Risen indeed!

The reality of Christ’s resurrection affirms our faith. 

Michael J. Berg 

Christianity is the only religion that claims it can be proved false.  

This sounds odd, but it is exactly what St. Paul meant when he wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14). It is as if Paul wrote, “Show me the dead body of Christ, and I will not believe and neither should you.”  

Christianity offers a way to invalidate its own teachings and does it in its own sacred texts. No other religion does this. Why would they? 

Fact: Jesus rose 

I do not mean that Christianity is actually false; I mean that Christianity relies on facts. If the stories of Christianity, specifically the resurrection of Christ, turn out to be mere myths, then the whole thing falls apart. What would be the point of following Christ if he cannot fix our ultimate problem: sin and the death that follows? We would then remain in sin and have no hope past this life (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Is he only a moral teacher then? Is he really any better than any other inspiring figure if he remained in the grave? And why should I listen to him and not another teacher since they all die and stay dead 

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, as Paul so beautifully proclaimed (1 Corinthians 15:20)Paul’s proclamation is backed up by eyewitness accounts to this historical fact. When Paul was on trial for preaching Christ, he made this defense: “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25,26). Paul was saying that the actions of Christ are verifiable facts. They were not done in secret (in a corner) but out in the open. Go investigate! There are eyewitnesses. This really happened.  

This is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and other religions. Christianity is concerned with reality. It is not a religion of mere morality, useful myth, or personal enlightenment. It is a religion of history. Other religions are not as concerned with these matters. Their purpose is to be a path to enlightenment or a useful story which helps humans navigate life. They offer a personal spirituality divorced from historical fact. Their ultimate goal is not correspondence to historical reality but rather a spiritual journey or moral code. It is not their ultimate end. Not so for Christianity. If Jesus did not pay for sins and conquer death with his resurrection, then Christianity’s teachings are lies and should be shunned. This would also mean that the followers of Christ have been duped and should be “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).  

Our faith is not a blind faith. Yes, faith is being certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1), but it is not blind. It is based on fact. The facts of Christ’s life and death are independently true of our believing them to be true. It is the Holy Spirit who makes our irrational and unbelieving hearts certain. What comfort! These facts of history remain true whether I have a good faith day or a day full of doubt. I do not have to base the truth of my salvation on my feelings but rather on the historical fact of the resurrection and the promises of the Holy Spirit to strengthen my faith.  

And what confidence! You can almost see Paul’s confidence leap off the pages of his letters. It is as if he said, “Go ahead and investigate. I am so confident in these facts that I will even give you a way to debunk my faith. I know for sure that Jesus actually rose from the dead.” A personal confidence and comfort then emerges in the face of death. Listen to Paul’s challenge to death, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55). Paul’s bold taunt to death is only possible because Christ won an actual victory in an actual time and in an actual place. This is no myth, and his faith was no placebo.  

Another fact: You were baptized  

Another fact of history provides you with the same confidence: your baptism. There were eyewitnesses to this event. You probably have a certificate that documents exactly when and where you were baptized. You may have pictures or a video proving it happened. You might even remember it! Your baptism is a fact of history like any other fact. As assuredly as the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 or last night’s basketball score, your baptism is a fact of history that cannot be undone. You cannot unring that bell. Your baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection, which is also a fact of history that cannot be undone, means that your resurrection is secure.  

So Paul’s confidence is your confidence. It’s a confidence in the face of death and, really, before any challenge in this life. You have already died with Christ. Paul reminds us, “Dont you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3). Why should death scare us when we have already been crucified with Christ? We have already been through a death and came out the other side unscathed. Our sinful natures were crucified, died, and were buried with Christ. We were resurrected with Christ in his righteousness. We are forgiven. We rise to live a new day every day until that one day when we enter paradise. Christ gives us permission to go through any tragedy, darkness, challenge, or heartbreak in this world. We have already been through a more daunting experience with Christ than anything this world can throw at us. Our historical baptisms connect us intimately with the historical death and resurrection of Christ. Our faith is built on a solid foundation that cannot be shaken.  

Frame your baptismal certificate and hang it on the wall in your bedroom. Look at it every morning and say, “Bring it on, world! Whatever you have in store for me today, I will survive. You can rip away from me my wealth or my health, my job or my house, even my life, but you cannot undo these facts of history: Jesus rose from the dead, and I am baptized into his death and resurrectionMy inheritance of heaven is secure. Nobody can take that away from me. 

We echo Paul’s confidence every day: Where, O world, is your power? Where, O devil, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  

So we sing with joy this Easter season, a joy grounded in the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection 

This is a sight that gladdensWhat peace it does impart! 

Now nothing ever saddens The joy within my heart. 

No gloom shall ever shake, No foe shall ever take 

The hope which God’s own Son In love for me has won (Christian Worship 156:3). 


Michael Berg, a theology professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at St. Philip, Milwaukee.  


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Author: Michael J. Berg
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Silent no longer

Nicodemus remained silent before Jesus died, but, along with Joseph of Arimathea, he broke his silence. 

Stephen G. Helwig  

Have you ever been there? In a hospital room? Next to a hospice bed?  Have you ever been there when someone diedWhat about the death and burial of Jesus? Nicodemus might have remembered . . . 

Mary, his mother, was there. She had been there when Jesusher sondied. A few other devoted and caring women were there. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was there. The centurion was there. They all had their own reactions. Gasps. Sighs. Beating their breasts. Shaking their heads. Holding each other. Consoling each other. 

Have you ever been there when they had to take the body from the room or when they had to close the casket for the final time? No one wants to do that. No one wants to be the person who is assigned that task. But Joseph of Arimathea and I knew it was time. In fact, time was short, and there was much to do. We had to act quickly. We needed to get into the city and ask Pilate for permission to take the body. 

We had to wait as the soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals and as they pierced the side of Jesus body. We waited as Pilate summoned the centurion to make sure that Jesus was dead. Then we headed back to Calvary with our spices and the linen. 

We had to figure out a practical yet respectful way to carefully remove his body from the cross. Imagine for a moment what that must have been like for me as held my Lord’s dead body in my arms. We washed his body before we wrapped it in the linens with all those spices. Then we carried it to a nearby garden and placed it inside the tomb that had been cut out of the rockFinally whad to roll a stone in front of that tomb to seal it off—all in a matter of hours. 

It was so sad, so disappointing, so frustrating. . . for me . . because it took the death of Jesus for me to become bold enough to express my faith in him. For too long I was afraid to be known as one of Jesus’ followers. Why? For what? My reputation? My office? It was Jesus who had told me nearly three years earlier that unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. But I didn’t understand. I was one of Israel’s teachers, and I didn’t understand. But then Jesus told me this: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him (John 3:14,15).  

On Good Friday I saw Jesus lifted up. I would be silent no longer. I would confess my faith in him by giving him a respectful and dignified burial 

Do not be silent; do not wait to confess your faith in him. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. I witnessed that firsthand. But I can also tell you that Jesus rose from the dead. Tell that to yourself. Tell that to others. Jesus is alive. Our debt has been paid. Our sin is washed away. Our guilt is covered.  

Tell yourself—tell others—what Jesus told me: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16) 


Stephen Helwig is pastor at Gethsemane, Omaha, Nebraska.  


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Author: Stephen G. Helwig  
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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A Lutheran Lent

John A. Braun

On Ash Wednesday in some churches—some Lutheran churches too—ashes are placed on foreheads as sign of repentance. For many, Lent is giving up some indulgencelike candy, greasy food, or even red meatfor 40 days. Conversations often start with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Sadly the emphasis too often becomes a distortion of Lent.  

Lent is a valuable time for God’s people to focus on Christ and his suffering and death. That’s the essential element of Lent. Lent sharpens our focus on what God has given to us through the cross of Christ.  

For Lutherans that starts when the law of God brings into stark view what has caused his bloody death: our sins. We bow our heads as the publican in the temple did and pray, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).  

But Lent does not leave us in anguish and hopeless fear. The gospel raises our eyes to the cross where we see that Jesus has paid fully for our sins. Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Like the publican we go home with the comfort that we are justified—loved and forgiven by God because of Jesus. We offer God our praise and are filled with a renewed desire to serve him as dear children. 

But sin does not disappear from our lives. Like children we find the law accuses us daily for careless failures as well as for unloving and defiant disobedience. We discover that once we hear the gospel we struggle to be obedient children. Sin still lives within us. Like Paul we know, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). We are forgiven children but still disobedientsaints and sinners at the same time. So we return to the gospel—the Savior’s cross—for forgiveness and strength to renew our efforts to be the children God has made us. 

We cannot earn his love and acceptance. Peter stumbled miserably, and so did all the other disciples as they fled into the night. But Jesus embraced them in forgiveness. That forgiveness made them ready to serve. Reminders of his forgiveness sustained them in the years ahead as they, like us, struggled to live as disciples and children of God. Each Lenten season, we come to the cross, humbled by our sins but then rejoicing that God has done what we could not do even after we know Jesus. Only the cross brings forgiveness and strength to live as God’s children. 

Here’s where the distortion of Lent comes into view. “What are you giving up for Lent?” If you give something up for Lent so that you can think more often and more clearly about what Christ has done, there is no distortion. But if you think that giving up something for Lent makes you worthy of forgiveness and God’s approval, your picture is blurredYour vision shifts from the cross and God’s undeserved gift. 

Lent is a human practice; it’s not an ordinance from God. When we think that we can offer God anything for the gift of the cross, it is like trying to buy gold with play money. No matter how much we have, it will never be enough. Lent helps us focus not on what we can do for God but on the gold of forgiveness, life, and salvation that God freely gives to all sinners. 

That’s a Lutheran emphasis. When we understand this, we come back to the cross for comfort and strength, not just at Lent, but regularly in our worship throughout the church year.  



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



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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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A gospel-filled life: Part 2

Prayer in Jesus’ name 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Slumps affect all the greats. Last year’s baseball batting title winner might go through the first week of spring training without a hit. A sure-bet firstround NBA draft pick might go cold from behind the three-point line just as his team enters the conference tournament.  

Prayer slumps 

Christians can grow weary and tired in their devotional lives tooFor some Christians growing weary is just getting forgetful. They become so busy with daily trials and joys that their Christian faith weakens and they no longer have the strength to turn to God in prayer. Prayer feels more and more like an overbearing obligation than a gift from God. 

For other Christians, frustrations in their prayer life often come because of unrealistic, even unbiblical, expectations. Sometimes they pray and pray. They beg urgently and plead repeatedly. Then they wait, but they still don’t get the answer they are after. So they try harder. They convince themselves that if only they were following a better system, they would be more successful.  

But what is success in prayer? How do we define it?  

Is success in prayer defined by getting the results we are after? If we measure prayer by what we get from God, we reduce our heavenly Father to a coach. As if we followed the advice of a coach we would be able to sink every free throw. As if taking to heart the hints and habits of a hitting coach would enable us to hit one out of the park every time at bat.  

Successful prayer 

When Jesus teaches us how to pray (Matthew 6:5-13; Luke 11:1-13)he encourages us to approach “our Father.” He urges us to be like little children as they come and ask their loving parents for whatever is on their minds. It’s a natural part of their relationship.  

Jesus created that relationship with our Father in heaven. Through Jesus, we know our Father loves us. Through his cross, he removed our sins so we can approach God as little children. He wants us to come to him with what troubles us and with what brings us joy and pleasure—like children do.  

Prayer is not an obligation we owe to God. Instead he has given us the privilege to pray, the gift of coming to our loving Father as his dear children. Prayer is simply a part of our relationship with God through the saving grace of Jesus. Prayer flows from the recognition that through faith in Jesus we are children of God.  

Our slumps in prayer life come to us at times when we forget that our Father loves us and wants what is best for us at all times. Sometimes we take him for granted as we are distracted by all of life’s daily schedules and experiences. At other times we are frustrated that our Father does not answer our prayers quickly or exactly as we want. So we give up. Our prayers seem unsuccessful and of little value. 

Our parents did not give us everything we asked for when we were children. Instead, they thought more about what we needed than what we wanted. Their goal was to see us grow and mature until we were ready for some of the things we wanted. Our heavenly Father thinks the same way, only he sees our future and our lives much better. With perfect love, he promises to give us what is best for us.  

The way out of our prayer slumps is to remember our Father loves us, listens to us, and can even turn our difficulties into good (Romans 8:28). And then simply pray.  

 


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



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



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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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Frogs in heated recliners

Glenn L Schwanke

I wake with a start, and it takes a few moments for me to realize it was only a dream.

The dream?

I’m sitting at the supper table with my family. I look over in the living room, and there’s my dad, Loyal, sitting in one of our recliners! (That’s no small feat, since my father passed away suddenly in 1972.)

Eagerly, I jump up from the kitchen table and rush over to my dad to give him a hug. Then I sit down in the other recliner as I pour out my life story. “I have so much to tell you, Dad! I went to Northwestern College, then to seminary. While at Sem, I met a very special young lady. We got married. After Sem, I was assigned to serve a congregation in Fort Wayne. There our daughter was born . . . yes, Dad, you’re a grandpa! Since 1996, we’ve lived here in Houghton.”

While I’m catching up with my dad, I notice he’s getting distracted. He keeps glancing at our television. So I shift the conversation. “Dad, you won’t believe the technology we have today! Those anchor-weight CRT TVs are a thing of the past! Now we have flat-screen TVs, light as a feather. And cable! No more rabbit-ear antennas wrapped with aluminum foil.”

But it’s not the technology that has grabbed my dad’s attention. As a dark cloud settles over his face, he asks, “What’s that show on TV?”

“That? That’s a rerun of Friends, an old sitcom from almost 20 years ago.”

“And you allow that kind of program to be viewed in your home?” Dad responds sternly.

“Well, Dad, it’s mostly just background noise during supper. And it’s just Friends—that’s pretty tame by modern standards.”

“But they were just talking about sex and no marriage, as if it was okay! Joking about it! You let your daughter watch that? You watch that? I thought I trained you to know better.”

“But Dad . . .”

