What if God was one of us?

A song leads us to consider our Savior, who became one of us and give his perfect life as a sacrifice for all sinners.

Timothy J. Westendorf

Some of you reading this are too old or too young to appreciate the reference. But as a guy who listened to pop music in the ‘90s, the song has always stuck with me. I sometimes find myself singing it 20 years later.

“One Of Us” was written by Eric Bazilian and released by Joan Osborne in 1995. It was the theme song of a television drama called “Joan of Arcadia” about a decade later. The song was nominated for a Grammy in several categories. I find the tune catchy and maybe a bit haunting.

But some of the words have always intrigued me. If I ever talked to Eric Bazilian or Joan Osborne, I might ask them what they had in mind when they wrote and sang:

If God had a name what would it be?

And would you call it to his face?

If you were faced with Him in all His glory

What would you ask if you had just one question?

And yeah, yeah, God is great

Yeah, yeah, God is good

And yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

What if God was one of us?

Just a slob like one of us

Just a stranger on the bus

Tryin’ to make his way home?

If God had a face what would it look like?

And would you want to see if, seeing meant

That you would have to believe in things like heaven

And in Jesus and the saints, and all the prophets?

Was it just another song trying to appeal to the masses and make some money? Was it satirical, mocking dearly held Christian beliefs? Was it written out of frustration with what God claims to be and what he often seems to be? Was it a reflection of the embittered heart of a person who’s only known a perverted version of Christian teaching? Was it a true searching and longing for a God who is good and great and holy and glorious . . . and yet chooses to be so near and dear to the people of the human race that he knows by experience their pain, trials, loneliness, and weakness?

A longing for God

That last possibility seems to stick out from the rest, doesn’t it? It catches our eyes and hits our hearts as something desirable and refreshing. That’s not only true if you are a Christian. It is true if you are a human being. There is a longing for a Supreme Being who is so powerful that he is able to help in every situation. So glorious that he is bigger and more worthwhile than the small and fleeting accomplishments of our world. So holy that he has noble standards that revolve around selfless love. So great that he can be boasted of and be held up as better than any challenger. So good that he wants the best for his creatures and acts to carry out that desire. So just that the injustices and unfairness of this world might be fixed and forgotten forever.

And yet, if we are honest, wouldn’t all of us be asking ourselves some pretty serious questions about such a Being? What would such a good, great, holy, just, glorious and powerful Deity want with someone like me? How many times would his power be exercised to hurt me because I have harmed somebody more worthy of his love than I am? What would I have to offer his glorious Majesty with my short life, small accomplishments, and minimal worth? What would someone so holy think of my foul thoughts, whining pettiness, vengeful plans, spiteful words, and lazy work ethic? What would he say about my level of thankfulness for all the good gifts he has given?

While I need and even want God to be holy and great and powerful and glorious, more than anything else I need him to be kind, compassionate, gracious, forgiving, brotherly, and fatherly. I need one who is holy but does not cast me away because of my sin. I need somebody who is great yet still takes time for insignificant me. I need one who is powerful but is, without a doubt, on my side with that power. I need somebody who is glorious but uses it not to consume and crush me but to console and comfort me.

God is with us

The Bible tells us that such a God is not only possible; he is reality. The Scriptures answer that provocative question, “What if God was one of us?” with this utterly astounding, incomprehensible, and awesome response: “He was. He is.”

Matthew’s gospel tells of an angel who appeared to a man named Joseph. Joseph’s pledged wife Mary had become pregnant without his involvement. The angel assured him that this child was like none other, conceived in Mary’s womb by God himself. He told Joseph that this was the fulfillment of an ancient promise of God penned by his prophet Isaiah, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:23).

What if God was one of us? He was. He is. If he had a name what would it be? Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). What if God was just a slob, a stranger? He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected (Isaiah chapter 53). The world did not recognize him, did not receive him, even though he had created it (John chapter 1). If God had a face what would it look like? A face of compassion, with pure and pitying eyes, truth-speaking lips (Matthew 9:35,36), and a face set like flint to carry his highly important, brutally difficult mission (Isaiah 50:6,7).

He, being the eternal God, would enter human history to take care of the world’s long-standing curse of sin and death. He, being divinely holy, would live among sinners yet be without sin and give his perfect life as a sacrifice for a guilty human race. He, the beloved and pleasing Son of God, would allow himself to be forsaken by his Father that rebels might become his brothers and sisters, dearly loved children of the heavenly Father. He, the everlasting Word, would speak words of good news and good cheer to all nations, but choose to reveal them and their power in a gospel message recorded by prophets and apostles that comes to human hearts in word and water, wine and wheat. He, the All-knowing and All-ruling, would serve as the only needed mediator, pointing God and man to his sacrifice that made peace, once for all. He, the Ever-Present, would visibly leave, yet promise to be near to hear and answer his siblings’ sighs with the empathy of one who knows the human experience all too well.

What if God was one of us? He was. He is. That is the marvel, mystery, and meaning of Christmas. We no longer need to ask the question because he has answered it once for all in Jesus Christ! Find your Christmas joy and peace in him, the God who is your brother.


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


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Timothy J. Westendorf
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Abiding truth: Part 12

One of Luther’s favorite things to preach about was Christmas—God made flesh to save us.

Nathaniel J. Biebert

Martin Luther and Christmas were like two peas in a pod. He called Christmas a “great festival,” a “beautiful festival,” a “lovely festival.” He called the Christmas story a “joyful, blessed history,” a “comforting, lovely account.” He composed three original Christmas hymns—Christian Worship 33, 38, and 53—including his famous 15-stanza hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” In fact, Luther and Christmas have become so intertwined in many minds that when “Away in a Manger” was first published in the 1880s, it was falsely claimed that Luther had composed both text and tune for his children.

But what married Martin Luther to Christmas more than anything else was his preaching. Between 1514 and 1544, he preached at least 47 different Christmas sermons on Luke 2:1-20 alone, not to mention the Christmas sermons he preached on Matthew chapter 1, John chapter 1, and Isaiah chapter 9, and the Christmas sermons he prepared only for print. Just between 1527 and 1533, he preached six sermon series on Luke chapter 2, each of them three to five sermons long.

Luther himself tells us how he could do that and why he did: “[The account of Christ’s birth] is a rich history on which there are many sermons to preach” (Luther’s Works [WA], Vol. 29, p. 679). “By God’s grace we know almost all of this Gospel text quite well; on the other hand, we don’t know it at all. We know it well because we hear it and read it and sing it so often . . . and yet we know nothing. That is why we are moved by it only a little or not at all, and it does not go to our hearts and does not occupy us as it ought.” If we knew it well, we would always “have joy and delight from it” (WA, Vol. 23, p. 726).

Luther almost invariably began his sermons on Luke chapter 2 with “the history.” Jesus’ birth was not merely a cute story. “Notice the certainty in the statement of the evangelist [Luke] that the birth of Christ took place at the time of Emperor Augustus and when Cyrenius was governor of the Roman Empire in Syria” (LW, Vol. 52, p. 8). All the comfort we derive from the Christmas story is rooted in its historicity. “Is he here for the sake of the geese, cows, or pigs? He is a human. If he had wanted to help the pigs, he would have assumed the nature of a pig. . . . He has put on human nature; he was made the son of a virgin” (WA, Vol. 37, p. 236).

The fact that Mary had to give birth to Jesus in shameful circumstances was proof that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, that he came to suffer and that those who bear his name must suffer, and that he came for a world of sinful rogues and wretches. The world either thinks little of the account or think that it’s ridiculous, but believers revel in every detail like the angels did.

Luther then moved on to the angel’s message to the shepherds, “the first and best preaching” in the New Testament (WA, Vol. 29, p. 656). Don’t miss it when the angel says that a Savior is born “to you.” “T-O Y-O-U [in Luke 2:11] should be written in large letters” (WA, Vol. 27, p. 493), yes, “in blazing letters” (WA, Vol. 37, p. 236). “For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know and feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart. For, if what the angel says is true, that he is our Lord and Savior, what can sin do against us?” (LW, Vol. 51, p. 216). The angel’s sermon is also proof that God communicates his grace and works saving faith through the proclamation of the gospel.

When Luther reached the song of the angel host, he divided it into three stanzas:

1) “Glory” belongs “to God in the highest,” not to our works or merit.

2) “Peace on earth” is the result of the Christ-child’s birth for those who believe he came to reconcile them with God.

3) When humans have this peace, then they also have “good will,” which Luther said he would rather translate as “delight” (WA, Vol. 49, p. 291).

From the example of the shepherds, Luther taught that faith in Christ produces good works. And good works are not limited to what is done in a monastery or in an official church-related position (after all, “the shepherds returned” to their flocks).

Luther simply could not get over the miracles of Christmas. It was miracle enough that God would stoop so far down as to assume human nature in the womb of the virgin. “But is even more miraculous that the Son of God . . . does this for the sake of the poor, condemned human race, to deliver them from the curse and the devil’s power and to restore them to their proper condition again” (WA, 10/3:432).

Perhaps this is all best summed up in a Christmas hymn that predated the Reformation and seems to have been Luther’s favorite. He quoted it at least five times in

his Christmas sermons and cited it as proof that the gospel was preserved even in the darkness of the pope’s false teaching:

For us today is born a child,

A perfect son so peerless,

Of Mary, fair maid undefiled,

To cheer mankind so cheerless.

Were he not born, we all had dwelled

In fear and fire, from God expelled—

Salvation’s ours forever!

To you, sweet Jesus, glory be

For sharing in humanity!

Let hell subdue us never! (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary 131:2)


Nathaniel Biebert is pastor at Risen Savior, Austin, Texas.


As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this is the final article in a 12-part series on our Lutheran heritage.


Want to read more of Luther’s Christmas sermons? Check out Biebert’s recently published English translation of Luther’s Christmas sermons on Isaiah 9:6.


Luther still speaks

In his book on the bondage of the will, Luther wrote, “What matter of more sacred importance can lie hidden in Scriptures now that the seals are broken, the stone is rolled from the sepulcher, and that greatest of all mysteries is brought to light: Christ, the Son of God made Man—God Triune and yet One, Christ, who suffered for us and will rule eternally? Are not these things known and sung in our very streets? Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what else will you find in them?” (What Luther Says, Vol. 1, #437).

“Keep Christ in Christmas” urged the sign on the front lawn. Luther would agree, and so do we. At the center of our salvation lies the glorious teaching of God becoming man to save us. That little baby clothed in the diapers of poverty is a miracle of love.

Maybe we should also have yard signs that read “Keep Christ after Christmas.” The Bethlehem crib is only part of the story of our salvation. If the account were to end there, Jesus’ birth would still be a miracle, but worth nothing to us. That diapered holy child asleep on the hay must lead to the sin-laden one on the cross for whose seamless robe calloused soldiers cast their dice. Nor dare it end on that skull-shaped Good Friday knoll. An emptied borrowed Easter tomb and a “mission accomplished” Ascension complete the story of redemption.

Of course, we want to keep the Savior’s birth at the heart of our Christmas joy. But we surely don’t want to stop there. “Christ, the Son of God made Man . . . Christ, who suffered for us and will rule eternally” are things we know and will want to sing about all year long.


Richard Lauersdorf is a pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.  


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Nathaniel J. Biebert & Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

God with us

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14                                            

Daniel J. Habben  

Not so long ago, my wife found a list of names that we had compiled 16 years ago in anticipation of each of our children’s births. We wanted their names to mean something, to be just right, since our kids would carry those names for life.  

In a few weeks, churches all over the world will remember a far more significant name-choosing: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Talk about a name packed with meaning. Immanuel comes from the Hebrew and means “God with us.” The child Mary would bear was God himself. Isn’t that what we celebrate every Christmas—the fact that God chose to pitch his holy tent among sinful humanity? 

Help is at hand 

But perhaps God’s arrival should be cause for concern. If you came home to find an ambulance parked in your driveway with lights flashing and engine running, you wouldn’t think: “Cool! I’ve always wanted to see an ambulance up close!” Instead you would race into the house and shout: “What’s wrong?! Who’s hurt?!” The presence of an ambulance means trouble.  

Likewise, when God parked his Son in that Bethlehem crib it signaled trouble—or at least it should have. Do we really want a holy God to be with us? In the bedroom? In the boardroom? In the bar? Do we want him observing our every action and reading our every thought? Such a prospect should dismay us more than someone livestreaming every hidden moment of our life!   

But while the presence of an ambulance signals a problem, it also means that help is at hand. So it is with Immanuel. God is with us—not to punish, but to save. The Son of God accomplished our salvation by actually becoming one of us. In the person of Jesus, God has hair and an eye color. He became thirsty and tired. He even died.  

