Bible Study: The incarnation of our Lord

Paul E. Zell

For many congregations, the Gospel of the Day is the keynote for each worship service. The Gospel for Christmas Day is John 1:1-4. Based on that reading, the heading for the service might be “the Incarnation of our Lord” as the evangelist declares that God’s one and only Son, the eternal Word, became flesh. (The word “incarnation” draws from the Latin for “the act of being made flesh.”)

The identity of Jesus Christ is of critical importance to all who call on his name. It comes as no surprise, then, when the devil prompts false teachers to attack it. Believers must be prepared to proclaim the truth and defend it.

Only seemed to be a man?

For instance, some have taught that Jesus Christ only seemed to be a man. They will say that his body was that of a phantom, that his suffering was more theater than reality.

Read Hebrews 2:14-18.

● Which phrases indicate that God’s Son truly and fully became a human being?

● Christian doctrine is always practical. The writer mentions at least four practical outcomes of the Son of God’s incarnation. Underline them in your Bible.

● Recall at least three instances in the ministry of Jesus that give evidence to his being fully God.

● Recall at least three instances in the ministry of Jesus that give evidence to his being fully human.

A symbolic testimony?

Some scholars have asserted that a virgin birth is biologically impossible. It would not pass the test of scientific inquiry, and it must be regarded as a “symbolic” testimony to the Christian message.

Read both Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38.

● Which verses proclaim the virgin birth of Jesus as real fact?

● What Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled by this event?

● How do Joseph’s and Mary’s reactions to the angel’s words set the tone for the way God’s people today will respond to the doctrine of the virgin birth?

● What announcements elsewhere in Scripture refute the allegation that certain statements in the Bible are impossible because they do not adhere to the laws of nature?

Only God?

The church at Colosse came under attack from false teachers who felt that all matter is evil. Since the Son of God is good, they said, he could not have become an actual flesh-and-blood human being.

Read Colossians 1:15-20 and 2:9-12.

● The fact that Jesus is fully God could not be more obvious. Where, however, does the apostle also point to his human nature?

● What is one of the practical outcomes of this God-man’s work?

● Colossians 2:9 is a brief and bold statement of the two natures of Christ. Glance through what follows. By what means have you been joined to him and his bodily resurrection from the dead?

As true man, Jesus lived under the demands of God’s law without sinning. As true man, he shed his blood and died, redeeming sinners from death and hell. As true God, his obedience to God’s law and his substitutionary death count for all human beings. It’s no wonder that angels mark the incarnation of the Son of God with reverent and joyful worship. As do we. “Glory to God in the highest!”


Paul Zell is pastor at Living Savior, Hendersonville and Asheville, North Carolina.


Read answers online after Dec. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. Read more about the Word made flesh on p. 10.


For further reading

The Athanasian Creed (pp. 132,133 in Christian Worship)
The People’s Bible: John by Gary Baumler. See especially pp. 6-22. Available from Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net.


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Author: Paul E. Zell
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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“All I want for Christmas. . .”

Glenn L. Schwanke

Age 7: “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth, my two front teeth, see my two front teeth.”

Age 9: “I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!”

Age 16: “I want a 1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet with the 335 hp V8 engine.”

Age 30: “I hope my husband goes to Jared and gets me a pair of earrings with the 18k yellow gold bead, topped by a pavé diamond dangle.”

Age 50: “Hon, let’s buy the Sun Tracker Party Barge 22 DLX, with the 60 ELPT FourStroke Command Thrust motor. It will be great fun for the grandkids next summer at the lake. Come on, hon, it’s only $23,995 at the no-hassle price!”

Age 64: “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth . . . and six more incisors, four canines, eight premolars, and eight molars. Let’s skip the wisdom teeth this time around.”

Is there anything on that list you want for Christmas, or is your wish list different? Don’t worry. Retailers will do their best to have the perfect gift for you this Christmas! Amazon and Amazon Marketplace alone carry more than 353 million products, including 64,274,875 for the home and kitchen. Their selection is so huge that some have called it “the endless shelf.”

But maybe this Christmas you realize you need something you can’t buy off of any endless shelf or find in a dentist’s chair. Maybe there’s a hole in your heart that nothing fills. An ache deep down that never goes away.

Maybe that’s because your life is broken . . . by addiction—and a new toaster-oven can’t fix that. By a failed marriage or a child who won’t talk to you anymore—and a driveway full of big boy toys or a weekend shopping spree can’t make it better.

The truth is, all of us are broken in one way or another—by sin. But sin’s consequences go much further than a deep-down ache, a guilty conscience, and sleepless nights. Sin’s consequences are eternal. Death. Hell. Can you even begin to imagine heartache that will never go away, because you are forever separated from the only one who is goodness, righteousness, mercy, and love?

But our heavenly Father doesn’t want that for any of us! That’s why his Spirit wrapped the perfect Christmas gift in flesh in the womb of Mary. And nine months later, Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). That same Christmas night, an angel shattered the quiet outside of Bethlehem when he announced to lowly shepherds, “Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

By inspiration, the apostle Paul glimpsed into the manger and saw what the little baby in swaddling clothes means for us all: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior toward mankind appeared, he saved us—not by righteous works that we did ourselves, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4,5).

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a Red Ryder BB gun or some new teeth for Christmas, as long as you’re not greedy or selfish about it. And as long as you never forget the one Christmas gift all of us really need.


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


The Scripture references used in this article are from the Evangelical Heritage Version.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Recovered in Christ

A former addict finds peace and healing in the promises of God’s Word.

Rachel M. Hartman

After drinking with friends on the weekends in high school, Mark Keller* watched alcohol slowly take over his existence. “At one point, it became all that I did,” he says. Now, years later and alcohol-free, he credits his life’s turnaround to Christ. “The passages in the Bible have explained [things to] me and comforted me. There is someone who can save me, and he made me a new person.”

Sinking down

Keller grew up in a Christian setting and went to church on Sundays. He went through catechism classes and was confirmed as a teenager. Despite the religious background, issues related to addiction were prevalent at home. “There were some things going on in the family that were not healthy,” Keller says.

In high school, Keller struggled with anxiety and depression. He discovered that alcohol helped temporarily relieve the lows he was feeling. “I found an extra boost out of it,” he says. “I was operating at an intense level and struggling with social situations. When I got drunk, I think I got a bigger bang for my buck.”

Keller drank with friends during the next years. “Our weekends were focused around who could buy alcohol,” he says. “We weren’t that connected to school and sports.” The pastime soon became a vicious cycle. Alcohol helped ease Keller’s anxiety for a time but when the effect wore off, his body wanted to return to the previous state. The stress caused panic attacks and an urge to drink more.

“What really started to catapult everything was that transition out of high school and into adult life,” Keller says. “Drinking became everything I wanted.” He tried taking college classes and working, but he sometimes showed up inebriated. “I wasn’t sticking to college or holding a job, and I felt miserable about it. The solution was drinking, and then the next day you feel miserable and you’re not moving forward with your life.”

It seemed there was no way out. “Alcohol was preventing me from having a functioning life,” he says. “I turned to alcohol to deal with the shame and embarrassment about it.”

A mountain of shame

With his life so far from where he wanted it, Keller found it hard to interact with others, especially those who weren’t heavy drinkers and the members at church. “You could feel that people could see that you were not okay, that you were dirty,” he says. When asked basic questions about school and jobs, Keller had no answer. “It isolates you from people who are healthy and doing well. It marginalizes you so much.”

Keller tried consoling himself by rationalizing he was involved in the music scene. He liked to visit bars featuring up-and-coming bands. Often, though, he was so drunk that the next day he couldn’t remember who played.

After about 10 years, Keller felt like he had hit an all-time low. “I was blacking out many nights, if not every night,” he says. Friends, counselors, church members, and recovery group leaders tried to help, but the efforts didn’t stick.

Finding stability

To get his life in order, Keller decided to get away from his surroundings and move across the country. He used the change in scenery as a restart button. He drank less and finished college, found a job, and got married. “Drinking wasn’t a huge issue at that point,” he says. “Every time I drank, I got drunk, but it wasn’t interfering with my life.”

From the outside, it seemed like Keller was on the right track. But while he didn’t struggle as much with alcohol, he found his anxiety surfacing in new ways. “I had huge fits of rage,” he says. “I would try to push things back to the way I wanted them.” His rage usually didn’t show itself while he was at work, but rather manifested itself when he was by himself or at home.

In his new location, Keller attended a WELS church regularly and was struck with the power of the gospel. “God’s Word is true and alive and active,” he says. It helped him gain perspective on the different aspects of his life. “I realized how much of my struggle with drinking had stemmed from wanting to always be comfortable and always have things go my way and not to have to tolerate frustration.” The sermon messages struck him in a new way. “I was glad the lights were low because I cried through sermons—sometimes from guilt and shame and other times over the beauty of what Christ has done.”

Keller also learned that the congregation offered a weekly recovery meeting. At the time, he felt like his struggles with alcohol were under control. He also thought his anger was manageable. “There was such a disconnect between my professional life and home life that I didn’t admit to myself that I had a problem with anger and was harming my marriage and kids,” he says. Still, he decided to attend the meetings, thinking he might gain general tips about healthy living.

He soon realized where he could make improvements. “It was through the process of this group that I got clarity with what was happening and how I was trying to control it,” he says. The people in the group listened and offered their support. “I had people I could call or text and talk me through an anger situation.”

Through working with this group at church, Keller experienced positive changes in his life. “Eventually those fits of rage disappeared,” he says. “I also realized that, given my makeup, I couldn’t have highs and lows. Even though I was drinking less I needed to quit completely.”

Peace through Christ

Now, six years later, Keller doesn’t touch alcohol and can’t remember his last fit of rage. He continues to meet regularly with his group at church and attends an annual addiction retreat. Through these connections, he also mentors others on their journey toward recovery.

Keller is quick to explain to them that change stems from Christ’s work and his promises. “I found everything else is just superficial and doesn’t get to the core of it,” he says. “It doesn’t speak to the tremendous need we have.”

Keller also points out to others that God’s message is for all people. “The Bible’s definition of sin describes us as being sick and having a disease, of being in bondage. That’s true for the alcoholic and drug addict in a public way.”

Yet Christ’s death and resurrection are for everyone too. “When you call on God’s promises and you’re forgiven, the passages of the Bible take on a new reality,” he says.

Keller notes verses in Romans 7 that continue to impact him. “Paul says, ‘What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ ”

It is this guidance that can lead the way through recovery. Says Keller, “When we trust in him and his promises, it’s transformative for our lives.”


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


* Name has been changed.


Sidebar:

Lutheran Recovery Ministries offers Resilient Recovery groups and an annual retreat to help WELS members and others who are in recovery, have a loved one in recovery, or struggle with any habitual sin. Its next retreat will be offered Feb. 20–23, 2020. Learn more at lutheranrecoveryministries.com.

 

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Author: Rachel M. Hartman
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Don’t forget Advent

In the midst of Christmas chaos and crowds, Advent points us to what is important.

Stephen M. Luchterhand

The countdown for next Christmas began the day after Christmas last year—364 days until Christmas. (It’s 365 days this coming year, thanks to a leap year in 2020.) Of course, Christmas stays under the radar as other holidays, birthdays, and milestones are observed. Yet savvy planners and shoppers deposit money into savings accounts, watch sales, and examine trends with an eye on December and Christmas.

Later in the year the leaves begin to change color in America’s northern regions, and the taste of pumpkin invades almost every food and drink concoction imaginable. At that point, retailers quietly begin setting out Christmas trees, ornaments, and decorations. Excitement over Christmas builds slowly, but steadily, until Thanksgiving. Then it’s pandemonium.

Christmas trees and decorations go up inside homes and businesses. Lights and displays appear outside homes and businesses. Black Friday unleashes stampedes of shoppers. Cyber Monday extends the chaos online. It’s the “all shopping, all the time” race to Christmas: in-store shopping, online shopping, two-day shipping, next day shipping, free shipping. FedEx, UPS, and the USPS are everywhere. Children receive the message, either directly or indirectly, that good behavior will merit more gifts under the Christmas tree.

In the midst of all the distractions and diversions, the season of Advent intervenes.

Proper preparation

“Advent” is a Latin word that means “coming” or “arrival.” The Christian church year begins with the first Sunday in Advent at the end of November or beginning of December and continues for four Sundays until Christmas. The Advent season quite naturally helps Christians prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming at Christmas. The four Sundays of Advent offer a powerful spiritual antidote to the commercialism and busyness of our modern Christmas celebrations.

The readings and hymns of Advent help us to prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth and point us to the Savior’s second coming on the Last Day. Visual cues in worship direct attention to the themes and the emphases of the season. Currently blue (or purple) altar paraments and pastors’ stoles symbolize hope. Sanctuary Advent wreaths feature a white Christ candle encircled by four candles highlighting Advent themes. The three blue (or purple) candles symbolize hope, love, and peace. The pink candle, lit during the third week of Advent, symbolizes joy.

But nothing prepares the heart for proper Advent celebration more than the arrival of John the Baptist. While media and culture promote the fun of a “holly, jolly Christmas” and Santas belting out their friendly “ho-ho-hos,” along comes John to tell us that we’re doing it all wrong.

To the casual observer, John is the Grinch who steals holiday cheer. He’s more Scrooge than Santa. He comes across as the wild-eyed, sandwich-board-wearing guy on the street corner. But look past John the Baptist’s rough edges, limited wardrobe, and peculiar diet. Listen to his message, even though it isn’t very popular, not during this season of “giving” and “sharing” and “harmony.” His message, in a word, is “Repent!” (Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3:1-9).