That’s when I wake up and realize I’ve become a frog in a heated recliner. How so? Well, there’s an old tale that says if you put a live frog in a kettle of hot water, it will jump out. But if you put the same frog in a kettle of cooler water and heat it slowly, the frog won’t notice the danger, and it will be cooked to death.

In my dream, my dad came back from the dead after 47 years, so what he saw on the television shocked him. After all, he was used to watching Gunsmoke. And Sheriff Dillon didn’t curse. Nor did he joke about going to bed with Kitty.

I’ve been immersed in our country’s culture through all those same years. So little by little, my conscience has been dulled to entertainment that would have shocked me back in 1972. Entertainment that should still shock me (Ephesians 5:12).

Has the same happened to you?

Then how comforting it is to have a Savior who cried out from his cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He said that for soldiers gambling at his feet, religious leaders circling like vultures, and gawking crowds. He also said it for all of us frogs in our heated recliners—Christians with dulled consciences who may spend too much time watching garbage entertainment and too little time pondering the truth that Jesus bore the full heat of God’s hellish punishment for all our sins.


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


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 5

KISS them 

Kenneth L. Brokmeier 

We are ambassadors for Christ. Our mission? Preach the good news (cf. Mark 16:15). Previous articles in this series directed us to be ready by studying the Word. We know about praying boldly, confidently, and even dangerously for God to open doorsWe recognize that listening carefully is a must. And it can be helpful to ask some clarifying questions so that we can properly crystallize the issueSo . . . now what?  

Kiss them! Well not literally kiss them but use the KISS approach! KISS, an acronym employed by many, commonly is explained as Keep It Simple, Stupid (or Silly or Sugar). Using the KISS method can help one think through and complete a difficult task.  

Witnessing or standing up to someone assaulting our faith can be daunting, especially the first few times we try itTo help, let’s explore the KISS motto—with a minor adaptation.  

KEEP 

Keep can sometimes mean to stay, continue, or persevere. If someone is attacking your faith or they simply want to know about your faithremember to keep going. Stay the course. Don’t be so quick to give up, as tempting as that may be. As Christ’s ambassadors, keep plugging away, even when facing verbal hostility. After all, God promises that he is your helper, and others really can’t harm you (cf. Hebrews 13:6).  

Keep also means storing or retaining. No two evangelism experiences are alike. After you have an evangelism opportunity, make the time to evaluate and reflect on that encounter. Store it away, including what you might do differently. Reflecting on and evaluating that experience can often prepare you for similar circumstances in the future.  

Likewise, stash and store Bible verses in your memory bank so you can have them on the tip of your tongue. Granted, this calls for an investment of time and effort, but you don’t need to memorize the whole Bible. Arm yourself with a handful of carefully chosen verses from Scripture. Keep them at your disposal. Build the list from your experiences. The time you invest in knowing a few passages and where they are located in the Bible can reap great dividends as you become engaged with those who have questions and are seeking answers. A great starting point would be to learn some of the basic passages from God’s Great Exchange, a simple way to tell others about Jesus. (If you are not familiar with God’s Great Exchange, ask your pastor or check out a simple brochure at nph.net.) 

IT 

Keep It . . . note it is singular. There are times and places to discuss a wide variety of religious topics, but when dealing with an individual who is asking you questions, try to stick to only one topic at time. Limiting the number of topics can help you and the other person to focus on what is most important.  

Keeping it to one subject can be especially beneficial if you are lacking in personal witness experiences. Focusing on many different issues at once can prove to be overwhelming. Besides, leaving some “loose ends” can also open the door to have future conversations with this same person. Certainly, acknowledge and keep track of other themes or issues the other person wants to chat about. Then study them and get together in the future to talk more.  

It will also compel us to remember that finally there is only one main topic we must discussJesusWhen we center our dialogue on Jesus, sooner or later many other subtopics will naturally flow from that discussion.  

Jesus underscores that point for us when he rather bluntly asks, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)What a person knows and confesses about Jesus reveals the faith withinWe want to keep itthat is, Jesus, as the main point.  

SIMPLE  

Keep It Simple. Here’s an example: Do you know what denticity is? If you studied chemistry, you might. Denticity is the number of donor groups in a single ligand that bind to a central atom in a coordination complex. Funny thing, I read that definition, and I still don’t know what denticity is!  

Now imagine what it could be like for people who really don’t know about Jesus and, perhaps, even less about the Bible. When their ears hear terms like justification, sanctification, incarnation, salvation, or redemption, what goes through their minds? Even words like mercy, grace, sin, law, or gospel may immediately conjure up meaning and pictures for us. After all we spent two years in confirmation class thoroughly learning themBut remember that the person you talk to doesn’t have that background and may even have the wrong definitions for terms familiar to you 

Make no mistake. I’m not against learning terms. I ask students in my confirmation class to learn them. They are important. But for someone who didn’t grow up knowing and learning the lingo, those words probably sound like denticity does to me.  

The solution? Don’t use those technical terms. Instead be ready to describe them. Remember a good place to start is with your catechism. Take it off the shelf and review those terms so yocan describe them without using theological jargon.  

SINCERE 

Keep It Simple (and) SincereHere is a quote worth learning for friendship evangelism“People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. If people sense that you are a fake or a fraud, it may be impossible to maintain an audience with them to tell them about Jesus. After all, if others sense you are insincere, why should they want to believe anything you might say about the Bible or Jesus? 

Practice sincerity even when talking to antagonists. Show them you have a genuine interest in their eternal wellbeing. Such sincerity may leave them with something to think about 

Sincerity implies truthfulness and honesty. When having a religious discussion, it is okay to say that you don’t know the answer to a question. Of course, ian answer is to be found, go and find it in God’s Word, but sincerely saying“I’m not sure” may help people to see that you too are still growing in the grace and knowledge of your Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:18). And remember, when you say you will trto find the answer, it gives you a chance to talk to them again.  

An example 

Does the KISS method work? Four years ago, Sally from East Asia attended my churchSally knew English but was not familiar with the Bible or biblical terms. I had to employ the KISS method as we met almost daily for usually 60 to 75 minutes for five monthsSince her return to her country we studied the Bible for the past three and a half years about ten times monthly via the Internet. Two years ago, her spouse joined our study.  

Does the KISS method work? I think it does. After all, God certainly keeps his main message about Jesus simple for us. And there is no doubt about his sincerity to save us.  


Kenneth Brokmeier is pastor at Our Savior, Brookings, South Dakota.  


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


Sidebar:  

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


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Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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Merging for mission – Part 3

Three congregations become a multi-site as they work to spread the gospel in South Florida. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

It started with three congregations—all with their own unique situationhaving the same goal: to find a way to spread the gospel further in South Florida. 

Pompano, Pompano Beach, Florida, was struggling to get new members, its church was in disrepair, and its location left much to be desired. Yet it wasn’t ready to close, to give up on sharing the gospel message. 

Hope, W. Palm Beach, Florida, was pulling in members from all over South Florida and dreamed of daughtering a congregation to extend the gospel’s reach, but it didn’t have quite enough resources to take the leap. 

Divine Savior, Doral, Floridahad just finished adding on to its campus and was blessed financially with an enrollment of more than nine hundred students from PreK-3 to 12th grade. With an outreach focus, they thought they might eventually start another site in the Miami area. 

As the only three congregations left in South Florida, they all came to the same conclusion. “We realized we could do more ministry together than we could by ourselves,” says John Boggs, pastor in W. Palm Beach.  

This led to the formation of a new multi-site ministry under the name of Divine Savior and a new church and school in Delray Beach, Florida. “Satan is trying everything he can to make ministry work as difficult as possible in south Florida, but God is bigger than Satan,” says Boggs. “Us joining together is giving us more of an opportunity not only to survive in this ministry down here but to thrive in it and to exponentially grow the ministry of grace God has entrusted to us.” 

Facing struggles 

Started in the 1960s, Ocean Drive Lutheran Church in Pompano Beach worked hard to reach out into its community, even starting an early childhood ministry in the late 1970s. But the school closed in 1993, and membership numbers began declining.  

With a name change in the 2000s and a goal to become “Your neighborhood church,” Pompano continued to try to make inroads into its community. But with a location offset from the main throughway and in a neighborhood filled with transient residents, outreach was difficult. “No matter what we tried, it was just not yielding the results we were hoping for in terms of bringing in new souls,” says Patrick Lockwitza member at Pompano.  

With membership declining and a church in need of repairs, the congregation began facing financial problems. With the help of a WELS mission counselor, it began conducting demographic studies and collecting data to determine what it should do next. In 2014, it was looking at three options: rent the building out to another ministry, have its pastor become part time, or sell its building and relocate. “It was the reality. Nothing was bringing in people. Work was wearing [members] down. The facility was falling apart. It was a cycle happening over and over again. Something had to change—it was going to take something drastic,” says Lockwitz. 

Forging partnerships 

In its studies, Pompano learned that many areas on South Florida were in need of good education options. The congregation began talking to Divine Savior in Doral, located an hour south, about the process of opening a school—buying land, constructing a building, financing. “We said, ‘You have already done this in Doral. Can you help us navigate this in Coral Springs?’ ” says Lockwitz, referring to a nearby city. 

At the same time, Pompano’s pastor decided to take a call, and Divine Savior’s pastors took on the vacancy. “When you’re at the end of the map, you just hang tighter together,” says Carlos Leyrer, president of Divine Savior Ministries. “If we didn’t do something, we knew how the story endedWe needed a new ministry plan.” 

That “something” was the start of Divine Savior and Pompano working together—an event that would eventually lead the Pompano congregation to join Divine Savior Ministries. Pompano put its church on the market and started meeting in a hotel room in nearby Coral Springs, a more stable, family-oriented neighborhood primed for Christian education. 

Land search for a permanent location began, and when the search turned up options in nearby Palm Beach County, Hope, W. Palm Beach, also joined the discussion, because it had already been looking to start a church in that area. 

The three congregations settled on a great location in Delray Beach, Florida, about 20 miles south of W. Palm Beach. With grants and loans from WELS Church Extension Fund, land was purchased, and building began. Pompano members closed their church and along with several families from W. Palm Beach became the core group of this new mission. The South Atlantic District Mission Board called Joel Schulz to plant this new church. On Oct. 29, 2017, the congregations celebrated an official merger under the name of Divine Savior.  

Boggs says this was a group effort with each congregation having a role: Pompano provided starting cash from the sale of its old church property; Doral brought in the systems and financial backing; and Hope added a growingstable, experienced ministry to help the mission church. “We had three different sites, offering three different things,” says Boggs. “None of us was going to be able to do this by ourselves but together we were able to start a congregation in an area of South Florida that desperately needed the gospel to be proclaimed.” 

Moving forward 

A little less than a year after the merger, Divine Savior–Delray Beach dedicated its new school building. Although zoning issues and construction delays pushed back its original timeline for the opening of its academy, the congregation is excited to settle into its new home and move forward with its mission. For former Pompano members it had been almost three years of meeting in hotel rooms in Coral Springs and hotels and a movie theater in Delray. “It might take me a couple of years to get used to this being our permanent home,” says Lockwitz. 

Pompano’s cross, altar, and baptismal font adorn the front of the worship space. “It means a lot for them to have that,” says Schulz, who spent months after he arrived visiting all the former Pompano members.  

But the new congregation isn’t focusing on the past. “We’re always forging forward,” says Lockwitz. He says being part of a multi-site ministry provides the support—both financially and spiritually—to get the work done. “It’s not like we’re living in our own Delray Beach campus. It’s a regional thing. . . . Now we’re able to do the mission planning as we think it needs to be done. We have enough resources and expertise across all the different facets of ministry. It feels like the burden has been lifted off our backs.” 

With 75 people in worship on Sunday, an excited outreach team, an academy poised for growth, and collaboration with other Divine Savior Ministries sites, the congregation at Delray Beach is ready to put Divine Savior’s mission statement into action: “Changing lives with Jesus as we worship, connect, and serve.” 


Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ.


This is the final article in a three-part series on church mergers, multi-sites, and closings. 


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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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 parent’s worries and advice

mom discusses the importance of talking to your children about what they may encounter when they go to college. 

Mary Sieh 

We recently took our 18-year-old to college orientation day. The first day we learned fun social events to help get students settled in. Day 2 included “Sex Discussion 101—a fun way to ask all the questions you want.” Two days into their new college life, not knowing anyone yet, students were being encouraged to discuss sex togetherand with adults who likely won’t hold the same values as our family does. I was worried, but I found courage and now want to offer some advice. 

Parents, it’s no lie when you hear folks say, “If your kids aren’t learning about sex from you, they are learning about it from someone else.” Even when they are learning about it from you, they are still hearing from other sources too. Take the opportunity to talk to your kids from young ages on up, and not just once. Include all topics. Don’t assume they get what you mean. Be specific. Ask for your teens thoughts on certain matters. Give them space to talk without pressuring them to conform to what you may want. Plant the seeds along the way but know you can only leave the growth of those seeds in the Lord’s very trustworthy hands. And take heart! Your children are listening to you and value what you tell them above all others. 

Your children will face decisions such as their roommates asking if their girlfriends or boyfriends can sleep over in the dorm room. Discuss with your teens exit strategies at parties. Discuss how they plan to carry themselves daily in a manner that will act as a defense against any allegations. They are going to need these memories to help them make decisions that support their values and goals in life.  

Ask your teens what those values and goals are in their lives—academically, spiritually, and relationally. Help them vocalize what it might take to achieve these goals. Where will they find help along the way? Their bodies may look all grown upbut their heads and hearts still need the guidance Dad and Mom can provide. Don’t shy away just because they act like they’ve got this all figured out. They don’t.  

Our best defense for our children is prayer. Start now, and do it relentlessly. Our Father in heaven is listening! Regularly let your children know you are praying for them to remind them of the blessings you are asking the Lord to give them. We don’t parent out of fear, but rather out of love, hope, anticipation, and trust in the Lord’s Word—that is exciting! 

