God’s promised rest

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. Hebrews 4:1

Daniel J. Habben 

Ah, summer. School is out. Holidays are in—that is, after we get through our vacation to-do list: Shop. Pack. Clean. Empty fridge. Service car. Cancel mail delivery. Find pet-sitter. Sometimes there is so much stress before a vacation that we’re tempted to cancel our travel plans altogether and do a staycation instead! All the pre-trip hassle can’t really be worth that seven-day trip to Disney, can it?

Our journey on earth

Maybe we sometimes view our journey to heaven in the same way. Striving to live as a Christian in a sin-filled world is stressful and demanding. Heaven can’t possibly be worth the hassle, can it?

The writer to the Hebrews encourages us not to slack on our heavenly travel plans. Unlike any earthly vacation spot, heaven is a place of true and lasting rest. Heaven is not only worth the troubles we experience on earth, but its glories so far surpass those troubles that we one day will consider them “light and momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17)!

Of course, one reason we may feel exhausted living a Christian life is because we haven’t truly grasped the essence of Christianity. In a recent Bible class, a woman said, “I thought Christianity was like every other religion—just do your best to behave and God will give you heaven.” Being a Christian, however, is not so much a matter of behaving but believing—believing in what Jesus has done for us.

But behavior does follow belief. Because I believe that Jesus gave his life to rescue me from sin, I want to treat my spouse with respect. I want to be patient with my children. I want to give my boss my best and not eat up company time checking Facebook. I want to do all this because I’m filled and fueled by gratitude for all that God has done for me through Jesus.

Our journey to heaven

Christians have God’s standing promise that we will enter heavenly rest. But, amazing grace, that rest already starts here on earth! Jesus has relieved us of our burden

of sin the way a luggage porter relieves a weary traveler of heavy luggage. The porter doesn’t ask the traveler to help him carry the load. He simply takes it. Of course, the porter will expect payment in return for his services, but Jesus shouldered our sins at no cost to us. And where is our heavenly porter leading us? To heaven, on a one-way ticket. We will never have to return to a life of broken relationships, loneliness, disappointment, or disease. Our rest will never end because sin will not intrude again.

Let’s not allow that promised rest to slip from our hands. Heed the warning of the writer to the Hebrews: Be careful! Don’t get so caught up in the concerns of this world that you relegate Jesus and his Word to the bottom of your to-do list. It’s a warning we especially need to hear as summer begins.

As we anticipate a break from routine, let’s not take a break from our worship and devotional life. So go ahead. Buy that vacation ticket; empty your fridge; lock your door. But bring Jesus and his Word along. Visit WELS congregations near your vacation destination. Download sermons and devotions to listen to as you barrel down the highway. Keep feeding your faith so you won’t fall short of God’s promised rest.


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


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben 
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The harvest is on!

Pentecost celebrates the harvest of souls that has continued through the ages. 

 E. Allen Sorum

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to help his church testify about him, but he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem. Ten days later Jerusalem was packed with religious tourists who had gathered to celebrate the Festival of Weeks. This festival got its name because God directed his people to count off seven weeks after the first day after the Passover Sabbath and on the day after—50 days laterto gather for a “sacred assembly. On this 50th day, the assembly presented grain offerings to praise God for the grain harvest. The story of Pentecost is the amazing outpouring of the Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem. 

God likes to illustrate his teachings to his people through familiar things. God’s Word uses yeast to help us appreciate some beautiful features of the Festival of Pentecost. We know that yeast is the leavening agent in dough that causes it to rise. Because yeast makes a loaf of bread soft, fluffy, and delicious, it gives us glorious insight into the Day of Pentecost. 

The Passover: Without yeast 

But first let’s step back to the Passover, the first sacred assembly in the Old Testament church. Passover was the first day of the weeklong Festival of Unleavened Bread. This was bread without yeast—flat bread. For the entire week of this festival, God required his people to eat only unleavened bread. Additionally, God wanted every bit of yeast swept out of every Hebrew home! Eating crackers instead of bread for a week was probably not a severe sacrifice. Regardless, anyone caught eating a raised loaf of bread or ignoring the “no yeast” rule was cut off from the community! 

Avoiding leaven for a week every year helped God’s people remember how God rescued them from slavery. The first Passover meal was eaten in haste because the tenth plague finally broke Pharaoh. The firstborn all died except in those houses that had the blood of the lamb swabbed over the doorposts. Pharaoh let God’s people go. It was a sudden reversal. God told his people to be ready to leave. They would have no time for bread to rise. Excited ex-slaves pushed bitter herbs into doughpressed it onto a hot surface, and ate it with their bags packed and travel clothes onThe Passover without yeast reminded God’s people of the urgency of escape and the hard journey ahead. Yes, it was a hard journey, but it also was a new beginning, a new freedom, and the anticipation of the new Promised Land.  

But there was another lesson. Yeast permeates the dough. At the Passover, God wanted homes swept clean of yeast. This picture might make us think of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees” (Mark 8:15). Paul described false teaching as yeast that works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9). Yeast is a picture of a strong, pervasive, and penetrating influence. The picture helped the Hebrew people see the true nature of sin, hypocrisy, and pride in human things. These sins were a threat to the assembly’s unity with God and with each other. The worldly influence of Egypt was to be left behind. So God commanded no yeast. 

Pentecost: With yeast 

Pentecost was different. The people had been counting days: seven weeks and one day. During these weeks, they were preparing for the harvest. On the 50th day, all God’s people from every place gathered in a “sacred assembly” (Leviticus 23:21) to praise God for the harvest. God commanded, “From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:17). The prominent act of worship for this joyful gathering was to pick up two loaves of leavened bread—the fun, fluffy flavor—and wave them before the Lord. The waving the bread before the Lord was a way to acknowledge God as the giver of the grain harvest used to make the bread. Then the Levites actually got to take the bread home to feed their families 

Note the two loaves. We might say it’s a doubly generous gift offered to God for his doubly generous harvest. What an appropriate way to praise God for his sustaining gifts! And what a joyful community celebration, as all of God’s people would share their common blessings and give testimony to their spiritual unity. They were all members of God’s holy nation; a royal people; a people belonging to God; a people who, by virtue of this sacred assembly, declared God to the nations. 

The harvest in Jerusalem 

Two thousand years agoGod chose this festival for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. From all over the Mediterranean world, God’s people gathered in Jerusalem: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs (Acts 2:9–11). 

They had gathered to celebrate a harvest. But on this harvest festival, they became the harvest. The New Testament church on earth began, and it was given a mission. The Holy Spirit was poured out. The gospel of Jesus was proclaimed. Timid disciples became international evangelists. Thousands of spiritual loaves that made up the one loaf of Christ’s church were brought into a joyful unity with God and, in spite of their various origins and languages and differences, into a joyful unity with each other. This was an abundant harvest from a generous God through his powerful gospel.  

Our Pentecost 

When we gather together in sacred assembly to celebrate Pentecost, we continue the celebration of God’s gracious preservation and also God’s harvesting of souls. Today this celebration commemorates a harvest of precious human souls through the preaching of the gospel. It is a celebration of a great harvest that “no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). 

We are part of this leavened loaf that honors the power and generosity of God’s grace in Jesus. By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and by the shedding of his holy blood, he has saved us for himself. He has made us one with God in heaven. And he has made us one with all those who have been harvested before us, with us, and after us.  

The harvesting continues. Wave a symbolic pair of delicious leavened loaves to God! Praise him because he has made us part of his people and given us all a mission to share the gospel. Praise him for the witness of our congregations, Lutheran elementary schools, and early childhood centersPraise him for our worker training schools that prepare harvesters for the harvest fields. Praise him for the harvesting of our 41 WELS missionaries overseas. Praise him for the witnessing of our Pastoral Studies Institute pastors who are leading our church body into brand new outreach opportunities in  Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Thailand, Vietnam, and more! God is generous. He is worthy of praise.  

Pentecost is not over. The harvest is on! 


E. Allen Sorumdirector of the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ, Big Bend, Wisconsin. 


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Author: E. Allen Sorum 
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Nelson

Unable to pay for her sins even as a nun, one woman finds the peace of the gospel.

