A gospel-filled life: Part 1

simple way to pray  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Learning to swim can be traumatic enough. But in the captivating memoir The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls tells of her father’s no-nonsense way of getting her to swim. He simply tossed her in the pool. If the desire to live was strong enough, he figured, she’d figure out a way to keep her head above water and eventually learn to swim.   

Devotional encouragement 

God’s people sometimes feel similar sensations after repeated encouragements to read the Bible and do devotions. At times we just want to tiptoe around the edge of the pool. We stare apprehensively into the water and stay perched safely on the outside. 

Thankfully, God promises to work through his Word: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11). 

We also have practical encouragement to jump into our devotions on God’s Word.  Five hundred years ago, Peter the Barber was an average Christian who took seriously the encouragement to make devotional practices an essential part of his daily routines. A personal friend to Martin Luther, he was frustrated by attempts to engage in this unfamiliar task, and so he appealed to Luther for guidance. Luther wrote the little booklet A Simple Way to Pray to help his friend.  

Devotional instructions 

Unsurprisingly, Luther encouraged devotional habits that make prayer a priority. He instructed his friend to make devotions his first activity every day. He also suggested that finding a private, quiet place would be beneficial. 

But what should one do during that study? Start with something simple and familiar such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, any part of the catechism, or even any part of Scripture as a basis for your devotions.  

Luther’s suggestions came from his own personal experiences. He suggested that you fashion “a garland of four strands” based on your topic for the day. Those four strands mean you think of the Scripture passage or portion of the catechism in four ways: 

  1. Consider what your reading teaches you.
  2. Discover what in your reading makes you thankful.
  3. Think what leads you to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. 
  4. Respond to the Lord with a prayer on what you have learned.

This is the time of year when lots of children start to feel cooped up. Parents look for appropriate ways to allow them to burn off some energy without risking their health and safety. Swimming lessons provide a great opportunity to play and learn at the same time. Toddlers can jump into the shallow end with certified swim instructors within arm’s reach. More advanced swimmers can work out to improve their skills.  

Devotions don’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Jump in. Start with Scripture. It can be something simple and familiar. Using Luther’s four strands can help you get going:  

  1. See what God is teaching you in Scripture.  
  2. Respond to God in thanksgiving. 
  3. Confess your shortcomings. 
  4. Offer requests to God based on Scripture.

Whether we tiptoe into the shallow end or dive into the deep end, God promises to work powerfully in the lives of his children through his Word. 


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


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


Want to read Martin Luther’s booklet, A Simple Way to Pray? It’s available at Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net; 1-800-662-6022. 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Merging for mission – Part 1

Two case studies reveal the blessings and challenges of mergers and multi-site ministries. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

If you talk to Nathan Strutz, pastor at Resurrection, Verona/Monroe, Wisconsin, about the recent merger between Resurrection, Verona, and Mount Olive, Monroe, he will be quick to point out it wasn’t about keeping the doors open on the beautiful church building in Monroe. “It is all about keeping the doors of heaven open to lost souls,” he says.  

It was about finding a way to continue to share the gospel 

Case study: Wisconsin 

Things didn’t look that way at first. Mount Olive, Monroe, started in 1945. Membership grew, and members secured land and bought a former schoolhouse in 1949. After renovation, it became its first church building. Then in 1981, the congregation bought an existing church building in town. The beautiful church seemed to promise a bright future. 

But then the congregation began to struggle, and over several decades it slowly lost members—some due to deaths in an aging congregation and some due to families leaving because they wanted a more active children’s ministry. By 2016, membership had dwindled to 80, with about 20 people worshiping each Sunday.   

When their pastor announced his upcoming retirement, members knew something had to be done. Calling a new pastor would be extremely challenging. They had to face the reality that it would be difficult to afford their own pastor. Talks with another small parish about forming a dual parish didn’t work out. They even tried putting their church up for sale so they could downsize.  

Members weren’t sure what to do next. “We were on an island. We didn’t know what direction to turn to without disbanding,” says Richard Meske, long-time member and church president. “We didn’t have many options. As president, I tried to assure members that we were not going to close our doors; one way or another we would attempt to keep it open.” 

Some members from Mount Olive began attending Resurrection, Verona. Together with Resurrection members who had ties to the Monroe community, they started talking to Strutz about Mount Olive’s situation. Resurrection had been discussing its long-range plan, which included looking into starting a new site. The congregation had already daughtered a church, Good News in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, in 2013, and was ready for its next opportunity.  

The conversation brought about a meeting in November 2016 for both congregations to discuss possibilities. One option was Resurrection offering Mount Olive some financial assistance so the congregation could afford to call a pastor and keep its doors open. 

But that option wasn’t appealing to the members at Resurrection. They saw the outreach potential. “We were not going to continue talking just for the survival of a church in Monroe—just to do hospice care before a church died,” says Strutz. “This was going to be about expanding the kingdom of God—reaching the lost in Monroe and, God-willing, establishing a growing, thriving congregation.” Monroe was a community of 10,000, and their vision included the opportunity to bring back former members of the congregation who still lived in the neighborhood. 

Strutz continues, “We wanted to convey to both locations that we are all-in on this. This is a long-term thing. This is not going into a temporary survival mode until things get better.” It was about keeping the door of heaven open In Monroe as well as in Verona. 

Merging for mission 

Merging for mission is key when congregations begin discussing working together either to create a multi-site ministry by merging into one congregation. “For a multi-site to work well, there has to be a servant mentality,” says Jon Hein, director of the Commission on Congregational Counseling. “It has to be about Christ and his gospel and his mission.” 

Maintaining that mission mind-set can be difficult, especially when you’re talking about “closing” a struggling congregation as a new multi-site emerges. But the outcomes can be inspiring. 

“It doesn’t have to be a loss. It’s totally a win for the kingdom of God,” says Strutz. “God be praised for that.” 

Another case study: Arizona 

Financial burdens also played a role for two more struggling churches—this time outside of Tucson, Arizona.  

Both Peace, Sahuarita, and Bethlehem, Benson, with memberships of 39 and 10 respectively, had their own land and church buildings, but neither congregation could afford a pastor. They became a dual parish in 2012. When the congregations became vacant in 2013, ministry was difficult at both churches. “While we were under the vacancy as Peace, there was literally no opportunity to do outreach,” says Bob Breiler, church president at Peace at the time. “It was just a struggle to keep the doors open.” The congregations began working together to call a pastor so both congregations could remain open.  

Six months and several calls later, Breiler approached Ron Koehler, pastor at Grace, Tucson, to ask him for help in getting weekly preachers. Bethlehem made a similar request. Koehler suggested to both congregations that instead of just helping them out occasionally with preaching, that perhaps they should consider a longer-term option: becoming new sites of Grace. 

Grace already was a multi-site congregation; in 2011, it opened its second site in Vail, 20 miles southeast, to celebrate the congregation’s 100th anniversary. It already was seeing the benefits that one site with multiple locations could offer.  

“These were brothers and sisters in Christ who needed help, and we felt we had the ability to offer that help,” says Koehler. “We also felt that they deserved more than just a Sunday preacher.” 

In addition, Grace saw the outreach opportunities this merger could provide. Sahuarita is a growing community of young families and professionals who commute daily to Tucson. The adjacent town, Green Valley, is a retirement community that explodes in numbers during the winter. “We felt that this was a viable mission field,” says Koehler. “So not only would we be helping our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we also would be poised to reach this growing community with the gospel.” 

As for the rural community of Benson, “if that [congregation] goes away, the district mission board probably won’t go back. But if we can save that location, we can do ministry there and be poised for any future growth in that area, if that would happen,” says Koehler. Since the merger Koehler has begun reading stories about future growth in the Benson area. 

Gains and losses 

As both Resurrection and Mount Olive in Wisconsin and the three congregations in Arizona began seriously discussing merging and becoming multi-site congregations, mind-sets and views of identity had to be adjusted, especially for the struggling congregations. 

“The spiritual preparation to engage in a multi-site or a merger is infinitely more important than the logistical preparation,” says Hein. “It’s getting people to that point of selflessness and self-sacrifice. It’s getting people to have a mission mind-set—what serves Christ first.” 

Feeling like you are “losing” your church can be quite emotional. “Our children went through Sunday school [at Mount Olive] and got confirmed there,” says Meske. “It means a great deal because we didn’t want our local church to leave.” 

While a merger could preserve the church location, Meske says the initial discussions about the merger were met by apprehension at Mount Olive. “The word merger means ‘absorption from another,’ the way I interpret it.”  

That can mean a new identity, new ministry goals, and different ministry plans. 

“We wanted to instill positive DNA,” says Strutz. “People wouldn’t go back if it was the same old Mount Olive.” 

He continues, “You have to be up front and say it’s the start of something better. For the good of the kingdom, this has to mean the end of Mount Olive as you know it.” 

Koehler agrees about the importance of having a new ministry outlook. “The benefit of the merger is that difficult issues the congregation had to deal with before won’t cloud the ministry anymore,” he says. “Merging with another congregation means a new identity, a new start, a new philosophy of ministry, and a broader base of support.” 

