From faith comes love

We are saved by God’s grace through faith and are his handiwork to do good works. 

James A. Mattek 

Members of the church hadn’t seen her in weeks. Had something happened? Mary was elderly and would have been embarrassed by everyone’s concern. She also would have blushed if anyone dared to mention her reputation in their small town. People talked about Mary . . . always in glowing terms. “She’s always smiling and positive.” “Mary cares so much about others” “She’s so faithful”—to mention a few. Now, it seemed to everyone that something wasn’t right. Mary wouldn’t answer the door or pick up the phone. What was going on? 

Mary would, however, read her mail. One letter in particular caught her attention. It was from her church. It contained a one-sentence request: Dear Mary, could you bake a pie for me? Your pastor. 

Unless you knew Mary, that request would sound strange. You see, in that town, Mary had a nickname. When someone referred to “the pie lady,” they were always talking about Mary . . . again, in glowing terms. Mary baked great pies—and a lot of them. 

And she gave them all away. If a young couple brought a new baby home from the hospital, they could expect “the pie lady” to show up at their front door with a smile, a freshly baked pie, and a note. When there was a death, the family could expect to see Mary with a pie and a note. If she got wind that someone’s child was about to be deployed overseas, Mary would bake a pie and prepare the note. The pie filling varied, but the message in the note did not. It remained the same, pie after pie. When asked why she did it, she would say: “I just want to. Somehow it seems to complete me.” 

But now, it all stopped.  

A week after mailing the request to Mary, the pastor’s doorbell rang. It was Mary, smiling. She was holding a pie and a note. She came in. The pastor carried the pie to the kitchen and returned with the note. They sat down. 

Three months earlier, the pastor had officiated at her husband’s funeral. Harold and Mary had been wed for nearly 65 years. That day the large church was standing room only. Many in attendance were nonmembers. Many knew Mary’s husband. All knew Mary. Many had once been on the receiving end of her Christian kindness.  

“Let me guess,” the pastor began as he opened the note, “my bet is that it’s Ephesians 2:8,9.” He knew he would be right—that was the unchanging message that always arrived with every pie. With a smile he read from her note: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works—so that no one can boast.”  

These words are cherished by every Bible-believing Lutheran. It’s part of the unchanging note from our Savior-God. Because of the life and death of Jesus, we are saved . . . period. It’s all about God’s amazing grace, his undeserved love for us. And God’s Spirit birthed and burned this heavenly love in our hearts “un-asked, un-forced, un-earned” (Christian Worship 54:4). These truths are celebrated in this Reformation season.  

Of course, there’s more to being a Lutheran Christian. Mary and her pastor talked about the scriptural gem in her note, about Harold’s custom-made heavenly home, about Mary’s loss and Harold’s gain. They also talked about Mary’s purpose and ministry. The pastor leaned in and said tenderly: “Mary, our Lord will take you when it’s time. I know you as a Christian woman who lets her light of faith shine. Just keep doing that.” There were tears—tears of thanks and renewed purpose. She thanked her pastor for requesting a pie. And Mary fired up her oven and resumed her ministry.  

Lutherans are certain of grace and heaven. The familiar passage Mary lovingly confessed from Ephesians goes on to remind us, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (v. 10). God saved us to show love for others. Do you specialize in pie-baking? Maybe not. But each of us knows someone who is lonely, friendless, hurting, or scared. How about a phone call, e-mail, handwritten letter, or visit? How about a smile? 

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). You may discover that what you do for others simply completes you.  


James Mattek, director of ministry at WLCFS–Christian Family Solutions, is a member at Trinity, Watertown, Wisconsin.  


Some thoughts from Martin Luther 

Saved by works or by grace? Luther taught what the Bible taught: “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). Works don’t earn heaven. But what about following the Ten Commandments and doing good works? Luther again taught what the Bible taught: Christians do good works not to earn their way to heaven but to show love for God and for their neighbors.  

Here are some quotes from Luther’s Freedom of a Christian and Treatise on Good Works to help us understand the relationship between grace and works. 

“Our faith in Christ does not free us from works but from false opinions concerning works, that is, from the foolish presumption that justification is acquired by works” (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 31, pp. 372,373). 

“Behold, from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss” (LW, Vol. 31, p. 367). 

“The works themselves do not justify [a person] before God, but [the Christian] does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things” (LW, Vol. 31, p. 359). 

“A [Christian] living in this faith has no need of a teacher of good works, but he does whatever the occasion calls for. . . . Thus a Christian . . . who lives in this confidence toward God knows all things, can do all things, ventures everything that needs to be done, and does everything gladly and willingly, not that he may gather merits and good works, but because it is a pleasure for him to please God in doing these things.  He simply serves God with no thought of reward, content that his service pleases God” (LW, Vol. 44, pp. 26,27). 

“Therefore [a Christian] should be guided in all his works by this thought and contemplate this one thing alone, that he may serve and benefit others in all that he does, considering nothing except the need and the advantage of his neighbor…Here faith is truly active through love, that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a man willingly serves another without hope of reward; and for himself he is satisfied with the fullness and wealth of his faith” (LW, Vol. 31, p. 365). 


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Author: James A. Mattek
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Part 4

The Samaritan woman shares the gospel with others.  

Donn G. Dobberstein

She had long, flaming-red hair matching the lipstick she wore—dead giveaways of her Irish roots. She stuck out from the normal crowd: tall, equal to my height due to the extra-high heels on her feet. Every Sunday, she dressed to the hilt. Combined with a warm extrovert-personality bred from a southern Appalachian upbringing in the foothills of Tennessee, conversation with her was never lacking or boring. She spoke as if every word ought to be in capital letters and every sentence punctuated with an exclamation mark! Unafraid to say what was on her mind, she would tell you exactly as she saw things. “You don’t lie to people,” she was taught growing up.  

When she heard something in the sermon she liked from the church pew, her cultural instinct kicked in: “Mm mm! Oh! Amen!” she would say out loud. What a stark contrast to midwestern sensibilities. I was strangely fascinated by someone doing the exact opposite of what most of us were told to do growing up, “Be quiet in church.”  

Roxanne couldn’t be quiet, but she wasn’t doing it for show. Nor was it contrived. She heard the gospel, and it affected her. She just had to say something!  

She caught on to people looking at her. She came out of church and whispered to me, “Pastor, I don’t think people here have seen the likes of me before. . . . You probably want less now, don’tcha?”  

Changed by Jesus 

Have you ever known someone with a reputation for being a bit over the top? I don’t know the personality of the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, but from the little we know of her scandalous life, it caused people to rubberneck and stare as if slowly driving by the scene of a stalled vehicle alongside the road. She already paid dearly for it with ruined relationships and a tarnished reputation. She quietly melted into seclusion. 

Then she met someone beautiful at the well. He pulled her out of societal obscurity and onto the enduring pages of Scripture where we meet her to this day. He tantalized her with living water to quench her thirsting soul and revealed her sin-scarred, mis-lived life. As the two of them talked, the conversation changed from casual to spiritual and from water to Word.  

Something else changed: “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?’ ” (John 4:28,29). 

Jesus changed her! Can you see the changes? 

She arrived with an empty water pot and an equally empty heart. She left without her water pot (John 4:28) but with a heart so filled that it became a vessel overflowing with a message that could quench more thirsty souls!  

She arrived during an off-hour, probably to avoid cold stares and judgmental looks of her townspeople. Yet returning to town, the townspeople were the very ones she eagerly sought out! Why? Jesus changed her priorities. Hope replaced hopelessness. A desire to love supplanted any grudge she might have harbored. People became her priority. She was given something precious. She now wanted to give it to them.  

She arrived with a life she wanted to hide. She left with her past life as the perfect lead for sharing God’s grace: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”  

She arrived hesitant to speak to Jesus. She returned emboldened, passionate, and with purpose. “Come, see,” she simply told others.  

Compelled to speak 

When you see something beautiful, you want others to see it too! Jesus was the beautiful hero of her story. “Come, see!” she declared. These simple, yet powerful words piqued the curiosity of more people.  

They came. They saw. The Samaritan woman’s excited, passionate testimony (4:39) led them back to the well to find the one whom she had found. They returned and said to her, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (4:42)  

That’s evangelism.  

It’s simply sharing the One who has changed your life. The Savior’s love compels us to speak and to share the gospel with others with the boldness, passion, and purpose of the Samaritan woman. It didn’t matter what she had done or how others had treated her in the past. All she knew was a man who showed her genuine love and caring. Jesus was the hero of her story. His love softened her heart so completely that she had to share the One who changed her.  

It’s fascinating to note the people God uses to share. The Samaritan townspeople had a socially-outcast woman invite them. Red-haired Roxanne was invited by a quiet, reserved believer on the day of his adult confirmation. The kingdom came into his heart, so he shared it with her. Roxanne loved it. She invited two of her friends to join her.  

Roxanne said, “Pastor, I don’t think people have seen the likes of me.” But Jesus has seen the likes of the Samaritan woman, and he’s seen the likes of Roxanne and all of us! That’s why he wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth!  

Return. Repent. Rejoice.  

Why is it so easy for us to lose our passion for sharing the good news of Jesus? With that loss of passion, why are we tempted to share the gospel less and less? And what can we do about it?  

Return to the well with Jesus. Keep drinking the same living water the Samaritan woman found there: Jesus and his love. 

Repent daily of the mistakes and flaws in your life. How desperate is our need for him! 

Rejoice to hear again and again of the peace of forgiveness found in the One who knows everything about you. He’s changed you! “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

The one changed by Jesus becomes the one who shares Jesus. The gospel of salvation through the crucified and risen Christ is incredibly personal. But it never was meant to remain private. It is to be shared publicly. The beauty of sharing your faith with someone is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. There is no one conversation or formula for sharing Jesus. You don’t have to be an extrovert. Just find a way—your way. 

Rekindle and refresh your faith like the Samaritan woman. Have your own visit with Jesus. The Samaritan woman can inspire you to say, “Come, see.” Can you find the courage to say such simple words to someone?  

If a Samaritan social outcast could invite an entire town of people to come and meet Jesus for themselves, think of those who can meet Jesus through you!  


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


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


 

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Author: Donn G. Dobberstein
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Confessions of faith: Stevens

A man watches his children being baptized and eventually wants to be baptized too. 

Debbie K. Dietrich, as told to her by Brandon Stevens 

Mom and Dad didn’t really have a specific church. We weren’t into traditional religion either. We just lived life. I maybe went in a church with an auntie, but never a Lutheran church, and I certainly wasn’t a Christian.  

I grew up the oldest of five kids in the Seven Mile District of San Carlos on the Apache Reservation. I graduated as co-valedictorian, granting me a four-year scholarship to Arizona State University. You’d think that would be a great part of life, and it was at the time. But then that’s pretty much when life fell apart. I lost my scholarship due to too much drinking. I dropped out of school and had no direction in life. With nowhere to turn, I went home to live with Mom and Dad again. I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted to live. I wanted a better life, but I didn’t know how to get there.  

Children and baptisms 

My sister, Ornida, introduced me to her friend, Cortney. WOW! Cortney wasn’t just pretty, sweet, and kind. She also didn’t drink, she went to church, and she actually believed what the church taught. That was amazing to me. We got together, and before you knew it Brandon Jr was born. Cortney wanted to get our baby baptized. That’s when I first stepped into a Lutheran church, Peridot Lutheran. It was pretty cool to see the baptism. I had heard about Baptism and that people should be baptized. I wondered if I should be baptized . . . but life got busy. I thought we’d probably have more children, so that meant more baptisms.  

We started going to church more because the pastor said you really should not just baptize a baby and let it go at that. He said we should keep coming to hear more about God. That made sense, so we tried to go as often as we could. Soon baby #2 came along, and again Cortney wanted that baby baptized. Then baby #3, and another baptism.  Baby #4: baptized; baby #5: baptized, and finally #6, Devon, was born. When baby #6 came along, I thought, That’s it. I really think I should be baptized too. I asked Cortney about it because she sure liked baptizing our babies, and she agreed! 

Pastor said he thought we should both take a class to learn more about what the Bible said—and about Baptism too. By then I really did want to learn more. Cortney wanted me to know more too. She said she felt like I was always left out. The first two kids were in school and Sunday school now. They were learning Bible stories, but I didn’t know these stories and didn’t really have faith or trust like Cortney and the kids.  

There was a lot of information I never ever knew in those classes. I sort of wish I knew all this stuff when I was growing up and I was going through good and, especially, bad times. I started brushing up on learning a bunch of Bible verses. They meant so much to me. Most surprising to me was that undeserved love from God. That just got to me. He sent Jesus to die for me to forgive all the bad stuff I had done. WOW! Now I felt like I belonged here in this church. I was forgiven. 

I knew what was coming up soon. We’d want to get Devon baptized, and now, during these Bible information classes, I too really wanted to get baptized. Pastor thought I should be too. So on July 5, 2015, both my baby son Devon and I were baptized in front of the entire church! It was a pretty big deal for my wife’s side of the family. Her mom even took us all out to eat at a restaurant and paid for all the food for all of us because she was so happy! 

Confirmation 

Cortney and I kept taking classes. Even though Cortney had gone through eighth grade at the Peridot mission school, there wasn’t proof she’d gotten confirmed, so she was going to get confirmed with me. On Aug. 9, 2015, both she and I stood in front of the entire church and said that we did agree with what the Bible teaches. What I remember most is the whole entire church answering that they accepted me. I was a part of this Christian family and church. I was so happy to be included, accepted, forgiven, and part of a church that I knew believed what the Bible taught.  

I’m especially glad because my children are able to attend the same Our Savior’s mission school in Peridot where Cortney went. The scholarship makes it possible for us to send our children. The kids get to grow in faith daily. And the teachers? They are all strong in believing what the Bible teaches too. I love that.  