Jennifer Nelson

I grew up as a Roman Catholic, but I confess that I did not regularly attend church until my late teens. After my father died unexpectedly when I was ten years old, I allowed my grief to turn into anger against God. I became angrier with God and the world around me as the years passed. I finally hit rock bottom around the age of 17.

A neighbor encouraged me to begin attending church. He also assured me that Jesus died on the cross and paid the ultimate price for all the sins of the world. There was nothing I had to do to earn God’s grace. He invited me to attend church with his family. Instead I went to church with my mother, attending the familiar Catholic services. At first there was a feeling of relief that the pillars of the church did not come down as soon as I walked in!

Becoming a nun

I quickly became immersed in studying the Catholic faith. While taking an adult confirmation course at the age of 19, I had a deep sense that the Lord was calling me into the religious life as a nun. My parish priest was so thrilled that he set up an appointment for me to speak with a religious sister. I spoke to her, but my excitement quickly turned into fear and doubt. I just could not make such a monumental decision at that moment in my life.

Ten years later, I was actively involved in the church, but I also lived a life outside of those walls of which I was ashamed. I hit rock bottom again. I was exhausted. I became so confused! I would be in the confessional on Saturday evening, feeling relieved that I was once again “good to go” for the next week, but I could not turn from my life of sin. I had no peace. I was certain that I would be doing serious time in purgatory in order to clean up the residue all my sins had left on my soul. I wondered if the religious life would help overcome my sins.

Two years later, at the age of 31, I entered a monastery to become a Carmelite nun. I would be “hidden from the world.” The life of a cloistered Carmelite nun is a life of prayer, silence, penance, and sacrifice. I would awake every morning at 5:30 a.m. to gather for our first prayer of the day. We met six other times throughout the day. I had a bed, desk, rocking chair, and a cross hanging above my bed. It was not a crucifix because we were told that we had to wake every morning and put ourselves on the cross.

After a few months of living this life of “sacrifice,” I was still feeling I wasn’t doing enough to erase the sins of my past. I felt that if I lived to be 200 years old, nothing I did would be enough. On top of this, I was having difficulty with the normal everyday activities at the monastery. My novice mistress, who oversaw me, grew frustrated with me and reprimanded me a few times in front of the other nuns. I would go back to my cell and cry myself to sleep.

Then one day my novice mistress, still frustrated with me and angry, said, “Jennifer, do you even want to live this life?” I looked her in the eye and said, “No.”

She avoided me for a couple days, and then she asked me why. I told her I could not make up for my sins or the sins of others. She reminded me that the Lord wanted me to offer up my life as a sacrifice for myself and others. A week after this incident, I decided to leave the monastery.

While it may seem that I had no joy after almost a year of being a nun, I had many joyful moments with the other nuns. Despite those friendships, I was forbidden to say good-bye to anyone. I had to leave discreetly. My mother came for me one day in secret, and I did not look back.

A new life

I felt too embarrassed to go back to my home church where people knew me. So I decided to move to New Mexico where my brother and sister and some other relatives were living.

After moving to New Mexico, I begun working at a machine shop, and there I met my future husband, Rob. We were just friends for the first six months, before we finally went out on a dinner date. We were engaged four months later and married two months after that, exactly one year after we initially met.

Rob is a lifelong WELS Lutheran. At first, I had many questions for Rob that often turned into one-sided arguments because I was determined to get him to become a Catholic. But he always remained patient with me and never pressured me. I would go into our office and study Rob’s Lutheran books and literature. This led to even more questions.

One day during a family dinner my mother-in-law asked me if I truly believed that if I died I would go to heaven. Tears welled in my eyes and quickly I said, “No.”

I told her that according to the Catholic Church, I was living in mortal sin, and I would go to hell, not purgatory. She explained what I had heard once before—that all of the work has already been done by Jesus. I said that it just sounded too simple; it could not be that easy. I have to do something.

I continued to read Rob’s books as well as Forward in Christ—especially the “Confessions of faith” articles. I read several stories about people who had once been Roman Catholic. Those stories really stuck with me. Then one day I asked Rob if we could attend church together. There I heard not just the condemning law but also the saving gospel. After the service, the pastor asked if I wanted him to come to our home and talk a little more. I happily agreed.

Slowly the weight I once carried began to disappear. Even though I had read the Bible before, it was like God’s Word was all new to me. I admit it was hard to let go of the beliefs I had clung to for so long. I still had so many questions. But I also realized that for so many years I had depended on my own works and was not looking to Jesus and the cross. After six months of instruction, with much joy I became a WELS Lutheran.

We now belong to Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, where I am surrounded by Christian people who have become my everyday family. And by God’s grace, without fail, every Sunday I continue to hear law and gospel and the assurance that my sins are forgiven. I finally feel confident—not in myself and the good works I perform—but in what my Savior did for me so undeservedly.


Jennifer Nelson is a member at Cross of Christ, Las Cruces, New Mexico.


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Author: Jennifer Nelson
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Light for our path: KARMA?

What is karma? How is it different than reaping what you sow? Is it okay to use the term in conversation? 

James F. Pope

We do hear that word karma frequently today, don’t we?From commercials to conversations, people speak of karma.Understanding the word better will guide our thoughts in using it.

Karma examined 

Karma is the belief in Hinduism and Buddhism that people’s actions in this life determine what transpires in their next life, and the life after that, and every succeeding life. But the Bible does not teach reincarnation. The Bible, God’s only written revelation to the world, states that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Scripture teaches that once people have died and received judgment from God, that judgment is permanent (Luke 16:19-31).  

Additionally, the Bible teaches that people cannot improve their standing with God by their works (Psalm 49:7,8; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5-7). As Christians, we reject the concept of karma because it is intertwined with reincarnation and workrighteousness. Still, that concept might enter our conversations.   

Karma compared 

Imagine you and a friend are driving down the interstate. Suddenly, a car whizzes by you and almost cuts you off. “What’s with that driver?” your friend fumes. Five miles down the road you disengage your cruise control because of the flashing lights of a state trooper on the shoulder of the road. And the car directly ahead of the trooper’s is the one that swerved around you just a few minutes earlier. “Karma!” your friend exclaims excitedly. “What?” you say. Your friend explains, “You reap what you sow. The Bible says that. You drive crazy; you get a ticket.” 

Did you and your friend just witness a Christian version of karma? Not at all. The Bible does warn: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7,8). But those verses do not describe an instant “gotcha” approach on God’s part toward sinners. Those verses speak of the harvest people will reap on the Last Day. If people sowed “to please their flesh” by living only according to their sinful nature, they will reap destruction; they have ignored the one thing needful. If they sowed “to please the Spirit” as a follower of Jesus Christ, they will reap eternal life. 

Jesus instructs us not to make connections between people’s misfortunes in life and their relationship with God (Luke 13:1-5). Rather than trying to make such connections, Jesus directs us to look at our own lives: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). With repentant hearts, we confess our sins to God. As Christians, wthank God that he “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).   

Karma avoided 

Personally, I avoid the word karma because I do not want to be confused with people who believe in reincarnation and workrighteousness. also avoid the term because I do not want to mislead people on what the Bible teaches about sin, repentance, faith, God’s justice, and God’s forgiveness. Your concern for these matters will show itself by the words you use in everyday conversation. “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6).   


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit : Part 2

In spite of the First Commandment, idolatry still persists in our world. 

John A. Braun 

Idolatry? Today? Yes! And in familiar and unfamiliar forms. Paul walked the streets of Athens and noted the statues of idols almost everywhere. When he spoke to the Athenians, he said, “I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). He had passed altars dedicated to Zeus, Athena, and a host of others, including “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. The ancient world was full of gods and knew little of the God of grace, peace, and joy. 

Acts of the flesh: Idolatry and witchcraft 

Has anything really changed? Gods abound in many cultures. For many, demons and witches populate their everyday life so that they need to call a shaman, witch doctor, or some other priest to exorcise the demons from their homes and lives. Even without these obvious illustrations of idolatry, imitations of the true God abound. Many like to think that all gods or all theologies lead to the same place and have the same goals, but just a little research shows that to be only wishful thinking to justify rejecting the true God. 