Repent!? It’s a harsh word for some. Repentance involves more than a mumbled half-hearted apology for sin. It’s more than a flippant, “Fine, I’m sorry.” True repentance involves turning away from sin, seeking to amend our sinful lives, and renewing our efforts to follow God’s will.

The Christian is properly prepared to celebrate Christ’s first coming and to look forward to his second coming when the heart is prepared through repentance. As we look forward to Christmas and to the Lord’s return, we repent and wait.

Learning to wait

No one likes to wait. Whether age 2 or 92, people prefer speed and convenience. “Instant” may not be fast enough for people with high tech and broadband speed. For the driver in a hurry, waiting for a stoplight to turn green again can seem like the longest 45 seconds of one’s life. For children eager to open Christmas presents, the wait seems never ending.

God’s Old Testament people learned to wait. From Adam to Abraham to Moses to David to Isaiah, God’s people waited hundreds, even thousands, of years for the Lord to keep his promise to send a Savior. They heard the promises, and many responded with prayer and praise while they waited. But waiting was hard to do. Time and again, faithful prophets like Habakkuk (1:2) and Isaiah (6:11) and leaders like David (Psalm 13:1) cried out, “How long, Lord?” David expresses the faith of every believer on either side of Christ’s first coming: “I wait for the LORD. My soul waits, and in his word I have put my hope” (Psalm 130:5 Evangelical Heritage Version [EHV])

God’s promises of a Savior finally found fulfilment in the Christ Child at Christmas. Their wait was over.

Believers today live in the “in-between time” between the first and second Advent of our Savior. We must wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises of the second coming of our Lord and King.

Christ’s third coming

How shall God’s people wait? It is not easy, but it is essential to wait patiently and faithfully by giving our attention to God’s Word.

One early Sunday morning during the days of President Franklin Roosevelt’s time in office, the phone rang in the office of the church that the president often attended. The minister answered and heard a voice on the line inquire, “Tell, me sir, do you expect the president to be in church today?” “That I cannot promise,” said the minister, “but we do expect God to be there, and that should be reasonably good reason for attending.”

Wherever and whenever God’s Word and sacraments are in use, God is there as he promises. Christians typically speak of the two comings of Christ: his first coming as the babe of Bethlehem and his second coming on judgment day as the returning King of kings and Lord of lords. To keep us properly prepared and faithfully waiting, we can speak of a third coming of Christ: his continual regular coming to us in Word and sacrament.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season, Advent sharpens our focus. We keep busy with sending cards and gifts, shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking, cleaning, working, parenting, planning, traveling and the countless other tasks that make for exceptionally full calendars this time of year. But don’t forget the season of Advent. The season intervenes and directs us to what is so essential for our Christian lives—Jesus and his Word.

Now more than ever with all the distractions, we need the reminders of Advent to set our hearts on things above, to fix our eyes on Jesus, and to lift up our heads in anticipation. The message of Advent is clear and powerful: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. The kingdom of heaven is here. Your King has come. He will come again. Listen to his Word. Receive his sacrament. And wait . . . faithfully and patiently.”

“The one who testifies about these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 EHV).


Stephen Luchterhand is pastor at Trinity, Minocqua, Wisconsin.


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Author: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Teen Talk: Walking on a tightrope

Life’s challenges seem difficult, but God is there to help.

Natalie Zirbel

Growing up, I lived on a farm. My siblings and I loved living on the farm, and there were always so many things to do. We were very adventurous, and every day in the summer we would run through the barns and the pens. Nothing scared us. Life was easy, and we had no worries.

One of our favorite things to do in the barns was race up and down the aisle, feeling the breeze rush by us. It was even more fun when we were given an obstacle to race around. One summer, my dad installed a break in the aisle of the barn that split it in half. This break was about six feet deep and five feet long. The only way to cross this break was walking across the poles on the top. The poles were about two inches thick and 6 inches apart. To the adults and to a 12-year-old like me, this didn’t slow us down much, but my younger sister struggled. It was too hard for her to balance and walk across as easily as everyone else did.

I recall running through the barns with my sister one day. As we reached the break, I carefully walked across the pole, pretending it was a tightrope and acting like I was part of a circus act. As I turned around, I expected her to do the same. Instead, I saw my sister crying at the other side. “I need help! I am going to fall through!” I could see that she was terrified and had no idea what to do.

I pondered how to help her across. I walked halfway down the pole and held out my hand. She didn’t trust me though. She was certain she was still going to fall and was convinced there was no way to get across. I asked her to just try it, but she insisted on staying where she was.

We decided to end the fun for that day and went back in the house. My mom asked her why she was crying, and my sister said, sobbing, “I was scared. I couldn’t do it. I was going to fall and then I would never get back out and no one could help me!”

I have thought about her fears and those words since. As we grow up, there are so many times we say to ourselves, “I can’t do this. There is no way.” But God responds, saying, “I can help you do this.”

We face so many temptations that are so easy to fall into. It is as easy as missing a step on that tightrope and slipping up. Just like that break in the aisle of the barn, some temptations and troubles can seem impossible to get around. Sometimes the only way around it is to walk across it, barely balancing on that pole, not being sure if you can stand firm and stay strong. Thankfully, God holds out his hand to us to keep us standing firm, and he walks us across the scary tightrope of life. Trusting God is the sure way to make it safely across to the other side.

When we are unsure of what to do or how to get ourselves out of a bad situation, we can put our trust in God to lead us to the other side. He is waiting there with loving arms. We just need to trust, and God will handle getting us across the tightrope.


Natalie Zirbel, a 2019 graduate of Manitowoc Lutheran High School, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is a member at Morrison Zion, Greenleaf, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Natalie Zirbel 
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we nurture a proper view of “stuff”?

How can we nurture a proper view of “stuff”?

Every year as Christmas rolls around, I can’t help but take stock of all the “stuff” my family has. This year that schedule sped up because we moved right before Thanksgiving. So our fall was spent taking stock of pretty much every item we own. We sold some items and donated many others. It was a great time to discuss how richly we’ve been blessed and how we can use our blessings to help others, to talk about the role of material possessions in our lives, and to thank God for providing for our physical and spiritual needs.

You don’t need to move, though, to have discussions like this with your kids. Read this month’s contributions from Linda Buxa and Rob Guenther for ideas on developing a God-pleasing view of “stuff.”

Nicole Balza


When it came to teaching our kids about “stuff,” we kept it simple. When our children turned 12, they were on their own. (Not really, but it sounds more dramatic that way.)

In reality, that’s when our children became responsible for budgeting their own money. Usually when kids get an allowance, they view it as “fun money.” We wanted our children to learn that responsible financial stewardship means you give first to God, then put some away for savings, use another portion for responsibilities, and then you can spend on fun stuff.

The lessons

So, beginning when our children turned 12, our part of the bargain was that we would pay for food in the house, educational expenses, music lessons, and a few staples like laundry detergent and hand soap. We did the math of how much we spent on clothes, school supplies, haircuts, sports equipment, toiletries, dining out, and entertainment. We added 10 percent to their total so they could give back to God.

Then we increased their allowance to cover those costs. (See . . . we still paid for them, but they were now in charge of allocating their money.) We also kept a running list of money-making endeavors that were above and beyond their normal chores if they wanted to earn more money. This teaches them that if adults want extra cash, they are welcome to get another job to earn it. It’s not like they loved doing it, but the kids did look for opportunities to babysit, to work for the neighbors, and to get real jobs with real paychecks when they were old enough.

Each is now thrifty in their own unique ways. One daughter cuts her own hair (and her sister’s hair) to save money. My son does not love to spend money on clothes and shoes, so those are on his Christmas list. They pack leftovers for lunch because that’s free to them. (Another lesson in stuff: nothing is free. If it’s free to you, someone else paid for it.) They look for clearance items, shop at thrift stores, and reuse school supplies. Still, it’s not only about being frugal. They have also learned that some cheap items will break or wear out quickly, so the investment in quality items can be worth the cost.

The potential pitfalls

In the beginning, they were so worried about running out of money, they never wanted to do anything fun. We had to encourage them that going bowling or to a theme park or eating out are all good things that can be built into a budget.

The whole idea is a lot more work for my husband and me. Before this method, I could shop on their behalf. This requires me to take the kids to the store where they can walk around and comparison shop.

It is tempting to want to step in when they are about to make what we consider a mistake. But we remember that it’s better to make money mistakes (or any mistakes, really) when they are young and the consequences are smaller.

Our oldest recently left for college and, during one of her first calls back home, thanked us for raising her to be independent. I didn’t need to hear that to believe we did the right thing for our family. But it sure was nice hearing it.


Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, are raising two daughters and a son in Concord, Wisconsin.


A thirsty pigeon flew over the city looking for something to drink. Finally, he spotted a big bowl of water and went into a dive to get what he needed to quench his thirst. Sadly, the pigeon didn’t realize that the bowl of water was only a picture on a billboard. You can guess what happened. The poor pigeon slammed into the billboard, broke his neck, and died. The pigeon was deceived by what looked like it would satisfy. In the end, he was killed by what he thought would give life.

Isn’t that the way it works with wealth and material blessings for us? Satan and the world around us promise that if we only had more and better and nicer things, new shiny toys, more games, more fun . . . if only we had these things, then we’d really be living! But what looks like it will satisfy and what promises to give life never really satisfies. It only leads to death in the end.

So how do we find contentment? How do we encourage it in our children? Well, nature abhors a vacuum. We can’t just get rid of malcontent, greed, and materialism from our hearts without filling our hearts with something else. Thankfully, God gives us that something else in his Word: Jesus.

The author to the Hebrews encourages, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have . . ..” But he doesn’t stop there. He tells us how we can do this: “Because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Hebrews 13:5).

So, to save us who crave everything, he gave everything. He humbled himself to be born in a barn, not in a hospital. He lived in a simple house, not one with 800 square feet per person. He didn’t have a car, a cell phone, or indoor plumbing. And yet, through it all, he was perfectly content all the time.

And you know why he went through it all: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). By his perfect life of contentment and by his innocent death on the cross, we are forgiven. We are right with God! We have heaven as our forever home! We truly are rich!

Maybe this year, instead of buying your children more things to put under the tree, consider buying your children an experience. Take them somewhere fun to celebrate the joy that is ours in Christ. Consider teaching them the joy of giving as they give an old toy to someone less fortunate. Consider teaching them the joy of generosity as you give them not just presents but money for them to contribute to a WELS ministry of their choice.

Focus on Christ this Christmas. Focus on why he came: to make us truly rich with the riches of heaven! And let Christ drive away our lack of contentment, our greed, and our materialism.


Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, are raising four boys in New Ulm, Minnesota.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Confessions of faith: Fleck

A long journey ends with faith in Jesus and a desire to serve him.

Amanda M. Klemp

At age 66, Daryl Fleck is retired and lives in New Ulm, Minnesota. He likes to spend his time volunteering. Now he’s getting his feet wet helping with WELS Prison Ministry.

But his journey wasn’t exactly down a straight and narrow path.

Fleck grew up in Minnesota, in a poor family with an alcoholic father. Despite his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s tendency to enable it, he says, “There was love in our family. My dad didn’t express his love outwardly so much, but we knew that he loved us. And my mother would always show her love.” His father was Catholic, and his mother Lutheran. His mom made sure he and his two younger siblings were baptized, attended church, and were confirmed.

After graduating high school, Fleck worked in construction and eventually met his first wife. They got married and had a son and daughter. Fleck had always considered himself a Christian and would, at least periodically, attend church services. But that was a cause of conflict. He says, “She didn’t believe in going to church. She wasn’t a Christian woman, which was a big mistake I made. She wouldn’t even let me hang a picture of Jesus on the wall. I tried bringing my kids to church, but because their mother wasn’t going, they didn’t want to go either.” It was a rocky 22-year marriage.

The spiral downward

He eventually left the marriage and moved back to his hometown, where he could be closer to his mom and an old friend. “I had so much guilt and shame for leaving my marriage,” he says. “I felt I had let God down and started drinking very heavily.”

Then his mother died. “It all happened at the same time. I lost my mother and my wife and family,” he says. “Emotionally I was a wreck. I had so much guilt and remorse. I would try to drink my troubles away. Physically and financially I started going downhill. And, spiritually I gave up on everything. I gave up on God. I was pretty lost.”

He started racking up DUIs and stays in the county jail. Each subsequent DUI led to more time in jail. He moved to North Dakota, but the dependence on alcohol moved with him. One morning, he woke up in his car. A neighbor had called the police, and he was charged with another DUI. This time, he went to prison.

A temporary lull

During his prison sentence, he pored over Christian materials that were available to him. He says after he was released, he felt he was back on his feet and doing well. He remembers feeling like he was getting a fresh start; he even had a good job that he liked. “The biggest mistake I made at this time was saying ‘Okay, God, you can go help someone else now; I don’t need you anymore.’ I pretty much abandoned [God],” he recalls.

His life soon took a downward turn. A woman he went to high school with got in touch with him. She lived in Massachusetts, and he moved east to marry her. He admits, in hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have jumped into that relationship, but he was looking for something he felt was missing after his first marriage ended. After three years in Massachusetts, they moved back to Minnesota, but things weren’t going well. After one big fight, he got his last DUI. This time, he spent 5 months in county jail and another 29 months in prison.

The beginning of a new life

While in prison, one day, Fleck felt compelled to pick up and open a Bible. He doesn’t recall why he did it, but he remembers exactly to what passage he opened the Bible: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s a Bible verses he still cherishes every day.

Later he also saw WELS Prison Ministry booklets that were available for inmates.

“They have these little tests at the end of them, so I did the test and mailed it to Prison Ministry. They mailed it back to me and then sent me another book,” he says. Fleck ended up completing level one and level two. “I have the certificates hanging on the wall at my apartment,” he says. “They mean a lot to me.”