It takes a lot of trust for both congregations involved. Members from the healthy congregation may worry that they are losing too much of their pastor’s time as he works in another location or that their resources may be stretched too thin. For the struggling congregation, concern focuses on the things it will have to give up: its identity, its “say” in what happens, and probably even its name. 

“We have to trust each other enough to say we’re going to do what’s good for the entire congregation and, more important, what’s good for God’s kingdom,” says Strutz. 

Besides trusting each other, the congregations had to trust God. “It was a combination of doing our homework and trusting that God would make it successful or would use it for his purposes. That was how we approached it,” says Bryan Guenther, then president at Grace, Tucson.  

Arizona merger 

The congregations held numerous discussions and member feedback meetings as they worked on a plan of how the multi-site merger would work. After those meetings, Grace presented a proposal for the congregations at Benson and Sahuarita to review.  

“I was worried to ask our congregation for an official vote,” says Breiler, Peace, Sahuarita’s, church president. “When the time came and everyone was behind it, it was a big huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t want to see the church have to fold up and close its doors.” 

The Benson congregation followed suit. After more legal work, both congregations merged with Grace in late 2014, making it a four-site congregation with the name: Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Arizona. 

And now the real work could begin.  

With one congregation and four sites, communication and coordination are key. “It’s hard to overcommunicate when you have four sites in four cities over two counties, with a half hour between each site,” says Koehler. Grace’s plan is to have a site pastor for each location but to have one council to make decisions, with representation from each site. Logistics can be tricky for seemingly simple things like how and where to hold all-site meetings. Leaders and site representatives need to be trusted. Calendars and events have to be coordinated. 

Members of all the sites also had to get used to the idea of being one congregation and analyzing important ministry plan decisions through that lens. Breiler says that at the beginning, people were asking, “What about our congregation?” when decisions were being made. “It was about getting into the habit of remembering we’re one congregation—we just have four sites,” he says. “We’re all the same; we’re all just in different places.” 

As time went on, that togetherness became more obvious—as well as the blessings. “Instead of struggling to get by, the congregations have this energy and this hope to expand God’s kingdom. This opens the door for them to do the things that they want to do,” says Koehler. He stresses the blessings of a new extended church family, ministry planning, people power to help with ministry, and financial resources to support God’s work. “For outreach, it is also a great blessing,” he continues. “You’re more accessible to people. With two locations—and now four locations—no matter where you’re living, our church is available to you.” 

Currently Grace is building a new church and child learning center in Sahuarita to serve the growing community. All sites had to be on board with this direction, even the Vail site, which currently rents space for worship. “You’re committing all four sites to the one project, so you really have to think it through,” says Guenther. “Does this mean we can’t do other things at other sites? Perhaps. But this is the commitment. This is the biggest opportunity right now.” 

Merger in Wisconsin 

The conversations in Wisconsin resulted in a merger too. Resurrection and Mount Olive voted to merge as a multi-site, officially becoming Resurrection, Verona/Monroe, in September 2017.  

The name change proved difficult for some, including one long-time member at Mount Olive. “He said [to me], ‘I lost my church,’ ” says Meske. “I said, ‘No, you didn’t lose your church. We changed the name, but the Word and sacraments are still the same as they’ve always been.’ ” 

David Plenge, then a member at Resurrection, Verona, Wis., but now church liaison for the Monroe site, highlights the larger significance of the change: “It’s not Mount Olive’s church; it’s God’s church. Don’t think of the name change that you lost something—you’re gaining something.” Those gains include more people and more financial support to conduct ministry in the Monroe community.  

The new name also can signify a new start. “From an evangelism standpoint, it almost made it easier,” says Plenge. “We could go out and promote that there’s a new direction, a new life.”  

And that’s just what the members did. People from both sites began visiting former members of Mount Olive who had left the church for some reason. They canvassed door-to-door, using new move-in lists to discover people who may be looking for a church home. They also started participating in local events to make connections in the community. 

And people started coming. Some former members returned to church, and new people visited for the first time. Sunday worship attendance more than doubled, including some families with small children. The Sunday school restarted. Seeing the excitement and the new faces, people began inviting their friends to worship as well. 

“God just had a lot of things lined up for us,” says Strutz. “We haven’t done anything. God has done everything.” 

With a new seminary graduate assigned to the congregation in May 2018, Resurrection, Verona and Monroe, is still navigating the challenges of being a multi-site, whether in communication, coordination, or joint decision making. “It’s not always rainbow and unicorns and cotton candy,” says Strutz. “But any of the issues so far pale in comparison to the growth.” 

And the congregation is already looking ahead. Its ten-year plan calls for it to be in four sites. Says Strutz, “Being part of this merger has raised the sights of our members to say, ‘God can do this again.’ ” 


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the first article in a three-part series about church closing, mergers, and multi-sites. 


SIDE BAR:

“I’m really not sure if I chose the church or the church chose me.” 

Terri Keegan moved across the street from Resurrection (then Mount Olive), Monroe, Wis., in 2014. At that time, she was watching sermons on TV and felt that was enough for her. “I believed in God,” she says. “Did I really need to join a church?” The church across the street was just . . . a church across the street. 

In late 2017, she started feeling differently. “I would look out my window and I would see the cross and the lights of the church,” she says. “That’s when I started noticing how beautiful it was, and it was pulling me toward it.” 

She also noticed acquaintances of hers walking into the church on Sunday. She contacted them and asked if she could come too. They welcomed her with open arms. 

Once she started attending, she never stopped. She began taking Bible information classes and started reading the Bible—a book she had never read before. “When I started learning about God, I just felt like a different person—it was the church for me,” she says. “I feel like I am at peace.” She became a member in April 2018. 

Terri’s daughters have seen the difference in her and are visiting Resurrection as well.  

“Terri wouldn’t have had a church to go to if we wouldn’t have merged,” says Nathan Strutz, pastor at Resurrection, Verona/Monroe, Wis. “This is why we have a church. It’s about saving souls.” 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 4

Ask Questions Before You Confront 

Jeremiah J. Gumm 

When Michael first walked through our doors, I wonder if he even knew what he believed. One thing was certain, his search for answers had left him with a confused “religious” worldview. Growing up, his family had been Episcopalian, but in late junior high, he became an atheist. A teacher in high school helped him return to the Episcopalian church. In time, he got fed up with the liberal teachings of his church. So he started dabbling in Islam. Michael was a security guard and a couple of his co-workers were Muslims. He found Islam’s strict, morally conservative teachings to be attractive and fascinating. He considered converting, but was not quite ready to take the plunge. 

He started checking out Lutheran churches. Liberal Lutheran churches failed to provide the answers he sought. Then one Reformation Sunday, he showed up at our church for worship, full of questions, misguided views, and searching for truth. 

I have to admit that my initial conversations with Michael were rather frustrating. I had difficulty identifying whether he was raising an actual objection or if he was simply playing devil’s advocate from the perspective of Islam, atheism, or a liberal, progressive Christianity. I would have been wise to remember what James wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (1:19). Unfortunately, I tended to be slow to listen and quick to speak, which caused our early conversations to circle round and round without actually getting at the heart of Michael’s objections and questions. 

In time, though, the Lord taught me to listen to Michael’s objections, to ask questions to better understand what his objections actually were. For example, when Michael and I would discuss Christ’s death on the cross, he would often bring up an objection that likely came from his conversations with his Muslim co-workers—an objection he himself could not answer satisfactorily. “If Jesus is God’s son and God the Father had Jesus die on a cross, then God would have to be an abusive father since he would be putting his son through so much suffering, torture, and pain.” By that logic, Jesus’ death on the cross would make God no better than an abusive father. 

How do you respond to that? Without taking the time to unpack that objection with thoughtful questions to get further explanation, it would be very tempting to attack that objection with a vengeance. After all, this objection blasphemes our God! But what was at the heart of Michael’s objection? What questions could be asked “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b) that would peel away the layers of misunderstanding and help Michael to truly see the compassionate love of God for sinners demonstrated in the sending of his Son Jesus Christ? What questions would help me understand the source of Michael’s objection and enable me to respond? 

Michael’s objection started from the premise that God is a holy God of power and control who forces people to submit to his will. That is a commonly held view of Allah among Muslims. Tied to that initial premise is the question whether Jesus Christ is truly God or not—another Muslim objection to the Christian faith. Jesus is acknowledged to be a prophet, but he is not Allah. From that perspective, Michael’s objection makes sense. If Jesus is actually God’s son and if Jesus did actually did suffer and die on the cross, then God must be forcing his son to suffer and die, rightly earning him the charge of “abuser.” 

Yet what was Michael missing? He was missing a complete picture of the God of the Bible—the God who is love—described in 1 John 4:9,10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That is not the God of Islam. Yet Michael needed to see the God whose love for sinners moved him to act on our behalf, to sacrifice what was most precious to him—his one and only Son—to reconcile us to himself. Michael needed to see that that God is not an abusive father forcing his son to suffer, but the God who loves us even when we were dead and hostile in our sins. So questions needed to be asked to help Michael see the God of love he was missing. 