Paul lists idolatry and witchcraft as acts of the flesh. Humans create gods because of the natural knowledge of God embedded within their hearts. The gods they create are talismans to soothe human worries and fears or to bring good fortune. They believe their imaginary gods will guide them through the unknown and help them journey through death. Such gods all require obedience or rituals to earn something. Perhaps it is easy for us to see them as acts of the flesh flowing from superstition and fear.  

We may easily think we have kept the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” These gods or idols don’t interrupt our Christian way too often. We may encounter them in Wiccans, those who worship Satan, and others, but they are mostly far away from our Christian way of life.  

Yet see how Luther defines god: “Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (Large Catechism I:3). With that definition the acts of the flesh come into focus, and we realize that the temptations to adopt a different god cross our path frequently. 

Jesus warned us about one of them, “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Too many people in our world today set their heart on money and put their trust in wealth. Jesus warned how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:24). If our focus is on what we possess and we have no time for the God who sent Jesus to save uswe have created an idol and yielded to the temptations of the flesh.  

But it’s not just money. It is anything that we choose that eventually becomes more important than our loving God—pleasure, free time, friends, sleep, career, sports, even family. God gives us all these things to use and enjoy—money included—as long as they do not replace God and remove him from our lives 

Our sinful flesh has an arrogant pride that resists the true God. Our natural tendency is a desire to control our lives without interference or direction even from God himself. That sinful flesh wants to elevate our thoughts and ideas above God’s. How often that tendency crosses our paths. When God tells us one thing in his Word, our sinful flesh can find all kinds of explanations or opinions more appealinthan what God wants. Sometimes those thoughts even make more sense to our way of thinking. But that’s our way of thinking, not God’s. When we abandon what God reveals in the Scriptures, we make gods of ourselves. When we respect the opinions of others instead of God’s Word, we elevate their ideas above God 

Why the warning? Jesus reminds us that everything in this world is temporary. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Building lives on the disappearing promises of this world—even when they are attractive and alluring—is like building our house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). If we abandon God and choose the idols we create for ourselves, we do not heed the warning of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). 

Fruit of the spirit: Joy and peace 

When Jesus warned about the treasures we value on earth, he took one more step and said, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). The treasures Jesus spoke about were those that he himself gave. Paul identifies two of them as fruit of the Spirit—joy and peace. They are gifts to us by the grace of God through Jesus. 

Paul reminded the Roman Christians of the peace we have, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1,2). When we see our God on Mount Sinai in thunder and lightening, he strikes fear into our hearts. Demanding perfect obedience, we fail and deserve punishment. But the obedience we could not give him, he provides freely for us. Jesus suffered the fierce punishment for the sins of all humanity and then rose again to provide victory over death. We are justified—declared acquitted of our sins—and have peace with God. In Jesus, he is not angry with us.  

That peace with God because of Jesus fills us with joy. We rejoice because we have treasures in heaven waiting for us. Jesus has prepared a place for us and reminds us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). As Christians we are on the way to heaven and choose not to be distracted from that goal. 

With all this in mind, it is important to remember that any concept of God that excludes Jesus or minimizes what he has done is only the vain imagination of the human mind and an idol. Sadly, many live devoted to such gods and spread their notions aggressively. On our journey through life as Christians, we encounter them often. At times their concepts appeal to our sinful human nature. Many follow that path, as Jesus reminds us (Matthew 7:13).  

But Christians are different and follow a different way. The Spirit has changed us so we understand that without Jesus we lose the peace and joy he provided. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:58), so we turn to him to reap the fruit of the Spirit. 

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13). 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 8

Quiz the intimidator  

Thomas H. Trapp 

In my early years as a full-time campus pastor, I attended a gathering of diverse university religious clergy. Intriguingly, they invited a Christ-centered scholar to speak to a group of mostly skeptical theologians. During the questionandanswer period, one of them quizzed the scholar: “So, what is your view of salvation?”  

I thought to myself, That’s an easy answer. The only name under the sky that will bring salvation from God’s just and holy judgment is Jesus. Faith in Jesus saves! (cf. Acts 4:12).  

Then I realized the person sitting across from me firmly rejected Jesus as God and Savior. How was the speaker going to respond without being accused as a hater of non-Christians and an unloving, narrow-minded bigot? The speaker knew he was being set up to be chopped down.  

If you were that speaker, how would you respond? You may want to do what Jesus often didHe answered a question with a question.  

Jesus asked questions 

Jesus knew that questions force antagonists to rethink their positions. Religious leaders once asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t follow their religious traditions and wash their hands before eating. Jesus responded with a question: Why are your man-made traditions more important to you than God’s commands? (paraphrased from Matthew 15:3). With that question, he was calling them to repentanceWhat were they doing wrong before God? Instead of using their money to take care of their parents (the Fourth Commandment), the Phariseebragged that they gave their finances for God’s work. It was a “religious” excuse to break one command of God in order to obey anotherand “look good. Have you ever experienced being more spiritual than others and hoped others noticed itI can hear Jesus ask: “Why does your obedience make you arrogant?”  

During the week before Jesus was crucified, the hate-filled, resentful religious leaders heard children in the temple area singing to Jesus: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus response? A question: “Yes, have you never read [in Psalm 8:2], From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:16). Of course, they knew Psalm 8. They were scholars of the Scriptures! It’s a passage about the coming Godman Messiah (Hebrews 2). Jesus was sending them a clear message: I am that Messiah of Psalm 8. Follow me! “Haven’t your read . . . ?” was a question of love, even though these religious leaders didn’t love him. Jesus wanted his enemies to rethink the words he spoke to them and the miracles he showed them and join the children in singing his praise. 

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” a wealthy man asked Jesus (Luke 18:18). The man of means felt he was living a holy life and on his way to heaven. Jesus answered again with a question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Jesus was redirecting the man’s false reasoningIf you think I’m good/God, then give all your riches to the poor and follow me. The man loved money and walked awaybut Jesus penetrating question gave him something to think about. Interestingly some think this rich man was Joseph of Arimathea who eventually committed his life to Jesus and buried the Lord in his personal tomb. Who knows?  

Jesus faced many challenging and attacking questions, even from his own disciples. One dark night the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee when a furious storm came up and made the waves start flooding their vessel (Mark 4:35-41). It’s hard to imagine, but Jesus was sleeping in the back of the rocking boat. The disciples woke him up with an accusatory question: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus answered: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Faith in what? In him! They just saw him perform divine powers of healing and casting out demons. Why wouldn’t he also have power over the wind and the waves? Have you ever asked Jesus: “Don’t you care about me and all the troubles in this world?” Jesus asks us: Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? King David was once terrified of getting killed. When he turned to God’s promises, he wrote: “I lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the LORD sustains me” (Psalm 3:5). It’s not good fortune or luck that keeps us alive. It’s the Lord. He alone will also determine when we go heaven. Do you believe this? 

The goal of questions 

Questions make us rethink our doubts and unbelief. Questions also help people who don’t know God to rethink God. A number of years ago during a television interview, a movie star challenged a Christian theologian: “I understand that you think Jesus is God? Well, that’s your opinion! His response: “Do you really think that’s my opinion?” Then he paused before saying. It’s not my opinion. Either Jesus is or isn’t.”  

Our goal is the Lord’s goal: It’s not to win an argument but to win a soul . . . with truth and love. Intimidators of believers may have no love for us or interest in what we say, so to get their attention, you need to make them question their questions.   

A young Christian woman who came to our campus ministry at UW-Madison lived in the dorm with an atheist. The atheist was nice and friendly, but she loved to challenge Christians. One day she confronted her Lutheran roommate with this question: “As a Christian you must believe that I’m going to hell, right?” Our student sat quietly for a moment and then responded, “Yes, I do believe you’re going to hell as Scripture says.” Then she asked a question that eventually changed her atheist roommate’s life: “Did you know that my family really loves you and is praying that you might come to know the love of Jesus and go to heaven?” Her unbelieving roommate was stunned. She never heard any Christian give such a blunt answer and follow up with such a caring question. The entire family was praying for her?  

