Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.

A friendly counselor shares what the message of the Reformation means to him and to those he serves in South Asia.

As soon as they opened the door of my plane, I could tell the air was different and that I was in a place I had never been. At one in the morning it was as warm and as humid as the hottest day of the summer back home. Hundreds of people—awake in the middle of the night—begged to carry my suitcases to a taxi. On the darkened streets I saw people sleeping on the sidewalks with their heads only a couple feet from the wheels of our car. Cows rummaged through garbage. At 3 in the morning in my hotel room I wondered, What am I doing here?

I could not drink the water. I had to close my eyes when I took a shower. The food tasted different. The lights worked only some of the time. The toilets were . . . well, that’s another story. Yes, what am I doing here?

Everything was different, except for one thing: “Sola gratia, sola fide, sola Scriptura.” “Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.” These are the great truths of the Reformation. I saw them for the first time in my life on the cornerstone of our seminary in Mequon, Wisconsin, as I prepared to change my field of study from a doctor to a pastor. As I looked at those words, I thought, This is something I can dedicate my life to.

From that time on, I appreciated those words. But they came to mean more to me during my years of service in foreign lands. I serve two countries in South Asia—one is a Hindu nation, and the other a Muslim nation. The circumstances of these two countries are infinitely different from the world in which Luther lived more than 500 years ago. But the message of “grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone” is the one thing the people of these countries need most of all.

God’s truth for all nations

Hinduism believes in reincarnation. According to Hinduism you must be reincarnated 8.4 million times before you can escape the cycle of life. You return to earth because you have not suffered enough for your sins in your past life.

How different—how comforting—is the message of the Lutheran Reformation! Only Jesus’ suffering will pay for your sins. He took the full punishment for your sins when he died on the cross. “There is now no condemnation [punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Not 8.4 million lives, but one life—the life of Jesus—will give you peace with God.

In Islam there is no certainty of salvation—unless one is a martyr for jihad. Young Muslims are sometimes told, “Abraham gave up what was most dear to him, his only son. If you truly love God, you will give up what is most dear to you.” When they explain what is most dear to them—a family member or their own life—they sometimes will be asked to sacrifice that person. Some young men have gone home and killed their mothers in order to show their loyalty to Allah. Others will strap on a suicide vest and detonate it in a crowd of innocent people. By dying for their faith, they believe they will enter paradise where they will have 72 virgins.

Again, how different is the message of Christianity, the message of the Reformation! It is not our sacrifice that gives us peace with God. It is Christ’s sacrifice for us. He was sacrificed once for all to take away all our sins (Hebrews 9:28). In him we are made perfect (Hebrews 10:14).
A Hindu Brahmin told me how a traditional wedding ceremony begins in the evening and then goes through the night and into the next day. When I asked him why, he said, “We want to invoke as many gods as possible to provide protection for the young couple.” Hinduism believes in 300 million gods (or in 1 god who manifests himself in 300 million ways).

The Lutheran Reformation shows that we do not gain God’s favor even by speaking endless words in prayer. God’s favor is a gift of his undeserved love. Jesus said, “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7,8).

Hinduism believes in karma, which most define as “good for good and bad for bad.” Do good, get good. Do bad, get bad. In South Asia those who are rich are sometimes told, “You were good in your past life, so you are being rewarded.” If you are poor—and the Hindu nation I serve is filled with people who are indescribably poor—you are told, “You were wicked in your past life. You deserve to suffer.” Karma is completely work-righteousness.

Now think of the message of the Reformation. God does not give us what we deserve. He gives us what we do not deserve—the gift of salvation in his Son. Whether you are rich or poor, high caste or low caste, male or female, through faith in Jesus you are God’s dear child. And when you die, you will not come back to this world with its suffering, you will be with God in glory.

The name of God in Islam is “Allah,” which means master. The name “Muslim” means “one who submits,” that is, a servant or a slave. The relationship between God and the sinner in Islam is that of a master and a servant or slave. Some teachers of Islam claim it is blasphemous for a Muslim to claim to have a personal relationship with Allah. Allah is too great, too holy, too distant, for a sinner to have a personal relationship with him.

In Christianity we are not simply servants; we are God’s dearly loved children. We dare to call him Father, yea, we are invited to call him Father (Romans 8:15).

Sharing God’s truth

In seminary classes in these countries we teach the Lutheran Confessions. At first it might seem that this will be dull and have little or nothing to do with the world of Hinduism or Islam. But the students often remark how the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in Luther’s day are surprisingly similar to some of the teachings of Hinduism and Islam today. The Lutheran Reformation restored the truth of God’s Word. The Confessions give maximum comfort to the sinner and maximum glory to God.

The people in South Asia hunger for these truths. They will travel for days by foot and by bus to attend a seminar where they will sit on the floor from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. to learn the truths of the Reformation.
“Why am I here?” They know the answer, and I do too: To know his love and to make his love known so that others will be brought out of darkness into his wonderful light. Even with the threat of imprisonment or death, they happily proclaim these truths: “Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone.”


The author’s name is withheld to protect him and his work of sharing God’s truths.


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Author:  
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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For the Lord’s glory

The new WELS hymnal is moving into production. 

Michael D. Schultz 

Something has been going on in Israel. It was no small thing.  

A noble cause 

King David established a huge endowment fund with his own money to build it.  Why? Why did he invite the citizens of his kingdom to make their own generous donations to this temple construction fund? Why did he painstakingly make all the arrangements for a massive construction project he would never use? Why did David’s son Solomon dive into the task of constructing the temple, an undertaking so expansive that 150,000 foreigners living in Israel were enlisted to do manual labor, while 3,600 more foreigners served as their foremen? Why did he devote seven years to raising this magnificent edifice that would come to be regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world? Why did he see to it that there were tons and tons of gold for the unimaginably lavish overlays? 

He overlaid the inside with pure gold. He paneled the main hall with juniper and covered it with fine gold and decorated it with palm tree and chain designs. . . . He overlaid the ceiling beams, door frames, walls and doors of the temple with gold, and he carved cherubim on the walls. He built the Most Holy Place, its length corresponding to the width of the temple—twenty cubits long and twenty cubits wide. He overlaid the inside with six hundred talents [about 21 tons] of fine gold. The gold nails weighed fifty shekels. He also overlaid the upper parts with gold. 2 Chronicles 3:4-9 

What accounts for such great devotion to such a noble cause? It’s commonly called Solomon’s temple, but it wasn’t really Solomon’s. From the earth beneath it to its highest pinnacle along with everything in between, the temple was the Lord’s. The eternal God made himself known there as the God who would not only dwell with his people but who would deliver them from the curse of sin and the horror of hell. The temple was all for God—all about God. And God allowed his people to come there to learn about him, to be forgiven, to receive his blessing, and to honor and thank him with songs and psalms and prayers. 

The cause continues 

Something has been going on in our church body. It is no small thing.  

Though the new hymnal project will never approach the scale of the temple project, there are similarities. For a total of seven years now, roughly a dozen committees of men and women have devoted themselves to a noble cause. They have worked to bring together texts, music, psalms, songs, rites, readings, commentaries, manuals, and technology, all aimed at one thing—directing our eyes of faith to the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ our Savior. 

We’re at the point where the majority of the research has been concluded. Hymns and psalms and rites are being laid out and so is the accompaniment music. A digital service builder program, capable of outputting highquality service folders in minutes rather than hours, is being populated. Final chapters of manuals and commentaries are being written. For the next 18 months, the Hymnal Project committees will go back and forth with Northwestern Publishing House. No effort will be spared to make sure that proper nouns are capitalized, book titles italicized, and copyright holders recognized; to make sure that hymn number 430 is in fact followed by hymn number 431; to make sure that each note and syllable in the pew edition matches perfectly with its corresponding counterpart in the accompaniment edition. 

Closer than ever 

I have a confession to make. I already have a few new favorites, a few new psalms, hymns, and ritual songs that I really like. Will they be your favorites? Maybe. Maybe not. But as I continue to see materials come together and turn pages one after the other, I often pause and think, “Hmm, that’s going to be really nice.”  

What has been difficult is not being able to share any of those items quite yet. This has not been due to lack of requests. It has been wonderful to hear from pastors who would like to sample new liturgical materials at their conference worship services. It has been encouraging to hear from directors who would like to take their choirs through new psalms or hymns. It has been tremendous to hear from organists and keyboardists who are asking if they can get early copies of accompaniment materials so they can learn the new music and be ready to hit the ground running when the new hymnal and all its auxiliary resources launch, God-willing, in Advent of 2021. But the materials are not quite ready for prime time. All of that proofreading and final formatting has yet to be done. All of the important copyright contracts and permissions have yet to be completed.  

We are, however, closer now than ever when talking about a new hymnal will turn into holding a new hymnal. Additionally, there are no less than 17 actual books being produced, along with three digital products. I am excited about all of these items. 

The true glory of this project 

But just as the temple was certainly not Solomon’s, so the hymnal is certainly neither mine nor any committees. The image that will grace the cover of all those books and all the digital resources is one that points eyes of faith to the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ our Savior. 

It was tempting to drop a few hymn titles into this article and to talk about a few of those new, personal favorites. That day will come. For now, though, as the compilation of resources concludes and the production of resources commences, it’s time to be grateful for the team effort that has brought us to this point. It’s time to start letting congregations know the specifics of how they can plan for new worship materials. (Publication of a preview in early 2020 will help with that.) More than anything else, though, it’s time to remember what it’s all about. 

The glory of the new temple in Jerusalem came from our glorious Father in heaven, who met his people there and blessed them through the promise that his Son would bear their punishment and seat them on thrones in his eternal kingdom. New hymnal materials are not being produced so that we can get more songs out there that people will really like or that will somehow make church more enjoyable. Jesus never spoke very highly of expending effort or energy just to please people. He did speak very highly of directing all honor to God and of proclaiming God’s good news of forgiveness and life everlasting to all who will hear it.  

For new hymnal materials to do that would be truly golden. I am excited to know that they will.


Michael Schultz, director of the WELS Hymnal Project, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


Learn more about the WELS Hymnal Project at welshymnal.com 


This is the first article in a three-part series on the new hymnal being released in Advent of 2021. Look for the next article on hymns in December.  


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Author: Michael D. Schultz
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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God’s gifts, our giving: Part 2

With what shall I come before the Lord? 

Aaron L. Christie 

Regardless of one’s political persuasionor lack thereofit seems that the American economy is booming. Unemployment is at a lifetime low. The stock market has had some hiccups, but it still is positive in the long run. Wages are up, but paradoxically, something is down: Personal giving to religious charities. 

A giving snapshot 

If statistics can be trusted, it seems that Christians gave less than 2 percent of their income to churches last yearBut what about WELS members? We are not much different from the rest of Christians in America. Here is a giving snapshot for the large church that I serve in the WELS heartland: 

  • 3 percent gave 30 percent of all offerings. 
  • 10 percent gave 31 percent of all offerings. 
  • 20 percent gave 26 percent of all offerings. 
  • 67 percent gave 12 percent of all offerings. 

Interestingly, the giving levels of my previous parish in metro Chicago lined up exactly with the giving levels of my current parishMy hunch is that your church’s giving analysis might look much the same. 

But what do those numbers really mean? Those numbers mean that two-thirds of our members gave less to the Creator of the human body than they did to the local gym to keep that body in shape. They also mean that 87 percent of our members give more to talk/text on cell phones than they give to the One who has spoken to us, once for all, by his Son. 

So how much faith does it take to pay for a gym membership or a cell phone bill? 

Answer: God knows. And we do too. 

Yet many Christians become animated when they hear preaching about money. We are guilty of a major words/deeds inconsistency! We say that we believe that God createdand therefore ownsthe world and everything in it. Yet we tip our server 15 percent and tip the Creator of food 2 percent? We need to repent of our self-centered greed, which is idolatry! 

Proportionate giving 

Last month’s article discussed the matter of giving first fruitsWhen we give first to the Lord, it helps us clarify our prioritiesplacing him first in our lives—not in theory, but in realityGiving first fruits takes aim at the attitude enclosed in our hearts rather than the amount enclosed in our envelopes. This month the biblical practice of proportionate giving begins the conversation of what “first and best” means for each of us as we decide in our hearts what to give. Proportionate giving means giving in proportion to how God has blessed us. It entails giving a fixed percentage of our incomes (1 Corinthians 16:2). Experience teaches and statistics show that giving amounts are not directly tied to tax brackets and bottom lines, but to the depth of our faith in the promises of our God. 

The Scriptures give us several examples of proportionate giving that provide us with an opportunity to ponder the percentage of our own gifts 

  • After victory on the field of battle,Abraham gave 10 percent of all his possessions to Melchizedek, the kingly-priest of Jerusalem (Genesis 14:20). He gave a tithe of his significant riches to thank God for the riches of his grace. God would direct his people to give various tithes later in the Law of Moses.  
  • Thousands of years later, Zacchaeus would give 50 percent of his significant wealth to the poor (Luke 19:1-10). He gave away half of his possessions because he was wholly possessed by gratitude for the salvation that Jesus brought to his house!  
  • We even hear of two women who gave 100 percent of their income to the Lord: The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16) gave her last meal to the prophet, and the widow at the temple (Luke 21:1-4) gave her last two small coins.  

All of these gifts were given out of gratitude, not under compulsion. 

These examples from Scripture lead us to consider proportionate giving from another angle: Proportionate giving is not so much about how much I give, but how much is left over to live on. Abraham offered the Lord a tithe but had 90 percent of a significant amount to live on. Zacchaeus offered 50 percent but had significant resources left over. The two widows gave 100 percent of their income to the Lord. All they had to live on was faith in the promises of a loving Father. And having those promises, they had everything. So how much of God’s gifts do we really need to live on? May God bless that ongoing, prayerful conversation with him! 

Like Abraham of old, many Christians find joy in giving 10 percent of their income still todayThey do so with a heart that is 100 percent free in Christ and not because they feel they must. For some in our congregations, giving 10 percent is a goal to which they aspire. For others, richly blessed, giving 10 percent may be just a starting point. 

No matter what percentagwe choosethe encouragement is the same: Give in such a way that demonstrates faith in the power of God’s promises. Take God at his Word. Stretch yourself. Give as a reflection of God’s gracious gifts to you in Christ! 

And then tell the devil to go and pinch his pennies! 


Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


This is the second article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10. 


Thinking proportionally 

Not long ago the Lord provided St. Paul in Green Bay, Wis., a golden opportunity to consider the matter of proportionate giving. After the funeral of one of our lifelong members, we were surprised to learn that St. Paul would receive about $1 million from her estate. What a blessing! 

As our church family gave thanks to the Lord, we began to feel the weight of responsibility: Now what? Our member did not designate how we should use the gift; she simply wanted the money to go to the Lord’s work. She trusted her congregation to make good decisions. We needed to figure some things out. How much of this gift should we save? How much should we spend?  