Then encourage your children in the Lord—for he has done marvelous things. They need to hear about your faith and the ups and downs you’ve experienced. We don’t merely have a God who resides in the words on the pages of a book. We have a Mighty Counselor and Friend who is alive and active! Let your God shine at home with your family. They need to know they have a Savior who loves them and will help them even when the going gets real and tough.  

It’s evident that we haven’t always taken to heart the seriousness of 1 Peter 5:8: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. I am so thankful Jesus has paid the price for us. We can rest in his promises, no matter where we may fall short as parents or what may come our kids’ ways as they head off to college.  


Mary Sieh is a member at Good Shepherd, Burnsville, Minnesota. 


Read a college student’s perspective on the importance of open communication between parents and their children in college in another article.



 

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Author: Mary Sieh
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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: Ensign

A woman finally discovers the blessings of Baptism. 

Alicia A. Neumann 

“I just want to go to heaven, says 74-year-old Pat Ensign, when asked why she wanted to be baptized.  

Pat’s baptism was not only a blessing to her, giving her new life and forgiveness of sins, but it was also a blessing to her church family. 

A busy life 

Growing up, Pat knew the importance of going to church. “I lived with my grandparents, eight of us kids,” she says. “Every Sunday we walked five miles to church and five miles back home.” Later, she got married and started attending a Baptist church.  

But then her family grew, and life got very busy. “I quit going to church,” she says. “I always believed in God, but I didn’t attend church for years because I had too much to do, like taking care of my husband, the kids, and the garden. We also owned a business, and I had to help.” 

And that was the pattern of her life, until about a year and a half ago when Pat called Spirit of Life, Caledonia, Mich., for help. Although her children are grown up, Pat is still a full-time caregiver. Her husband has Parkinson’s disease, and she also cares for her 15-year-old grandson, Kenny, who lives with her. 

“I was looking for help for Kenny, because he is a specialneeds child,” says Pat. “He goes to a special class in Caledonia school, but I was looking for more help. And I thought maybe he could get it from a church.” One day she drove past Spirit of Life, which was on the same street as her house, and got its phone number. “I didn’t even wait until I got home to call,” she says. “I had already asked a couple other churches, and they said they couldn’t help me because I didn’t belong to their church.”  

But Pat got a very different answer from Allen Kirschbaum, the pastor at Spirit of Life. “Pastor was happy to hear from me and told me to come on in. He didn’t even ask if we belong to the church! He just said to bring Kenny.” 

Kirschbaum started meeting with Kenny each week. “Sometimes we’d play Uno, while I talked to him and counseled him,” says Kirschbaum. “One day I showed him the new stained-glass windows in the church. I showed him how Jesus died and came out of the tomb. Then Kenny said, ‘He was dead, but then he walked out? How did he do that?’ It was a great opportunity to talk about sin and grace.” Soon, Pat and Kenny were regularly attending services, and Kenny got baptized. 

Pat says she has seen such a change in Kenny. Before they came to church, she says Kenny had started talking about the devil and seemed interested in him. “But now he says, ‘I want to go to see Jesus, not the devil.’ He talks about Jesus all the time and gets the Bible out and reads it to us and tells us about it, says Pat.  

Helping Pat 

Kirschbaum says it’s been amazing to work with Kenny, who now helps usher at church, but he also wanted to help Pat. “She takes care of everyone and carries the world on her shoulders. By God’s grace, she is helping a lot of people; that’s a testament to her faith in action,” says Kirschbaum. But I said, ‘Pat you carry so many people – who is going to carry you? ”  

After Kenny’s baptism, Kirschbaum encouraged Pat to learn more about Jesus and discovered she was not baptized. “I really didn’t understand Baptism; I didn’t understand what it was about,” says Pat.  

That’s where Pat’s friends from church helped. Pat attends “Wise Woman’s Coffee Time” with other women from the church. This support group was organized by fellow member Judy Clifton, who says, “I wanted it to be place women could come and not have anybody judge them—where they could get a prayer or support or whatever they need.” Approximately six to ten women meet each month. “I bring specific topics or questions for us to talk about, and we share stories about things happening in our lives,” says Judy. Sometimes we go places together. It’s been such a blessing.” 

One day, Kirschbaum asked Judy if she’d talk to Pat about Baptism. “I said of course! So, the next time we met for coffee, I waited until everyone else was gone, and I started talking to Pat about Baptism, says Judy.  

It didn’t take much to convince Pat to get baptized. “When Judy started talking to me and telling me that I’d spend eternity in heaven, that’s where I want to go,” says Pat. “But I didn’t want to get baptized in front of a bunch of people. I’m 75, and I was embarrassed to tell people I wasn’t baptized. I felt more comfortable in front of a couple of ladies.”  

Judy solved the problem. All of us women love you. How would you feel about doing it with us? she asked Pat. 

Judy arranged the details so they could have a small baptism service for Pat at the next month’s coffee time. There were eight women there with Pat, and they all lined up around the baptismal font while Kirschbaum performed the Rite of Baptism. “When I got baptized, I felt warm inside; I felt like everything was lifted off of my shoulders,” says Pat. “And now I’m going to go to heaven!” 

After the service, they all had coffee and cake to celebrate. “We all gave Pat a big hug and I said, ‘Pat, isn’t this the most wonderful way to celebrate your upcoming 75th birthday?  says Judy. “To me it’s very emotional. Every so often I still tell her, ‘I’m so happy you got baptized and are a child of God!   

Judy says it’s also uplifting to think about the impact that conversations can have. “You don’t really think you’re doing anything special, just talking to someone, but then something like this happens. Pat has so much on her shoulders, but now she can say, ‘I’m going to heaven!’ It’s just a beautiful thing.” 

Kirschbaum said Pat’s baptism was special for him too. “We’ve been blessed with a lot of adult baptisms and adult confirmands here. But to baptize Pat in her 70s was a unique and special experience, and I tear up thinking about it,” he says. “I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘I wanted to get baptized so I could go to heaven.’ That makes me feel like God did something really amazing here.”  

After her instruction and baptism, Pat became a member at Spirit of Life. “She’s become the welcoming crew. Any new ladies that have come here by themselves, I encourage them to talk to Pat, and she makes them feel welcome,” says Kirschbaum. “Now Spirit of Life has a new member of its youth group and a new wise woman that shares Jesus everywhere they go. Pat and Kenny are such a blessing to our church.”



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



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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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Hindsight shows God’s blessings

Mark G. Schroeder

Twenty-five years ago, in the spring of 1994, our synod was facing a time of uncertainty and divided opinions. Eight months earlier at the 1993 synod convention, the synod approved, by a narrow margin, a major change in its educational system for training pastors and teachers. By the next spring, plans were well underway to amalgamate Northwestern College and Dr. Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota, and to combine Northwestern Preparatory School and Martin Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wisconsin. In the fall of 1995, the newly combined college for training future pastors, teachers, and staff minister would begin operations in New Ulm as Martin Luther College; the combined prep school opened that fall as Luther Preparatory School, joining Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., as the synod’s two preparatory schools. 

Opinions about the amalgamation proposal had been strongly held on both sides of the issue. Those in favor of the amalgamation believed that operating four ministerial campuses was too expensive at a time when resources for missions and the rest of the synod’s work were scarce. They were convinced that a ministerial college serving both men and women on the same campus would provide a better atmosphere for training future called workers. Many of them had the opinion that three prep schools were more than was necessary to serve as feeder schools for the pastor and teacher tracks.  

Those who were opposed to the change (and I was one of them) also presented strong arguments. They were concerned that there would be pressures to change the curriculum of the pastor track and that the smaller pastor track could lose its identity in a larger school. They were convinced that the cost savings would be far less than anticipated. They believed that separating Northwestern College from Northwestern Prep (its largest provider of candidates for the pastoral ministry) would result in fewer pastoral candidates. 

The decision was made with much prayer and with vigorous and sincere debate. But in the months after the decision was made, the entire synod grew to be united in the desire to make the new schools as good as they could possibly be—not for the sake of creating great educational institutions, but for the sake of creating new schools that would carry on the work done so well by the previous ones. 

Now the perspective of a quarter century enables us to recognize how richly God has blessed those efforts. Despite the concerns and even fears, today Martin Luther College continues to provide well-trained teachers and staff ministers. It continues to provide a solid preseminary education to young men preparing to continue their training as pastors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Studying side by side, future pastors and teachers develop respect for each other’s ministry and build personal relationships that continue after they begin serving in their callings. Perhaps more than ever, the college enjoys the love and support of the entire membership of the synod as its single college of ministry. 

Luther Preparatory School, as a single purpose school, continues to provide more candidates for the pastoral and teaching ministry than any other school. Its entire focus, seen in its curriculum and in its cocurricular areas, is to encourage young people to consider prayerfully whether they might serve someday as pastors, teachers, or staff ministers. And God is blessing those efforts. 

When large decisions loom and the future seems unclear, Martin Luther College and Luther Preparatory School are reminders that our times are always in God’s hands. We thank him for blessing that difficult decision, confident that his blessings will continue and that a future in his hands may be unknown but is never uncertain. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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Close enough to love

Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. Luke 10:33 

Joel C. Seifert 

And who is my neighbor?”  

A religious expert asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to love God and his neighbor. He asked, “And who is my neighbor?” His question showed that he still wanted to do something to be worthy of eternal life. He wasn’t even close. 

So Jesus tells the parable we call the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). A man traveling down the road from Jerusalem falls into the hands of robbers who strip him of his clothes and beat him, leaving him to die alone. An unlikely foreigner comes along and shows selfless love to a stranger, even when it put him in harm’s way, even when the most outwardly religious people passed by uncaring. It’s a simple story with a simple point: Love helps whoever is in need. How could this expert love like that? 

Love brings us close to our fellow man  

A subtle detail helps us understand love better.  

There’s a progression in Jesus’ story that stands out in the original Greek: The priest went down the same road. The Levite came to the place. The Samaritan came to the man. 

There’s a connection between love and proximity. When love isn’t there, it’s easier to stand at a distance and tell ourselves there’s no real need for help, that we’re not the right ones to help, or that helping is someone else’s responsibility. The world is full of people whom we can find every reason to keep at arm’s length—the criminal sitting in his cell, the atheist who mocks our faith, the poor and homeless in our community. But love goes right to the man.  

That strikes right at the “expert in the law” and at us too. It condemns the times we stood at arms distance from someone in need, telling ourselves we don’t need to love them. Such love cannot inherit eternal life, because it is impossible for us unless God first loves us. 

Love is found in the God who draws close to us 

The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. We remember that this world is a present evil age and that we fallen people have hearts turned away from the God who made us. Yet at Lent wsee the most unbelievable thing: the holy Son of God here in this world, traveling up the road to Jerusalem so that a band of wicked men might surround him, strip him of his clothes, and beat him to the point of death.  

We don’t mourn at the tragedy. Instead we praise God because we know what’s happening. In Christ, God has come close to his fallen creatures. Close enough to see our hurt and feel our pain. Close enough to be mocked and beaten. He came right to [us]” so he could bear our sins and die our death. He came close enough to love us. 

At the end of his story, Jesus told the expert in the law, Go and do likewise. How?  Not by following rules and directions to love others, but by knowing the One who loves us. The love of God changes us. We love not to earn eternal life. We already have eternal life by grace and are children of God’s grace. When we see the pain of others we love “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18). 


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


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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The Book of Revelation: Part 5

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 8 to 11 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Most are aware that this world is fraught with perilPeople strive to protect themselves and their loved ones from physical harm. But how many live with an awareness of the ultimate threat to humanity?  

The Lamb opens the seventh seal to reveal it . . . tick, tick, tick . . . 30 silent minutes pass, as if to say, “This is important! Pay attention!” 

The first five trumpets 

The final seal lifts the curtain on a new scene—a vision of seven angels with trumpets. The details are difficult, but the main message becomes clear if we keep some things in mind: Remember the words of Jesus about the coming end of the world (Matthew chapter 24)It is worth noting that the most important parts of his speech, which speaks of false teaching (false prophets and messiahs) and its devastating effects (spiritual deception, increase of wickedness, love growing cold), are missing from the first six opened seals 

The vision of the trumpets is ushered in by the opening of the final seal—another view of the future. Reading Matthew 24 and these chapters can show the connection. The seals and trumpets cover the same time frame, both ending with the last judgmentshowing that these trumpet activities are happening alongside the physical calamities 

Many faithful Christians before us have seen in this vision a picture of false teaching and ungodly living from the time of Jesus’ ascension until his return. As you read about the first five trumpets (Revelation 8:6–9:12), focus on the truth that change or denial of God’s life-giving, light-giving Word causes the ultimate damage and destruction to people in our world 

The sixth and seventh trumpets 

The sixth trumpet is rather extensive, covering multiple chapters (Revelation 9:13–11:14). We first hear of a vast and vicious army bent on destruction. Then John sees an angel whose description fits Jesus himselfGiving a scroll to eat depicts the receiving of God’s Word (cf. Ezekiel 3). The message of salvation in Christ brings sweet comfort to the believer’s soulIt also becomes the source of sour discomfort when the gospel and its messengers are ridiculed and rejectedEven so, John and all believers are called to speak the Word of Christ to the nations. 

Important symbolic numbers are introduced in chapter 11 (1,260 days = 42 months = 3 and a half times/years). Being half of the covenant number 7, they seem to represent the full New Testament age where the truth of God’s Word is continually challenged by false teaching, false believers, and a hostile unbelieving worldBelievers who share the truth will be few in number in comparison with the unbelieving worldBut their surprising influence and effectiveness is because they speak the powerful Word of God 

Many times throughout history, God’s Word is all but muted, even in the visible churchThe two witnesses, who represent this ongoing realityremind us of God’s faithfulness. Their death seems to show that, toward the end, Satan will be allowed to virtually silence God’s truth altogetherBut by God’s grace, it will be a short time.  

In the very end, God’s Word and its faithful witnesses are vindicated, a comfort to which we cling. The seventh trumpet sounds, and the end comes.   