One eye on the cross 

But why bring up Jesus’ death before the ink on his birth announcement has even dried? Why conjure up images of a brutal crucifixion even as we prepare for the joy of Christmas? Because Christians understand that lasting joy and happiness can only come from knowing and believing that all of our sins are forgiven. And that means celebrating Christmas with one eye on the crib and one eye on the cross where Jesus paid the penalty for our sin.  

At this time of year, credit card companies often offer the chance to win all the purchases you will make in December. Wow—wouldn’t it be something to win that contest so that you wouldn’t have to start the New Year with a huge credit card bill? But here’s something better. When Roman soldiers fastened Jesus to the cross, God the Father charged him with all the sins that we have done and will ever commit. With sin paid for, the debt we owe God has been erased. The door to everlasting happiness is wide open.  

It’s no wonder churches all over the world proclaim this well-known prophecy from Isaiah at this time of year. It’s a joy to be reminded that in Jesus we have Immanuel: God with us. In the person of Jesus, God joined Team Humanity so that we undeserving sinners may live forever with Team Divinity.  

Whom will you invite to church this Christmas to learn the meaning of Immanuel, God with us?


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


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 8

Two monuments taught the children of Israel—and us—one lasting lesson. 

Samuel C. Degner 

“To this day,” wrote Joshua (7:26). The people of Joshua’s day could still go and see two distinct monuments, which together taught one lasting lesson.  

God’s wrath 

The Lord had just toppled mighty Jericho. So Joshua led his men against the next objective—Ai. He was confident in the Lord’s power and promise to give them the victory. 

Instead, the Israelites were routed. Joshua was dumbfounded and cried out desperately: “Lord, how could you let this happen? If you promise to fight for your people and they lose, what happens to your good name?”  

Indeed, the promise had been broken—but by Israel, not the Lord. Lying hidden beneath the tent of a man named Achan was plunder from Jericho that the Lord had commanded his people not to take, under penalty of death. As long as that sin remained between them, the Lord would not fight for his people.  

But God showed mercy. He told Joshua about the sin and revealed the guilty one. Achan confessed, and both he and his family were stoned and burned. A pile of rocks was heaped over Achan, and that valley was named Achor, which means “trouble”—reminders of what disobedience brings. 

The punishment might seem shocking. But it could have been worse. Death by stoning is nothing compared to what rebellion really deserves. Achan’s sad monument stands as a warning that it is a deadly serious matter not to listen to the Lord—a warning for me and for you still today. 

You may even have your own sad reminder to this day of disobedience and rebellion—a scar, a broken relationship, a criminal record. On the other hand, maybe you managed to hide your sin—at least from others. But God knows. He would have every right to crush you under his wrath.  

God’s faithfulness 

But the Lord is merciful.   

Once the Israelites had dealt with Achan’s sin, the Lord turned from his anger and he went right back to fighting for his people. He gave them a plan of attack and, when they followed it, he granted a resounding victory over Ai (Joshua chapter 8). Its king was put to death, and a pile of rocks was heaped over his body—another monument, this one to God’s faithfulness. God’s people may have broken their covenant with him, but God had an even older promise to keep. 

It’s a promise he repeated centuries later through his prophet: “I . . . will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. . . . I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God’ ” (Hosea 2:15,23). 

Our rebellions should cut us off from the Lord and disqualify us from receiving his help. But Jesus stepped forward and owned our disobedience. He was executed for our crimes, crushed under God’s wrath in our place. By his death, the sin that had cut us off from God was removed and the Lord’s anger is turned away. We are God’s people through faith in Jesus.  

As the Lord’s people, we know he has given us eternal victory over our enemies—and so much more. He has graciously promised to bless us. We can march forward in life, confident in his covenant of forgiveness.  

His word still stands as a witness to that faithfulness; you can see it for yourself to this day. 


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


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 1

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Bethany buffet (Luke 10:38-42)

The Thanksgiving turkey has barely settled in your stomach, and you’re already planning the Christmas cookie assortment. Ever since God said in Genesis, “They will be yours for food” (1:29), eating has played an important role in our lives. Jesus also came and ate with friends, disciples, and others. Fully human, the Son of Man came “eating and drinking” (Matthew 11:19). We continue to invite him to be our guest at mealtime.

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest”

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Martha didn’t rush through those words as a precursor to, “Please pass the potatoes.” She truly wanted Jesus to be a guest in her home. Martha often gets remembered for being on the wrong side of Jesus’ rebuke, but don’t miss the compliment: “Martha opened her home to him” (Luke 10:38). Considering the circumstances, her “Welcome” was more than a word on her doormat; it was evidence of her faith in Jesus.

Welcoming Jesus was not cheap. Remember, he didn’t travel alone. Martha couldn’t just instruct her family, “F.H.B.” (Family-Hold-Back), in order to stretch the mutton when Jesus landed at her Bethany home. Jesus usually arrived with 12 hungry students. I don’t mind if my son brings a few friends home for supper, but if he brings the whole basketball team I get concerned about the grocery bill. Not Martha! She welcomed Jesus and his disciples into her home without counting the cost.

It wasn’t only her checkbook. Having Jesus in her home also had the potential to cost Martha her safety and reputation. This Bethany buffet occurred during the “year of opposition.” Jesus was no longer viewed as a popular miracle worker. He was increasingly viewed as a rebel who stood up to the “righteous” religious rulers. Yet, Martha “opened her home to him.” May we too pray and live in such a way that invites Jesus to be our guest.

“And let these gifts to us be blessed”

At the same time, Jesus did not come to be served. He came to serve. This was a difficult lesson for Martha to learn. It’s difficult for us too. Among the readers of this article are Sunday school teachers and funeral-meal preparers, choir members, ushers, canvassers. councilmen, coffee roasters, and parent/teacher organization leaders. You may be tired of being the 20 percent who does 80 percent of the work. Thank you for your service to the Lord. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

But, “Martha, Martha,” is your service getting in the way of being served? Even if you think it’s not, listen to your Savior, “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42). Like Martha, your service is a blessing to Jesus’ work and his people. But the Savior’s primary goal is to serve you. That’s a lesson Martha’s sister Mary knew well.

Have you ever been told as the host, “Just sit down and enjoy the meal”? That’s what our Savior says to you. Sitting at Jesus’ feet with Mary, we are served endless helpings of forgiveness, inexhaustible portions of peace, limitless servings of grace, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of blessings.

Like Mary, may our prayer be, “And let these gifts to us be blessed.”


Food for thought

1. What helps sharpen your focus on “the one thing needed”?

Examples may include: 

  • Actually writing in “Bible Time” on our calendars.
  • Enlisting an accountability partner.
  • Link your reading of God’s Word to your personal prayer life.
  • When you read the Bible, look for yourself and your Savior in every text, story, prophecy, and promise.
  • Set asidefive minutes daily to read God’s Word and ask, “What is God telling me through this text for this particular day?” 
  • Tell someone else what you learned or thought. Telling others helps clarify our thoughts.
  • Devotional books or lists of key Bible texts can help guide our meditation.

2. How have you learned not to count the cost of service?

By focusing our eyes on what Christ has done for us, our service will feel less forced. Christ’s love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14,15) is the key to joyful service. This same focus also humbles us so that we are glorifying God’s name in what we say and do and not glorifying ourselves. 

3. Read Matthew 6:25-34. What comfort do you have concerning the worries of this world?

One of the most comforting truths of Matthew chapter 6 is the fact that our heavenly Father takes care of the birds. If he takes care of the “stuff”even the little “stuff”of this world, we don’t have to worry or get upset. 


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


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Heart to heart: Parent conversations : How can we help cultivate a mission heart in children?

How can we help cultivate a mission heart in children? 

This month’s topic gets at the heart of one of our fundamental jobs as Christian parents—helping cultivate a mission heart in our children. Of course, that is more likely to happen if we as parents display our mission hearts. I’m the first to admit that my mission heart can go missing for days—or even weeks—in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Reading an article like this helps me refocus. It’s a great message to hear any time of year, but I think that it’s especially timely at Christmas. It’s a natural time to share our faith in Jesus, the true “reason for the season. May God bless our efforts! 

Nicole Balza


These are my five ways to cultivate a mission heart in children. 

  1. Build awareness: When I was a young child (think three years old), I thought that everyone knew and believed in Jesus. As I grew older, the reality that a kind neighbor, relative, or friend in my small world didn’t believe was heart boggling. What did that mean for them?  

When children learn that not everyone believes in Jesus, they can feel sad. We have the opportunity to build them up. We know Jesus and the comfort that God our Savior “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:4-6).  

That knowledge comes with an opportunity. God gives us—young and old—the privilege to share the good news about Jesus’ love and forgiveness. Romans 10:13,14 says, “ ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” 

It is such a joy to witness children sharing their faith! They talk about Jesus with their neighbor, the hurt child at the playground, or even the cashier at the store. When children learn that they carry the powerful good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness with them, it is hard for them to keep it to themselves.  

  1. Be an example: Children imitate what they see more than what they are told. As we consider how to cultivate a mission heart in young ones, we first need to discern our own heart. 
  • Do we hold Jesus as our own example to follow?
  • Do weview lives from an earthly perspective or an eternal one? 
  • Do we believe ourselves to be disciples of Christ in whatever job or role we have?
  • Are we willing to make personal sacrifices (time, comfort, materials) for the good of others?
  • Do we treat and speak about others who are different from uswith compassion and respect?  

When I was a young teen, my dad asked me to accompany him on his guitar for the new Spanish worship services at our church. At the time, I did not want to share my time or talents, but out of reluctant obedience I agreed. God certainly reached more than the Spanish-speaking believers who walked through the door. He changed my heart as I watched families strengthened in their faith with others in worship and got to know them personally. 

Now I greatly treasure that experience. My dad not only encouraged me to serve others but also took me by the hand and led me by his example. He still does. Thank you, Dad!  

As 1 Corinthians 11:1 tells us, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 

  1. Use resources: There are many different tools that can cultivate a mission heart in children: 
  • Read and talk about God’s Word. This is where children learn their own need for a Savior and see that the entire Bible points to Jesus as their risen herowho has won eternal life by grace for them. The Spirit strengthens their faith, knowledge, and heart through the Word to share the gospel.  
  • Learn about past missionaries, persecuted Christians, and martyrs throughout history from books, magazines, videos, and audio books. You can start with Jesus (of course!), the disciples, Saul/Paul, Polycarp, John Huss,and Martin Luther. 
  • Pray for missionaries and persecuted Christianswho are alive today. We have missionaries in East Asia, South Asia, and other places. Their work is often difficult. Make a list of their names, print off their pictures as reminders, and bless them as a family. Consult the World Mission office of our synod for assistance (414-256-3234 or bwm@wels.net). Children can be pen pals with mission children from a different country or in orphanages. The opportunities to serve others in your own community and abroad are many. Your family can help stuff meal bags or help pick out food for the hungry when you go grocery shopping. They can even share hope with a child whose parents are in prison. 
  • Play!Use your imagination and learn. One game we play with our kids is “Pin the Missionary.” Give a globe a spin and when the child places his finger on a random location, look where he has been sent. Did he land in Brazil? Pakistan? America? Look up information about the place he “landed” and see how many Christians live there and what the climate is like. Learn the different kinds of food the people eat and what the most common jobs are. If you only have a map, you can tape it to the wall, blindfold and spin the child, and have her place a marker on a map. Still fun!  
  1. Take a trip: Consider taking your family on a mission trip. Often when family vacations are planned, they are purposed to serve ourselves with entertainment and rest. There is nothing wrong with taking a family vacation. But consider how your family can grow closer to each other and closer to God when your vacation has a greater purpose than yourselves. 

When I think back to family vacations, I remember a variety of bad attitudes that would creep up—entitlement, bickering over small issues, and discontentment. Serving others can cause little ones to see the needs of others as well as their own. What if we considered taking our time—yes, even our vacation time—and using it to serve others and our Lord? 

  1. Serve at home: You don’t have to travel far to be a missionary! Look in your backyard, your community, or elsewhere in your state and discuss with your children ways that you can reach others with the gospel in words and action. Matthew 5:14-16 says, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” 

Often Christians are criticized when it comes to helping others in need because we’d rather send a check than get our hands dirty. But you can go out and be a testimony of Jesus’ love by how you treat others.  

Who are the weak, poor, or neglected in your community? Is there an elderly neighbor who could use help with lawn care? Is there a population of homeless that can be intentionally served by your family? Are there any recent immigrants that could use a helping hand? Is there a women’s shelter in need of donations? Include your children! They may complain at first, but they will see how God can use not just their money but also their time to bless others.  