We established a committee to study short and longrange ministry goals in light of this gift and to bring a proposal to the congregation. Soon the committee wrestled with another question: Should we give a portion of this gift away? There is always plenty of work for our congregation to do close to home, but the riches of God’s love in Christ and the selfless gift of our sister in the faith helped us to remember the Lord’s work around the world. We eventually chose to give a portion of the gift to WELS, trusting that our leaders would use the money wherever it was most needed.  

But how much should we give? We wanted to think proportionately, to give in keeping with what we’d been given. In Christian freedom, we decided to use the Old Testament tithe as our example. So we gave WELS ten percent of what we had received, a gift in the amount of $100,000.  

Blessed though we were by the gift, it wasn’t easy to agree on what to do with that much money. Yet we gave in proportion to what we were given because of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts through the gospel, the same Spirit who worked in the heart of our sister in the faith. To God alone be the glory! 

 

Jon Zabell is pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Aaron L. Christie 
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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Walk by the Spirit: Part 6

God warns us about being drunk and encourages us to practice self-control. 

John A. Braun 

Some say the Bible is ancient, out of touch, and old-fashioned, but they have not read Paul’s two lists in GalatiansRead the section again (Galatians 5:19-23), and you will see just how contemporary it is. Paul includes drunkenness as one of the acts of the flesh. Drunk drivers, shootings outside bars at 2:00 in the morning, or even loud arguments after a few beers testify that the Bible is not as old-fashioned as some want to believe. 

At the same time Paul’s list of fruits of the Spirit are just as contemporary. The virtues listed are as important today as they were in Paul’s day: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. As a concluding fruit of the Spirit, Paul lists self-control. What could be more contemporary in a world given to excesses?  

Acts of the flesh: Drunkenness and orgies 

Scotch, bourbon, gin, wine, beer. Do you have a favorite? Almost a century ago it was all illegal. In 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution made it illegal to produce, import, transport, or sell alcoholic beverages. Prohibition attempted to eliminate the problems that comes in the wake of alcohol abuse. But instead bootleggers, organized crime, and speakeasies created more trouble for society and police. The amendment was repealed in 1933.  

Perhaps the Christian temperance movement of the 1920s took Paul’s inclusion of drunkenness in his list of acts of the flesh as justification for its efforts to remove alcohol from our society. No one would disagree that drunkenness belongs on the list, at least no one who pays any attention to the news today. For example, drunk drivers are a plague on our roads. They cause almost half of the accidents. DUI (Driving Under the Influence) or OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) appear in many tragic stories of drivers killing children, mothers, friends, and police officers because they could not control themselves or their vehicles. Speeding, running red lights, failure to yieldand reckless and inattentive driving all mask the problem of drunk drivers. 

And there’s more. College age students pass out from drinking too much. Some wander away from the bar and stumble into the cold to die of exposure or ramble off and drown in nearby rivers and lakesAlcohol abuse defies age, race, and all social classifications. Persistent alcohol abuse traps many in an addiction that is difficult to escape and destroys lives, families, and futures.  

Paul combines drunkenness with another companion act of the flesh: orgies or carousing, as some translate the Greek word. The two go together, and in our world today carousing might be called simply, “drunken parties.” Too much alcohol often leads to the loss of inhibitions. The contemporary version of this dangerous combination comes disguised as just having fun. All too often “having fun” gets out of control and leads to abuse, addiction, brutality, or sexual exploitation, and leaves behind black-eyes, bruised bodies, and arrests for disorderly conduct or worse.  

Excess is the problem, not parties or responsible drinking. The sign at the edge of our Christian path beckons us to have fun and enjoy a few laughs. There is nothing wrong with that. But all too many follow the path; lose control; and bring trouble, pain, and disgrace to themselves and the Christian way. Sadly, some are also lost to those vices because they often breed other vicesThat’s why Paul warned against these acts of the flesh.  

Paul is not alone. Solomon also warned “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler: whoever is lead astray by them is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). 

Fruit of the Spirit: Self-control 

God’s Word suggests an alternative: selfcontrolLoss of control is the engine that pulls freight marked hatred, rage, jealousy, envy, and drunkenness. It sets aside the freight of the fruits of the Spirit: patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. Self-control through the power of Christ pulls those virtues, and it seems like an easy prescription for our Christian path at every crossroad. It could be a billboard with the words of Solomon, “Like a city whose walls are broken throughis a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). 

Like others in this worldself-control eludes Christians at times. Satan prowls looking for opportunities to bring misery into our lives (1 Peter 5:8), and at times we are willing accomplices. The failure to control ourselves in various situations is listed on the resume of more Christians than we want to admit. Perhaps it’s even on the record of our own personal behavior. 

What of those who see our lapses? At times our failure to live as disciples of Jesus may keep others away from our Savior. How often have we heard that we are hypocrites who carouse and drink to excess on Saturday night and then show up in church with a hangover on Sunday. Those who see such behavior wonder because we have polluted the Christian confession of our lips with the confession of our actions. We place a barrier for non-Christians to overcome before they are ready to listen to the gospel and our witness. 

And there’s more. What we do affects those close to us: our families, our coworkers, and our fellow believers. And always, with every sin, we do not follow the will of our Savior. With each step we take along the path of sins of the flesh, we abandon the Christian way and chart a path away from Jesus. Yet as part of his family—his children by faith—we turn to him with shame and regret to beg for forgiveness: “Lord have mercy.”  

The Christian way is a way of repentance. We are children of God through Jesus, and yet we still are troubled by our sinful nature along our journey to heaven. So we find it necessary to repent often. We turn away from our failures and beg for forgiveness. In his love for us, Jesus forgives. With that forgiveness he gives us the will and ability to do his good pleasure (cf. Philippians 2:13).  

The Christian way is a way of repentance, but it is also a way of choices. Once we are free in Christ, we have a new spirit that wants to choose the fruits of the Spirit. Then three factors become important. First, we clarify what Jesus wants from us; his commands are always intended for our own good. Second, we think what our choices will mean for us personally, considering the consequences we may face because of our disobedience. Third, we think what our behavior also will mean to others—our spouses, our children, our fellow believers in Christ, and those who do not yet know Jesus. Then, by God’s gracious power, we choose the fruits of the Spirit and stay on the narrow way that leads us home. 

We are different in this world. We walk in the Spirit and turn away from the vices of the sinful nature. Jesus himself encourages us, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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A gospel-filled life: Part 9

Devotional development  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

A slight sadness seeps into my psyche every autumn. For some reason, I can’t help looking ahead and grieving the loss of the magnificent scenery and pleasant temperatures. While I should be content with evening walks requiring only a light jacket, my mind automatically begins to wander. Soon it will be cold. Soon after, it will grow colder still. Stormy and unpredictable seasons loom in the distance. Almost an entire year will pass before comfortable conditions make another migration, making the outdoors hospitable again.  

Some healthy habits develop over years of hard work and attention. We fall into some negative attitudes, on the other hand, without any intentional efforts. 

Dispelling negative tendencies 

In his short letter giving simple instructions on prayer to his friend Peter the Barber, Martin Luther acknowledged there were times when his life became “cool and joyless.” On those occasions he grabbed his book of Psalms or recalled familiar sections of Scripture and spent quiet time alone in meditation and prayer. Negative tendencies didn’t evaporate on their own. God’s powerful Word was required to address and combat doubts and disillusionment.  

Work turns monotonous. Family members fling constant conflict and crisis our way. Hobbies and leisure lose their satisfaction. Religious routines feel robotic in their repetitions. Life’s less-than-perfect circumstances make life less joyful. Plans of future greatness get grounded in ordinary turbulence. Things of this life won’t provide the sense of contentment we think they should. They can’t. They aren’t designed to do what only God can do.  

Augustine was an early Christian theologian who had a profound influence on Martin Luther. In prayer Augustine acknowledged the soul’s need for the peace that only God can give: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you” (Confessions 1.1.1). Augustine’s insight suggests that we might develop habits that reflect the necessity of our resting in God himself.  

Try reading through Psalms 111118 regularly. Praise in these Psalms can profoundly impact believers. Praise to God isn’t just based on emotions welling up inside believers but primarily flows from a reflection of God’s acts of rescue for his people. Praise doesn’t just depend on what we think about God but expresses our joy in God’s grace at work in our lives 

Developing healthy habits 

Let’s see how this could benefit believers. Martin Luther advocated devotional habits that turned to God’s Word regularly and let “prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night” (A Simple Way to Pray). When we turn to God soon after waking, we can begin our day remembering we are baptized children of God. Before we face stresses and responsibilities, we can find peace in God’s work claiming us as his own. As we retire for the night, we can unburden the fear of our failures with confidence in his grace. We can rest recognizing his blessings to us throughout the day.  

It takes time and effort to develop healthy habits. Following natural instincts in our physical lives is rarely the best policy. God’s people have a more refreshing motivation to develop routines revolving around God’s Word than the return of autumnal glories. With each morsel of God’s Word, God grows in us a dawning awareness of the greatness of our Savior. By Scripture and thankful response in prayer the Holy Spirit develops in us an awe for God’s grace at work in our lives.  


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


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


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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Confessions of faith: Bush

The message of Jesus finally starts to grow after years of neglect. 

John A. Braun 

“My family was not religious. We rarely, if ever, attended church,” Richard Bush remembers. Sundays meant something other than going to church. Yet Richard’s friend Harry was the exception. He and his family regularly attended a Baptist church. They invited Richard to come to church with them and provided regular transportation. At that time, it was something to do” Richard says. The Sundays in church with his friend’s family was a beginning. He was even baptized there with Harry. 

It was like the sower in the parable casting the seed on the ground (Matthew 13:1-23). As he looks back, Richard says, “It was like a seed on the shelf.”  

Sitting dormant 

Growth became difficult because Richard’s family moved to Louisiana. They rarely attended church, so the seed did not sprout and certainly did not mature. He confesses, “The seed just sat there and did not grow.”  

Those early lessons about Jesus grew distant and seemed to disappear as the years went by. Military service, marriage, and family took turns occupying Richard’s time and energy. The seed remained on the shelf. He and Shelly, his wife, had two children and a 36year marriagebefore they moved to Katy, Texas.  

Richard had a structured and organized mind. He is also a friendly spirit and makes friends easily. His focus in school was science, and he had a lot of questions about religion. The idea that God is triune and that he created the world didn’t make sense to Richard. But his skills helped him do well as a plant manager over the years.  

But difficulties intruded into their happy life. Shelly eventually died from cancer, but even in that tragedy the seed remained dormant. Richard says, “I didn’t point a finger at God and complain. I didn’t hate God. Shelly’s death was tough, but at that time I thought that dying was just what happened. You had to go onGod works in mysterious ways.” He and his children moved on with their lives. But God had not given up on Richard. He had not forgotten him and the little seed that still lay dormant. 

Moving on was not easy. After a time, a friend thought that Richard should begin to socialize. Richard didn’t know if he was ready to take that step, but his friend set up a blind date disguised as a birthday party. Richard reluctantly went, and when he discovered it was a blind date, he did his social obligation for dinner and concluded he was not ready yet. He left the date with no desire for another. Yet he went home with a telephone number from the “party” for Janet, the woman he met. It sat unused.  

Then six months later, he was ready and called her. They discovered mutual interests and began a friendship. Little did he know at the time that the friendship would blossom into marriage. 

Taking root 

But another development also was coming to pass. The seed on the shelf would finally begin to grow. Janet was a Lutheran and a member at a WELS church in Katy, Texas. She eventually asked, “Would you like to go to church?”  

Richard was a little apprehensive. He says he had a “bazillion questions.” One of the biggest was still, “How could God be triune, three in one?” But he went to church, and he liked what he heard. He says he went “again and again and again.” The seed began to stir. 

Slowly his question about the Trinity did not cause so much trouble for him. He began to think that millions of people believe it so there must be something to it. He was hearing the gospel, and the Holy Spirit was at work. He brought his question about the Trinity and the other questions he had to the Bible 101 class. When he asked questions, the pastor answered each one. The seed on the shelf had sprouted and began to take root. The idea of Father, Son, and Holy Spiritone God but three personsbegan to make sense. Richard says, “Faith in Christ isn’t something that you just turn on. It takes time.” 

The answers for Richard’s questions all came from the Bible. The pastor explained that it is important to read the Bible for what it means. He warned that you shouldn’t bring your own ideas on what the Bible means but you should let the Bible speak for itself. In the past, Richard had listened to other pastors give their own versions of what the Bible said, but now he heard what the Bible really said.  

What impresses Richard is how well WELS pastors are trained. They know the Bible and can share its teaching clearly. He lists six WELS pastors he had come to know and gives them all high marks for their teaching and spirit. He feels that they are the key to his spiritual growth and to the spiritual growth of others. 

Janet felt the need to be with her aging parents and care for them in Temple, Texas, about 150 miles northwest of Katy. The Temple congregation made them both feel welcome. There the seed that had sprouted in Katy continued to grow. Richard’s questions continued, but “it gets better and better as you sort things out, learn, and grow.”  

Growing tall 

As he looks back over the course of his life, Richard marvels at the way God took the seed from the shelf and caused it to grow after so many years. Even when it seemed to him and to others that God had forgotten him, now he sees that God had a plan all along.  

Yet there’s a sad note that Jesus was left out of his life all those years. Those days have all gone by. They cannot be redone, and Richard regrets that he did not help his children to learn about Jesus. Yet he is happy now knowing Jesus and his blessings. He is active in his church and served as a delegate to the 2019 WELS convention. 

When they moved to Temple, Richard bought a sailboat to sail on nearby Belton Lake. Janet was surprised by his impulsive purchase. Sailing on the large reservoir gives him time to think. In the quiet of the wind and the water, he thinks about the blessings God has given himincluding the beautiful creation he has given us all. 

Richard’s story comes with a lesson. He says it this way, “When you have a chance to witness, remember you are throwing seed on the ground. It may take 50 years for the seed to grow. Don’t give up. God always has plans that sometimes we don’t see or understand. There’s no limitation on when you can come to Christ.” 


John Braun is the executive editor of Forward in Christ. 


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Author: John A. Braun 
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 12

Providing a witnessing support system 

Mark J. Cares 

After a day of witnessing, we heard comments like these: “My favorite part of the week was the nightly debrief. Not only did we hear some neat stories, we also discussed how to respond in various situations.” Or, “I was dragging by the end of the day because I didn’t get into many in-depth conversations. But it was so refreshing to hear some of the wonderful experiences others had.” Gathering together to debrief provided everyone with encouragement, support, and advice. These sessions were great ways to cap off each day. 

“I don’t know if I could have done it without your ongoing support and advice. Honestly, I doubt if I would have even tried.” We hear such comments regularly from people who participate in our program of witnessing to Mormon missionaries called Please Open the Door. Participants can request a mentor who communicates with them regularly to review their previous visit and plan the next visit. 