Out of curiosity she came to our campus ministry and started to ask me many, many questions. As we searched the Bible together, the Holy Spirit eventually touched her heart. She told me she fought the Spirit-filled words of Scripture for a long time, but one day she woke up believing iJesus as her Lord and SaviorThen she asked to be baptized. The Chapel celebrated that day along with all the angels in heaven! 

When people want to belittle our faith or attack it, develop a penetrating question from their question. Make them think. Then be ready to give them answers from God’s Word, with loving “gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). 

Now here’s a closing question for you: If antagonists ever quizzed you, asking, “So what’s your view of salvation?”—what question would you ask them? 

 


Thomas Trapp served as campus pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel at UW-Madison for 38 years. The Lord called him home in March. We are saddened he is gone from us but rejoice he has found complete joy in his Savior’s presence. 


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


Sidebar:  

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


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Author: Thomas H. Trapp
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The Book of Revelation: Part 7

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 14

Timothy J. Westendorf 

We’ve seen the first three of the seven “visionsthe dragon and his two beastly allies. Chapter 14 reveals the next three.  

The 144,000 and the Lamb 

Contemplating the frightening enemies of Christ and his church can fill human hearts with fear. The next vision, seen by John and revealed to us, helps us overcome the fear 

God shows us the church triumphant, symbolized by 144,000 people12×12 (the representative of believers from Old and New Testament eras) multiplied by 1,000 (the number for completeness, 10 cubed). They are with Jesus, the Lamb, and have his name and that of his Father on their heads. They have been redeemed by the Lamb’s precious sacrifice, completely cleansed and purified through the waters of Baptism and the work of the Spirit in the gospel. Their song is a Spirit-taught song of praise and thanks to the Lamb, and their purity comes from the robes of his righteousness that they wear. They are safe from the fearful visions. 

The three angels 

Rather abruptly, the glimpse of heaven fades, and the scene shifts back to the earth in the fifth vision. After receiving reassurance of the church’s final victory, John is reminded of the Savior’s promise that his gospel will be preached until the end of time. 

As long as this world endures, the church has work to do. There is good news to proclaim to the inhabitants of this world that they too might be brought from darkness to light, from unbelief to faith.  

The urgency of the work is underscored by what John sees and hears next. The second and third angels clearly announce a warning about the result of rejecting the gospel. Those who oppose Christ and his church will ultimately be destroyed. The enemies of God’s people are Babylon. Those who stubbornly hold to the beastly, un-Christian message and philosophies multiplied by Satan and his allies will be left to face God in his holiness and justice on their own. The faithful believers are blessed and find rest from their labors. 

The harvest 

Throughout the Bible the day of judgment is pictured as a harvest time. The sixth vision takes up the pictureOne “like a son of man,” Jesus himself, comes on the clouds. As we regularly confess in the Apostles’ Creed, he “has risen from death and live and rules eternally.” He comes to judge the living and the dead. 

The world as we know it and in which we now live won’t last forever. It will come to an end. Throughout the Bible and in Revelation too, we are encouraged to see in that end a new and glorious beginning, our final redemption carried out by the Savior who loves us. Until that day, the church, consisting of each believer in Christ, is encouraged to take up the announcement of the first flying angel, calling young and old, near and far, to find their comfort and rest, now and forever, in the good news of our triumphant Savior and King.  


Reflect on Revelation chapter 14 

1.Why do you think that Revelation 14:6,7 is sometimes read on Reformation Sunday in Lutheran churches? 

The gospel is eternal, and the Holy Spirit has used it through history to bring sinners to faith in Jesus. At the time of the Reformation, however, the gospel was hidden in the traditions and structure of the visible church. The Holy Spirit led Martin Luther to find it. When he did, he said it felt as if “the doors of paradise were opened.” From that moment, he spent his energy to proclaim what he found to all who would listen. The eternal gospel was no longer hidden but preached to edify God’s people. 

2. How might this chapter help sharpen our focus on the purpose of our lives and the mission of our churches? 

When we consider the fate of all those who “worship the beast” and reject the gospel, we first find reason to treasure what has made us believers—the gospel.  We want to preserve that message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus for ourselves and for the generations that come after us. 

That means we come to hear the message of the gospel because it sustains us in this world of trouble and error. Then we want our children to know the gospel of Jesus so we train them at home, in our schools, and in confirmation instruction. 

We do not forget that the gospel is for all “those who live on the earth.” We tell others of Jesus and the hope we have and we send missionaries to places where we cannot go so that others around the world might hear the message of salvation. 


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we prepare children for summer camp?

How can we prepare children for summer camp?

When I was going into eighth grade, I went to band camp for a week during the summer. I had a blast, and the experience really gave me confidence in my own independence.  

I want my children to have a similar camp experience. I’m excited because we live in an area where we can choose from a number of WELS camps for them to attend. They can have all the fun, surrounded by Christian friends and mentors. Bonus! Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some qualms . . . which is where this month’s articles come in. No matter what type of camp your child might be attending, both Dan and Jenni offer some great tips to help make the experience a success.  

Wondering if you have a WELS camp near you? Visit wels.net/event/wels-camps for a listing that includes contact information and links to websites.  

Nicole Balza


“It’s time for camp!”  

These four words are the highlight of our family’s year every summer. I have had the privilege of serving as a camp leader at Camp Bird in Crivitz, Wis., for many years. Camp Bird is a week long Christian youth camp for kids in fifth to eighth grade. This year my son Josh will be in his last year as a camper and my daughter Kayla will be in her third year as a camp counselor. For nearly 30 years my wife and I have been volunteering at Camp Bird. We have seen kids create memories and friendships that last a lifetime.  

We are blessed to have a great network of Christian youth camps in our synod. As thousands of families prepare for their childrens camp experiences, this question comes to mind: How can parents help prepare their kids for a youth camp experience so their kids can have a terrific time? Here are a few things I have noticed over the years as I have interacted with families and seen some excellent examples of encouragement: 

  • Go with a friendThis is perhaps one of the best ways to help kids feel comfortable with a new camp experience.Knowing just one other person can help them not feel alone and make it easier to meet others.  
  • Know the campIts easy to be afraid of what is unknown or unfamiliar.Review the camp website or printed materials with your child. Look at the pictures and videos. Check out the daily schedule. Review information on the staff. Find out what to pack, etc.  
  • Talk to othersTalk to parents and kids who have been at the summer camp in the past to find out what their experience was like and what to expect. 
  • Meet the staffBefore you leave the camp at drop-off timeintroduce yourself and your child to some of the staff. This can not only help you feel more comfortable leaving your child with others, but it can also help the child know exactly who he can go to if he has questions.  
  • Focus on the experiences your child can haveTalk about all the fun experiences the camp has to offer! Swimming, kayaking, basketball, hiking, ropes courses, campfires, archery, kickball, singing, crafts, and all the other activities.  
  • But what about . ..” —Acknowledge the things that may be concerns for your child and reassure him that you will find answers to the what about questions. Your child may be worried if he has special dietary needs, medications, or other concerns. Its helpful to get specific answers so your child knows what to expect.  
  • CommunicateIt is helpful to have boundaries and expectations set regarding communication with your child while at camp. There may be limits on the ability to communicate with phones, but maybe cards, letters, postcards can be used. Find out the recommended communication procedures and let your child know how you will use them.  
  • StuffWhats one of the simplest ways to make sure your child has a great time? Make sure she packs the right things. Get a supply list from the camp and go through it with your child. Packing itself can be a fun experience, but make sure she has the essentials like mosquito spray and sunblock. 
  • FoodWhats top on the list of the best parts of a camp experience?The food! What’s on the menu at camp? remember one child who came to camp worried about what he would make himself to eat! Not too many camps I know would ever expect a fifth-grader to make his own meals! He was pretty excited to hear the meals would be all prepared for him. But this was a concern that he never expressed to anyone until arrival.   

Parents, these are just a few ways to help your children prepare for their summer camp experiences. Separation from our kids can not only be anxiety-provoking for our kids but also for us as well. Seeing them prepared and excited can help alleviate some of our anxiety. You also might want to ask the camp if there will be Facebook posts or other updates so you can see how things are going at the camp.  