Your home is an excellent place to welcome and serve others with hospitality. These opportunities can be big or small—invite a new guest at your church over for dinner, hold a Bible study, host an international student, allow a family member in need to live with you, plan a play date for the young families on your block, or (on a grander scale) have a block party for the neighbors. You’ll find out that they are just as weird and uniquely made as you. Food brings people together! 

Let’s give others true food that never leaves them empty: “ ‘For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ ” (John 6:33-35). 

Jesus brings believers together eternally.  


Amanda Rose and her husband, Frank, have four young children and live in Kingston, Wisconsin.   


This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com, a blog with “chatter that matters” for women of all ages.  


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Amanda Rose
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Lying about Santa and other mythical figures

“Why do Christian parents lie to their children about Santa Claus and other mythical figures?” 

James F. Pope

fear your question is going to drive people into two camps: some who agree with you and others who do not appreciate your characterization of them. aim to address both groups.  

Fact behind fiction 

Make-believe characters and fictional personages are commonplace in children’s literature. “Once upon a time” often leads to imaginary people like Jack of beanstalk fame, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood. The Christmas season has would-be characters like the Grinch; Frosty the Snowman; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; and, of course, Santa Claus. 

While the chubby man in the red suit is fictional, there is some factual basis for “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.” Some three hundred years after Jesus’ birth, a baby by the name of Nicholas was born in present-day Turkey. Nicholas grew to become a monk and then a bishop in the Eastern Church. Stories developed about the red-robed bishop who protected children and gave gifts to the poorest of them. After he died on Dec. 6, A.D. 343, people began honoring Nicholas on the anniversary of his death with gift giving.  

It appears we can credit Dutch immigrants to the United States for bringing traditions of Sint Nikolaas or Sinterklaas with them. Over time in our country, Sinterklaas morphed into Santa Claus, and the day associated with him changed from Dec. 6 to Dec. 24/25.  

So, while the fellow from the North Pole is make-believe, the man from Turkey is real. Children need to learn the difference. So do Christian parents. 

The gift above all gifts 

Where does this leave us with your question? Ideally, Christian parents are teaching their children: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). Whether it is Christmas, a birthday, or any day gifts are given, Christian parents want to teach their children that God is behind every “good and perfect gift.” Ideally, at Christmas, Christian parents are teaching their children to give thanks to God for his “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)—his gift of a Savior in Bethlehem. 

I think you would agree with me that, with or without Santa Claus in the picture, Christian parents can easily distract their children from the real meaning of Christmas. They can lead their children to think that Christmas is all about presents under a tree instead of God’s gift in a manger. 

Christian parents who teach their children biblical truths and engage in Christmas cultural practices can open themselves up for criticism. I, for one, do not want to judge their motives or characterize them as liars. I do not know how they handle other make-believe characters and fictional personages that fill children’s literature. I do not know what kind of playful interactions they have with their children.   

A suggestion that might retain a cultural practice and remove distractions from the Christmas celebration is to move the traditions associated with St. Nicholas back to his day on the calendar: Dec. 6. If we separated our gift giving from Christmas, there could be less interference with the celebration of God’s “indescribable gift” of grace. 

But that’s unlikely. Instead Christian parents will need to keep pointing their children to the Gift above all gifts in December and throughout the year. 


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.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Confessions of faith: Moseley

A couple travels down different paths to discover the truth: Salvation is God’s gift to us through his Son. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

David and Meredith Moseley came from different ends of the religious spectrum—she from a strict Roman Catholic upbringing and he from the charismatic Assemblies of God. She grew up with the rosary, praying to the saints, and being “all about Mary.” His church emphasized the gifts of the Spirit, the laying on of hands, millennialism, and speaking in tongues. 

Both denominations lacked the distinctly Lutheran message: Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone. 

“Although [our religious upbringings] might be different on the outside, in the end it’s the same bag of tricks,” says Meredith. “It’s all in the end a works-based religion.” 

David and Meredith traveled down different paths to discover the truth: Salvation is God’s gift to us through his Son. 

Meredith’s journey to Lutheranism didn’t start until she went to college. She grew up in a devout Catholic family, attended Catholic high school, and served as a cantor for the weekly mass at church.  

It wasn’t until she met a friend at UW–La Crosse that she stepped back to look at what she really believed. “My friend was an evangelical, born-again believer type and she was really outspoken about her faith,” says Meredith. “It made me think about myself and where I was in my beliefs.” 

She says her friend encouraged her to read the Bible—something she hadn’t done much in the past. So Meredith started casually reading the Bible, and the Holy Spirit begin his work.  

After finding a book about the virgin Mary at home and reading it, Meredith began questioning her upbringing even more. “The book was saying the secret to heaven is to become a slave of Mary,” she says. “I had the weirdest feeling that this isn’t right; this isn’t what the Bible is telling me.”  

This became a turning point for her. “I realized I always just accepted what the Catholic church said as true, but if they’re accepting these teachings that aren’t right, it had me questioning everything they teach,” she says.  

She began visiting other churches and more regularly attending an Evangelical Free church, although she wasn’t always comfortable with the more contemporary worship. A WELS friend invited her to his church, and she decided to take the Bible information class to learn more about Lutheranism. “It was a good representation of what the Bible teaches,” she says. Being a musician, she also appreciated the historical liturgy and reading the music directly from the hymnal. She joined Immanuel, La Crosse, Wis., in 2009. 

Now came the hard part—telling her parents. She wrote them a letter and gave it to them when she was home for Christmas vacation. “I put all the Scripture verses and reasons why I chose not to be Catholic anymore,” she says. “I felt like [my parents] were put off by the Scriptures; I guess the Word is offensive to people.” 

But for Meredith, the Word brought the true meaning of grace—not by works, but through faith in her Savior from sin. 

David grew up in an Assembly of God church. The largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States, the Assemblies of God emphasize speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands for healing, millennialism, and the need to accept Jesus as your Savior. 

Being moved by the Spirit was common in worship services David attended in Tomah, Wis., while growing up. He says often someone spoke in tongues during worship and people were “slain by the Spirit,” in which they would fall to the ground after the laying on of hands for healing. “The whole emphasis on worship is to let the Spirit move so the emotions of people were affected,” he says. David says he was zealous for the faith as a teen, even being part of the worship team.  

But the congregation had internal problems, and his father, a former Lutheran, began to question the charismatic gifts emphasized at the church.  

The Lord also placed other influences in David’s religious life. His dad’s parents were WELS, and his grandmother introduced him to a WELS pastor’s wife who gave him piano lessons. This gave David a chance to know someone who was Lutheran besides his grandparents. “She was very vocal about her faith,” he says. 

David joined the army in 2006 and before leaving for basic training, he decided he wanted to attend a service at St. Paul, Tomah, with his grandma and grandpa. “I was getting curious,” he says. He attended a Christmas Eve candlelight service when he returned after basic training and Ash Wednesday church when he was back on leave.  

Then, while serving at Fort Eustis in Virginia, getting to an Assembly of God church for church was difficult, so he began attending the chapel at the fort. “I discovered you don’t have to be Assembly of God,” he says. “There were wonderful believers here at the chapel.” He also began listening to a confessional online Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod radio program, which helped him understand how Lutherans viewed the sacraments. “It took care of a lot of issues for me because it pointed me back to Scripture,” he says. He began reading and learning more. 

When David returned to Tomah in 2010 after he completed his active duty, he started visiting St. Paul more regularly. But he also still kept attending the Assembly of God church—partly because his parents were still members and he was living at home and partly because “I was not ready to say that it was heretical,” he says. 

In 2011 he met his wife, Meredith, who then was a member at another WELS church in town. She and David began attending St. Paul’s together and she decided to become a member there. They got engaged, and David started taking Bible information class.  

The class further clarified his understanding of the Lutheran faith, including the definitions of words like faith and grace. “Most American evangelicals view faith as something I drum up in my heart instead of being the gift of the Holy Spirit to us,” David says. “It’s about having to look inside me and I can make the decision—I can believe in Jesus—vs. it’s the Holy Spirit through the Word that causes us to believe.” 

In June 2013, David was finally ready to make a complete break from the church of his childhood and join St. Paul. It wasn’t easy—David says his mom, though she accepted it, never really got over it.  

David and Meredith continue to be faithful members of St. Paul and participate in the music ministry of the congregation. David also served as a delegate to this summer’s synod convention. With raising one daughter and another child on the way, they say that sometimes it is difficult not to have a close family heritage with the confessional Lutheran church and its teachings. But, according to Meredith, their broader understanding of what other denominations teach helps them appreciate the distinct Lutheran truths of Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, in Christ alone all the more. 

Says David, “We have our salvation—it’s all God’s gift to us. . . . Just go back to the Word of God—that’s all you need.”  


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine. 


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Salt of the earth: Part 6

The poor and needy are opportunities to help and be hospitable. 

John Huebner 

“I thought he was going to kidnap me!” said my 11-year old grandson after I had given a few dollars to the man in the Home Depot parking lot, asking for rent help.  

I’ve read the articles about enabling addicts and homeless people and teaching a person to fish versus giving him a fish. And I, probably just like you, try to avert my eyes when I’m at the stoplight with someone two feet away from my car window with a hand-printed cardboard sign asking for money—the sign that often also says, “God bless you.”  

But Jesus says I should help needy people. Who and how are questions for which each of us needs to find answers. 

Who? 

In the same Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus taught the large crowd about being “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13), he also said, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (6:3,4). You notice that he expects God’s people to give to the needy. He didn’t say “if.” He didn’t break the needy down into classes—“a bit needy,” “a lot needy,” or “most needy.” He just said, “Needy.” 

St. Paul explains that this is especially true when God’s salty people show loving concern toward one another: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). Practicing hospitality literally means “striving or aspiring to be one who loves the stranger as a friend.” It has something to do with providing a welcoming, safe place, as Abraham and Sarah did for three strangers when they entertained angels and the Lord without knowing it (Genesis chapter 18). We understand that helping fellow Christians is not optional.  

Katie Luther and her husband, Martin, who had six children of their own, also accommodated nieces, nephews, tutors, monks, nuns, indigent pastors, students, and others at their home. They even took in a fugitive pastor on their wedding night and sick people during the plague! Their home was definitely a hospitable place. 

In his Treatise on Good Works (Luther’s Works, Vol. 44, p. 17-114), Luther told the world why Christians care for those in need. “For because a man trusts God, he is generous and does not doubt that he will always have enough; on the other hand, a man is covetous and worries because he does not trust God.” Our trust in God warms our hearts to be hospitable and care for the needy. 

Being hospitable involves our attitude toward those in need. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). Moses said the same thing (Deuteronomy 15:11). I’ve sometimes wondered why the street corner beggar isn’t working at McDonald’s or why the Section 8 housing occupant doesn’t take better care of the place they are being provided. But Jesus never addressed the social/economic reasons behind poverty. He simply said to help.  

How? 

We want to exercise good judgment. We feed a starving person food for the body but also provide God’s food for the soul—without being or appearing manipulative.  

Good judgment also requires caution. We can’t, nor should we, give to every person, charity, or cause that comes along. Our own WELS Christian Aid and Relief is charged with the dual role of providing disaster relief and building bridges to the gospel through long- and short-term humanitarian aid projects. This is the best place to start when sharing our wealth outside of our local area.  

The early Christians knew the value and dignity of work, but it appears they didn’t ask the poor why they were poor. Rather, they sold their own things so they could give to anyone who was in need. And they did more than send a check to a charity or drop a dollar in a hat. They invited fellow believers into their homes and “ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46,47).  

Notice how hospitable they were! They realized the importance of getting into relationships with one another, rich or poor, so they could joyfully share the gospel with one another. I’m guessing you have also discovered that personal faith conversations seem to go deeper with someone you have come to know than with a stranger whose motives and integrity you don’t yet know.  

Not long ago, some of us from our church were asked to help a single mother whose older home badly needed a new roof. As we spoke with one another, realizing the importance of our work together to repair and replace that roof, Jesus was in those conversations and blessed them. Acquaintances in Christ became friends in Christ. 

As a congregation, we continue to work at being hospitable and creating a welcome environment for all who enter our doors. There is food and coffee to gather around. We’ve been trained to look for the guest and help them experience Christ’s love. We have a very special man in our congregation who recently brought a friend to church and then invited him and about 25 of us to a restaurant after worship so that we could get to know him better. A number of members provide $25 gift cards to various grocery stores and gas stations so that our pastor, at his discretion, might help some who request aid. 

My wife works hard at creating a hospitable home. We still laugh when we remember the time some seminary students called us one evening on spring break because the house they had thought was available turned out to be occupied and they needed a place to stay. They ended up camping in our backyard, and my wife made sure there were towels, food, and showers available for them. We are blessed to have some of our grandchildren near us, and my wife has turned our home into a haven for them, complete with devotions when they stay over. Countless missionaries and WELS school choir members have found shelter here as well. 