Our ministry, Truth in Love Ministry, is dedicated to reaching out to Mormons. A large part of what we do is support Christians around the world who are sharing their faith with Mormons. This ongoing support is one of the keys to our having helped thousands of Christians get excited about witnessing—and not just to Mormons either. 

Unfortunately, such support systems for those sharing their faith are missing in many congregations. Members are encouraged to witness. Classes are taught on how to witness. But far too often it ends thereMany times, people are left to put their training into practice all on their own. 

In most important endeavors, receiving feedback and support is critical to success. Witnessing is no exception. Not only did Jesus send out his disciples two by two, but when they returned, he also gathered them together to talk about their experiences.  

Witnessing feedback and support 

The two ways our ministry furnishes support could easily be adapted to a congregational setting.  

Each year Truth in Love Ministry sponsors a mission trip for people to participate in door-to-door outreach to Mormons. Every night there is a debrief session of the day’s witnessing opportunities. This session could be duplicated in a congregation by forming an ongoing witnessing support groupSuch a group works best if each attendee is presently witnessing or is intending to begin witnessing in the near futureIt also works best if the group meets at least twice a month. 

Meetings can look something like this. Begin with a half-hour Bible study about witnessing. Then have each person report on his or her witnessing activity over the past couple of weeks. People can share ideas that worked or ask for suggestions on how to do something differently.  

Before moving on to the next person, take time to pray for both the witness and the people to whom he or she is witnessing. Talk about creating intimacy and giving support! Those prayers often aren’t just one-time occurrences. Frequently people will continue to pray for every person in the coming week. I have seen more than one person leave such a meeting with a notebook filled with prayer requests. 

Of course, there will be times when some people fail to witness at all. That won’t be a problem if a climate of loving accountability exists. Instead of feeling guilty, they will leave encouraged to witness in the next week. In fact, when someone fails, isn’t loving accountability the secret to success for many support groups? 

Over a period of time, as group members study the Bible from an outreach perspective and discusses various scenarios and individuals, they become increasingly confident and excited to share their faith. 

And their excitement is infectious. Some congregations have started with one small group, only to have it multiply. Eventually, the entire congregation becomes much more outreach focused 

Mentoring 

Another way to provide witnessing support is to offer a mentoring system. One key is having mentors with some experience in witnessing. They surely don’t have to be experts, but they need to have some practical experience. 

The other key is supplying sufficient resources. In our case, we created an entire website with resources dedicated to witnessing to Mormon missionaries. Many resources would work in a congregational setting. 

You can imagine that many people are pretty nervous as they begin witnessing to Mormon missionaries. This is especially true because we tell people not to wait until the missionaries knock on their door. Instead, we have them contact the Mormon church and request a visit by the missionaries. This means a mentor frequently needs to do a lot of encouraging just to have people take that first step of requesting a visit. 

In addition, most people, in the beginning, need detailed instructions. What to expect when the missionaries come, what to talk about, and how to begin establishing a relationship with them are all questions people have. So the second thing a mentor does is remove many of the unknowns. The mentor explains what points the missionaries most likely will make and how people can respond. We even go so far as to talk about such things as where you want the missionaries to sit, what Bible translation to use, how to address them, etc. The more specific the instructions, the more a person’s nerves are calmed. 

After the first visit, the mentor continues to talk with the witnesses. The mentor asks them to send a written summary of the meeting. This is a tremendous help when they chat again by phone or video-conference. The mentor can ask questions for clarification and discuss any questions they might have. After they have reviewed the previous meeting, they then plan the witness for the next meeting. Often the mentor can point witnesses to a specific article on the website detailing how to use a specific passage and approach. The mentor ends the call with a prayer for both the mentee and the missionaries. 

It’s not difficult to see how this can work in a congregation—and how mentors will face many of the same obstacles. Mentors may first have to encourage people to witness and then give them detailed instructions how to witnessespecially in the beginning of the process. But it’s also easy to see how momentum and excitement can quickly spread throughout the congregation. 

Why does God leave people on earth after he brings them to faith? The Bible is pretty clear. Christians are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are his ambassadors, proclaiming the tremendous news that eternal life is his gift to us through Jesus Christ. God keeps us on earth so we can go and make disciples of all nations. 

In this series we have looked at many different aspects of the wonderful mission Christ has entrusted to usEach aspect is important. Bur don’t shortchange the importance of building a support system for witnessing. It is well worth it to take the time and make the effort to give adequate support to each other as we share the good news. 

May God richly bless you as you serve as his ambassadors. 

 


Mark Cares, president of Truth in Love Ministry, is a member at Messiah, Nampa, Idaho. 


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


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


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Author: Mark J. Cares 
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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Light for our path: What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?

What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like? 

James F. Pope

While Scripture provides the definitive answer, I also will be passing along excerpts—in quotation marks—from wives who gave me real-world insights. These wives had ties to courses I taught at Martin Luther College last summer. 

Biblical perspective 

“I don’t really think of myself as submissive’ because today’s society puts a bad spin on being submissive. I like to think of myself as a ‘suitable helper.’ I need to support my husband as the Christian leader of our family.”  

To many people today, “submissive” means “a willingness to be controlled by other people” (The Cambridge Dictionary). Many view any form of submissiveness in strictly negative sense that pits one person in authority against another who merely yields to the authoritarian. 

That is not the Bible’s meaning of submissiveness. When the Bible instructs Christian women to “submit yourselves to your own husbands” (Ephesians 5:22), there is a context that removes anything that might be demeaning, degrading, or insulting to women. That instruction follows this command that God gave to Christian men and women: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). Also, Christian women are to “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. . . . Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:22,24). How the Christian church submits to Christ is the pattern for Christian women interacting with their husbands  

Practical perspectives 

Christian wives explained what that pattern looks like in their marriages:  

  • “Look for ways to encourage your husband, in private and in public, and build him up.” 
  • “A submissive wife in a Christian marriage is a supportive wife.You work together with your spouse, and respect and support him in your marriage.”  
  • “Within a Christian marriage, a wife freely expresses her thoughts, trusting her husband’s response will lovingly support her and look out after her best interests.” 
  • “A Christian wife happily submits to her Christian husband because she knows every decision he makes will be done selflessly for her happiness and the good of their marriage.”

Final perspectives 

To provide balance, I also asked husbands who were on campus for courses last summer for their responses to your question:  

  • “She serves the Lord before she serves me.” 
  • “Because people are different,that submission on the part of wives will look different from one marriage to another.”  
  • “1 Corinthians 13 describes the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives.” 

That last comment puts the instruction of wives submitting to their husbands in the proper context. While wives are to submit to their husbands “as the church submits to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24), husbands are to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Just as Christ is the pattern for a wife’s relationship to her husband, so Christ is the pattern for the husband’s relationship with his wife. Husbands are to love their wives with self-sacrificial love. It is to a loving leader (Ephesians 5:33) that a Christian wife submits.  

A wife like that said: Although my sinful pride can get in the way at times, it is not hard to agree with the authority of my husband as he demonstrates love for me in everyday life.” That wife describes Christian submission and Christian love well.  


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 11

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 21 to 22:5

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Blessed with milk and honey. A sight that refreshes. Full of unknown joy. Radiant in glory. Bliss beyond compare. Jubilant with song. Bright with angels. Serene daylight. Rich, green pasture.  

Wow! That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Those are some of the words and phrases used by 12th-century monk Bernard of Cluny in his hymn Jerusalem the Golden to describe the eternal home of rest that awaits God’s redeemed children. His words are extremely comforting and encouraging for the church militant, which is so often weary and oppressed in this world. The words seem to be drawn, at least in part, from Revelation 2122:5. 

New heaven and earth 

After writing of the final judgment of Satan and the world, John witnesses a breathtaking and glorious scene. He sees a new heaven and a new earth in place of the familiar ones.  

We are not given details about how this will happen and what, exactly, this new heaven and earth will look like. However, there are some important things to note. God himself is there, dwelling with his people in the most complete and permanent way. Sin and its effects are gone. Sighing, crying, and dying are things of the past and not found there. This new home with all the peace and plenty is a free gift, given as an inheritance by the Lord to his believing and victorious children in Christ.  

New Jerusalem 

John sees something else (v. 2). It is the Holy City, the new Jerusalem.  

What, or more to the point, who is the new Jerusalem? While it is quite natural to equate Jerusalem with a place where the saints dwell, a careful reading of this chapter (and Galatians 4:21-31) indicates that the new Jerusalem is a name for the saints themselves. It’s personal.  

This is especially evident when that Holy City is referred to as the Lamb’s beautifully dressed bride in several placesWedding and marriage imagery are used to describe the Lord’s covenant people in both the Old and New Testaments. The repeated use of the number 12 (symbolizing all believers in Christ) and its multiples is another indication that here John sees the church triumphant. Her sparkling and stunning beauty is given to her by God himself through her relationship with Jesus. The Lord is fully and constantly present with his people there. They have no need for a special place of worship (temple) or any outside sources of light (sun, moon, lamps). His special and intimate presence in the city makes the whole place one of worship and light. Those who dwell there are completely safe and secure. No enemies can ever enter.  

The vision continues into the next chapter with a scene that reminds us of the Garden of Eden. Paradise is fully and wonderfully restored. God is the fountain of life and source of light for his people. They are able to see him clearly and serve him fully. They live and reign with him forevermore. It’s the way it’s supposed to be—the way it will one day be.  


Reflect on Revelation chapter 20 

  1. How might you use this section to encourage a Christian friend who is struggling in the fight of faith?

    When we face the struggles of life and the challenges to live as faithful believers, we often grow weary and may wish to give up. In those times we are encouraged to look up and ahead. Jesus promises no more death, crying, mourning, or pain. All our troubles are gone; “the old order of things has passed away. When we look up through the eyes God grants us in this prophecy, we see splendor, beauty, light, and glory for those “whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Here we see trouble, ugliness, darkness, human sin, and corruption, but there . . .. Remain faithful to the Lord Jesus.

  2. How will focusing on your identity in Christ (his beautiful bride, the new Jerusalem, the Holy City) help in your daily Christian living?

    Believers are different. We are children of God destined for eternal life. Daily we focus on our Lord and Savior, and we live for him and for others. We follow the Lord’s will in this life because we belong to him, even though we endure hardships, weariness, and doubts.  

    After telling the Corinthians about the glorious resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for his people, Paul concludes, “Therefore my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Keep in mind what God reveals for all his faithful people in Revelation 21.  


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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

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The Lord, our shield

Glenn L. Schwanke

August 15–17, 1969. Woodstock. Over a half million people flocked to Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York. There they rocked to Joan Baez; the Grateful Dead; Janis Joplin; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; and many more. Jimmy Hendrix’ electrifying guitar work wrapped up the event.

But Woodstock is remembered more for the shocking scenes captured in a 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. The three-day event became little more than a warped respite from the violent protests that were sweeping our nation—protests demanding an end to the war in Vietnam and unfair treatment of blacks as well as demanding full equality for women.

Many of the most violent protests were on college campuses. On May 15, 1969, at the University of California, Berkley, police and 2,700 National Guard troops used tear gas and shotguns in an effort to control the rioters. Then came May 4, 1970. Kent State. Four students were killed and another nine were injured while protesting the bombing of Cambodia by US forces.

Our nation was ripping apart. Yet, in the midst of this chaos, something incredible took place at Michigan Technological University (MTU).

At the beginning of the 1969 fall semester, a Michigan Tech freshman, Martin Jones of Woodruff, Wisconsin, reached out to Dr. J. Michael Skaates, a faculty member at Tech. Jones did not want to organize a protest but rather to get a group started for Bible study and worship. Jones knew that Dr. Skaates was a member of the National Church in Calumet and that Skaates had connections with the Wisconsin Synod.

Jones and Skaates received permission to check the religious preference cards on file in the Dean of Students’ Office. They identified 12 students as Wisconsin Synod members. Then they contacted and invited those students to an initial meeting on Oct. 14, 1969. Seven students came and arranged to meet regularly for Bible study. They organized as a chapter of “Lutheran Collegians,” the national WELS Student organization. Several months later, the Michigan Tech Dean of Students granted a charter to the group recognizing them as a student organization.

In the fledgling years of this campus ministry, communion services were held once a month in a Seventh-day Adventist building in Houghton. On other Sundays, students took a taxi up to Calumet for worship. Later, communion services were conducted in the front room of the Baptist Student Center in Houghton. By 1973, weekly worship

services were held on Sunday evenings at the Christian Science Building. Then on Dec. 3, 1978, the first worship service was held at the University Chapel, the campus ministry’s new home thanks to the efforts of the WELS General Board for Home Missions.

So much has changed since then! Yet, just like 1969, 2019 is rocked by protests in our nation. Today’s protests are over migrant issues, border protection, gender identity, or anger over “white privilege.” Our college campuses remain tinderboxes where issues explode, catching students in the cross-fire.

Thank God we still have campus ministries to serve students living through these turbulent times! Here in Houghton, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary with the theme, “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage.” We’ll have special services on Sept. 1, 2019; Oct. 27, 2019; and Feb. 9, 2020. We’d love to have you join us!

Whether you join us or not, please keep praying for WELS Campus Ministry, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Perhaps your prayer can mirror mine. “Father, steel Christians on campus with a faith that joyfully shouts David’s confession. ‘This God—his way is blameless. The speech of the LORD is pure. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him’ ” (Psalm 18:30 Evangelical Heritage Version).


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


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Confessions of faith: Kang

The Holy Spirit worked saving faith in a Korean family who claimed, “We are not Christians.”  

Mark A. Eckert

Youngil (Alan) Kang and his wife Sukjeong (Ann) Kim were a typical South Korean couple. They were consumed by their professions—so much so that they had limited family time, which is quite common in Korea. Alan was a government official, working for the Ministry of Science and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). For over 15 years, he has created and implemented policies that foster the development of science and technology and also technology commercialization in Korea. Ann was a plant quarantine officer dealing with diseases caused by insects in imported plants.

Ann had grown tired of her job. She worked and lived in an apartment during the week and only got to see her husband and sons on weekends.

A journey to Michigan State University

About three years ago, they—together with their two sons Gyumin (Tony) and Gyoungmin (Fred)—began quite a journey. Ann quit her job so she could have more time with her family. Then Alan learned that he would be sent to Michigan State University (MSU) in Lansing, Michigan, for two years. In the first year he’d study in the Visiting International Professional Program. Then he’d put what he learned into practice at Spartan Innovations, which provides the educational and financial support necessary to turn MSU research technologies into successful businesses.

This journey to the United States brought many new challenges, including learning English. Fortunately, Alan has a good, dedicated, and organized wife who knew that her family members needed to make the most of their time in the United States. Her priority was to make sure that her family spoke and understood English better after their two-year stint in America. While still in Korea, she searched the Internet for ways to improve the family’s English. She learned about the Friendship House, a place in East Lansing where she and her family could take English classes.