Fleck says he was excited to keep getting the new booklets and tests, because it was nice to get mail in prison. He stresses the simplicity of the materials is really important, because many people in prison don’t have an education. To have something that’s simple but still teaches the love of Jesus is very valuable. He says that the notes from the volunteers and the pictures from school children also really mean a lot to an inmate who doesn’t hear much from the outside world. One of the notes he received encouraged him to find a WELS church after his incarceration. He did just that, joining Good Shepherd, Burnsville, Minn., when he was released from prison.

More opportunities

While his time in prison brought him closer to God, there are still family relationships that need to be healed. He says his daughter and brother don’t speak to him anymore, and his son, who like his father and grandfather seems addicted to alcohol, isn’t interested in a close relationship. Fleck wonders if this is a blessing in disguise. He hasn’t had a drink since 2015, and perhaps the distance from his family also keeps him away from alcohol. But he’s praying that the relationship with his children will be mended and that they too will come to know their Savior like he does.

Fleck says, “For an inmate, living in the inside like that, it’s important to have something to give you hope, something to look forward to when you’re released. That’s what the WELS Prison Ministry gave me. I couldn’t wait to get out to find a WELS church. It gives you hope. I’m still hanging on to that hope that I’ll reconcile with my family. I believe that’s going to happen because WELS keeps me in a relationship with Christ by attending their church services and Bible studies.”

Now a member at St. John, New Ulm, Minn., Fleck hopes to be able to help share God’s peace and love with other inmates and with those who are released from prison so that, with God’s help, they can fight their addictions and demons, stay out of prison, and stay in the Word. He remembers the Savior’s message. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).


Amanda Klemp is a member at St. Peter, Savanna, Illinois.


Hear more about WELS Prison Ministry and Daryl Fleck in this month’s edition of WELS Connection.

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Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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What I learned by answering questions

After six years, the author of the “Light for our path” column shares his insights.

James F. Pope

Six years ago, I knew my life was going to change. What I could not envision is how much change there would be.

I was asked to be a new contributing editor for Forward in Christ (FIC)—the person responsible for answering questions each month. My only concern was, “Where do I get the questions to answer?” That question brought significant change to my life.

Backstory to learning

In years past, a group of professors and others responded to the questions submitted to the synod’s website. Past FIC contributing editors selected some of those questions and addressed them—as well as those submitted by FIC readers—in print. But I agreed to be the one person to write the monthly column and respond to the questions online.

Realism suggested that I try to fill that position for one year and then have all parties involved assess the situation. As that first year came to an end, I was encouraged to continue the work for five more years. As of this writing in September (for the December issue), I have written more than 70 columns for the magazine and responded to more than 2,025 online questioners. By far, most of those individuals asked multiple questions, so the total number of questions asked/answered is easily two to three times that.

Answering those questions was a terrific learning experience for me. The current staff of Forward in Christ asked me to share some of the lessons learned.

Lessons learned about the questioners

I learned that WELS members want to be sure of their church’s teachings. “I have a non-WELS Christian friend who spoke to me about Abraham’s bosom as a holding place for the dead before Jesus’ resurrection. What does WELS believe about Abraham’s bosom?” “My wife recently passed away, and she had wanted to be an organ donor when she died. There were a few church members who did not approve of this and would not attend the funeral service. What is the position of WELS on a person being an organ donor upon one’s death?”

I learned that people are interested in witnessing about their faith. “How can I explain to a nondenominational pastor why WELS baptizes infants?” “Most of my friends are Mormon. Is there a way to share the gospel with them so they stay interested in my faith and remain my friends?”

I learned that people desire to apply the message of the Bible to life’s circumstances and challenges. “How do you survive when your 27-year-old son announces he is gay?” “Do we need to give up something for Lent?” “Is there any scriptural basis against cremation?”

I learned that Sunday is a popular day for people to submit questions. “I feel this is a silly question, but today’s sermon talked about Jesus being baptized. Why wasn’t Jesus baptized as an infant?” “I have a takeaway from Bible study this morning that has left me troubled.” “We had the first Bible reading from Acts 1, and in that reading it states . . ..” As a former parish pastor, I get it. Parishioners may not have the time or opportunity to speak to their pastor after church or Bible class.

But there’s another side to it, “I went to my pastor to ask him something, but he said I should contact you.” My role was not to supplant the questioner’s pastor. Many of my answers included an encouragement to contact the local pastor. I am convinced that particular message got through. “I know from other posts the answer is most likely going to be to go talk to your pastor and go to counseling, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.” This questioner was spot on: Talk to your pastor.

I learned that people in other church bodies are also interested in receiving answers to their questions. In fact, 20 percent of the questioners have self-identified as members of non-WELS churches throughout the world or said that they do not have a church home. “I am inquiring into the WELS Lutheran faith. Could you describe what saving faith actually entails?” “I live in the Netherlands and am looking for churches that offer online Bible studies.”

Lessons learned about the answerer

While fielding questions from anonymous people might seem like impersonal work, it is anything but that. How can emotion and concern be absent when people pour out their hearts to you? “Even though I’ve attended a WELS church for 44 years, I have no peace that I will be saved.” “I am a high school student, and lately I have been struggling with my faith. I have been questioning my beliefs and whether or not Christianity is the true religion.” “I know that Jesus died for my sins, but I’m worried that I don’t actually have the Holy Spirit. How do I know?”

Not knowing the questioners does not invalidate the biblical truth: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). I would submit that, because of the anonymity of the questioners and the lack of knowing any outcome of their circumstances, this shared suffering can be greater than that experienced in face-to-face relationships. A fair number of answers included the thought that I would remember the questioner in my prayers. Many responses prompted my prayers. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that even a “digital ministry” can be emotion-filled because it concerns people.

I also learned that many questioners were looking for specific instructions and answers when the real answer was “Christian freedom.” “What is the proper way to display flowers during the Lenten season?” “Where in the Bible does it state that we are to celebrate Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter and the Lenten season?” “I was wondering what WELS’ stance was on donating our earthly body to science.”

I learned that I still have a lot to learn. Many a question sent me to my personal library or the Martin Luther College library. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) is an instruction applicable to every Christian.

Lessons learned by readers

If the questions mentioned here are of interest to you, you can find the answers online at wels.net/questions, as well as answers to many others.

That is the beauty of the Questions & Answers portion of the synod’s website—you can read the questions others have asked. You can learn from their questions and the answers they have received. You can even use these materials for Bible classes, as some churches are doing.

Continuing lessons learned

Six years ago, my challenging journey began. This month’s “Light for our path” column marks the end of my term as a contributing editor for Forward in Christ. I will continue answering online questions for another year and a half. David Scharf will begin his term as author for the Forward in Christ question-and-answer column. That means that there will be more lessons learned for all involved.

And in case you are wondering, yes, I do have my own questions about the Bible and the Christian life. If we meet someday, perhaps the roles will reverse, and I will ask you one of those questions!


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


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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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The Word became flesh

God reveals a stunning, glorious, and gracious truth for us all at Christmas.

Paul E. Zell

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

How so? Open Holy Scripture to the first chapter. The answer is obvious. Repeatedly. “God said . . . God said . . . God said . . ..” The expression appears ten times in that opening chapter. In the beginning the Word called light into being and separated it from the primordial darkness. The Word separated the waters from the dry ground. The Word covered the earth with abundant vegetation. The Word called into existence the light-bearing bodies of the sky. The Word created the living creatures that fill the sea and the sky and the land. The Word fashioned our first parents.

A stunning truth

Some are tempted to skip that first chapter of the Bible—for good reason, humanly speaking. Simply put, it’s too much. The stunning truth the Word declares is far greater than our capacity to understand or explain. The infinite wisdom of the Word overwhelms. The surpassing power of the Word terrifies. If all things were made through his Word, what is the Word going to say to fallen creatures who often fail to acknowledge him and misuse what he has made?

At the start of the Gospel according to St. John, the evangelist echoes Genesis chapter 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” So, the Word is not merely expressions emerging from the mouth, resonating between the ears, or lining up before the eyes. In the beginning the Word was God, and at the same time the Word was face-to-face with God.

“Through him all things were made” (John 1:3). All things? Indeed. “Without him,” the evangelist announces, “nothing was made that has been made.”

Like stars that sparkled in the sky while shepherds kept watch over their flocks at night. In the beginning the Word had called every one of them into existence.

Like the angel who spoke to frightened shepherds. Like the vast heavenly host who joined the angel, giving glory to God. In the beginning the Word had created every one of them.

Like the pagan emperor who decreed a census. Like the faithful citizen who went up to the town where he was to register. Like the highly favored virgin who gave birth. The Word had formed each of them.

The omniscient Word. The omnipresent Word. The omnipotent Word. The everlasting Word. Those “big words” learned from catechism instruction attempt to articulate realities beyond the capacity of the human intellect.

A glorious truth

“Eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made.” Believers everywhere confess this glorious truth in the Nicene Creed, though none can fully comprehend it.

Then the inspired evangelist proclaims a truth even more glorious. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). St. John’s word choice would have prompted his fellow Jews to recall the tabernacle from centuries earlier, how God “tented” among his people as he led them to the Promised Land. God was always present with the Israelites during their exodus.

Yet this is so much more. The omniscient Son of God appeared in the flesh as the son of Mary. The omnipresent Deity was held fast in his mother’s arms, nursed at her breast, laid to sleep in a feedbox. The omnipotent Word took on the flesh of an infant unable to form words of his own. The Son of God remained God. The Son of God became a child.

Ordinarily a newborn is the focus of adoring scrutiny. Grandma’s heart melts over the tiny fingers and toes and ears. Older siblings beg to caress the ever-so-soft arms and legs. Doting parents gaze at their little one’s face for hours at a time. Skilled artists have rendered such paintings of the infant Jesus. St. John and the other three evangelists don’t give much room for that, however. Instead their sacred accounts move immediately to the glory of the God-man that his apostles witnessed with their own eyes.

A wedding took place at Cana, not far from where he was raised (John 2:1-12). From his lips came a simple directive to the servants: “Fill the jars.” Simple water went in. Exceptional wine came out. This is no ordinary or even extraordinary man. This is the Word made flesh, and his disciples put their faith in him.

A widow trudged to the cemetery, tearfully escorting the lifeless body of her only son (Luke 7:11-17). His heart went out to her. “Don’t cry.” With his hand he touched the pallet on which the body lay. “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up. This is no ordinary or even extraordinary man. “God has come to help his people,” they exclaimed, and rightly so.

They brought him a fellow who was deaf and could hardly talk (Mark 7:31-37). He put his fingers into the man’s ears. He spit and touched the man’s tongue. He uttered one word. At once this fellow’s ears were opened, and he began to speak plainly. This is no ordinary or even extraordinary man. This is the merciful Son of God, fully human at the same time.

A life—a God—with a gracious purpose

He set his face for Jerusalem. He allowed himself to be betrayed, tried, and convicted.

They pierced his hands and feet and hoisted his body up on a cross. He breathed his last and bowed his head in death. This is no ordinary or even extraordinary man. This is the divine Shepherd who willingly lays down his life for his sheep.

On the first day of the week his disciples were gathered behind locked doors. Suddenly he came and stood among them. He showed them the hands which bore the marks of the nails and the side a soldier had pierced with his spear. “Peace be with you!” This is no ordinary or even extraordinary man. This is the Lord God Almighty, the flesh-and-blood Victor over death.

Christmas, then, is so much more than “Happy birthday, Jesus!” It’s what Isaiah prophesied: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given, . . . And he will be called . . . Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6).

Christmas is so much more than a mother giving birth in lowly circumstances. It’s what Gabriel announced: “The holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

Christmas is so much more than cattle, donkey, and sheep admiring a little baby. It’s what the soldier exclaimed when he saw how he died: “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). It’s the risen and ascended Lord appearing to the elderly St. John: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). It’s the gathered church triumphantly speaking its confession: “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human.”


Paul Zell is pastor at Living Savior, Hendersonville and Asheville, North Carolina.


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Author: Paul E. Zell
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Light for our path: God hates us?

My friend believes that God hates us. He argues that God hates sin, and we are sinful; therefore, God hates us to the core of our being. I pointed out John 3:16 to him, but he said the context means something other than “God is love.” Does God actually hate us?

James F. Pope

We find the answer to your question by examining the two major teachings of the Bible: the law and the gospel.

Hatred of sinners

Chances are, you have heard people comment that “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.” No doubt, people who make that statement have good intentions. They likely desire to keep a balance between God’s law and gospel.

Rather than striking a balance though, that expression waters down the message of the law. The uncomfortable and horrific truth of God’s law is that God hates sin and sinners. The Bible says of God: “You hate all who do wrong” (Psalm 5:5). According to his law, God does not separate sin from the sinner. With his law, God thunders his anger at people who fall short of the perfection he demands (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48).

Love of sinners

While the law speaks of God’s hatred of sinners, the gospel presents an entirely different message: God loves sinners. “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). His love is undeserved; it cannot be earned. As a free gift to sinners, he invites us to trust all that he did to overcome sin, death, and eternal punishment for our sins. The message of the gospel details how God loved sinners with actions and not mere words. Jesus came to live (1 Peter 2:22) and die (Romans 5:6,8) in place of sinners.

The content of the law and the gospel is not contradictory. These two central teachings of the Bible reveal different information about God. One teaching expresses God’s justice and his hatred for sin and sinners; the other teaching brings to light God’s gracious and genuine love for sinners.

We see the intersection of those two doctrines at the cross of Calvary. There, God punished Jesus in the place of all sinners, sparing them the punishment they deserved (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 4:10).