It was Jesus who showed us what perfect hospitality is and looks like. He left the place of perfect peace in order to provide eternal peace for us. As we observe him on the pages of Scripture, we see him giving his time and attention to little children, grieving widows, the sick, the poor, and those disabled. Anyone could come to him for help. He personally fed two crowds of thousands. He had no home while ministering on this earth but has made it possible for the entire world to have a heavenly home forever! 

By the grace of God, we believe in him and long to see him. While we are waiting, there is a growing desire in our hearts to be hospitable to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, and all others in need. It’s not because we’re going to earn a place in heaven—Jesus has already provided that precious gift. Rather, we just want to hear Jesus say those wonderful words, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). 


John Huebner, a retired pastor, is a member at Victory, Jacksonville, Florida. 


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: John P. Huebner
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Your will be done on earth as in heaven

John A. Braun

Our heavenly Father’s will does not change. He is not willing that any should perish, but he wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He has a special concern for his believers. He always works everything out for the good of the people he has called to faith in Jesus (Romans 8:28). 

In heaven, God’s will is done without opposition and without question. That means what he decides is accomplished, and the entire host of the angels and saints in heaven rejoice and praise him freely and without complaint. 

Those in heaven know that God wants nothing but the best for his people. The believers there see that he has brought them safely through their struggles on earth. The angels witnessed God’s justice and love in expelling the rebel angels and confirming those who remained faithful. In heaven all is well; God’s will is unchallenged and perfect. 

But on earth, the devil prowls among the living, seeking to devour souls (1 Peter 5:8). He has been at his tasks for a long time—ever since he was expelled from heaven. He knows how to thwart God’s will, how to pervert his Word, and how to distract the living with every imaginable temptation. The believers in heaven are safe, but the living on earth are still under attack. And it’s not just the devil that God’s people must contend with here on earth. The world and our sinful flesh also have become our enemies.  

The church on earth often seems to be singled out for special attention from the devil. If he can rob the church of the gospel, so many souls will go into eternity without the grace of God. If he can use the world to intimidate the church or in other ways lead the church to proclaim false teaching, he also achieves his goal. It should not surprise us that Jesus asks us to pray that our heavenly Father’s will be done on earth as in heaven. 

But Jesus not only gave us this prayer; he also prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42). With that prayer on his lips, he shows us how to face the anguish and turmoil on earth. In his challenges, he wanted the assurance that his Father’s will would be done. He willingly submitted to the will of his heavenly Father. 

So we have a clear lesson from Jesus. Our heavenly Father’s will is sure and certain. But we doubt and often are confused by what we face. When life doesn’t make sense to us, we wonder. When death and pain afflict us, our loved ones, and other Christians here, how is God’s will done? When persecution and disaster strike, we are confused about how this is God’s good and gracious will to protect his own and bring them home to heaven. When, like Jesus, we face difficult days or the church faces serious challenges, decisions, or hardship, we crave the assurance that our heavenly Father’s will be done. 

It is at such times that we should pray, “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” We don’t always understand God’s will while we are here on earth. We are tempted to abandon God when he allows so much trouble on earth. But God always knows what he is doing, even if we don’t know and wonder why. We are still in his hands and under his loving care. And in heaven, when we join the saints and angels, we will not wonder.  

But for now on earth, we pray, “Your will be done.” 


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Thank God!

Noah was grateful for so many blessings so he gave thanks. We also give thanks for all Gods gifts. 

Stephen G. Helwig 

“Thank God!”  

Do you think Noah uttered those words when he finally walked off the ark and stepped foot on dry ground?  

Put yourself in his shoes. Confined—locked—in the ark for over a year! We talk about being cooped up in our heated homes for three months during the winter with refrigerators, stoves, TVs, beds, and showers. For Noah, a look outside was difficult—he had no glass windows. And inside the ark, it was dark, damp, and musty. And what did Noah hear? The pelting of the rain on the roof, the pounding of the waves against the walls, the thumping of the water below. And don’t forget the animals! The smell, the noise, the work—feeding them, cleaning up after them, day after day. 

Could we live for an entire year confined to an area of 450 feet by 75 feet? And what about family? People on edge? People getting on each other’s nerves? What about conversation? After day 225, honestly, what did they find to talk about? And what about food? What did they eat? The same food day after day? This was anything but a luxury cruise.  

Noah’s altar 

After a year of confinement—perhaps a year of battling claustrophobia and even a bit of depression—Noah sent out the raven and he waited; then he sent out the dove and he waited; then he sent out the dove again and he waited. He waited patiently for the Lord to open the door of the ark. When God finally did, do you think Noah let out a good, old-fashioned, “Thank God”? 

We know he did. But his “Thank God!” was not a sarcastic exclamation or a sigh of relief but, rather, it was said in grateful devotion. He uttered that thank you in stone, wood, and fire. Noah built an altar, took some of those clean animals that he had been keeping alive on the ark for the past year, and sacrificed them to God—a grateful expression of thanks. 

Why? Because, quite simply, God had placed him on that ark! And God had personally seen to it that his ark had not been ripped apart by pounding water and crashing waves. In short, Noah could thank God that he was alive. 

But it was more than that—so much more than that! Noah built the ark because of his faith in God’s promises. God had brought him to faith in a coming Savior. God had blessed him with a righteousness that was not his own. God had forgiven him his sins. God had saved him from something far more destructive and far more threatening than a worldwide flood—God had saved him from eternal damnation in hell.   

God’s altar 

Life may not always be what we want it to be. We may not always get what we want. Confined inside a dark, smelly boat for a year? It’s hard to find the blessing in that unless we consider the alternative. And yet, Noah and his family had all they needed. As we look back in our own lives, we know that God has given us more than we need. And, yes, sometimes it takes hard times to help us see and appreciate those blessings. Sometimes it takes having less than what we’re used to so that we can appreciate just how much we do have.  

What do you have? God’s protection? You are in the palm of his hand! He commands his angels to guard you! God’s provision? Clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home; family and friends. God’s grace? A living faith in a living Savior in whom you are righteous and through whom you are forgiven; a living faith that is fed by the living water that wells up to eternal life.  

Noah was grateful for even more. Yes, he was grateful for what God had done for him in the past but also because he trusted what God would do for him in the future. What would God do? Noah didn’t have to be afraid to step out of that ark and wonder if a tidal wave was going to smack him in the face and wash him away. Noah didn’t have to live each day in fear wondering if he should get to work on another ark. Never again would God destroy the earth with a worldwide flood. Every rainbow Noah saw assured him of that. Noah trusted God when he said, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Genesis 8:22). Noah was thankful for his future and the future of the world. 

But there’s still more! Noah trusted that, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood, God would still send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head. In fact, for that very reason—because every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood—God would keep this promise. That was the very purpose of the ark! Yes, God had protected Noah and his family, but God had also protected—and preserved—his promise to send the Seed of the woman in spite of human sin and depravity. The time would fully come. And then, on an altar not of stone but on the altar of the cross, Jesus would offer himself—the Lamb with blemish or defect—as the perfect sacrifice for sin. Rushing flood waters could never wash sin off the face of the earth; Noah and his family still carried sin within. God knew that. But the rush of blood and water from the side of his Son could. The blood of a crucified and risen Jesus purifies us from all unrighteousness. 

What altar will you build? 

And so, we trust. We trust what God will do for us in the future—exactly what he said he would do. He will continue to provide for us. Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will not cease. He will continue to take care of us—good care of us. But he will also, through his Word and sacrament, keep us in the faith until he returns to take us home to his Father’s house.  

In the meantime, dear Christian, what altar can you build? Granted, our altars will not be made out of stone with fire for the sacrifice of animals; our altars will never be set on fire. 

But, in view of God’s mercy, as Paul encouraged the Romans, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (12:1). Living sacrifices. Our bodies, our lives—living sacrifices, living altars—dedicated to a gracious God; altars built knowing what he has done for us in the past and trusting what he will do for us in the future.  

Thank God! 


Stephen Helwig is pastor at Gethsemane, Omaha, Nebraska. 


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Stephen G. Helwig
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

God’s love: Our song forever – Part 5

The church is made up of people from many different backgrounds. Our worship should reflect our unity. 

Jonathan P. Bauer 

A man walked into a Target™ store demanding to speak with the manager. He wasn’t happy. In his hand, he clutched an ad that had recently arrived at his mailbox. It was full of pictures of smiling babies and included coupons for maternity clothes, cribs, and newborn onesies. “My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school! Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?” 

The store manager apologized profusely. A few days later, he called the man to apologize again. This time, however, the man owed the manager the apology. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out she’s due in August.” 

How did Target know that the young girl was pregnant before her dad did? For that matter, why is the ad delivered to your mailbox different from the one delivered to your neighbor’s? It’s simple. Data from every purchase a person makes at Target is added to his or her customer profile. Age and potential needs are part of the profile Target uses to predict what the customer is most likely to purchase, not just in the present but even in the future. Target then tailors its advertising to that customer accordingly. 

This little story is just one of many examples of targeted marketing. Companies don’t just advertise to customers in general. They advertise specific things to specific people. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Companies don’t need every customer to buy the same thing. They just want every customer to buy something. 

Compare your relationship with a big box retailer to your relationship to Christ’s church. When it comes to the church, you are not the customer of a company. Rather, you are a member of a body (see Romans chapter 12, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, and Ephesians chapter 4, for example). Christians have an important relationship not only to Christ but also to other Christians. In the church, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, are joined as one. 

Celebrating unity in our worship 

One of the primary places where this wonderful unity can be seen is in public worship. Christian Worship: Manual puts it this way: “At public worship believers of all ages, shapes and sizes join to offer God their mutual response of faith” (p. 10). 

In the church in Corinth we find a New Testament example of public worship dividing the body of Christ rather than uniting it. In response, Paul wrote, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26). 

The church is a body. Public worship celebrates that. And yet, consumerism is the air we breathe. As a result, the same kind of targeted marketing practiced by Target can easily drive our decisions about worship. It might sound something like this: “In order to (insert any number of noble goals), we need more (insert any number of different types of hymns).”  

The noble goals being pursued could include: articulation of the truth, preservation of Lutheran heritage, retention of youth, or connection with the lost, The types of hymns we think will help us accomplish those goals could include: new hymns or old hymns; hymns with fresh, upbeat tunes or hymns with sturdy, time-tested tunes; hymns that come out of our primarily western European roots or hymns that come from cultures around the globe; hymns that have distinctly Lutheran origins or hymns from broader Christianity; hymns that are full of doctrine or hymns that are full of emotion.  

The Hymnody Committee’s top priority is to publish hymns that are “centered in Christ” and “in harmony with the scriptural faith as confessed in the Lutheran Book of Concord” (from the adopted list of criteria for hymns). If the church really is a body of members that span centuries, continents, and cultures, then an appropriate corresponding variety in our hymnody should take care of itself. 

Capitalizing on unity in our mission 

But what about those noble goals mentioned above? One can certainly argue that specific types of hymns can help or hinder a specific facet of our mission as churches. However, none of those noble goals can be accomplished by hymnody alone. Every facet of our mission as Christians takes diligent, ongoing work. A specific type of hymn is not the silver bullet for any of them. 

And so, whatever might be gained by the predominant use of a specific type of hymn in service to a specific goal, we must also consider what stands to be lost. If different demographic groups in the church have a body of hymnody tailored specifically to whatever characteristics define them, we lose the characteristics that define others and we sacrifice the unity that is so important to the body of Christ. 

Unity is one of the things that makes the Christian church distinct and identifies it to the world as something divine. On the night before he died, Jesus prayed to his Father that all believers “may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22, 23). 

A proper approach to variety in our hymnody will assuredly mean that none of us has only a set of hymns that is exactly what suits us best always. Instead, it means that all of us will have something far better. 


Jonathan Bauer, chairman of the Communications Committee of the WELS Hymnal Project, is pastor at Good News, Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. 


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


Respectfully making room 

Pastor Kurt Eggert, the project director for Christian Worship, wrote: “The Lutheran church is ecumenical in its selection of hymns and other worship materials. Whatever is scripturally sound and true, poetically and musically worthy, and edifying for the faith of worshipers may be drawn on for use in our hymnal. For this principle, we can thank Luther himself.” 

So how much variety is there in our current body of hymnody? Christian Worship contains 340 hymns from various English sources and 283 translations: German, 208; Latin, 36; Danish, 18; Norwegian, 8; Swedish, 5, Greek, 2; Italian, 2; French, Czech, Bohemian, and Welsh, 1 each. Anyone familiar with Christian Worship: Supplement knows that it intentionally expanded that variety even more.  