When they arrived in Michigan, the Kang family went to the International Welcome Party at the Friendship House. HaeHee Park, a member of the WELS Campus Ministry in Lansing, met Alan and Ann and invited them to come to the campus ministry. She told them it would be great for them to learn some English and to learn about God. It also would be good for them just to hang around with some Americans, to have fun, and to learn “American.”

First steps in worship

A couple weeks later they came to our Saturday evening worship service. We have Saturday evening services because that works best for our campus ministry. Some of our volunteers attend their own congregations on Sunday, but they also love to worship and fellowship with the WELS students. After our worship service we have a great time together and eat some of the best international—and sometimes even American—food.

That Saturday in September, Ann was planning how often her sons could meet with Doug Tabor, who teaches many of our English classes. Students usually end up meeting with Doug every day except for Sunday and Monday. Doug says he doesn’t really teach them English. He just spends a lot of time talking and doing things (playing Cribbage, basketball, camping) with them so they get more comfortable with English. After two years Doug says their English is definitely better and their ping pong skills have really gotten great!

A few weeks later, the Kangs came again for worship. After that they faithfully attended our worship services, Doug’s English classes, and whatever else we offered them. If they missed, it was usually because they were traveling or experiencing other pieces of American culture.

Soon Alan asked me to record our services so he and his wife could listen to the services again during the week to understand the English better and to understand the sermon message better. So we began posting our recordings online for the Kangs and for other internationals who have returned to their home countries and want to listen to our services.

Learning more about Jesus

Just before Christmas, HaeHee Park convinced Alan and Ann that they should come to my Bible Information Class (BIC). I had talked to them about coming, but it always works better when one Korean invites another. We started a marathon class.

Prior to coming to our campus ministry, the Kangs had no real religious background. Ann had gone to a church for about three years while in elementary school. Tony and Fred had gone with friends to church for a couple years. But they didn’t really know about Jesus. I remember Ann often saying to me, “We are not Christian.”

As the weeks and months rolled by, the Kangs faithfully kept coming to our services and the BIC sessions. I noted how attentive they were in worship. I know that sometimes they were just struggling a bit to understand the English and the message, but I also know that the Holy Spirit was working. Fred and Tony were always the key targets for my youth devotions.

I’m not sure when Ann last said, “I’m not a Christian.” She said it so often. But in the last year when she spoke those words, I would say to her that if she wasn’t a Christian, I didn’t know what a Christian was. I’d ask her and Alan if Jesus was the Savior who lived and died for the sins of the world, and they would say, “Yes, he did.” I repeatedly told them that I believed they really were believers.

I often talked to them about Baptism and encouraged them to be baptized. Finally, at one of our classes, they said they wanted to be baptized. I spent some time talking about Baptism with the entire family, and then they all were baptized. What a journey we had traveled together!

Since then we’ve completed our information classes. I told them that it would be great if we confirmed them as well, but what was more important is that they knew more about Jesus their Savior. When we asked them what they would miss most about Michigan when they returned to Korea this year, they said they’d miss our campus ministry and their Christian friends because here they learned about Jesus.

After the Kangs return to Korea, we’ll stay in contact with them through KakaoTalk (a text/phone app). We’ll also e-mail them our sermons and bulletins. They said they’d continue to go online to find our service recordings. Maybe we’ll get the chance to visit them in Korea. Maybe they’ll come back to the United States for a visit. Whatever happens, we can rejoice because the Holy Spirit worked on the hearts of the Kangs and made them who said, “We are not Christians,” into believing children of God and heirs of heaven.


Mark Eckert is pastor at Calvary, Eaton Rapids, Michigan, and campus pastor in Lansing, Michigan.


WELS Campus Ministry is celebrating its 100th anniversary this school year. A ministry of WELS Home Missions, WELS Campus Ministry provides resources, support, and encouragement to approximately 30 ministries on college campuses (ones like the campus ministry in East Lansing) and many congregations near college campuses in the United States and Canada. Learn more at wels.net/campus-ministry.


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Author: Mark A. Eckert
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Lavished love for loneliness

The absence of familiar things often means feeling alone, but God’s love in Jesus remains sure and certain.  

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

Would it surprise you to learn that the fastest growing problem faced by college students (especially first-year students) is loneliness? Medical services report that more and more students present symptoms of depression and anxiety because they feel alone. Survey statistics from universities convey that as many as 70 percent of college students say they have gone through bouts of loneliness.  

Loneliness in college is certainly not new. But the rate of increase among students has led some to label the issue the “Loneliness Epidemic.” Why? Certainly many factors contribute to its rise. Modern technology has allowed people to be in touch with each other like no other time in history. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can connechundreds or even thousands! Snapchat streaks promote a daily communication with others. But how many of those relationships go deeper than a surface friendship?  

College students have left behind many of the friends made in high school. A new beginning means new relationships need to be cultivated. The pressure of academic success might isolate the student as studying becomes the top priority. 

Whatever triggers loneliness, God’s people know that the “father of lies” would like nothing more than to convince us that we are all alone. He wants us to think no one loves us or cares about us. He wants us to focus so much on our troubles that we forget about the One to whom we belong. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). We are never alone; our Lord promises he is always with us. 

So when lonely times hit, you have the greatest relief: Jesus, who already defeated Satan. King David experienced bouts of loneliness. He expressed his anguish in Psalm 25:16: “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” Though he felt alone, David knew where to turn. He knew his hope was in the Lord. Connect with your Lord through his Word when lonely times visit you. He has lavished his love on you and calls you his child. 

Consider these ideas when you’re lonely:  

  • Don’t panic! What you are experiencing is common.Remember that it takes time for something new to feel comfortable.  
  • Try getting out of your dorm or apartment to meet people.Connect with others through activities and clubs.  
  • Find opportunities to connect with those students who share the same beliefs as you.Search out the campus ministry at your college or university. 

Campus ministry can provide the blessing of connecting you with Christians who are experiencing the same things. Together you will find strength for your faith in the Word of God. You will be encouraged to cast your worries on the One who cares for you. Campus ministry may provide the outlet you need to alleviate loneliness. In his grace, God has provided one hundred years of campus ministry through our church body. (Watch for more information about this anniversary in upcoming issues of Forward in Christ!) Countless students have connected with one another around the promises of God. Campus ministry can provide that for you. 

Most of all, remember God says that you are his child. When pangs of loneliness hit, cherish your status. Reflect on the love he has lavished on you. Trust that he will never leave you or forsake you. Because God is faithful, you will never be alone. 


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


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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Digging for insights

Archaeology can teach us some things, but it needs to be kept in perspective. 

Thomas D. Kock 

“Did you find anything?!?” That’s almost always the first question you’ll hear when you come back from an archaeological dig.  

What we found 

I helped lead a group of 20 peoplepastors, teachers, students, and laymenon an archaeological dig to Israel this past summer. We dug at Khirbet ‘Auja el-Foqa, a few miles north of Jericho.  

And, yes, we did find some interesting thingsFirst, we found two rather substantial pottery destruction layers. Generally a destruction layer occurs when a wall collapses. The pottery is crushed, and sometimes, there it stays. One on-site archaeologist commented that some archaeologists will spend their entire career without finding a pottery destruction as substantial as what we found. It’s valuable because it may allow others to put the pottery back together, which can help to date the site more accurately. We also found an ancient oven called a “taboon” and a round projectile that is perhaps the sort of stone David would have used in fighting Goliath.  

What insights we gained 

Maybe you have another question. Is it appropriate for us to look to archaeology for insights into the ancient world? Of course! Seeing that projectilea round stone almost the size of a baseballhelps us to understand the biblical text more clearly. Seeing the pottery, city walls, and ovens helps us to understand daily life in the ancient world a bit better. Finding ancient monuments or coins with the names of biblical characters can perhaps be used to suggest to the skeptic, “You see, it’s reasonable to say that the Bible is reporting about real people, real events.”   

But there are limitations. The reality is that often we’re guessing. Oh, the guesses are usually quite educated, but they’re guesses nonetheless. Maybe someone might say, “That pottery is really simple; therefore it’s really old.” But maybe it was beginning pottery-maker’s first try at making pottery, and so it’s simple, but not so old.  

That point was brought out quite clearly with one of our finds. We found something made out of stone. At first we thought it was the handle to a stone vessel, but the size seemed to make that unlikely. The missing vessel, if proportionate, would have been so big and heavy it would be unusable. The next thought was that it was some sort of weight, perhaps used to measure grain or some other commodity. Another suggestion was that it might have been used as a weight to hold a lid on a jar or something like that. The on-site archaeologists said they’d never seen anything quite like it. That’s neat!  

But digging through the rubble was also a powerful reminder of the limitations of archaeology. Yes, it can teach us some things, but it needs to be kept in perspective. It can neverand dare nevertake the place of “thus saith the Lord.” There are way too many “perhapses.”  

So we’ll ask God for wisdom to explore archaeology to its fullest that we might gain more insights into details that had previously escaped us. But we also ask God for wisdom to help us keep it in proper perspective. Archaeology is a handmaid to the sacred text, where the best, most important insights are always to be found.  


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


Note: This archaeological dig is run by Dr. Ralph Hawkins of Averett University, along with Dr. David Ben-Shlomo of Ariel University. It’s part of the Jordan Valley Excavation Project. jvep.org. The next dig trip is tentatively planned for summer 2021. 


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Author: Thomas D. Kock  
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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No contradiction at all

Mark G. Schroeder

Apparent contradictionswith the emphasis on the word apparent. Apparent contradictions happen when two true statements appear to contradict each other, but in the end, there is no contradiction at all. Here are some examples: God is three persons, yet one God. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. God is perfectly righteous and must punish sin; God is completely gracious, a God who forgives the sinner fully and completely. All these statement that appear to be contradictions are not contradictions at all. They only seem to be contradictions because of the limits of our human ability to comprehend the nature of an incomprehensible God.  

There are other apparent contradictions. In May, I had the opportunity to speak with the graduating class at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary just before they were assigned to their first calls. I drew their attention to an apparent contradiction that each of them was experiencing: “In a matter of hours, you will learn where you will serve. Right now, you have absolutely no clue what God has in store for youAt the same time, you know exactly what God has in store for you. You don’t know where you will be serving, but you know that God will use you as his witnesses. He will give you the privilege to preach the gospel and to teach God’s people. And as you serve him, you know that God will bless your efforts. In one sense those graduates had no clue what God had in store for them. At the same time, they could know exactly what God would do for them and with them. 

We are living in a time when we need to remember that the same two truths often apply to the work that our synod does. We have no clue what God has in store for our synod. At the same time, we know exactly what he has in store for us. 

For example, God has opened a door to WELS in, of all places, Vietnam. We have been permitted by the Vietnamese government to provide theological education to the leaders of a 100,000-member church body that wants to become fully Lutheran. In one sense, we have absolutely no clue what exactly will happen with our efforts. At the same time, however, we know exactly what God has in store for us. As always, we know that his Word will not return to him empty. God will accomplish his purpose.  

What about the future of our synod? We have no idea what God has in store for us. Will the attacks on God’s truth increase in intensity? Will our synod experience numerical growth or a loss of membership? Will a shortage of called workers become more acute, or will the number of those willing to serve in public ministry increase? Will decreasing financial support require us to scale back our mission and ministry, or will God provide the resources for us to expand?  

In one very real way, the answer to those questions is, “We have no clue what God has in store for us.” But in another way, we can say, “We know exactly what God has in store for us. We know that God will never leave us or forsake us. We know that, as we spread the seed of the gospel, God will bless that planting in the way and in the time that he sees fit. 

In other words, an apparent contradiction is no contradiction at all. We face the future not knowing exactly what it holds but with trust and confidence in God’s unbreakable promises. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Faith in Jesus

John A. Braun

I believe. I say those words regularly with others as we confess what we believe. I believe in a specific God who has stepped into history for all humanity. 

When hearing that I believe, some suggest that I am hostile to investigation, critical thinking, and rational thought. I can understand why some would make that assertion about people of faith. All too often “faith” is so vague that it loses its object and becomes just faith in faith—a kind of dream without substance. 

For that kind of faith, there is no proof; its just a feeling no one can verify. To make matters worse, thousands of faiths like that exist and new ones arise every day. But I believe in some important historical facts about Jesus and what he came to do. These facts can be verified just like other facts of history. 

The first question is whether or not there was a Jesus in history. In a court of law, witnesses testify to what they have seen. In the case for Jesus, the eyewitnesses say there was someone called Jesus. John’s gospel begins with the note, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). Luke begins, “I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (l:3) which included talking with “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (v. 2). Matthew and Mark confirm the testimony. Mark was Peter’s secretary, and Peter himself wrote in his second letter, We did not follow cleverly devised stories . . . but we were eyewitnesses” (1:16). The testimony is remarkably accurate. 

An opposing attorney would attempt to challenge their testimony with a host of arguments. He might suggest that the documents containing their eyewitness accounts were written long after the events took place. We’ve all heard that, but it did not happen. The words of the eyewitnesses have been verified as genuine historical documents written shortly after the events they relate. The challenges to their truthfulness have all proven to be without merit. 

The attorney might suggest that the original handwritten documents of these witnesses do not exist, and therefore, they might have been doctored by others afterward. But over five thousand copies of their handwritten documents do exist, some of them coming almost a century after the events. That’s not a problem for ancient texts. Scholars of Latin and Greek writers like Caesar, Herodotus, and Aristotle do not have the originals of these writers either. The copies they study are relatively few and occur in some cases one thousand years after those writers died. 

Then we also investigate what these eyewitnesses claim about Jesus. Why is he so important even today? Is he a teacher? A philosopher? A charismatic leader? Something else? Jesus claims to have come from his heavenly Father to tell us what comes directly from heaven: “I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence” (John 8:38). Amazing! Even astounding! Jesus makes that claim often. C.S. Lewis said what has so often been repeated: Either Jesus is a lunatic with a god complex or he is who he claims to be: God himself entering human history. 

And why did he step into history? After Jesus came into the house of Zacchaeus, he said, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). 

My few words here are not enough to explore all the arguments for the Christian faith and the counterarguments against it. But I can confess that I believe. I believe, that is, I trust what the eyewitnesses tell me about Jesus.    


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 9

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 17 to 19

Timothy J. Westendorf 

The vision of the seven bowls (worsening spiritual plagues from the proliferation of false teaching) leads to another vision. The connection between the two, reminding us that we’re still dealing with similar subject matter, is that one of the bowl-carrying angels speaks to John and takes him to see “the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters.” That is the focus of the next three chapters.  

Babylon, the prostitute 

In chapter 17 John is carried in spirit by the angel to “a wilderness” where he sees “a woman.” We’ve encountered this imagery before (cf. chapter 12). There we see the woman (the church), pursued by the dragon (Satan), fleeing into the wilderness (this world). She is attacked and harassed there by the dragon and his two allies, the beast from the sea (ungodly government) and the beast from the earth (ungodly religion).  