Take advantage of the opportunity to see your child enjoy a Christian summer youth camp. Consider using some of the techniques above to help her prepare for her time away as she expands her experiences with new activities and meets new friends. Use this time of preparation to communicate with your child and be understanding, encouraging, and reassuring.  


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


I love camp!

When I was a kid I went to soccer camp and basketball camp and Camp Phillip, a Christian camp in Wautoma, Wis. My love for Camp Phillip grew as I got older. I became part of the junior staff (high school volunteers) and then paid staff. It then moved into my fulltime job when I graduated college. As a camp counselor, I saw hundreds of children get dropped off at campsome for the first time and some who kept returning. 

As familiar as I am with camp life, it was a crazy different perspective to be the one dropping off her child. As a mom, I have been dropping off my children at camp for the past ten years. Every year comes with excitement and anxiousness. How do I prepare myself? How do I prepare my child? Here are a few thoughts: 

  1. Let him help pack. Go through the list so you don’t forget anything. And let him pack it so he knows where everything is. 
  2. Make writing to you easy.Pack paper and self-addressed stamped envelopes. That way it is easy for her to write to you if she would like to. Also know that she might be having way too much fun to write, so give her permission not to write. After all, we want our children to focus on where they are and enjoy that! 
  3. Write a letter to him. I’ll be honest, I always think about this one too late. But maybe this can help you. Write him a letter and send it a day or two before camp starts. That way he gets a letter right away (see point #5 when writing). 
  4. DON’T LINGER! When you drop her off, introduce yourself and your child to the counselor. Help her get situated (make her bed, etc.), give her a hug, and go. 
  5. Leave your child with confidence. As a counselor I could pick out the kids who would probably be homesick. Why? Because their parents gave them permission to be homesick by saying things like, “If you get sad, you can call me” or “I am going to miss you soooo much!” or “I can’t wait until I see you on Saturday!” Instead say, “You are going to have such a good time” or “I can’t wait to hear all about the fun you’re going to have this week.” Put the focus on why they are there instead of “missing” them, even though you are going to miss them. Cry after you are gone. 

I truly believe in the camping ministry. It allows children to be who they are. It gives them the opportunity to see young adults model loving Jesus and loving others, including your child. It also gives your child a small piece of independence. After all, our goal as parents is to teach our children how to fly. 



Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, currently have six children in their clan ranging in age from 10 to 18 as well as their crazy dog. 

 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 5

Pray to know God better 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Someone was bound to invent an easy button. One office supply company has already used an easy button to advertise solutions to office headaches. But we could use simple solutions for all kinds of issues. 

Enter prayer. It’s a tremendous comfort to know that God wants us to come to him (Matthew 11:28). When we are faced with problems outside of our ability to handle, it’s a relief to entrust them to the One who has limitless ability to effect real change in our chaotic world (Philippians 4:6). God wants to know what’s on our hearts and has the power to handle the burdens we are facing in life (1 Peter 5:7).  

Not just an easy button 

Yet it is healthy for us to pause and consider why we are praying. What are we hoping to get out of prayer? Our reasons for turning to God in prayer might be different than some of God’s reasons for inviting us to pray. Essentially, are we asking God to be our easy button for every problem area in life? While God invites us to come to him in prayer, God may desire something more personally beneficial and durable from prayer for his children than what we’re after.  

Consider Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even as our Savior engaged in prayer, he expressed his own personal desires. He unloaded the deepest concerns troubling his heart. Yet in childlike humility, Jesus resolved to submit to his Father’s will (Matthew 26:39,42). Scripture was clear: It was the LORDs will to crush him and cause him to suffer and finally make his life an offering for sin. The same Scripture promised the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus accepted his cup of suffering and turned to the promise of his Father for strength. 

That pattern reflects the way Paul often prays for fellow believers. He repeatedly prays that they grow to know God better (Ephesians 1:15-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; Philemon 6). Didn’t they have serious doctrinal issues in need of correction? Of course, they did. Weren’t there precarious situations around them threatening their spiritual and physical safety? Undeniably so. Weren’t there pressing practical matters to be resolved among fellow Christians? Absolutely. Could he have gotten right to the point of the urgent needs they faced? Certainly.  

All of those issues were important. And their prayers were no doubt filled with requests for solutions. But Paul had told the new believers they would have many hardships (Acts 14:22). Yet he prays that God would send them the Spirit “so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17).  

A way to know God 

Knowing God better isn’t simply about gaining information so you are the champion of Bible trivia. It’s about gaining a personal appreciation for who your Savior is and what he has done and still does for his children. Above all else, God desires the salvation of sinners (1 Timothy 2:4). Internal uncertainty swirls around our hearts. He has given us great promises that stand as monuments to divine truth (e.gRomans 8:28).  

The Spirit works through God’s promises. Knowing God through his revealed Word produces growth in faith. Prayer produced as a byproduct of Scripture study might not immediately change your circumstances or eliminate obstacles in your life. All your problems might not be resolved instantaneously by means of some divine easy button. Rediscovering God’s truth and realigning yourself to God’s will will fill you with the joy of the hope you have in Christ. Knowing God will allow you to become more confident in God’s actions being carried out in our world. Knowing God better will build appreciation of the blessings you already have in Christ.  


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


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


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Belief in the face of disbelief

Family members couldn’t believe their eyes as they watched the flood waters rise, but their Christian faith moved them to action. 

Dayton Hamann 

Simeon and Heidi Wolf live on a farm in Mazomanie, Wisconsin. In August 2018, heavy rains hit the area. Their fields, barns, and house unexpectedly flooded. Though the surrounding land occasionally pooled with rainwater in the past, no storm had prepared the Wolf family for this one. 

When asked what emotions ran through their heads at the time, Heidi looked to Simeon and said, “Disbelief. Is that what you were going to say?”  

Simeon replied affirmatively: “That’s what I was going to say.” 

Thankfully, to pull them through this time of disbelief, the Wolfs had their shared belief in their Savior. 

The flood 

On the night before the flooding, newscasts predicted heavy rains but gave little indication that the neighborhood near the Wolf property would be in danger. The next morning, Heidi drove into Mazomanie to see if other homes were affected. As Simeon was preparing his breakfast back home, Heidi returned, simply saying, “Mazo’s under water.” 

Simeon was skeptical. Yet he looked outside and saw the water rising, quickly approaching a nearby building. This worried him. “I thought to myself, It’s never gotten that high.” 

Simeon, Heidi, and two of their children who were home from college began to take precautionary measures. They pulled bundles of shingles from their garage to create a makeshift barrier and hold back the water. They drove the family vehicles to higher ground. They gathered school supplies, family photos, and financial records from their basement just as its windows broke open and water poured into the house. 

“It was total chaos. It was so surreal. We had no idea what was happening,” Heidi explains. “This was the last house to flood. They never said they were evacuating people from Mazo. The police didn’t come out this far. There were no tornado sirens to alert people. You think of all of the emergency systems that are out there to contact people, and here we felt like we were alone.” 

The basement filled up with nine feet of water, the surface of the water within one inch of their home’s ground level.  

“There was nothing we could do, and that was the most helpless thing for me,” Simeon says. “I usually have a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B’ for things that go wrong. I had nothing. We just had to stand out on the road and watch.” 

All of this occurred in less than a few hours. 

The aftermath 

That evening, the Wolfs were able to return to their land and home. The basement was still submerged. Their farm’s irrigation system alone suffered thousands of dollars worth of damage. Two 250-gallon gas tanks along with other debris had drifted across their cornfield, breaking through a fence. 

The Wolfs developed a plan and took actionThe first step was to pump the water from the basement using seven sump pumps. 

The next day, when only about a foot of water remained in one section of the basement, crews from WELS Christian Aid and Relief and the Wolf’s church, St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis., arrived to help. Simeon, Heidi, their children, WELS volunteers, and members of the church tore out carpet and drywall and removed debris from the land. 

“We had an army of people,” Simeon says. 