How our synod’s next hymnal will compare remains to be seen. But the goal of providing a body of hymnody that serves the whole body of Christ remains the same. 


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Jonathan P. Bauer
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Thanks . . . for nothing

Mark G. Schroeder

It’s one of those expressions dripping with sarcasm.  

You’ve been on hold for 30 minutes, trying to get an answer from your cable provider for the reason your cable signal keeps cutting out. Finally, a human voice on the other end of the line asks you the reason for your call. You explain, patiently at first, that every day for the past week, the picture on your television has disintegrated into an unwatchable blur of pixelated colors for hours on end. And today, not only has the picture departed, but so has the sound. The person at the other end of the line checks the signal to your house, and it checks out. He asks you to make sure that all your cables are still attached. You report that they are all in place. He then gives you instructions to reboot your system. You do that, and the problem remains. Finally, the person says, “I’m sorry, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do. If you still have the problem tomorrow, please call back.” 

And you think, and maybe actually say, “Thanks . . . for nothing.” 

During this season of Thanksgiving, there is no shortage of things for which we can be truly thankful—blessings spiritual and material that God has showered on us. Sometimes those blessings come as a response to fervent and specific prayers. More often, they come to us as Luther would say, “even without our asking.” God’s blessings are often evident because of what he gives us. It’s easy and natural for God’s people to thank God for the blessings that he gives.  

But aren’t there also times when we can say to God, with no sarcasm but with complete sincerity, “Thanks, God, for nothing”? 

There are times when we pray earnestly that God will do something or give us something, but in his love and wisdom, he answers our prayer with a fatherly and loving no. We pray that God will improve our family’s financial situation, but it only gets worse. We pray that God will keep our loved ones safe on the highway, only to learn that there has been a terrible accident. We pray that God will bless our nation with wise and honest leaders, only to read that another politician has been found guilty of bribery. When God’s answer to sincere and fervent prayers is no, might we be tempted to mutter under our breath, “Thanks, God, for nothing”? 

When God seems to be withholding the blessings or help we expect and desire, we should indeed say, “Thanks, God, for nothing,” but not in a sarcastic and bitter way. We can and should say those words with all sincerity and gratitude. “Lord, I asked you for something, but you have lovingly answered no and given me nothing of what I asked. Thank you, Lord, for nothing. Thank you for knowing what is best for me and for giving me not what I want but what I need. Thank you, Lord, that by giving me nothing you are blessing me in many ways. You are keeping something from me that would not be good for me, even though I have asked for it. You are teaching me to be patient, to trust in you at all times, to demonstrate my faith in you by being thankful—even when my sinful human eyes look for blessings only in prayers answered by your yes to my requests.” 

It’s the season of thanksgiving. A time to thank God for everything . . . and for nothing. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Needed

Earle D. Treptow 

I’m needed. 

Maybe that sounds a bit arrogant, but I have it on good authority. The American Red Cross regularly tells me so—by personalized e-mail. I know what you’re thinking: “I hate to burst your bubble, but all the Red Cross really needs is your blood.” True enough. However, since they need something from me, they still need me. I’m needed.  

You are too—and not merely by the Red Cross.  

Even if no one has expressed that thought to you directly, it’s true. People all around you need you—and that’s exactly the way God designed it to be. In each of the callings the Lord has chosen specifically for you, be that as friend, neighbor, congregation member, sibling, employee, spouse, parent, or child, he has surrounded you with needs. The needs vary dramatically. Your employer needs an honest day’s work. Your child needs a ride to her piano lesson and your insistence that she practice. Your grieving friend needs your support and a sympathetic ear. Each of those needs is a God-given opportunity to glorify him and bless others. While God doesn’t need your good works—“[God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything” (Acts 17:25)— your neighbor definitely does.  

Sometimes the needs of others overwhelm us, because the opportunities far outstrip our time and abilities. We want to be needed, but on a more modest scale, with needs that are more easily met. We desire opportunities to serve, but would prefer to schedule them at more convenient times. As the needs of others pile up around us, the sinful flesh proposes the logical solution. “Withdraw,” the sinful nature suggests. “Let others deal with those needs.”  

The one who masquerades as an angel of light chimes in: “You need to step back from the needs of others and focus on your relationship with God. Those stressful interactions demand energy that really should be spent on prayer and meditation.” The devil is oh-so-sneaky, offering what appears to be a pious reason to disengage from the needs of the people around us. But the devil is an inveterate liar.   

While God invites us to spend time with him in his Word each day so that he might bless us with his love, he never describes it as an “either-or” proposition. Allow God to serve you through his Word, absolutely, just as Mary did while sitting at Jesus’ feet. But then, because you have been served by the One who loves unconditionally, you are eminently qualified to demonstrate that unconditional love to others. The people God has placed around you need you and the unconditional love you have experienced in Christ. Desperately.  

You are needed even by people who think they don’t need you; they may have told you so in no uncertain terms. You’re needed by the coworker who belittles Christianity because he had a bad experience with the church in the past. He needs your patient, persistent love. The friend who stridently speaks against the Bible’s “outdated teaching on morality” to justify his sin needs you. He needs your gentle instruction in the Word of the God who loves him in Christ. The neighbor who insists that Christianity provides nothing more valuable than any other religion needs you and your positive witness to Christ her Savior, who died that she might live.   

Disengaging from people in their need, even when they plead with us to do so, is simply not an option. Christ stopped to serve us in our need, though by nature we wanted nothing of the sort. We who bear Christ’s name can’t help but do the same for others.   


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Teen Talk: Count your blessings

Realize that what you have comes from God, and thank God every day for what you have.  

Isabella Eckert 

Count your blessings.  

I was always told to count my blessings when I was having a hard time or feeling bad for myself or trying to fall asleep. When I think of counting my blessings, I think of my faith, my family, a Christian home, nutrition, my health, and those close to me. Those are all immediate things that pop into my mind. I am always thankful for those things, but I just do not find myself thinking about them that often or thanking God enough for them.  

I strongly believe that God puts people in your life to change the way you look at your own life. I have had several people in my life who have strengthened my faith in many ways.  

But one person I met really changed the way that I look at my own life. She was super friendly the instant we met—very talkative and energized! She was not shy about talking to a girl that she had just met. As we asked each other a few questions about ourselves, I soon found out that she had it rough. Growing up she was constantly bullied at school for being different. She even told me some very scary stories about being bullied. It made me tear up. I couldn’t even imagine the things that she went through 

I looked again at all the blessings that I had and still have in my life. I grew up in Christian schools; she went to big public schools where she was made fun of every day for just being herself. I have always had a healthy life; she grew up with unhealthy parents and family. She also had many difficulties with her own health. Thinking about what she had to go through made me really appreciate what I have.  

During our conversations, she mentioned that she was a Christian. It really hit me when she said that. She had to go through health issues, family problems, death of a family member, and bullying; yet she had faith through it all. I knew that even if I would never see her again, I would see her one day in heaven.  

Count your blessingsNow I try to count my blessings every day because I really appreciate what God has given me. He continues to bless me every day.  Even when I do not notice his blessings, he continues to provide.  

God sometimes places people in your life to appreciate what you have. He definitely showed me my blessings—very clearly.  

Recognize the blessings that have been given to you. Before you go to sleep at night, count your blessings. When you get up in the morning, count your blessings. Count your blessing in the middle of the day! Thank God that you have faith and pray that it grows every day. Thank God for the people in your life. Do not forget to pray for their faith too.  

“Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed (Psalm 103:2-6). 


Isabella Eckert, a senior at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Isabella Eckert
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Give thanks in all circumstances

In the midst of strife and conflict, we need a spirit of thanksgiving 

Jonathan P. Hackbarth 

You are undoubtedly familiar with the childhood poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Lesser known is the author of that poem: an American writer named Sarah Hale. Even lesser known is the influence she had on the holiday we today call Thanksgiving. 

The development of a national holiday 

When it comes to the history of Thanksgiving, most Americans will point to the first Pilgrim celebration or perhaps President Lincoln. However, were it not for Sarah Hale, Thanksgiving may not be celebrated in the United States as it is today. 

Most of us learned that the first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 to give thanks for the harvest after a terrible first winter in the New World. In 1789, President George Washington issued a Thanksgiving Day Proclamation to commemorate the first Pilgrim celebration. But Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, discontinued it, calling Thanksgiving “a kingly practice.”  

Then, in the early 1800s, Sarah Hale began campaigning for the restoration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She wrote letters and sought appointments with national leaders through the course of five presidencies. Time after time she was politely rebuffed, sometimes being told her suggestion was impossible or impractical. 

Finally, in 1863—in the midst of the Civil War—President Lincoln listened seriously to her plea that North and South “lay aside enmities and strife on [Thanksgiving] Day.” Lincoln proclaimed the fourth Thursday in November as the official “National Thanksgiving Day.” This day was finally ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1941. 

The need for a spirit of gratitude 

Perhaps we need a “Thanksgiving lady” like Sarah Hale to campaign for a spirit of Thanksgiving today—not for a national holiday because we already have that, but for a spirit of gratitude within our hearts. And consider when she lobbied for Thanksgiving. The nation was divided, families were split apart by ideological differences, and strife and armed conflict created cemeteries for the dead. While it’s not in the midst of a civil war, much the same could be said about our nation today! 

What is the current conflict that scrolls across the headlines? Is it the ever-increasing violence in our world, both near and far? Is it the seeming downward spiral of decency and decorum among so many talking heads and influential voices in our nation? Is it conflict in your family?  In your marriage? Is it a nagging discontent with your lot in life? 

In the midst of all this, hear Scripture’s call for a spirit of thankfulness, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Christ has ended the eternal conflict caused by our sin. Conflict and strife will remain part of this world’s headlines. But we are at rest; we are at peace. Jesus is our rest and peace, and heaven is our home. So no matter what the circumstances, we can live with a spirit of gratitude through Jesus. 

On this the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, consider the following prayer for God-pleasing thankfulness, written by Dr. Martin Luther: 

Ah, dear Lord God, only grant that we may believe and thank thee, who hast been so concerned about us, yea, hast given us everything in Christ. For this is the great and unspeakable mystery, hidden from all the wisdom of the flesh, that God, who to us is the heavenly and omnipotent Father in his majesty, actually died. He gave everything to his Son, who is of our flesh. To him he directs us. If we hear and accept him, we shall have everything. (What Luther Says, Vol. 3, #4360) 


Jonathan Hackbarth is pastor at Salem, Woodbury, Minnesota. 


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Jonathan P. Hackbarth
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Does hating the war mean hating the warrior?

A Vietnam vet shares Luther’s perspectives on soldiers and the “sword” as well as tells his own personal story of discovery about what God says about war. 

Erhard P. Opsahl 

Many people today find war odious and are offended by anyone who is or has been in the military. This hatred was witnessed firsthand by most of us who returned from Vietnam to jeers and spit. And many today coming back to civilian life from stints in our Armed Forces are experiencing isolation and disrespect, even in some congregations. Why? 

Well, warfare is disgusting behavior. Soldiers participate in the awful barbarity of purposely destroying homes and cities while also taking the lives of others, including noncombatants. That is unthinkable, especially for many Christians.  

Christian advice 

It may be surprising to know that St. Augustine addressed the question of Christians and serving in the military during the Roman Empire in his book The City of God. Augustine affirms that two kingdoms simultaneously exist—an earthly, visible kingdom (secular government) and a believing, invisible realm. One is temporal; the other spiritual. Both answer to God. 

Maybe more unexpected is that five hundred years ago, the Reformer Martin Luther was pressured to write something on Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved, also translated as Christians Can Be Soldiers (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 46, pp. 89-137). 

A key character in the story behind Luther’s book is Assa von Kram (or Asche von Cramm, Aschwin IV, Ascanius von Cramm). Born about 1490, Assa was a heralded cavalryman from Lower Saxony who made his name on June 28, 1519, at the Battle of Soltau, a “nobles’ feud.” He led a 400-knight regiment on the battlefield in the victory of Henry the Middle over Henry the Younger. Martin Luther was a good friend of Assa. 

During the summer of 1525, Assa happened to be visiting Luther in Wittenberg and convinced Luther to commit to answer questions people had been asking Luther to address for five years. Apparently, interest was piqued by the fact that the Turks seemed determined in trying again to extend their Islamic sultanate/caliphate into Christian Western Europe. Another factor may have been the growing desire of some to exterminate the Lutheran heresy by force. Misunderstandings of Luther’s writing during the Peasants’ War were still being argued. Luther had voiced opposition to the peasants when they resorted to force and rebelled against the nobles. 