Yet Michael still had objections and questions—objections that required further investigation, further questions to sort through the confusion of his religious worldview, further discussions on what he actually believed and what others tried to convince him to believe. Related to the last objection, Michael would sometimes say, “If Jesus is God and if Jesus willingly died on the cross, then he is a suicidal God.” To that I would often ask him, “What about the parent who pushes their child out of the way of an oncoming truck only to be struck themselves and severely injured or killed? Were they ‘suicidal’ in that moment? If not, then what would you call that?” “What of the soldier who falls on a hand grenade tossed into a mess tent full of soldiers? Was he ‘suicidal’ in that moment? 

If not, then what would you call that?” While there was logic to Michael’s argument, he was missing the element of love and concern for others. He again was missing the most important element when it comes to any discussion on the death of Christ—the love of God for undeserving sinners demonstrated in the death of Christ our Savior. 

So what can you do when others object to Christianity? Being prepared “to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15) means you need not cower in fear at their objections. In fact, many objections to Christianity actually do not make sense when you explore them further. Ask questions to help you understand what they mean. How does that person support their opinion? Why do they believe what they believe? Do they have proof for their objection or is this just opinion? Are they just parroting what they have heard from others? Much like trying to understand the context behind an objection, it is vitally important that we ask questions to understand the actual objection that is posed to us. 

At the same time, we do so “with gentleness and respect.” We do not rush to confront the one who poses the objection. Instead we take time to explore further, to better understand why that blood-bought soul before us has these objections to what God’s Word has to say, to take time with people like Michael. 

In the end, Michael eventually moved on. Yet after we had spent considerable time studying God’s Word together and sorting through all his confusion, for the first time in his life, he recognized that the alluring teachings of various “-isms” and Islam did not have what he sought. The Bible was the only reliable source for truth. The questions asked helped Michael to see that. So don’t be afraid to ask if someone objects to your faith. The Lord may just give you an opportunity to help them see the truth for the first time in their lives. 


Jeremiah Gumm is pastor at King of Kings, Maitland, Florida. 


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


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


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Jeremiah J. Gumm
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Luke 10 : Part 1

Pray dangerously 

Eric S. Roecker 

I was sitting at the gate, waiting to board my flight, and I was excited. I was flying to Florida for a golf trip with my buddies. I had never been on a golf trip before, and the thought of spending a few days with nothing to do but play golf and enjoy the company of my friends was exhilarating. The fact that I had not seen some of these friends for years made the anticipation even greater.  

As I sat thinking of warm, sunny days and lush, green fairways, for some reason I remembered something I had heard a pastor say a few months earlier. He encouraged people to pray dangerously when it came to personal evangelism. He explained that praying dangerously meant to ask the Lord to provide opportunities to tell other people about Jesus—and not just to provide those opportunities to pastors and missionaries but to provide those opportunities to you. It was dangerous, he explained, because God might very well say yes. 

Hmm. . . . I thought. I wonder what would happen if I tried that? What if I tried it right here, right now? Like the disciples Jesus sent out, I am his messenger so I decided to pray dangerously. “Lord Jesus,” I prayed silently, “if it is your will, provide me an opportunity to tell someone about you on this flight.”  

This prayer was even more dangerous than you might imagineYou see, I do not chat with people on airplanes. It’s not that I’m not a people person. It’s just that I sometimes get motion sickness when flying. So my standard operating procedure is to take a Dramamine about an hour before takeoff, settle down in a window seat, place my head gently but firmly against the wall, and fall fast asleep. It has proven stunningly successful over the years. I am often out cold before we finish taxiing for takeoff and jerk awake as the wheels hammer the runway upon landing. It keeps me from feeling nauseous and makes flights fly by. 

As I said, asking the Lord to put me next to a person who had never heard the good news about Jesus was dangerous. What if he said yes? What if I got airsick?  What if I fell asleep or was so groggy I couldn’t carry on a conversation? 

Forty-five minutes later, I found myself more curious than usual as I walked down the aisle of the plane to locate my assigned seat. Who would be seated next to me? No one, I discovered. The seat next to mine was open.  

Well, perhaps the Lord has not seen fit to say yes to my request, I thought with some small sense of relief. I shuffled into my seat, strapped the seatbelt around my waist, tilted my head until it rested on the wall to my right, closed my eyes, and looked forward to two hours of Dramamine-induced slumber. Aaah. 

Then I felt a bump. Had someone sat down next to me? I peered through a slightly opened left eyelid. Sure enough, a young woman was just getting settled. I repositioned my eyelid to the closed position to continue my journey to dreamland.  

Then I remembered my prayer. What if she was the answer? What if this young woman did not know her Savior and I slept away my opportunity to tell her about him? 

With a bit of lazy reluctance still clinging to my heart, I opened my eyes, turned, and said, “Hello!” 

“Hi!” She said smartly with a bright smile. 

“Are you heading home or vacationing in Florida?” 

“I’m actually traveling to see my mother for a much-needed break.” 

“Oh! What do you do for a living?” 

“I’m an actress in New York.” 

“What have you been working on?” 

“I’ve spent the last year playing the lead in The Lion King on Broadway.” 

“Really!? Wow!” 

“It’s been an amazing experience. But it has also been exhausting. What do you do for a living?” 

“I’m a Lutheran pastor.” 

“Really!? Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a pastor before. We didn’t really go to church when I was growing up.” 

“So, you don’t know much about the Bible?” 

“I don’t know anything about the Bible.” 

I probably don’t have to tell you that the hair on my neck stood up as straight as the bristles on a brand-new brush. Here was an answer to a prayer I had silently uttered less than an hour earlier.  

I wonder how Jesus’ seventy-two followers felt when he told them that he was sending them out to preach the good news (Luke 10:1-24). Jesus had just instructed them to ask the Lord to send out workers into his harvest field. Then he proceeded to send them. They were the answer to their own prayer! Talk about praying dangerously!  

The young actress and I spent the next two hours discussing who God is and how much he loves us and what he did to save us from the sins that separated us from him. She had many perfectly understandable and reasonable questions. She listened carefully and respectfully to the answers I shared from God’s Word. It was wonderful.  

I was even able to use The Lion King in our conversation. I mentioned that the theme of the musical was the circle of life, that is, we should take comfort in the fact that dying is just a part of life. “Isn’t it interesting, though,” I concluded, “that at the end of the musical, the little lion’s father who had died shows up in the sky and speaks to his son. Even a musical that claims death is just a part of life could not help but reunite the living with the dead. It’s because we all have an inborn desire to live forever. That is what Jesus’ resurrection gives us.” 

As we went our separate ways at the Orlando airport, I told her I would keep her in my prayers and gave her the name of the WELS church in Queens, N.Y., encouraging her to visit.

I have no idea what has happened to her since. But I do know that she heard about her Savior that day. And I have our Lord’s promise that his Word is powerful and effective. This gives me hope that the Holy Spirit found his way into her heart and that, one day, I might meet her again in heaven. 

Are you a person of prayer? Do you regularly spend prayer time asking the Lord to send workers into his harvest field? Good. Those prayers are much needed and well-received by our Lord. But, perhaps you might consider adding a new element to your prayer. You might consider praying a bit more dangerously and ask the Savior to send someone who still needs to learn about him to you. How he chooses to answer that prayer is, of course, up to him. It may not be as immediate and dramatic as it was for me that day. Then again, it might.  

Are you ready to pray dangerously? 


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


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


 

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Author: Eric S. Roecker
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Called to love, called to speak

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18 

Joel C. Seifert 

What does it look like when the church loves the world? It depends on what you mean by “the church.” 

The “social gospel” movement began its influence on American Christianity a century ago. It taught that the mission Christ gave to the church is to love the world by feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and providing for the needy. Increasingly today, there’s a call for churches to love the world by being involved in “social justice.” The United Nations has declared Feb. 20 “World Social Justice Day.” 

Remember the mission of the church 

God calls the church to love the world. When it comes to our corporate activity as his church, he tells us what that means. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). The church’s primary mission is to proclaim God’s Word in truth and to administer the sacraments. When our churches do this, they proclaim God’s love to the world. 

When the church is called to take an active role in social justice movements, there’s much to be cautious about. We dare not lose our focus on the gospel. It’s easy to give the impression that the goal of the church is to reform society, not preach salvation for sinners. And at times the modern social justice movement advocates for the recognition of immoral lifestyles or actions as legitimate and good. It’s good that a Christian doesn’t take part in such activities.  

But we dare not lose sight of our responsibility to love the world in other ways. 

Remember God’s call to the Christian  

Certainly, God calls the church to love the world by proclaiming the gospel. God calls the Christian to love the world in so many additional ways: We’re to provide for our families and be good citizens and good neighbors, to name a few. Consider also his command in Proverbs: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (31:8,9). 

God calls the Christian to love the world by caring about justice for all and by actively working for it. When individual believers do that, his “invisible church” loves the world. 