Growing in faith 

I also want to grow in faith. It’s been three years, and I constantly want to know more and grow in faith and in daily living the way God desires of me. One time a buddy of mine showed me this Lutheran magazine. It had a story about other fathers raising Christian families, taking their kids to church, and so on. I was impressed and thought, That’s what I want to do too! 

I think one of the coolest things I’ve learned from Jesus is about power and being strong. It’s not being a bully or having power over someone at all; it’s about trusting God and resisting doing wrong in a humble, quiet way, knowing and trusting God will lead me in the right way, at work, at home, as a father. He’ll make it all work out. That’s real “strength” that you only see in Christians.  

My wife, Cortney, has this to say, “It’s a neat thing, because with baby #9, I was so tired sometimes. Brandon would get the kids ready and take them to church himself! It’s just faith. Brandon has faith and is living it. Pastor had always told me that life is easier and better if you both can share the Christian faith. Well, he was right about that. Life is way better now. I feel like Brandon and I are on the same page in all of life’s issues because we have this shared Christian faith. 

“My Grandma, Dolly Dude, pushed her kids to learn about Jesus. My mom pushed us all to get a Lutheran education and know how much God loves us. And now, it’s not just me and my daughters. It’s my Christian husband keeping us all learning the love of Jesus and passing that on to our sons and daughters. I’m really happy.”  

I have changed a lot, and I thank God for my wife, Cortney, and for bringing me to church through the baptism of our children. I’m really happy I’m baptized too. 

Now to get two-week-old Brielle, #9, baptized is the next thing we’re going to do. 


Debbie Dietrich is the Native American mission communication coordinator. Brandon Stevens is a member at Peridot, Peridot, Arizona. 


The Native American mission field is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a special celebration weekend this month. Go to nativechristians.org to learn more. 


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Author: Debbie K. Dietrich
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Our treasure: the gospel: Part 6

The gospel moves us to live as disciples of Jesus. 

Douglas C. Tomhave 

Trapped. Nine days in absolute darkness. Twelve boys and their soccer coach sat with little hope in a deep cave in remote Thailand. They were lost. It looked like the flood waters would rise even more. No one could escape. Time was running out. All they could do was wait and hope that someone would respond or that help was on the way.  

When a British diver emerged from the water into their darkness, he shined a small flashlight on the group. He asked if they were all okay. He said that help would be on the way. The light, to those living in the darkness, was blinding. But that light gave hope. That light meant rescue and life. 

Our rescue 

It’s a story that easily reminds us of our gospel rescue. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). This prophecy made so many years ago by God was fulfilled. Jesus was the light that dawned. He rose up out of the waters of death and shined the light of his life onto a dying world. This rescue cost him his life. But his perfect life was exactly what he came to give. He actually lived as a sacrifice that God would accept. He conquered death to give life and hope to a dying people. 

Jesus said about himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Everyone who follows the light of Jesus will walk in darkness no more. They have been rescued and given the light that leads to life.  

This is your rescue too. Jesus’ light rescued you from certain death as his light shined on you through the waters of your baptism. Jesus says to you by faith, “Follow me, I know the way to light and life.” As a follower of Jesus, his light has shined on you and in you and changed everything. Not only has it changed where you are going, but it also has changed who you are until you get there.  

We become light 

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he described the change in us with these words: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). 

Jesus has completed his work here on earth. When Jesus ascended, his work of rescuing us was done. Jesus turned over the task of proclaiming the gospel of his complete victory to those who remained here on earth. Notice what Jesus says to his followers, “YOU are the light of the world.” When Jesus shines his light on you, you become a light to others. You have been chosen to be his light shining on a dying world  

I recently presided over the funeral of a pastor who served for a time as a missionary in Asia. As his widow and family made their way to the front of church, you couldn’t help but notice the man who came to sit right up front with the children. He was Asian, clearly not part of the missionary’s natural family. Yet with a smile he called himself, “The favorite son.”  

His contact with Christianity did not come from any formal missionary outreach or activity. His contact with the gospel came through the missionary’s Christian children who attended an international school. Through normal childhood activities, a friendship began. He was invited over to play and soon observed something different about this family. Over the years and experiences with the family, he saw the light of the gospel. He was included in their life, and eventually he became a Christian. 

His conversion was not received well at his home. His father was a Muslim, and his mother was a Buddhist. When he became a Christian, his father threatened him and disowned him. He was kicked out of his home for a time. He stayed with the missionaries and others until he was received back home. Even though the parents never converted, the young man’s father confessed about the missionaries, “You Christians know how to be better parents to your children.”  

Decades later, this Christian man flew across the country to be at the funeral with the family that shined the light of the gospel into his life. He saw their light—the light of Jesus—reflected in their lives. 

You are light 

Do you see yourself in this story? Jesus used the normal activities of children to shine his light into the darkness of a young man’s life. Jesus used normal family life to reflect his light to others that brought praise to his Father in heaven.  

Of course, Jesus accomplishes his work through missionaries, pastors, and teachers. That work needs our support, our time, and our prayers. But Jesus also accomplishes his work through the daily activities of his followers. You are in someone’s story.  

Jesus says, “You ARE the light of the world.” We need reminders to be who we are. You are the light of the world when you live your life as a Christian, whether you are a child playing in Little League or a parent on the bleachers, whether you are a senior in high school or a senior citizen in a nursing home, whether you are single in your 20s or a widower in your 80s, whether you have a house full of kids or are an empty nester, whether you are a recent convert or a lifelong Christian, whether you are an extrovert or an introvert. It may be in a conversation that stands up for the truth or a gentle deed that puts that truth into action. Your life is Jesus’ sermon to the world, letting “your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  

Stay close to Jesus. Be in his Word. Jesus will fill you with the light he expects to shine through you. Sometimes the results will be observable. Other times it may remain hidden. But all Jesus requires of you in life is to be a light in this world of darkness. Who knows what rescue Jesus is going to accomplish through you? Jesus may allow you to see what he is accomplishing even now through you. And when he returns, you will see it all clearly, and you will hear his voice announce to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant! . . . Come and share you master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23). 


Doug Tomhave is pastor at St. Paul, Lake Mills, Wisconsin.  


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


 

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Author: Douglas C. Tomhave 
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Contend for the faith

I . . . urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. (Jude 3) 

Daniel J. Habben 

For Lutherans, October means Reformation. We are reminded that salvation is free—a gift through faith in Jesus. We are motivated to stand guard so that no one takes this truth from us. We are also urged to fend off a false teaching that Jude summarized like this: “They . . . pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4). 

Forgiveness: Not an invitation to sin 

Unfortunately, that false teaching is as likely to come from within our own hearts as from any outside source. We might gleefully belt out Reformation hymns about God’s free grace and favor but then feel free to gaze at the latest racy video clip making the rounds. We might rejoice that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness through Baptism but shrug at how our wardrobe choices make it difficult for others to stay pure in thought. We might cherish Jesus’ gentle words of encouragement and forgiveness but excuse our own nitpicking and criticism of others. When we realize these sins, we might rush to assure ourselves that we are forgiven but make no move to change. How easy it is to pervert God’s grace!   

An invitation to someone’s house is not permission to leave our dirty socks on their living room floor. Likewise, when Jesus invites us to taste his forgiveness and experience the freedom that comes from lifted guilt, this is not an invitation to shrug our burden-free shoulders at our sin! We can’t embrace Jesus’ forgiveness and cozy up to sin any more than a man would be allowed to embrace his wife while holding his ex-girlfriend’s hand.  

“But temptation is all around us. We can’t avoid falling into sin!” Yes, but that’s not an excuse to sin. And that’s why Jude implores us to contend for the faith. Contending means struggling. It’s what you do when you deny an urge to spit back at someone who has just belittled you. 

God is with us in the struggle 

Contending for the faith is a lifelong effort. Every minute of every day you’ll need to make conscious adjustments to your attitude, the same way you make constant adjustments to your car’s steering wheel. If you don’t, you’ll end up in the ditch.    

Thankfully, contending for the faith is not a solo task. Jude wrote: “To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance” (Jude 1,2). God’s abundant love moved him to send Jesus to die for our sins. It also works to keep us in the faith for Jesus.  

You’re like a war medal a proud father has received for his son’s act of valor. The medal is sent to the father for safekeeping while the son continues to fight on the frontlines. Do you suppose the father will throw that medal in the junk drawer with greasy bolts and rusty nails? Of course not! He will guard and keep the medal in a safe place until his son comes home to claim it.  

That’s exactly what your Father is doing right now as you ponder his Word. He is keeping you safe for his Son until Jesus comes to claim you at the end of time.  

Yes—God’s mercy, peace, and love are yours in abundance. It’s a truth we celebrate at Reformation. It’s also a truth that empowers us to daily contend for the faith as we strive to live holy lives for Jesus.  


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


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Light for our path: Changing the Lord’s Prayer

Recently my church changed the words of the Lord’s Prayer from trespass to sin. Why was this change made? I believe that only God or a called servant can forgive sin.  

James F. Pope

Christians have long prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Changes to the wording can lead us to think more about the content of what we are praying. Your question does just that. 

Committing sins and trespasses 

On the two occasions when the Bible records the Lord speaking the prayer that is named after him, Jesus used different words to describe the violation of God’s holy will. That variety is not surprising, as the Bible employs different terms as well, such as “sin,” “debt,” “transgression,” and “trespass.”  

In the Lord’s Prayer we find in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus used the word debt (Matthew 6:12). In the Lord’s Prayer we find in Luke’s gospel, Jesus used the words sin and debt (see the footnote for Luke 11:4). There is a Greek word for trespass, but that word does not occur in either account. 

So, how did we come to speak, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”? We can thank the Anglican Church for that. For hundreds of years, the version of the Lord’s Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer focused attention on forgiving “trespasses.” When the time came for German Lutherans in our country to begin utilizing English liturgical materials, they adopted the version of the Lord’s Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. Tradition has led many Lutherans in the United States to continue using that version. 

Whether we use sin or trespass, we are acknowledging that we have acted contrary to God’s holy will and seek his forgiveness. If your congregation recently began using the “contemporary Lord’s Prayer,” which substitutes sins for trespasses, it is not doing anything wrong.  

Forgiving sins and trespasses 

When you and I pray the Lord’s Prayer, we state that we are on the receiving end and the giving end of the forgiveness of sins. We ask God to forgive our sins or trespasses as we forgive those who sin or trespass against us. Declaring the message of forgiveness is not limited to pastors. In the Lord’s Prayer, we speak of “forgiving those who sin against us.” Elsewhere in the Bible, that is what God tells us to do: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness of sins is our precious gift from God. Forgiving the sins of others is our responsibility from God. 

In the verses after Matthew’s account of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus emphasized the importance of forgiving others: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14,15). Forgiving other people when they sin against us is not optional; it is necessary. 

For years, Christians have prayed the Lord’s Prayer. From church sanctuaries to kitchens, from hospital rooms to war zones, from deathbeds to wedding services, Christians have rendered the original Greek language of the Lord’s Prayer into their own language. Our Father hears and answers them all. 


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 9

Zephaniah: “I feel like I’ve heard that before.”  

Thomas D. Kock

“I feel like I’ve heard that before.” Ever thought that?  

A repeated message of wrath 

Listen to these verses from Zephaniah. Do you feel like you’ve heard this before?  

“ ‘I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD” (1:2). 

“At that time I will . . . punish those who are complacent” (1:12, selected). 

“I will bring such distress on all people . . . because they have sinned against the LORD” (1:17, selected). 

“Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God” (3:1,2). 

Maybe we’re not familiar with those exact words, but the concept is clear: It’s the fearsome reminder that our God is holy and he hates sin. It’s the fearsome reminder that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  

Thank God we have heard this before! Sinful human beings need to hear that we deserve God’s anger, that we deserve to be sent to hell. I need to hear it so that I despair of saving myself and look outside of myself, to God. The listeners at Zephaniah’s time were no different; they needed to hear it too.  

A repeated message of forgiveness 

Thankfully God goes on. 

He also says, “The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm” (3:15). 

And again, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17). 

Yes, you’ve heard the message of those verses too. The New Testament fleshes it out fully. Jesus came to this earth; he lived a perfect life in your place; he died a perfect death in your place, paying for your sins and for the sins of the whole world. He rose from the dead, defeating your number one enemy, death. You’ve heard that before. 

And thank God you have! Sinful human beings need to hear that God’s anger has been appeased and that sin has been paid for. That message works faith in our hearts, comforts us, and encourages us. I need to hear that! The listeners at Zephaniah’s time were no different; they needed to hear it too.  

Often, we sinful human beings crave something new and different. But the “old treasures” (cf. Matthew 13:52) are treasures! As we read the Bible, God reminds us of the same truths over and over again. Yes, God hates sin; yes, unbelievers will be sent to hell. Ouch! But yes, God has won forgiveness for you, and yes, God has opened heaven to you and will take you there someday.  

Yes, you’ve heard those things before. Thank God you have! Pray that you hear them over and over again.  


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


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


Zephaniah

Hometown/lineage: Great-great-grandson of Hezekiah.

Date:  c. 639-610 B.C. (during reign of Josiah) 

Unique feature:  The “day of the LORD” theme runs throughout.

Key verse:  3:17a. “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 11

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Getting enough to eat (John 6:1-15) 

Ding-dong. The unexpected guests are at the front door. It was going to be a light supper, but all of a sudden, the chef of the house has to become creative. Ever happen to you? I think we all know culinary experts who have learned the fine art of “peel another potato, we’ve got company.”  

The feeding of the five thousand continues to rank among the most popular miracles. We marvel at the details. Five loaves, two fish, and twelve baskets of leftovers. But there is a detail we often miss. Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5). Jesus knew there wasn’t $25,000 sitting in the disciples’ “grocery fund,” so his question was legitimate. But it’s why he asked the question that teaches us something about our Savior. “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do” (John 6:6). In other words, Jesus had a plan. 