Luther wrote that the “sword” of an earthly kingdom/nation/state has been instituted to punish evil, protect the good, and preserve public order (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13,14). He stated that going to war is to bring about peace and obedience. 

“Killing” can be a “work of love.” For example, says Luther, a good physician cuts off an infected arm to save a person from dying. He wrote, “What men write about war, saying that it is a great plague, is all true. But they should also consider how great the plague is that war prevents” [LW, Vol. 46, p. 96). War can seem like an unchristian work completely contrary to Christian love. But he reminds us that “if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace” [LW, Vol. 46, p. 96). 

Accordingly, the work of being a soldier, in itself, is right and godly. Luther holds that God can tolerate a soldier who goes to war and kills, as one does to enemies by military law and in time of war. But, he also warns of the abuse of this power and again cites the example of physicians who would “needlessly amputate a healthy hand just because they wanted to.” 

Luther cites John the Baptist (Luke 3:1-18) as praising the profession of arms when Roman soldiers came to him for counseling. At the same time, Saint John rejected any abuse of their positions of power. Luther noted that Old Testament heroes who participated in war (e.g., Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David) were not condemned by God. 

Readers of Luther’s book on the likelihood that soldiers could be saved also are referred to another of his writings: Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed (LW, Vol. 45, pp. 75-129).  

Luther makes two points to remember: 

1) Christians live under a spiritual government and are subject only to God. 

2) As far as body and property are concerned, Christians are answerable to their rulers here on earth and owe them obedience. Luther contends that “if worldly leaders call on his people to fight, then they ought to and must fight, and be obedient, not as Christians, but as members of the state” (LW, Vol. 46, p. 99). Worldly leaders are also subject to God, Luther adds. 


personal reflection 

My awareness of history in the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s centered on the specter of Communism taking over the world. There was Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain, then Korea, then the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then Vietnam. The United States seemed to be playing “whack-a-commie-mole” around the globe. 

A charismatic young president was persuasive in urging Americans: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” I enlisted in the Army right out of college. 

All of a sudden, some things seemed to change. The news media and academia led the movement of questioning the validity of the Vietnam War. Was it a “just” war? Were our soldiers out of control? Everyone agreed that the massacre at My Lai was a terrible tragedy. The battlefield was on TV every night at home. 

Four men under my command died during the year I spent in a mechanized infantry battalion. Little did I know that almost 40 years would pass before I recognized symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies circulated that 22 veterans a day were committing suicide; the average age was 55. I was shocked into action. 

Getting involved with veterans’ organizations helped me see sources of much of the pain. Current and former military people are not always certain about their acceptance by the general population. All too often, vets are being shut out of “civilian life.” Most non-veterans don’t seem interested in finding out about the sacrifices our military members and their families made—and continue to make—in order to help preserve America’s precious democracy.  

So what do we do? Where do we go? 

For me, the words of the Bible, St. Augustine, and Martin Luther are helping soothe the guilt that society imposed and still imposes on me and my comrades. Finally realizing that most Christians do not believe that all killing that soldiers do is murder opened my eyes even more. I am getting a picture that I should have seen much more clearly some five decades ago. 

The recently published Small Catechism confirms the proposition unambiguously and concisely, “God alone has the right to end a person’s life, but he delegates that right also to his representatives in government. A person serving under the authority of the government as God’s representative—a government official, a soldier, or a police officer—may carry out capital punishment, take life in a war, or take life to protect the lives of others” (Luther’s Catechism 2017, p. 77). 

Coming to a better understanding of this troubling issue helps me fight my doubts, distress, and depression each and every day. 


Erhard Opsahl, president of the Lutheran Military Support Group, is a member at Risen Savior, MacFarland, Wisconsin.  


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


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Erhard P. Opsahl
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

What it means to be truly Lutheran: Public ministers of the gospel are called to serve

Joel D. Otto

Priests in the Middle Ages had two primary tasks: Correctly perform the sacraments of the church to earn God’s grace on behalf of the people and listen to confession. The people were required to confess all their sins to the priest at least once a year. Priests had to learn how to cajole people into remembering all their sins. They also had to investigate and probe the circumstances and motives of those sins to know what earthly punishments the person had to perform. The priests had to be spiritual detectives. And they knew everyone’s secrets. 

This wasn’t the only problem among clergy at the time of Luther. Some of the more radical reform movements had self-proclaimed, self-appointed preachers. They took on the duties of spiritual leadership without being properly called to do so. 

Truly Lutheran public ministers of the gospel are called to serve God’s people with the gospel. First, they are properly called to do this work. Individually, every Christian has the right and privilege to “declare God’s praises” (1 Peter 2:9,10) and every Christian can forgive sins (John 20:19-23). But when Christians gather together around the Word and sacraments, someone who is gifted and trained needs to be called to serve the group with the Word and sacraments. Otherwise, disorder could result (1 Corinthians 14:33,40). The Augsburg Confession stated the point succinctly and clearly. “It is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (Article XIV). The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is calling public ministers of the gospel through the church’s call (Acts 20:28). 

Second, truly Lutheran public ministers are called to proclaim the Word faithfully and administer the sacraments rightly. Pastors and other public ministers of the gospel are not spiritual detectives, entertainers, or corporate executives. They are not to act as dictators in the church (1 Peter 5:1-3). They are simply servants of Christ whose name they proclaim, and servants of Christ’s people whose blood purchased them as his people. That’s why the qualifications Paul listed for public spiritual leadership emphasize a Christian character that won’t be an obstacle to the gospel. He wrote that a spiritual leader should “be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable . . . not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2,3). These qualified public ministers are called to use the Word and sacraments for the spiritual benefit of those whom they are called to serve. So they also need to be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).  

Truly Lutheran public ministers of the gospel need to know the Word and know how to communicate the Word. That’s why Luther encouraged, “Pray diligently, as Christ Himself commands us to pray (Matt. 9:38), that God may grant us faithful laborers and pastors who are sincere and adhere to the Word” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 28, p. 62). 


Questions to consider 

  1. Read 1 Peter 2:9,10. Explain how this passage relates to the public ministry.

Every Christian is a royal priest, God’s special possession, part of the people of God, by faith in Jesus. Every Christian has received mercy. Every Christian, therefore, has the right, privilege, and duty to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” In other words, every Christian is to proclaim the gospel. But when two or more Christians get together to proclaim the gospel, or when a group of royal priests desires to proclaim the gospel in places where they cannot go, then one of those “royal priests” has to serve as a leader; one of those royal priests has to serve in those other areas of ministry. For the sake of order and so that the gospel will be proclaimed faithfully, someone has to be chosen, trained, and called to serve the group with the gospel or serve on behalf of the group.

2. Describe how the teaching of the divine call is comforting to both called workers and congregation members.

Called workers can have the confidence and comfort that, even in challenging situations, they are serving where the Lord has called them to serve at this time. Likewise, for the congregation members, they can be sure that the called workers who are serving at this time and place are those whom the Lord has placed among them. The Lord has worked through the church to place his workers where he wants them to serve at this time (see Acts 20:28).

3. How does the Lutheran view of the public ministry affect the way that we educate future called workers (especially pastors)?

Since those who serve in the public ministry are called to proclaim the Word to and on behalf of the church, public ministers need to be taught the Word. Since those public ministers need to have the ability to teach the Word, those gifts need to be developed and cultivated. Therefore, the education of public ministers, especially pastors, emphasizes the tools needed to study the Word in depth, including the languages in which the Bible was written. The education of public ministers will also focus on learning how to communicate the Word. Therefore, classes in education, preaching, evangelism, and counseling are important. Since public ministers are serving the church and reaching out to the lost, they also have to understand people and the world in which we live. Therefore, classes in psychology and history are also part of training called workers.

 


Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 


 This is the last article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through the Reformation.  Find this article and answers online after Nov. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 7

As you look aheadremember the Israelites’ monument at the Jordan that shows how God keeps his past promises and continues to fulfill his promises for the future.  

Samuel C. Degner 

The people of Israel gazed out across the Jordan Valley. There it was, right in front of them: the land flowing with milk and honey, the one they had dreamed of for generations. Exhilaration must have filled their hearts as they pictured the places where they would put up their houses—houses, not tents! 

A promise kept 

But then again . . . they had been here before. Forty years earlier, their forebears had looked at the same landscape and concluded they could never take it from its occupants. Now, those Canaanites were still there. Moses, on the other hand, was not; the one who had led them to this point now lay buried somewhere in Moab. Then there was that river at flood stage . . . perhaps the people hadn’t noticed its distant roar at first. Was it excitement or fear that made their hearts beat faster? 

That mix of anticipation and uncertainty is timeless. Brides and grooms feel it as they prepare to enter marriage, expecting both joys and challenges. So do graduates as they step into a wide open future, full of both opportunity and danger, without those who had guided them to that point. Retirees may wonder whether the coming years will be as golden as they imagine. Christians nearing death see paradise lying before them as well as the pain they may have to traverse to get there. 

As you survey your future, consider the Israelites at the Jordan (Joshua chapter 3). By God’s power, they walked across the dry riverbed into a land that would no longer be promised but simply theirs.  

A future guaranteed 

This was more than the fulfillment of a centuries-old promise. God showed himself to be a “living God,” always present with his people and fully capable of giving them the Canaanites’ land. He wanted Israel to know they could confidently follow Joshua just as they had followed Moses, who had once led them across a different body of water. In other words, God was fulfilling his words from the past and guaranteeing his words about the future. 

To help his people remember this lesson through the coming years of conquest and for generations to come, the Lord commanded one man from each tribe to take a stone from the middle of the riverbed and place it at the Israelites’ camp (Joshua chapter 4). What a powerful monument: Rocks, worn and wet from years under a river, now stacked on dry land! A memorial to a promise kept—and a promise of more of the same. 

Somewhere in that same river, some 1,400 years later, stood a living monument with the same message. As Jesus stepped out of those descending waters, another miracle took place: A dove and a voice from heaven, said, “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17). It marked a promise kept: The Savior had come, who was the reason God brought Israel to that land in the first place. It was also a sign of good things on the horizon: Jesus’ perfect life on earth earned us a perfect life in heaven.  

As you make your way toward that promised land, you can trust the same living God’s presence and power to bring you safely through the obstacles in your path. The future that lies before you may both fill your daydreams and keep you up at night. But the Lord goes ahead to defend and bless you. It’s his promise. 


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


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

God’s best is yours

Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.” Genesis 45:20 (English Standard Version)                                             

Daniel J. Habben  

“Have no concern for your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.”  

These were Pharaoh’s words to Joseph’s brothers. After Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, Pharaoh instructed them to return to Canaan to fetch the rest of the family before returning to settle in Egypt. This was a generous offer! With a famine overshadowing the region, Pharaoh could have been reluctant to play host to more hungry mouths. But he not only invited Joseph’s extended family to Egypt, he also told Joseph’s brothers not to bother bringing their possessions. Everything they needed would be provided from the best of the land.  

God’s riches 

In the face of such an offer, it would have extraordinarily rude and foolish of the brothers to dismiss Pharaoh’s generosity—to insist on hauling to Egypt everything stored in their attics, garages, and junk drawers. In essence, the brothers would have been saying, “We don’t believe you, Pharaoh. We don’t think you will really give us what we need to live. And we don’t think that what you are offering is better than what we already have.”  

Joseph’s brothers weren’t that rude or foolish. But that’s often my shocking response to God’s gracious promises. Sometimes I hold on to my worldly attitudes because I’m not entirely convinced God will share his vast riches with me—even though he’s promised to do just that. Think of how the apostle Paul assured the Philippian Christians: “My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19, emphasis added). I’ve been offered the best! I don’t need to cling to my worldly concerns as if to a life preserver.   

Our concerns 

What about you? What’s in your grasp that makes it difficult to see and appreciate God’s great blessings? Are you holding on to resentment? Let it go! God knows best how to handle the situation. He calls you to exercise patient forgiveness and leave the judging up to him. Do you see how this makes you rich? It’s as if you have your own private investigator looking into the matter so that you don’t have to worry about it.  

Are you grasping for approval from nonchristian friends? They aren’t going to speak up in your defense on judgment day. They can’t bring a loved one back to life. They can’t soothe your guilty conscience or prepare you for eternity. But your glorious and gracious friend Jesus can and will.  

And what things are so important that they divert your attention from God’s riches? Are you stretching to the breaking point to snag that luxury vehicle with those awesome gadgets, or do you treasure that stylish patio furniture or some other thing? Their warranties won’t outlast judgement day.  

It’s tempting to expend oodles of energy and concern over worldly goods and concerns, but they are only baubles and distractions compared to the riches of God’s glory that are yours through faith in Christ. Such riches free us to live generous lives—to share our faith, our time, our abilities, and our income with an open hand. 