The surprising thing is that the woman is described very differently here. She is no longer running for her life. She is now sitting on the beast from the sea and even taking on its characteristics! The name written on the woman’s forehead is significant. It is called a mystery, something that would remain hidden to human understanding if not revealed by God himself. The woman is described as a prostitute named “Babylon” (a representative title for the enemies of God’s people) 

To understand what John is seeing, contemplate his reaction. He is greatly astonished. Something is terribly wrong with the picture. The bride has forsaken her relationship with the Bridegroom and has committed adultery with the powers of the world! This picture is all too familiar to those who know the history of Old Testament Israel. When that special nation turned from faithfulness to the Lord and his Word, running instead after other gods, he called her an unfaithful and adulterous wife (e.g. Jeremiah 3:20). An unsettling reality is shown to John: The same thing would happen in the New Testament eraThe unfaithful (“apostate”) church would turn from trust in the Savior’s Word of grace and forgiveness, adopting the world’s religion of self-righteousness. By her words and actions she would promote spiritual drunkenness, causing people to become confused and befuddled about God’s truth and a Savior from sin. She would become wealthy and prestigious. She would even wage war against the faithful bride of Christ who refused to join her ranks!  

While there are details that deserve further study and explanation, suffice it to say for this brief overview that church and world history, with far too many examples to mention here, have borne out the truth and accuracy of this revelation. And until this present age comes to an end we can expect to see more of the same.  

Babylon, the fall  

This vision is as troubling to Christ’s true and faithful church today as it was for John so many years ago, but chapters 18 and 19 bring comfort to conflicted souls. Jesus is still faithful and true. Jesus still sees what is happening in this world. Jesus is still the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus still lives and rules all things for his believers, the church.  

The unfaithful church will have her day, but it will come to a fateful end. Until that time, when all believers will rest and rejoice at the wedding supper of the Lamb, Jesus calls us to listen to his Shepherd voice and place our confidence in his promises. 

He is trustworthy. 


Reflect on Revelation chapters 17 to 19 

  1. Give three reasons why the woman would become a prostitute on the beast.
  • The once faithful bride of Christ (the church) has abandoned the teachings of the Scriptures because the teachings of men are more attractive. The beast is a liar and has been a liar from the beginning. Just as Adam and Even listened to him, so some have listened to his lies and abandoned God’s truth.
  • Jesus said that those who listen to his voice would experience difficulties and opposition in this life. Some have abandoned the foolishness of God that brings so much opposition so they will not have to suffer persecution, ridicule, and opposition. 
  • Satan tempted Jesus and said that if he would bow down and worship Satan, Satan would give him all the world’s glories. The temptation remains for believers: trade Jesus for wealth, power, and prestige. Note the description of Babylon’s fall. She is dressed in purple and scarlet with gold, precious stones, and pearls.  The merchants will weep at her fall; their source of wealth is gone.  
  1. Think of ways you might incorporate the thoughts of this section into your personal prayers this week.
    We pray that the Lord would keep us faithful to his Word. 

    • We also pray for strength to resist the temptations that surround us to place life’s blessings—including its financial blessings—before the One who has shed his blood to redeem us. 
    • We pray that we do not become so short-sighted about things in this world that we lose sight of our eternal home and our Savior who secured it for us. 
    • We pray not just for ourselves, our friends, and our congregations to remain faithful, but we expand our prayer to include Christians all over the world.   

     


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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Light for our path: Is is a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?

I am dealing with a terminal illness and am tired of the suffering and pain this icausing me and my family. I am scared to die, but is it a sin to want to die so I can go home and be with Jesus? 

James F. Pope

It is definitely not a sin to desire to leave this world at God’s time and be with Jesus. That, finally, is the goal of our faith. It would be good to review what Scripture says about Christians and death. 

Longing for heaven 

The apostle Paul longed to be with God in heaven. When Paul was first imprisoned in Rome, he wrote to the Christians in the city of Philippi. He confessed that he was conflicted over the thought of continuing his life on earth or joining his Lord in heaven. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21-24). Paul also spoke of “longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:2). The apostle Paul found joys in his earthly life as a child of God, but he knew there was something much, much better awaiting him, and he looked forward to that. 

Job, in the Old Testament, did as well. When he thought of his new life with God, he exclaimed, “How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:27). If you agree with Job, it is because you also agree with the writer to the Hebrews, who compared this life to the next in concrete terms: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).  

While you and I look forward to the perfect life that is to come, we recognize that our life is in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15), so we do nothing that would hasten our death.  

Looking at death 

Death is inevitable for us all unless the Lord returns visibly to this world on the Last Day before we die. Ththought of death can be unsettling even for Christians. Death is an unnatural intruder into God’s perfect world; death was never a part of God’s design for life. Death is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). The unnatural origin of death, along with not knowing what it is like to take a final breath, can generate fear. 

What we want to remember is that Jesus has taken away every reason for fearing death. Jesus, after all, lived and died as our perfect substitute and then rose triumphantly from the dead. Those people in the Bible who were raised to life eventually experienced death as the end of their earthly life. Jesus rose from the dead as “the firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23). He was the first person to die and rise from the dead—never to die again. And as the firstfruits, that means there will be others like him. Christians who die will be raised to life on the Last Day and will never experience death again.  

So take heart in the works and words of Jesus. They give us sure confidence for the future. 


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 11

Knowing when to say when 

Jonathan P. Bilitz   

One day about two years ago, the desk phone in my office rang. When I answered, I wasn’t prepared for the conversation that would span the next hour. The caller identified himself as Jacob. He wanted to talk about Hebrew words in the Old Testament and how I (and the Lutheran church) defined and explained those words. 

Don’t be afraid to engage in conversation 

I felt woefully inadequate to answer his questions. But I was intrigued, so I listened and scrambled to find every Hebrew resource I had on my bookshelf! Though I wasn’t sure I could give every answer he might be looking for, I am thankful for my college and seminary training. The Hebrew I learned in preparation to be a pastor allowed me to at least engage in this conversation. 

I remember saying a quick prayer as Jacob launched into his first question. My prayer was simple“Lord, whatever happens in this conversation, give me the words to say so that Jesus and his love for all people shine through.” No matter how able or unable I was to answer the questions, I knew God was at work through his Word. 

Jacob’s first question involved the Hebrew word for virgin in Isaiah 7:14, The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Jacob asked me, “How do you translate the Hebrew word for virgin? I explained that I thought virgin was a proper translation. He asked, “But doesn’t the word almah (Hebrew) simply mean young woman? How can we know for sure it is referring to a virgin?” 

His question was a good one. The word doesn’t necessarily mean virgin. But the New Testament gives us all the evidence we need to translate the word as virgin. Matthew clearly tells us the birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 7. He wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”)” (Matthew 1:22,23). As the gospel writer speaks about Mary and Joseph, he uses these phrases: “Before they came together” (v. 18) and “he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son (v. 25). Those words clearly indicate that Mary was a virgin.  

Jacob respectfully listened to my answer and did not object to my reasoning. What he said next, however, made me realize this conversation was a challenge. Jacob remarked, “I guess that is a good explanation if you believe the New Testament.” If you believe? I was speaking with someone who perhaps did not consider the Bible in the same way I did. Suddenly I knew that Jacob and I lived in different spiritual worlds.  

As we spoke about some other Hebrew words and I frantically paged through resources to maintain the conversation, he expressed an appreciation that we were able to engage in this way. He mentioned that he had called other places and had not been successful in getting anyone to talk to him.  

Jacob then confessed, “I am the rabbi in the synagogue in town. I enjoy hearing what Christians have to say about the Old Testament and have a personal mission to correct some misconceptions.” His admission didn’t completely surprise me. His Hebrew knowledge certainly surpassed my own. Several times I said to him, “I will have to do a deeper study on that word.” He never seemed put off by my disclosure. His comment from earlier about the New Testament now made perfect sense. 

Look for opportunities to share Jesus’ love 

What could I say? How could I witness to him? I kept asking myself the question, “Where can I direct him so that he can see Jesus as the Savior?” The words of Isaiah 53:5,6 came to mind: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I asked him for his interpretation of the passage. In my mind, this passage clearly referred to a Messiah who would suffer as a substitute for sinners. 

For the first time in the conversation, Jacob surprised me. He said, “Those verses don’t refer to a single Messiah, but the nation of Israel collectively. The nation of Israel has and continues to suffer for the Lord.” He continued by offering proof. He said that the people alive when Jesus came weren’t looking for someone to suffer for them and even Jesus’ own disciples objected when Jesus repeatedly predicted his death. He went on to claim that the Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not read this prophecy as a Messiah suffering in their place. 

I tried to explain that one of those disciples, Peter, later demonstrated a different understanding, an understanding that was more complete:  ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24,25). Clearly, Peter was referencing Isaiah 53 and connecting it to Jesus. 

Jacob didn’t back down. He was cordial, but he could sense that he wasn’t changing my mind. I was reading him the same way. At this point, I said, “Jacob, I appreciate this conversation. I have learned from you. But I am afraid that we approach the Bible in two different ways. My understanding of the Old Testament is completely influenced by the events of the New Testament. I view the Bible as a seamless account of God’s love for us through Jesus. If we cannot agree about that, we will struggle to agree about much else.” He agreed, thanked me for my time, and hung up. 

I pray that the testimony about Jesus will change Jacob’s heart. Isaiah planted the seed. God can make it grow. In that conversation, no common ground could be reached. I had to know when to say when.  

Cling to Jesus throughout 

As you testify about Jesus, recognize not everyone has the same capacity for a conversation about every aspect of the Bible. If you don’t know something, you don’t know something. Knowledge doesn’t make you a child of God; Jesus does. If you don’t have an answer to every objection that can be raised, that’s normal. Cling to Jesus and the salvation that belongs to you through him.  

Even when you don’t have the answer, speaking about Jesus and his love for all people is always good. That includes someone who might disagree with you or for whom you don’t have an answer. Most ambassadors for Jesus come to the end of their knowledge and ability. What a blessing to say, “I don’t know about that, but I do know Jesus loves you, me, and everyone!” 


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


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


Sidebar:  

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


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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 10

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 20

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Chapter 20 introduces the seventh and final vision. Many Christians have been taught to expect a coming millennial (thousandyear) reign of Jesus on earth based, in large part, on the words of this chapter 

On the one hand, we will be sympathetic to and patient with those who are troubled and confused by this section of God’s Word as they seek his truth. On the other hand, we’ll want to read these words carefully and compare them to the rest of the Bible.  From that study, we conclude that the so-called millennium is not taught anywhere in Scripture.  

Thousand-year reign 

Chapter 20 begins with the dramatization of a historical truth and the ongoing reality that results from it: Jesus, the angel from heaven, has defeated Satan, the dragon, by his life, death, and resurrection. That good news of Jesus’ victory, the gospel, keeps the devil chained up from fully and freely deceiving people and nations with his wicked lies. The dragon will be bound for “a thousand years,” a complete number (10 cubed) representing a definite and determined time from Jesus’ ascension until shortly before his return in glory. 

During that same time, we’re told that a group of people, those who have taken part in the first resurrection, reign with Jesus. Who are those people? When we remember the Bible teaching that all human beings are born dead in sin, we understand the first resurrection to be the new birth given by the Holy Spirit through faith. These are all believers in JesusWhile they take part in the first death, a physical one, they all have eternal life in Christ and need not fear the second death (eternal separation from God). Along with all people, they will participate in the second resurrection, a bodily one at Christ’s return. In the meanwhile, saints in heaven and on earth live and reign with their living and ruling Savior.  

Satan’s short season and final demise 

At the end of this periodSatan will be loosed from his chain and allowed to deceive widely and freely. This vision tells us that it will be a “short time (v. 3)We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:21-25, where he speaks of a time of severe testing but promises that he will mercifully cut that time short for the sake of his peoplePrevious visions in Revelation also point to this time when gospel witness will be nearly or completely silenced. But that short season will come to an end. That end means final judgment for the old evil foe.  

That end also means Jesus’ return to judge the living and the dead. Those who stand before the judge without the righteousness of Christ by faith are justly sentenced based on their own faulty record. Those who are found in Christ, who are written in the book of life, are judged on his perfect performance and guilt-removing sacrifice. They have life and peace with God through Christ and need not fear his judgment now or ever.  

Jesus himself, the victor over sin and Satan, is our life and hope, our comfort in every conflict. 


Reflect on Revelation chapter 20 

  1. Read Ephesians 1:1-10. What reasons to praise the Lord are similar to those in Revelation 20?Revelation 20 shows us the results of Christ’s work of redemption, picturing the saints in heaven who were faithful to the Lord even during persecution. We see the end of Satan’s reign on earth and his eternal destruction, which involves torment day and night for ever and ever. John also writes what God revealed to him about the resurrection—the first resurrection, that is, the coming to faith, and the second resurrection of the dead as humanity of all kinds stand before the judge. Those whose names are written in the book of life receive life, but those whose names are not written in the book of life—those who did not do what God demanded, that is, believe in the one he had sent, Jesus Christ—are thrown into the lake of fire. 

    Paul’s words in Ephesians praise God for the blessings we have in Christ. He has chosen us to be his eternally. We are holy and blameless in his sight because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We have redemption through Christ’s blood, forgiveness, and eternal life. All these blessings depend on the pleasure and will of God—his grace.  

    Both sections focus on the same things but from different perspectives. Paul sees these blessings through the eyes of faith. John sees them all accomplished at the end of time. 

  2. How do the words of Jesus in John 5:24-30 teach the same lessons as Revelation 20?Jesus is the judge who will raise the dead and welcome all those who believe into eternal life. The words of Jesus point us to the events John sees in Revelation 20.  

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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Are we modeling kindness for our children?

Are we modeling kindness for our children?

“Forming character in children combines parental instruction and modeling,” notes Kenneth Kremer in his book Embracing Godly CharacterWhen parents lead a moral life, God gives them many opportunities to be godly examples for their children. But the models we provide will never be perfect, because all parents are sinners. Our children need to be able to see us finding peace from our guilt and receiving God’s assurance that we are forgiven.” 

This month’s article gives us a real-life example of Kremer’s words. Read on and see if you relate to Nicole Smith’s story as much as I do. Have your own parenting story to share? Send it to me at fic@wels.net 

Nicole Balza


“Use kind wordsgentle hands, and find someone who needs a friend today,” I said to my son as I dropped him off at the gym day care. 

“I will, Mommy, I will be kind today. I will share,” he replied as he bounced away gleefully. 

Kindness with our children 

It is so important to me that my kids are kind; in fact, sometimes I think I place a little too much emphasis on it. In a world that so desperately needs more kindness, I want to make sure I’m raising boys who love God and love others unconditionally. 

For as much as I give verbal reminders, true kindness is shown by modeling the behavior—seeing kindness in action. So when my son reminded me, “You need to be kind, Mommy!” when I was asking him to do something, it made me stop in my tracks. 

How often am I really modeling kindness for my sons? 