What a unique gift Christians are to the world when we do that in our personal lives! Guided by God’s Word, instead of the shifting morals of this world, we can speak up to protect the unborn, because we know that those living souls are precious to God. We can sound a clear call for equal justice for people of all economic and ethnic backgrounds, knowing all of mankind is created and loved by God. We can listen to God’s call to defend the rights of the poor and needy, rejoicing in Jesus’ promise that when we do this, we do it for him. 

February is a month when we love to talk about love. Let’s always encourage our churches to keep their focus on the proclamation of the gospel. And let that gospel message continue to encourage us to love our neighbor in action and in truth. God grant that he blesses this world as his people love others by speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. 


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


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can parents model healthy cell phone use?

How can parents model healthy cell phone use?

Do you ever feel like your smartphone use is out of control and you’re not sure how it happened?  

I am not an early adapter, so I didn’t jump right on the smartphone wagon. Gradually, though, it crept into my life. First I wanted the camera. Then I liked the idea of being able to check my work e-mail when I was on the go since I do much of my work from home (or from my minivan). Somehow, my phone is now my lifeline. All my recipes live there as well as my music, videos, and to-do lists. I do most of my shopping on my phone. I stay in touch with family and friends via texting. Almost any question that is asked can be answered by checking my phone. Weather? Directions? Calendar? You get the picture.  

My uses feel legitimate—and they may be—but all that my kids know is that Mom is always on her phone. If you relate to any of this, read our articles this month—and join me in resolving to make a change. 

Nicole Balza


Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are struggling to determine what healthy cell phone use looks like?  

Value 

Struggling can be good because it helps us identify our values. I really love how God tells us in Deuteronomy to love him wholly—to value him above all things. He doesn’t say fleetingly or haphazardly share his words and precepts. He says, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).  

We value our God who saved us, and we value the children he’s entrusted to us. And, since we are people using media devices who are raising children in the way of the Lord, how we use and model using devices is an important topic of our struggle . . . when we walk along the road (or drive to school), when we put our kids to bed (or sit in the family room)—really at any and all times. 

Evaluate 

Remember the expression, “more is caught than taught.” Our kids are watching us and listening—weighing what we say against what we do. Short of some cataclysmic dystopian accident, cell phones are not going away. Children can see if the device appears more interesting to us than the people around us do.  

There is value in struggling with how to have and show healthy media habits. Notice when you choose to give attention to a device. While it’s fine to view entertainment online and be connected to others, it’s also good to evaluate: “Is my media time excessive or to the exclusion of those around me?” Evaluate whether you would allow or encourage those choices for your child. 

Value in struggle 

Recently, I was sitting with my youngest daughter when she beelined to retrieve my beeping phone. I thanked her and told her to leave the phone in the other room because I was spending time with her. The phone could wait.  

Herein lies a struggle. We will have times when we need to take phone calls and answer messages. We also don’t want to give the impression that we value what’s on the other side of the beep more than we value the people present. 

The apostle Paul reminds us that just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s constructive to do so. He writes, “ ’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). 

Evaluate how your personal habits appear to your child. Would your son notice that Dad stops what he’s doing to check every notification or that Mom checks her social media in the middle of conversations? None of these situations are necessarily wrong, but each one begs us to evaluate and struggle with: “Is this how I want my child to interact with those around him?” Where are the boundaries—or where would I want them to be? 

There is no magic pattern to win the “best media boundaries parent award.” Yet being aware and evaluating media choices makes a difference. Share your values and discuss what you are doing: “I’m putting the phone away because . . .” 

You may show healthy boundaries by deliberately putting the phone out of reach more often. Explain why you don’t want phones at meals or decide the family will all put them in the other room or turn them off during family time. Even declare the hour that it’s absolutely okay for everyone to catch up on their favorite media platform.  

Let your children have input—work through this together so your family can use these God-given tools in moderate, healthy ways.  There will be some struggling, tweaking, and reevaluating, but sharing your values with your children is priceless. 


Amy Vannieuwenhoven and her husband, Charlie, have four children ranging in age from a fourth-grader to a high school senior. Amy is a teacher at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and the author of Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You from Northwestern Publishing House. 


Our families are at war with technology and digital communication. At a time when information is more readily available than ever and we can connect with friends and loved ones in an instant, depression and anxiety among young adults and parents increase. Many report feeling disconnected from their families because of technology. So something that was designed with the intention to keep us connected actually makes us feel more lonely!  

As beloved children of our heavenly Father, we were designed to be in relationships with one another. The very nature of our triune God points to the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our digital age has given us a false sense of interconnectedness by giving us so much information that we assume our relationships are more complete than they might actually be. Instead, we are lonely because we’ve stopped looking into each other’s eyes, and we’re anxious because we feel that we need to post or perform to receive attention. 

This year, consider making a digital resolution to turn off the smartphone at dinner; forget the in-the-moment Facebook post; and talk face to face with family, friends, and especially your children. Your commitment to set a digital resolution in 2019 could include:  

  • Setting a specific time and place for technology use in your home.  
  • Having all family members agree on when to unplug, perhaps during family meal times and at the same time every night.  
  • Committing not to use technology before a specific time on weekends (Mom and Dad, this means you too!).  
  • Using the resources on your mobile device to set daily time limits for use for every member in your household. Most Apple and Android devices now include this type of software. Consider a tool like mobicip (mobicip.com), which helps parents set healthy limits on their children’s digital experiences (as well as their own!).  

When you set limits around your technology use, watch for the Lord to bless your efforts, including more conversation, more face to face time, and perhaps even more hugs. 


Laura Reinke is a marriage and family therapist at Christian Family Solutions and the director of youth ministry at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Light for our path: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?

“What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?” 

James F. Pope

Answering your question involves bridging a “culture gap” in biblical interpretation and growing in our appreciation for the grace of God in Christ. 

Bridging the gap 

We encounter culture gaps in the Bible whenever we read about customs and practices that differ from our experiences today. To understand what the biblical customs and practices meant then, and to derive accurate, appropriate meaning for our lives today, we need to bridge the culture gap. Revelation 2:17 contains one of those gaps. 

Already going back to the days of ancient Greece, jurors in court cases indicated the verdicts they reached by depositing pebbles or stones in receptacles. That practice continued into the days of ancient Rome. A dark stone reflected a “guilty” decision, while a white stone represented a “not guilty” or “acquittal” decision. Because jurors in our judicial system forward the results of their deliberations to judges by other means of communication, the practice of the ancients has little meaning to us today unless we bridge the culture gap. With that background in mind, we are in a better position to understand the intended meaning of Revelation 2:17 for Christians then and now. 

Acquitting the guilty 

Revelation chapters two and three contain specific messages from the Lord to Christians in seven congregations in Asia Minor. Revelation 2:17 is part of a tailor-made message from the Lord that the apostle John relayed to Christians who were living in the city of Pergamum (present-day Bergama in Turkey).  The Lord’s message to those Christians contained rebuke and encouragement. Their rebuke was appropriate because some of them were drifting away from biblical teaching and godly living. They were yielding to the influence of Satan, whom John describes as living in Pergamum and figuratively occupying a throne there (Revelation 2:13).  To the Christians who resisted Satan’s temptations, the Lord made the promise that he would give them a white stone. That was a picturesque way of describing God’s declaration of those people as “not guilty” of sin; it was a symbolic means of speaking of their justification. By bridging the culture gap, we can see what message God intended for Christians then and now.  

“Not guilty” or “acquittal” is the declaration of God that we Christians today also enjoy. From a worldly, judicial perspective, God’s verdict is surprising. That is because our natural sinful condition and our actual sins deserve a “guilty” verdict from the holy and just God. Yet, in the courtroom of God, the Judge declared the guilty “innocent,” and he pronounced the Innocent One “guilty” (Romans 3). Through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus, Christians personally enjoy that declaration of acquittal. 

Recasting the content 

The answer to your question illustrates the truth that the book of Revelation very often recasts in figurative and symbolic ways what the Bible teaches elsewhere. It is comforting, indeed, to know from the book of Romans, for example, that God declares us “not guilty” for Jesus’ sake.  There is additional comfort in receiving that same message of forgiveness of sins through this vivid picture in the book of Revelation. 

This repetition and reshaping of content definitely says something about God. The lesson is that God desires that we be all the more convinced and confident that he has completely removed our sins. In pursuit of that goal, God speaks and restates his message of forgiveness in the Bible. He does that with unmistakable language and unforgettable imagery. He even does that with a little object like a stone, a white stone.  

That stone says, “You are not guilty. Case dismissed.” 


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 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 3

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 4 and 5

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Jesus’ letters to the seven churches remind us of an important truth: The Christian Church in this world is always the Church Militant. She is continually under attack from “the powers of this dark world and…the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.” The true Church stands secure only as she builds on Christ and his Word and his forgiving grace.

She finds strength “in the Lord and his mighty power,” clothing herself with the “full armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:11-12) As Christians fight this good fight of faith they are comforted and strengthened by the reminder that the Lord God Almighty is on the throne, very much in control of the events of this world. From time to time throughout the Revelation, John is given glimpses of this glorious truth.