Reflect on Revelation chapters 6 and 7 

  1. Why is fighting for the truth of God’s Word so difficult, yet so important?
    First, because “
    salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Second, God loves all humans, and Jesus has come for all sinners. We are to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). That means we are to love others enough to share the one way to salvation. Third, Jesus has given us the means—the gospel, which is God’s power for salvation (Romans 1:16)—to turn hearts from unbelief to faith. 
  2. Although the plagues are dreadful, what does Revelation 9:20,21 reveal about part of God’s intent? 

    In spite of the horror and dread of these plagues, they did not turn people from their unbelief. The people were judged for their rejection of God and his Word. God sent the plagues for that reason, but he also intended that they would repent of their evil and rebellion against God. His love was still in those terrible judgments as he held out an invitation to turn to him in faith and receive the blessings he provided through Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. 

  3. Where will we find strength,encouragement, and comfort in that battle? 

    In God’s words to us in the Bible. Here’s one example: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9). Consider Psalm 46 or other passages. Do you have a favorite?

     


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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: the word Easter refers to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess?

How do I respond to my husband who maintains that the word Easter refers to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess? He refuses to go to any church that uses that title. 

James F. Pope

The response to your question includes some uncertainty and certainty. Thankfully, there is certainty in what really matters. 

Uncertain derivation 

It is difficult to determine precisely the origin of the word Easter. Some people have tried to identify it with the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring Eostre. That derivation is unlikely but, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend that is the case.  

If we avoid using names that have ties to goddesses and gods, then we would not want to use Thursday because the name of the day is connected to the Norse god Thor.  

When I write “August” on a check, even though it’s the eighth month of the year, it is named after Caesar Augustus—a god, according to the decree of the Roman Senate.  

No matter how the word Easter came about, any connection to pagan gods, goddesses, or idolatry has disappeared a long time ago.  

On the other handsome propose that Easter is derived from the German “Ost” (“East”) and “Ostern” (“Easter”). The sun rises in the east. Those first rays of the sun’s light shatter the darkness of the night from the east. 

Certain declaration 

Christians recognize that constructing a church calendar and including events like Easter are matters of Christian freedom. While God gave Moses a church calendar with major festivals for Old Testament Israel, that no longer applies to New Testament followers of the Lord (Galatians 4:10; Colossians 2:16). Exercising their spiritual freedom, Christians designed a churchyear calendar and then designated important events in the life of Christ. Easter is one of them.  

If your husband is concerned about our church’s usage of the title Easter, you may want to point out to him that in the church calendar the Sunday after Good Friday is called “The Resurrection of our Lord.” It is common for Christian churches to use Easter and The Resurrection of our Lord interchangeably because terminology is not as important as meaning, and the meaning of Easter is all about God’s declaration of acceptance and victory.  

The apostle Paul wrote about Jesus: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The message that God broadcast to the world on the first Easter Sunday was that he had accepted Jesus’ holy life and sacrificial death as the full payment for the sins of the world. On the cross Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30). God verified that declaration by means of the empty tomb.   

Easter points us to the empty tomb that temporarily housed Jesus’ lifeless body. Easter Sunday is God’s declaration of his victory over death. Jesus said about himself, “The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again” (Luke 24:7). Jesus did conquer death. In addition, the Lord imparted this promise: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25,26). Jesus guarantees that his followers share in his victory over death.  

Easter, then, is an uncertain term with certain meaning. Jesus lives! We live! 


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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 do parents find contentment? 

How do parents find contentment? 

As parents, we all know that we need to savor each moment. Those older and wiser remind us that the time passes so quickly. So, we squirm with guilt as we try to rush some of the days with our kids along. “I can’t wait until she can . . .” “Things will be so much easier when he can . . .”  

I don’t think that guilt is the answer, though. What is? Read our articles this month and gain some perspective from two Christians blessed with godly wisdom on this topic

Nicole Balza


Dear Future Self, 

I’m curious, do you remember the winter of 2019? 

We had more snow on the ground than I had ever seen in my life. And with the snow came lots and lots of ice and cold and wind. So much ice. So much cold. So many days off of school. Six in three weeks, to be exact. And let me tell you, it wasnt all sunshine and playdough. Allow me to refresh your memory: 

The days were long and the hours of sunlight short. There were times when you were sure if you heard the word “Mom” one more time youd go sprinting from the house, even if doing so meant running barefoot through the snow. The bickering between the kids led you to question your attempts at instilling kindness and patience in your offspring. You calculated the combined total hours of screen time each day, wondering if it was a healthy amount and rationalized that just maybe, given the circumstances, a little extra might be okay. 

Do you remember the day your youngest got the “Happy Birthday Song” stuck in his head and couldnt stop humming it no matter how hard he tried (or how many times his siblings asked, er . . . told, him to stop)? 

Do you recall enlisting the help of little fingers to tear three layers of old wallpaper from the upstairs hallway, simply because you literally needed a change of scenery? 

Do you remember the day you returned from a long family weekend up north, desperate for a break from the constant questions and needs to fulfill, only to find that school was canceled the following day? 

Do you remember how you tried so hard to be everything to each of them, to entertain and make the day fun and out of the ordinary and then found yourself practically in tears over your afternoon coffee feeling like a complete failure as a mother? 

Oh yeah. Those were the days. Or were they? 

So you may be wondering why I feel the need to write these things down for you now. Why remind my future self of the frustrations, the housebound days when everyones tempers were short and you were desperate for a hot, uninterrupted shower and kids who loved to read quietly in their rooms for hours on end? 

Because I know you. And I know that you have read countless blogs and articles about loving the little years, savoring each moment with your children while they are young and resisting the temptation to wish away this season of motherhood. And, even though you may not remember it now, you thought about that a lot when they were young. You feared that your heart might never recover from having to let these children go and grow up. You wondered how youd ever watch one of them walk down the aisle without standing up and shouting, “No! Im not ready.” 

And as I think about you (future me) now, a mom with grown kids, I wonder what youll remember. I hope itall of the good and very little of the bad. I hope its the sloppy kisses from your sons and the suffocating hugs from your daughters. I hope it’s the wonder in their eyes when they see just how much snow fell overnight and the ear-to-ear grins as they get their sledding path just right out in the backyard. I pray that you look back on these years Im living now and smile. 

But this is what else that I hope:I hope that you are thankful for your current season too. I hope that you remember enough of the challenges to appreciate how far you’ve come, how far theyvecome, and how much you’ve all grown. And just how perfectly your heavenly Father equipped you for this insurmountable, incredible calling of motherhood; walked beside you on the good days; and carried you on the trying ones. I hope that, even though you may miss aspects of the chaos that surrounds me now, you also appreciate the quiet in your house and the still-yet-hot cup of coffee in your hands. 

Yes, those weregood days. But they weren’t perfect. 

Those are still yet to come.  

Love,
Younger Me 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).


Melissa Anne Kreuser and her husband, Michael, have two sets of identical twins ages five and eight. This article was originally published on holyhenhouse.com, a blog for “imperfect women spurred on by God’s perfect grace.”


 Did you hear? So much for doing away with helicopter parenting. Apparently, hyper-involved parenting works. They’re saying it leads to higher test scores.  

Oof. 

I took my daughter to our first daddy-daughter dance recently. Before I did, I remember the comments when I told people it was coming. “How special!” “Once in a lifetime opportunity!” “You never get these moments back!” It felt like a lot of pressure for a dad rolling in from a long, long week. 

Oof 

And Christian parenting even ups the ante. We don’t just want our kids to grow up and be successful (whatever that means). We want them to serve people with their lives. We don’t just want to love and connect deeply to our kids along the way. We want them to believe in the grace of our Lord Jesus. That’s A LOT!   

Oof. 

What do I do with that? Punch back with my daddy manifesto. What does that look like?  

I will remember: She’s not mine. She hasn’t been ever since Christ claimed her in her baptism. Therefore, I no longer shoulder final responsibility for her. What I will do is be her dad. I will teach her, cuddle her, discipline her, protect herlove her. I will work on her sight words with her. (I’ll obviously have to update this list as life progresses.) I will take her to gymnastics. I will teach her how to work through her emotions, what it looks like for a man to love a woman (her mom), and to understand the commandments. I will work to crystallize in her an identity as Gods child. I will be her dad. I will refuse, however, to be more than that.  

I will not take up a God-sized burden Ive never been asked to carry. I will not expect myself to be there for her everywhere. I will not expect myself to protect her always. Thats too big for me! I will content myself to be her fathernot her Father!which is all my circumscribed, located, finite self can do. I will empower that contentment by remembering who her Father is. He is her Creator and Redeemer who will shape her far better than I can; love her more than I ever will; and protect her everywhere and at all times with so much grace and power that, finally, he will resurrect her.   

actually think that last part is incredibly life-giving even now. I refuse to believe that my moments with my daughter are here today and gone tomorrow. I’m not going to let the heavy tonnage of that thought rest on me. I have every confidence that through Jesus my moments with her will never end. Try thinking about that the next time you’re watching your daughter doing “the floss” at the daddy/daughter dance. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. There I was, this dad weirdly proud that his daughter knows how to do stuff like that and simultaneously divinely happy thinking, My Father has made me a true father to that princess—well—forever. I’d call it a once-in-a- lifetime moment, but I don’t think I should. I have moments like that too often. 


Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter.



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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 6

Speaking the truth in love 

Justin C. Cloute 

“The Bible is just a bunch of made-up stories written by deadpower-hungry men!” 

These words echoed in my mind as I tried to think of what to say next. I was a young pastor serving at a mission congregation and had been canvassing our neighborhood with the help of a mission team from another congregation. While most of the people I talked to that day were friendly, I had recently experienced a cold reception at a couple of houses.  

The young woman standing in the doorway continued, “It’s nothing more than a bunch of myths made up to give comfort to those who are too weak to deal with life’s realities!” I physically felt my pulse begin to rise as blood rushed to my head. 

I knew I had a more informed answer, I just couldn’t think of it. In a tone that was anything but gentle, I asked, “Have you ever even read the Bible?”  

She hesitantly said, “No . . . not really.”  

Sadly, I responded, “That’s ridiculous!” The door quickly shut in my face. 

Don’t respond in anger 

While what I said was truethe accusation was ridiculousI failed to respond to the objection with gentleness and respect. I cared more about my own emotions and putting the other person down than patiently dealing with the objectionI suppose the Holy Spirit could use even my sharp response to lead this woman to rethink her accusation and perhaps open the Bible. God has often used human failure for his good. But that’s no excuse. I could have done better.  

The apostle Paul encourages believers to “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)and Solomon reminds us that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). One of the goals of apologetics is to extend the conversation in order to share the gospel. We can show that we care about someone by addressing the concerns they may have. However, when we respond with anger to an objection, not only does it stir up anger in the other person but it also often ends the conversation. It cuts off the discourse before we get to what is most important—Jesus.  

Understand your frustration 

In order to help us better respond in the future, it may be helpful to address a few of the reasons we might become frustrated when responding to objections.   

We make it about us, instead of Jesus.

Sometimes we respond in anger because we are personally offended. We feel like the person we are talking to is challenging our intelligence. That may be. But remember what your Savior saysBlessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22). 

Memorize these words or write them on a notecard and put it in your pocket before you are going into a situation where your faith may be challenged. Remember that even if you feel stupid and all alone, Jesus says that you are “blessed” because this is proof you are connected to him. There is no reason to get angry.  

We care more about winning the argument than the person standing in front of us.  

We all like to be right, especially when it comes to the big questions in life. But it’s not just about being right. It’s about sharing the gospel with someone who desperately needs it. Sadly, it is possible to win an argument but to lose a person. If you are tempted to feel proud about being right, remember that you didn’t come to accept the gospel by your own intellectual powers. Even your acceptance of the gospel is a gift. It’s a gift that God has given you and a gift that he wants to share with all people. 

There’s nothing to be proud of, except your Savior.  

We are unprepared to respond to the objection.  

Sometimes we may respond to an objection with frustration simply because we don’t have a good response. I believe that this was at least part of the reason I responded the way that I did. I had spent four years in college and another four at the seminary studying to take the gospel to people like this. I had learned Greek and Hebrew and translated large portions of Scripture. I had daily been in God’s Word, yet I wasn’t prepared to immediately respond to this objection. Perhaps I was more upset at myself than at the person who had the objection.  

Remember that you don’t need to have an immediate answer to every objection. I could have said, “You know what? I’ve heard that before. Would you mind if I look into it and get back to you? From everything that I’ve studied, the texts of Scripture are very early and reliable, and I am more than happy to sit down in the future to discuss what the Bible says.” This type of response shows that you care about the person and her objection.  

You need not fear, because you have Jesus. Ultimately you want to lead others to him as well. Many of the objections that people raise are just a distraction from the deeper issues of sin, guilt, and the need for salvation. As you lovingly respond to an objection, look for ways to turn the conversation back to Jesus. Whether they admit it or not, everyone you talk to needs him.  

Speak the truth 

Why would we go through all this trouble? It’s not easy to keep your cool when facing objections. When Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, he faced one objection after another from his opponents. First, they asked him how he knew so much about God without having studied. Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (John 7:16). After this, they called him demon-possessed. Can you imagineGod himself being called a demon? But never once did our Savior blow up in anger or send out a fiery retort. John tells us, On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’  (John 7:37,38). He speaks in a loud voice, but it’s not to hurt or destroy. It’s to invite. It’s to invite even his opponents to drink the living water. 

There will be times when people object to the teaching of Jesus. They may even aim their insults at you. But there’s no need to get angry or frustrated. By a miracle of the Holy Spirt, you have been led to drink from the living water of Jesus. This water forgives our sins of anger and our failures in speaking the truth. It calms and refreshes our souls and gives us the desire to lead others to Jesus as well.  

Keep on speaking the truth in love.



Justin Cloute is pastor at St. Luke, Watertown, Wisconsin. 



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



What’s your story? How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear your stories. To whom in your life did you reach out? What barriers did you have to overcome? How do you prepare yourself for these outreach opportunities? E-mail responses tofic@wels.netwith the subject line: How I shared Jesus. Include your name, congregation, and contact information. Questions? Call 414-256-3231. 