How often don’t we wonder, worry, or whine about our physical needs? Whatever your wonder, worry, or whine is about, chew on these words: “[Jesus] already had in mind what he was going to do.” Jesus, the all-powerful Son of God, has a plan on how he is going to provide for you. Oh, maybe he’s not going to feed your family for a year on two fish and five loaves of bread. God’s plan of providing doesn’t always include such miracles. Nonetheless, he still does have a plan. And when you think about it, God’s normal way of providing for our physical needs still is miraculous.  

For example, did you ever consider what it takes for you to enjoy a piece of toast with your morning breakfast? It takes much more than a farmer, a grocery store, and you. A farmer needs to plant the seed. He needs to buy the seed from a seed company. How does the seed company get the seed to the farmer? By truck? Who manufactured the truck? How did the farmer order the seed? By phone? Or did he order online? What does it take for that to happen?  

Or what about on the other end. You bought the loaf from the store. How did you get to the store? How did you pay for the bread? Did you use a credit card? Who made the credit card swiping machine? And on and on and on. Literally thousands of people and materials were involved. Pretty amazing when you think about it. It’s pretty miraculous the way the Lord provides for us.  

The point? God has a plan. He has a plan to care for your physical needs. So, when you pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” he’s not surprised by the invitation. He planned to be there all along. And he’ll even bring butter for your toast.  


Food for thought 

  1. Why didn’t Jesus simply tell the people to go home?
    Mark 6 tells us that Jesus had compassion on the people, because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus’ actions are spurred on by a great love for the people. So, too, if we are going to help people in need, it will be our compassion for them that will drive our actions. 
  2. List as many ways you can remember that God provided for the physical needs of people.
    There are numerous answers. Old Testament examples include manna and quail in the desert (Exodus 16), Elijah taken care of by ravens and the bottomless jar of oil and flour from the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17). New Testament examples include turning water into wine (John 2), the numerous healings that Jesus performed, etc. All of which are reminders of how God provides for us and we need not worry.
  3. Pray about how God has addressed one of your wonders, worries, or whines about your lack of physical needs in the past.
    Answers will vary. But as we consider how God has provided in the past, we can go forward confident of his blessings in the future. 

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


This is the 11th article in a 12-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Oct.5 atwels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Put it on the list!

The list for back-to-school musthaves for college students includes Jesus. 

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

Do you remember the excitement of back-to-school shopping when you were in elementary school? The supply list meant a trip to the store. There were some tough decisions: Do I get the big glue stick or three smaller ones? What is the difference between wide-ruled and college-ruled paper? Even though the list says a 24-pack of crayons is enough, can I get the 128-pack? (There is nothing quite like using a crayon for the first time, is there?) Maybe you recall the sense of accomplishment when you found and checked everything off your list. Then it was time to wait for back-to-school night or the first day when you could fill your desk with all your new supplies. 

The college back-to-school list is a bit different, isn’t it? Instead of crayons, you are picking out bedding. Glue sticks are out, but desk lamps, a coffee maker, and dorm décor are in. Instead of filling your desk with your new supplies, you are filling your car to move all your stuff to your dorm or apartment. You may ask yourself, “How I am ever going to fit all this stuff in my car?” 

There’s one more thing you shouldn’t forget on your off-to-college list: Staying connected to Jesus. Pack your Bible, find some devotional material, locate the nearest church, or connect with the campus ministry at your college.  

Why? Because the Lord knows the challenges ahead of you. He knows your excitement and your fear. He knows how to pick you up when you stumble and lift you up when you are down.  

When you feel lonely, God is right there with you: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When pressures and worries mount, give them to your Lord: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). When sleep escapes you, hear Jesus’ invitation for spiritual rest: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Find your “go-to” promise in God’s Word and keep it in your heart. 

Connecting to God’s promises will bring you comfort and peaceThat will only be enhanced by locating and becoming a part of a community of believers. Maybe a local church will fill that bucket for you. Introduce yourself as a college student. Ask about any activities they might have to get you involved. Other Christians, as a family away from home, can provide encouragement—and sometimes food! 

Another great option is a WELS campus ministry. Becoming active in the local campus ministry provides an opportunity to network with other students. Encouragement and strength come when you recognize you are not alone in your faith. Lifelong friendships often form through college groups. Most of all, you have the opportunity to grow in faith as you connect with God’s Word. We know that “faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). 

If you haven’t finished your off-to-college shopping—or even if you have—it’s not too late to put one last thing on the list: prepare to cultivate your faith in Jesus. Connect with him personally and consider getting plugged in with others who will encourage you and whom you can encourage on your walk with Jesus. That’s much more important than bath towels or a shower caddy.  


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


WELS conducts more than 550 campus ministries across the United States and Canada. Find the campus ministry in your area plus register with the national WELS Campus Ministry Committee at wels.net/campus-ministry.  


 

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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Grow in the grace of giving

The love of Christ compels us in everything we do. That’s also true in the way we use our financial resources. 

John A. Braun 

Their five children are on their own. Brett and Karen Voigt are empty nesters. Their children carry the faith in Jesus into their own lives. “It is important to us that we see them get their lives off to a good start,” says Brett. The children all had the benefit of Christian education. During their high school and college years they attended a number of different schools—St. Croix Lutheran High School, Luther Preparatory School, Martin Luther College, and Bethany Lutheran College.  

At a time when Christian faith is sometimes challenged and ridiculed, all of their children had their faith strengthened at these Christian schools. As parents, Brett and Karen paid the bills for their children’s high school education and were grateful for the influence that helped mold them. The financial aid they received from the schools was also important. They wished they could have done more than pay the educational expenses for their own children. When requests came for special offerings, they just weren’t in a position to help.  

Changes 

Their financial position changed when Brett’s father passed away. He had paid the cost of Brett’s education to be a pastor and then left the Voigts with a substantial inheritance. As a brick layer, he had taken care of his financial resources. Brett said, “I came to realize how carefully he had everything taken care of.”  

There was another change—an unwelcome change. Brett was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It has posed a series of challenges to his work as a pastor. “I can only stand for a certain amount of time; I use a stool when I preach and a walker when I conduct the liturgy,” says Brett. He has had to transition to part-time ministry. The congregation and his associate at St. Paul, Menomonie, Wis., have adjusted to the challenges “better than I could have expected,” he says. 

It hasn’t been easy for him. “I’m seeing my limitations,” he says. “I think I’m stronger than I actually am. It’s hard for me to think I can’t do what I used to do.” He makes hospital calls using a walker now. Karen has found that she must remind him that he needs to slow down. 

Gifts 

With all these life changes, it was time to look at their financial situation. The time had come for them to review their will. The children were on their own, and their financial situation was different. Naturally the inheritance had to be part of that review.  

After meeting with a Christian giving counselor, they chose to give back to WELS and the schools that had nurtured their children.  

“Why now? Didn’t you need the resources for your own situation?” I asked.  

Brett calmly said, “I have the resources now, and I don’t know what lies ahead for me or for anyone else.”  

That’s an expression of faith in the Lord’s care. I thought of the words of Jesus, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26). 

“It was a way to say thanks to the schools for the great blessings our children received when they went to those schools. Their faith was strengthened.” Brett clarified. “These gifts will be used to help other students get a Christian education and give them a solid faith. I have been blessed to see my children receive Christian training, and I hope others will be blessed to see their own children receive it too. We want to help others so their children will also grow up to be active Christians and leaders in their own congregations. Not everyone can be a pastor or teacher. None of our children have chosen to be pastors or teachers. I have an eye to laypeople. I don’t come from a pastor’s family. The kingdom of God takes more than pastors. Our prayer is that our gifts will go to help make leaders in the church.” 

Karen added, “We also want to help provide for the next generation of pastors and teachers, so some of our gift are directed to those who want to pursue public ministry. We need them too. For us, it is important that the church have dedicated Christians and lay leaders as well as pastors and teachers.” 

Both have grown in the grace of giving. They understand the resources they have are gifts of God’s grace. They also know and love their Savior who gave his life to redeem them and grant them eternal life. No matter what circumstances they encounter in the future, the Lord’s care will not cease. Their Savior has provided for their future beyond this life. For them the grace of giving means the blessing and joy to help others. They want to give back in a way that helps others benefit from a Christian education just as they have been blessed. 

Lessons 

What lesson should we ponder from this story? Brett put it in the form of a series of questions, “Why did God put me in this place at this time? It is not a question asking ‘Why me? Why do I have these troubles?’ Instead it’s a question meant for us to consider our opportunities. Why did God put me here? Why do I have these gifts and these troubles? How can I encourage, build up, and strengthen others?” 

The Voigts found an answer that was good for them. Not everyone will answer the questions in the same way. All of us can find our own opportunities to encourage the next generation and be supportive of others. The Lord has placed different opportunities before us all. It may be supporting our own families. It also may be broader than our own circumstances. It may be an opportunity to support our own congregations and schools. The Lord may also open doors for us to support mission work in our synod.  

Brett reminds us all, “Rejoice in the blessings God has provided to you. Ponder the goals the Lord has for you to use those blessings.”  

Karen agrees. “We all have ways to encourage the next generation and support others.” 


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


 Want to explore further how you can use your financial resources to support your congregation, WELS schools, or the synod in sharing the gospel throughout the country and the world? Learn more at wels.net/christian-giving or by contacting the Ministry of Christian Giving at mcg@wels.net; 1-800-827-5482.  


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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True unity

Mark G. Schroeder

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). Those words of King David remind us of the blessings that come when families are united in love and in a common purpose. They illustrate the joy that comes when individual Christians share a common faith and a common mission.  

These words apply as well to Christian church bodies, when groups of Christians are united in their common stand on God’s Word and in the doctrines that they proclaim. When such unity exists, there you find genuine, God-pleasing fellowship.  

God’s visible church on earth should always be striving for that kind of unity—not an outward unity that ignores or minimizes differences and disagreements, but a true unity built on God’s truth. When God grants the blessings of true unity, that unity should be cherished and nourished and expressed. When there are divisions in the church, God’s people will seek to restore unity brought about by agreement in the teachings of the Scriptures. 

The Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) was formed in the late 1950s when some members and congregations of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) members were convinced that WELS and the ELS were not acting in keeping with biblical fellowship principles in their dealing with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Since that time, citing doctrinal differences, the CLC has not been in fellowship with WELS or the ELS. 

For the past several years, representatives of the WELS, the ELS, and the CLC (three from each synod) have been meeting in formal doctrinal discussions to determine whether God-pleasing doctrinal unity exists between the three synods, which would make possible a re-establishment of fellowship. The first question addressed by these representatives was, “When do churches in fellowship with each other need to separate?” Bible passages were thoroughly examined, and past doctrinal statements and convention resolutions of the three synods were reviewed to clarify current positions and remove any past misunderstandings. 

As a result of these discussions, the “Joint Statement Regarding the Termination of Fellowship” was adopted by the nine-member group. It was viewed as a necessary starting point for further discussions on other matters of doctrine and practice. The “Joint Statement” was then adopted by the conventions of WELS and the ELS in 2017. 

This past summer, the convention of the CLC considered the statement. The convention said, “We acknowledge with joy that the ‘Joint Statement Regarding the Termination of Fellowship’ is a scripturally sound presentation of doctrinal principles.” But the convention did not formally accept the statement, saying that it “does NOT resolve all of the issues involving the doctrine of fellowship.” (It should be noted that the statement was never intended to resolve all issues but was to serve as a necessary first step.) So, the CLC neither formally accepted nor rejected the statement but instead resolved to make a final decision on the statement at its 2020 convention. The convention expressed the hope that discussions could continue in the meantime. 

WELS and ELS representatives will meet in October to discuss what the next steps in the process should be prior to the CLC’s formal action on the statement in 2020. We pray that this process can continue in some way as we seek to determine whether agreement between the synods exists and whether full fellowship can be considered. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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A step toward future ministry: Part 1

Young men and women choose to prepare for the public ministry of the gospel. 

John A. Braun 

“I decided I wanted to serve in public ministry,” Will DeMarce said. His reason was one often repeated: “My pastor and teachers told me I had many gifts fit for ministry. The vicar was especially encouraging.” So Will headed off to Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., to prepare himself for serving in the public ministry. 

step of faith 

Becoming a pastor, teacher, or staff minister is a step of faith. The Holy Spirit has created faith in the hearts of these young people just as he has in the hearts of many others. But the Spirit has led these young adults to desire to serve Jesus in a special way. They aspire the noble task (see 1 Timothy 3:1). They want to serve Jesus and help others to know and appreciate the Savior’s blessings by serving in the public ministry. 

Brent Schmidt shares a personal story. “My dad passed away suddenly during the summer between my sophomore and junior year or high school. [So many] helped me through those hard times. They are the reason I’m pursuing my education as a called worker. I hope someday I’ll have the opportunity to share that same comforting news of grace and love from Christ to a student in need.” 

Paul Ritter took a little detour, but he also wanted to share the blessings the Holy Spirit led him to treasure. “After I graduated [from high school] I enlisted in the army. I learned much while I was away, and it forced me to grow up fast,” he says. “I was going through things most adults would never experience. No matter how bad things seemed to get, I clung to the one thing that promised me solace. I held on to my faith in the Lord, and it brought me great comfort. When I came back home, I wanted to share that feeling of comfort that is a lighthouse to those who are lost in this sinful world.” 

Elliott Butler said it simply, “Ultimately, the deciding factor was that I want to serve God in the ministry and be able to influence young people like all my teachers did when I was growing up.” 

vision of ministry 

Faith! Taking the step toward ministry flows from the faith the Holy Spirit has created within. That faith also provides a vision of how they might serve. Sarah Koelpin shared her vision: “Everyone always told me how wonderful a teacher I’d make.” Then while at MLC, she learned how the Lord could use her. “I learned that being a teacher means telling jokes that aren’t funny, throwing away the lesson plan sometimes, and taking time to talk with your kids about life. . . . And most important, it means being the person who gets to tell them about Jesus every single day, not only in religion class but also in every situation that life throws at us.” 