People of grace

So, what do these two different messages of Scripture mean for Christians? Does God hate them or love them? Thankfully, the Bible does not leave Christians in suspense. In his inspired letter to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul served as God’s spokesperson when he pointed to “this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:2). Christians are people of grace; they trust God’s grace in Jesus. Each day, we bask in the sunshine of his grace. We face each morning with fresh confidence that we are the recipients of God’s grace and mercy (Lamentations 3:22,23). We close our eyes in sleep, knowing that we are safe and secure through God’s grace (Psalm 4:8).

God’s gospel appropriately dominates our lives as Christians, but does that mean there is no place for God’s law in our lives? Certainly not. With the context of your question in mind, our rebellious sinful nature still needs to hear the harsh message of God’s law. The law’s pronouncement of God’s hatred of sin and sinners serves as a warning for Christians not to reject salvation by impenitence and unbelief.

As people of grace, Christians live with the knowledge that their natural sinfulness and actual sins deserved God’s punishment, but God has completely forgiven their sins and now views them as his dearly loved children (1 John 3:1).


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 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Focus on what is ahead

Mark G. Schroeder

People who are near-sighted can see clearly what is right in front of their eyes. But when objects are farther away, they get blurry and out of focus. So near-sighted people need to wear glasses or contact lenses to bring their vision into focus.

The season of Advent is a time for us to focus spiritually. In our worship services during Advent, we are directed to focus on Savior’s first coming in Bethlehem. Despite the many distractions that our culture throws at us during the Advent season, we as believers are always eager and happy to fix our eyes on what the season is really about—the celebration of the Savior’s birth.

After thousands of years of waiting by God’s people, the long-promised Messiah had finally come. The life and ministry of Jesus that followed fulfilled other prophecies well known to God’s Old Testament people: The beginning of his ministry, described in prophecy as the time when “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2); the One identified by John as the great Passover “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29); the lowly King, prophesied by Zechariah, who entered Jerusalem “lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). This was the Savior whose suffering and death was described by Isaiah so graphically that it seems that he was witnessing the scene in person: “We considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4,5). This was the living and victorious Savior confessed by Job when he sang, “I know that my redeemer lives” (19:25).

We might be surprised to learn that the emphasis and theme of the first Sunday of Advent has nothing to do with the first coming of Jesus two thousand years ago. Rather, it directs our attention to his second coming. The last section of the prayer for Advent in our hymnal highlights this unexpected emphasis:

Direct our eyes not only to the manger, but to the skies, where we will see your Son coming again, not as a lowly child, but as the Lord of lords. Lift our hearts in joyful anticipation of that day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, in your grace, in your power, and in your glory! Come, Lord Jesus! Amen. Christian Worship, p. 123.

Like a badly needed pair of glasses for a near-sighted person, the first Sunday in Advent helps us to see clearly the final result of the work Jesus was born to do. As the Scriptures so clearly foretold, the Savior came to live and die and rise again for us. Those promises were kept without exception. But one promise still remains: Jesus will come again.

Unlike his first coming in lowliness and humility, the second coming of Jesus will be a victorious and joyful return. We know that it will happen. But we don’t know when.

Because we don’t know when Jesus will come, we can easily lose sight of that promise. We can become spiritually near-sighted. We end up losing sight of the promise still to be experienced.

The season of Advent, by its initial emphasis on Jesus’ final return, begins by focusing our attention on that glorious day when we will see our Savior with our own eyes and experience in person the end result of what he first came to do.

So, focus with joy and with hope on Bethlehem . . . and beyond.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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God loves the doubters

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26,27

Joel C. Seifert

We say, “Seeing is believing,” as though somehow if we can just see some proof, then all doubt disappears. It wasn’t that way for Thomas.

Doubt often comes from what we do see

You know the Easter account. The risen Christ appeared to his disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there. He didn’t see, so he didn’t believe, right? But consider what Thomas had seen. He saw Jesus walk on water. He saw Jesus heal the sick. He saw Jesus raise the dead.

But then he saw Jesus die. And he doubted.

It’s amazing how powerful doubt can be, even for people who have seen so much of God’s love. When the disciples told him they’d seen the Lord, Thomas didn’t just struggle with a nagging doubt. It was a full-throated, “God, if you’re expecting me to believe, you need to show me what I want to see.”

Sometimes we doubt that way too. God shows us constant proofs of his love and the truth of his Word. We see it! But it’s not all we see: I believed in God until I saw war . . . until my grandpa died . . . until my mom got cancer. We see proofs of faith, but we see evil too.

In a strange way, Thomas is an important example of doubt. He was honest about it. That was just the right thing to do.

Jesus wants us to take our doubt to him

Doubt is painful, sinful, and yet quite natural to our human hearts. It scares us, but it doesn’t scare Jesus. He loves the doubters. He didn’t yell at Thomas or avoid his doubts. Jesus brought Thomas closer. He invited him to touch him.

Do you doubt? Do you doubt in ways that make you want to stay away? Or even in little ways that steal your joy? Confess that sin to Jesus; bring it to him and hear him say something you don’t expect. He isn’t afraid of your doubts. He’ll bring you even closer.

Christmas is almost here. It’s a time to read about Mary holding Jesus in her arms, not Thomas putting his fingers into Jesus’ hands and side. But for hundreds of years Dec. 21 has bees set aside to remember Thomas and think about God’s love for the doubters. Dec. 21 is often the shortest day of the year. It’s the day with the least amount of light—the day that’s hardest to see things for what they are. It’s a good picture of doubt. And if you’re sitting in the darkness of the winter solstice, do you know what you can be sure of every day about to come? It’ll be brighter.

Sometimes God brings the greatest hope out of doubt. Whenever you struggle, take your doubts to Jesus. Let your fingers run over the pages of his promises. Realize he’s as close to you as your hands or your mouth in Holy Communion. His grace is dripping down your head in Baptism. He comes as a child at Christmas. That’s what we see— and he opens our hearts to say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Keep going back to God’s promises. Things get brighter.


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


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert 
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Heirs of heaven

John A. Braun

What does God see and know about us humans? We often think that he has forgotten us, but God sees all that we have done, all that every human has done, Yes, all of it. God says, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” (Jeremiah 34:24).

So what has God seen of us humans?

Murder? He saw when Cain splashed his brother Abel’s blood on the ground. He has seen every murder since, not just the ones that make headlines in our news. He also sees the secret violence of bloodshed hidden in so many unsolved cases. Add in the casualties of war over the centuries. That’s a total we cannot comprehend, but he knows each of the dead and their stories.

The picture grows darker and more perverted, if that’s possible, when we think of all the other evils that have been and continue to be committed on our planet. It makes my head spin to think of all God has seen and still sees.

At one point, God told us what he saw, “How great the wickedness of the human race had become” (Genesis 6:5). In the verse after his observation, we read, “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on earth.” That’s a powerful indictment! Tragically, our world today is no better.

What is surprising is how patient and long-suffering God is with human evil. At one point, he did destroy the world along with all its evil and washed it clean. But since then humanity has forged a path back to the dark and evil past.

Will this ever change? Isaiah pictures God looking for someone on earth to bring about justice, truth, honesty, and righteousness. God “[sees] that there [is] no one” (Isaiah 59:16). God, of course, had a plan. He has always had a plan: “His own arm achieved salvation for him.” That’s why he didn’t sweep away Noah and his family with all the others. The great Deliverer God promised to send had not yet come.

Then in God’s good time, “when the set time had fully come,” he did the unthinkable: “God sent his Son to be born of a woman . . . to redeem those under the law, that we would be adopted” (Galatians 4:4 Evangelical Heritage Version [EHV]). The Deliverer—the Christ or Messiah—is the Lord himself as the angels proclaimed. A babe in Bethlehem came to endure the punishment for the sins of all humanity. It had to be so. No one among the sons and daughters of this world could have righted the wrongs of so many evil deeds. God did the unthinkable: He wiped away all the sins of humanity with the blood of his one and only Son. What a gracious, undeserved solution.

We may still wonder from time to time why God doesn’t simply remove disease, death, and evil—especially when these things enter our lives. But Christmas reminds us that Jesus came to make us heirs of heaven. As heirs we wait for that new heaven and new earth. God will deliver on his promise, but in his good time, not ours. Peter reminded his readers—including us—“The Lord is not slow to do what he promised. . . . Instead, he is patient for your sakes, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 EHV).

Only by God’s grace through the One born in the city of David are we heirs of heaven. As heirs we are aliens and strangers here because we are washed clean by the water of our baptisms. We wait for our inheritance and invite others to share it.


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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For the Lord’s glory

The new hymnal will be filled with hymns that will encourage a new generation to sing the gospel.

Aaron L. Christie

The end of the year is a prime time to survey the Lord’s blessings over the last 12 months. The end of this particular year is also a prime time to look back over the life of the WELS Hymnal Project. Why? Because by the time you read this article, 655 hymns will be in the hands of Northwestern Publishing House.

Some of these hymns will come directly from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal with no changes. Others will come from Christian Worship, but with changes— sometimes significant ones. Stanzas have been added or subtracted. Musical harmonies have generally been simplified. A little over one-third of the book will be “new.” New doesn’t mean that these hymns were written in the 21st century. It simply means they are “new to us.” Some of them come from the age of Lutheran orthodoxy and have been freshly translated so that they can speak clearly to our age of postmodern relativism. Others have been written within the last decade.

In short, our “new” hymnal will contain much that is old, some that is new, and some new that is really quite old!

Looking back at the work

Looking back on the work of the Hymnody Committee, one is filled with thanks to the Lord for the blessings he has poured out upon our small synod. The committee is filled with men and women who not only appreciate the poet’s art but are dedicated to the catechism’s content. They are at home with the music of Bach yet eager to expose our synod to the best our modern age can muster. All the members of the Hymnody Committee have “both feet in the parish.” And this is by design. In a very real way, the new hymnal was developed in the pulpits, classrooms, balconies, practice rooms, and pews across our synod. The hymnal’s text and music subcommittees met via computer almost one hundred times each. They prepared hymn texts and musical settings for the project’s Executive Committee that met face-to-face 22 times. Thousands of hours of preparation and months of meetings all total up to years of labor invested in a new hymnal for the next generation.

Looking back, WELS members should know that decisions were not made lightly. When we work with hymns, we are working with precious objects from the church’s history. Even more, we are working with the priceless truths of the gospel. The Hymnody Committee searched through dozens of hymnals, books of religious poetry, and websites. Over the last six years, their eyes have viewed literally tens of thousands of hymns. Of those, more than four thousand were voted upon at the subcommittee, Hymnody Committee, or Executive Committee level. Roughly 1,900 hymns received more thorough review. Of those, 900 received full text and musical treatment. Of those 900, the best 655 were awarded a place in the new hymnal. These 655 hymns were chosen with the knowledge that for every hymn that was voted “in,” another dearly loved hymn was now “out.” The Hymnody Committee tried its best to be stewards of the church’s treasures and the gospel’s truth. The gospel is precious. God’s people are precious. God’s people need and God’s people deserve hymns that put the gospel in their mouths, ring the gospel in their ears, and sing the gospel into their souls. That’s the goal of Lutheran church music. The results of our work, we commend to the Lord and his church.

Looking back over the last several years means viewing years of hard work, thousands of decisions, hundreds of detailed conversations, plenty of professional disagreement, and ongoing evangelical encouragement.

Looking forward to the hymnal’s release

Looking forward, what can you expect when you crack open the new hymnal for the first time?

You will immediately notice that many of the musical harmonies are simpler than Christian Worship. This means that many of the hymns have been set to enable singing in harmony. But you will also note that more than 70 hymns will be printed with “melody only”—no parts at all. Why? Some of the hymns are intended by their composers to be “melody only.” Other hymns can save previous pages by placing the melody in the hymnal and the accompaniment in the forthcoming Accompaniment Edition. As you delve deeper into the book, you will notice that fewer hymns have two different melodies. Basses and altos will gladly discover that some keys have been lowered to a more “comfortable” singing level.

Musicians will be pleased to hear that the hymnal has been designed to be the singer’s book. The Accompaniment Edition has been designed to be the keyboardists’ book—packed with alternate harmonizations and festival settings. The Musicians Resource, an electronic-only product, will provide instrumental parts for all the hymns in the hymnal.

The point? The new hymnal stands at the top of a pyramid of musical resources that will support the singing of God’s people on several different levels.

Dreaming forward

This leads us to dreaming forward just a bit:

Imagine a book that sings of Christ crucified and raised to life again, a book that helps Lutherans teach Christ to the next generation, that enables them to proclaim the gospel in their worship and inspires them to confess Christ to a dying world.

Imagine a book that contains the treasures of the church’s past with the riches of the church’s present.

Imagine a book that takes our Lutheran heritage seriously and considers our place in modern society thoughtfully.

Imagine a hymnal that encourages people to sing, keyboardists to play, and musicians to make music in God’s lovely dwelling place.

Imagine a generation of children that puts down their phones—just for a few minutes!—and opens up a hymnal to listen, to learn, and to sing, as they prepare to pass on the faith to their own children.

Imagine a church that goes against the grain of American consumerism. A church that understands that music is not something simply to be purchased and consumed, but that it is God’s gift, something that we make together as members of one family of believers.

Imagine gospel-rich hymns strengthening the church’s unity.

It has been said, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” This saying fundamentally confuses law and gospel. It divorces the gospel from the message of the gospel and places a Christian’s deeds ahead of Christ’s saving deeds. Instead, I hope that the new hymnal will encourage a new generation to “Sing the gospel. Use notes if necessary.” As we do this, we are doing precisely what the Spirit commanded the Colossians to do: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16).

What will be in the new book? No, even better: Who will be in the new book? Jesus will be. And that makes me dream sweet dreams for the church’s future!


Aaron Christie, the Hymnody Committee chairman of the WELS Hymnal Project, is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


Learn more about the WELS Hymnal Project at welshymnal.com.