So fix your eyes on Jesus, the king of the universe, who says to you, “Have no concern for your earthly goods, for the best of heaven is yours . . . forever.” 

Oh, what a promise! I don’t need to weigh myself down with distractions and stuff. The Lord gives me the worldly things I need, but they are unimportant. If I have Jesus, I have everything.  


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


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Abiding truth: Part 11

Heaven is our home, and God promises we will rise glorious to live there forever in perfect joy. 

Mark E. Braun 

We are accustomed to seeing a jowly, rotund image of Martin Luther. But in his early life he was often frail and sickly.   

Earthly sickness 

A description of Luther in his mid-30s called him so “emaciated from care and study” that one “can almost count his bones through his skin.” He recalled that as a monk he nearly killed himself “by fasting, abstinence, and austerity” (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 8, p. 173). He suffered at times from rheumatic fever, upper respiratory infections, inflation of his nasal cavity that led to a ruptured eardrum, an abscess in his leg, and various infectious diseases.  

As he grew older, Luther was afflicted with kidney stones, digestive problems, and gout. The care he received from doctors sounds as dreadful as the diseases it was intended to cure. In one treatment, Luther complained that doctors gave him so much water to drink “as if I had been a big ox.” Doctors later prescribed a “tonic” of garlic and horse manure boiled together. Luther rarely suffered in silence, and his laments were blunt and earthy.  

His final sickness was preceded by heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and pain down his left arm. He died of a heart attack three months after his 62nd birthday.  

The root cause of all his illnesses, he knew, was not medical but theological. Luther remarked on the perfection Adam enjoyed before the fall: 

For us today it is amazing that there could be a physical life without death and without all the incidentals of death, such as diseases, smallpox, [and] stinking accumulations of fluids in the body. In the state of innocence no part of the body was filthy. (LW, Vol. 1, p. 110) 

Our first parents “lived among the creatures of God in peace, without fear of death, and without any fear of sickness” (LW, Vol. 1, p. 113). It was sin that caused “hideous lust, depravity, troubles, sicknesses, and other evils” (LW, Vol. 4, p. 5). From the story of Job “one can gather sure enough proof of what Satan is able to do and what he desires most.” Satan “sends enemies” and “even infects the body and fills it with boils” (LW, Vol. 3, p. 270). 

Luther frequently called his own body a “maggot sack” and a “decomposed rascal” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 112,110).  

Heavenly joy 

But in a series of sermons on the great resurrection chapter 1 Corinthians 15 begun in 1532 and extending into 1533, Luther celebrated God’s cure for sin’s corruption. Human reason, he knew, can only conclude that “the world has stood so long, that one person after another, remains dead, decomposes, and crumbles to dust in the grave” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 69). Yet our assurance of resurrection is grounded in the resurrection of Christ, “the chief article of the Christian doctrine” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 94).  

In our resurrection, “everyone’s body will remain as it was created.” Yet for the resurrected man or woman “it will no longer be necessary to eat, to drink, to digest, to sweep, to live with husband or with wife, to beget children, to cultivate the fields, to rule home or city” because “all that pertains to the essence of these temporal goods and is part of temporal life and works will cease to be” (LW, Vol. 28, pp. 171,172). The form of our resurrection body “will be a wholly different, more beautiful, and perfect existence, devoid of all infirmities and wants” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 172). Death itself will be undone. Death will say to us: “Stop eating, drinking, [and] digesting, and lie down and decompose so that you may acquire a new, more beautiful form, just as the grain does which sprouts anew from the soil” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 182). 

The resurrected body “will sally forth into heaven” to “play with sun and moon and all other creatures” and will be “delighted by this.” It will be so satisfied and blessed that there will no longer be any thought of eating and drinking. “We will be illumined by [God] and know him, not only with regard to the soul, but our whole body will be pervaded. It will be as clear and light as air,” and “yet we will have a true body” (LW, Vol. 28, pp. 189,190). All this will be true because “God did not create man that he should sin and die, but that he should live.” Since Christ has removed all the filthy, shameful effects of sin, “all will be pure, and nothing that is evil or loathsome will be felt any longer on earth.” This can only happen when we “first shed this old, evil garment through death” (LW, Vol. 28, p. 203). 

Later in 1533, in a sermon on John 14:6, Luther summarized our great hope: 

I am baptized in Christ, and believe that he is my Savior and the Way on which I am to come to heaven. Hence, though I do not know the duration of my sojourn here or how soon I will divest myself of this bag of worms, I do know that I will live with him eternally. Even though this mortal body closes its eyes and all its senses, and though it does not know what will become of it—this is immaterial. It should not know or perceive this, but permit itself to be carried to the cemetery, to be interred in the ground and reduced to dust until God raises it up again. And yet, God be praised, as a Christian I do know where I will go and abide; for I was assured of this in Baptism, and likewise in the Sacrament. (LW, Vol. 24, pp. 44,45) 


Mark Braun, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at Grace, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


Luther still speaks 

Busy as Luther was, his eyes of faith were focused on heaven. In a sermon on Titus 2:13, he urged believers, “We should learn to bring our eyes, our hearts, and souls to bear upon yonder life in heaven and in a lively hope await it with joy. For if we would be Christians, the ultimate objects of our quest should not be marrying, giving in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building—activities that Christ says (Matt. 24:37f.; Luke 17:26ff.) the wicked will be engaged in especially before the Last Day. To be sure, we, too, must use these things in order to satisfy the needs of the body. But our ultimate quest should be something better and higher: the blessed inheritance in heaven that does not pass away” (What Luther Says, Vol 2, #1891) 

Luther was no stranger to death. It had invaded his parsonage and carried off two daughters, one 8 months old and the other 14 years. But the Reformer found his comfort in what the Scripture said and what he therefore preached. Since Christ had paid fully for sin, death could no longer be punishment for the believer. Instead it was the necessary step from earth to heaven. 

See how important is the message of the gospel that God restored to the church through his servant Luther. Without the assurance that sin’s punishment has been paid, death would still be sin’s horrible wage. Hell would still be the sinner’s painful destination. For eternity, the sinner—both body and soul—would be locked behind hell’s dismal prison doors. 

Luther lived with his eyes of faith focused on heaven. While he waited, though, he was busy preaching the victory won fully by the Savior. 


Richard Lauersdorf is a pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.  


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Mark E. Braun & Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Levels in heaven

Could you explain the different levels in heaven? I was told that people who do the greatest works on earth will get the upper levels in heaven. I have a hard time with this because it sounds like work righteousness. 

James F. Pope

Your question provides the opportunity to marvel at the gracious love of God Christians enjoy in equal measure and in unique ways. 

Salvation: equally enjoyed 

You are correct in rejecting work righteousness as a way to heaven. If we were to attempt to save ourselves, we would have to be perfect, keeping every part of God’s law every second of our lives. We cannot do that. In addition, our attempts at personal holiness come to a crashing stop when we realize that we begin life with a sinful nature. We cannot be perfect on our own to enjoy salvation. Jesus was perfect for us. His holy life and substitutionary death are the reasons for our salvation. Our works do not contribute in any way to our salvation (Titus 3:5,6). The salvation we enjoy is God’s doing. 

More than that, the salvation you and I enjoy is what all Christians possess. The book of Revelation illustrates that well. In one vision, the apostle John describes Christians who had been killed for their faith being given “a white robe” (6:11). The garment represents the robe of righteousness Jesus won and which people “wear” through faith in him. Each of those martyrs received a white robe. Some did not receive half a robe; others, two robes. All enjoyed salvation equally. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) also teaches that God’s children equally enjoy his salvation. 

While all Christians enjoy the same gift of salvation, Scripture speaks of God customizing his gracious blessings. That brings us to the main part of your question. 

Degrees of glory: individually blessed 

Rather than speaking of levels of heaven (as the Mormons do), we understand Bible passages like Daniel 12:3; Matthew 25:23,28,29; Luke 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 9:6; and Revelation 14:13 to address the subject of “degrees of glory.” That expression describes the individual blessings God will graciously bestow on his followers in connection with their faithful earthly lives. We will have to wait to see what that specifically means. 

What it means now is that we do not serve the Lord with the idea of getting something from him in the future. That is the mercenary attitude of which you spoke in your question. Such an attitude can easily plague Christians. 

I once had a number of conversations with a person who was interested in joining the church I served. The person’s profession of faith and our church’s statement of belief matched until she brought up “once saved, always saved.” In spite of citing Bible passages that speak of people falling from faith (for example, Matthew 13:20,21; 1 Timothy 1:19), she regarded apostasy as an impossibility. Hypothetically conceding to her position, I asked what reason she had to attend worship services in church. Her answer made everything clear: “To get more jewels in my crown.” 

Now I got it. Her stated motive for doing God’s will was to get something in return. That is an attitude we need to reject. Any way that God chooses to bless our Spirit-driven lives of love (Philippians 2:13) is grace. Pure grace.   


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.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Heart to heart: Parent conversations : What should we do when our children grow silent?

What should we do when our children grow silent?

There are days when we all would long for some silence as parents—during those long colicky twilight hours; the “why” stage of toddlerdom; the early grade school years when we’re treated to an unending litany of made-up knock-knock jokes; and the “you’re so uncool, why can’t I . . .” rants, stomping, and door slamming of pre-teens and teens. Yet, there are also times when we get concerned once that silence materializes. Our authors this month give us some options for how to deal with that kind of silence. So far, none of them are willing to offer ways to achieve silence during those other stages. . .   

Nicole Balza


It seems that we live in fear of quietness. Not only do we as a culture shy away from it, but we don’t particularly like it when our children grow quiet.  

I would encourage you to embrace the quietness. 

One of the benefits to homeschooling for six years was that I easily was able to incorporate quiet time with God into our day. Now that most of them are in brick-and-mortar schools, it is a little more difficult, but my children have learned the benefits to taking quiet time. 

Jesus modeled quiet time on a regular basis. Whenever his disciples couldn’t find him, it was usually because Jesus took time out to be in solitude with his Father. 

What a gift to model to our own children. When we are frustrated, scared, confused, or even full of joy, how often do we find solitude to hang out with Jesus? When my children are angry or overwhelmed, they can learn to take the time to break away from the chaos (or even the perceived chaos) and lean on the true Comforter. 

What about when our children grow quiet to isolate themselves in an unhealthy way? Tad and I work hard to create space. Safe space. Space to feel disappointed, hurt, overwhelmed. Let them share without judgment or the need to fix (this is a constant struggle for me). Listen. Really listen. Without reacting.  

Sometimes our kids just don’t want to talk to us. I truly believe that is okay. Tad and I have prayerfully asked for guidance to find Christian mentors for each of our children. We found people who foster relationships with our children so they can go to them when they don’t feel like they are ready to talk to us. We intentionally ask people who we know will provide the spiritual guidance that will bring our children closer to Jesus.  

One last thing I would like to add is to pray. Pray for your children. Not only in the quiet of your bedroom at night, but also out loud in front of them. Maybe pray outside their closed door. Maybe pray in the car while they are strapped . . . I mean, buckled . . . in. Maybe even put your hands on them and literally pray over them. Let them hear the words you share with your heavenly Father on their behalf. Maybe pray in their room when they aren’t in there. Whatever it looks like in your home, keep praying. 


Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, have five children ranging in age from 8 to 16. They are also licensed foster parents.  


One of the greatest skills of parenting is communicating with our children. Truly hearing them, reflecting their words, giving them an understanding that their thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged. Don’t we all want people like this in our lives? What a wonderful demonstration of love to be fully present with another person in close communication.  

As children grow and develop and experience a multitude of new things, there is a lot to process and understand. What if we get the sense that our child doesn’t want to talk about it? Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Parents of young children: Now is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of proper communication. Get them used to talking about their day. Consider making it a bedtime ritual. Share one great part of your day and one not-so-great part—both child and parent. Then spend time in prayer thanking God for the highs and asking for his help regarding the lows. This early communication sets the stage for the teen years.  

Another thing to keep in mind is our children’s temperaments. By nature, don’t some kids seem to think out loud and others internalize? Some kids want/need to be verbal. Others, not so much. We parents have these same natural preferences. 

Here’s a recent example in my family. I picked up Kayla from an after-school practice and said, “Hi.” I got a hi back, and then I settled into a comfortable silence. After a few seconds, Kayla said, “Ask me something about high school.”  

Boy, do I have it made in the communication parenting skill area with her! Not only did my extroverted daughter tell me about her day, but she even interjected questions to herself for me! “Let’s see, what else happened today?”  

Now my seventh-grade son, Josh, is a bit different. I picked him up from school and made the mistake of asking him a close-ended question: “How was your day, buddy?” He replied with, “Good.” Insert silence. 