Life experiences sometimes provide that vision. Daniel Wessel comments, “A semester spent in Hong Kong as a sixth grader made me realize just how big the world is and just how much the world needs to hear the good news that we have been so blessed to know.”  

Danielle Hall fell in love with the idea of being a teacher and is “excited and willing to share God’s Word with others.” Abbie Mleziva looks forward. “I never had an epiphany moment when I suddenly know I was meant to be a teacher. I was the first person in my family to pursue a career in the public ministry,” she says. “I’m so thankful for the people and experiences God used to help me realize that I would enjoy being a teacher. Now I can’t wait to get my first call!” 

Jeremiah Wallander adds, “I became interested in the public ministry when I saw how much pastors helped people. I do not consider myself one of the smartest guys, but I am very passionate about helping others and showing them the greatness of our God.” 

Encouragement from others 

Students preparing for the ministry do not all follow the same path. Each student has a little different personal story. Their faith is the solid foundation for taking the step to enroll at Martin Luther College. They often acquire the vision to serve through the encouragement they receive. 

For some, it’s finding a role model. “My Aunt Jenny has definitely been one of the most influential people in my life,” says Cassie Doering. “She’s just an overall great role model and seeing how much she loves teaching children about their Savior really solidified my desire to do the same.” 

Rylee Weisensel was offered an athletic scholarship at another university, but she followed the example of her role model. “I was home schooled until high school. Being taught by my mom made me want to be a teacher. It was the way she taught. She let us discover things but was always there if we were struck on something. My mom was my role model.”  

Michaela Bessler offers a little different perspective. “My mom was a music teacher and worship coordinator for many years in Tucson. I remember seeing her work late at night with a smile on her face. That ‘servant’s heart’ attitude opened my eyes to the ministry.” 

Encouragement also comes in what others say. Michael Wu shares his story: “I come from a Buddhist family.” He was baptized and confirmed but “public ministry wasn’t even a consideration until about four months before high school graduation. . . . While my decision was not well received by my family, I was certain. I owe it to the teachers and pastors who encouraged me all my life to consider the public ministry.” 

Personal and specific encouragement came to Aaron Bush. “My parents weren’t WELS. They were looking for a church right before I was born when a WELS pastor out canvassing knocked on their door,” he says. “I really didn’t know I could become a pastor. I didn’t think that was a thing I could do. Then my confirmation class went to visit the seminary, and my pastor pulled me aside and said he thought I could be a good pastor. He even visited my parents and talked to them about it.” 

Pray and encourage 

The next generation of pastors and teachers are still out there, waiting to make important decisions about their future. Pray that the Holy Spirit will lead some of them into public ministry. Then encourage them as they consider this noble task. Make that encouragement as sincere and specific as you can. 

Perhaps they will be like Kailyn Dabe who heard about the need for called workers at her church. “I was planning on going to a university near my home. . . . Then at church my pastor’s sermon followed the theme of ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’ After hearing his sermon, praying a lot, and talking with my family members and former teachers, I realized I wanted to be a teacher.” 

Do you know someone who has the talent to be a pastor or teacher? Pray! Encourage! Repeat! 


John A. Braun is the executive editor of Forward in Christ and a former college recruiter.


Student quotes from this article originally appeared in KnightWatch, MLC’s recruitment magazine for high school students. Thanks to Laurie Gauger-Hested for gathering and providing the information. Learn more about MLC at mlc-wels.edu. 


This is the first article in a two-part series on encouraging young men and women to consider the public ministry. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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There’s a change in the seasons

Glenn L. Schwanke 

There’s a change in the seasons. You can feel it in the crispness of the morning air and see it in your breath. Fall is almost here. That’s why intrepid Yooper gardeners like me are scrambling to stretch the growing season by using sheets to cover some of our prized vegetables before a cold night. We lavish special care on our most precious plants: the tomatoes. The goal of a “master” gardener in the Keweenaw Peninsula is to harvest at least one red, ripe tomato before the first frost! I think this year, I may actually do that. 

But I wouldn’t have even had the chance for a ripe tomato if I hadn’t planted a garden. This year, many wondered if I would. Why? On May 14, my wife, Terry, was carried safely home to heaven after a long struggle with the devil’s concoction, cancer. In the weeks following her memorial service, I kept getting asked, “Pastor, will you plant your garden this year?” “Certainly!” I said. Then I added, “Remember Dr. Luther? Some claim that he once said, ‘Even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I’d still plant an apple tree today.’ ”  

Whether Luther actually said that or not is hotly debated. It really makes no difference. I agree with the sentiment. It’s a biblical principle written by the wisest man who ever lived. King Solomon wrote, “For everything there is an appointed time. There is an appropriate time for every activity under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot plants” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2). As Solomon observed, our heavenly Father guides all our “appointed” times: the seasons of the year and the seasons of our life. Planting the garden in spring, then harvesting and pulling it out in fall. Giving birth and dying.  

As I ponder Solomon’s words, I sometimes think of the inspired words of his father, King David. “As for man, his days are like grass. Like a wildflower he blossoms. Then the wind blows over it, and it is gone, and its place recognizes it no more” (Psalm 103:15,16). Life flies by so quickly. Death comes to us all. Yet we don’t despair, because we know the second of our death is an “appointed” time planned by the One to whom David could confess, “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15).  

Yes, I miss my wife. But we were blessed to have almost 39 years together as husband and wife. And now she is forever safe, wrapped in the loving arms of our heavenly Father who “appointed” the time for her to die at just the right second! There is comfort and profound peace in knowing that.  

So I planted a garden this year as a confession of faith. Spring, summer, fall, winter, seedtime and harvest: All will continue till the end of time as ordained by the Lord’s unwavering guarantee.  

So also, our life: spring, summer, fall, winter. If I were to judge by the calendar, I’m in the fall of my life. But I’m at peace with that, because my Lord is guiding every turn of my life, just as he guided my wife, Terry, safely through the last season of her life into the changelessness of eternity.  

May you find this same peace in Jesus.  


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


All Bible verses are from the Evangelical Heritage Version. 


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Part 3

Sharing law and gospel

Donn G. Dobberstein

“If we wanted to join this church, what would we need to do?”

It was a question months in the making. Their reaction to what would be said next is a story worth sharing and a lesson worth learning.

Shannon attended an Easter Sunday service after receiving a postcard invitation at her home in a nearby subdivision. She said she’d be back next Sunday with someone. Sure enough, 52-year-old Jim was with her. I immediately liked them both. Who isn’t attracted to smiley, positive personalities?

Shortly after, I visited them in their home. I learned they’d been together six years. They opened up about the experiences of previous relationships that ended horribly. Separation. Divorce. Jim was busy raising three children and working hard at a prosperous career. It had been decades since he last did the “church thing.”

I noticed two things: There were no wedding bands and there was no mistaking the shining in their eyes when they talked about going to church together—especially in Jim’s. He talked and talked like a man who hadn’t been allowed to speak about God for 20 years. “I’ve got so many questions to ask you I don’t even know where to begin,” he said.

A couple weeks later, I walked in and immediately knew something was wrong. Jim was distraught. Sharon was crying. Between the tears I pieced the story together. A swelling on Jim’s throat. A check-up. Lymphoma, the really bad kind. Jim hadn’t slept in days. The thought of death was mind-numbing.

In coming weeks, our time together became more devotional than instructional. Jim kept asking questions. But now they were the kind only a man facing mortality asks.

Jim could have swapped places with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. Both felt severe loss and loneliness for a long time. When Jesus offered, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14), Jim was right there alongside her, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15). He guzzled huge quantities of the gospel as if drinking from a fire hose. He knew he was a man dying of thirst and what he was drinking was eternally vital.

Jesus knew perfectly what the soul of the Samaritan woman needed most. She needed good news for her bad living and grace greater than her sin. She needed law and gospel. But which ought to come first and in what size measuring cup should it be served?

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (v. 10). Remarkably, Jesus flooded her with the gospel invitation, promising a wealth of blessings for her soul. He gave her the gospel first, but not at the expense of the law or ignoring her sin. A few verses later, John writes: “He told her, “ ‘Go call your husband and come back.’

“ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied.

“Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. That fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband’ ” (John 4:16-18).

Ouch. I could never have gotten away with that brutal honesty in the opening minutes of my conversation with Jim and Sharon. Then again, this is Jesus. He distinguishes between hostility and hurt in a heartbeat. He understands core spiritual conditions before a word is even spoken. Jesus addressed her disobedience, but in such a natural way that it didn’t come across as rude or hinder her kindling faith. It was quite the opposite: His divine knowing of her personal life inspired her to further pursuit of personally knowing God.

What the Savior models perfectly in John chapter 4 can be incredibly challenging when you and I engage in conversation to share the Savior.

● How do we share God’s core truths—law and gospel—in a winsome way that doesn’t turn someone off or impede their further hearing of the gospel?

● How do we do that without it coming at the expense of ignoring or soft-pedaling God’s law?

● When is the right time to do it? How do I avoid speaking the truth unlovingly? How do I speak lovingly without avoiding the truth?

Fear and uncertainty are such paralyzing forces.

If Jesus tailored his conversation with the Samaritan woman according to the needs of her soul, that just might be the lesson to learn. Ask yourself:

● Do I have a clear understanding of the spiritual needs of the person with whom I am engaging in conversation?

● Do I have a clear understanding of God’s role to convert the soul and my role to love my neighbor, love God’s truth, and bring that love of both together in what I’m about to say to them?

● Do I trust God’s promise that his word will not return empty?

● Do I pray, “Lord, give me the right moment to speak and guide the right words to say”?

Jim wrestled with a restless conscience and his own mortality. He believed God’s plan for his personal salvation. His question came a week after we actually discussed God’s plan for a committed man and woman together. Not a word needed to be said about their relationship. I knew they knew.

The answer to Jim’s question, “If we wanted to join this church, what would we need to do?” was this:

“Jim, you trust God’s plan for your eternal life because you know he loves you, right?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Then you know you can trust his direction for your relationship with Sharon. When it aligns with his will, you will be totally right with his church too.”

After a couple seconds, he said, “Thank you. Sharon and I will talk.”

They weren’t in church the following Sunday. My heart sank. It took all my strength not to pick up the phone like an overly anxious parent and check up on them.

But there they were in the church gathering area the next Sunday. Something was different. They were glowing. They held up matching hands with wedding rings to show the reason why. That Sunday, as they received their Savior’s body and blood for the first time together, they were holding hands with quiet tears in their eyes. For the next 14 months, I’ve never seen a happier, more devoted couple until God called Jim to eternal glory.

Their tender love story is the story of the Savior’s love for them just as it was for the Samaritan woman. It’s your love story too. So, show it and share it! Be a witness to God’s grace using his great truths of law and gospel.


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


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


 

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Author: Donn G. Dobberstein
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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I know where I’m going

The Lord provided strength and courage on our journey with ALS. 

Lynette Hopp 

“You have ALS and, most likely, two to five years to live.” My husband’s diagnosis was final.  

Our journey had begun when Leon noticed weakness in his left hand and then had trouble with buttons. The doctors were certain. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system. Leon would gradually lose control of his muscles, ending with total paralysis.  

Our worst fears became a reality. When the doctor stepped out of the room, we embraced in tears. We returned home to make some difficult but necessary decisions. Our prayer became, “Help us, Lord! If you can use us through this disease to reach out to others, we are your instruments.” 

Making adjustments 

Leon took the lead in determining that he could no longer farm—something that he’d done with his dad and brother all his life. The brothers had become partners when their dad died. He had always farmed, except when he served as a loadmaster in the Air Force for four years. The changes Leon’s diagnosis brought were not easy on his brother. Their mother was still living at 94 and supported what needed to be done for everyone’s sake. (She is still living, doing well at 99.) 

We also realized that we could no longer stay in our split-level farmhouse without costly major adaptations. ALS would eventually rob Leon of all muscle function but would leave him with his sight, hearing, and mind. He would be able to think but gradually lose his ability to walk, talk, eat, and use his hands. We decided we needed to move to a patio home in town where he could navigate on his own for as long as possible. 

God led us through unusual circumstances to a home that was perfect for us. We set a moving date and began to sort through 40 years of stuff. Then we moved off our farm into town. We continued to pray for strength and peace from our Lord and knew that he would be with us wherever the next phase of the disease would take us. 

Living in peace 

As we settled into our new home, we hung the Christ-centered pictures and plaques that we’d brought from our farmhouse and stacked our devotional books in different rooms. I put meaningful Bible verses on the refrigerator and in my kitchen work area. I worked at a Christian bookstore for 17 years and purchased so many pictures, Bibles, books, and Christian CDs that Leon always laughed and said that I spent more than I made. I’m certain that he was right!  

We hung one of my favorite pictures over the fireplace, which is the center focus of the townhome. It is a picture of Jesus and the frightened disciples in the storm on the sea. Jesus is standing and rebuking the wind and the sea. The words on the frame are from Mark 4:39: “And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, PEACE, BE STILL. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” “Peace, be still” is all in caps. After the diagnosis and initial shock, I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have peace—the peace that only God can give. 

My dear Leon never lost his smile until near the end of our journey when his facial muscles would not allow it. When asked by aides and nurses how he could be so positive and cheerful while living with such an awful disease, he would simply reply, when he could still talk, “I know where I am going.” His faith never wavered, and even though I had times of great sadness and tears, I knew that the Lord was with us. 