This is the second article in a three-part series on the new hymnal being released in Advent of 2021. Look for the next article in February 2020.


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Author: Aaron L. Christie
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019

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

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Going home

We long for the comfort and peace that a home provides.

Samantha J. Huebner

Doesn’t it feel like you just started college a week ago? You moved into a new dorm room at a new school with new people. It was probably a whirlwind of a couple of weeks as you adjusted to your new lifestyle as a college student. New classes and new routines. That’s the life of a college student, isn’t it?

Crazy to think that it’s already November and the end of the semester is soon approaching. Where did the time go? College seems to pass by in the blink of an eye.

For some, it might feel like you just got started and are finally hitting your stride. You’re figuring things out, maybe for the first time! For others, it might feel as if this semester is taking forever and you just can’t wait for it to be over!

No matter which one you relate to more, I think both sides can agree that Thanksgiving break is a much needed time to recharge mentally, physically, and spiritually. It’s a break from papers, projects, and presentations. It’s a chance to finally go home.

When I first started college, I couldn’t wait to go home. I was terribly homesick and missed everything about home: my bed, my personal space, my parents, my routine. It was the normalcy of home that I missed and the comfort that it brought me.

What is it about that comfort that we as people long for? We crave to be liked and welcomed by others, to find somewhere where we can feel safe and secure, to find comfort in a certain place, and to be surrounded by like-minded people. But it doesn’t always happen right away, does it? Sometimes it takes an entire semester or more to find that second home. We have to wait to find comfort.

We as Christians long to find that comfort and peace. We long for a home. We long for a place where we can stand together as one church and one people who are united around one truth, one purpose. Jesus promises us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 14:1-4).

Jesus promises us an eternal home full of comfort and peace. He gives us a hope that keeps us looking forward to what is ours. The apostle Paul writes, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In this world we wait for the eternal home promised to us. Jesus promises that it is so much grander than our homes here on earth, no matter what comfort they bring us.

So with Thanksgiving break and the anticipation of home looming right around the corner, be thankful for a place where you can find comfort and peace. And then find comfort and peace in the fact that you have a Savior who has a prepared an eternal home just for you.


Samantha Huebner, a 2019 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran
College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at Peace, Sun
Prairie, Wisconsin.


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Author: Samantha J. Huebner
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Hope

John A. Braun

The presence of Thanksgiving at the end of every November helps us to pause and count our blessings. That exercise will be repeated this year as we sit around the table with family and enjoy another Thanksgiving feast.

Some will sit alone. Yet the thoughtful will give thanks in the quiet and solitary places even when they are isolated from friends and family. We have many blessings. The quiet contemplation of them all is a healthy exercise.

There is a contrast! The loud and crowded shopping malls are also a kind of giving thanks. Their doorbuster prices and the crowds willing to stream through the stores are a testament to the blessings we have. It might be a good idea to remember that we should be thankful for the money we have to buy something new. By comparison with other parts of the world, our actions mark us as blessed with so much.

Whether we are laughing with family and friends, sitting quietly alone, or elbowing our way through a crowd, our lists of things to be thankful for should be long. Of course, they should include the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life we have in Christ. Because we have those blessings, our lives are filled with hope—another blessing to add to our lists.

Some Thanksgiving celebrations will have a sad note, perhaps seen in the empty chair at the table. The loved one may be separated by miles and life changes—military, new family, work, or other things that keep his or her usual place empty. But hope remains. It’s there in a couple of ways. We hope for their safe return. We hope our Lord will guide and protect them while they are away. We know they are in the hands of our gracious God and that inspires us to hope.

The empty chair may reveal more than a temporary absence. A husband, a wife, a child, another relative, or a friend is quietly asleep in death. We feel the emptiness, but we also feel hope. We know that the absent believer is with the Lord in heaven. That hope is based on the promise of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even thought they die” (John 11:25). We also hope for a happy reunion in the presence of Jesus. That too is his promise, but we long for it in a hope based on his promises. Another hope sustains us. We hope the Lord will guide, comfort, and strengthen us not only in our sorrow over our absent loved one but also as we move forward with life.

Our dining room tables and living rooms are limited spaces. They cannot accommodate the larger circle of our family and friends. Some in our larger circle suffer. While they may be with their own families and friends, we still envelop them with our prayers as they face hardship, health issues, anxiety, or the wounds of life. Hope for them springs from the promises of Jesus too. We may not know their future or ours in this life, but we trust his promise that all will work out for the good for those who love Jesus. So we pray in hope. Even a permanently empty chair marks one who has fallen asleep in Jesus and has entered the glories of heaven.

Hope! That blessing won’t need to be replaced with next year’s model or because of the wear of everyday life. It remains bright and clear with every new day. It’s not just wishful thinking. Our Christian hope rests on the great promises of our Savior. Count hope among your blessings.


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Accept the challenge

Earle D. Treptow

The title of the CNN online article caught my attention: “The God of love had a really bad week.” In the article, Diana Butler Bass expresses profound disappointment with the direction of American Christianity. She contends that many who sang “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world” in Sunday school have abdicated their responsibility to love all the people Jesus loves. In particular she grieves over the many conservative Christians who have opted for a God “who exercises judgment against all who refuse to bend the knee, a kind of Emperor-God, enthroned in glory,” rather than the compassionate, welcoming God she reads about in the Bible. “For whatever reason,” she laments, “western Christianity has a hard time sticking with a God of love.”

How would you respond? Would you suggest that her charge is more than a little overdone and fails to see that God can be both perfectly loving and perfectly just at the same time? Or would you remain silent rather than speaking and being portrayed as unloving? There’s something appealing about each of those options, but both fall short.

Each Christian has a responsibility to explain, gently and patiently, that encouraging a morality in line with what God has revealed in his Word is an act of love. For example, as Christians speak out against abortion, they do well to emphasize that they speak not only out of love for God and his Word but also out of love for the people for whom Jesus died, including the unborn children who are victims of abortion. They are genuinely seeking the best interest of everyone involved—the unborn child, the pregnant woman, and the greater community.

Unfortunately, our best attempts at patient instruction sometimes meet rejection. As soon as people do what we expect them to do—reject the Scriptures’ teaching—we often quickly drop our patience and go on the attack to make our point. And just like that, the people we presumably wanted to help can say, “It’s obviously pride that compels them to say what they do, not love.”

We could argue, to the great delight of those who think like we do, that people who say that are being judgmental. We could complain about the blatant double standard Arguing and complaining, however, won’t help the people God wants us to reach with his Word.

It would be far better if we were simply to accept the challenge to live in a way that demonstrates our love for all. If we wish to be heard when we speak the truth and to have people believe that love—and love alone—compels us to speak, then we must consistently give of ourselves to others.

Day after day, we must actively seek the best interest of those around us. That includes loving and serving the people down the street who live in a way that conflicts with God’s design for life. When people see selfless love in action and sense that love indeed compels us, they will be more likely to listen when we must speak God’s truth.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that demonstrating love will result in people recognizing that we are speaking in love when we proclaim portions of God’s Word that the world considers unloving. But let’s make it difficult for people to call us unloving. Let’s give them powerful evidence to the contrary.


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


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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My heart rests on Jesus

A heart transplant did not stop a heart full of faith in Jesus.

Jack G. Radandt

I was born with a congenital heart disease called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. This disease meant that the main pumping chamber of my heart, the left ventricle, was completely useless. By the age of three, I had had three open heart surgeries—my Norwood, Glenn, and Fontan—at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

After my Fontan surgery, I led a fairly normal life. I was able to go to school, play sports, and generally keep up with the other kids my age.

A failing heart

This all changed at the age of 11. I realized something was different. I was getting increasingly tired with every passing day. I was retaining fluid, and I could not keep up with the other kids. It was clear to everyone that I no longer was able to do all the things I used to do. After an impromptu appointment at Children’s Hospital, I was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure and was admitted into the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.

In the hospital, my heart quickly failed, and I needed to be placed on the heart transplant list. Needing a heart transplant at 11 years old was not something I thought about before. Deteriorating in the hospital was a turning point in my life. I was not sure if I would live to see the next day.

That thought brought me closer to the grace of God. I began to appreciate how important life is. He gave me my life, and I really appreciated the eternal life he also gives me. I had taken that life for granted before my heart failure, but now I realized how blessed I am to have faith in him. I knew that if I did die that I would see him in heaven.

The doctors and nurses decided that I probably would not survive until I could receive a heart transplant. If I did survive, they thought that I was probably too sick to receive a heart anyway. They only had one option to keep me alive. They decided to place a HeartWare ventricular assist device (HVAD) in my heart to pump my heart for me. I was the first single ventricle child in the United States to receive this device and the second in the world. I received my HVAD on Dec. 23, 2012.

A heartbreaking experience

Not long after I received this lifesaving device, I struggled with the largest trial I had to face in my life.

Late on Jan. 1, 2013, my favorite doctor came into my room to tell me some exciting news. She told me that there was a heart for me, and I would probably have a heart transplant around 3 a.m. the following day. I could hardly contain my excitement.

Then 3 a.m. came and went, and no one came in to say I was ready to go. I began to get worried, and my suspicions were correct. After further examination of my antibodies after the HVAD surgery, the doctors realized that the heart they originally thought would work for me was no longer eligible for my body.

As you can imagine, this was a heartbreaking experience. I could not understand why God did not just give me that heart, why I had to suffer longer, and why I was still stuck in a hospital room away from home and my prior life.

I was in the hospital another month and a half before I was sent home on the HVAD.  This made me the first child on earth to go home on this device.

Home presented issues of its own. Losing the safety of the hospital, the doctors, and the monitors posed mass anxiety for me. I was afraid that my machine would stop in the middle of the night and no one would hear it. I was afraid without monitors I would die, and there would be no one to save me.

But none of this happened, and the longer I was on the HVAD the more the Lord allowed my life to return to normal. I was able to leave my home and was even able to go to school part time. Changing batteries and watching my driveline just became part of my daily routine. Life on my HVAD became normal to me.

Even so, my anxiety did not leave me, and I constantly needed to remind myself that my life was not in my own hands or even in any doctor’s hands. My life was solely in the hands of God. He would ultimately choose whether I was to live or I was to be called home. This trust in the Lord allowed me to find comfort even in my most troubling and sickest times. I knew that whatever happened to me, I would remain in the Lord and that one day I would be with him.

A heart transplant

On May 20, 2013, my life was drastically altered once again. My parents received a call from Children’s Hospital saying there was a heart for me. My whole family quickly rushed down to Milwaukee. When I got there, the process of getting me prepared for surgery only took about an hour. I was sent into the operating room and finally received my negative crossmatch—a perfect heart. After my transplant, I was in the hospital only 11 days until I was sent home. My journey with end-stage heart failure was finally complete.

But I will never be cured, and the trials with my heart are far from over. Now it is nearly six years later, and through these years I have had many complications. However, in each one of them I looked to God. All my experiences in the hospital have brought me closer to him and have allowed me to grow in my faith.

I am not upset for having to go through my difficulties of heart failure. I am grateful.

I thank God for giving me a congenital heart disease, and I thank him for allowing me still to be here. I know Christ is in control of all things and that all of our lives are in his hands.

All of my experiences have taught me to look to him for help and comfort in any trial I may face and to trust that the Lord has his plans, plans that give me—and all of us—hope and a future.


Jack Radandt, a freshman at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at St. John, Newtonburg, Wisconsin.


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Author: Jack G. Radandt
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Looking for perfection

Mark G. Schroeder

How would you describe the perfect congregation?

Would the perfect congregation be one in which every sermon is clear, interesting, practical, and holds your attention for 20 minutes? Would it be a congregation whose pastor has a winsome personality that appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds?

Would the perfect congregation have members who are all friendly and welcoming to strangers? Would that congregation have Sunday worship that is consistently uplifting, edifying, and beautiful, with a style that appeals to all members? Would its pews be filled with dozens of young families whose children who are perfectly behaved? Would it be a congregation that places outreach and support for missions as its highest priority? Would it be a congregation whose only problem is how to accommodate the new members who are constantly joining?

If you are looking for a perfect congregation, those things might well describe it. But you won’t find such a congregation. It doesn’t exist, and it won’t exist this side of heaven.

How would you describe the perfect synod?

Would the perfect synod be one in which every single member is perfectly united in what they believe and has a full understanding of every biblical doctrine? Would it be a synod in which all existing congregations are growing and mission congregations are being started in dozens of new communities? Would the perfect synod have ministerial education schools filled to capacity with young people willing to serve as pastors and teachers? Would it be a synod in which vacancies in the pulpit and classroom are virtually nonexistent?

Would the perfect synod be one in which all decisions made by its leaders prove to be exactly correct, always bringing about the hoped-for results? Would the perfect synod be one in which no congregation or called worker or member ever strays from the truth and leaves?

If you are looking for a perfect synod, those things might well describe it. But you won’t find such a synod. It doesn’t exist, and it won’t exist this side of heaven.

There is a good reason why we refer to the church on earth, whether congregations or synods, as the church militant. The church on earth comprises 100 percent sinners, and because it comprises imperfect people it will never be perfect this side of heaven. And besides that, the church is under constant siege from Satan and his allies. This side of heaven, the church struggles with temptations within and attacks from outside.