“Don’t do that.” 

“Hurry up!” 

“Get your shoes on, NOW!” 

Commands that are often heard throughout our day blare like sirens in my brain when I lay down at nightAm I nurturing my boys and showing them kindness? 

Kindness with our spouses 

Recently my husband and I—just the two of us—went out on our first date in more than eight months. We have an eight-monthold baby at home, so I’ll let you do the math. To be honest, it felt like a chore to get that date planned. It seems the longer you don’t give a relationship proper nurturing, the harder it is to get back to that baseline foundation. Once we were out, we had a blast, but it’s the getting out that is hard right now. 

At one point during our date, I found myself apologizing for not expressing gratitude enough. The truth is he works really, really hard so that I can stay home with our boys. We both work hard to make our home what it is, but stress can take its toll on each of us. 

Jesus quoted words from Genesis, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Matthew 19:5). 

When is the last time we felt we were a united front or on the same exact page? When is the last time we were truly one? I wondered. 

Like most couples with young kids, we are sleepdeprived and over scheduled. Many evenings and weekends are jampacked with obligations, home improvement projects, grocery shopping, cleaning, bathing our children, and keeping them alive. I admitted honestly to him, “You know, I wonder what our marriage would be like if I spent as much time working on being a better wife as I do trying to be a better parent.” 

Just like my kids feel they can be sassy and defiant to me, I often feel I can be sarcastic and harsh with my husband. That’s never easy to admit, but the more and more I think about the example I want to set for my children, I recognize that I need to start with me. 

Power in our weakness 

This admission may seem like I’m airing out a vulnerable weakness, and if that’s how you see it, you’d be correct. The truth is there are many days I wonder if God picked the right woman for the job. Raising kids in a sinful world is no joke! 

In her book You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons says, “God demonstrates his power through our frailty. In fact, this is the only thing we can boast in: His power is made perfect and on full display in our never-enough-ness. When we are weak, we are actually made strong in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10). 

God nurtures us in the most perfect way. First, when I’m falling short, full admission of my weakness and asking God for forgiveness helps me seek forgiveness from my husband, my kids, or anyone else I’ve wronged. His forgiveness sets me back on the path he created for me. 

So, while modeling kind words, gentlenessand love is extremely important in raising empathetic and God-fearing boys, so is admission of sin and forgiveness. Recognizing that I’m not a perfect wife and mother doesn’t make me want to give up, but rather helps me recognize that I need God more than ever and makes me want to try better next time. A heart full of thankfulness for Jesus’ love on the cross motivates me to display that love in all my relationships.  

It’s not always easy to admit weakness (sometimes the list feels so long that I don’t know where to even begin), but I’ve regularly been asking God to show me areas of my life that I need to work on, areas that could use a little nurturing. My son pointing out that I wasn’t using kind words could have made me angry, but it didn’t. I believe God was using that sweet boy to kindly point out that Mommy needs to remember that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45). 

Lyons also writes and reminds us to take action, “God delights in us. He doesn’t want us to live in bondage. . . . He comes and says, ‘Let’s nail this thing. Let’s not dance around it, perform around it, or seek validation to make it feel better. Let’s just go after it.’ ” 

Strength from God 

So now, instead of just repeating my mantra when I drop my son off to play with other children, we speak it every morning, together, as a reminder for us both: “Today we will try our hardest to use kind words, gentle hands, and to be a good friend. With God’s help, we can do it!” 

God’s calling to nurture and love my husband and these boys doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, but he has fully equipped me with Christ’s example and his promise that we are in this together.  


Nicole Smith and her husband are raising two young boys in Sussex, Wisconsin. This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.coma blog for “imperfect women spurred on by God’s perfect grace.”


Character formation can be messy 

“Though the plan for character formation, along with the tools to make it happen, come from God, the process doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes it isn’t even linear. Character usually forms in a herky-jerky rhythm, with awkward starts and unexpected fits of regression. It can be clumsy, uncomfortable, challenging, frustrating, disappointing, depressing, costly, and messy. This is because human relationships can be messy. Nonetheless, character never forms in a vacuum. Our relationships, rooted in our relationship with our loving Lord Jesus, are the critical mass that God uses to get the job of character formation done. Our homes are His preferred culture for getting a good head start.” Excerpt from the book Embracing Godly Character: The Christian Community’s Response to a Godless Culture by Kenneth Kremer, pp. 42,43. Available through Northwestern Publishing House at nph.net or by calling 800-662-6022. $14.99. 



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Author: Nicole Smith
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Be imitators of Jesus in doing good

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9,10) 

Peter M. Prange 

Do you think Jesus has ever been tempted to quit his job as our Savior? Do you imagine he ever becomes fed up with our weaknessesWould it be possible for him to ever become weary in doing good? 

Jesus didn’t give up 

Sometimes in the gospel accounts you can detect a tinge of frustration in Jesus’ words, even whenno, especially when!—he’s speaking with his closest disciples. For instance, when those disciples once attempted unsuccessfully to cast out a demon, our Savior exclaimed, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41). On the night Judas betrayed himPeter denied him, and the rest abandoned himJesus questioned his snoring supporters indignantly, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).  

Already through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, our Lord Jesus had vocalized how wearisome the object of his saving work would become. There he lamented, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (Isaiah 49:4). Do you think Jesus has ever been tempted to quit his job as our Savior? Certainly so! 

Despite that frustration, however, Jesus has never given up. He’s never submitted his letter of resignation. He’s never stopped loving us, forgiving us, saving us, and carrying our burdens. Though tempted to do so, Jesus has never become weary in doing good. 

What’s stopped him? First and foremost, his love for all people is so unfailing and so flawless. But he also knows that there is great, eternal reward in doing good to others, even if that reward isn’t immediately obvious. Jesus understood that, as his words through the prophet indicate: “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s handand my reward is with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). 

We should not become weary 

Like Jesus, we’re often tempted to become weary in doing good. Unlike Jesus, we succumb to that temptation all too often and all too easily. 

But consider what would happen if Jesus ever quit his job as our Savior and threw in the towel. We’d be finished immediatelyLife would consist of nothing but death. Without Jesus working for our good, every blessing would instantly vanish. Thankfully, Jesus hasn’t and won’t become weary in doing good to us, and that’s a promise (Hebrews 13:5). 

As his dear children, then, neither should we become weary in doing “good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. True, our service to others might not have the same impact as Jesus’ work, but our Savior has called us to serve as his hands and feet, his mouth and eyes in the world. We are Jesus’ coworkers. Through us, he comforts others (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). Through us, he cares for others (2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Through us, he saves others through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22). Through us, he does good to others. What a thought! What a privilege! What a joy! 

So be imitators of Jesus: Don’t become weary in doing good, “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” The fruits are eternal, both for us and for those we are called to serve. 


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


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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God’s gifts, our giving: Part 1

First things first 

Aaron L. Christie 

Americans have an issue with discerning theory from reality. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but they are friends in theory. In reality, we don’t know many of them. We have gym memberships to help us get in shape. Unfortunately, we don’t get in shape in theory but by making real choices on diet and dedicating ourselves to exercise. 

If we struggle with theory and reality as Americans, we struggle far more as sinners. Do we love the Lord in theory? Or in reality?  

The First Commandment comes first for a reason. The Lord unapologetically asks to be first on our life’s list. We are to fear, love, and trust in him above ALL things. We all know that. We are quick to say that the Lord is the Lord of our lives. God comes first! 

Showing the reality of our priorities 

But does he?  

Is God really truly the Creator of everything that exists? Has God personally blessed us with eyes, ears, mind, members, strength, and abilities? Does everything we possess really come from him? We talk about questions like these as if they were theoretical. In reality, all of these questions are either yes or no.  

In order to help make loving and trusting God into something real, tangible, and personal, the Lord commanded his Old Testament believers to offer him their firstfruits: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9). Whether the offering was one of grapes or grain, the first and the best of the harvest went to the Lord.  

In other words, it is an easy thing to say that the Lord is “Lord of the harvest.” It is an entirely different thing to recognize him as such with the tangible very first portion of the harvest. It is one thing to say that the Lord will “take care of us.” It is an entirely different thing to offer him the first portion of the harvest—even before you have fed your family or stored away seed for the next planting. The Lord’s commands regarding giving firstfruits helped the Israelites put the Lord first—not just on paper, but in practice. It helped them live by faith in God’s providence. God did not intend for them to give just with words but also with faith-stretching deeds. 

Humanly speaking, firstfruits offerings don’t make a bit of sense. Investment professionals tell us that if we “pay ourselves first” and invest it carefully over time, our money will grow. Human logic tells us that if we make the Lord’s work our firstfruits priority, then that means we have less for every other area of life, including important things like mortgages and medications. It’s true: Humanly speaking, giving firstfruits doesn’t make a bit of sense. 

It’s also true that giving firstfruits goes against every inclination of our sinful nature. The default setting of our sinful nature is to keep stuff, stockpile stuff, even hoard stuff in a never-ending quest to look out for number one. We call it the good life. God calls it greed. We call it being sensible. God calls it sin.  

God takes many positions in our lives, but second place dare never be one of them. There is no theory here: Our offerings either recognize God’s position of first place in our lives or they don’t.  

Reflecting God’s attitude 

There are consequences to putting God first in theory, but not in practice. Take a moment to read the major stewardship message contained in the book of the minor prophet Haggai. Look how the Lordnot in theory, but in realityturns people’s eloquent excuses for withholding their offerings upside down: You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. . . . You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little (1:6,9). In other words, the people had less, because they gave little. God himself was seeing to that with one drought, one holepurse at a time! Think about it. The God who once fed five thousand hungry stomachs using only a boy’s picnic lunch is the very same God who can ensure that a stockpile of stuff won’t be able to make ends meet. 

But even more wonderful, giving firstfruits recognizes and reflects the giving nature of our God. He himself practiced giving firstfruits. He didn’t place our salvation toward the bottom of the list of things that needed to be done. He didn’t give us a bite of daily bread to keep us from starving until he sent us to the hell that our misplaced priorities deserved. What did he do? The giving heart of the Father gave us his first and best: His firstborn, his only begotten Son. First things first! And with his Son, he graciously gives us all things! “God so loved the world that he gave . . . (John 3:16). 

The point? Offering our firstfruits in Christian freedom is more about an attitude of gratitude than agriculture. It is more about God being our priority than it is about our personal property. It is about being who we really are in Christ: The firstfruits of all creation (James 1:18); blessed with the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23); and rejoicing in Christ, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).  

In offering our firstfruits, we are simply reflecting the giving nature of God who gave us his first, his best, his only begotten Son! 

 


Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


This is the first article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10. 


A different way to give 

When you read the Bible, it tells all over the place about giving your firstfruits,” says Becky Wagner, a member at The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “I’m just so thankful for everything I have and have been given to take care of in this life, and I want to use my time, talents, AND treasures to give back.” 

Wagner uses Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to give her offerings to The Vine. This commonly used payment method allows Wagner to set funds to be transferred directly from her bank account to her church on a recurring basis.  

“It’s nice to have that knowledge that it is taken care of because it is automatic. It’s done; it’s set,” says Wagner. “It’s not anything to question—Did I do it? Did I forget? You don’t have to worry about it because you know you’re doing what you want to do.” 

Kevin Schultz, pastor of The Vine, says about ?? percent of his members use EFT for their regular giving. He says it’s a convenient way for his members—and himself—to give that also offers accountability. “I tell my members don’t think of it as paying a bill once a month or once a week. Look at it as an opportunity to give without the devil getting his hand in there,” he says. “We’re making a commitment to God, and we want to fulfill that commitment without having those temptations to go back on our promise.” 

The Vine also offers the traditional envelope system as well as one-time online giving through a giving app for those who don’t carry cash or a checkbook. “It’s not that one way is better than another,” he says. “It’s just offering multiple ways to give in a culture that requires multiple ways.” 

To consider: Have you thought about giving your firstfruits offering via EFT? If so, why so? If not, why not?


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Author: Aaron L. Christie 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Ambassadors: How I shared Jesus stories

How I shared Jesus 

We asked, and you shared! Here are more stories from you, our readers, on how you let your faith shine in your daily lives.


Witnessing through the written word 

I had the blessings of sharing Jesus with many children for 22 years. I retired from teaching in 2003.  

That year a unique opportunity to share Jesus with adults began. Our daily newspaper has a Public Forum column for readers to share their thoughts. One day a writer accused Martin Luther of removing the Apocrypha books from the Bible, thereby removing evidence of the existence of purgatory. 

 I felt compelled to reply about the completeness of Jesus salvation with Bible passagesThat started a correspondence in the paper on a variety of religious topics that was to last until 2007. 

 In my research on the Apocrypha I learned that St. Jerome was the first to state that seven books in the Old Testament were useful for history but not of the same quality as the other Old Testament books for doctrine. He suggested that these books be grouped together and placed at the end of the Old Testament.  I wrote that Martin Luther was the first to follow St. Jeromes suggestion. Luther did include the apocryphal books in his German translation of the Bible, but it was the Puritans who requested that the apocryphal books be removed. 

 The necessity of purgatory continued to be discussed at least once a month. One day the writer shared this thought: Whenever I pass a cemetery, I pray for the souls there, that they may be received into heaven.  

I replied that it was kind of him to think of others salvation, but it was not necessary to pray for those who have already died believing in Jesus as their Savior. I had already shared Jesus words about passing from death to life. This time I used 1 John 1:7: The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. I ended with this question, If Jesus death purified us from all sins, what is the need for purgatory? 

 That 1 John verse ended the discussion of purgatory.  

Later I discovered one special result of sharing Jesus through the newspaper. A few years ago, I was visiting an elderly friend in a nursing home. The last time I saw him, he said, I have read all your letters, and they comfort me. I want to ask you a question. Do you have to belong to a certain church to be saved? 

 No, I replied, if you believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, when you die, you will be with him in heaven. 

 With tears in his eyes, the gentleman grasped my hand and smiled, thanking me for coming to see him. 

 A few weeks later, my husband and I attended his funeral in his hometown church. I found myself startled to hear these words after the homily: He was a fine Christian man, but when he died he still had icky things clinging to him, like we all do. You can help him be found worthy in Gods sight by praying for him and offering the sacrifice of the mass. 

 Later my husband and I shared our thankfulness that our friend knew the truth: We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10).  

 Trudy Madetzke
Zion, Russell, Minnesota


Opportunities at an assisted living facility 

I volunteer at the local assisted living facility. It is a way that us laypeople can share the good news of Jesus. Our witness plants the seed of faith in some. For others it encourages them in their faith.  

I have two memorable events concerning sharing the message of Jesus at the assisted living facility: 

  • I was engaged in conversation with several elderly men.Somehow the topic of discussion shifted to circumcision. The discussion centered around reasons for circumcision. There were the typical comments of ouch. One man said he was circumcised at age six.  

How can a conversation about circumcision be turned into a gospel message? I asked myself. 