From the diagnosis to my Leon’s entrance into heaven was about three and a half years. I cared for him at our home with the help of dedicated aides, nurses, and doctors. We had cherished times together, including numerous trips to a park and falls area near our home and many visits by our family and friends. He had a motorized wheelchair that he was able to navigate by himself until the last few months when he trusted me to run it. That was a total leap of faith on his part! 

Even after he could no longer communicate verbally, we used a spelling chart that I held, and he would spell words by looking at one letter at a time. Before losing the use of his hands, he was able to run the computer using Bluetooth and the driving handle of his motorized wheelchair. With that he connected with many old and new friends and relatives who sent prayers and support. 

Finding comfort 

We did not walk this journey alone. God had placed in our life the blessing of wonderful caring family and friends, pastors, neighbors, and a local Christian radio station. The outpouring of love was amazing. Our three children and their families were great blessings. One grandson was born after the diagnosis. Leon was able to see this little guy grow and start to walk. Little Kyler was fascinated with Leon’s motorized wheelchair and would crawl over to it, pull himself up, and stand looking at his grandpa.  

The love and support continues even now and is such a blessing. Now I panic if I can’t get the radio station. It’s the only station I listen to because it remains an encouragement and comfort. 

I tried to send a mass e-mail about every three to four months to give updates on our journey. Toward the end of our journey, we hit a few days when I became exhausted. Our nurses encouraged us to take advantage of respite care—an overnight stay for Leon in a nearby hospital so I could get some rest. 

After leaving him there, I drove home in tears. When I arrived home, I was moved to write an update, because I felt particularly vulnerable at the time:  

I have learned that God reaches out in love when I dissolve in tears of sadness. He reaches out in forgiveness when I question why he is taking my beloved before I’m ready. He reaches out with peace when I worry about the “What ifs.” He reaches out with strength after I’ve had a hectic day or an exhausting night. He is always by my side . . . even when I forget to talk to him. How can I question his love and faithfulness?! Even on my worst days, I know that God loves me and has a plan. Our lives are in his hands. There is no better place to be!! 

My dear husband and friend died at home with his family four months later. I have not changed much in the house since Leon has died. I draw so much comfort from all those special pictures, including photos of him and me at places we visited over the years. I still have the Bible verses by my sink. All I know is that the Lord has blessed me, and I am constantly reminded that I’m in his care.  


Lynette Hopp is a member at Trinity, Nicollet, Minnesota. 


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Author: Lynette Hopp
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Pain

John A. Braun

Christians often confront this question: How can a God of love allow so much pain in this world? It’s a natural question in the face of violence and shootings as well as the repetition of earthquakes, storms, personal trials, and health problems.  

Pain is a reality, and so is death. Some say that God is powerless to do anything about either. Their conclusion is that we don’t need God. We simply need to make the best of our lives, and that’s all anyone can do. 

From the perspective of all we see in this world, pain is persistent and death is not preventable. Some of death’s causes may be preventable, but worldwide, about two people die every second from accident, heart trouble, cancer, stroke, gun violence, or some other cause. We might lengthen our lives, but that does not change the inevitability of death. 

Some pain can be prevented, eased, cured, and even eliminated. We recover after surgery or an accident—sometimes pain free. At other times we have chronic enduring pain. Sometimes pain is only the first paragraph of a story that ends with death. It’s the tragedies that cause us to ask, “God, can’t you take away the pain? The anguish, the hardships, the tragic losses seem so out of place with your story of love.” 

So what do we say as Christians to the indictment of God’s helplessness to prevent pain and death? In each issue of Forward in Christ, I find some answers in the stories of Christians who have encountered both death and pain. They are stories of trust in God’s promises. Even when pain was the harbinger of death, God’s promises gave comfort, strength, and hope. Jesus has risen and promises that we too will overcome death (John 11:25,26).

My heart goes out to all those whose journey through life includes pain. Compassion for others is one of the reasons God allows pain. He provides opportunities for us to help others endure pain and offer prayers for their relief and endurance. I commend the doctors, nurses, caregivers, and researchers who seek to ease pain. We should not be absent from those who offer prayers, comfort, and compassion. 

God gives relief in his own time and in his own way, whether or not we understand. But we must not mistake the relief he gives for the peace and joy of our final destination. God grants relief along the way to assure us of his care. If he grants no relief, he supplies the power to endure. And then after this life’s troubles and toils, we have something much better in store for us. 

Believers have heard the calm, soothing whisper of God’s promises on our troubled journeys. We have forgiveness and eternal life. Some have not listened and even refused or opposed his promises, but God has not written them off. Everyone knows something is wrong when it hurts. God leaves pain and disaster here to underline that reality. With pain, he turns the volume of his message up. God shouts, “This life with all its troubles is not what I want for any of you.”  

If they miss this message imbedded in pain and misery, God leaves one more invitation. Death inevitably stands at the end of all journeys through life. Remember two people die every second. Our Lord stands at death’s door, ready to accept those who turn to him like the thief on the cross. He longs to say at life’s end, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Amazing grace

A teacher cherishes the opportunities to proclaim the message of God’s forgiveness to her students. 

Cindi L. Holman 

One of the things I appreciated most when serving as a teacher were the opportunities to share the precious gospel with children and their families. What a joy to be able to attend the baptism of a student or see a young family express their faith as they become confirmed.  

Sharing God’s amazing grace 

I particularly remember one story when I taught at St. Marcus, Milwaukee: 

Josiah and Jemoni* were twins. Their mother had left them, and they lived with their grandmother and great aunt. The boys had faced abandonment and heart-breaking tragedies in their young lives. During their kindergarten year, their uncle was shot and killed in the alley just a short distance from their home. 

Josiah especially struggled with anger and sometimes rage, even at such a young age. In our early childhood center, rest time each afternoon was a peaceful time for him. He would find his mat and blanket and lay quietly, humming softly. Most often, you could hear him humming his favorite song, “Amazing Grace.”  

But one day, Josiah had a particularly difficult episode. I took him out of the room to help him calm down. Slowly his rage turned to exhausted tears. We talked about what happened, how he reacted, the results of his reaction, and what might work better next time. We talked about strategies that could help him when he became upset and how we could work together in the future.  

When I asked him if he wanted to say anything else, he shared a tearful apology. I told him that it was easy to forgive him because Jesus forgives me over and over even when I make the same mistake again and again.  

Then I asked Josiah if he knew what grace was. He quietly shook his head no. I shared that grace was how God forgives us when we don’t deserve it. I told him that God loves us so much that he gave us Jesus to take away the consequences of all the sins that we do each day. He watched and listened intently.  

I said, “Isn’t that amazing? It’s amazing grace, just like your song.” His eyes widened, and a gentle smile came to his tear-stained face.  

Trusting God’s amazing grace 

We all love a happy ending. We love a success story. Even more, we love when the Lord allows us to see the fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit. However, we don’t always get to see that happy ending, at least not this side of heaven. 

The next fall, we visited Josiah and Jemoni’s home at the beginning of the school year. We were told that the boys had been enrolled in another school. It was an abrupt and unpleasant visit, with no opportunity to say good-bye to the boys. 

Although we don’t know where they are right now, we do know that Josiah and Jemoni both heard about Jesus their Savior every day while they were with us. One of the highlights of the year was the day when they were both baptized. We know that Baptism gave them the promise of God’s forgiveness for their sins (Acts 2:38).  

And so we trust God’s promises in Isaiah 55:11: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” What a comfort and what an encouragement. We know and trust the power of the Holy Spirit, and we pray that the Lord holds them close to him. Our trust—and theirs—is always in God’s amazing grace.   


Cindi Holman, national coordinator of early childhood ministries, is a member at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  


*Names have been changed. 


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Author: Cindi L. Holman
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Confessions of faith: Nielsen

When attending a worship service with a high school girlfriend, Carter Nielsen was challenged to have a more active relationship with Christ. 

Dayton Hamann 

Carter Nielsen adores the mountains. As an environmental consultant in Buffalo, Wyoming, Nielsen shows oil companies, gas companies, and other natural resource businesses how to interact with the land safely. When out working in those peaks and valleys, he keeps his heavenly Father at the front of his mind. 

“Sometimes, I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God than in church thinking about the mountains,” Nielsen says, chuckling. 

Currently a member at Living Shepherd, Laramie, Wyo., Nielsen and his fiancé are leading a project to establish a secondary site for Living Shepherd in Buffalo. 

Nielsen’s commitment to Christ stems from the lessons of his childhood and the events of his senior year in high school. 

The bigger picture 

Nielsen estimates he attended worship four times before he turned 18. He usually made these visits with friends, though his parents occasionally attended church for major holiday services. He was neither appalled nor captivated by the ideas of church and faith. 

“It was something to do,” he recalls. “It was never pushed on me during those times. I didn’t think about it too much.” 

Nielsen’s mother wasn’t raised religiously, but his father—a hunting guide—was. Though they attended church infrequently, Nielsen’s father planted and nurtured the idea that the world was a created place worth revering. 

“As a hunting guide, my father instilled in me a deep sense of respect and understanding for ‘God’s country’ and all living things in it,” Nielsen says. Though his knowledge of God’s Word was limited, Nielsen began to see his heavenly Father’s fingerprints in the fields, forests, and mountains that he loved so much. 

He explains his childhood and first years of faith by saying, “I always knew God was up there, but I didn’t yet know what he had done for me. It is surprising how much I missed.” 

New relationships 

During his senior year of high school, Nielsen was invited by his then-girlfriend’s family to the Easter Sunday church service. Nielsen acknowledges that he had some hesitations. “I was selfish. I like Sundays to myself. I was a bit scared I wouldn’t have time to go to the mountains anymore or otherwise enjoy my weekends.” 

But, having no qualms with the church beyond his potential scheduling conflicts, he ultimately agreed to attend. Recalling the worship service, Nielsen pinpoints a moment of intense clarity: “The pastor bluntly said, ‘If you only attend church on Easter Sunday and Christmas, you may have to examine your faith.’ ” 

Though Nielsen’s relationship with this girl eventually came to a close, the Holy Spirit had inspired him to give more focused and more intentional thought to his relationship with Christ. That same year, Nielsen’s parents divorced. Though he was understandably distressed, his newfound belief supported him. He recalls feeling empowered, more confident he would persevere this change in his family. 

This faith-forged courage stayed with him as he began college at the University of Wyoming in Laramie in 2012. A few weeks into his first semester, the mother of Nielsen’s former girlfriend mentioned to him that they knew a pastor in Laramie: Pete Zaferos of Living Shepherd. During that same week, Nielsen was eating lunch with his neighbor from the college dormitory. This classmate also knew Zaferos. He told Nielsen that Zaferos had asked about him. God was giving Nielsen a clear opportunity. 

“I went to Living Shepherd that weekend,” Nielsen explains. “And from there, I was hooked. Pastor and all the welcoming members made me feel part of the group.” As a younger minister, Zaferos’ sensibilities resonated with Nielsen. They formed a friendship, occasionally hunting and ice fishing together. 

Nielsen attended Living Shepherd regularly throughout the rest of 2012 and 2013. After completing basic Bible instruction courses, he was confirmed into the church on Dec. 8, 2013. 

Around this time, Nielsen also reconnected with a girl named Emily. They had been acquaintances for a few years, running into one another at statewide FFA events during high school and then at the Wyoming State Fair in 2009. There, they had bonded over Nielsen’s show pig. 

“My pig would always lay down and roll over if you scratched her belly,” Nielsen explains. “Emily—being the animal lover that she is—did just that, and then proceeded to lay with her in the grass and talk to me. I had always had a crush on Emily, and I knew from that moment she would be important to me.” 

After the fair they had lost touch, but they reconnected again over social media and began to see one another. Soon, they also began to attend church together. 

Building a family of believers 

Nielsen and Emily are now engaged. Though it is about a four-hour trip from Buffalo, where they currently reside, they still attend Living Shepherd in Laramie as often as possible. 

Still, because of this long drive to Laramie, Nielsen and Emily are developing an alternative. With the help of Zaferos, they are starting a new site for Living Shepherd. This site will join two other locations—one in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and one in Rock Springs, Wyoming. All sites are connected, with Zaferos coming in person for some worship services or serving via worship streamed live online.  

Nielsen and Emily first watched the livestream of the Living Shepherd service at his home on Sundays. A friend or two would join them occasionally, but they began to think bigger. 

Emily’s brother owns a small brewery in Buffalo with a large pub space perfectly suited for group gatherings. Nielsen and Emily plan to set out chairs and watch the worship service on a large screen via a projector there. Nielsen says they also hope to add a speaker system and then advertise their worship schedule across the city. 

Nielsen hopes to draw in local young people like him and his fiancé. “If we can get even five more people to join us, that would be fantastic. We need the people, and the rest will come from there,” Nielsen says. 

“A change for the better” 

Nielsen notes how his perception of other believers has changed over the years: “When I was a kid, I thought they were a whole different tier of person. I didn’t understand what it meant to be Christian. Now I see that Christians are humble and they want to help you. I hope I am turning into a person like that.” 

Those who have seen Nielsen’s devotion to spreading God’s Word would assure him of that hope, but he remains modest, saying, “After 18 years, I just made a change for the better.” 


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


To stay up-to-date on the progress of Living Shepherd’s new sites—including the one in Buffalo—and to watch its livestreamed worship services, visit livingshepherd.com. 


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Author: Dayton Hamann
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we set the stage for a successful school year?

How can we set the stage for a successful school year?

Routine. My family abandons it for the summer, but I think there’s a part of all of us that welcomes its return during the school year. It’s hard just to throw ourselves back into our school routine, though, after weeks of freedom. And each new school year brings new routines for each kid. New expectations. New responsibilities. Adjusting can be a lot for all of us.  

That’s why I welcomed the advice from this month’s authors. Any tips that can help the transition into the new school year are much appreciated in my house. Let us know if you try any or if you have any of your own to share. God’s blessings on the coming year! 