Yet, even with the church’s faults and weaknesses, God can and does work to overcome both the attacks of Satan and the imperfections of his people. He does that through the life-giving power of the gospel. In Christ, through faith, God’s people recognize that their weaknesses have been overcome by his gracious strength. Unity that is fractured by sinful attitudes and deeds is restored as God brings sinners into his family and keeps them there through Word and sacrament. Motivated by the love of God in Christ, God’s people gather together into congregations and synods and, to the best of their ability, “declare the praises of him who called [them] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Looking for the perfect church? Searching for the perfect synod? You will find the perfect church if you are looking for the right thing: a church where the gospel is proclaimed in all its saving truth and beauty. When we have that, we can view our congregations and our synod in a completely different light—as gatherings of flawed sinners who have been made perfect by the blood of the Lamb.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Putting the thanks back in Thanksgiving

How a classic kids movie helped me adjust my holiday attitude.

Alicia A. Neumann

“What have I got to be thankful for?” That’s the quote that stuck in my head after I watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving the other day. I’ve seen it countless times, but this time around it struck me differently. I realized that instead of giving thanks, lately I’ve been acting more like the Peanuts gang did in that classic special.

Focusing on self-induced drama

It starts with Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, complaining. “Why should I give thanks on Thanksgiving?” she says. “What have I got to be thankful for? All it does is make more work for us.”

It’s true, holidays are a lot of work—even more so now that my husband and I have four kids under the age of 8. There are travel logistics (sometimes we have three family gatherings to attend on the same day!), food to prepare, and the always exhausting process of getting the kids ready and out the door. Sometimes I’d rather sit at home and sulk, like Sally!

Next, there’s Charlie Brown’s friend Peppermint Patty, who has very unrealistic expectations. When Charlie Brown serves her popcorn and toast for Thanksgiving dinner, she fumes: “Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Where’s the mashed potatoes? Where’s the cranberry sauce? Where’s the pumpkin pie?”

It’s pretty comical to think a young kid could cook a meal like that, right? Yet my expectations are just as ridiculous. Like when we attend holiday parties, I want my kids to play independently while I relax and have meaningful conversations with other adults. In reality, the kids need me to exact some sort of justice or fix an “owie” or listen to their dramatic stories. I’m usually lucky if I get to exchange a few hurried words with the people I meet on the way to the bathroom with the kids (again)!

Finally, there’s good ol’ Charlie Brown, who’s constantly worried. His friends have invited themselves to his house for a Thanksgiving party, even though he won’t be home. Will they be mad if he cancels their plans? Will everyone have a good time?

I can totally relate to that poor, frazzled boy. After social events, I find myself fretting. Sometimes the precious moments I got to spend with my favorite people are marred by my constant analyzing and ruminating about what happened. Good grief!

Seeing our God-given gifts

So how can I ditch these bad habits? Thankfully, God, in his infinite wisdom, has placed some great examples right in front of me. My children have no problem thanking God in their prayers for the things in their lives, both big and small: “Dear God, thank you for letting me find my whistle. Thank you for giving me a mommy and daddy. Thank you for making pumpkins. Thank you for helping me learn to tie my shoes. Amen.”

Their simple, innocent prayers remind me to quit focusing on my self-induced drama and instead fix my eyes on what God has given me: four amazing, healthy kids and a wonderful husband; plenty of delicious food to cook; and many opportunities to celebrate with loved ones. And the list goes on . . .

But the most important thing God has given me is full forgiveness of all my sins. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, I am guaranteed a spot forever in heaven.

Thanks be to God! Keeping that amazing grace front and center this holiday season is the only thing that will stop my sinful grumbling and replace it with contentment, happiness, and peace.


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


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 12

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 21 and 22 

Timothy J. Westendorf

It’s been 1,900 years since John recorded the words of Jesus in Revelation 22: “I am coming soon!” (vv. 7,12,20). Soon? Really? How are we to react to those words and this last chapter of the Bible?

I am coming soon

“I am coming soon!” If texted by the neighborhood bully, those words bring fear for the little kids. If written by a collections agency, they arouse panic and dread in the heart of the man buried in debt. But if those words are emailed by a loving husband and father who has been deployed for a year, they bring hope to a longing family. If promised on speaker phone by Grandma, they awaken excitement and anticipation to the grand kids. If yelled by a first responder at the scene of an accident, they bring a sense of relief to the driver trapped in the wreckage. Our relationship to the speaker makes all the difference in how we react to those words.

So what should we think when Jesus says, “I am coming soon”? If we think of who we are on our own and who Jesus truly is, we would have reason to be anxious, terrified, and full of dread. We are sinful mortals. We know the darkness of our own hearts and how far short we fall from God’s glory. This is the mighty and majestic King of kings! This is the holy and righteous Lord God! He is coming soon? Gulp.

If those are our thoughts when we think of Jesus’ promise, we won’t want to entertain them in our minds too often or for too much time.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

But that’s not how Jesus wants us to hear his promise! It’s not the way John heard those words of promise. He responded by saying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (v. 20).

How? It wasn’t that John was any less aware of Jesus’ holiness and his own sinfulness. But he heard these words as a beautiful promise from his loving and gracious Savior. Jesus would have us hear them that way too.

The One who promises to return is the One who came once as a tiny infant to be our brother in the flesh. He is the One who took our place under the burden of God’s holy law to complete it fully on our behalf. He took all human sin and sinfulness on himself and suffered its curse, once for all. He has assured us in his Word and comforts us in Holy Communion with the promise that all is forgiven and completely forgotten in God’s eyes. His coming for his loved ones means only deliverance from this world of sadness and death.

So, when we hear him say he’s coming for us, we have every reason to feel hope, excitement, anticipation, and relief. In faith we can join our hearts with John and say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” And we trust that soon really is soon in his time.

And as we patiently wait, we hold to his words of promise.


Reflect on Revelation chapters 21 and 22

  1. Read 2 Peter chapter 3. What insight do you gain into Jesus’ promise that he is coming soon?
    First, Peter tells us that the Lord’s return is certain even if it appears to be delayed. Jesus didn’t forget. We should remember, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (v. 8). Second, because the day of Jesus’ return will come as a “thief” in the night, we should make every effort to be found as faithful disciples whenever it comes. We should “live holy and godly lives” (v. 11). 

    Third, his coming also means that the world we take for granted will be dissolved and burned up. What will last is the Lord’s love and the eternal life he promised, “a new heaven and a new earth” as John reminds us in Revelation 21. 

    Peter concludes the chapter with an exhortation to be on our guard so we do not fall away. 

  2. What does the return of Jesus mean for you? Why can you always say, “Amen. Come. Lord Jesus”?

    Jesus
     return means that my tears, sorrows, and pains are gone.I will rest from the earthly struggles I must endure.I will join loved ones who trusted the promises of Jesus, and together we will praise him forever. I deserve none of the promises of God, but by grace he gives them to me and to all believers. I long to be with the One who loves me so. I can anticipate his return now with the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,because I need not fear the great catastrophe of the Last Day and the judgment of all flesh.I belong to Jesus by grace; my name is written in his book of life. 

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


This is the final article in a 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after Nov. 5.


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Light for our path: What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide, who was supposedly a believer?

What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide, who was supposedly a believer?

James F. Pope

Your question addresses a very tragic situation. It is one that teaches us to be careful in our judgments and to exhibit loving concern for others.

Suicide in perspective

There was a time when Christians concluded that all those who took their lives were eternally lost because they had lost all hope, including faith in God’s care. With that thinking, there was simply an assumption that suicide automatically meant that the person died in unbelief and the soul went to hell.

More recently, there has been an increase in understanding the intricate makeup of human beings. As a result, people have recognized that some Christians might have taken their lives without losing their faith. A person who professed Christ as Savior might have committed suicide because of psychological or other mental health issues. Another person might have committed suicide as the result of a rash act or in a moment of weakness, while still possessing Christian faith. Taking one’s life is a sinful act, but there could be explanations for that action that do not presuppose the absence of faith.

Indeed, God alone knows what is in a person’s heart at death. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). You and I need to remember that we cannot look into the heart of anyone who has died, let alone someone who has committed suicide. The Bible teaches that Christian faith saves and unbelief condemns (Mark 16:16). The Bible instructs that it is vitally important to have Christian faith in the heart when life on earth comes to an end (Revelation 2:10). We leave the judgment of hearts to God (Hebrews 9:27).

Comfort in grief

So, does this mean that Christians cannot pass along any comfort from God’s Word to those impacted by suicide? Not at all. Consider the Bible’s message: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). Christians have been comforted to comfort others.

We do want to offer genuine comfort and not false comfort. Because we are not aware of God’s judgment, there may be instances when we need to scale back the comfort associated with the deceased’s eternal welfare. Still, we can offer comfort to family and friends.

To the survivors of a loved one who has died in any way, we can give comfort from God’s Word. We can assure them that, in spite of troubling and confusing circumstances in their lives, God remains their refuge and strength (Psalm 46). We can comfort them with the reminder of God’s promise that he will never leave or forsake them (Hebrews 13:5). We can point them to God’s pledge that he will provide strength for daily living (Isaiah 41:10).

The news of another person’s death—no matter how it took place—is a clarion call for Christian vigilance. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). That verse answers the call.


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 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Grieving in hope

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Joel C. Seifert

Are we forgetting how to grieve? Maybe you’ve seen some subtle signs. Check your friends’ social media accounts, and it seems like no one is touched by sorrow. More and more, instead of gathering to grieve at funerals, we meet for “celebrations of life.”

Those things aren’t wrong in and of themselves—it’s good to share joys and celebrate the lives of those we love. But grief has an important role in our lives of faith too.

Grief reminds us that death isn’t normal

Christians in Thessalonica were hurting. They knew that Jesus would return to take them home, but while they waited for that day, some of their believing loved ones died. They worried that perhaps these believers who died before Jesus’ return would miss out on eternal life. They thought they might not see them again.

It’s what Paul doesn’t tell them that’s so striking. He doesn’t tell them, “Don’t be sad!” Grief is a fitting reaction to suffering and death. The Bible tells us of believing men and women who mourned and wept when their loved ones left this life.

That’s because true grief is an act of faith. It’s a recognition that death isn’t normal and that God didn’t design this world so that children should bury their parents or more heartbreaking yet, that parents should bury their children. In Eden, marriage didn’t include, “ ’Til death do us part.” Suffering and death were brought into this world through sin. When Christians grieve loss, it isn’t a weakness in their faith; it’s a faithful recognition that suffering and death are unnatural tragedies.

But the gospel gives an answer to our grief. The Thessalonians didn’t fully understand the answer yet, so Paul told them. Jesus’ victory over sin and death means the day is coming when he will take all believers—living and dead—home to be with him and each other in heaven.

In grief, we share the encouragement of the gospel

That doesn’t mean we no longer grieve. It means we grieve in hope. We grieve feeling the pain of someone missing from our lives but looking forward to the day we’ll see him or her again in heaven.

That godly grief is a rich blessing! It doesn’t just point us back to Jesus; it points us to each other too. Read Paul’s answer to those grieving Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and you’ll notice one word that’s repeated more than any other: we. We grieve. We believe in Jesus. We may live here without our loved ones for a while, but we will be caught up together in the air with Jesus one day. And we will be with the Lord forever. God wants us to share our grief and our hope with each other.

In November, many of our churches celebrate Saints Triumphant Sunday. On that Sunday we can remember loved ones who’ve died in faith. Yes, celebrate their lives! Grieve their absence, but look forward to the day your grief dissolves in the alleluias of heaven.

And as Christmas draws near, you’ll still feel some grief. Don’t hide it; don’t grieve alone. You need not be ashamed of your sadness. Share your pain and hurt with a fellow believer so they can bear it with you, grieve with you, and comfort you as you look forward to heaven.


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


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert 
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Walk by the Spirit: Part 7

Christians have dual citizenship. We are children of God and part of his kingdom, yet we still call this world home.

John A. Braun

We got off the plane and headed to the baggage carousel to pick up our luggage. The sun was shining through the windows after the long transatlantic flight, and we were ready to travel. But we were not free to travel yet. Our passports had to be checked before we could enter the country. The process is familiar to anyone who has traveled across an international border.

As I stood in line waiting to be admitted to another country, I remembered Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). He explained, “Flesh gives birth to flesh.” My parents gave me flesh and blood. Flesh gives birth to flesh. I couldn’t change my birth. I didn’t do anything to gain citizenship in the United States. I didn’t pass a test. I didn’t pick my parents, my ethnic origin, my language, or the culture or history that surrounded me. I had a passport, I thought, as I stood in line and waited.

I thought a little more about what Jesus told Nicodemus. I am a born a human. That’s a good thing, I am happy to be alive and enjoy life, but there’s a downside as well. Just because I was born doesn’t mean I can enter the kingdom of God. None of us can. On our own we’d stand in line outside the kingdom of God forever. God requires more than one birth certificate. Born again, Jesus said. There’s a checkpoint we must pass before we can enter into the kingdom of God.

Why? Birth here only allows us life and breath. The downside means that human birth pits every human against God. As Paul wrote to the Galatians, “The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” He also described us as “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Something must change. Jesus says it clearly. We must be “born of water and the Spirit”

By the gospel in Word and sacrament, we are forgiven and changed. God makes us his children and citizens of his kingdom. I didn’t do anything for that status any more than I did for my natural birth. Born again, baptized, and now a citizen of God’s kingdom, I have a second passport. This one is emblazoned with the cross of Christ and “kingdom of God” stamped on its cover. Jesus has secured our status as his children. Paul wrote about that too: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ” (Galatians 3:26,27).

More than a change in status

Jesus was crucified once and for all. When the Holy Spirit brought us to faith, we were changed. All that kept us out of the kingdom was nailed to the cross. We are children of God and citizens of God’s kingdom because Christ’s blood cleanses us of all sins and gives us eternal life.

We become drop-jawed sinners, awed by God’s love in rescuing us from our addiction to the sins of the flesh and the death that comes because of them. We hold the passport to his kingdom now and to the one to come. But it’s not just a status change. It’s the privilege of turning away from the passions and desires that come from our natural birth. We are no longer trapped by them or slaves to them. Within those who are citizens of God’s kingdom lives a desire to please the One who has rescued them and destined them for eternal life.