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Author: Justin C. Cloute
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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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Keeping the festival

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.1 Corinthians 5:7,8

Joel C. Seifert 

Over the years, Israelites joined in the Passover meal, remembering how through the blood of an innocent lamb God saved them from slavery and death. Then for one week after that meal, God commanded them to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days they were to eat no leavened bread; nothing with yeast was even allowed in their homes.  

So, on the night before Passover, they’d get ready. The head of the household would light a candle. Together, parents and children would search through the house for any traces of yeast and throw them out. Then for one week they would “keep the festival,” celebrating how the sacrifice of the Passover lamb changed their lives. 

It was a tradition, but it pointed to a greater truth. Yeast is a symbol of sin and wickednessit spreads and it corrupts. That festival was a symbol for the Israelites. After they celebrated the deliverance God gave them through the Passover lamb, they had a weeklong reminder that they were to leave behind wickedness and corruption and live in the salvation God had won for them. 

Keep the festival in sincerity and truth 

Paul points us to that greater truth. Christ is the true Passover Lamb who was sacrificed for us. By his death on the cross, Jesus gave us complete forgivenessfreedom from sin and death. We celebrate that truth this month: in our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, we see the Lamb of God offer his life as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We celebrate his triumph on Easter Sunday. 

So, God says through Paul, Keep the Festival. Live in the salvation and freedom God won for you. Your Easter celebrations aren’t mere tradition. You have real victory in Christ. Let’s “keep the festival” in truth. Give a careful search through your life and your heart. Is there a sin that you’ve begun to tolerate? Paul warned the Corinthians against sexual immorality, greed, and hatred. Give a careful search and seek to drive it out of your life. You’re not doing this to find peace with God. Remember, Christ your Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. We’re simply living in the victory he’s won. 

Keep the festival together 

I suppose Paul could have said it more simply: Jesus saved you from your sins; leave your sins behind. But the Holy Spirit led him to point to the festivals that the Israelites had celebrated for more than a thousand years. God had been using the sights, smells and sounds of those festivals to impress scriptural truths on their hearts.   

We’d do well to do the same. This month, our churches will hold services with unique sights, smells, and sounds. Celebrate them together, as congregations and as families. Make a special effort to share them with your children. Gather and worship Jesus. Let your family feel the somber and heavy darkness of Good Friday. Take in the fragrant lilies and triumphant alleluias of Easter Sunday. Young or old, use those outward celebrations to impress God’s truths on each other’s hearts.  

Celebrate them, but don’t leave them behind. Let us keep the festivallive in the victory our Passover Lamb has won for us.  


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


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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 gospel-filled life: Part 3

Revelation vs. speculation  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Getting and staying healthy is a major concern for millions of people. In recent years you may have heard a confusing array of advice on how to achieve your health goals. The growing number of health experts making unconventional recommendations may surprise you 

The Mayo Clinic, a leading voice in the health arena, advocates the benefits of meditation. Authors suggest practicing meditation may reduce stress. Improved emotional health, they claim, may assist in alleviating some symptoms of physical ailments.   

Looking inside our hearts 

Christians might be happy to learn that medical experts consider prayer as one possible way to practice meditation. We might even wonder if there is much of a difference between what Jesus invites us to do and what counselors, doctors, and mental health professionals are advocating. Sounds like a win-win to us: Follow God’s encouragement to pray, and additional health benefits get thrown in as a bonus.  

We can leave it to the medical community to continue researching the potential health benefits of prayer. But Christians want to be aware that there can be vast differences between what most people consider meditation and the way the Bible teaches us to pray. Unfortunately, even some resources encouraging Christian spirituality are just as confusing. Some suggest finding inner quietude or emptying our minds of all thoughts and worries. Then we should turn our attention to the voices inside us.  

But when Christians pray “in Jesus’ name,” we do it calling to mind the person and work of Jesus. His life and his sacrifice give us the personal relationship of faith to approach our Father. Looking inside our hearts for spiritual peace and direction might actually be counter-productive to healthy spiritual habits. After all, Jesus warns us: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Prayers flowing from the natural impulses of our hearts could by default be very self-centered.  

Looking inside God’s Word 

Do you see the disconnect from the way Christians have taught prayer throughout the ages? Prayer is a response to what God tells us. Prayer begins with God’s revelation to us through his Word.  

That’s why it might be a little shocking to hear Martin Luther instructing us to do something we might hear from mental health literature. When he offered advice about personal devotions to his friend Peter, he advised: “If in the midst of such thoughts the Holy Spirit begins to preach in your heart with rich, enlightening thoughts, honor him . . . be still and listen to him who can do better than you can” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 43, p. 201–202). 

But do you notice the difference between Luther and the advocates of contemporary meditationLuther told his friend he should start his devotions by meditating on familiar portions from God’s Word like the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer. Devotions and meditation begin with God’s Word. Luther was telling Peter that devotions don’t have to focus on obscure or difficult parts of the Bible. Keep it simple, but start with God’s Word 

In fact, this is a major point of emphasis for the Reformer throughout his career: “Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments” (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art. VIII:10). So Christian meditation or prayer always finds its starting point in what God is saying to us, not from the voices inside us 

Meditating on God’s Word is definitely good for our souls. Prayer based on Scripture flows from a heart filled with God’s blessings. We can’t promise it will lower our blood pressure, but we know God’s revelation is always good for us.

 


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


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


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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: Ramirez

An immigrant discovers a church where he feels at home. 

Rachel Hartman 

In April 2008, Walter Ramirez stepped foot onto U.S. soil. Originally from El Salvador, he spent his first months working and adapting to a new place. He settled in Detroit, Michigan.  

As he struggled to learn English, finding a church home was a low priority. Ramirez knew of the Catholic church and had been baptized back in his home country. “All of my growing up was spent in Catholicism,” he recalls. Living in Detroit and absorbed with adjusting, he didn’t seek out a Catholic church or any other religion. 

Stumbling across Spanish 

One day in 2008, shortly after arriving in Detroit, Ramirez walked down a street named Springwells. “I didn’t know much English, but I came across an American guy on that street. He greeted me in Spanish and invited me to church,” he remembers. “I was so surprised he spoke Spanish. I told him I didn’t have time for church, so he invited me instead out for tacos.” 

Ramirez took him up on his offer, and the two headed to a taco place. They carried on a conversation in Spanish while eating, and Ramirez learned the American man was a pastor. The pastor mentioned he was also new to the area and was looking for people who wanted to come to the Lutheran church. He was particularly interested in helping those who spoke Spanish. 

After eating tacos, Ramirez thanked the pastor for the meal. During the weeks that followed, he continued working but didn’t start going to church. Then one day, he was again walking down Springwells Street and saw the church the pastor had mentioned. As he passed by, he could see the pastor inside through one of the windows. The pastor was at work, and Ramirez, recalling their conversation over tacos, decided to stop in.  

“I wanted to see how he was doing and if he had found people interested in a church,” Ramirez says. “I learned some people had started coming but that the pastor could use help.” Ramirez also found out the church offered English classes. He decided to start coming to the classes to learn how to communicate in English at a more advanced level.  

In addition to English classes, the church offered Bible studies. The pastor also handed out Bibles to anyone who wanted one.  

Finding a friend 

Ramirez kept coming to English classes and then decided to learn more about the Bible. “I went to a Bible study on Tuesdays, and English class on Wednesdays, and another Bible class on Thursdays,” he says. “I liked the one on Thursdays the best because there was more of a chance to talk. At that point, I had more time on my hands. I was single and looking for a place to belong. We often went to eat tacos after the classes.”  

During the time he spent at the Lutheran church, Ramirez grew to enjoy the friendship of the pastor. This connection made him want to support the church work. If there were flyers to hand out, Ramirez took some and distributed them in the neighborhood.  

He also started attending weekly worship. “I’m not sure if I started coming to church for religious reasons,” he reflects. “It was more because I considered the pastor a friend and wanted to help him out. 

As time went on, Ramirez learned more about his truest friend, Jesus, who offers full forgiveness and the gift of eternal lifeRamirez studied to become a member of the congregation and continued to look for ways to participate. He helped with outreach efforts and knocked on doors to invite others to the Lutheran church. 

“I’m still not sure why I started studying the Bible and going to church, but I do know that I liked it,” Ramirez explains. “I felt good going there. I liked the doctrine, the teachings, and everything it offered.” 

Bringing in others 

After becoming a member, Ramirez remained active in the church and sought ways to help carry out outreach efforts. He invited other friends he had made to the church. Many of them were immigrants also looking for a place to fit in. Whenever there was an event, if the pastor needed someone to help, Ramirez came if he could. “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t just like to come and sit,” he says. “I want to do.” 

In 2010, he met his future wife, and the two got married at the church. “I like the church and so does my wife,” he says. Ramirez’ wife is an American, and the couple has two children. Ramirez is very concerned about bringing up his children in the Lutheran church. He even baptized his second son himself.  

Remaining in God’s Word 

Sometime after becoming a member and taking on leadership roles in the church, Ramirez learned the pastor he had first met on the street and eaten tacos with was leaving to serve at a different place. Ramirez and his wife knew they wanted to stay in God’s Word but found the next years difficult. During the next months, pastors came to preach, but no one stayed permanently. More time passed and still no pastor served the congregation on a fulltime basis. “We didn’t have a pastor for two years,” Ramirez recalls.  

During that period, however, Ramirez and his wife remained at the church. They appreciated the message from each visiting pastor, which was the same doctrine and teaching Ramirez had first heard and studied at the church. They were also thankful when a new pastor arrived to live in the area and serve the congregation full time. 

In addition to treasuring the Word of God, Ramirez feels comfortable at the church. “It has been a blessing to be in the congregation and have so many Christian brothers and sisters in the faith,” he says. “It is also a blessing to so many friends there.” 

Home sweet home 

Ramirez’ wife is an American and a native English speaker. Since Ramirez’ first language is Spanish, the two connect easily in bilingual settings. This has been an additional blessing for their family, as some visitors and members of the congregation speak English while others are more comfortable in Spanish. It has also helped bridge the gaps that can often form in families from different backgrounds.  

Even though he now has a family, Ramirez enjoys serving however he can at church. “Whenever there is an opportunity to help, I always tell the pastor I’ll come if I can, he says. He wants others to share in the comfort he has found in the gospel and the sense of belonging he feels inside the church walls.  

Ramirez’ daily life has changed from the early days of tacos and English classes in Detroit. He is now a top manager at his job and has taken on leadership roles at the congregation as well. All of this he views as God’s guiding hand to bring him to a new home. “I feel very blessed to be in the church,” he says. “I am grateful to God for giving us Christian brothers and sisters in the faith.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida.


Learn more about the ministry at Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich., in this month’s edition of WELS Connection. 


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Luke 10 : Part 3

What’s happening when wdon’t even know it 

Eric S. Roecker 

I had no idea. 

This was what went through my mind as I read his letter.  

The impact of ministry 

Let’s call him “Jim.” He had been a member of my church for a few years. Jim was a retired widower. He had been without a church home for some time when I met him. Now he was a regular. Every Sunday morning he attended worship and Bible class. He was a sweet, gentle sort of soul. He enjoyed painting and was a gifted artist. We had a few extended conversations over the years. But most of our interaction was the sort of small talk pastors tend to have with their members on Sunday morningsso many people and so little time.  

This is why I was so surprisedand touchedby his letter. He had written it because I had been called by another church to serve as its pastor. He wanted to let me know why he thought it would be best if I continued serving at my current congregation. 

It was not surprising that his letter was thoughtful and intelligent. I would expect nothing else from Jim. What I did not expect were the two ways he told me my ministry had impacted him. Allow me to share some of what he wrote: 

“You are, I’m sure, not aware of how you helped me accept my recent eyesight crisis. . . .” Jim’s eyesight was failing from disease. He had told me that he was no longer able to paint. The sadness in his eyes as he told me about losing the great love of his life had been heart-wrenching. “I have not only accepted my handicap but consider it a blessing and thank our Lord. Several of your sermons and quotes from Paul’s book of Romans were deciding factors. I’m painting again, with a different technique and renewed enthusiasm. 

He went on, “You, Pastor, have helped me (unbeknownst to you) resolve some serious problems with my marriage that surfaced after my wife’s death. Your instruction in Bible class strengthened my Christian faith and helped me to face my wife’s behavior during our near 60 years of marriage. . . . I was able to forgive her only recently. The clincher was some consoling words of yours at a Sunday morning education hour. I was miserable before I forgave her; you showed me the power of forgiveness.” 

I was stunned. I had known that Jim’s eyesight was failing, and I had known a bit about his troubled marriage. But I had absolutely no idea how God had used my ministry to impact his life. All that time, preaching all those sermons and teaching all those Bible classes, the Holy Spirit had been working in Jim’s heart to help and to heal . . . and I had no idea.  

The impact of God’s truth 

So, it is. So, it inot just for pastors, but for all of God’s people. We simply cannot know all that God is doing through us. This is especially important to remember when we share our faith with those who do not know their Savior. We can easily become discouraged if we don’t see the results we want. We can begin to believe it is doing no good. 

But it is. Even when we are unaware, it is. 

Jesus said something very interesting in Luke chapter 10. The 72 men he had sent out to preach the gospel had returned. After hearing their report about their mission trip, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In other words, while those men proclaimed the gospel, Jesus saw what was happening in the supernatural realm. Satan was being defeated. God’s truth was being proclaimed. Whenever God’s truth is being proclaimed, the devil’s lies are being defeated.  

But it sure doesn’t seem that way. It seems like Satan is doing quite wellChristianity is on the decline in the West. Basic rights and wrongs aren’t so basic anymore. Mentioning Jesus in the workplace can bring a reprimand, even as believers are forcefed anti-Christian ideologiesSay that you are convinced that the Bible is true and you risk being laughed out of the room. It doesn’t look like Satan is doing much falling. It looks like he is gaining ground. We appear helpless, and all we do seems to be losing ground. 

But looks can be deceiving. There are spiritual realities happening that we cannot see. 