Nicole Balza


Are you ready for school to start? Some parents love the freedom and fun of the summer schedule. Some are like my husband and have a countdown on the calendar with a smiley face on the first day of school. No matter how you feel about it, the school year is beginning. Here are some ideas to help the transition go more smoothly. 

Routine 

Set clear goals right from the start regarding home and school responsibilities. What does the morning routine look like? What gets done the night before to prepare for the next day? (Hint: as much as possible!) What chores does your child have and when do they need to be done? At our house, chores like unloading the dishwasher are done in the morning. Responsibilities like practicing piano can be done after school.  

Establish with your children when they are going to do homework and where. Having a specific time and a comfortable place set aside prioritizes homework and provides a structure for study. If homework has been a struggle in the past, consider hiring an after-school helper to provide a different perspective and take the tension out of the parent/child relationship.  

Along with setting clearly defined routines, it’s important to practice them. Use the week before school starts to begin getting up at the right time, going through the morning routine, and sitting down to read during the scheduled study time.  

Rest 

Apparently fifth grade at our school is when every activity possible becomes available for students. Last year, our son decided he wanted to be in cross country, soccer, flag football, band, and chimes—all at the same time. It sounds so well-rounded, doesn’t it? It turned out to be a recipe for anxiety for our son and led to significant physical and emotional issues for the first part of the school year. Kids need down time. (So do adults!) Choose with your child one or two activities to participate in during the school year, and limit everything else.  

Along with rest from activities, children need physical rest. It is recommended that children ages 6 to 13 get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Consistent lack of sleep can negatively impact learning, weaken the immune system, and result in behavioral issues. Encourage good sleep by limiting electronics before bed, keeping lighting low and the temperature cool in your child’s bedroom, and having a healthy snack before bedtime. Routines such as a warm bath or cuddling also help. 

Remember what’s important 

Finally, as the school year approaches, remember this important truth. Our children belong to God, and he has given us the responsibility of teaching them about his love. Maybe you set aside time for family Bible study. Maybe you sing Christian songs on your way to soccer. We have a devotion and share what we’re thankful for before bed. What your children learn about Jesus and what he’s done for them will be the most important lesson they learn all school year.  


Sarah Reik and her husband have four children ages 6 to 11 heading back to school this fall. 


The school year is upon us. This brings newness to the air. New teachers, new schedules, new goals, and new expectations. So how do we, as parents, help set the stage for a successful school year? 

My husband, Tad, and I are a part of a parent coaching group where we learned about family summits. Basically a family summit is a family meeting. In this meeting we sit down and create space for each child to share a few basic, but important, things. Here is the agenda for our meeting: 

  1. PrayerWe intentionally invite the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be present and active in our summit.
  2. GroundrulesWe explain that this is a time to share and listen. When you aren’t sharing, you are listening without judgment and without interrupting. 
  3. DefiningsuccessGive time for each child to think about and write down what a successful school year means to him or her. 
  4. SharetimeShare with the family. It’s amazing how different this can look for each child. 
  5. SelfexpectationsGive time for each child to think about and write down his expectations for himself.  
  6. SharetimeShare with the family. It works so much better when the expectations are theirs and not just yours. 
  7. FamilyexpectationsGive time for each child to think about her expectations for your family. In our home our children didn’t always realize the kinds of expectations they have for each other. 
  8. SharetimeAgain, share with the family. This is also a time to talk about what are realistic expectations of themselves and of each other. 
  9. Mom and DadtimeTad and I share our ideas of success and our expectations. These include their answers. 
  10. BlessingClose with a blessing on our school year.

So often as parents we assume that our children’s ideas are the same as our own. Doing these summits has been eye opening for us. God is uniquely equipping our children to do the work he is putting in front of them. We want to cultivate a discernment that helps them see what that work is. I am humbled when their ideas come out because oftentimes they see it more clearly than I do.  

Having these conversations has been invaluable in our home. It gives us insight into their hearts. It gives us direction when we are called upon to encourage and discipline our children. It keeps our desires for our children in check and helps us keep looking to our heavenly Father for guidance as we guide our children. 

May God bless you and your families this year and always. 


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


I personally believe setting the stage for a successful school year starts in summer.  

My wife and I try to get our children on a typical, healthy routine a few weeks prior to the school year. That includes trying to get them to settle in to sleep at a reasonable time and helping them adapt to any other changes in routine (including less screen time) so they have a chance to have healthy habits entering the school year and so we do not have the added stress of those changes when school begins. Of course, we do not always accomplish this goal due to the busyness of life and the need for flexibility.  

I also believe it is important to speak positively about school and encourage your children to see school as a healthy and important venture and to model that positivity to them about responsibilities in your life. Telling them that your work is important, that God gave us talents and abilities to apply in this life, and that we aim to approach work and school with a thankful attitude can go a long way.  

One part I have struggled with is watching my children go through the transition to school with fear and worry. I find myself saying, “How will they do with their friends?” “Will they like their teacher?” “What about their academics?” When I catch myself falling into that line of thinking, I remind myself that it is important to trust God (He helped you through it all, didn’t he?) and to trust your children and the people God has placed around them.  

When school finally begins, my wife and I typically try to keep the above routines on track in addition to establishing routines for homework and study time. I also think it is important to try to keep things simple for a few weeks. Managing the back-to-school transition is an exciting time with all kinds of adjustments. It can also be a time when soccer, cross-country, and other commitments come together, and all of that can be overwhelming depending on how your child manages stress. In our house, we try our best to keep things simple in the fall so we are not overcommitted (notice the word “try”) and to allow the children adequate time in the evening and weekends to do things that help them relax, to connect with each other and us, to get homework done, to eat, and to play.  

Finally, we pray for patience and trust that over time, the routines will settle in, the children will adjust, and we will be thinking about our plans for the following summer. Moreover, we remember that this time is temporary and we may as well enjoy this time of grace. 


Casey Holtz and his wife, Amanda, have three young children ages 2 to 8. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 09
Issue: September 2018

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

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Our treasure: the gospel: Part 5

This treasure calls us back to Jesus.

Some wander away from God’s love—a few far away—but our heavenly Father never gives up on us.

Jonathan E. Scharf

“The voices don’t mess with me anymore.”

That’s what Grady told me. He had taken a detour in our conversation to let me know how much better things were. Grady had mentioned the voices once before—the first time we had talked. He doesn’t mention them often because he doesn’t want people to think he’s crazy. He just wanted me to know they weren’t a problem anymore. “Things are different now. The last couple months of our meetings and Bible information class and weekly worship and my reading routine . . . things are different now.”

The doctor told him those voices are called “auditory hallucinations.” According to the doctor, they are likely a side effect from past drug use. Grady just likes to call them “the voices.” And they played a part in his story.

The downward spiral

Grady’s dad had been a Baptist preacher, so Grady was in church every time the doors were open. But his dad quit and became a truck driver when Grady was 13. That was it. Grady hadn’t been back to church since, except for funerals.

He’s 36 now.

In the meantime, Grady confesses, “I’m pretty sure I have done every immoral thing you could possibly do.” And it had taken its toll. His body was suffering from addiction. His marriage was suffering. His family was a wreck.

The day he was planning to walk away from his wife and the two boys that mattered most to him, he got in the car and drove. Then something inside him told him to pray. Maybe it was a memory of the faith of his childhood or the influence of his dad. Maybe it was the prayers of his mom. But when he pulled over in Abiding Grace’s parking lot and stopped the car to pray, something happened. Grady says his steering wheel stopped working. The car’s wheels wouldn’t turn. So, he got out, pushed his car forward toward the parking stall, and started walking. He walked five miles to where he was staying, leaving his car diagonally covering a couple spots, a clear testimony that something wasn’t right. Whatever was going on, it prevented him from filing for divorce that day.

As Grady tells it, this was just the beginning of what God was doing. When he finally got around to coming back for the car with a trailer, the car started right up. The steering wheel worked fine as he drove the car onto the trailer. There was nothing wrong with it.

From parking lot to pew

Grady was raised not to even think about looking for help at church if you weren’t tithing. So when he came that day, he made sure he had some money. He brought $50 to give to the church as an “offering,” to thank us for not having his car towed. But the vicar wouldn’t take it. Grady tried to give it several times. He finally had to beg the vicar to get him to take it. “Vicar has no idea how important he is to me,” says Grady. “He has no idea what he did for me that day.”

Neither did Grady at the time. He left and drove away with his car, never really intending to be back. But, Grady says, “God wasn’t nearly done.” A couple days later, as the voices intensified, Grady tried to run away from them and instead ran into a pole. He remembers seeing himself laying in the back seat and then he opened his eyes on the helicopter. The next time he opened his eyes, he was in the hospital with a broken shoulder blade, a lacerated liver, several broken ribs, and more. Grady knew something had to change. His upbringing told him what.

So, there on that hospital bed, Grady promised God he’d go to church. And since he had just found one, he came to Abiding Grace. He wanted to go where they didn’t just want his money. This time, he parked in just one spot.

And his wife came with him. She wanted to support his efforts, so even though she never had done “the church thing,” even though she says she didn’t know anything about the Bible, she came too. They heard about forgiveness and rebirth. They heard about God’s grace that’s not deserved. They heard the treasure of the gospel.

After church, Tiffany asked if I did any marriage counseling. She knew they needed something, and she liked the hope in the message they heard that day. I told them I’d be happy to talk about what God’s Word says about marriage, love, and communication. There was one requirement, though: They had to come to church while we were meeting. They needed to be regularly reminded of God’s love in order to show it to each other. They told me they had already been planning on that.

Pretty soon, they were both in Bible information class and meeting to study God’s Word on marriage. Their boys were in Sunday school. They started devotions and prayers at home. One thing led to another, and soon Grady was sitting in my office telling his story because he wanted everyone to know that God never gives up on you.

I asked him about using an alias for the story, but he wouldn’t have it. He told me that as soon as I had called him to ask if I could use his story, he had called everyone involved and asked if they were okay with him telling it. “It’s an honor for me that you want to hear my story,” he said. “And hopefully my honesty will help someone else, because that’s the whole point of everything—to help others and pass it on. If not for divine intervention, I’d be dead already.”

A Father’s love

He’s right. If not for divine intervention, we’d all be dead. But “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus is the searching shepherd that leaves the 99 in the open country and goes after the lost sheep until he finds it (Luke 15:3-7). He joyfully puts that lost one on his shoulders and carries it home. He is the woman (Luke 15:8-10) who sweeps her whole house looking for that lost coin and rejoices with her friends and neighbors when she finds it.

Or consider the “prodigal” son in the story Jesus told in that same chapter (Luke 15:11-32). How quickly the son disposed of the wealth he had demanded from his father. Then consider all the little things, the “coincidences” that brought the son back to the father: the famine God sent, the irony of a Jew feeding pigs, the hunger, the memories. One memory pulled him home—his father’s love. Then, in that great undeserved love, his father forgave him and welcomed him as a son again.

Sounds a little like Grady’s story. Sounds a little like mine.


Jonathan Scharf is pastor at Abiding Grace, Covington, Georgia.


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


 

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Author: Jonathan E. Scharf
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Light for our path: Suffering for our ancestors’ sins?

Why do some Christian families tend to suffer so much more than others? In a short time, my best friend has lost several family members to cancer and accidents. Does God make us suffer for our ancestors’ sins? 

James F. Pope

Since Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, suffering has been a common human experience and, as you indicate, more familiar to some than to others. Scripture provides insight into the subject of suffering. 

God whose ways can be mysterious 

There is no question that God’s ways can be mysterious to us (Isaiah 55:9; Romans 11:33,34). While God reveals all-important information about himself in the Bible, he does not explain his every move in our lives. Consequently, his action or inaction can puzzle us. 

Consider Job, for example. In the course of one disastrous day, all his children were killed and his possessions stolen by raiders. Later, sores covered his body. To the casual observer, guided only by human reasoning and no biblical knowledge, Job must have done something wrong.  

Yet, nothing could be further from the truth—biblical truth. God described Job to Satan in a conversation one day: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). The tragedies Job encountered were not divine punishments for his sins. They took place only because a wise and loving God allowed them. Christians today experience suffering for similar reasons. Guided by wisdom and love, God can allow some Christian families to experience more suffering than other families. When he does that, such troubles are not punishments for sin—theirs or their ancestors’. 

A God who treats people individually 

The Bible verse you might have in mind with your question is Exodus 20:5. At Mount Sinai God described himself: “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” If we stop right there in that verse, we can greatly misunderstand God and his ways. However, the verse ends: “. . . to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” That ending helps us come to an accurate understanding of suffering and sin. 

Certainly, those who reject God will face eternal suffering and punishment for their sins (Mark 16:16). What God can do, if he so desires, is to mete out punishment already in the earthly lives of unbelievers. And, if there are successive generations of unbelief in a family, God can intensify those sufferings from one generation to the next, if he so desires. 

How different it is with Christians. Followers of Jesus will not experience punishment for sin in this life or the next (Romans 8:1). That is because Jesus Christ was punished for all the sins of the world and Christians are beneficiaries of that saving work through Spirit-worked faith in him. The sins or unbelief of ancestors will not bring about divine judgments of punishment in the lives of Christians.  

God so loved the world, yes. The human race is the object of God’s forgiving love in Christ. God sends suffering into the lives of believers too, but not as punishment. He disciplines us as the writer to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 12). We cannot always know why God sends suffering to believers, but we should remember that his purpose for believers is always guided by love.  


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 09
Issue: September 2018

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

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Victory parade

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14) English Standard Version  

Daniel J. Habben  

A few years ago, I studied 2 Corinthians 2:14 with the leaders of my congregation. We were happy to be reminded that as followers of Christ we are participating in a victory parade. We Christians need that reminder, because our walk to heaven doesn’t always feel victorious. Instead, it often feels like we’re a parade of clowns. The world has a good laugh at our beliefs, and our own human limitations trip us up like oversized clown shoes.  

