questioned about their views:

● Only 31 percent of those surveyed said that religion or biblical teaching is the source of guidance for what is right and wrong. The rest identified common sense, philosophy, or science, or stated that they simply didn’t know.

● When asked if there is an absolute standard for right and wrong, 69 percent said that there is no such absolute standard; right and wrong depends on the situation or your own beliefs.

● Fifteen percent of those responding said that they do not believe in heaven; 41 percent stated that they do not believe in hell.

● Sixty-five percent answered that they believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

● Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of the members of that Christian denomination believe that homosexuality should be accepted; 65 percent approve of same-sex marriage.

● When asked about the origin of the universe and life, 78 percent expressed a belief in evolution.

● Fully 80 percent stated that the Bible is not necessarily the Word of God.

What is shocking about this poll is that those who answered belong to a church body with “Lutheran” in its name. (Hint: It’s not the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.)

It is my firm conviction that WELS members’ answers to these questions would be vastly different than the answers in this poll. But the point here is not for us to say with sinful pride that we thank God that we are not like others who have departed from the truth. The point is this: The Lutheran church body to which these members belong was formed at a time when members held and proclaimed the truths taught in the Scriptures. It’s a stark reminder that even faithful Lutheran church bodies and Lutheran Christians can—and do—stray sometimes very far from biblical truth.

The reason for poll results like this can be traced to the very last question listed above. If 80 percent of the members of a church (and probably a similar percentage of their pastors) no longer believe that the Bible is the Word of God, it’s not at all surprising that they adopt beliefs that are based not on Scripture but on their own ideas and opinions.

Not every church that believes that the Bible is the Word of God remains a correct-teaching church. Even Bible-believing churches can—and do—distort the truth of God’s Word even as they claim to hold on to it. But one thing is certain. A church that rejects the truth that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God cannot remain a church that teaches the truth.

So what are the lessons to be learned from these poll results? First, this is a stark reminder to listen to God’s loving warning that those who think that they are standing firm should be careful that they do not fall. Second, these poll results can lead us to be incredibly grateful that God has preserved his truth among us. Finally, this poll should lead us to encourage one another, pastors and members alike, to stand firmly on the Word of God as the unchanging truth that it is; to insist that our pastors preach and proclaim that truth boldly and without compromise; and to be filled with thanks and confidence that when our pastors say, “This is the Word of the Lord,” that’s exactly what we will hear.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Our treasure: the gospel: Part 2

The gospel changes us.

“Seven sticks and a circle saved my life.” This story shows the gospel’s life-changing power to create faith in Jesus.

Nathan C. Buege

In 1970, at the age of 18, Mike joined the military and spent three years in Vietnam, Thailand, and England. Each of those years included heavy drinking. When he got back to the States, he attended college for five years. And the partying continued. He married Linda, his college sweetheart. Together, they raised two handsome boys.

But God was never a part of the picture. The drinking from his military and college days had never stopped. And nearly 40 years later, in 2009, Mike found himself in a terrible place. He admitted his addiction to alcohol. He successfully quit drinking for about 18 months. But God still was not part of the picture.

Then a relapse. During the next two years, Mike spiraled down to new depths. “After my eighteen-month sobriety, those next two years of drinking made my previous 30-some years of alcohol addiction seem like nothing,” Mike recalled. And after those terrible two years, Linda finally had enough. She moved out. Divorce was all but certain. And Mike’s first thought was, Good. I don’t care. Now I can drink without her complaining about it all the time.

Wanting a change

But Mike couldn’t sleep at night. He couldn’t sleep in his lonely bed. He couldn’t sleep on the couch by the TV. He couldn’t sleep on the patio furniture outside by the pool. He tried drinking even more in order to make himself pass out, but he couldn’t even do that. He struggled to care and considered suicide. He missed his wife, he missed his boys, and he realized he was about an inch away from losing everything. He pulled aside a Christian friend from work and spilled his soul. Mike expressed that he was desperate and needed help.

Mike also promised Linda he’d attend an addiction support group meeting. But he got totally lost in metro Houston on the way to the first meeting. He was turned around, stuck in traffic, and furious with himself . . . when he looked up and discovered that he was somehow in the right spot. “Jesus helped me get to that first meeting,” Mike said.

For decades, Linda had begged Mike to attend church with her, but he never would. So Mike decided to make a change on Sunday mornings also. He began to attend a church within walking distance from his house—Victory of the Lamb, Katy, Texas. He purposely came late and left early, never leaving any contact information. He told himself he was just doing this for a little while to get Linda back. “Those first couple of Sundays, I must have checked my watch 50 times during the service,” Mike recalls. “I really was just forcing myself to be there.”