Every time the good news of Jesus is proclaimed, every time a newborn baby is bathed in Baptism, every time God’s people are assured of his forgiveness as they receive his Holy Supper, Satan is falling like lightning from the sky. God’s truth trumps Satan’s lies. 

The impact of sharing your faith 

Remember this! Remember it when you are proclaiming God’s truth to your wayward friend, your questioning coworker, or your skeptical schoolmate. It may seem like it is having no effect. It may seem like a waste of words. But remember that whenever God’s Word is proclaimed, unseen spiritual warfare is being waged. Victories are being won that you may not be aware of for years, perhaps not until eternity. 

Jesus once made the same promise in a different way. He said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grainfirst the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29). We scatter the seed of God’s Word. He makes faith grow. We may not see it. We may not know it. But it is happening. We have his word on it. 

So, go ahead! Lovingly remind your wayward friend that she has a God who loves her and wants nothing more than to spend eternity with her. Go ahead! Lovingly tell your questioning coworker that there are answers to his questions—and then tell him what the answers are. Go ahead! Lovingly spar with your skeptical schoolmate, not to win an argument but to proclaim the gospel and to save a soul. Go ahead and tell the people the Lord has brought into your life all that he has done to give them eternal life. 

And as you do, picture Satan falling like lightning. 


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


This is the final article in a threepart series on the story of Jesus sending out his disciples in Luke 10.   


 

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

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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Discover who you are

University study encourages you to explore and discover. Parents need to be a part of that process too. 

Hannah White 

My third year of college has given me a perspective on university study and parents. I am currently living at home and commuting every day to school. That means I am able to see my parents on a regular basis. I’ve seen and lived both worlds, though, because I lived on campus my first year of college.  

I know that most college students don’t live at home. That’s why I think it is so important for students to talk with their parents. I have always had a very close relationship with my parents, and it only got better when I went to college. Feeling like I could talk to them about my “silly college problems” was and still is something for which I am very grateful 

Living situation 

In my first year of college, I shared a dorm room with a few girls from my Lutheran high school. The worries of having boys over in our room was never a problemat first. I mean, I am outspoken; I would just tell my roommates not to do that if I was uncomfortable, right? Well, our suite had two rooms, the one I shared with my friends and the other with two strangers. Our suitemates were different; they were Christians but did not hold the same values that I did.  

One of my suitemates had her boyfriend sleep over multiple times in her room while we were out. In my mind, I excused it and thought, This is okay, right? I mean we weren’t in the room. It’s not bothering us. Why should I even bring this up to her? And honestly, I never did. I didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of telling her that what she was doing was sin. I didn’t what her to get upset with me. One day I walked in with one of my roommates. We quickly walked into our room, pretending not to notice our suitemate and her boyfriend making outMy suitemate whispered to me later that if I had come in a few minutes later they would have been having sex.  

It was an awkward situation. I’m glad I had talked about these issues with my parents before I went off to a college. I wish more parents would have such a conversation. I know those talkare awkward, but it’s truly important to be prepared. I’m grateful for the conversation as uncomfortable as it was for me and my parents. I heard from them that we are not like the world. I didn’t want to be 

After living with roommates for two years, I moved back home. It was mostly for financial reasons, but it’s nice to be with my parents and siblings. I like surrounding myself with people who care about me 

Campus ministry 

In my freshman year, I started looking into the campus ministry. I went a few times and decided that it just wasn’t for me. I had gone to a Lutheran high school. I went to church every Sunday. I wondered why this was something that was going to be important to me. My parents asked me if I was going; I lied and said yes. I would stay athe dorms on a weekend or two and would not go to church. When they asked, I would tell them that I had. thought, What is missing one church service going to do? I think many college students think this way when they first get to college. As new students we can believe that we don’t need that dose of God’s Word because we’ve been exposed to it for most of our lives.  

But eventually, I wondered, If it really isn’t that big of a deal not to go to the campus ministry and to miss church, then why am I lying about it? So I started going home every weekend and attending church, and I realized the impact it really had on me. My Savior was missing from my life because I was pushing him out.  

I started hanging out at the campus ministry house. Now it’s one of my favorite places during my week. At first, I didn’t think it was a place for me, but the people are great and the pastors are too. I didn’t like the Bible studies that much at first, but the pastor’s survey asked what topics we wanted. That helped make Bible study something that I enjoyed. I’d encourage students to get involved and make the ministry what you want it to be.  

Open communication 

My parents and I have always had a very open line of communication, but I know that might not be the same for everyone. Some parents don’t know how to bring up topics without sounding like they’re scolding or pryingSome college students want to talk to their parents but are either embarrassed or choose not to bother. My view isvery bluntly, talk to each other. I mean, really talk to each other. Have an open, mushy, heartfelt conversation about what you as a parent want for your child’s life. Just be open and honest, and it may surprise you how much that talk will do. Tell your son or daughter how you feel. They’ll tell you how they feel too.  

Parents and students should really have those awkward talks with each other about what to expect in college, especially at a public university. We have an entire Sex Week for the students at my university and never once is the option of not having sex brought up. It’s very important for the freshman students who primarily attend these events to talk about values and beliefs with their parents, to be reminded that it’s okay to have a different view than others who don’t share the same beliefs or principles. That’s something we can easily forget. 

College students go into college being told that this is the place to discover who you are. But then you discover that you are being told who you are. One of my suitemates told me that waiting to have sex until marriage was ignorant. I have been told by some of my peers that my religious views are just those of my parents and I should discover who I really am.  

Having good communication with your parents creates a healthy mindset for you to be able to be yourselfYou have already discovered part of who you are by listening to your parents for 18 years. They have told you that you are a Christian, loved by Jesus and loved by them. From that base you can explore so much more. The world doesn’t like God’s Word and the things that it has to say, but remember what you have learned. Be salt and light on the earth. God calls us to spread his Word and with encouragement from support systems like our parents, it makes doing that not as daunting as it first seems.


Hannah White, a junior at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, is a member at Loving Shepherd, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Hannah White  
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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: Luke 10 : Part 2

Like lambs among wolves 

Eric S. Roecker 

He clenches his hands, palms soaked with sweat.  

The butterflies in his stomach flutter fiercely.  

He looks in the mirror one last time to make certain that every hair is in place and that nothing of his lunch is tucked between his teeth.  

He wonders if he can do this. He is terrified. It has taken him weeks to work up the courage. What if she says no? What if the girl of his dreams rejects him? What worries him is the thought of being rejected, of being told, in essence, “You’re not good enough.” He’s not sure he can handle it. It might just be better to avoid that possibility all together.  

She stares at the bright white envelope on the well-worn kitchen table. She has waited what seems like an eternity for it. Now, here it is, right in front of her, and she is too terrified to open it. She knows that her future lies within. Has she been accepted to the university she has always dreamed of attending? She has spent years taking all the right classes, joining all the right clubs, being involved in all the right extra curricularsShe has spent countless late nights studying to get good enough grades. Her hands tremble as she struggles to unseal the envelope.  

The fear of rejection is common to us all. We want to be acceptedso much so that the fear of being rejected sometimes keeps us from asking out that special person or applying to that universityBetter to play it safe than risk rejection. 

This same fear sometimes keeps Christians from telling others about their SaviorWe think, What if they won’t listen? What if they laugh at me? What if they think I’m ignorant and naïve? What if I invite them to church and they say no?  

If the fear of rejection keeps you from telling others about their Savior, then listen to Jesus in Luke chapter 10. While sending 72 of his disciples to proclaim the coming kingdom of God, he told them: “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves” (v. 3).  

That doesn’t sound very encouraging! Why not tell them that there is nothing to worry about? Why not tell them that they will surely be successful?  

Because God cannot lie. Jesus told them the way it was. He knew very well that they would face opposition. He knew the spiritual forces of darkness would mass against them. He knew that the people to whom they preached would not always welcome the good news the disciples shared 

People won’t always welcome the good news when we proclaim it either. And, in a strange way, this truth can comfort usIt conditions our hearts from becoming overly optimistic. It steels us for the inevitable rejections we will encounter.  

Jesus tells us, in no uncertain terms, that some people will welcome our message and others will not. In fact, they will be wolves. 

So what? How does this, in any way, change our mission? Our Savior sends us with the message of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We proclaim it. We invite others to hear about it at worship or in a Bible study. Some will welcome our invitation. Others will not. So it is. So it has always been.  

This does not mean we are indifferent. We are saddened when God’s message is rejected. We are thrilled when God’s message is received. But, either way, our task remains the same—to proclaim that message. 

During my 20 years serving as a parish pastor, I had the opportunity to teach dozens of Bible information classes. It was one of my favorite parts of being a parish pastor. 

People new to our church, and in some cases new to Christianity, would gather to learn the basics of the Christian faith. We talked about sin and gracewhat Jesus did to save usand more. 

It was always exciting to begin a new series of classes. I was always hopeful that the souls attending would receive God’s truth with joy. Often, they did. Occasionally, they did not. I never knew what would happen. But it was not my job to know what would happen. It was my job to share what God’s Word says.  

Sharing the gospel is the job—and the privilege—of every follower of Jesus Christ. We dare not allow our fear of rejection to keep us from accomplishing this task. After all, what is really at the root of this fear? Most often it is because we are self-centered. We are thinking too much about what rejection will mean for our reputation or relationships and too little about what failing to share the gospel will mean for the souls of others. We are putting our comfort ahead of our Savior’s command. We are putting ourselves ahead of both our neighbor and our God. 

Thankfully, our God sent us a SaviorJesus was willing to be rejected himself in order to save us from our sinsyes, even the self-centeredness that sometimes keeps us from telling others about himMany of the people who heard Jesus preach rejected what he had to say. But this did not stop him from continuing to preach. He loved them too much.  

Look at the people the Lord has brought into your life. Do they know that, in Jesus, their sins are forgiven and eternal life is theirs? If not, find time to tell them. Or invite them to worship or a Bible information class where they can hear the good news.  

Ten minutes ago, I sent a text message to someone I met more than two years ago. She is not a Christian. Over the past couple of years, we have had multiple discussions about God and faith and our eternal fate. Each time we have talked, she has argued against the kind of God I described. So far, there is no indication that she believes in any kind of personal God, much less trusts in Jesus as the one, true God and her Savior. But, as I wrote the preceding paragraph and thought about the people the Lord has brought into my life, this young woman came to mind. So I reached out again to invite her to continue our conversation. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know where it will lead. I don’t know whether she will ever accept what I am sharing. But I do know that I am not wasting my time. I am doing what my Jesus has told me to do. And I know he is with me as I carry out his command. 

Let this be your comfort as well, even if you fear being rejected. You are carrying out his command, and he will be with you as you do.  

So . . . what is there to worry about? 


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


This is the second article in a threepart series on the story of Jesus sending out his disciples in Luke 10.   


 

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Author: Eric S. Roecker
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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The Book of Revelation: Part 4

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 6 and 7 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Jesus, who was slain to purchase us for God, stood at the center of the throne. He was worthy to open the sealed scroll (cf. Revelation chapter 5)Chapter six dramatically leads us into the heart of John’s second vision as the Lamb begins to open the scroll, one seal at a time.  

The seals are opened  

From the serene and sublime throne room, John, and we through him, is allowed to see what God sees. While God reigns and rules, what should we expect in this worldAs the scene unfolds before the apostle, perhaps John is reminded of a question that the disciples asked Jesus while he yet visibly walked with them in the world: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24: 3).  

The answer Jesus gave them parallels what John sees in dramatic picture here. Four seals are opened, and four colored horses with riders are sent out. The meaning of the first horse, the white one, is debated. Is it representative of Christ and his gospel going out victoriously to conquer, an echo of Jesus’ promise that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached until the end (Matthew 24:14)? Or does it represent the false and deceptive “messiahs” (24:5) who come claiming to be him, wolves in sheep’s clothing? We can’t say for sure, but since false teaching is the subject matter of the entire next vision we might safely lean toward that first option: Jesus and the gospel going forth 

The other horses remind us that wars, famines, pestilence, plague, natural disasters, and death will be part of this world’s plight until its end. Those who hold faithfully to the Word will not be strangers to persecution. And then the end will come, a frightening day for those who refuse and resist Jesus and his redeeming work.    

The sealed and saved  

But that end won’t come until God’s gospel work in this world is done. With symbolic numbers and a reference to the Old Testament nation of Israel (Revelation chapter seven), we are reminded of this truth. Twelve is the number of the church and ten cubed (10x10x10) represents completeness. John hears a numbering, representative of the countless sea of people from every nation, tribe, people, and language brought by the gospel from the darkness of sin and unbelief to the light of forgiveness and faith in Christ.  

Immediately after that numbering, he looks and sees a great multitude. But they are no longer residing in this world. These are those who have already come out of the great and ongoing tribulation of this world and now experience the victory of heaven. This is the church triumphant! This is the land of rest that we look for and long for during our pilgrimage in this world. This is the blessed reality we await as those who are sealed in Christ through Baptism, robed in his righteousness through faith, possessors of eternal life even now, and citizens of his heavenly kingdom. 


Reflect on Revelation chapters 6 and 7 

  1. What comfort can you draw from the seals as you compare them to real life in this world?The writer to the Hebrews has some good advice. Hebrews 11 gives us a list of those who remained faithful during the ages. Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (v. 10). The other faithful understood, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (v. 40). 

    The writer concludes, “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (13:14). 

  2. How might the vision of the redeemed in heaven give you comfort when you are in a rough spot?Three things come to mind:   

    First, God is seated on his throne and rules all things. Even the bad times are under his control. 

    Second, God’s rule is governed by his deep love for his faithful people. He has promised that nothing will be able to take us away from his love (Romans 8:37-39) because he is in control and everything will work out for our good (Romans 8:28). 

    Third, we have heaven above waiting for us by grace because Jesus has died and risen again to secure our place among the multitudes before his throne. 

    A fourth assurance underscores it all. Jesus loved us so much he shed his blood for us. As Paul says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). 


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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 help a family with a sick parent?

How can we help a family with a sick parent? 