“I can’t tell you who was here or how many,” Heidi explains. “People were just appearing to help us.” 

The Wolfs weren’t the only family this crew helped. The weekend following the flood, more than two hundred volunteers donned neon-colored shirts that read “Sent 2 Serve” and helped residents all over Mazomanie. Heidi and her daughter, Julia, joined them to take a break from the recovery efforts on their own property. 

“Sometimes it’s easier to clean up somebody else’s mess than your own mess,” Heidi says. 

Not only did they assist dozens of families across the city, but members of St. Andrew also were asked about their church and faith, providing them a wonderful opportunity to share the love of Christ with the troubled citizens of Mazomanie. 

The reflection 

The Wolfs continue to receive support from St. Andrew through gifts of money, meals, and greeting cardsMeanwhile, they are helping fellow community members get back on their feet. 

One Mazomanie gentleman needed to restore his home after the flooding, but he did not have family or friends in the area to assist him. Simeon repaired the man’s drywall, trim, and floors, and Heidi painted. The Wolfs are just now starting repairs on their own home. 

The entire experience has been all too familiar for Simeon. Through St. Andrew, he has assisted with flood relief efforts across the United States. After the Mazomanie flooding, his empathy for those affected by floods has only increased. 

“I have a lot bigger understanding of what those people go through,” he explains. “People talk about floods coming in and you thinkYeah, yeah, yeah. It’s just water. You can get over it. Now, I’ve got a new sense of respect for how much loss you have. Things aren’t quite the same. It disrupts your whole life.” 

Both he and Heidi credit their faith for their resilient and loving attitudes during these difficult months. 

“If I didn’t have my faith, I would probably be going crazy,” Heidi notes. 

“We can’t do anything without his help,” Simeon continues. 

When seeking comfort from God’s Word, Heidi likes to turn to 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Simeon looks to Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” 

Elizabeth Zambo of Christian Aid and Relief visited the Wolfs shortly after the flood. To her, their story is a testament to God’s presence and work during tragedy. 

“Simeon and Heidi have been shaken by floodwaters, but their faith in their Lord and Savior remains grounded firmly on the Rock,” Zambo said. “They allowed their love for Jesus to rule their hearts and minds and stepped out in faith to help those in need while putting their own need on hold.” 

Zambo notes that there are opportunities to help others everywhere, not just in the wake of sudden devastation. 

“For those interested in serving as a volunteer for WELS Christian Aid and Relief, I would encourage them to follow Simeon and Heidi’s example and share Jesus’ love through their actions,” she explains. “But don’t wait for a disaster to strike in another part of the country to begin serving. Pray for God, our heavenly Father, to open your eyes to the needs of those whom you come in contact with on a daily basis.” 

Unfortunately, the world will continue to face trials like those that Simeon and Heidi faced. Thankfully, God will also continue to work through his people, encouraging them to act with enthusiasm and kindness, just has he encouraged the Wolfs.  

As she reflected on her family’s efforts to assist others in Mazomanie, Heidi simply says“To be there and to help people is totally amazing.”


Dayton Hamann, a staff writer for Forward in Christ magazine, is a member at St. Matthew, Marathon, Wisconsin.


Learn more about the work of WELS Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief. Watch this month’s edition of WELS Connection to see how Christian Aid and Relief volunteers are helping a community in Florida following Hurricane Michael. 


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Author: Dayton Hamann
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Embracing a double standard

Earle D. Treptow 

“I would have been happy to helpbut no one ever bothered to ask me.” Comments like that illustrate the importance of the personal touch in encouraging people to serve. 

People desire to serve in important ways, to help with tasks that fit their talents, experiences, and resources. Ino one takes the time to approach them directly with a request for assistance, they conclude that their help isn’t needed or the project isn’t important.  

Some respond to that reality by longing for the good old days, when an individual could count on others to serve without being asked. There was no need to approach people, on a one-on-one basis, to ask them to help. People saw a need and acted. In fact, going directly to a person to ask for assistance may have been considered an insult. 

Maybe that was the case at one time. Maybe. Wsometimes portray the past idealistically. Longing for the good old days does not help us at all. We end up frustrated with others and complaining about them 

We would be wise to let the good old days be the good old days and choose to work within the current realityPeople want to be asked to help, no matter how obvious the need may seem to us. So we ask. If, in humility, we consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3)making a personal request will not seem like a stretch. If we charitably assume that they are already using their God-given resources and abilities in many ways, asking them personally to help in another way seems like the right thing to do 

The old self is quick to draw a conclusion about this. “If I’m supposed to ask others personally to help, then people ought to do the same for me. If they don’t, they are not showing the respect God tells them to demonstrate, so I don’t have to help, and I shouldn’t.” The old self has it all wrong, because she thinks only about one person: herself 

The new self thinks about it differently. She reflects on how the Lord chose to operate. 

He did not wait for sinners to ask him to help. He entered this world uninvited by human beings and opted to live and die on their behalf to rescue them from everlasting punishmentThe individual that the Holy Spirit brought to faith through the gospel, without her asking, no longer wants to insist that people must ask her to helpInstead, she desires to imitate God in eagerly serving others. 

We need not wait until someone personally asks us to serve. In fact, we must not, because our brother Jesus is always asking us to serve, wherever we find ourselves—at work, at school, in the neighborhood, or at church. In the needs that surround us in our callings in life, none other than the Savior himself is asking, “Please help.” The Savior asks us to be a blessing to others. He asks us to pray for them and to assist them with the resources he has put at our disposal 

We are to go out of our way to ask others to help, and yet we are to help others without waiting to be asked. That seems like a double standard, which we have been taught to avoid as unfair and onerous. In this case, however, we embrace the double standard. It’s what our Savior personally asks us to do.  


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


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Success or failure?

Failing health brings the assurance that one journey here on earth ended successfully in the glory of heaven. 

Mark H. Schewe 

“My mom is failing. 

That’s what crossed my mind as I ran around the house throwing things into a carry-on bag. It was Ash Wednesday. I had been working at church late in the morning, and my dad called from Wisconsin with news of my mom. She was not doing well.  

The situation 

They had traveled together to the Twin Cities to visit my sister and her family. But the visit was interrupted by a hospital visit. She had a heart attack three days before my dad’s call. The heart attack hadn’t seemed serious; she even walked into the emergency room to tell them about her chest tightness. After they whisked her into surgery and performed a triple bypass, the doctor reported that everything went very well.  

But it had become clear early in the week that her heart was badly damaged. As she recovered from the surgery, her body showed signs that other systems were beginning to shut down. They hadn’t been able to remove life support. By that Wednesday morning, her condition grew worse. As I talked to my dad, it dawned on me that I needed to get on the next available flight to be with them both. After all, she was failing. 

For some reason, a travel website allowed me to book a flight that left in one hour. After a hurried conversation with an elder at church so that he could cover the Ash Wednesday service, I sped home. I grabbed clothes and jammed them in a bag. My wife rushed me to the airport where I rushed through security and sprinted to the gate. The last four people were standing in line to scan their boarding passes. Made it! 

The opportunity 

I sat morosely on my first flight, sweating from the workout. This flight was short one, just over an hour. As I sat there with conflicting emotions about my mom failingI heard a voice in the seat behind me say to the gentleman next to her, “Hi, I’m a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Do you belong to a church?” Despite my emotional state at the moment, I couldn’t help but hear the conversation. The man was polite but guarded, and the conversation wasn’t going anywhere.  

Then it occurred to me: I have to open the door. I wondered how to begin a conversation to share Jesus. 

I’ve seen the evangelism campaign from our WELS ministry called Truth in Love Ministry (TILM). We need to open the door—have a conversation about the gospel with these Mormon missionaries who are far from home. And actually had an open seat next to me.  

But now? As my thoughts about my mom failing were churning? Shouldn’t I just try to process my own concerns and what I feared was happening miles away? 

But I knew. I knew that the Lord had put me in a situation where I could “open the seat” on that flight and share the good news. In fact, I was compelled to make something good come out of a trip that I did not want to be taking. 