After his third Sunday, Mike was trying to sprint out the door, as usual. But this time, Hal Brazee, a longtime member of the congregation, was waiting for him. “I’ve seen you come the past three or four weeks,” Hal said, “and I haven’t been able to say hello yet. Why don’t you try coming to our Bible 101 class? It starts next Wednesday. I’ll go there with you.” He gave Mike a Bible and said, “You’re going to need this when you come to class.”

Mike thought to himself, You’re just trying to get me to join this church. But he started Bible 101 class anyway.

Hearing the life-changing gospel

At first, it was tough sledding. Mike had many questions: “How can Jesus be God and man? Would God really forgive wretched humans? Does this mean my fourth-grade teacher was a liar because she had taught me evolution?” Mike wasn’t sure if any of the Bible was true.

Almost every week, I always used a drawing of a stick person, a cross, and two arrows. It shows the gospel simply. One stick man is made from five sticks and a circle. Two more sticks depict the cross. Sins follow an arrow to the cross. The perfection of Jesus follows another arrow from the cross to the stick man. The gospel is the news that all our sins are transferred to Jesus and all his perfection is transferred back to us.

After five weeks or so, Mike stuck around after class to express his doubts to me. I listened carefully and then had a suggestion: “There are a lot of things in the Bible that are hard to believe, Mike. Why don’t you try listening to the Bible as a child would? And then, in the end, either you believe it, or you don’t.”

Mike took me up on this suggestion. He simply listened to the Word as a child would listen. The drawing started to make sense. And gradually, without even trying, he noticed his attitude changing. Instead of listing all the reasons why the Bible probably wasn’t true, Mike found himself simply saying, “This is true. I believe it. God loves me, yes, even me! God has forgiven me for everything in Jesus! My life has changed!” And that day after Bible 101 class, a grown man in his 60s skipped home, smiling as big and bright as the stars in the Texas sky.

Living as a changed man

In November 2013, Mike had a great question for me: “Pastor, I need your help. Can you help me write a Thanksgiving prayer? This will be my first Thanksgiving dinner that I won’t be drunk, and I’d like to lead my family in prayer before the meal.” What a wonderful question for a man to be asking! It was a breakthrough Thanksgiving for the Young family.

A little over two years since Mike had forced himself to walk through the church doors for the first time, Mike and Linda were confirmed as members of Victory of the Lamb. And as they walked back to their seats after taking communion, Hal Brazee was waiting for Mike again. This time, it was with a huge bear hug. Through tears, all Mike could say was, “Thanks, buddy.”

After worship on their confirmation day, the Youngs threw a party to celebrate all that God had done for them. Several of their new church friends were there, as well as some other friends who were instrumental in helping Mike fight alcoholism. Mike exclaimed, “You know how many parties I’ve had at my house where there was all kinds of drinking? Well, that party we had on the day we joined the church was the best party we’ve ever had!”

How is Mike doing now? “I can’t even explain how much better my marriage with Linda has gotten—and it just keeps getting better and better. I enjoy serving as an usher, because now Sunday is my favorite day! There’s a kick in my step, and I can’t wait to get to the church service. It’s totally different than it was when I first walked through the church doors.

“And I also love talking about how seven sticks and a circle saved my life.”


Nathan Buege is pastor at Victory of the Lamb, Katy, Texas.


This is the second article in a six-part series on the power of the gospel.


 

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Author: Nathan C. Buege
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What do new dads truly need to know?

What do new moms really need to know?

One of the purposes of this column is to support Christian parents. This month we’re focusing on new dads. Check the May column for advice aimed at new moms. (You can search for the articles at forwardinchrist.net using the phrase “May 2018.”)  

I think the dads who wrote this month hit it out of the ballpark with their articles. Each article on its own is filled with practical wisdom for any parent (not just new dads). Combined? A tour de force! Please read each article and then share them with the dads (and moms) in your life.  

Nicole Balza


If the 2018 version of Jim Aderman could advise the late-1970s Jim Aderman about parenting, the first thing I’d tell that whippersnapper is, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E. Spend time with your kids, Jim. Quality time. Focused time. Time free of ringing phones and buzzing text messages. Time divorced from nagging work projects.  