Not according to plan 

That’s how our congregational leaders felt as we met to discuss a building project that had run into some difficulties. Didn’t we know what we were doing? Not really, as it turns out. But in the end, the Lord worked everything out so that we were able to finish construction and present to the congregation a beautiful and functional building.  

What are some difficulties you are facing? Have you spent the week submitting resumés in the hopes of securing a few interviews? Have you sent a child away to school for the first time and feel anxious about how he or she will cope? Are you trying to figure out how to care for aging parents while also looking after your spouse and children?  

Narrow route 

Notice how the apostle Paul never said that the parade route would be easy. We’re not marching down a broad boulevard to heaven. Quite the contrary! Jesus warned that the way to heaven is a narrow road that few find (Matthew 7:13,14).  

Although our route is narrow and unpopular, that doesn’t change the fact that we are indeed marching in a victory parade. High above us snaps the banner of our Savior, a sharp retort to Satan who says we don’t belong in such a parade. Sure, we do. Ahead of us walks Jesus himself. He knows the way. He’s been down this road before and has already unlocked the door to heaven—for us.  

Beside us are fellow Christians who encourage us in our journey, even as they receive encouragement from us. Angels guard our flanks. None of this escapes the notice of others. We Christians exude an aroma says Paul—the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ.  

Our victory parade 

Granted, not everyone likes the scent. Many will continue to turn up their noses at us as we pass. Don’t be surprised by this. Don’t use it as an excuse to “tip-toe” past certain people, hoping not to disturb them. We’re in a victory parade! Make some noise! 

Let others know of the confidence we have because of Jesus’ forgiveness and his promise to keep caring for us. Explain to your friends why you’re not worried about your job prospects or about your children who are now out on their own or about the added responsibilities you have as you care for those aging parents. We are in the Lord’s care, and in the end, all our troubles will turn to joy. 

But we won’t march in step with our Lord if we’re not regularly hearing his voice. 

Now that summer is over, congregations are resuming Sunday school and Bible classes. Jump back into these spiritual growth opportunities. Be assured that we Christians aren’t a parade of clowns, nor are we just biding our time until our Savior’s return. We’re marching with him in triumphal procession.   


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


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 8

Habakkuk: You’re going to do . . . what?!?  

Thomas D. Kock

“You’re going to do . . . what?!?” Perhaps we expect that surprised question from the parents of a teenagers who announce their latest “plans.” But we wouldn’t expect it to come from a prophet addressing God, would we? Yet Habakkuk directed that sort of question to God himself.  

God has a plan 

Here’s how it happened. Habakkuk was discouraged. He saw evil; he failed to see good. He laments: “Therefore, the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (1:4). 

And, to Habakkuk, it seemed as if God was doing nothing about it! (cf. 1:2,3).  

Oh, but God had a plan! He tells Habakkuk, “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. . . . They fly like an eagle swooping to devour; they all come intent on violence (1:6-9). 

At that point Habakkuk basically says, “You’re going to do . . . what?!?” This “solution” sounded worse than the problem! Destruction and judgment would come. 

God responds to Habakkuk, “But the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4 NIV84). To Habakkuk, all looked disjointed, random, even crazy! To God, the plan was crystal clear. And then God adds, “The Babylonians will be punished eventually too.” 

In short, God is saying, “Trust me, Habakkuk; I’ve got this.” He will bring judgment, but salvation was the best part of his plan. 

God’s plan assures our salvation 

In Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11,12, God quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to emphatically make the point that salvation is his work and his work alone. So “the righteous will live by his faith.” Or to put it colloquially, as God said to Habakkuk, so God says to us: “Trust me; I’ve got this.”  

Perhaps we’re tempted to say, “You’re going to do . . . what?!? You’re going to do all the work of salvation?” After all, as we look at our own lives we see the same problems Habakkuk did: violence, injustice, strife, and wickedness. When we hear God will send judgment, we understand that we are guilty and deserve judgment. We can’t understand how we could possibly hope to stand “right” in God’s sight, since we’ve failed so much! But God will do what we cannot do. He will save us.  

Why would he want to do that?!? 

God’s answer? “Trust me; I’ve got this.” The salvation plan may not make human sense, but it makes perfect sense to God.  

So Habakkuk was assured! He may not totally understand the plan, but he was assured that God did. He, therefore, concluded his book with a psalm, including these moving verses: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen  

and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17,18). 

“Trust me,” God says. “I’ve got this.” That’s true, no matter what.  


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


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


Habakkuk

Hometown/lineage: Unknown.   

Date: Not long before 605 B.C. (c. 610? 620?)   

Unique feature: Two of the three chapters are a dialogue between one human and God.  

Key verse: 2:4 “The righteous will live by his faith.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 10

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Dinner for one? (Mark 2:13-17) 

It’s a common movie scene: A lonely middle schooler sits by himself at a table in the cafeteria. “Cool” kids walk by and roll their eyes. “Mean” kids point and laugh. The “bully” comes and takes his dessert. But then, one day it all changes. The prettiest girl or the high school quarterback sits with the dork, and his life is changed forever. 

Cafeterias aren’t just scary places for acne-ridden  middle schoolers. Hungry college students, fearful of eating alone, roam the dorm halls before heading out asking, “Anybody want to go eat?” As adults, it can be embarrassing to tell the hostess, “Dinner for one.” Once in a while we’ll sneak a seat close to someone in a pub or restaurant, but as the “Piano Man” aptly sings, we’re simply “sharing a drink called loneliness.” 

That’s what life was like for Levi. As a tax collector, he was surrounded by crowds, but he was used to saying, “Dinner for one.” An outcast to society. The black sheep of the family. A disgrace even to the little guy inside of him named “Conscience.” Levi had plenty of acquaintances but not many, if any, friends.  

Then one day, it all changed. Someone better than the star quarterback visited his booth. Not to make fun of him. Not to scold him. But to invite him. “Follow me.” 

“Follow me.” Were there any sweeter words to Levi’s ears? Every other time he heard those words, they were likely preceded by a “Don’t.” But not this time. Jesus, the miracle worker, the preacher, the doctor, invited him: “Follow me.” 

No longer having to say, “Dinner for one,” Levi couldn’t wait to throw a dinner party for this One. After inviting all the other lonely, guilt-ridden sinners to his table, it no longer fazed Levi when the “cool” teachers of the law walked by with their sneers and snarky remarks. Better yet, it didn’t faze Jesus. When the spiritual leaders mocked, “Why are you sitting with them?” Jesus didn’t move. He knew the bad company needed his company. He knew the sick needed a doctor. He knew the sinners needed a Savior.  

And he knows you need him. So he invites, “Follow me.”  

No matter what’s in your past, no matter how many times your RSVP was no to Jesus, no matter how many times you’ve set your chair in your modern-day tax booth instead of at his feet, know this: Just like Jesus saw Levi, Jesus sees you. And he doesn’t roll his eyes. He invites, “Follow me.” 

Having received Jesus’ invite through his Word, be like Levi and return the favor. “Come, Lord Jesus, be my guest.” Put out a spread and celebrate him and see how you are blessed by his gifts when you have a dinner for One. 


 Food for thought 

  1. The call of Levi (also called Matthew) appears three times in thegospels (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32). Compare the readings. What details do you appreciate from each account?Matthew – includes Jesus quoting the Old Testament, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus is more about what’s in the heart than simply doing spiritual things for show.  

    Mark – knowing that Jesus was teaching a large crowd when he saw Levi is a great reminder that Jesus is never too busy to notice us. He goes out of his way to invite, “Follow me.” Mark also includes that Levi is the “son of Alphaeus,” which personalizes Levi. 

    Luke – Paints a wonderful picture of Levi’s response, “leaving everything” and hosting a “great banquet for Jesus.” What a beautiful picture of not being cheap in our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. 

  2. How have you acted like the “teachers of the law” in this account?Answers will vary. So much of our life is about comparison. For example, when we see people who we don’t think would be “good fits” at our congregation so we don’t invite them to worship like we may someone else, we could ask ourselves, “Do I think Jesus should only ‘eat’ with me?’ 
  3. How has Jesus invited you to follow him?He always invites us through his Word and through the Sacraments.Thinking of particular times when that has happened, we may give thanks for giving us Christian parents who brought us to a baptismal font where we heard Jesus say, “Follow me.”Maybe we heard Jesus’ voice to follow him through a neighbor who invited us to worship.Maybe it was through this article you just read in Forward in ChristJesus consistently invites, “Follow me.”

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


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


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 09
Issue: September 2018

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

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Teen Talk: Tune in

It’s easy for our minds to drift when we hear God’s Word, but it’s important to tune in. 

Rebekah M. Stahmann 

We’ve all been there: sitting in the pew early on Sunday morning using all your strength to keep yourself from nodding off for the fifth time during the seemingly eternal sermon. No matter how hard you try to listen, the words coming from the pastor’s mouth sound like nothing new as he repeats the gospel message you’ve heard hundreds of times before. And not only do you have to stay for the entire service but you also have to sit through another entire Bible study based on the book of Deuteronomy, which is just so BORING for you as a teen.  

Sure, your love for Jesus is strong and your faith is the most important thing to you, but sometimes as a teen it’s just so hard to connect to the material being taught to a church that’s primarily filled with those who are much older than you. 

As the 17-year-old daughter of a pastor and Lutheran school teacher, I get it. Taking sermons and devotions to heart can be extremely difficult if they don’t seem to correlate to our everyday lives as teenagers. Sometimes as a teen, it’s hard to relate to the old biblical teachings that we’ve been hearing for years and years. You know how the saying goes: “In one ear and out the other!” Truly tuning into the words being spoken to us can be challenging and frustrating.  

Through my personal struggle with paying attention during church and connecting the words to my life, I’ve come up with some ways to take God’s words he is preaching to us truly to heart. 

When we prepare our hearts for worship, our number-one focus should be growing in our faith and relationship with God. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the one doing the work, and it’s not all about us. The time we have to study God’s Word and reflect on it is precious, and we should never take it for granted, no matter how tired we are from staying up late on Saturday night.  

I’ve heard that advice so often and I’ve tried to put it in practice. When I sit down in the pew on Sunday morning, I take the time to tune into the words and focus on the message that the pastor feels is important to share. That message is for me. Remember that God is speaking through his called servant, and he wants us to listen. 

Believe it or not, this same problem was very much present during biblical times as well. The most obvious example was in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus was preparing for his betrayal and death. Jesus had instructed his disciples to keep watch and pray while he was gone. The disciples, like us, were sinful and gave into the temptations of falling asleep, not unlike the occasional dozing off during church. Jesus quickly rebuked them: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). 

Jesus gives us many opportunities to study his Word, which we should willingly hear and learn. His words are there specifically to help us in our everyday struggles of life. Remember regularly to tune into the sermon or any other Bible study you might attend. The words have been prepared for your benefit.  

Ask God to bless your studies and keep your mind alert, even after those Saturday night Netflix marathons.  


Rebekah Stahmann, a 2018 graduate of Arizona Lutheran Academy, Phoenix, Arizona, is a member at Salem, Scottsdale, Arizona.  


 

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Author: Rebekah M. Stahmann
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Trained and ready

Mark G. Schroeder

Long before soldiers are sent into battle, they undergo rigorous and thorough training. They train to improve their physical strength and endurance and to instill discipline and a sense of teamwork. They learn to use their weapons with skill and confidence. They train and train again, so that when the time comes, the skills they have learned will be used instantly and instinctively, without thought or hesitation. 

No general would send his troops into battle without giving them thorough training. And every solider recognizes that training is one of the most important factors to achieve success for himself, for his fellow soldiers, and for his country. 

Another important factor for a soldier’s success in battle is the support he receives from “back home.” It’s the letters and phone calls; prayers; and encouragement of friends, family, and fellow citizens that remind soldiers why they are fighting and help soldiers to devote themselves fully to their mission. 

It’s August, and throughout our country young men and women are preparing to head into battle. For some, it will be their third or fourth tour of duty. For others, it will be their first taste of combat. The battle will have extremely high stakes for them and for the people they represent. And the enemy they face will be fierce, committed, and unrelenting. 

But this battle will not take place in faraway deserts or jungles. Instead, many of our young people will be heading into the hostile territory on the campuses of secular colleges and universities. The dangers will come in the ideas, instruction, and pressures they will encounter in classrooms and dormitories. They will encounter furious assaults on their faith, their values, and their very souls. 

Atheist professors will try to teach them that there is no such thing as absolute truth—much less biblical truth. Science, despite its changing conclusions, will be elevated to godlike status, and anyone who believes that God created the universe in six days will be mocked. Faculty and fellow students will vigorously defend the killing of unborn children and promote a distorted view of God-given sexual identity. Our young people will be accused of being bigots when they express their beliefs; they will be branded as naïve when they confess their faith. They will be ostracized from their social circle when they refrain from sexual immorality and the abuse of alcohol and drugs. The attacks against faithful Christian students will be relentless and furious. They will stop only when that Christian student gives in, goes along, or remains silent. 

God knows the importance of training for such battles. God says we are responsible to show our children “the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). “Bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). I’m confident that WELS parents who are sending their children off to college have made good use of those 18 years of training time. Because you have trained them in God’s Word and taught them to know their Savior, you have equipped them to withstand the most furious attacks. 

So send them out with confidence and trust that God will give them the strength to hold on to their faith and confess their Savior without hesitation. And keep up that support from the home front. Encourage them to be faithful in worship. Help them connect with a WELS Campus Ministry or campus pastor. Remind them who they are and whom they serve. And pray for them. Protected by God’s strength and armed with his powerful Word, it’s a battle that they will win.   