When we find out that someone we care about is sick, we want to help. Often, though, we don’t know what to do. Writing from firsthand experience, Heart to heart author Kerry Ognenoff details what helped her and her family when she was sick. I really appreciate the practicality of Ognenoff’s insights and the glimpse into what her mindset was when she was struggling.  

Following Ognenoff’s article, read the sidebar about how Holy Word, Austin, Texas, put together a Care Team to help serve its members and neighbors. Does your congregation have a group like this? Share how it’s been a blessing to you—to receive Christian love and support or to give it. E-mail fic@wels.net with your stories.  

Nicole Balza


In April 2018, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I never expected to hear a cancer diagnosis at 36 years old. I never expected to have to tell my two young children that their mom was seriously ill. I also never expected the amount of help and support we received from our friends, family, and church/school community. Our lives were thrown into a tailspin for six months as I went through chemotherapy, and my husband took over the kid and house duties. We would not have survived without the unbelievable outpouring of love and help we received. 

Before I offer advice on supporting a family with a sick parent, I’d like to speak to the person who is ill (or in need of support): Figure out exactly what you need. The following suggestions were most helpful to me and our family, but that was because I carefully evaluated what I needed most and was able to make specific requests when people offered help. When people ask what they can do for you, don’t be afraid to say, “This is what we need right now.”  

That said, when someone you love is going through a tough time, here are some helpful ways to reach out. 

Pray! 

I cannot put into words what an empowering comfort it was to know that I had people praying for me and my family during my diagnosis and treatment. When our life took a surreal turn, we had so many believers on our side, storming his throne on our behalf. It was a huge comfort! 

Ask what to pray for specifically. Do they have tests or procedures coming up? Troubling side effects? Kids or spouse struggling with the life changes? A particular challenge you can bring to God? And then let them know you’re praying. 

Be specific in your offers of help.  

General offers of help, like “Let us know if you need anything, were always appreciated, but the specific offers of help were much easier for me to accept. “I’m picking up your kids for a day at the zoo, what time works for you?” or “What day this week can I come and clean your bathroom?” It took all the thinking out of it for me. It’s the little things—walking the dog, hanging with the kids, cleaning up the kitchenthat, yes, I could still do while sick, but the help gave me a little bit of a break to focus on other activities instead. 

Sign up for or coordinate a meal train. 

My family was beyond blessed to be well-fed throughout my treatment. My good days were spent trying to conserve energy to be with my kids, so cooking and grocery shopping took a back seat. Talk to the person struggling in your lifehas someone already set up a meal train? Would it be helpful to have meals delivered a couple times a week? If a home-cooked meal isn’t workable, a gift card to a restaurant or meal service is wonderful alternative. 

Send a card or a care package. 

Getting mail is special at any time, in my opinion, but getting cards from friends and family near and far during treatment always lifted my spirits while I was sick. My favorites were the cards with terrible jokesbut I also received many beautiful cards of encouragement. Receiving a little care package was also uplifting. I had several days of resting in bed after each chemo and devoured dozens of books shared with me by friends during that time. Consider sending a small care package with a book, a treat, a special blanket they can snuggle under while they rest, or something special for their kids to play with.  

Spend time visiting or listening. 

Often when people would ask what I needed, I would immediately answer, Company! I am a very busy and social person. To be sidelined from my usual routine for months was incredibly lonely. I loved to have friends drop by for a visit. Be sure to keep it short if it seems like your friend needs to rest. Ask if they need a ride to or company for appointments or procedures. Having friends along at my chemo appointments gave me something to look forward to about the appointment. 

Whether you reach out in one or many ways, do something, even if it’s just sending a text letting the family know that you’re thinking of and praying for them. Being surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ is one of the beautiful benefits of struggling through hard times. God created us to need one another, so don’t be afraid to be the one who needs help or the one who offers it. 


Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son who attend school at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. They are members at Grace, Milwaukee. 


Organizing a Care Team: One congregation’s story 

Holy Word, Austin, Texas, created its Care Team in 2018 to be the listener and identifier of community needs, to ask who will be the hands and feet of Jesus to meet these needs, and to connect the hurting with the servants. 

The Care Team was designed to empower our members to become servants by caring for fellow church family needs brought to the attention of the team via our pastors’ insights or personal relationships. As a part of this work, the team also seeks to help identify members of the Holy Word community who are in need of support, guidance, or other services and to connect them with members interested in helping meet the need 

Our initial team duties included arranging helpers to organize and serve at funeral receptions, writing and mailing cards to members, providing meal support for new mothersvisiting shut-in members and bringing them giftsand organizing frozen meal storage for future needs. In February 2019, we launched a recovery ministry. We have been working to create processes that will sustain these endeavors as volunteers come and go over the years.  

Holy Word’s Care Team hopes to create more opportunities for our members to serve in ways that showcase their gifts while benefiting others. Helping others lets us show our love to God and our gratitude for his blessings. Research also shows that people get a boost of well-being when they volunteer and support others in service. The Care Team sees this as an opportunity to create a culture within our church family of awareness, encouragement, and servant leadership, and we are excited to watch this effort blossom and grow.  

Amory Stephenson 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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: What role does emotion play in contrition?

Sometimes after I sin I donfeel very remorseful. I am afraid that the lack of emotional guilt within me following sin means I am not contrite. What role does emotion play in contrition? 

James F. Pope

Humans experience wide range of emotions. So your question is a valid one to considerespecially during this season of Lent, which emphasizes repentance. Phrases from some of our hymns will be helpful in answering your question. 

Sorrow over sin 

My sin and guilt are plaguing me; oh, grant me true contrition” (Christian Worship 437:2). Our Lutheran Confessions define contrition as “terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin” (Augsburg Confession, Article XII:4). After his adulterous and murderous episodes with Bathsheba and Uriah, King David did what he could to distance himself from guilt and personal accountability. Eventually, the message of the law from the prophet Nathan broke down the impenitent king. “I have sinned against the LORD,” the king confessed (2 Samuel 12:13). While Scripture records the words of David’s confession, it does not supply any accompanying outward emotion. We hear only of the king’s heartfelt sorrow over sin. 

God works similar attitudes in you through the message of his law. During the general Confession of Sins in worship services he leads you to confess your natural sinful condition and your sins of commission and omission. In daily life, God leads you to acknowledge your wrongdoing and seek his forgiveness. At the time of David’s confession we do not know what emotion he felt. We do know that his confession was sincere.  

Sorrow on display? 

“With broken heart and contrite sigh, a trembling sinner, Lord, I cry” (Christian Worship 303:1). Is that what contrition is all about: people wearing their hearts on their sleeves, giving evidence of inward sorrow by outward displays of emotions? Contrition can be like that, but we want to be careful that we do not prescribe what contrition is to be like. You and I might confess specific sins with varying degrees of emotions. Factors such as the nature of the sin, the frequency of the sin, and the person against whom we have sinned can have a bearing on how emotion-filled our confessions might be. 

Keep in mind that, like any other part of our Christian life, our contrition will not be perfect. One man called out to Jesus, “Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Faith can always be stronger. Another person could have called out to Jesus, “Help me overcome my impenitence! Contrition can always be more genuine. And yet, Christian contrition and repentance point in the right direction. 

Sorrow removed 

“When o’er my sins I sorrow, Lord, I will look to you” (Christian Worship 109:1). When the prodigal son was ruminating over his lost condition, his thoughts turned to his father. The son recognized his wrongs and began to rehearse the confession he would offer his father. Putting his plan into action, the son traveled back home and said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).  

His father embraced him with a kiss and staged a celebratory feast. The father forgave his wayward child. Likewise, God responds to our confession of sins with the words, “Take heart . . . your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). That message cheers the contrite in heart and provides them with strength to fight against sin even more.  


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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Let’s do Lent!

How are you preparing to observe the Lenten season? 

Mark H. Schewe 

I’m sure you are preparing! The Lenten season begins the first week of this month, with Ash Wednesday on March 6. Pastors, worship planners, musicians, food volunteers, and many others have had plenty of time since the Christmas season to get at planning and preparation. All the questions to answerDid the midweek bulletin covers come in? Did the piano tuner stop by for his annual visit? Are we using Evening Prayer or Compline for Wednesdays? Is the Junior Choir scheduled to sing? Owhich Wednesday will the youth group be cooking?  

Reset your focus  

If you’re a veteran called worker or lay leader in your congregation, you might be tempted to jump in and begin grinding out plans and filling in the blanks for a busy season. If so, you need to start over. Even if you’re a regular member of a church, your thoughts can’t begin with the activities and services that you will do during Lent. Your Lenten walk of faith will be adversely affected if it starts out in mechanical fashion. In fact, it’s possible to stand the season of Lent on its head altogether, finishing the season with relief simply because the extra planning and worship are over for the year. 

Lent is not planning what to do for the seasonTo illustrate, our church has a subscription to an online church clip art program. This program has tens of thousands of images and Scripture verses that can easily be inserted into bulletins and newsletters. Very handy! But sometimes it can be a bit interesting or humorous what the Internet site suggests for appropriate clip art for Lent or any other season. 

If you type “Lent” in the search box, a couple options invariably pop up posing the question, “What are you giving up?” One of these images even includes 20 suggestions within the clip art of what you can give up. Some suggested sacrificial items are common, ones we hear every year: chocolate, sweets, coffee, TV. But some newer ones have appeared: Facebook, credit cards, shopping, and TwitterYes, Twitter. 

I know there are plenty of pious Christians who sacrifice something during the 40 days of Lent with a sanctified heart. It can be done properly, of course. But I’m also certain many people in the Christian world hear that the days of Lent are approaching and immediately think, Oh yeah, what am I going to give up this year? In other words, How can I do Lent this year? If that’s your starting point, you’re off on the wrong foot. 

It can be the same for church leaders and called workers. Get ready to do Lent! More choir practices. Suppers to serve. More church services to plan and attend. Instruments to rehearse. More times to clean the sanctuary. More things to communicateExtra sermons to complete. Communion to set up. Paraments to change from purple to black to white. An Easter vigil service on Saturday of Holy Week to prepare. 

We have so much to do as we look forward to Lent. Or do we?  

Remember what you did and what Jesus did 

What do we do for Lent? The proper place to start is to ask, “What did we do for Lent?”  

I was reminded of that when I served at a congregation in the state of Washington. It was my first Lenten season at the church. Our congregation worshiped in a sanctuary that was newly built. On one side were tall windows that faced a busy street. The Christmas tree had been in those windows during the holidays. It was perfect spot, visible to worshipers and the community, and it made perfect sense to build large, rugged cross to place there for Lent. It would be a striking scene for worshipers and commuters alike, draped in the appropriate color for the season.  

One of our church members heard about the idea and offered to bring a tree that had fallen on his property, which could be cut and shaped into a cross. Perfect! After the delivery, we made some basic measurements, and the cutting, notching, tying, and erecting began. It’s what we did for Lent that year. 

But as I notched the wood and hammered the pieces together, it dawned on me: This is not the first cross I’ve made. 

It was true that I had never constructed a physical lifesized cross before, but I had most definitely had a hand in making one already. It was a cross that I had never seen, but one that I had caused. My sin was nailed to it. It was the original cross of my Savior, who went the way of that cross so that my sin and guilt could be paid for.  ‘He himself boreoursins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed’ ” (1 Peter 2:24). 

How do we properly “do Lent? We already did it. We caused it. And this is where a proper Lenten walk begins. Why must Lent come each year, that dark and somber season of the church year with its hymns in minor keys and ashes and blackness? We commemorate how the Son of God had to come in grace and mercy and pay the price that we could never pay. Lent is about what we originally did and continue to do as sinners. And it’s about what Jesus did for us before we saw the light of day.  

So, this year, how can we properly do Lent? Come. Come and marvel that there is nothing you must do, nothing that you must pay for your forgiveness. Come with a contrite and repentant heart to receive what God has to give. Be amazed at the love of your Savior.  

As Lent begins, perhaps the best initial activity we could do would be to meditate on a portion of Scripture or devotion that reinforces where the true action of Lent lies and points out how we are undeserving recipients of God’s grace. Read through Isaiah chapter 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 51, or 1 John 4:9,10. Spend a few moments with the hymn “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now” (Christian Worship 98) and the many other hymns in the Lenten section of the hymnal that reinforce how we are receivers rather than doers during Lent. Go into your morning devotion with that intentional angle of emphasis, especially if you are a church leader consumed by how much there is to do during Lent. 

Receive. Reflect. Be comforted. Soak in the Passion History as it’s read. Come ready to hear the old, old story that gives us so much peace. Sing about it. Marvel at it. Come early to meditate a bit. Enjoy some food and time with fellow Christians pilgrims. Rejoice that God loved you enough to do it all to win your salvation. 

Then, with the right perspective on your Lenten season, you can make a sacrifice to help you concentrate on the cross. After all, maybe you could do without those sweets or chocolate for a while. And that Twitter account.


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


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Author: Mark H. Schewe 
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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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Well pleased

Through the sacrifice of God’s Son, we are now God’s children, with whom he is well pleased. 

Luke C. Werre 

The Transfiguration of our Lord is an event filled with mysteries. To me, one of the greatest mysteries is the heavenly Father’s declaration: “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). 

God’s pleasure in his Son 

Well pleased? Pleased that his Son would be descending the mountain in order to go to Jerusalem, to a people who would reject him? Pleased that he would be headed to the cross and suffering? Pleased that his perfectly obedient Son would sacrifice himself for ignorant and unappreciative recipients of his largesse? 

I have two sons, who are precious to me. Jesus and his Father have had a relationship of perfect love from eternity. There has been nothing but perfect unity of purpose, mind, and will between them. As much as I love my sons, it cannot compare with the heavenly Father’s infinite love for his Son. No matter how much pride, satisfaction, and joy I have in my sons, my heavenly Father’s infinite joy and satisfaction in his Son is infinitely deeper. With him, the Father, the Almighty, is well pleased. 