“Will using time for your kids threaten your career goals? Yup. But your children are extraordinary gifts from your Father to you and your wife (Psalm 127:3). They are meant to have a higher value than your career. Even a pastor’s career. Forty years from now you won’t wish you could go back in time to get more done at work.  

“Jim, my second piece of advice is, demonstrate how much you love your kids by loving your wife first. Children feel most secure when they see that Mom and Dad are ‘I-love-you-to the moon-and-back’ committed to each other. Assure them that your marriage is solid because God’s commitment to you in Jesus prompts you to prize their mother above everything else. Even whenno, especially whenshe is hard to love. And, by the way, when you love your wife like Christ loved the church, your wife will find it easier to love you and your kids too. 

“And that reminds me about something else. Jim, your children need to know that you love them because of God’s cross-guaranteed love for you. Rejoice over your kids when they excel in school, when they score in soccer, and when they live their faith. But tell themevery daythat you love them not because they please you, but because of Jesus’ love for you. Tell them that, since God’s grace is constant and measureless, your love for them will never change or fade. Never. Regardless of their grades, their athletic prowess, or their moral standards. 

“Now, you won’t be able to parent your kids like this driven by your own gumption. If you are going to love your wife and kids like Christ loves you, you need to fill your heart and mind and life with Christ. Immerse yourself in his Word. Read it. Think it through. Study it with others. Share it at your family altar. Celebrate its assurances at worship. Talk with Jesus about it. 

“By the way, Jim, I asked your future granddaughter to review this post. She suggests I should also tell you that you won’t ever be a perfect father. Be sure you apply Easter’s forgiveness to yourself. Then live in its power.” 

Of course, 1977-Jim-Aderman will never hear this advice. But, perhaps, it will help you, young father. Why don’t you let me know how it works? 


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


Take a deep breath and see how long you can hold it. Ready . . . set . . . go!  

Sixty-five seconds. That’s all I got. Can you beat my time? In 2012, German freediver Tom Sietas held his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds! That’s a long time without taking a breath! Now try making it a day without confessing your sin and hearing the wonderful assurance that your sins are forgiven. Actually . . . don’t. 

Dads, here’s my advice on how to be a better dad: Breathe. Just as you exhale the carbon dioxide from your lungs and inhale the fresh oxygen you need to live, so to a Christian needs the daily life breath of confession and absolution for their souls to live.  

Dads, one thing I’ve learned in being a dad is that we all mess up. We are selfish sinners. So we will grow impatient, speak harshly, and criticize unfairly. Our selfishness will conflict with the selfishness of our wives and our kids. This is unavoidable this side of heaven.  

But I’ve also learned, dads, that when you mess up, it’s best to fess up. Admit it when you’re wrong. Admit it to God and ask for his forgiveness. Admit it to your family and ask for theirs. In this way you will exhale the carbon dioxide of sin, guilt, and shame that would otherwise poison your soul. 

But don’t stop there. If you only exhaled and nothing more, you would still die. Inhale too. After you’ve exhaled your sin in open, honest confession, then inhale the life-giving oxygen of the gospel. Breathe in the wonderful, joyous, blissful truth that your sins are forgiven by Jesus. He’s paid for all of your sin, guilt, and shame. And he’s taken it all away. Take a deep breath and feel the life, peace, and energy that absolution gives. 

Sound too easy? God promises it! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As God breathed life into Adam’s lungs, he breathes spiritual life into our hearts by his forgiving grace. 

And as we dads model the daily breath of the Christian through confessing our sins and trusting in the absolution Christ gives, we’ll help our kids breathe a little easier too. They will be able to confess their sins to us, knowing that, even while we enforce consequences, we will also be quick to forgive and to assure them of God’s forgiveness. 

One day soon, unless Jesus returns first, each of us will take our last breath in this world. But with confession and absolution a part of our daily routine, as common as breathing, we will stay ready for that day and help our kids to be ready too. So let’s continue to exhale our sins in confession and inhale the life-giving Word of forgiveness that’s ours in Jesus. It’s the only way to live. 


Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, have four sons ages 5 -14. Rob serves as pastor at Grace, Kenai, Alaska. 


Math word problems were never my “thing.” But math was my dad’s forte. As a paper scientist, he loved its logic and precision. I would struggle for what seemed like hours with “One train starts from Chicago at 10 a.m. . . .”—then go to Dad. He would look at my scratchings, smile, and say, “Okay, let’s start fresh—a clean piece of paper is a clear mind!” Then off we would go as he explained how to solve it in a way my young mind could grasp.  