Like others before us, we leave sin behind and move forward to eternity with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—the fruits of the Spirit—showing the change in our lives. Now we live as foreigners, aliens, and exiles in the world in which we were born (1 Peter 2:11). We know we don’t belong here, so we turn away from sinful desires and act as citizens of heaven. Sins forgiven, we will walk through the gate clothed in the righteousness of our Savior.

Changed but still not perfect

That’s not a new thought to anyone who is a Christian, but here too there is a problem. If we use the analogy of the passports, we have two passports as long as we live here in this world. One of them belongs to the sinful world and the other to the kingdom of God. As long as we live here, we have a dual citizenship. We see and understand both. We know that the passport to the sinful world leads away from life and eventually will be stamped by Satan. He will greet those he welcomes to hell with a satisfied grin. We also know that the passport to the kingdom of God entitles us to forgiveness and life. Jesus will welcome us with open arms into his heavenly and eternal mansions.

While we are here, we have not surrendered the passport of the flesh. When we look back on the acts if the flesh, we discover a longing desire to return to their attractions. We are not alone in that pull backward. Lot’s wife had it, and so did the apostle Paul. He wrote, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Like Paul, we sometimes stuff the passport of the kingdom of God out of sight and show our passport of the flesh instead.

You may have hidden your kingdom passport, but by God’s grace you can pull it out again and return to being a child of God. It’s called repentance, and it happens in all our lives. The longing to return to the pleasure of sin is in constant conflict with the desire to live in gratitude for all Jesus has given us.

The apostle says it so clearly in Galatians 5:24,25. We belong to Christ. By faith we are connected to him who was crucified for all our sinful passions and desires. That happened once just outside of Jerusalem, and it was for all people. All those sins were buried with him. Our record is wiped clean. We are heaven bound, but we are not there yet. In this life, conflict remains because of our dual citizenship.

That’s why Paul and the entire Bible continue to encourage us to avoid sin and live as children of God. “Let us keep in step with the Spirit,” Paul urges. The temptations along the way beckon us, so we need the reminders to stay on course. We dare not surrender our kingdom passport and be denied at the gate.

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the concluding article in a series on acts of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Confessions of faith: Kalbach

A man shares how Jesus changed his life forever.

Steven H. Prahl

I first met Dave and Connie Kalbach when they walked in the doors for our Christmas Eve service. I introduced myself and welcomed them. Dave replied, “I don’t really go to church; I’m just here with them,” as he pointed to his family.

That’s how my relationship with Dave and Connie started. I didn’t know what to expect, but Jesus knew that this was part of a life-changing experience for them.

Christian influences

Dave would tell you that he always had a sense of a “higher power.” That really started when his father took his own life when Dave was 14 years old. Dave had gone out to find out why his dad wasn’t coming in from the car. Because the car doors were locked, Dave went back into the house, grabbed a flashlight, confirmed it worked, and went back into the night. But when he got to the car, the flashlight didn’t work. Today, Dave is convinced that God was looking out for him, protecting him from seeing his father’s body.

In 1991, Dave and Connie’s youngest son, Sean, met a family at the campground where he worked. This Lutheran pastor and his wife had five daughters, including Tanya, who two years later would become Sean’s wife. While dating Tanya, Sean attended a Bible information class at the church and became a member. As the years went by, Dave and Connie would visit their kids and grandkids every few months. On most of those visits, they would go to church with them, although Dave could not understand why they drove past other churches to go to the WELS church.

Tanya had a big impact on her in-laws. She and Connie began reading through the Bible together, discussing what they had read on the phone. Dave, though, wasn’t very interested, even admitting that he would hold those Bible studies against Connie when they would argue. But through the years, Dave said he and Tanya “would have conversations about the Bible, church, God, and heaven.” He continues, “During one of these conversations I told Tanya that one of us was in for a big surprise since I felt that the fact that I led an honorable life meant that I would go to heaven. Tanya stood by her conviction that I could not get to heaven like that.”

Dave was right that one of them was in for a big surprise—and by God’s grace it was before Dave stood before God.

An aha moment

As Dave tells it: “In 2017, Sean, Tanya, and their entire family decided to visit Colorado for Christmas. This would be the first time in many years we all would be together for Christmas. Tanya told us she wanted to go to Christmas Eve services. Sean and Tanya had been married at a WELS church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and it was the only WELS church I knew of, but it was on the other side of town from us. I thought, Just what I want to do on Christmas Eve—drive across town for church. This is where it gets interesting. A week or so before Christmas, a card for a Lutheran church arrived in our mailbox. The church was named Foundation, and it met in the elementary school three miles from our home. Christmas Eve came, and we all attended church [at Foundation]. Connie and I enjoyed the service and were made to feel welcome by the congregation.”

Two weeks after that December 24 introduction, Dave and Connie came walking through the church’s doors on Sunday. Dave informed me, “In 51 years of marriage, we have never gone to church just the two of us, without our kids.” Dave knew that Connie was interested in going to church, but he had never seen a reason to attend. He thought he was just fine with God on his own. But because of something he heard on Christmas Eve and because he loved his wife, he asked her to go to church with him. Dave says, “You could have knocked Connie over with a feather.”

Dave and Connie started attending worship regularly and decided to go through our FaithBuilders classes. “It was during the section on works that I had an ‘aha!’ moment,” says Dave. “It became clear to me that I could not get to heaven by works. Tanya had been right all along. On that day I realized that the only way to heaven was through Jesus Christ.” Dave admits that this was eye-opening. It was both comforting and scary at the same time—comforting because Jesus had done it all for him and scary because what he had relied on and thought he knew didn’t matter for his salvation.

On May 6, 2018, Dave and Connie were baptized into the Christian faith and became members of Foundation. It was a special day for everyone there as we saw Dave and Connie’s joy as they were washed in the water of Baptism. It was especially exciting for Sean and Tanya, who flew to Colorado for the long-awaited occasion.

As Dave says, “A random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an ‘aha!’ moment; and Jesus Christ changed my life forever. I have lots to learn, but I am ready for the trip.”

Infectious witness

Since becoming members of Foundation, Dave and Connie regularly help set up chairs and equipment before worship at the school we rent. They hosted one of our Bible study groups this summer. They drop off guest bags to people who have visited our church, because they know what it is like to be on the other side of that door. They aren’t shy about sharing that they are new to the church and they are excited to be here!

Their joy of knowing their Savior is infectious. This summer, they helped with our soccer Bible camp; Dave even did all the drills with the little kids. On the last day of camp, Dave was talking with one of the moms and invited her to church. He told her that he had always thought that he was fine with God and didn’t really need to go to church but now he learned what God had done for him. Her response: “I didn’t know other people felt like that too.” So, Dave invited her to meet “the friendliest group of people” and learn about what Jesus has done for her too.

It hasn’t all been easy. Dave had a health scare, and some of their family has pushed them away because they are now Christians. But Dave and Connie continue to cling to the peace that Jesus gives and hold on to the hope that if it wasn’t too late for them to come to faith in Jesus it isn’t too late for their family members either.

And it’s all because of “a random postcard; Tanya, a true Christian who never gave up; an “aha!” moment, and Jesus Christ.”

Two lives changed, and two souls saved forever.


Steven Prahl is pastor at Foundation, Peyton, Colorado.


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Author: Steven H. Prahl
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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God’s gifts, our giving: Part 3

Is my giving any of Jesus’ business?

Aaron L. Christie

When my great-aunt passed away several years ago, the family was surprised by the presence of a 70-year-old man at the funeral—a man that none of us knew existed. My aunt, who suffered from paralysis since age 4 from polio, had a child out of wedlock when she was 16. The baby boy was quickly, quietly, put up for adoption. Over the next 70 years, the older generation took this secret to their graves. The family simply didn’t talk about such things. . . .

I remember my dear grandma gently scolding me as a boy when I asked her how much money she made as a clerk in the local Kresge’s store. She told me that it wasn’t polite to ask questions about people’s money. “That is their business.”

Whether it was the family secret from the 1930s or the bottom line on Grandma’s paycheck in the 1970s, I was taught to mind my own business. Many people would like to apply my grandmother’s counsel to their pastors in the pulpit: my money—my business.

“My money is my business,” except that it isn’t. It’s God’s business. And we forget that significant fact far too often.

Do we trust God?

In Mark 12:41-44, we see Jesus do something that we would consider socially unacceptable in our day. He is not minding his own business. With the clock of Holy Week ticking, Jesus carved out precious time to take a seat in the temple courts. He picked a spot that gave him a line of sight so that he could watch the people as they gave their gifts! His eyes scanned the rich as they gave their significant sums. His attention shifted and then centered on a poor widow as she dropped in her two tiny coins, the sum total of all she had to live on. Jesus made money and giving his business.

If we were there, sitting in Jesus’ seat watching the widow give her offering, what would we have told her? “No, dearie! God’s knows your heart. He knows you don’t have two dimes to rub together. He knows you’ll give it someday—if you’ve got it.” In all likelihood, we would have done our best to talk her out of giving her offering. Could it be that we’ve become far too eager at making pious-sounding excuses NOT to give rather than encouraging each other in acts of joyful generosity?

Now go stand next to the widow as she makes her gift. What example does she give to you? When is the last time that we gave sacrificially, I mean, gave as if we really trusted in God and staked our future on his promises?

Why is it so easy to send thousands of dollars to Fidelity, Vanguard, or Charles Schwab every year? Because we trust that these companies will make our money grow. But have you noticed that they make no promises to us? The prospectus reads, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” God, on the other hand, is eager to make a promise: “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). Why then are we so tempted to trust Fidelity more than our heavenly Father, to take comfort in our investments but to fear giving as a net loss? Simply put: Do we trust God or don’t we?

God gave his all

So how do you think the widow’s story ends? St. Mark doesn’t tell us. But knowing what you know about the faithfulness of the Father and the sacrifice of the Son, do you think that Jesus commended the widow for her gift and then let her go home and starve to death? Do you get the impression that after taking the time to watch her giving, that Jesus then chose to remain blissfully ignorant of what she needed? The widow gave her all, trusting in the God who gave his all, his everything, his Son for her.

And God gave his all, his everything, his Son for us. He didn’t offer two coins for our salvation. He offered the double treasure of Jesus’ perfect life lived for us and his innocent death suffered for us!

Jesus knows all about coins! When Satan tempted him with the wealth of the world, he told Satan to go and pound sand. Jesus never once thought a greedy thought, but human greed for 30 silver coins led directly to his crucifixion. And on that cross, Jesus bled and died to forgive the very hearts that cherished copper more than Christ, silver more than the Savior, gold more than God. And to this day, he opens his crucified hands and fills our desires with good things.

In Christ, we have the forgiveness we crave and the motivation we need to open our hands and give in a way that glorifies God and cares for our neighbor as we rest our confidence, and even our futures, in the promises of our giving God!

Jesus is still watching his people’s wealth. What will he see? Take these truths to your heart’s bank. Be amazed as you watch the gift of giving grow!


Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


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


A sacrifice of thanksgiving

Her name was Lucille, and she was easily the most sacrificially giving saint I have personally met in my 27 years of ministry.

Lucille was 60 years old with advanced stages of rheumatoid arthritis when I was assigned as her pastor in Austin, Texas. She served as the church and school secretary for free. Her disability payments covered her expenses, so she donated her time to the church to advance the gospel and make it more affordable to do ministry. She worked with a pencil clutched tightly in a gnarled hand. Day after day, week after week, she served through pain and discomfort as she created all the worship folders for Sunday and special services, kept school records, wrote correspondence, answered the phone, and made calls to volunteers. It took her two hours every morning to get ready and drive herself to church.

Once when the congregation included her in the Christmas gifts, I was selected to beg her to take it. There I stood with her $250 check, asking her to accept it with grace. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said, “No, you will only rob me of the joy of serving if you make me take that!” I backed down and gave it back to the leaders just as she demanded.

Lucille served like this for over 25 years. We tallied up what we think we saved the church in wages and benefits. It came to over $500,000. What a sacrifice!

Well, actually, it was a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Some people think that sacrificial giving is giving until it hurts. Sacrificial giving is giving because Christ hurt for us. It’s what Paul talked about in Romans 12:1“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

Thanks to Lucille, I have a vivid image of what that looks like in my world. Will you be the vivid image for your brothers and sisters in Christ?


Don Patterson, president of the South Central District, is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.


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Author: Aaron L. Christie 
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Looking forward

The Scripture readings for the last Sundays of our church year help us look to the end of time.

Eric D. Schroeder

It’s the one appointment we all share—same place, same time—but it isn’t on any of our calendars. None of us are exempt, and no commitment or excuse will allow a single one of us to be anywhere else. We will all be present and accounted for, along with everyone we have ever met as well as all those we haven’t. We will all be there on the Last Day, when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, just as we confess in our creeds so many times. When is it? None of us knows.

At the same time, Last Judgment is on my calendar. Your congregation also may have a thematic worship plan on Sunday, Nov. 10, that will focus on the Last Judgment. It’s part of the season of End Times. The readings of the lectionary at the end of the church year remind us of the promises God has made for all of us. Beginning with Reformation, the season ends with the reminders of Christ’s rule of his church as King of all and includes one Sunday set aside as Last Judgment Sunday.

The wisdom of the church year

Our New Testament worship schedule isn’t nearly so clearly defined as the one God gave his Old Testament people, a calendar they were to keep from the time of Moses until the coming of the Savior. Back then God gave his people the days, times, and rituals they were to observe—not as a way of gaining favor with him, but as a powerful annual reminder of his plans for his people. Their church calendar told the same story every year—a story of sin and grace, of forgiveness through substitutionary sacrifice. It gave God’s people a reason to rejoice in victory now and forever as those who were graciously chosen and eternally saved through faith in the promised Messiah.