Chapters 4 and 5 record one such instance and serve as the introduction to the second “sub-vision” seen by John.  

The throne in heaven 

He was an exile on the island of Patmos. Was his isolation and loneliness representative of the reality for those who placed their hope in Jesus? Was God really powerful? Was God really in charge? Or was it just some cruel hoax and scam? What an experience it must have been for John as he was allowed to see the throne room of God! Brilliant and majestic. Thunder claps and lightning flashes. The Spirit’s presence and serene peace. Four rather strange but strangely familiar creatures around the throne, high ranking angels that remind of the Lord’s promise to watch over and care for his people. Twenty-four elders, righteous in Christ and ruling with Christ, calling to mind twelve tribes and twelve apostles as representatives of all believers in Jesus. A continuous chorus of praise to the holy and eternal triune God, reminiscent of the seraphim’s song of Isaiah’s day (6:3). A glory-giving response offered by the crown-casting elders. Wow! 

The scroll and the lamb 

But then a temporary “problem.” God’s right hand held an important but sealed up scroll. It was important because it held information about the world’s and Church’s future. It was sealed up and nobody was found worthy or able to open it. John was moved to tears by this seeming dilemma, weeping until the appearance of the mysterious and paradoxical center of the story. He is the true and triumphant Lion King of the tribe of Judah and the line of David. But his worthiness to open the seals comes as a result of a much different description and set of circumstances. He is the self-sacrificing Lamb who was slain. With his precious blood he paid the redemption price for a world of lost souls. By his grace he grants the status of royal priests or priestly kings to those who place their trust in his worthy works and words. “He is worthy!” so say the four creatures and twenty-four elders. “He is worthy!” so say the thunderous voices of the countless angel army. “He is worthy!” so say all other creatures in heaven and earth, including, by God’s grace, you and me.   


Reflect on the Revelation  chapters 4 and 5 

  1. Can you think of hymns or parts of worship that are drawn from these chapters? (eg, CW #195 or CW p. 34)  

    Consider the hymns in the Worship and Praise section of the hymnal (
    Hymns 233–261). Besides the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy)the order of Morning Praise includes the Te Deum (We Praise you, O God). That song dates back to about a.d. 700 and includes references to the angels, the martyrs, and the entire church that gives praise to God.  
  2. How might reflection on the scene of God’s throne room enrich your personal worship as you sing and say these words?  

    Our hymns of praise here on earth are important, yet when we think that we will join the hosts of heaven to praise our God, we realize how much we have waiting for us.  Think how moving and inspiring it is to hear a choir or a large gathering praise God here on earth. Then think what it means that all the believers of all time will sing God’s praises in heaven. What a sound! What inspiration! What magnificent praise!

  3. What comfort do you draw from remembering that Jesus is worthy to open the seals of the scroll (see and reveal the future) because of his sacrifice for sin as the Lamb of God?

    Jesus has completely finished the work of our salvation. “It is finished,” he said. The sins of all humanity have been paid for. Hell has no power to change his completed salvation or undo the future he has secured for us. The devil is bound and in chains; he cannot hurt us or alter our future or the future God promises.  Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father, equal in power and glory. He controls the future and will allow nothing to harm those who believe. As the Good Shepherd, he will let nothing snatch us from his hand. 


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Archaeology and the couch

An old couch teaches an important lesson. 

Michael A. Thom 

It was a momentous day at our house. We had bought a new couch. Our old couch was 20 years old and should have been replaced five years ago. The springs were shot. The fabric was holey. How bad was it? It was so bad even the garbage man didn’t even want it. 

What do you do with a couch that bad? Well, if you have three sons old enough to attack and destroy, that’s what you do. You drag it out to the garage, get out the chain, mace, and dagger (or whatever your kids might call implements of destruction), and let them have at it. 

Two hours later, nothing was left but the carnage. After stuffing the last large chunks into the garbage bin, I started sweeping the floor and noticing all the interesting things that had fallen out of the couch. 

You know, I thought, a person could use this stuff to teach his kids something about archaeology. So I gathered up a few artifacts and went back into the house. 

Forgotten items 

I went into the room where my daughter and two sons were playing computer games. 

“You can really learn something about archaeology from the stuff in that couch,” I began. “Look at this. Archaeology is a dirty business, isn’t it?” Everything was covered with dust balls. 

“Archaeologists have a really hard job. First they find things that belonged to someone who lived many years ago. Then they try to figure out what those objects were used for or what they meant in those people’s lives.” 

I held up one of the items I had discovered. “Can you guess what this is and what it was used for?” 

I was holding a small, round, yellow, plastic disk with a hole in the middle. None of the younger children could guess what it was, but our oldest daughter knew. 

“That’s the thing you put in the middle of a record,” she said 

“They had records when you were little?” Our youngest son was amazed at the longevity of his eldest sister. Isn’t that interesting? Our daughter was less than 20 years old, but in that short time the concept of “records” was already beginning to fade into the past. 

Several other items were easily recognized: a letter from 1991, a rubber dart from a dart gun, a popsicle stick. 

“If someone discovered this popsicle stick a hundred years from now, do you think they would know what it is and what is was used for?” I asked. 

“Sure,” my daughter said. “They will always have popsicles.” 

“I’m not so sure,” I replied. 

An enduring message 

Then I showed them one last artifact. It was a green and yellow embroidered bookmark in the shape of a cross. 

“Do you think that people will know what this is in a hundred years?” I asked. 

This time there was no doubt about the answer. The answer was yes. No matter how many years pass, no matter how many inventions come into use and then become obsolete, there is one thing that will not become a forgotten remnant of the past: the cross! 

God wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He wants everyone to know that Jesus is the Savior whose life, death, and resurrection mean eternal life for all who believe in him. It is his will that the message of the cross of Christ endure forever. 

And so it will. 

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime. (Christian Worship 345:1) 


Michael Thom is a member at St. John, New Ulm, Minnesota. 


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Author: Michael A. Thom
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Drowning in a sea of bad news

Andrew C. Schroer 

The news can be overwhelming. It doesn’t matter whether you watch CNN, Fox, or MSNBC. I don’t see a difference whether you catch the local news on TV, glean it off the Internet, or read the newspaper. The sheer volume of news can be overwhelming, especially when it’s bad news. 

Terrorists. Crime. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Politics. Protests.  

It seems that the more time we spend watching the news, the more it feels like the world is falling apart around us. The more we watch the news, the more helpless we feel. 

We have no control over most of the events we read about and see on the news. I have little influence over what the president does. I can’t stop hurricanes or earthquakes. I can’t stop the shootings, and I couldn’t even stop our local Walmart from closing. The more informed I become, the more painfully obvious it becomes that I can do little about the chaotic events happening in the world around me. 

Thankfully, God can. 

Just look at the history behind the Bible. Great empires—the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans—rose and fell as God’s hand worked all of history to bring his Son Jesus into the world. Floods, earthquakes, and famines raged as God’s loving plans and purposes came about through them. 

Sometimes we are like Peter when he was walking on the water toward Jesus in the middle of the storm (Matthew 14:22-36). He was doing fine until he started staring at the storm raging around him. He saw the whitecaps and waves. He looked down at his feet and thought, I can’t do this. 

And he was right.  

On his own, Peter couldn’t walk on water. He couldn’t stand in the middle of the storm. He began to sink. Thankfully, Jesus lovingly and powerfully reached down his hand and pulled Peter up. 

When we focus all our attention on the bad news cycling across the screen, we can easily become overwhelmed. We are forced to face our own impotence. We begin to feel like we are drowning in a sea of chaos, violence, and tragedy. 

There comes a point when we need to turn it off. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you should completely stop watching the news. 

A Christian should be well-informed of what is happening in our world. We need to know what is going on so we can do our best to influence, help, and heal the ills of our world. 

But there comes a point when we need to turn the news off. If you find yourself obsessing and stressing about the state of affairs in our country or the world, if you are constantly worried about our president or the border or the Middle East or any of the countless other news stories flashing across the screen, it’s probably time to take a break. 

Take your eyes off the storm for a while and take a long look at your Savior God. 

Open up your Bible and read the good news of his promises. He is in control. He is working all of time and history for our good. Even if this world goes to hell in a handbasket, you are going to heaven in the care of his angels because Jesus lived and died as your Savior. 

When you feel like you are drowning in a sea of bad news, the good news of God’s promises will keep you afloat. 


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas. 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Turning pages

John A. Braun

Our lives are a succession of pages filled with many events and people. At the beginning of each year we turn to a blank page and stare at it, wondering what might fill in the space when it’s time to turn once more to a new blank page.  

We also look at the page that is filled with yesterdays. A review of our photos can help us remember happy events with family and friends. The smiles on their faces bring a smile to our own faces as we remember. Yet a pause to linger over a few of those photos can bring back heartaches too. 