By total contrast, I am the son with whom God should not be well pleased. Often enough he gives me a peek into caverns of my heart where total depravity still lurks deeply like so many years of layered bat dung. A little suffering or a little adversity quickly reveals the muck of pride, impatience, hatred, hostility, resentment, faithlessness, despair, and self-absorbed concern. I don’t like myself very much for such things. I’m thankful that God doesn’t allow me to dwell on the totality of my sinfulness. I’m sure I could not bear it. I feel like it would destroy me. But I can perceive just enough of it to assess myself as the hymn writer did: a worm. “Alas and did my Savior bleed And did my Sov’reign die? Would he devote that sacred head For such a worm as I?” (The Lutheran Hymnal 154:1). 

God’s pleasure in what his Son did 

The wonder of it, the grand mystery of it, is that the heavenly Father was not merely announcing his pleasure with who Jesus is, but also with what Jesus came to do—that he would devote that sacred head for such a worm as I. The apostle Paul framed this truth in another way: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

The Father was well pleased with his Son because the Son would do his Father’s will. Jesus descended the Mount of Transfiguration, marched on to Jerusalem, and sacrificed himself on the cross for sinners like you and me! And God the Father was pleased! 

Do you see that, because the Son obeyed, your heavenly Father has no ill will toward you? You and I would be appalled to see our sons suffer to make someone else’s circumstance better. But your heavenly Father does not hold back his Son. There is not even hesitancy on his part to make the greatest possible sacrifice for you as he sends his Son to agony and death in order to atone for your sinfulness. No longer are we regarded as worms because he “redeems [our lives] from the pit and crowns [us] with love and compassion” (Psalm 103:4). 

No longer a worm. A child of God with whom God is well pleased—that’s the new status for each of us as we trust in Jesus. By his death our sins have been forgiven. God finds no fault with us. He is pleased not to find fault with us!  

Is this not a mystery? Is this not grace? 


Luke Werre is pastor at Peace, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Luke C. Werre
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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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An easy question?

Earle D. Treptow 

The same question may be easy or complex, depending on the person you ask. For example: What are the factors of 2xy – 10x2y + 4x2y2? A sixth-grade student would consider that complex. Even some who have completed college may find it difficult. For the mathematician, however, the question is easy. In the end, you’d hope, if you found the question complex, that those who considered it simple wouldn’t look down on you because you couldn’t answer correctly and quickly. 

Here’s another question that one person may find easy, another complex: What is your gender? You may think of that as the easiest question. Some, on the other hand, consider the two possibilities most often presented as inadequate. Neither “male” nor “female” accurately capture the way they view themselves, so they look for some other word to communicate their gender.  

When it comes to math, we expect that those in the know will be patient with those who have not been taught or who struggle to grasp the concept. Above all, we expect that they will not regard with contempt those who can’t give the proper answer. Do those same expectations apply when it comes to questions of gender identity? Do we expect it of ourselves as we interact with those who struggle with an issue that is so clear to us? 

Christians know the answer because God has taught us in his Word. In the opening pages of Scripture, he says, “God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The Lord formed human beings as male and female. That was his perfect design in his perfect world. Adam and Eve accepted God’s design as a gift of God’s goodness.  

When our first parents decided that God had unfairly forbidden them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, things changed for the worse. Adam and Eve experienced serious confusion. They were so confused that they tried the impossible—to hide from the Lord in the garden. Their confusion led them to doubt God’s mercy, so they deemed it necessary to blame God and others for their sin. The Lord, by his promise of a Savior, cleared up their confusion about his mercy, but their sinfulness meant that confusion would regularly persist. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve passed along their sin to their descendants and, in so doing, passed along their confusion too.  

We ought not be surprised, then, that people are confused about gender identity. Sin has corrupted us all, so that God’s clear and beautiful design seems unclear. Don’t we know that from painful personal experience? Must I not say about each sin I commit that it’s a rebellion against God’s design? Every sin arises from the confused idea that God’s design doesn’t fit our current circumstance or our view of how things ought to operate.  

God graciously calls us to repentance day after day and then patiently teaches us the truth yet again. He invites us to deal in the same way with others who do not grasp his clear design. With the strength the Lord provides, we don’t dismiss people who are confused about gender issues as hopelessly in rebellion against God. Instead, we serve them, as one wretched sinner to another. In humility, we proclaim God’s love for them in Christ. 

We teach God’s design. And then we pray that the Holy Spirit would enlighten confused hearts and minds, just as he has done with all us undeserving sinners.  


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


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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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Where is God?

John A. Braun

We were at a restaurant for breakfast with family after church. As we talked and waited for our food, I noticed two women in a booth nearby. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their conversation appeared intense. From their gestures, low voices, and facial expressions, I concluded that they were discussing some problem, family conflict, or heartache. 

Of course, I may have misread the entire situation, and they might have been sharing some secret, but joyful, personal news. They were too far away, and I was too busy with family to be sure.  

But I thought of them afterward. It’s not unusual to sense the personal problems and personal joys of others. They surround us. They are behind the awkward smiles of the strangers we meet or in the conversations that are just out of earshot. 

Remembering the two women, I thought more of the woes we all carry than the joys. Perhaps that’s because I sense we all carry woes behind the everyday facade. But I also wondered if these women had been in church that morning to hear of God’s love. Then I wondered how that love could make a difference if their conversation was about personal unhappiness, loneliness, or pain. 

People are quick to complain about God when they carry heavy burdens. He’s powerless to help, they conclude. And he doesn’t seem to care because they hurt so much. “Where is God when you need him?” is a question asked so often that it’s no surprise to hear it even from Christians. 

So, where is God when hushed conversations reveal pain and misery? He’s there as a quiet listener, just as he promised. He’s there also as a powerful ally to give strength, comfort, healing, and solutions that will serve for our good. 

But to some that seems to be only so much wishful thinking. We often cannot make the problems disappear, and God doesn’t always make the problems disappear either. Whether we are Christian or not, we all have private conversations about the troubles we bear. That’s what life here is. The days of our lives—no matter how short or long—are trouble and sorrow and then we fly away (cf. Psalm 90:10). 

Well, if that’s your answer, they say, then what good is God? I have an answer. God saw and still sees all the pain and misery of all people here. He knows the evil, the heartache, the loneliness, and the tears. He’s known it long before any conversation in a restaurant booth. He did not want things to be that way, and he took steps to change it all. 

He planned our rescue. He sent his Son to earth to change our future. The people Jesus knew while he was here faced problems, woes, and pain just as we do—but without smartphones and television. He healed some and had compassion on all. He showed himself to be God, come to earth to do what none of us could do. He gives eternal life—but not an eternal life filled with the same kind of troubles we face every day. Instead, we have the hope of a life free of all that. 

That has practical everyday benefits. Because of Jesus we have peace with God—a peace that transforms us and gives us hope. The pledge that God cares for us is assured by the blood he shed to change our futures. If he so loved us, whatever woes we experience are not devastating dead ends. His love gives us the strength and hope to rise from our hushed and painful conversations to endure and grow (Romans 5:1-5). 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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: Strength in sorrow

Even when we don’t understand all that happens in life, God gives us hope and peace. 

Kelsie Bramstedt 

I woke up to my alarm clock on Tuesday, thinking it was a normal day. I turned on my lamp and started reading through some texts from my friends as any normal teen would. I noticed that I had received a text from my grandma. She normally messages me about her day and the things she has been up to, so I opened it excitedly. The words “Samantha is with her Lord now” weren’t the words I wanted to hear at 6:00 on a Tuesday morning. 

Samantha was my 29yearold cousin. She’s married and a mother of two daughters. I remember when she and Eric, her husband, wanted me to stand up in their wedding as the flower girl. That was the first time I had my hair done all pretty, and I wore a white sparkly dress. I can’t remember too much about that day, but I know it was windy and rainy. When we went outside to take pictures after the wedding, Samantha was still so happy and thankful, even though the weather didn’t cooperate.  

I also remember the trouble she faced. It all started with back pain and surgery. The surgery was supposedly successful, but then more pain started to occur. The doctors confirmed that it was cancer. That meant many chemo treatments in the next months. She had a second surgery to scrape her organs in hope of removing the cancer and then to give her organs a “chemo bath.” 

Soon afterward, we got news that the surgery was unsuccessful. The only option was for her to receive hospice at home, where she could be close to her family. She was only at home for less than two weeks before passing away. Cancer had controlled and depicted her life for about six months. 

Samantha was a very strong person and never wanted to be the center of attention. The Lord blessed her life here on earth by giving her a strong faith and much time with her two little girls. She loved to take walks with her dog, Cooper.  

Following her death, we all wondered, Why? Why would God do this to such a good person? How are her daughters going to grow up without a mom? The things that go through my mind are to rely and trust in God above all else. I know he has done this for a reason, and he will provide for her family in the ways that they need most. 

We may not understand why God gives us struggles, but we can find peace in his great knowledge and tender mercies. 

God has given us his Word so we can trust his plans. He says, “I know the plans I have for you, . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Those words give me comfort every day. When something just doesn’t go your way, you can look to God and ask for his help.  

Samantha never doubted her faith. She somehow found God’s love in that dark time in her life. We, as Christians, can learn from her. Samantha was a great example of a strong faith and a loving person throughout her whole life. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10). 


Kelsie Bramstedt, a junior at Manitowoc Lutheran High School, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is a member at St. John, Newtonburg, Wisconsin.  


 

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Author: Kelsie Bramstedt
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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: Carlson

A search ends when the gospel becomes clear and precious. 

Keleen Carlson 

As of September 2017, I am a Lutheran!  

Born in Texas in the late 1960s, I was raised a Christian, primarily in nondenominational churches, by my mother. I know the churches meant well, and there were some awesome people there that I still consider to be friends. But when I became an adult, I began to be disillusioned about some of the teachings. There were things that began to make me doubt the teachings and why my mother raised me in that church. Besides the teachings, I noticed some things that were going on with the leadership of the church at the time. I also started being drawn to the liturgical style of worship, not realizing where God was taking me. In July of 2015 I stopped attending church altogether.  

Back to the beginning: my father was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was a confirmed Lutheran, but my mom and I were the only ones who attended church. My parents moved to Texas shortly before I was born. Mom was not raised Christian but decided to attend a nondenominational church when I was very young. After mom died in 1991, I took care of my dad in his failing health for 12 years. My dad reaffirmed his Lutheran faith a few years before he passed away, but he was unable to attend church due to his health.  

After my dad died, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with very close friends, who were my pastor’s family at the time. I never had children, and their girls were like nieces to me. When the pastor decided to move to Tennessee, the family asked me to go with them. I had never even been to Tennessee, but I felt God was telling me to move. After just four years, they moved back to Texas and even bought their old house back when they moved. But I stayed in Nashville.  

Troublesome teachings 

Things began to trouble me about what my church was teaching. It spent so much time on the prosperity message and the topic of the end times, trying to predict the date of the rapture. It focused a lot on tithing, teaching that if you do not tithe God will not bless you. Meanwhile, I was personally struggling even to maintain my Christian walk and was simply told that I should try to be holy. There wasn’t much discipleship and teaching about the Bible and how to live as a Christian on a daily basis. My church taught that the Lord’s Supper was just a symbol as was Baptism. We didn’t really do anything special for Christmas. I never knew what Advent was until I became a Lutheran. Instead of increasing church services during that time, the church canceled them because of the holiday. I always felt that was odd; we didn’t even celebrate the birthday of the Savior, except to sing a song or two close to Christmas and read the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel.  

The church also called things sin that are not, such as drinking alcohol in moderation. This frustrated me, especially after one pastor told me he does not see anything wrong with drinking in moderation but that the denomination does not allow its ministers to drink or they would be expelled. It made no sense to me that a minister would believe something different than what his church actually teaches. When the church was failing due to lack of funds, one of the ministers even prophesied that God would send four rich businessmen from the east, west, north, and south to support the church financially. That church closed a year later. I was so disillusioned! 

Looking for a new church 

After I stopped attending church altogether in 2015, I did try to find another church, but many were so contemporary and seemed unfriendly. I was disheartened. None seemed true to the Bible; they were always looking for new, fun, and fancy ways to attract people.  

Then I began to research Lutheran churches to get back to my dad’s original beliefs and to find a church with a liturgical style of worship. After a bit of research, I realized that the Lutheran churches I was finding were way too liberal for me. I knew when my dad attended the Lutheran church it was not that way.  

Then came WELS! I finally found Rock of Ages in Madison, Tennessee. I had never heard of WELS before, so I did some research and found its beliefs were based on the Bible. It was just what I had been looking for! 

I attended the early service one Sunday in May 2017 and loved it. The pastor was very friendly and so were the people. They smiled and said hi, which was not my experience at some of the other churches I tried. There was such a reverent, holy feeling in church that morning.  

I filled out the friendship register, and the pastor scheduled a time to meet with me at a local Starbucks. I explained everything about my background to him, and he was compassionate about my struggles to find a good church that really believed the Bible. He told me how to become a member—by taking the Bible information class. Even though the class was not running at the time, he met with me personally each week at the church to teach me. That amazed me and almost brings me to tears even now, because it was so personal and caring. He is a great pastor with a true heart for people and a great sense of humor. He’s always available when I have questions.  

Found: the one thing needful 

The way my church focuses on Christ, his death, burial, resurrection, and him as our soon coming King is so refreshing to me. Our teachings on Baptism and Holy Communion are also very dear to me. Jesus comes to us in Word and sacrament! Wow! We don’t have to try and be good all the time and do good works to make it to heaven. Holy living and good works come from our love for Christ and what he has already done for us.  

The celebration of the church year, with Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter is also new to me and beautiful as we remember Christ’s sacrifice for us. Advent is also a special time for me. The Advent wreath with the candles is so beautiful—a baby is on the way! It gives me so much expectation from Thanksgiving to Christmas when we light the final candle to show that the Light of the world has come!  

I have some experience in writing and photography, and I am the media person for our church. I am glad I can use my talents to serve the kingdom of God. I always read Forward in Christ each month because it is so rich in biblical truth. Thanks to the pastor and the members of Rock of Ages for accepting me into their fellowship.  


Keleen Carlson is a member at Rock of Ages, Madison, Tennessee. 


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Author: Keleen Carlson
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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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