Dad is gone now. But his lessons live on. What legacy will we leave for our children and grandchildren? Dad supported my dream of teaching, and, after nearly 40 years in a Christian classroom, I’ve gleaned a few “dad” lessons.  

Enjoy the adventure! From the time our little ones arrive to the day they leave home is a precious window. It’s easy to get caught in the everyday grind. Before we know it, they’re gone and we wonder, “What happened?” The diaper days, toddler years, school days, and adolescence—they all pose challenges. Do your best to treasure those times. Make the most of your hours with your sons and daughters. The Lord promises “a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). 

Play show and tell”be involved and supportive. Dads need to intentionally “be there” for their children, building relationships and making memories. “Teaching them the way they should go” (cf. Proverbs 22:6) means talking, asking questions, hanging out together. Know your children’s dreams and be their cheerleader. Most important—tell them that you love them. Dads can have a hard time sharing those words their children long to hear. Remember to “show and tell” them they are loved. 

Be yourselfnot your kid! Guard against forcing your own “agenda” of unmet needs on your children.  

Discipline in love. Children make lots of mistakes. They sin often. We sin often. A life of forgiveness is what we need to model. We have been forgiven much. Avoid disciplining in anger and shaming your children. God reminds dads to never “exasperate” their children (Ephesians 6:4). 

Live your faith and be honest. Children are God’s gift to us. Being a Christian dad isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s messy; often we’ll fail. That’s the nature of our Christian walk. Our heavenly Father knows that. His Word is our guide. He offers full and free forgiveness. We need that forgiveness from our children as well. Being authentic and honest in our faith walk will leave a lasting legacy for our families.  

And just for the record—I jotted these thoughts on a clean sheet of paper.  


Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wisconsin, and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 06
Issue: June 2018

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

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Teen Talk: Jump!

Our heavenly Father is there to catch us whenever we are frightened.

Johanna Leu

Did you ever go on adventures when you were little?

My brother and I always had adventures in our backyard. There was a hill that led down to a valley with a small creek. Near the creek was a place we liked to call “The Kingdom.” It was just a bunch of trees, crushed by one giant, fallen tree, making a long, sheltered area. But it always gave us an adventure.

I have so many memories in that spot. We would spend many hours going outside to manage our “kingdom.” We had a lookout tree to watch for intruders, even a bridge entering into the kingdom, which was really just a fallen tree log. We also found a small curved tree to sit on that had low, small branches that you could wave like a fan at yourself. Of course, since our kingdom was made out of trees, we always were climbing them.

While we were busy adventuring in the trees, my dad would always be near the area, watching to make sure we didn’t fall or get hurt. He wouldn’t intervene, just did other tasks around the area while we played.

I remember once I climbed too high on one of the trees. I was so high I was scared to come down. In my mind, there was no way I was getting down from there.

I yelled to my brother for help. He answered my call from another tree and told me just to climb down. I told him I couldn’t. He tried to walk me through it, but I didn’t trust that I could do it.

I then saw my dad and called out to him to help. He came near the tree and told me to slowly try to reach the branch below me with my feet. I remember him saying, “Try to get to the lower branch. I know you can do it. Trust me, if you fall, I will catch you.”

After some more prodding, I finally started inching down toward the lower branch, but I couldn’t reach it and was too scared of falling. There were no other branches around it to grab onto.

My dad then opened his arms and told me to jump to him. That was an even farther distance away than the branch. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch you,” he said. After a few more moments of hesitation, I jumped.

Doesn’t this sound somewhat like our relationship toward God? We tend to wander off, doing our own things. We get so wrapped up in what we are doing that we don’t realize he’s always there with us, watching us. We only start to look for God when we face troubles.

And even when we face troubles, God isn’t the first one we turn to for help. We ignore the blatantly obvious help that’s always there and try to seek our own way or follow another’s way out.

But, when push comes to shove and all other options are gone, our heavenly Father is there. He patiently waits for us to come to him. He lays different options out before us to try. And then finally, when all seems lost, he opens up his arms to us so that we can get out of our troubles safely and be enveloped by his grace.

All we have to do is jump.


Johanna Leu, a senior at Manitowoc Lutheran High School, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is a member at St. John (Newtonburg), Newton, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Johanna Leu
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Confessions of faith: Heerema

A family finds faith, forgiveness, and their church home. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

They hadn’t lost their faith, but the light of the gospel had grown dim in their hearts. 

“We were just stumbling along,” says Tracy Heerema, of her and her husband, Daniel. 