Looking back is easy but perhaps not always pleasant. Life’s joys are on those past pages—births, weddings, the hugs, and happy times—but so are the dark times Depression and weariness cloud some of those joys. Tears that ran silently down our cheeks are not in the photos but are in our memories. The dark, sleepless worries are there too. And it’s not only that the worries kept us awake in the dark, but they sometimes didn’t sleep or go away even in the sunshine.  

Tracing a finger down the events of the past, we may pause at the long winter, the summer storms, and the fall leaves announcing the return of winter. Hurricanes, fires, floods may not have visited nearby, but we still can see the troubles and hardships they brought for others far away. We have recorded personal trials on the page at odd angles because they did not come neatly according to our plans. Instead they unexpectedly interrupted routines and charted oblique changes of direction for our lives. 

Some can touch the outline of a trial by running a hand over the scar left behind. But for others the scar is much deeper and hides inside where no one but they can still sense what it left behind. We hope turning the page will be successful at sending the unfriendly events into hiding. We anticipate that as a new page opens, new pleasant events will fill the empty page, leaving no room for the unpleasant.  

There is one thing we should not miss on the old, messy page. Somewhere you should see a promise. I’ll describe it as a small little boat in the corner of the page. The boat appears, almost overcome by a storm, and a single figure stands in it. He has his arms outstretched, and he says, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). Christians have included many of his promises on the pages of their lives. Those promises matter because they come from the One who loved us enough to suffer and die so we could be his children. He promises to care for us when we are weary and when we are joyful. 

I think sometimes we can’t see the promises so clearly. The storms—and the joys and accomplishments too—distract us. We may even miss them when we review past events. But the promises are there. We sometimes ignore them and just turn them into fine print on the page.  

A new page awaits. We have all added a few lines to the page already. I suggest we add a promise at the top: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). You may prefer another promise. There are so many. The cross of Jesus assures us of his boundless love no matter what we must enter on the pages of our lives.  


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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A fresh start

With our God, the past is truly passed. 

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

So how did your first semester go? GPA is exactly where you want it to be, right? You sailed through the semester without a worry in the world—no stress, no anxiety, no late-night study sessions.  

If that was your experience, what a blessing from God! Most likely, your semester provided challenges to face on a weekly or even daily basis. What a relief when the semester ends. You made it! The tests are taken, the projects completed, the papers written. Semester break provides a welcome respite from the daily grind a college student faces.  

The opportunity for a fresh start ranks among the biggest blessings of a semester break. When the next semester begins, everything starts new—a new opportunity to study harder, manage time better, get more sleep, and pray more frequently for God’s strength. What happened in the past has passed. Picture the panorama of new possibilities on the horizon!  

A new calendar year affords similar benefits. Millions of people make New Year’s resolutions—promises made to themselves to do better. Many appreciate turning the page on the calendar to turn the page to a better life. The past has passed. “This time I will get it right!” is the mantra of a new year. 

You know how many of those resolutions turn out. Disappointment is a frequent visitor to our lives. We are disappointed by our circumstances, by the people around us, and also by ourselves. The best intentions to change are genuine, but inevitably we struggle to live up to those expectations.  

As a new semester and a new year start, making plans and striving for change is admirable. But a dose of reality is also wise. We live in a fallen world and battle a sinful nature in which nothing good lives. The good we want to do we can’t always do. Faithfulness to our promises and resolutions escapes us. 

We need someone who changes that, and God provided that change through Jesus. The author of Lamentations describes his confidence in God with these words: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (3:22,23). God’s compassion, his deep love, and his mercy always triumph. Our unfaithfulness is covered by the faithfulness of our God. 

Were you grabbed by the phrase, “They are new everyone morning”? Talk about a fresh start! God doesn’t wait until a new year or a new semester. His mercies present themselves, every day, every hour, every minute! With our God, the past is truly passed. He forgives our failures and remembers our sins no more. Jesus faithfully lived for us, willingly died for us, and victoriously rose to secure God’s blessings. 

Each night, we can confess our failures and sleep well, trusting we are forgiven through Jesus. Each morning, we can awake refreshed, asking for God’s strength to live for him, knowing his mercies cover us. When we don’t measure up, God invites us to come right back to the cross of Jesus to find a fresh start. 

Enjoy the new semester and the new year. Appreciate the fresh start they promise. Relish the fresh start that the mercy of God gives you in Jesus not just at the start of a semester but each and every day of your life.  

Like the writer of Lamentations concludes: “I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him’ ” (3:24). 


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


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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Confessions of faith: Harry

A music camp helps a family find their church home. 

Alicia A. Neumann 

It’s been nearly a decade since Lanah Harry and her children walked through the doors of Hope in Toronto, Ontario. Lanah had heard about Hope’s music camp for kids and decided to give it a try; little did she know that it would end her search for a church home.  

First impressions 

Lanah’s two oldest girls attended the music camp that summer, and while they were learning about instruments and doing crafts, they also heard about Hope’s Sunday school. “The girls didn’t like the Sunday school at the Pentecostal church I was attending, so I gave in and said, ‘Okay, yeah, you can try it,’ ” Lanah says. 

The girls loved it, but Lanah continued going to her own services at the Pentecostal church. Eventually, though, she decided to make a change. “I asked myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Because the girls were really getting connected at Hope, and I felt as though they need to be connected somewhere. So I decided all right, I will make the switch for them.” 

The first time she attended Hope, Lanah says the congregation was very welcoming. “The first Sunday I tried it, I really enjoyed the people. They were very warm,” she says. “Then I went the next week and realized, ‘Wow, these people don’t change! Everybody is loving. They are caring.’ That meant a lot for me. In the Bible Jesus says you will know his disciples from the love they have among themselves. That love is what stood out to me. I didn’t have that before.” 

Looking for a connection 

Lanah says feeling connected to her church and its members has always been important to her. She grew up in the Pentecostal church but didn’t have that sense of belonging. “I just went to Sunday services. There was no connection; I just walked in and walked out,” she says.  

When she was a teenager, her mother became a Jehovah’s Witness. “I went there for a few years too, but there were some things I didn’t agree with,” says Lanah. “So I didn’t pursue that at all.” 

Then there was a period when she didn’t attend church. Eventually, she was invited to the International Church of Christ. She said there was a small group of people who studied the Bible together, and she enjoyed the close-knit group. But after a while, some of them began pressuring her to come to Bible study every night of the week, with no exceptions. She tried her best, but with her busy schedule she got burned out and started getting sick. “That’s when I called it quits,” she says. 

After she left the International Church of Christ, Lanah said she knew she had to get plugged in somewhere, so she went back to the Pentecostal church. 

The difference at Hope 

When Lanah finally ended up at Hope, she noticed some differences right away. “At my previous church it was fire and brimstone. You always felt you had to live at a particular standard,” she says. “But now I am free from that.” 

Lanah says she is also amazed by the sermons at Hope. “I really appreciate how our pastor takes the time to prepare his message. His foundation is always the Bible, and he goes back to the Greek and Hebrew,” she says. “He is able to bring the teaching to life, and the message really stays with you! I am always grateful for the opportunity to sit and listen to that message. I feel as though I can’t miss church. . . . I go because I’m being fed, and I feel as though I’m coming away with something. If I don’t go, I really miss it!” 

And she loves having fellow believers that feel like family. “From the time you walk through these doors, you feel very comfortable,” Lanah says. “I haven’t seen a person who doesn’t feel that love and warmth of the members here.” 

Getting involved 

Lanah and her children are now members at Hope. They attend Sunday school and Bible study, and her children play instruments for worship and sing in the choir. They are also involved in the church’s summer music camp, which is still going strong. “My older daughters volunteer,” says Lanah. “They help teach the kids about the different instruments and do crafts, singing, and Bible stories. They have a blast!” 

Lanah and her children also enjoy giving back to the church. “One way we like to do that is on our birthdays,” she says. “Every week we have fellowship after church, and on our birthdays we all pitch in and serve. The kids always look forward to that, and they make sure we don’t forget about it. It’s fantastic!” 

She says it’s such a blessing to see her kids getting involved and growing in the Word. “My four-year-old comes home every Sunday and tells me the kids’ message for that day. He pretends he is the pastor and puts on my shoes and sits there and rehearses the whole message,” she says. “I see them learning, and I see them growing.” 

Lanah says she’s growing in her faith too. “When you come to church, you look for people to connect with and grow in your faith with from day to day,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have all these brothers and sisters to help me along that path—and not only at my home church, but also an entire church body! Knowing that we all believe in the same thing, I’m thrilled about that. It makes a huge difference.”  


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


Sharing music and the gospel with the community 

In 2010, members at Hope, Toronto, Ontario, began reaching out to their community—which includes a large population of first-generation immigrants from many different countries—with a summer music camp for kids.  

“We asked, ‘How can we get to know our neighborhood better? And how can we help our neighbors to know who Jesus is?’ ” says Mark Henrich, pastor at Hope, a congregation whose members come from more than 20 countries. “Our church is blessed with a variety of musical talent, including a full steel pan orchestra, so it was decided that we would try a summer music camp.” 