My contribution was telling them the good news that we no longer have to follow the Old Testament law of circumcision because Jesus took our place and died on the cross to fulfill the law and pay for our sins. I found it to be a unique opportunity for sharing the gospel message.  

  • After our chapel services, I help push the wheelchairbound residents to their respective lunch rooms. 

One lady complimented me on the service while I pushed her chair. I thanked her and then asked if she got anything out of the message. Her reply? Yes! Lots of questions! 

What kind of questions? I pressed.  

She replied, Too many to ask here. Then there was a long pauseHow can I be good enough? How do I know if Ive done enough good things? she suddenly asked.  

That was my “jailer of Philippi moment! I knelt by her chair and told her, You dont have to. The beauty of it is Jesus has done it all. He paid for all your sins when he died on that cross for you. 

Ministry at assisted living facilities is awesome.  

Jim Baur
Christ, Baxter, Minnesota


Outreach at 35,000 feet 

It was a simple question that normally would have a simple answer. But the young man next to me on the plane did not anticipate my response.  

I was quietly reading my Kindle when he asked. Likely he thought I would say I was reading John Grisham or Danielle Steele. Instead, I told him I was reading a book about the culture war against ChristianityHe seemed surprised. But that answer led to a conversation that lasted for the duration of the flight.  

He was a well-mannered young man in his late 20s or early 30s. I am in my 60s, so I was surprised he engaged me in conversation. Yet, it was clear the conversation was led by someone other than us! He said he was raised in the church and had good parents, but he had not been to church in years. We talked about marriage and its importance, and he agreed that a Christian marriage was important and he would only marry once. I shared that my own marriage was 45 years old, but my relationship with Christ was lifelong. I told him how important church was to my life and how engaging with God’s Word kept my faith strong. We discussed how today’s social upheavals have changed the culture, and I told him these changes resulted in moving “boundary stones” and could destroy our country but not God’s Word.  

The young man was polite and receptive. He did not offer much in the way of argument, and he seemed to be thinking about what he was hearing. As the flight came to an end, he told me he did not feel close to God. I said, “There is a verse in the Bible that says ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you ” (James 4:8). I asked him to keep that verse in mind, and he said he would. 

I have no idea if this nice young man ever thought of our conversation again. I do know that whenever he comes to my mind, I pray for him. I pray for a nice, Christian young woman to enter his life. And I pray that he comes near to his God.  

Mary Snyder
Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tennessee 


 

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


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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A gospel-filled life: Part 8

Cross-centered life and thought 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Her first restaurant job was nothing like cooking at home. Personal safety videos. Rigorous sanitation rules. Strict food handling standards. Weeks into the job, she had no chance of forgetting them. Multiple signs made safety an ever-present issue. Other cooks didn’t tolerate shortcuts. Managers kept constant vigilance.  

Likewise, Christians benefit from keeping the basics of the faith in focus at all times. That means that the cross is an essential part of our lives of faith. The cross of Christ and what it means for us is not something we can move beyond and leave behind. Martin Luther adopted a motto to encapsulate his Reformation rediscoveries: “The cross alone is our theology” (Crux sola est nostra theologia) 

Seeing life through the cross 

Christians see everything in our lives through the prism of Jesus’ cross. From a purely human perspective, the cross of Christ is a crashing defeat for his ministry. Yet far from a failure, the cross of Jesus meant he accomplished the rescue of humanity just as he set out to do. So, his cross enables us to see everything in life through the perspective of what we have from Jesus.  

Why is the cross such a crucial and constant element to our faith? Just think back to your default reactions when you experience painful suffering or injustices. Do your prayers accuse God of being unfair? You might never actually say it in these exact words, but when you are faithfully studying God’s Word and spending time in prayer, do you expect favorable treatment from God? 

When Paul says the cross is “is the power of God” for believers (1 Corinthians 1:18), he wants us to know the practical, ongoing value of the cross for our daily lives. Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) for us when we experience struggles that induce doubt, confusion, and uncertainty in our faith. The cross is the key to trusting in God when things in life seem incomprehensible. Luther commends the believer who “comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross” (The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis #20). 

The cross means Jesus fulfilled every condition laid down for the salvation of every sinner. The cross of Christ means we get to enjoy God’s unconditional love because of what Jesus did for us. The cross helps us see our ultimate problem in life isn’t self-improvement, but ingrained and pervasive sin in our hearts. The cross gives us a constant reminder to find meaning in life from the sacrifice Jesus made and the victory he secured for us.  

Living life by the cross 

As we study Scripture, we gain a deeper understanding of who God is. As we meditate on his gospel promises, we are drawn into a great appreciation of his gifts. As our hearts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, our prayers are shaped by the cross of Christ. Every aspect of our lives flows out of God’s riches to us in Jesus.  

The message of the cross is something we need to preach to ourselves. The cross of Jesus is the dual destroyer of both our pride and despair. Infinite riches are ours through the grace of God poured out on the cross. So, the finished work of Jesus provides certainty in the middle of our confusion and a solid foundation for faith in a chaotic world. The cross is something we never outgrow. 


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


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


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Walk by the Spirit: Part 5

Dissentions and factions create roadblocks along the Christian Way. 

John A. Braun 

Paul’s acts of the flesh include some hazards we must avoid on our journey. He lists them as dissensions, factions, and envy. But he does not leave us paralyzed, unable to move toward our heavenly goal. He also cites two important fruits of the Spirit to help us make progress: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Acts of the flesh: Dissensions, factions, and envy 

Paul’s world was different from our own. It’s hard to imagine that Paul faced protests for civil rights, abortion, or other political causesRoman law and power settled almost all such issues. Most found little tolerance for social or political protestsYet Paul was in the midst of a vehement protest with Demetrius and the silversmiths. That disagreement turned into a riot in Ephesus (Acts chapter 19). That was an example of dissention, faction, and envy caused by the message of the gospel.  

It was ugly and dangerous. “Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there [in the theater] (Acts 19:32). Finally the city clerk quieted the crowd and told the people to take their grievances to the courts, warning them of the danger of causing a riot. The crowd melted away.  

In our own age, protests and divisions are part of our everyday newscasts. Differences escalate into heated confrontations. Like the riot in Ephesus, some shout one thing and some another. Perhaps such displays of factions and dissension are part of our system of government. We vote and contend for our positions in a way people in Paul’s world did not. Roman soldiers did not stand by in riot gear awaiting flying stones.  

That factor doesn’t matter much today. What does matter is that dissensions, factions, and envy have not disappeared. The sinful nature within asserts itself from time to time and creates conflict. Paul’s list is not just a list of ancient characteristics we no longer have. His acts of the flesh persist in our age because the sinful nature persists. Envy persists. Factions persist. 

Paul adds envy to the list, I think, to help us understand. Envy distorts every thought to help others. It is subtle at times; at other times, it is blatantly obvious. Sometimes we allow envy to blockade our ability to listen and love. As a result, we become harsh and hostile, ready for a fight or argument. It’s so much a part of our world, we are carried along without thinking. We fall for the temptation to be disagreeable, assert our own rights or thinking, and oppose others.  

It is bad enough that the conflicts arise in our country and society, our marriages and families, our neighborhoods and our government at all levels. Sadly, they also arise within the churchamong God people. Paul was no stranger to them. To the Galatians he warned, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (5:15).  

Yes, these negative attitudes reside in Christians as well. Paul saw divisions rise up in the churches he founded. He warned against “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ,” reminding the Corinthians that even Satan masqueraded as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:12-14). He also told the Romans to avoid those who taught false doctrines (Romans 16:17).  

Paul’s view of the future of the Christian church emerges from his words to Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3,4).  

Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness and gentleness 

Throughout history, the church has often had to contend with those who have not put up with sound doctrine and claimed to be right. Sadly, they claimed to be righter than right. That sentence doesn’t make any sense grammatically or theologically, but it raises the question of who is right and who isn’t. There can’t be two rights or a righter than right. How do we navigate differences and factionsPaul suggests two fruits of the Spirit: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Faithfulness first. The antidote to all the false teachers and heretical factions wasand still isfaithfulness to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has created a desire within us to treasure the Scriptures that tell us of Jesus and of all of God’s promises. So we remain faithful to the Scriptures. They are our authority for truth, our Supreme Court, to decide what is right and what is not. Faithfulness to that truth will move us to compare anyone’s teaching with the Scriptures and evaluate it on the basis of that standard. John suggests, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  

Then, with firmness in the truth, Paul advises gentleness. Peter advises the same attitude when he said that we are to share the hope we treasure with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). No one wants divisions, and we must deal with love and kindness with those who think differently. When they will not listen to the truth, then we have no alternative but to avoid those ideas and the groups that proclaim them. 

But not all disagreements are about doctrine. Sometimes Christians have arguments and quarrels about whether or not to have carpeting in the church and what color it should be. Some question which preacher is better—even Paul mentioned this disagreement (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)others anguish over how the budget was set and whether we should spend money on the school or on the front steps of the church. Every church has these differences or others like them.  

Faithfulness and gentleness are valuable in all these discussions. We remain faithful to God’s Word and also faithful to Jesus command to love one another. Then we can be gentle in our disagreementsnot belligerent or harsh. 

Dissensions and factions dog every step of our journey, and our sinful flesh is often tempted to feed them. They become group activities. One person solicits support from others who are like-minded. Then another person gathers others who disagree. The result can be belligerent, bitter, and divisive.  

We should not let differences get out of hand. Even everyday disagreements may become roadblocks to the Christian concept of loving one another and may block the work of the congregation and the larger church. They will turn the character of a congregation sour. Perhaps they also will turn some away from the path we follow together. Let us walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:16,25,26). Remain faithful to the Scripture and gentle in our dealings with each other. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

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

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Pray for workers

Jesus reminds us to pray for more workers in his harvest of souls. 

John A. Braun 

Northwestern Publishing House hosts a luncheon every spring honoring graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. I sat with six men who would be assigned to begin their service as pastors.  

Earlier I had just heard a report that we have 121 fulltime parish pastor vacancies and 26 seminary graduates. I know that interpreting those numbers depends on a number of factors. As it turned out, 30 men were assigned. Added to these graduates were four from previous classes. I remembered Lord’s words, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Those words flowed from his compassion for the crowds “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36). He saw the need and, it seemed clear to me, that the need has not disappeared. 

I decided to spend a few minutes with these six men to explore what motivated them to begin training for the pastoral ministry. So I asked them. I only said that they could not take the easy way out of my question. They could not say that the Holy Spirit led them to become pastors. Not only is that an easy pat answer, but it is also true for all of themall who are serving today, and all who are still preparing to serve.  

My goal was simple. I wanted to share their stories in the hope that others would pause and think about serving as pastors.  

The first to respond was Aaron Platzer. He began, “I attended public school.” Then I asked what led him to want to be a pastor. His simple answer was, “My pastor!” In many ways the pastors who serve our congregations now are key to finding more workers for the harvest. Aaron went on, “He confirmed me and encouraged me. I didn’t think much about it in high school. But he kept encouraging me and then when I was thinking about college, he thought I should give Martin Luther College (MLC) a try. So I did. 

Tristan Paustian graduated from Shoreland Lutheran High School, Somers, Wis. He, like some of the others I talked to that day, has a family filled with called workers. But he said, “I didn’t want to be a pastor. I wanted to do something else with my life. I thought I could serve God in another way.” His family understood. He ended up going to MLC in order to be a teacher. But in his second year, he decided to shift from the teacher track to pastor track. The pastors in his family were the quiet and persistent model he chose to follow. 

Nathanael Jensen had an easy answer, “I remember that from kindergarten, I always wanted to be a pastor. My father was my role model. I never wanted to do anything else.” His father is a pastor in Watertown, Wisconsin. Nathanael quite naturally attended Luther Preparatory School (LPS) in Watertown and then went on to MLC and the seminary. I know that some young men echo Nathanael’s words. Some see their fathers as role models, but others have found role models in the pastors that confirmed them. In all of these six cases, their families encouraged them along the way. 

Hans Thomford attended Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) in Saginaw for high school. He said that he saw himself as a vet, farmer, or engineer. At MLS he received support to think about pursuing the pastoral ministry. “I got encouragement from the teachers and especially the tutors. I had so many experiences which led me to head to MLC and try it for a year,” he said. After I had one year in at MLC, I knew this was something I wanted to do full-time in my life and for the Lord. I don’t think you get that kind of encouragement anywhere else.” His father, a pastor, was a great influence in encouraging him to pursue serving the Lord as a pastor.  

Dan Rodewald attended LPS. He also received encouragement from his family and especially from the tutors in the dormitory and the teachers in the classroom. I really appreciated all the emphasis on ministry I got at LPS from everyone there, he says. But he still was not sure, even though he went on to MLCHe still had doubts at the seminary. Then he was assigned as a vicar, where he worked under the supervision of a pastor in his congregation. Dan said, “I remember talking with one man and sharing the comfort of the gospel with him. He died a few hours later. I was the last person to talk with him. I knew then that I was sure I wanted to be a pastor. 

Only one of these young graduates was left, Tim Priewe. He went to Wisconsin Lutheran High School (WLHS) in Milwaukee but had no inclination or plans to be a pastor because he was always on the quieter side. Unlike the others, there was no pastor in his family, but he grew up with the example of the dedicated service of his parents in their church. When he came to WLHS, he decided to take Latin because his brother had taken it. When his first year was over, he chose a second year of Latin. His sister, who already was at MLC, convinced him to stick it our for the third and finally a fourth year. Halso began meeting with MLC recruiters. At graduation he applied to only one college, MLC, and enrolled in the pastor track. 

I decided to ask them all one more question, “What do you tell people who want to know why you want to be a pastor?  

Dan answered by returning to the story from his vicar year. “I tell them that I want to share the message of the gospel. That’s the bottom line. I like to use that question to tell people law and gospel and share.”  

The others all agreed.  

Aaron added, “When some of my high school friends and family ask why I want to be a pastor, they see the eight years of study and then the salary and wonder why you spent all that time to be a pastor. They only see the money and the time. But it’s like Dan said, its sharing the gospel that’s most important.” 

Now I think of the congregations and the people they will serve. I look beyond those congregations to see the crowds like Jesus did. I see a world in need of what we all treasure—Jesus and his gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. And I pray, “Lord, send workers into the harvest.”  

Then I also begin to look for students who have the ability and the inclination to serve as pastors or teachers. The harvest remains plentiful, and we all need to pray for workers and then actively encourage those we know to pursue training for the public ministry. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.



By the numbers 

30Men who received assignments into the pastoral ministry this year, including the six seniors interviewed in the article. 

6Pastor assignments made to U.S. home mission fields 

60Requests made by congregations, schools, and other ministries for a pastor, 30 of which went unfilled. 

104Synodwide vacancies for pastor-trained men after assignments, 90 of which are for parish pastors. 

47Men who graduated from MLC’s preseminary program in 2019, the largest class since ?? 