The conversation 

I turned around, said hello, and mentioned that I had heard her introduce herself as a Latter-day Saint. asked if she could come up to answer a couple questions when she was done with her conversation. She was willing. After she moved up, we talked. She shared that she was 20 years old and had been away for quite a while on her mission trip. Now she was headed home. 

I asked her what Mormons believe and what I would have to know to go to heaven. 

“You have to perfect yourself,” she answered. “You have to be holy and perfect. Just as Jesus perfected himself to go live with the heavenly Father, we must do the same.” 

I don’t remember all the ins and outs of that conversation, but I repeatedly pointed to our inability to perfect ourselves on our own and the need for a Savior to give us holiness and perfection. I pulled out some of the clearest passages I could remember.  I wanted to be so clear about how salvation is a gift of God, not by works. I asked about some of the other teachings of Mormonism that are not in line with Scripture. But after that, our conversation waned and the flight landed. It had been a respectful, yet honest, conversation, probably the most pointed discussion I’ve ever had with a Mormon. 

The realization 

And then it occurred to me. My mom was not failing. Yes, her flesh and heart were failing (cf. Psalm 73:26), and her days were numbered unless a miracle happened. But what was her situation? Peter wrote in his first epistle: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8,9). 

My mom was winning. Because of the season of Lent, which was beginning that very day, and because of the events of Easter, she was going to receive the crown of life. She knew Jesus and served him throughout her life. Now she was going to receive the end result of her faith—the salvation of her soul. She was going to meet the Lord whom she had known so well throughout her life—the same Lord she had shared with me, my sisters, her grandchildren, and with her extended family in so many ways during her 79 years. 

Failing? The ones who ultimately fail are those who reject the robe of righteousness won by the Savior and resolve to stand before God on their own merits. My mom was not failing at all. Three days later, she received that crown of life and now sees her Savior face to face in glory. 

My trip was not a “failure” either, as I was able to share the gospel with that young lady. God used me as a witness to share the truth she needed to know. Has she forgotten about our conversation and the Bible verses I shared? Or do those verses from the living, active Word of God still linger in her memory from time to time? I pray that the Holy Spirit enlightens her to understand how we “win,” that she might know the perfection we have as a gift.  

Failing? Christ’s grace and perfection make us winners forever, victors in heaven where we will rejoice with my mother and all the saints in glory everlasting. 


Mark Schewe is pastor at St. Peter, Clovis, California. 


 Learn more about Truth in Love Ministry at tilm.org. 


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Author: Mark H. Schewe
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Tidy up!

Our sinful flesh, with Satan’s help, make our lives messy. The Lord gives us the power to clean up. 

Becky Schermerhorn 

Have you seen Marie Kondo’s new show Tidying UpAfter watching the first show, my husband texted me from the living room while I was in bed telling me that this lady is “life-changing.” He was mostly referring to her folding method, but either way, I didn’t disagree.   

The resulting weekend was exhausting and completely liberating. We cleaned out excess books, reorganized a closet, purged some décor items, and organized the kid’s crafting supplies. Why did I have an entire box full of broken crayons? Why was I hanging onto sheets for a full-sized bed that we had gotten rid of over a year ago? Kondo’s show really motivated me to make changes and restore some order to our home. 

However, there was one big hindrance to this. Roommates. Tiny little packrat roommates. 

Those of you with children surely understand. While getting rid of nearly everything the kids have would spark the wildest kind of joy in my life, it certainly wouldn’t for them. I had to wave goodbye to my soughtafter, completely minimalist home. 

Maybe I’m being a little bit extreme. But this whole ordeal sparked a thought in my mind. We all have an annoying roommate: our sinful flesh, fueled by Satan. The two clutter up our lives, tripping us into sinning again and again.  

What can we do? What can we do when we find ourselves hurting our spouses or friends? What can we do when we fall into our selfish ambitions? What can we do when we find ourselves sharing just that little bit of gossip? What can we do when the devil wins again? 

How can we as Christians try to purge our evil desires and sin out of our lives? How do we make choices that will set us up for success? How can we resist temptations? 

Find our way back to Jesus! 

We know Jesus and his forgiveness. We need to turn back to him and repent of our evil desires and sin. Jesus invites us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28) 

Pray about it! 

Self-control is not easy. The roommate within is strong. We want to do what is right, but then we struggle. So we pray as Jesus told us, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).  

Revel in our forgiveness! 

The love of Jesus and his forgiveness put joy in our hearts. “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13,14) 

Be strong in the Lord! 

Jesus gives more than joy. He gives power and strength. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10,11). 

Unfortunately, on this side of heaven we will never be able to evict our sinful flesh or its ally, Satan, from being unwelcome cluttery roommates. But thanks be to our heavenly Father for sending Jesus who forgives us when we fail and the Holy Spirit to help lift us up and to strengthen us to resist Satan’s temptations. 


 Becky Schermerhorn is a member at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  


This article is adapted and reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com. 


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Author: Becky Schermerhorn
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Why?

John A. Braun

From the beginning of his life, Jesus was the focus of opposition. Herod wanted to rid his little part of the world of this child whose birth had been announced by a star. Later crowds flocked to him with their diseases. They also came longing to hear the good news for their weary soulsThey recognized that Jesus spoke with the voice of authority. Yet opposition persisted throughout his ministry. And we know his opponents orchestrated his crucifixion and unwittingly fulfilled God’s plans for the world’s salvation. 

Jesus told his disciples they would experience the same kind of opposition because of their allegiance to him. He said that he was called a devil and told his disciples that they should not expect anything different (Matthew 10:25). He pointedly said, “You will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9). So it is. 

Around the world each month, 255 Christians are killed, 104 abducted, 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned, and 66 churches are attacked (Open Doors USA). The organization Open Doors ranks countries in the world that are the most hostile to Christians. North Korea has topped the list for 17 years, and countries dominated by Islam fill out much of the top ten list. These figures verify the warning of Jesus that the world will hate us because of him. 

Why? Do we promote violence and unrest in our society or in the world? Do we teach hatred? Do we refuse to work or pay taxes? Are we diseased and require quarantine so others will not be infected? Are we somehow not human like other people? We bleed, laugh, cry, work, play, and feel emotions like everyone else. 

Yet our Christian faith often creates anger, intimidation, and ridicule. Sometimes Christian students at universities are shamed for their beliefs. Many have felt tension and conflict from friends and family members because they trust in the promises of Jesus.  

Why the hostility on the part of some?  

First, we should expect it. Jesus told us it would be our experience in this world just as it was his experience. Of course, that doesn’t make it easier to endure. We are his disciples here and now, living where Jesus has placed us. So many Christians have come before us, and many will come after us. Some suffered more than we suffer, but they endured. Opposition persists. 

Second, we have a message that the world does not consider important. We think it is. We treasure the message of God’s love, Jesus, forgiveness, and eternal life. But the gospel is not friendly to the human heart that prefers to create its own gods and theology. The Christian message challenges the sin within the human heart and dashes the hope that some god accepts everyone no matter what they believe or how they live. The gospel pits God’s good against human evilGod’s way against human dreams. The result is conflict.  

Why persist with this message of God’s grace in Jesus? Because Jesus sent his disciples out as his witnesses. As his witnesses, they told what they saw and learned. They could not change what they shared. To change it would be to distort the truth. It might resolve some of the conflict and opposition, but they would be unreliable and unfaithful witnesses. 

And why would they change their witness? Why indeed? It was and still is the Word of Life found nowhere else. We believe as those disciples on Ascension Day did—that Christian hope, joy, and peace transcend the understanding of the world (Philippians 4:7). Like them, we are his witnesses. May he help us remain faithful witnesses 



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



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Reaching the goal

When concerns about earthly goals arise, we remember that Jesus already accomplished reaching the goal of our faith: the salvation of our souls. 

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

Take a deep breath. Okay, let it out. One more timeinhale deeply . . . and exhale. Do you ever use this relaxation technique? 

For many college students, anxiety marks this time of year. Final exams have arrived or lurk around the corner. Late nights of studyingdeep breathing, extra coffeeall of these can be ways students cope with the end of a semester and the tests that accompany the finish.  