Since then, hundreds of kids have attended the weeklong camp, which includes instruction in steel pans, keyboard, guitar, djembe drum, and singing. Every day also includes Bible study. The camp routinely fills all 140 spots and even has a waiting list. More than 60 members from Hope and other congregations volunteer for the camp, which continues to grow thanks to word of mouth.  

“What a blessing it has been!” says Henrich. “Every year we have opportunity to share the Word with the children of our neighborhood, so many of whom did not know Jesus.”  

Five of the seven youth who were confirmed at Hope last year were first introduced to the church through the music camp. “They kept coming back and, in time, found a home at Hope,” says Henrich. “Three of their mothers also joined Hope, and we all continue to grow in Jesus together. To God be the glory!” 


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 12

Malachi: “The Son-Rise” 

Thomas D. Kock

It was about a 20-hour trip to reach our summer vacation destination. Since the kids were young, it made more sense to drive through the night while they slept.  

I listened to tapes, slurped down coffee (but not too much so I wouldn’t have to stop), and munched on sunflower seeds. Sometimes I’d slap myself to drive away the sleepiness, or I sat up straight in the driver’s seat. My eyes were often bleary.  

But then would come the sunrise. As its warming rays streaked the sky, the countryside was more and more revealed. Energy crept back into me. Somehow, it didn’t matter that I’d been driving all night. The sun was shining!  

The wounding darkness of sin 

There’s something about a sunrise, isn’t there? Maybe you’ve experienced the all-nighter and the refreshing rise of the sun. Maybe you’re an early morning riser and see the sun rise regularly. Either way, for many of us it’s energizing and encouraging.  

Perhaps that’s why God chose to use that imagery near the end of the book of Malachi: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). That “sun of righteousness” is Jesus, the Son. And what does Jesus bring? He brings healing!  

And isn’t that what I need as I enter a new year? I have so many wounds from the year past. Some of those wounds came from others as I struggled with health issues or job losses or relationship struggles. Unfortunately, way too many of those wounds were self-inflicted, the results of my own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. 

Oh, how I struggle! Oh, how I make a mess out of so much!  

And it hurts! Sin can bring horrible results, either for me or for those around me—or both. Sometimes it hurts more, sometimes less, but it always hurts. It always wounds. 

Thank God it does! If it didn’t hurt, we’d be even more tempted to live in rebellion against God, walking down the road to hell. Thank God that sin wounds us!  

But even as I thank God for the wounds, they’re still wounds. And the wounds drain energy from me, similar to how the all-night drive through darkness drained my energy.  

The healing light of forgiveness 

Take heart, brothers and sisters; it’s sunrise time again! We’ve just celebrated Jesus’ birth; he came to this world because sinners needed forgiveness. And he won that forgiveness for sinners like you and me.  

With that forgiveness comes healing. Jesus’ death and resurrection assure us that forgiveness for ALL sin has been won. Those sins that were committed last year? They’re forgiven. Jesus won that forgiveness. And the sins that were committed last month? They’re forgiven too! What about the sins that were committed last week? Yesterday? An hour ago? They’re all forgiven. God still loves us! He always will.  

Hearing that is oh, so healing! Kind of like feeling the warm, bright rays of the sun as it rises after a long, cold, dark night.  

May the Son shine brightly upon you in 2019! And may he bring wonderful healing in his wings.  


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


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


MALACHI

Lineage: “Malachi” means “my messenger.”  

Date of writing: c. 450 B.C.  

Unique feature: Written in a dialogue—or disputation—format: a question is posed, and then God answers it. 

Key verse: Malachi 3:6: “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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A very safe prediction for 2019

Mark G. Schroeder

My wife and children absolutely hate it when I made predictions. That’s because my predictions more often than not are wrong.  

They cringe when I predict a win for our favorite football or baseball team, because that prediction usually guarantees a loss. They moan when I predict good weather for a family event and immediately start preparing to hold the festivities indoors. When they ask who I think will win an election, they don’t have to wait for the results to learn the winner; they just assume the person I predicted to win will be on the losing end of the vote count. 

We are at the beginning of another new year. It’s not only a time for resolutions; it’s also a time for predictions. So, I will make a prediction for 2019. But this prediction will be different from others that I make, so often based only on wishful thinking or an irrational denial of reality. This prediction will be different because it is guaranteed to be correct. 

Here is my prediction: For each one of us, the coming year will bring days of happiness and days of sorrow. There will be the celebration of happy family events like graduations, weddings, births, and anniversaries. But there will also be days of sadness and mourning, when families gather to say good-bye to loved ones, when parents agonize over their children’s unwise choices, when the doctor’s diagnosis jolts us with the worst possible news. 

There will be times of success and achievement at work, with rewards of promotion and pay raises. But there will be times of frustration and disappointment when our efforts fall short, our boss reprimands us, or the layoff notice appears in our final pay envelope. 

In our congregations and in our synod, there will be times when it seems like the Lord is blessing our efforts with great and visible success and growth. But there will also be times when we feel like the Christians in the days of the apostles, undergoing hardship and persecution, under attack from false teachers, wondering if Satan is in fact succeeding in his efforts to destroy God’s church. 

I can predict with absolute certainty that 2019 will bring both joy and sorrow, not because I have any special insight to the future, but because God himself and our own experiences tell us that is exactly what life is like for God’s people living in a fallen world. 

And there is one more prediction that can safely be made about the coming year.  

Whether we experience days of happiness or days of sorrow, whether our plans are crowned with success or end in frustration and failure, whether we leap for joy or stumble under the burden of our crosses, we know that in all these things our gracious God will be working to bless us, to strengthen our faith, and to accomplish his saving purpose in our lives. We will learn to see God’s hand of blessing both in the outwardly happy events in our lives as well as in the difficulties and sorrows he allows. We will be filled with hope and confidence, not because we believe things will always go well, but because we know that in days both happy and sad the God who sacrificed his Son to make us his own will never leave us, never forsake us, and never stop working to turn all things to our eternal good.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 2

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 2 and 3

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Introduction 

Revelation is symbolic. That’s important to remember, and symbolic numbers play a big role.  

The number seven (7) is the most common. It is used multiple times in the first chapter. The entire revelation can be conveniently divided into seven parts or visions, with the number seven appearing throughout.  

But Revelation isn’t the first time God uses that number. In the Old Testament the number is also used. While God doesn’t reveal why he chose seven, its association with his covenant seems rather clear. A comforting suggestion could be this: Three is the number for God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); four is the number of the world (four directions); and the sum of these numbers (3+4=7) represents the reconciliation of God and humankind through Christ Jesus.  

Keep that thought in mind as we move forward. The first vision contains a command from Jesus for John to write letters to seven churches.      

Conflict 

What are we to learn from these letters? Some see only prophecy of future events, even seven different and distinct eras of the church’s history. Context, however, leads us more naturally to conclude that Jesus is speaking about “what is now” (1:19) in these letters.  

These were real, ancient, historic cities in Asia Minor where there were real, historic Christian congregations. Real, historic people were the members of those churches. God’s redeemed children, living with their own weaknesses and in enemy territory, were dealing with conflicts from within and without. It was messy. It was tough. False teaching. Flagging love. Ungodly living. Persecution. Poverty. Indifference. Weariness.  

Sound familiar? It was no different for those churches than it is for ours today. And so, we hear Jesus’ words to ancient congregations as his words to Christian congregations in every age and place. Some might hit home more in your place and time than mine. They might apply differently at different stages in the history of individuals, congregations, and church bodies. But they are meant for us, the church militant, struggling in this world. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (written multiple times in Revelation chapters 2 and 3). 

Comfort 

Go ahead and read the letters. Do you feel comforted? Maybe not. Perhaps you feel convicted. Is your own natural heart exposed by Jesus’ words? Do these letters paint an uncomfortably accurate picture of your congregation or synod?  

Jesus isn’t bashful about pointing out our shortcomings. But he does so in love. He knows the danger posed by unrepentant sin. He knows the damage caused by false teaching and ungodly living. And so he lovingly calls on his people to repent of sin that so easily traps them. He always does this so he can comfort us with his word of redemption and restoration. So be convicted, but also be comforted by his forgiving grace.  

What about when you are persecuted and feeling weak? Hear the voice of Jesus tell you that he knows you and what you are experiencing, just as he knew these ancient believers. Hear him invite you to find comfort in his promises. Victory over every enemy is yours alone in him. The gracious prize of heaven itself awaits those who faithfully cling by faith alone to him. Hide yourself in him, and find your peace and strength and hope in him.  


Reflect on the Revelation  chapters 2 and 3 

  1. With which of the seven churches do you most relate?

   Why? 

Answers will vary.  

Ephesus (2:17): Perseverance and faithfulness. 

Smyrna (2:8-11): Earthly poverty and affliction but still rich. 

Pergamum (2:12-17): Faithfulness to Jesus but need to repent. 

Thyatira (2:18-29): Growth “more than you did at first;” do the Lord’s will to the end. 

Sardis (3:1-6): Wake up. The names of the faithful will not be blotted from the book of life. 