124Anticipated enrollment at WLS for the upcoming 2019–20 school year, up from 110 for the 2018–19 school year.


Did you know? 

A ninth-grader who begins his pastoral education this fall will not be ordained as a pastor until 2031.  


Where they went 

Nathanael J. Jensen to Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.* 

Tristan D. Paustian to Bethlehem, Hortonville, Wis.* 

Aaron J. Platzer to Peace, Loves Park, Ill.* 

Timothy T. Priewe to associate for the Northern Wisconsin district president at Mount Olive, Appleton, Wis.* 

Daniel L. Rodewald to Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Ariz.* 

Hans J. Thomford to Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.* 

*Read the complete assignment list at wls.wels.net/about-wls/assignment-list/


Did you know? 

Pastoral candidates can receive a variety of assignments, from serving aself-supporting congregations to starting new home or world mission fieldsEach year, several graduates also are temporarily assigned to Martin Luther College and WELS’ two preparatory high schools, Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich. They will teach, coach, supervise, mentor, and encourage young adults as they prepare for the gospel ministry. Some graduates become associates to district presidentsallowing the district presidents the time they need to travel and serve in their districts, as well as fulfill their role as members of the Conference of Presidents. 


What can I do? 

Pray for more workers 

Identify young people you know who might make a good pastor, teacher, or staff ministry. Encourage them to consider the ministry. 

Submit names of possible candidates to Martin Luther College at mlc-wels.edu/go/recommendMLC will ask permission to send the student information so they can consider ministerial training for their future. 

Support current ministerial education students from your congregation. Pray for them. Send them cards and care packages. Ask them about their classes when you see them. 


A prayer for more workers 

Lord of the harvest, give your church men and women who are eager to prepare for service in your kingdom. Help me to encourage not only my own pastor(s) and teachers but also to encourage young men and women I think have the gifts to train for ministry.  

In your name,
Amen.
  


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Author: John A. Braun   
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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Our desperate need

Earle D. Treptow 

recent college graduate, with what appeared to be a bright future, tried to end her life. Her boyfriend of three months, who she thought was “the one,” had broken off their relationship. Without him, she could see no reason to liveNo one loved her, and no one ever would. Or so she felt. 

young man, for whom his teachers and mentors had harbored high hopes, moved from one crime to the next, from petty theft to grand larceny to armed robberyOnly when he had money in his pocket could he experience joy in living. Or so he felt. 

To hear such storiesand stories like that multiplyis to come face-to-face with the identical issue, though revealed in different outward manifestationsPeople regularly look in the wrong places for joymeaning, and purpose in life. They’ve been misled by their sinful flesh and deceived by the Liar. The recent college graduate and the young man, as it turns out, have the same need. They both need to hear God’s Word. That should be said more strongly: They desperately need to hear what God has to say, both about their sinfulness and about his gracious solution to the problem they cannot solve. You can probably identify a few people who rise to your top ten list of people in our life who desperately need to hear God’s Word.”  

But then the devil sees an opportunity. He seeks to convince us that we are slightly different. Yes, we need to listen to God’s Word, but we are not like those who desperately need to hear itThe difference between “need” and “desperately need” is subtle, but significant. While we still recognize our need to hear the Savior speak to us, we consider it far more critical for those who do not know God’s love to hear the Word of God.  

In heart and mind, we begin to think that our need for God’s Word is like our need for exercise. All would readily acknowledge the importance of exercise and its value for a person’s physical and emotional health. But, as some of us have provenone can continue to live even without vigorous exercise four days a week. Some of us have skipped exerciseor at least skimped on itwhen life is busy, and we have lived to tell about it. We may need exercise, but apparently, we don’t desperately need exercise.  

But is that our relationship with the Word of God? One might compare it instead to our relationship with oxygen. We desperately need oxygen; without it we die. We don’t just need to listen to our Savior. We desperately need to sit at Jesus’ feet and hang on his words, for they alone give and sustain lifeThe devil loves it when we think that it’s others who desperately need the Word and we don’t.  

Think of what Jesus said to Martha when she was frustrated with her sister. Martha thought Mary should have been helping her serve the Savior and support him in his ministry to those who desperately needed to hear his Word. She felt that there would be other times for Mary to listen to Jesus teach. The Lord’s words to Martha were clear and powerful: “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42 NIV 1984). Mary recognized that she didn’t just need to listen to her Savior; she desperately needed to do so 

So do we. 


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


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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God’s policy of love

John A. Braun

The song “Jesus Loves Me” has come from the voices of little children for as long as I can remember. Their voices move us to smile and to appreciate the lesson they are beginning to learn: Jesus loves them and all of us. So says the Bible, as the children remind us.  

A few years later, wlearned of his love as children too: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God’s love is sacrificial and gives the best gift—his one and only Sonfor the world.  

“Jesus Loves Me is a worthy theme. Love is God’s guiding principle. We notice his love for all humanity in so many ways. God gives us life and breath. He sends rain and sunshine—and not just for those who believe in him (Matthew 5:45)Other regular blessings also flow from his love. People fall in love, marry, have children, work to support their families, and enjoy food, clothing, and shelter. 

When little children grow older, they sometimes wonder about God’s love. Moses wrote that no matter how old we become life is still filled with “trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 90:10). As children we may have been sheltered from some of those troubles, but later we often question God’s loveJob had questions. So did Jeremiah, and troubling questions have also burst into our thoughts. 

The Lord’s policy of love doesn’t mean a troublefree life here. He sends troubles. Yet we confess that his love endures forever (Psalm 118:1-4). He helps us when we have questions.  

  • First, he promises never to forsake us.We all have favorite passages to cling to in our difficulties.  
  • Second, he has also revealed that he will guide all things for our good (Roman 8:28). 
  • Third, he is our loving Father who at times uses difficulties not to punish us but to discipline us (Hebrews 12:7) 
  • Fourth, he reminds us that this life and all we experience here are temporary. “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Our coming deaths and the deaths of those we love point us to the salvation his Son has accomplished for us. We are reminded, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31,32). Eternal peace and joy await all believers. 

God in love wants all to be with him. (1 Timothy 2:4). He will dry our tears and soothe our pain. But God does not enable unbelief. And for those who do not know Jesus, God exercises a tough love. He challenges them with the sorrows and troubles of life so they might realize that this life is often filled with troubles. In those trials, he lovingly invites them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mathew 11:28).  

When we suffer, we find one more reason why God in his love sends such troubles. As we suffer and live with others who suffer, we have opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ—to witness and to show compassion and to point others to the glory that awaits all those who trust in Christ. The troubles of life often open doors that in other times remain closed.  

Yes, Jesus loves me, this I knoweven in difficult times.  


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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Roller-coaster ride

A family endures the ups and downs of life, always trusting the providence of God. 

Ann M. Ponath 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day a truck arrived to move all the Sonntags’ earthly goods from Cadillac, Michigan, to Bozeman, Montana. Pastor Jeff Sonntag had taken a call to serve Shining Mountains in Bozeman. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day they heard that their unborn 21-week-old baby had a hole in his diaphragm and other health challenges.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The same day they learned no medical facility in Montana could handle these challenges.  

Trusting in God’s providence, Jeff and Anne, their two children, Ellie and Micah, and the unborn baby proceeded with their move to Montana. 

Continued blessings 

Life went on. The Sonntags spent the summer getting to know members at Shining Mountains and settling into their new home. Extra prenatal doctor appointments kept them busy. Their Michigan specialist, who by God’s design just happened to visit Montana periodically, was only three hours away. Ellie started kindergarten in the local public school. 

In mid-September, when Anne was 36 weeks pregnant, the president of the congregation loaned the Sonntags a van to drive across the mountains to Seattle where medical facilities were equipped for special deliveries. Just as the Sonntags crossed the border into Idaho, they received word that a room at the Ronald McDonald House just a few blocks from the hospital had opened upanother real blessing!  

After getting Anne and the two children settled in Seattle, Jeff flew back to Bozeman. As the waiting and doctors’ appointments dragged on, the family made an important connection with CalvaryBellevue, Washington. Ellie continued in kindergarten there, and it gave the displaced family a routine and Christian friends, friends who would prove a definite blessing later on. 

A challenging beginning 

Finally, on Oct. 5, Caleb Jonathan Sonntag was born via C-section. The doctors had prepared the Sonntags for the worst. Everyone was surprised when 9 lb., 9 oz., Caleb burst into a lusty cry. The words, “He shouldn’t be able to breathe on his own!” were heard! After a few minutes of being held, a baptism in the room right next to the operating room, and a quick kiss from Mom, Caleb was whisked to the children’s hospital where the staff quipped, “What is this big, chunky baby doing in the NICU?”  

Three days later, newborn Caleb underwent surgery to repair his diaphragm and give his left lung room to fully develop. Although the procedure “felt like forever,” it was completely successful. Just a few days after surgery, Caleb was moved out of the NICU. Recovery took six and half weeksa little longer than expectedas a high flow respirator aided breathing and inflated the underdeveloped lung to help it grow. Caleb was also kept on a 24/7 feeding tube for just enough nutrition, but not enough to over-fill his tiny stomach and affect his breathing. 

God provided for them during this time, including help from fellow Christians. Anne recalls, “Our story about our stay in Seattle is not complete without mentioning the outpouring of love and support from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at Calvary in BellevueWhen our stay extended beyond the point that our family could be there, I knew I had to ask for help, even if asking for help was hard. I asked some of the ladies if they would come lend a hand at the hospital snuggling Caleb so I could focus on the older two for that time. Our new friends were so helpful, making it fit in their schedules and braving downtown traffic to help us not only in the afternoons but also some evenings that week. The prayers, the food, the supportit meant the world to me and was such a beautiful reflection of God’s love working in their hearts.” 

God’s protecting hand 

Finally, Caleb was given the okay to return to Montana Thanksgiving week. But the excitement was not over yet. On day two of their journey, coming down Lookout Pass on the border of Idaho and Montana, the van hit an icy stretch. “I didn’t have control,” Jeff remembers, as the van slid, then rolled two or three times, and finally landed on its right side in a field. But God provided again, sending his angels to protect them. Anne had a bump on her head, Jeff, a cut and broken finger, Ellie and Micah, not a scratch, and Caleb slept through the whole thing.  

 “It’s amazing how the Lord took care of us!” says Jeff. Five accidentsone which included a fatalitytook place in the same location that same day.  

The family stayed overnight in a local hotel until the next morning when the church president brought a new car to take them safely back to Bozeman just in time for the Thanksgiving Eve service. They attended the service and shared the account of God’s protecting hand on their journey home. There were “lots of tears.”  

Repeated prayers 

Six month later, Caleb is off oxygen and the feeding tube and “looks like an average seven-month-old baby.”  

Looking back on this experience, Anne says, “It was definitely a roller coaster. First, the excitement of Caleb being born stable enough to be able to hold him right awaysomething we usually take for grantedto then being separated and spending the next 36 hours recovering sans new baby on the maternity floor with all the other moms with their babies. Then making great progress in the NICU and thinking our hospital time was almost up to a step backward the next day with his oxygen level that meant our stay was increased by at least a couple of weeks. There were lots of tears, lots of ‘why’ questions floating around my head. 

She continues, “One of the Bible passages that really stayed with me and became a repeated prayer were the words of Psalm 51:10,12, ‘Renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  

For Jeff, Caleb’s experience has solidified that “the Lord knows what he’s doing. He’ll take care of us. . . . His care, love and protection will work for our good.” Jeff says he is so thankful for “so many messages of people praying for us. The congregation was amazing with prayers and support.”  

As for Caleb’s name, that has a story too. Anne remembers, “Part of our prenatal care included a three-hour specialized heart ultrasound to make sure every last part of the heart was in its proper place. After an extra 45 minutes solely trying to get a picture of the elusive aortic arch, his heart was cleared. Shortly thereafter, we were discussing names and looking up the meanings. When we found out Caleb meant ‘whole-hearted,’ it seemed a perfect fit.” 

 


Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North St. Paul, Minnesota. 


Update: On May 18, 2019, a day of vomiting and severe stomach pain took Caleb back to the Bozeman hospital. A chest x-ray revealed a re-herniated diaphragm and a bowel blockage. Anne and Caleb flew via medical transport to Seattle. Successful surgery followed. Caleb was “sore, worn out, and once again connected to lots of cords,” says Anne. But nine days later, he and his family were home. “Caleb is back to his happy self and we are happy to be home,” report Jeff. Another example of God’s amazing love and providence!


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Author: Ann M. Ponath 
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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More about the divine call

Mark G. Schroeder

The news usually comes in an announcement after worship. Your pastor or one of the teachers in your school has received a divine call to serve in another place. That announcement comes as the result of a process that began with the vacancy in the other church, and it signals the start of another process as your called worker now prayerfully considers and decides where he or she will serve in the future. 

Although calls for staff ministers and teachers are similar, for simplicity’s sake, let’s use the example of a pastoral vacancy. When a congregation has a vacancy in the office of pastor, the leaders of the congregation typically take time to discuss and determine the ministerial needs and ministry plans of the congregation. Often the district president takes part in that discussion, providing advice on the factors that the congregation should consider and listening carefully to the needs of the congregation. Relying on that information, the district president compiles a list of pastors who, in his judgment, would fit the needs of the congregation. He shares that list, which includes biographical information and a brief summary of the skills and previous experience of the pastor, with the congregation. 

For the sake of good order and out of consideration for congregations and pastors, district presidents follow several guidelines. One guideline is that pastors should serve in a congregation for four years before receiving another call. In addition, pastor should receive a call no more than every six months and should receive only one call at a time. Sometimes circumstances indicate that exceptions to these guidelines should be made, and, despite efforts to avoid it, a pastor may receive two calls at the same time. 

Once the district president presents the list of candidates to the congregation’s voters’ assembly, they pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, discuss each candidate, and conduct an election. When one person receives the majority of the votes, a motion is made to make the election unanimous. This emphasizes that all members are expressing their full support of the new pastor if he accepts the call. 

The pastor is informed that he has been called to the new congregation. Now begins his prayerful consideration of where he will serve.  If the pastor is serving in his current congregation by a call from God, why does he decide where he will serve? The answer is that he now has two calls, both of which are from God. 

How does a pastor decide between those two calls? He considers many things. He talks to the leaders of both congregations. He consults with coworkers. He discusses it with his wife and family. And, most important, he prays for God’s guidance. 

A pastor will think about several factors. He might naturally consider the health and welfare of his family and the availability of Christian education for his children. But these alone will not determine his final decision. In the end, only two questions will bring him to a God-pleasing decision: “Where can my talents and abilities best be used in God’s church? Where will my weaknesses and limitations do the least harm?” Those are questions that require a pastor to take a careful and honest look at himself and how he will best serve God’s people. 

The answers to those questions will determine his decision. And when those questions are sincerely asked and honestly answered—regardless of what the answer is—the pastor has his decision. In that decision, both congregations and the pastor himself are blessed. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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