Now that Jesus has come as the fulfillment of every prophecy and has made the sin-cleansing sacrifice as the Lamb of God, many of our reminders throughout the church year look back on what our Savior has done for us. We find our Sabbath rest in the accomplished work of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and hell. We are no longer bound to the same festivals and rites of those who waited for Immanuel. Instead we rejoice to see God’s plan more fully than Abraham, Moses, David, or Isaiah ever did.

Even in our Christian freedom, many churches choose to retain the structure of a church year. Just like God’s Old Testament people had their harvest festivals that overflowed with the symbolism of salvation, we too find value in repeating the salvation story. Just as God’s watchful people celebrated a Festival of Trumpets, a great Day of Atonement, and a Festival of Tabernacles, so we still center our worship around harvest time on what is yet to come.

The Sundays of End Times

For us, the operative word is freedom. End Times is not a mandatory observance. Still, it is good for us to consider intently the plans that God has yet to fulfill but are no less certain than the promises he already kept. Here’s how Christian Worship lays out the Sundays of End Times.

The first Sunday is to celebrate the Reformation. It might seem odd that before we look ahead, we look back five hundred years. On the other hand, what better way to prepare for the end than to find peace in knowing that God has been working throughout history to see that the gospel message will not be silenced? How are we ready to stand before God? Only by grace alone, through faith alone—truths based on Scripture alone, which points us to Christ alone.

The second Sunday concentrates on the Last Judgment, that appointment we all share. My sinful nature still gets awfully nervous at the thought of being judged finally and eternally. Yet the One who will decide our fates has already determined them. Through his shed blood and his empty grave, the Good Shepherd will proclaim before the nations that we are his beloved sheep. Not a single one of us will be lost. We will not hesitate to bow on our knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Saints Triumphant, the next Sunday, points us to believers in heaven. If you are like me, the older we get, the more we look forward to living in glory. We peek into heaven through God’s Word and see Christian loved ones who have already been transferred from the church militant to the church triumphant. As much as we might miss them now, our hearts leap at the reminder that one day we will join them, because their Savior is our Savior too.

Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church year, ends the church year on a high note, as we delight in the reminder that our Lord and King, the Alpha and the Omega, reigns now and forever. In our world, it’s easy to be distracted from the truths that all things are under his control, his plans for us are eternally wise, and he is ruling all things for the good of his church.

From looking ahead to looking around

To be sure, the lectionary readings throughout End Times urge us to look up longingly as we await our Savior’s return. Then he will bring about the new heaven and the new earth. Still, we ought to take away a practical encouragement to use the time that we have left. As we look at every list of signs of the end times that Jesus gave his disciples, we can’t help but realize that we are indeed living in the last times. I believe that one of the main reasons Jesus gave those signs was so that we would see them and get to work.

We don’t know how much time we have. As long as we remain in the faith that his Spirit has worked in us, our eternity is secure. But now look around. We all have people in our lives who do not have the same confidence. Some of them were raised in the church but have since wandered. Others feel like the here and now is enough. Still others never had a friend or family member who cared enough to share the hope that is ours.

That’s where we come in. When is the last time you had a real conversation with an unbeliever? When is the last time you invited an acquaintance or coworker to join you in church? When is the last time you reached out with a gentle nudge of biblical encouragement to a family member whose worship life has become lax or inconsistent?

The season of End Times, as much as any other, reminds us to use each day to pray for mission work and participate in it! God gathers his saints through the work of the church. That’s us! The end is near. We need to get busy.


Eric Schroeder is pastor at St. John’s, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.


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Author: Eric D. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Destinies

Our lives are in the hands of our God, who will cause everything to work out for our good.

Bill J. Tackmier

1945 was a pivotal year for our country and for my family.

My family’s history

That was the year my dad, Vernon Tackmier, was drafted into the US Army. Dad was 21 years old at the time. He was the typical Depression-era kid. When he graduated from grade school at the age of 12, he had to stay home and help on his parents’ farm instead of going to high school. When the attack on Pearl Harbor happened in 1941, he worked on many of his neighbors’ farms to help produce food for the war effort. But in 1945 his turn came to help overseas.

Earlier in that pivotal year, his grandfather had died. His grandpa, August Polzin, had come to America from Germany in 1881 at the age of 20. I don’t know what prompted him to come, but many young German men of his generation came to America to avoid service in the German army. He had grown up in the far eastern part of the German Empire in Pomerania. He came to America as an apprenticed shoemaker with his brother Franz. Franz died on Christmas Eve their first year in America. When August  arrived in the “land of opportunity,” he bought a farm in northern Wisconsin, got married, and raised a large family. After becoming a citizen in 1906, he watched the news with horror as World War I broke out and turned into a deadly stalemate. Trench warfare devastated the armies of both sides. New weapons of war destroyed his homeland and large sections of Europe. At the end of the war the dead numbered nearly 20 million people.

The 1930s Depression and a humiliating treaty for Germany after World War I contributed to events that turned into an even more desperate world conflict—World War II. My great-grandpa August must have had many moments when he thanked God for leading him to a place where his family had been able to plow, harvest, and grow in peace. But at the end of his life, he probably was not aware of what was happening in his homeland and the mounting death toll of American soldiers or even the signs of a coming victory in Europe and the Pacific.

My family’s destiny

He died at the advanced age of 84 in May of 1945, less than a month after Hitler committed suicide and a matter of days after the Germans surrendered to the Allies. In the winter and spring of 1945, the Russian army had swept through his home state of Pomerania on their way to capturing Berlin. Millions of Germans fled in front of the advancing Soviet army. Contemporary accounts describe how the country roads of Pomerania and Mecklenburg were jammed all day everyday with traffic the likes of which today’s big cities experience at rush hour—cars, trucks, and mostly horse-drawn wagons filled with families and possessions. The people were fleeing to the east in front of the advancing Soviet army, which was rumored to steal anything that was of value, to rape any women who were left behind, and to murder indiscriminately.

Little did my father and his family suspect the fate they would have experienced if his grandfather had not immigrated to America in 1881. If Dad’s Grandpa August and his other grandparents and great-grandparents had not immigrated to America, my father would no doubt have grown up under Nazism. He likely would have been drafted into the German army and become a casualty of Hitler’s desire for a Third German Reich. His family would have been displaced at the end of World War II. And I—if I had even been born—would most likely have grown up under communism in post-war East Germany.

But God did not only spare us this.

In October 1945, Dad was drafted into the Army and stationed on the island of Okinawa in the Pacific. The island, just south of Japan, had been secured by the US armed forces that summer at the cost of 12,500 American lives. Plans for the invasion of Japan estimated tragic death tolls for Americans. In August of 1945 President Truman decided to drop two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. At the time, it was felt that it was the only way to keep the Japanese from continuing the war in the Pacific. Estimates for an amphibious assault and invasion of Japan would have cost the lives of one million American soldiers—in addition to an untold number of Japanese lives—if the atomic bombs had not been implemented. My father’s life would probably have been one of those casualties of war.

1945 was a pivotal year.

God’s hand in our lives

When we look back on history, it often takes our breath away. We see in hindsight how things could have turned out. It raises questions in our minds: Why are we the ones who are left alive after all the violence that sinful men have brought upon our world? Highly developed nations like Germany, Japan, and America with all their education, technology, and industrialization could not prevent getting into world conflicts that brought death to millions of their citizens.

The economic, educational, and social advances of modern nations have often complicated life for children of God. So often these advances inflicted more harm than the good they’ve promised. But amidst it all, God makes these developments work out for good—to accomplish his purposes.

It’s humbling to think that an all-knowing God has guided the destinies of individual people and families to survive the atrocities that were perpetrated in the 20th century. It’s disturbing to consider how human greed for power produced leaders who were so blind to the well-being of their own people that they were willing to sacrifice their young, promising next generation. As we look back, the most amazing thing of all is how God guides and directs the paths of individuals to maneuver through such dangerous historical events. While we mourn the dead, we know they too fit into God’s plans to change the world.

How comforting to know that we have a personal God who knows each of us by name, a God who has promised to work all things out for good to those who love him. This God speaks to us through his Word and says to us so intimately, “I know the plans that I have for you, . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). The God who guided his Son through the plotting of sinful human beings and their most evil purposes guided events so that all worked out for our eternal good.

With that in mind, we trust he will continue to guide us through the tortuous twists and turns of this life and bring us to the home of the Son he loves.


Bill Tackmier, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Author: Bill J. Tackmier
Volume 106, Number 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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A gospel-filled life: Part 9

Putting it all together

Jeffrey D. Enderle

Getting there. That’s the tricky part. Sitting in your aunt’s cozy home with delicious smells wafting past the expanded table, that’s the good part. Carving up turkey and dishing up stuffing, that’s the payoff. Sinking deeper into couch cushions after eating one too many slices of pie while football blares in the background and nieces giggle in the next room, that’s the sweet spot. All the effort just to get to that moment and be in that Thanksgiving environment, that’s the hard part.

Using God’s Word and prayer along the way

Christians live in this constant tension between where we are and where we want to go. There is tremendous terrain over which we travel in this Christian life. When life feels like we are cruising along at 70 miles per hour without obstacles, we don’t want to leave God’s Word behind. When the bumpy turbulence of life’s trials sends us into the ditch, we want to turn to God in prayer as our immediate response instead of our last resort. Getting there can be a challenge.

For Martin Luther, time in God’s Word and time spent in prayer were responses to the struggles he faced. Those perpetual and persistent attacks caused inner turmoil. The devil’s ploys drove him to deploy the weapons that God provides to his people.

Luther’s experience shows us how to respond wisely to our own personal struggles. Dive into Scripture. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Concentrate on the Bible as God’s living and active Word (Hebrews 4:12). Apply God’s Word in light of the trials and temptations we face. Pray in response to Scripture to bring that truth before God’s throne (Hebrews 10:19-23) and into our hearts.

At the conclusion of catechism instruction, I ask middle schoolers to come up with a spiritual growth plan. Often their plans involve reading through the entire Bible in the year after they are confirmed. Ambitious plans. As brash as a couch potato planning to run a marathon after buying a new pair of shoes.

God’s people can formulate bold plans for spiritual growth. But we are wise to be realistic. Start small. Consider your starting place. Determine the first steps to get you going in the right direction. Stretch out for a few minutes on a few verses from the Bible. Factor in other helpful habits. Schedule a time and pick a place. Mornings with a cup of coffee? Mid-day at the lunch break? Maybe at the end of a long day in a comfortable chair? Pray. Study. Meditate. Pray again.

Seeing God’s presence on our journey

For Christians, we don’t have to wonder about who we are. Through Christ we are holy in the sight of our God. We don’t have to struggle to become something we aren’t. The sacrifice of Jesus tells us everything is completed for our salvation. Our entire lives take place in the assurance of our righteous status because of Jesus. And still God’s people recognize we haven’t yet arrived at our ultimate destination.

You can’t control the events in the world any more than you can command the weather. But God’s people recognize the means of grace at our disposal. God has given us the gift of prayer and Bible study. God invites us to come to him in his Word. He promises his Spirit will work powerfully through his Word. We have God’s promise to deliver us from our struggles (Romans 8:32) in his way. God guarantees getting us to the destination and going along on the journey.


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


This is the final 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 11
Issue: November 2019

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

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Teen Talk: Jesus is our home

No matter how we feel about our home on this earth, we have an eternal home in heaven waiting for us.  

Lydia Buxa 

When I was younger, my dad was in the Coast Guard, so we moved around a lot. Every three years, he would be re-stationed to a different state, usually across the country. I lived in four different states and moved three times before fifth grade.  

One summer, my dad retired and, wanting to be closer to family, we moved from California to Wisconsin. It was our final cross-country move. But I found myself missing my old home, which was over 2,000 miles away.  

It took me a long time to accept my new house and school. For a while, I didn’t feel I belonged here. Every time I thought of going home, I thought of a completely different house. Some days, I still find myself wanting to go back to California.  

Yet I have grown to love my new house. It is my retreat. To me, it’s the most comforting place on earth. During school, what gets me through some days is the fact that I get to go home later. Sometimes trying to wait until the end of the day so I can leave is an excruciating wait. 

On earth, Christians stand out because of our faith, which leads us to act differently and can make us feel out of place. That’s when we feel a different kind of homesickness. It’s not for a house in a state thousands of miles away. It’s a homesickness for a place where we feel we really belong. We want to go to the perfect retreat that Jesus prepared for us. “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1). 

No matter how often or rarely our earthly home changes, we look forward to going to heaven, the place that is our eternal home. That’s where we will meet Jesus. In him, and him alone, we find complete rest. It’s the one place where we’ll never have to say goodbye again. We will be eternal residents. “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who . . . will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20,21). 

Even though heaven is waiting for us, there are still tough days to get through. We miss just being home, and it’s an excruciating wait to get there. Jesus is with us and helps us get through these days. “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). 

 So, if you, like me, really miss your home or feel out of place, remember our real home is with Jesus. No matter how far away we live from the place we call “home,” Jesus is always right beside us, guiding and protecting us. And when Jesus takes us to heaven, we will confidently say, “I’m home.” I personally can’t wait to go. 

The words of the famous hymn perfectly capture this: 

“What though the tempest rage, Heav’n is my home.
Short is my pilgrimage; Heav’n is my home.
And time’s wild, wintry blast Soon shall be overpast;
I shall reach home at last; Heav’n is my home”
 (Christian Worship 417:2). 


Lydia Buxa, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at Immanuel, Farmington, Wisconsin.   


 

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Author: Lydia Buxa 
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

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