I have come to understand that Josh prefers to process his thoughts internally and needs to be drawn out with more questions such as, “What was your favorite thing today?” “How come?” “What did everyone play at recess?” Reflecting some of his thoughts and feelings keeps the communication going. But there are times when an introvert simply needs to spend time in thought in order to process effectively. Silence is important.  

Is it a problem when our kids are silent? Maybe for some. If Kayla grew silent, I’d be quite concerned. I would check on her for sure. Josh’s silence can be harder to decipher. Is it his natural tendency or could he be troubled? Whichever the case, my wife, Kelly, and I make it our goal to watch for those opportunities to check in and give both kids the understanding that we are here and willing to talk if or when they need to. It is our way of demonstrating our love for God in their lives.  


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


Sometimes I think half the battle of parenting is not to take anything too personally. When your teenage boy goes quiet, for instance, it’s usually not about you.  

It can be a hard adjustment, though, because wasn’t it just last week when he was sitting in the kitchen, going on and on while you were browning the ground beef? I once listed everything my 11-year-old son talked about in a 20-minute stream-of-consciousness deluge, at which my only requirement was to nod and grunt. His oration included palindromes, peristalsis (which is why you can drink milk upside down), how his arms were getting stronger (so adorable), and the middle name of Harry Truman. (It’s “S,” by the way. I know this because he told me.) 

But then the chatterbox morphs into the one grunting, and you panic a little: Why doesn’t he talk to me anymore? Is he in trouble? Does he hate me?  

What I learned is this:  

  • A bit of silence is normal. Teens are supposed to grow up and separatefrom their parents. Part of that is talking to you less often.  
  • Asking a million questions does not work. Even though you just want him to know you’re interested in his life, it can come off as prying and controlling.
  • It sometimes works to ask about a friend: “So why isn’t Riley going out for choir this year?” That can lead to an actual conversation—about other friends, Riley’s pool party three weeks ago, and maybe even the girl he’s had his eye on. (Mission accomplished.)
  • Respect his privacy. Don’tshare the news about that girl he has his eye on with your book club.  
  • Don’t make everything a teachable moment. If he tells you he’s going to skip college and take his garage band on the road, just say, “Okay!” Chances are, he’ll figure outhow dumb that is all on his own. But if you shut him down right away, the next time he has a big dream or crazy idea, he won’t bring it to you.  
  • Have adult conversations about adult topics at the dinner table—the latest political question, a home budget issue, something you saw at the store that made you uncomfortable. Let everybody weigh in. Treat all responses, even the immature ones, with equal respect.

Now it’s possible that a teenager’s silence is a warning sign. If he’s hiding in his room all the time or is exceptionally surly, he may be struggling with something bigger than he can handle—a traumatic breakup, guilt over a sin, an Instagram situation that exploded, some kind of violence, even depression or substance abuse. 

In this case, although he’s silent, he’s actually crying out for help, and you need to be the parent. Search his room. Check his social media. Ask another adult he trusts—an uncle or teacher—if something’s going on that you should know about. If the situation warrants, talk to a counselor with him.  

But that’s the exception. Usually a little silence is just part of your teenager’s individuation—growing up and separating himself from you. (This is the goal, remember? We don’t want to be doing their laundry when they’re 23.)  

If you give him respect and love and space, he’ll know he can come talk to you whenever he wants toYou’ll be browning the ground beef some evening, and suddenly he’ll feel the need to tell you—everything. Whether he’s 11 or 17 or 30, just nod and let the boy talk.  


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.  


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Heart to heart: Parent conversations : What should we teach children about the Reformation?

What should we teach children about the Reformation? 

There are times when things are so engrained in our life that we take them for granted and struggle to even explain them. I think being a Lutheran can be like that—especially for us “lifers.” That’s one of the reasons I love reading the “Confessions of faith” articles shared in FIC each month (p. 14). It’s refreshing to hear from those who are new to Lutheranism, to be reminded of the treasures that Martin Luther restored to the church. Reading the perspectives of the two Lutheran dads featured here helped me too.  

Want more resources to help teach Reformation truths to your children? Visit nph.net and consider a new short film titled God’s Plan for Luther and Me; the book Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World; or the graphic novels on Katie and Martin Luther.  

Nicole Balza


When it comes to teaching our children about the Reformation, especially our young children, we have to admit the challenge of it. Perhaps the most obvious challenge is that the official date for recognizing the Reformation is Oct. 31. There is a part of me that wishes that Martin Luther would have had some foresight with his choosing of a date! Didn’t he know that this would become Halloween and that children would be hopelessly distracted? I am thinking that it probably isn’t enough to dress up your children as Martin Luther to help them understand the joy of the Reformation.  

In addition, the Reformation isn’t just competing with Halloween. It’s also competing with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. My daughter, Tayley, came home from public school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day impressed in ways that I rarely see, trying to tell me the story of the civil rights movement. In fact, she is having the hardest time accepting that Martin Luther King Jr. was named after another Martin Luther who was even greater.  

With that said, perhaps the greatest challenge in teaching our children about the Reformation are the truths themselves. Most of the key ideas are framed by Latin slogans or solas. Whoever decided to frame the Reformation in this way didn’t have children in mind. What is more, if someone challenged us Lutherans to put the Reformation itself into a single sentence, we might say, “The Reformation was all about the Bible’s teaching that we are justified by grace through faith by Christ alone.” Try teaching that to your six-year-old!  

The ideas of the Reformation are saving and powerful, but they are also abstract. Somewhere along the line, I remember learning that kids under a certain age simply cannot grasp abstract concepts. For parents wanting to teach their children about the Reformation, these are the challenges. 

I’ll tell you what I am going to do with my kids to meet the challenge. I am going to teach my kids about the Reformation during the entire month of October. Really, whenever it comes up in daily life, we are going to talk about it. I am going to buy a children’s book from Northwestern Publishing House. There’s one called Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World that looks especially good, but I’ll look into other possibilities as well. We will talk about the different “Martins” and why Oct. 31 is special to us for better reasons than candy. 

But what about the truths of the Reformation? How can we share abstract truths with them in meaningful ways? We will let Luther guide us with Scripture. His first thesis, which guided the other 94 theses, stated, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17] he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This is where everything started. Luther wanted the world to know that the life of a believer has two parts: 1) contrition or sorrow over sin and 2) faith in the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. These are actually pretty simple concepts to understand. That’s what I intend to teach my girls.  

I am going to teach them to apologize to each other and to their God. I am going to hold his law in front them and show them their sin. Then, I will show them their Savior who died for them. I will speak to them of Jesus’ love and grace and about how forgiven and washed and loved they really are. I probably won’t even call it repentance. They will learn that word later, but they will learn about Jesus. That’s really my number one goal.  

Even if they never do come to know with great clarity the difference between Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr., I want them to know Jesus. That after all is what the Reformation is all about. 


Timothy Bourman is a pastor at Sure Foundation in Queens, New York, and co-host of the podcast Project 1517. He and his wife, Amanda, have three young daughters.  


 Would you like to tell your children a story this Halloween? The 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation gives you that chance.  

You can tell the story of a young man bothered by the practice of paying off sin’s punishment with money. You can tell the story of a young man who was brave. He didn’t keep his mouth shut, even before those older than he, because he cared about their souls. You can tell the story of a young man who cared about God’s truth, wanting to understand what true repentance meant and wanting the leaders of the church to treasure God’s grace. It is an amazing Halloween story, the posting of 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on Oct. 31, 1517. 

There is a story to tell. But that story didn’t end on Oct. 31 five hundred years ago. There is a continuing story you can tell every day you are with your children. In fact, you get to live out the story. On each of your days you have the chance to put on display divine Reformation truths that are at the heart of our salvation—grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.  

We all know these Reformation concepts. Yet as parents, it is easy to live something other than grace and faith and Scripture. When a child has sinned, we may forget that any Christian discipline intends to have an ultimate happy ending in the grace of God. In our pride we may overlook the reality of our absolute dependence on God, the centrality of faith for eternal life and for every other moment in life. In the busyness of life, we may speak of Scripture’s importance but let its priority slip. We may speak a story of Reformation when the anniversary hits, but it’s sometimes hard to live out the Reformation during those many moments God gives us with young precious souls. 

Being a parent means knowing sin and Gods forgiveness. That’s a Reformation truth. There are times when we sin against our child by assuming the worst and thinking they had done the very thing we had warned them against, only to find out that we were wrong. Can you look your child in the eye and tell him you are sorry, explain that you have a sinful flesh too, and ask him to forgive you? There is no greater joy than to hear a representative of Christ, at the young age of seven, smile and forgive. 

There’s another side of that knowledge. Your child sins, and she is sitting on the couch in the basement in a timeout. After some screaming and crying there is silence, and then a very different voice rises up the stairs: “I’m sorry.” Can you walk down the stairs and have the first words from your mouth be, “I forgive you, and Jesus forgives you too”? Yes, parents can offer guidelines and loving consequences after assuring their child of forgiveness, but we don’t want the threats to replace forgiveness and only say, “Don’t let that ever happen again.” Those little souls can be tricked by the devil; they can be crushed when God’s love is withheld. You don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. We know how precious God’s love has been to us. Shower his grace on those you love. 

Being a parent means depending on someone else for your salvation and for every other challenge in life. Can you humbly commiserate with your children? Can you agree with them that we are all weak and we do not have the power to obey as we want? Can you mourn with them over their wicked flesh, but then can you give them hope as you remind them that our peace when we disobey and our power finally to obey comes not from ourselves but from our God? We depend. We trust. By God’s grace, we believe. Faith—that’s a Reformation truth. 

Being a parent means listening with your children to words that come from a God whose word made the world and raised the dead. Bible stories are powerful words. The truths of those stories are power to rebuke, to comfort, to guide. Read God’s stories. Talk about God’s stories. Have Scripture be a daily meal in your home—that’s a Reformation truth. 

There is a Reformation story to tell. Do speak of Luther’s Reformation. But even more, make the Reformation—by God’s grace and power—your daily beating heart.  


Stephen Geiger is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Anna, have six children ranging in age from 1 to 10.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

One lesson from Reformation history

Mark G. Schroeder

The bus made its way through rolling hills and green pastures, very much reminding me of the beautiful landscape of southern Wisconsin. But it was not Wisconsin.  Piercing the morning sky in the distance was the spire of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. I soon would be standing in the birthplace of the Lutheran Reformation. 

At our first stop in Wittenberg we found ourselves at the doors of the church where Martin Luther posted 95 theological statements, or theses, that he wanted to debate. Inside that church, we stood before the grave of the Reformer himself, with his right-hand man Philip Melanchthon buried just a few feet away. 

Just a few blocks down the street, we stopped at another church—the City Church of St. Mary’s. It was here that Luther preached hundreds of sermons, explaining scriptural truths in a language that the lowliest peasant and the youngest child could understand.  

Strolling down the cobblestone streets of Wittenberg, we passed the home where Philip Melanchthon lived and stopped at the home of Lucas Cranach, an artist and friend of Luther. 

Then, at the end of the street, I found myself at the Black Cloister, the former monastery given to Luther as a home for his family and a place where visitors and students became lodgers. I stood in the room where Luther sat at the head of the massive table—Katie seated to his right—and where often 40 or more people would gather for meals and lively conversation.  

It may have all happened five hundred years ago, but seeing those places made the events of the Reformation seem anything but ancient history or dusty remnants of the past. 

One thing, perhaps more than any other, struck me as I strolled the streets of Wittenberg. Halfway through the tour, it began to rain—softly at first, then more heavily. We ducked inside a café, and then the rain stopped. I couldn’t help but think of one of Luther’s more memorable illustrations: “For you should know that God’s Word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. . . . And [you should] not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 45, p. 352,353). 

Sadly, the empty Lutheran churches and the decline of Christianity in Europe have proven Luther’s words to be true. In the centuries after Luther, the gospel has moved from its gracious downpour in Europe to other lands. Here in the United States, we have been blessed with the nourishing showers of the gospel for centuries. One can’t help but wonder: Are we about to see history repeated through our own ingratitude and contempt? Will the gospel shower continue its move to other lands and other people because of closed ears, hard hearts, and thankless complacency? 

By God’s grace, it is never too late for us as individuals and as a synod to listen to Luther’s warning and seize the gospel and hold it fast; to hunger and thirst for the Word as if our eternal life depended on it (because it does); to feel the precious raindrops of God’s grace and to pray that the rain of his gospel continues to nourish our faith and to equip us to serve; and to rededicate ourselves to proclaiming the truths we treasure as Lutherans. 

If that is the lesson we learn from the history of the Reformation, it will be a lesson well worth learning. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us