Want to help college students in the battle? Register them with WELS Campus Ministry at wels.net/campus-ministry for free helpful materials, including Forward in Christ magazine and Meditations 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Unlocked by God’s power

John A. Braun

C.S. Lewis wrote that he believed the damned are “rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside” (“Hell” from The Problem of Pain). Jesus tells us in the parable of the beggar Lazarus (Luke chapter 16) that the rich man wanted to warn his five brothers so they would not “come to this place of torment” (v. 28). The rich man was told that there was “a great chasm” so that no one could cross over from hell to heaven. 

I don’t think that C. S. Lewis would disagree with the description of hell by Jesus, but Lewis makes a different point. He suggests that those who are in hell are rebels who have opposed God and always oppose God. Satan is the prime example. We don’t have to think too long for other examples. We know others who, at least in this life, have opposed Jesus, Christianity, and Christians without remorse. They have hearts locked from inside. The familiar painting of Jesus knocking at the door comes to mind. For them, the door is locked to prevent Jesus from entering. 

Think about that a moment. David says that he was “sinful from birth” (Psalm 51:5). Paul describes us as “dead” (Ephesians 2:1). But what we have by birth is not just a passive defect. It’s an active opposition and rebellion against God. Paul also wrote, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). Hostile and rebellious. So in reality, our hearts were locked from the inside too. All hearts are by nature. 

In the first chapter of Corinthians Paul writes of those whose hearts are locked. He suggests that the Gentiles think that the gospel is so much foolishness and the Jews think it is a stumbling block. His experiences remind us that culture does not matter. He experiences reveal opposition, imprisonment, and beatings from Jews and Gentiles. (See his summary in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26.) 

Paul’s experiences are not just ancient oppositions to a new idea, oppositions that disappeared in the modern era. We also experience opposition. Some Christians in the world we know today have been shunned, beaten, imprisoned, and killed. Hearts are still locked. They are rebels, hostile to the God who has graciously provided forgiveness and eternal life through his Son Jesus and wants all to be saved.  

But Paul was different, David was different, and so are we. Why? What happened to cause us to unlock our hearts? We have not decided to open our hearts to Jesus. By nature we, like everyone else, want the door to remain locked. Did we find some power within us to open our hearts? No! 

Only one key can unlock a human heart. Paul clearly identified that key, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it the power of God that brings salvation” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is the key. It doesn’t come from inside of any of our hearts. It comes from outside when we are baptized or when we hear and read about Christ crucified. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the power to unbolt the lock of our rebellious and hostile hearts. His power unlocks our hearts, not ours. Once our hearts are unlocked, we understand that the message of Christ crucified is the wisdom of God.  

Amazingly God entrusts that key to us to trust it, live it, and share it. In our experience that key won’t open every locked heart. Hostility will persist. But by his grace some will open their hearts to the message of Jesus. 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Our treasure: the gospel: Part 4

This treasure keeps our vision clear 

The gospel is a lifelong treasure that keeps us focused on Jesus. 

Kevin P. Westra 

I used to live near the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. When I first moved there and drove around the area and gazed at the beauty of God’s creation, I remember thinking to myself, I will never get used to seeing this beautiful scenery. I was surprised when lifelong residents didn’t share my excitement at seeing the mountains every day. I promised myself it would never happen to me. Well, after a few years of living there, the mountains were still there every day, and they were just as beautiful as always. But I didn’t always notice them.  

A missing treasure 

Can something like this happen to us when it comes to the gospel? Many of us grew up in Christian homes. We don’t really know a life that doesn’t have the beautiful treasure of the gospel in it. It is certainly a wonderful blessing. But it can also be something that Satan uses against us. It’s always there, always has been, always will be. We take it for granted. 

Sometimes we don’t appreciate that treasure until it is gone. Paul and Betty joined a WELS mission church in southeast Ohio. At one of their first Sundays there, the pastor announced that he was taking a call to another church. They liked the church and prayed that when a new pastor came he would preach that same gospel message that brought them there in the first place. They were not disappointed. Paul and Betty continued to worship there for many years.  

Changes in life—getting older and retirement—led them to move away from that town. They found a new home in a retirement village in another town. There was no WELS church nearby. They went to a church in town, one that was a denomination that they had been involved with in the past. Though they tried it for a while, they realized something was missing. Unfortunately, it was the clear preaching of the gospel. They were used to hearing about their sin problem and the only solution to that problem—their Savior—week after week. They were no longer hearing the message that for so many years had kept their vision clear and their life and hearts focused on Jesus. Instead they heard a lot of talk about society and politics. Something they were used to hearing every time they went to church was missing. The treasure of the gospel was no longer there.  

A treasured message 

The idea of living out their golden years without this treasure was both unappealing and scary. 

They called their former WELS pastor and said, “What do we do? We live over two hours away from you, and we aren’t getting the gospel here.” The pastor told them that they lived 60 miles away from another WELS church. Would they be willing to make that drive? They tried it out, and they found out the drive was worth it. They came almost every Sunday for a while, then age made it harder for them to make that drive so they tried to come on Communion Sundays. Eventually age made that drive too much as well, and they became shut-in members. But they were thankful to have a pastor and a vicar who regularly visited them with Word and sacrament and kept their eyes on the treasure of Jesus their Savior. 

During those years many situations developed in their lives. They had an adult son who lived only a few miles from their new church. He started coming, eventually took classes, and became a member. Shortly after that he was diagnosed with cancer, which eventually took his life. Another son who lived in a different state lost his job and his wife left him. He moved to Ohio with his parents and began looking to start a new life. He was then diagnosed with leukemia. He has since been baptized and started taking instruction classes. He continues his health battle. One year ago, Betty started having some serious health issues, and God called her home.  

Paul continues to get older, and his body is wearing down. He has moved to an assisted living home and has plans to move across the courtyard to a place that offers more care if he needs it and God continues to bless him with more days.  

On one of my visits with Paul, we were discussing all the challenges he has faced in his life. He made the comment, “I don’t know how anyone deals with all these things without Christ in their life. How do you deal with things like cancer, death, job loss, divorce, sin, and guilt without knowing Jesus? How do you live without that treasure?”  

A clear vision 

Paul and Betty’s life story is not much different from your story. Some of us may have more hardships in our life and some may have less. But we all deal with life and everything that comes with it. The longer we live here, the more challenges it seems we have to face. What a blessing it is to have the treasure of the gospel as we deal with all the things that life can throw at us. It keeps our vision clear. The Scriptures remind us so clearly, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who is the author of our faith and the one who brings it to its goal” (Hebrews 12:2 Evangelical Heritage Version). We know life can be hard sometimes. But what a treasure it is to know that our sins are forgiven, our hardships here on earth are only temporary, and we have a home waiting for us in heaven. When we keep our eyes on Jesus and the treasure of the gospel, our vision is clear. In all of life’s ups and downs, the gospel keeps reminding us of the beautiful treasures we have in Jesus. 

Fourteen years after moving away from the mountains, I still miss them. The first several months that I lived in Ohio I would find myself looking toward the western sky, hoping to see the mountains. They still haven’t shown up. I didn’t always appreciate them when I could. Don’t let that happen with the treasure of the gospel. God’s gospel gift is here for you. It is here to keep your vision clear and to keep your eyes focused on your Savior, Jesus.  

As you think about what that treasure means to you, remember there are people who don’t know the message of their Savior. That treasure that is here for you is also a treasure to share with others.  


Kevin Westra is pastor at Beautiful Savior, Grove City, Ohio.  


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


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Author: Kevin P. Westra
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Water for the soul

The Lord loves the lost, the weary, and the thirsty. In Christ crucified, he offers the relief we all crave. 

Lincoln A. Albrecht 

For many, the end of August is an enchanting time. Like a fireworks grand finale, summer often saves the best for last. Parents and children prize these last summer days—the campfires, the fireflies, and long weekends at the lake—because they know the end is coming. Summer is a season to be savored. 

But in the Sonoran Desert, summer is a season to survive. People from Phoenix know the drill. Keep in the shade. Drink plenty of water. Stay where it’s cool. Find places with free air-conditioning.  

Having a rough day 

All that can drive a mission planter stir crazy. At least, that’s how I was feeling late last August. So I packed up a backpack full of flyers and hit the streets shortly after sun-up. I wanted to get a couple hundred flyers hung before the temperature reached 100 degrees. 

Near the end of my route, a man stormed up to me with a scowl on his face. He had a handful of my flyers and a mouthful of unkind words. He shoved the flyers into my chest. I tried to muster up a smile, but I’m sure it didn’t fool him. 

The Lord knows there will be days like this. 

Later that afternoon, a message popped up on our church’s Facebook page. I was excited . . . until I read it. Someone had taken great offense to our flyer: “Rude!!! Even though my family is looking for a church, this will ensure that I won’t be coming. Clearly there is no respect.”In my haste to hang as many flyers as possible, I had missed her sign about not wanting religious pamphlets. I sent her an apology message. 

The Lord knows there will be days like this. 

Finding relief 

The next day, there was another Facebook message. Part of me didn’t want to click it at all. Ignorance can be a kind of temporary bliss . . . but I clicked it anyway. 

This time, it was someone new, and the message was something entirely different: “I found one of your flyers on my front step. . . . I looked up your website and started listening to your podcast this morning. I feel like it’s water to my thirsty, parched soul.” 

The Lord knows there will be days like this. 

He prepared this moment. For her. For me. For the advancement of his kingdom. “The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade” (Psalm 121:5). 

So many people living in the growing outskirts of Phoenix are just trying to survive. They hope and dream of better days. They’re looking for relief, but they don’t know where to find it. They have no idea of what they’re looking for . . . no idea how lost they really are. 

But the Lord knows there are people like this. 

His Word proclaims what no human mind can conceive. He loves the lost, the weary, and the thirsty. God loves survival-mode people so much that he sent his Son to save them. In Christ crucified, God offers the relief we all crave. 

There will be days filled with people who don’t want to hear the message of hope and comfort. But there will also be days when maybe even a single thirsty soul is ready to drink of the living water. So we keep at it.  

The Lord knows there will be days like these. He watches over our coming and going. He is our shade. That’s something special. That’s something to savor. Especially during summertime in the Sonoran Desert. 


Lincoln Albrecht is pastor at River of Life, a home mission in Goodyear, Arizona.


Read more stories from WELS Missions at wels.net/missions. 


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Author: Lincoln A. Albrecht
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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No!

A simple word can carry such negative energy, yet it also can bring great comfort. 

Sarah Proeber 

“No.” 

It can be the worst word to hear. 

“No, I’m sorry you are not able to have your own children.” 

“No, we aren’t able to offer you the job.” 

“No, I’m just not interested in having a relationship right now.” 

We are told no more often than we would like. Those two letters strung together to make one little word can have such a negative impact on our day, our week, or even our lives. 

But what if I told you that no is one of my favorite words? 

I don’t enjoy it when my husband says no to going out for ice cream or when my boss says “No, you can’t have that day off.”  

I surely didn’t like it when my pastor told me as a young eighth-grader, “No, you cannot have Romans 8:38,39 as your confirmation verse. It’s too long.” (What he didn’t know was that I actually wanted verses 31-39. But I figured eight verses was too much to ask for.)  

While his no was devastating to hear, it didn’t stop me from adoring those two letters strung together to make one little word, no, within these verses:  

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? 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? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39 

There it is. No. Read it again. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No. 

As an insecure, 13yearold, middle school girl, the word no unnerved me more than I’d like to admit. As that young girl I heard no in various sentences such as:  

“No, we don’t want to be your friend.” 

“No, you can’t have a cell phone.” 

“No, you didn’t make the team.”  

All of these nos made my heart sink and the tears come. 

But God, he knew. Yes, he knew those two letters strung together to make one little word could make my heart sing and my spirit soar when he showed me the meaning of the message behind them.  

In these verses I found my love for that one little word. He changed the connotation of that little word for me when he said, “No, my sweet child. Nothing will be able to separate you from my love.” 

When my life seemed like it was over because I was the only kid in my class who didn’t have a cell phone, God said no. “Dear daughter, your cup overflows” (cf. Psalm 23:6). 

When a fellow classmate declared that she wouldn’t be my friend and I felt alone, like nobody cared, God said no. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (cf. John 15:13,14).  

When the coach said I didn’t make the team and I felt unwanted, like I wouldn’t ever be good enough, God said no. “Now you are the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). 

Who would have thought that one little word could leave us with two very different emotions? When a person tells us no, we are left with an empty feeling. When God tells us no, we are filled with his peace, with his joy, with his love. He reminds us, “ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ ” (Isaiah 55:8,9). 

When there is a no in your life, God is saying “I have something better in store for you. You cannot understand my plans. I am greater than you and greater than all things of the world. Wait and see, my child. No, I am not granting you your wish. I am giving you something even greater.” 

So, no! Those two letters strung together to make one little word are not meant to defeat us. They are meant to remind us that although not everything may go our way in this life, nothing can separate us from his love or his plans. 

Maybe God says no to all your earthly yearnings. Maybe you never get the child you have prayed for as Hannah did in the Old Testament. Maybe you never find “the one” who you will spend your life with and raise a family. Possibly you’re stuck in a job you would rather run from like Jonah did.  

But shall these things separate you from the love of Christ?  

No!  

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”Ponder the fact that no means God is working in our lives. He is using us as integral parts of his perfect plan. The no from God doesn’t leave us empty. The no from God gives us purpose and peace in the truth that his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts than our thoughts. 

So listen again to the words of my desired confirmation passage from Romans 8: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Come what may in this short, little life, we are conquerors. 

No, nothing can take us away from the love of God, nothing can alter our future home in God’s eternal kingdom. Our salvation has been won. 

Now here is my question: Are you left feeling empty? 

No.  


Sarah Proeber is a member at St. Mark, Green Bay, Wisconsin.


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


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Author: Sarah E. Proeber
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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