But they regained their footing—and the light burned brighter—when they started attending a small church right in their neighborhood that has a big heart and a big message of Christ’s love and forgiveness for all sinners.  

“It just felt like home,” says Tracy about Prince of Peace, Flower Mound, Tex.  

And it became their home. 

Shopping for churches 

Lutheran teachings were nothing new to Tracy; she was raised in the Lutheran church until the age of 11. But then her parents switched religions to Mormonism, and Tracy says she stopped going to church after her father died when she was 15 years old. 

“I don’t think I ever truly didn’t believe in my heart that Christ was my Savior,” she says, “but I wasn’t interested in organized religion.” 

When she and her husband got married and started having children, they realized that the spiritual part of their marriage was missing. “We felt like church was important,” she says, “so we bounced around from church to church to church.” 

But something was always lacking in the churches they visited. “I just never felt like I belonged,” says Tracy. “When they say that everything is bigger in Texas, they’re not lying. Most of the churches are huge and overwhelming; to me it felt like it was all about money and show as compared to real community.”  

Daniel had grown up jumping from church to church while his parents searched for a congregation they liked. He didn’t want that for his family, especially when their church searching wasn’t going well. 

So they stopped looking. “We were burnt out,” says Tracy. “We just didn’t make it a huge priority.” For the most part, religion was reduced to a mention of Jesus at Easter and Christmas. 

Making a connection 

When their oldest child was 7, Tracy noticed that Prince of Peace, a church she walked by frequently in her neighborhood, was offering vacation Bible school for the community. “I remembered how much fun I used to have a VBS during the summer when I was growing up,” says Tracy. She and Daniel decided to send their son. “That was when I was first introduced to Prince of Peace,” she remembers. 

A short time later she met Brad Taylor, pastor at Prince of Peace, and his wife, Molly, socially at the school their children all attended. Tracy had just had her second child, and Molly invited her to attend Mornings with Mommy, an outreach program that offers activities for young children to do with their parents, at the church. Tracy started attending the program. 

After she had her third child, Prince of Peace began offering Power Hour as well. This program focused more on sharing God’s Word to parents and their children through Bible studies and activities. Parents were also invited to a parenting class offered by Pastor Taylor. Tracy naturally transitioned into attending Power Hour with her children along with the Mornings with Mommy sessions. 

“During Power 4 Parenting, the 30-minute Bible class that Pastor has, his message and the way he presented everything was so a-ha, so natural,” says Tracy. “It wasn’t like anything else I had heard in any of the other churches my husband and I had tried.” 

Tracy says that during that time she and Daniel were struggling with some marital problems. The messages she was hearing at the parenting class really began to resonate with her. 

“One day, I just said, ‘I am going to try Sunday services,’ ” says Tracy.  

She continues, “When I got to Prince of Peace and started hearing the message, it was like a light bulb went off. I thought, Hey, I know this. I remember this. That was what was missing going to all those other churches—the message didn’t resonate. It was too watered down, too taken out of context. I didn’t feel like it was right.” 

Tracy says that after she and the kids attended services at Prince of Peace for a couple of weeks, her husband noticed a change in her—a change that sparked his interest. He decided to go too. 

“Once he heard Pastor’s sermons, that was it,” says Tracy. “It was just so true; there was no crazy fluff. It felt like home. It was not a big, huge megachurch. It was traditional hymns and the reading of the Scriptures. . . . It didn’t need any of the pomp and circumstance because it was just the truth. My husband had the same reaction to it. He couldn’t wait for the next Sunday.” 

The Heeremas started Foundations of Faith classes and were confirmed in May 2017. Now they are volunteering at the same community events that first introduced them to Prince of Peace. 

Finding forgiveness 

Tracy says she notices many positive changes since their family started attending Prince of Peace. Their marriage is getting stronger, and the family now talks about their Savior on a regular basis. “With the kids, we can definitely help them to understand what it means to be a child of God,” she says. 

She continues, “This has been a huge blessing to our marriage for the two of us to go through this journey together. We both know we’re going to stumble; we’re going to fall. But as long as we continue to remember that Jesus died for all our sins, we can wake up tomorrow and try a little harder.” 

Having that message of forgiveness back in the forefront—a message she had learned long ago in her youth—is something that Tracy cherishes. “I just remember feeling a great sense of comfort knowing that I was flawed and that it is okay to be flawed because Jesus died to wash away all my sins. 

“It’s been a blessing. It made me feel like everything has come full circle.” 

They found their home. 