How do you cope? Some students set parameters for themselves. “I will be in bed by 1:00 a.m.” “I am going over all the material three times and then calling it good.” “I am going to eat a healthy breakfast before the test.” The bottom line is that students want to have successful results on the exams they take. Successful test results mean degree that translates into a profession and provides work with both joy and income to live. 

Maybe that is why final exams have pressure attached to them. The future might depend on the results!  

Semester exams can serve as a picture of the trials God’s people experience this side of heaven. Peter knew the struggles that Christians face. But Peter also had seen Jesus. As one of the Lord’s disciples, he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ teachings, his miracleshis death and resurrection. Those who received his letters did not experience that same benefit. And neither have we. 

So Peter provides this encouragement, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8,9). We don’t see Jesus with our physical eyes, but we love him because he first loved us. His love fills us with joy that is beyond words.  Not only do we have a peace that calms our weary and anxious hearts, but our lives have direction! 

A deep focus on the tasks in front of us might cause us to lose sight of our goal. We become engrossed in what we can see, what we can touch, what we can hold. Yet what we cannot see truly brings joy. The goal of our faiththe salvation of our souls—is complete. The perfection of heaven awaits. 

Did you happen to notice that Peter uses a present-tense verb? You are receiving the end result of your faith. Our goal is so certain that the Bible tells us it is already ours. Jesus finished the payment; he burst forth from the grave. Your eternal goal is accomplished through Christ.  

Then what about our earthly goals? What about the trials we experience? What about the anxiety we feel when preparing for and taking exams? Jesus invites us to cast anxieties on him (1 Peter 5:7). He promises that he has plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11). He reminds us that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:37-39). Jesus assures us that we are never alone (Hebrews 13:5). 

When concerns about our earthly goals arise, we remember that reaching the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls, has already been accomplished by Jesus. Paul reflected, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). 

So take a deep breath and let it outJesus has got this. 


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


 

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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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In defense of millennials

Mark G. Schroeder

“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). 

There is no doubt that every “older generation” tends to view the “younger generation” with a good measure of suspicion, condemnation, and fear for the futureI’m a member of the Baby Boomer generation; I entered high school in the turbulent ’60s. My generation introduced America to men’s long hair, hippies, Woodstock, the drug culture, anti-war demonstrations, and ear-splitting rockandroll music. 

Criticizing the next generation is nothing new. Here are some examples from the past: 

  • “They think they know everything and are always quite sure about it . . .because they have not yet been humbled by life.”Aristotle4th century B.C.  
  • “Youth were never more savagely disrespectful. . . .The elderly are scorned, the honorable are condemned, the judge is not dreaded.”—Thomas Barnes, 1624. 
  • “[They are]a fearful multitude of untutored savages. . . . [They] care for nobody. . . . The morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.”Anthony Cooper, 1843. 
  • “There is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.”Daily Mail,1925. 
  • “Many [young people]are so pampered nowadays that they have forgotten that there was such a thing as walking.”Newspaper editorial, 1951. 
  • “What really distinguishes this generation from those before it is that its the first generation in American history to live so well and complain so bitterly about it.”Washington Post, 1993. 

And now we have the millennials. Boomers shake their heads at millennials and paint an entire generation with a broad brush of criticism and disdain. “They’re lazy. They want success to come easily, without putting in the effort. They’re self-obsessed. They think they know everything. They are too cautious and indecisive. They don’t want to grow up. They don’t know the value of money. They party too much and read too little. They don’t trust or respect institutions and organizations.  

All these criticisms are generalizations and not entirely fairI know many millennialwhom those words would not describe.  

In addition to that, there are also positive things that can be generally said about millennialsMillennials generally value personal relationships more than previous generations. What better place to establish and grow relationships than with people in a congregation whose faith and values they share and who show a genuine love and concern for them 

Millennials love to collaborate. Where better to work together with others than in the body of Christ with its many members?  

Millennials demand authenticity and sincerity. Where could they better find something authentic and true than in a church that teaches and proclaims the unchanging truth of God’s Word? 

Millennials are altruistic, placing a high value on helping and serving others. Our congregations are in a great position to offer young people many opportunities to use their time and skills in service to others.  

Millennials understand technology and modern communications. We can put them to use in the church to help communicate the saving gospel to more people than ever before. 

Perhaps most true of all is that millennials, like every generation before them, are sinners who need a Savior. As the Spirit works in them through the power of the law and gospel, God will build his church. 

Someday aging Christian millennials will shake their heads and criticize the sorry generation that follows them. But they will be equipped to the next generation of God’s mighty acts, just as our generation has done for them.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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The Book of Revelation: Part 6

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 12 to 15 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

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

The red dragon 

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

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

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

The two beasts 

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

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

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

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


Reflect on Revelation chapters 1213 

  1. Why do you suppose 12:10a is used in communion liturgy (ChristianWorship, p. 34)?As Christians we confront opposition regularly, and it sometimes appears that the church, that is, the believers, are not only under attack but in retreat. Citing this passage reminds us that we are protected by the Lord of all. Christ has come and said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Our salvation is assured, and the sacrament we receive together as believers is our assurance in the doubt and confusion of life here in this world. 

    In addition, the Lord Jesus has given us his body and blood with the bread and wine. That is a miracle that defies our understanding. It depends on the words of institution that have come from the Savior on Maundy Thursday. He has the power and authority to do exactly what he said: “This is my body.” No scientific examination or proof can verify the miracle in the sacrament. We depend on the words, which come to us by “the authority of his Christ (Messiah).  

  2. How does chapter 13 help us better understand the past, present, and future when it comes to human governments and religious institutions?Government was instituted by God (Romans chapter 13) to commend those who do right and to punish the wrongdoer. Yet government does not see spiritual things clearly. At times governmental policies have supported teachings that are contrary to God’s truth, and at times governments even initiate state-sponsored persecution of Christians. These things have happened before, and they will happen again. We are encouraged to show patient endurance during these abuses of power and to recognize that the Lord is in control and has allowed such things to happen for his own purposes. In the end he will destroy those who oppose him and will take us to heaven to live with him in safety and joy. 

    Visible churches do not always remain true to the Scriptures but instead teach doctrines that are nothing but the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9).  Faithful believers will test the teachings of all on the basis of Scripture, will warn of their false teachings, and will avoid being entangled in them (Romans 16:17). Jesus has warned us, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). 


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


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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

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

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

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

Nicole Balza


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Along the way, I have learned a few things: 

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

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

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

I’m still learning . . . 

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 7

Face opposition with courage and confidence 

Eric S. Roecker 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I suppose that’s true,” he said. 

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

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

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

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


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


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


Sidebar:  

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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Ambassadors: How I shared Jesus – submissions

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

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


A waiting room opportunity 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coffee evangelism 

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

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

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

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

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

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


A meaningful day 

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

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


 Taking time to reflect  

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

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


Lessons from the county jail 

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

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

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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Our very great reward

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

Daniel J. Habben 

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

The best reward possible 

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

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

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

A reward we do not earn 

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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A gospel-filled life: Part 4

Prayer comes from the heart 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

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

Prattling our childish prayers 

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

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

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

Developing a childlike faith 

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

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

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


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


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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

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

James F. Pope

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

The devil and people 

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

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

The devil and God 

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

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

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

The devil and the sinful nature 

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

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

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


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


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


 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Confessions of faith: Lore

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

Alicia A. Neumann 

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

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

Spiraling downward 

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

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

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

Discovering forgiveness 

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

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

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

Finding a home 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Walk by the Spirit : Part 1

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

John A. Braun 

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

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

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

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

Acts of the flesh: Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruit of the Spirit: Love 

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

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

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

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

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

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


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Trophies of grace

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

Eric S. Hartzell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Becoming “those people”

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

Brian D. Guhr 

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

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

I always wondered what became of “those people. 

The knock on the door 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our meditation 

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

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

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

Continued comfort 

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

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

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

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


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



 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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No time for silence

Mark G. Schroeder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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The shroud

John A. Braun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Teen Talk: Proof doesn’t change anything

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

Gilbert Haw 

Do you remember the story of Thomas?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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