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ. 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Reaching one million souls with the gospel

It’s not too early to be thinking about Christmas. 

But I’m not talking about sales shopping. I’m talking about considering whom to invite to hear about Jesus, the Light in the darkness. 

Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, says Christmas Eve is the #1 worship service that unchurched and dechurched people are willing to attend. “The Christmas season is actually a pressure point for a lot of people. The suicide rates go up over the holiday season and depression spikes,” he says. “The world is a dark place; it’s been that way since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. What can pierce that darkness? Only Christ—he is the Light in the darkness.”   

A new synodwide outreach campaign called C18 is now available from WELS Congregational Services to help congregations and individuals with this outreach opportunity. The theme, “A Light in the darkness,” is based on Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” The overarching goal of the program? To reach one million people with the gospel message during the Christmas season. 

Every commission from Congregational Services will provide royalty-free resources that congregations and members can use in this effort: 

  • The Commission on Worship is providing worship resources, including worship plans, sermon helps, worship folders, and newly commissioned music, for Advent and Christmas.
  • The Commission on Evangelism is developingpromotionalmaterials such as postcards, banners, and Facebook posts for congregations to use. A Bible study related to the new outreach movie To the Ends of the Earth (coming out this fall) will discuss how to witness and share your faith to help prepare members to invite their unchurched friends, relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors to Christmas Eve services.  
  • The Commission on Discipleship is producing family Advent devotions, with a special emphasis on training and encouraging families to reach out to the unchurched during the holiday season.
  • The Commission on Lutheran Schools is providing WELS school with evangelism training materials for children and teens.
  • The Commission on Special Ministries is developing supplementary materials for the Christmas for Kids program developed by Northwestern Publishing House to allow congregations to offer a service for special-needs children.
  • The Commission on Congregational Counseling is providing materials to help congregations coordinatethisoutreach effort as well as helps for following up on contacts after the holiday season. 

“It all boils down to WELS members growing closer to Jesus so we have a heart that beats with a love and passion for the lost and we are willing to step outside our comfort zone to do whatever we can to share the gospel,” says Hein. “Every commission is thinking about this overall goal of gospel ministry and how they can serve it.” 

Hein says that this needs to be a synodwide effort and that congregations and their members need to work together as a church body. “Our job is to simply share the gospel as zealously as we can. We leave the results up to the Holy Spirit,” he says. “However, if together we would achieve the goal of reaching one million souls, and if the Holy Spirit would bless that effort at a similar rate he has for past programs, it would mean about 1,500 people and their families would join a WELS congregation as a result of the C18 program.” 

This synodwide outreach campaign is the first of three—plans are already being discussed for programs for a fall festival in 2019 and Easter in 2020. Says Hein, “We want this to become part of WELS culture—that we work together to reach out to the unchurched in our neighborhoods.” 

He continues, “The best evangelism is done by individuals looking to share their faith. The second this launches in June, I want laypeople to start thinking about whom they are going to start talking to and spend time developing a relationship with so that they can invite them to attend a Christmas Eve service to hear about the Light in the darkness.” 

Promotional and planning materials for C18 will be available on the Congregational Services resource center in June. Learn more about C18 at wels.net/c18. 


New online resource center 

C18 is just one way WELS Congregational Services is working to help congregations. As part of its five-year strategic plan, Congregational Services is providing multiple resources to assist congregations as they attempt to reach new prospects while simultaneously work to retain current members. 

These materials will be available on a new online resource center, welscongregationalservices.net, which is launching this month. 

While Congregational Services has provided helps in the past, many of those programs were available through conferences and workshops. This includes the popular School of Outreach and School of Worship Enrichment. While Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, says this type of in-person help is ideal, it also can be cost-prohibitive for some congregations and may mean congregations have to wait months or even years for a program to come to their area. “Our thought is let’s provide resources and training online where it can be asynchronous, immediate, and free,” says Hein. “There will always be a need for face-to-face contact, but if we can better utilize technology to help more congregations quickly and at less cost, that just makes a lot of sense.” 

Much of this training will be conducted through high-quality videos and supporting materials. The site will include a wide variety of modules that deal with specific ministry needs like training volunteers, starting a small-group ministry, working with delinquents, and developing a strategic plan. The site will also provide training materials for lay leaders as they serve in different positions in their congregation.  

New resources will be added every six months. Hein says that while many resources are already in the works, Congregational Services will also be looking for grass-roots input at the district conventions this month to discover what kind of help congregations need most.   


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author:
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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