Philadelphia (3:7-13): An open door is before you. You have little strength but have kept his word. Hold on to what you have. 

Laodicea (3:14-22): Lukewarm and thinking more of yourself. Jesus stands at the door and knocks.

2. What prayers (for yourself, your congregation, your synod) do these letters prompt? 

Answers will vary: Consider the list above and pray: 

Dear Jesus, forgive (me, my church, my synod) for (my, our) . . . (choose from list) . . . and protect (me. us) from . . . choose from the list). Send your Holy Spirit so that (I, we) can grow in faith and . . . (choose from list). Hear my prayer because I am your child through your suffering and death. Amen. 

This is only a possible pattern for your prayer. You certainly are free to pray a prayer of your own making. 

3. Which description and/or promise of the Savior do you find most comforting? How will you remind yourself of that comforting truth this week? 

Answers will vary.  

Here are some suggestions. You are free to choose something different. 

Ephesus: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life” (2:7). 

Smyrna: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (2:10). 

Pergamum: “You remain true to my name” (2:13). 

Thyatira: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are not doing more than you did at first” (2:19). 

Sardis: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (3:3). 

Philadelphia: “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (3:8). 

Laodicea: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (3:20).  

How will you remember? Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Write a note.
  • Underline what you chooseas the most comforting promise. 
  • Memorizeone verse from each letter. 
  • Reread one letter each day this week.

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


This is the second article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after Jan.5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Account of the rich young man: Part 3

A time and place for sad reflection

James F. Borgwardt 

Jedidiah Davidson lived an extraordinary life. He was acclaimed as a scholar and songwriter, statesman and orator, a king of international commerce. He lectured expertly on so many topics that people traveled from great distances just to hear him speak. 

Yet, at the end of his life, the successes that astounded others no longer satisfied him. His world-renowned achievements had become hollow trinkets of a restless life apart from God.  

I sat down to listen to him the other day. He introduced himself simply as Teacher. This was King David’s son Jedidiah, better known as Solomon. Reading his contemplative book of Ecclesiastes didn’t take long. His hard-won wisdom was no memoir. His message is unsettling, even jarring: Life under the sun—apart from God—is ultimately meaningless.  

Why would Solomon devote 12 chapters of Scripture in order to make his readers uncomfortable? Because he wanted people to contemplate the serious reality of life here without God. 

In our love for others’ souls, we sometimes need to help them ponder the same reality. That will make them uncomfortable. 

Solomon did so through writing wisdom literature. Jesus did so in conversations. 

“One greater than Solomon is here” 

What Solomon did in 12 chapters, Jesus masterfully accomplished in a few verses. 

The young man entered the conversation with Jesus, expecting the Teacher to point him to the one piece missing from his carefully constructed life. Jesus intended to blow it up. Lovingly. 

“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ 

“ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments’ ” (Matthew 19:16,17). 

The young man’s opening question exposed two fallacies in his thinking. He underestimated who Jesus was in merely calling him “Teacher,” and he overestimated himself in assuming he was one special work away from making his good life complete.   

Jesus wanted him to do some deep thinking and question his assumptions. Then he answered the question with the Ten Commandments. The man clearly needed the affliction of the law rather than the comfort of the gospel.  

But notice a second purpose for Jesus’ answer: Jesus first found common ground on Mt. Sinai with this Jewish man. The commandments drew the man deeper into a genuine conversation. 

“ ‘Which ones?’ he inquired. 

“Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (vv 18-19). 

The man wanted specifics. Jesus chose to list the love-your-neighbor commandments because they are easy to keep in a superficial way. They were probably the man’s favorites. More common ground. Many people today genuinely feel the same way. “I’m a faithful spouse. I put in an honest day’s work. I’m not a gossip-monger.” Check. Check. Check. 

“ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ 

Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ ” (vv. 20,21). 

The man was betting his eternity on superficial keeping of the commandments! Jesus challenged him: If he truly loved his neighbor as he claimed, he would use his wealth to help them in their need. And if he loved God more than wealth, he’d be willing to part with all of it.  

The One who is good did a good thing for this man. Jesus dropped both tablets of the Law on him to break the hold that money had on his heart.  

“When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). 

We hope the man soon came to the same conclusion as Solomon: “Whoever loves money never has enough; . . . As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?”(Ecclesiastes 5:10,11).  

It’s been said, “Your world will wobble when it orbits the wrong sun.” That’s true for any unbeliever. But coming to that realization may take some time for serious reflection.  

Our work as evangelists includes leading people to wrestle with views of the world that are wrong. They need to recognize the futile end to their faulty reasoning. 

Solomon says this is a good thing“Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). Sadness wasn’t the end goal for Solomon or Jesus, of course. Bringing people to contrition prepares them for the gospel. As Solomon’s father wrote, “A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). 

How do we do this? When we don’t have the wisdom of either Solomon or Jesus, how can we possibly go about the same task that they did so well? 

A time for everything 

In an age of instant this and that, we need to remember that witnessing is sometimes a matter of timing. Here too we can take a page from both Jesus and Solomon.  Ecclesiastes chapter 3 begins “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . .” 

  • “A time to tear down and a time to build”(v.3). The worldview of unbelievers must be torn down before their lives can be built on the foundation of grace in Christ. Allow them to do most of the demolition themselves. But you can get the project started by asking a good clarification question, such as “How did you come to that conclusion?” 
  • “A time to be silent and a time to speak” (v. 7). Though we love to tell the story of God’s grace in Christ, you may hold it back for a season. Let them wrestle with themselves rather than with you. Jesus didn’t run after the sad young man. And Solomon leaves the reader with an unsettled feeling.  
  • “[God] has also set eternity in the human heart” (v. 11). God has set a conscience in there too. All people have an innate understanding that there is more than this life under the sun, but they may need to think on it more deeply. That sleeping conscience might just need a little nudge from you. 

But unless the situation calls for it, don’t feel the need to drop both tablets of the Law on their heads. One Christian apologist said: It’s enough to put a stone in their shoe.  

Plant a thought that challenges their worldview. Then pray for them as they go on their restless way, searching for truth and satisfaction. “There is a time to search and a time to give up” (v. 6). 

And when they give up, they’ll hear Jesus calling them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened . . . and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28,29). 


James Borgwardt is pastor at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  


This is the final article in a three-part series on evangelism lessons from the account of the rich young man in Matthew chapter 19. 


 

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Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Ambassadors: Help them find Jesus : Part 3

When we share our faith, every situation—and every person—idifferent. 

Jeremiah J. Gumm 

“If your God is so almighty, why is there poverty in Africa?”  

I was a new pastor fresh out of the seminary. I had just walked into George’s living room for an every member visit. George’s wife was a longtime member of our congregation, but George? At the time, he had little use for God or the church. When I walked into his living room, George was sitting on the couch watching television. A commercial for a charity helping children in Africa appeared on the screen. George turned to me and fired off his challenge before I could even introduce myself as the new pastor. 

So how did I respond? I would love to tell you that I responded in a way that reached George in that moment in his life. But looking back, I’m not sure how I answered. I know that I made some quick, fumbling attempt to address his question rather than taking the time to get to know George better and to understand his story.  

Why was George so quick to question God’s ability to provide for his world? Why did George seem so angry, so bitter, so hardened toward God and his Word?  

No silver bullet 

Trying to answer George’s challenge with a silver-bullet answer from the Bible—and a poorly fired one at that—failed to get at the heart of George’s objections to God and his Word. In time, I got to know George and the story of his difficult life. He had lost his parents at a young age, dealt with the hardships of living in Nazi-controlled Europe as a young man, and then started a new life from the ground up in America. As I listened, the Lord provided opportunities for me to give the reason for the hope that we have. In time, the Lord worked through his Word patiently shared. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a silver-bullet response to fire at every objection that comes your way? “How can there be a good God in such an evil world?” Zing! “Doesn’t science discredit religion?” Zing! “Why should I believe in the Bible? It’s so ancient and outdated!” Zing! “There are many paths to God.” Zing! Wouldn’t it be nice to simply turn a page of your Bible and drop another silver bullet in the chamber ready to cut down the next objection that comes your way? It sure would. 

While such an approach may win an apologetic argument and give you another notch in your belt, it rarely wins the war for that person’s soul. Rarely does it convince someone of the importance of the gospel, of sins forgiven and heaven opened wide through the blood of Christ. Rarely do such responses work if you do not take the time to get to know the person and his or her story. 

Building the bridge 

To truly help people find Jesus, you need to build a relationship with them. You need to spend time getting to know them and giving them the opportunity to get to know you. You need to spend time getting to know their story—their background, their life experience, their personality. You need to ask questions and actively listen.  

Why? You have the most precious treasure of all in the gospel. You want that person to enjoy that treasure for all eternity.  

Think of it this way. If you had to carry a priceless artifact across a deep and dangerous ravine, would you want to cross that ravine on a rickety, jungle bridge with planks breaking beneath your feet? Or would you prefer to cross that ravine on a strong bridge made of steel and concrete that can bear the weight of even the heaviest trucks? Unless you are Indiana Jones, you want to carry that priceless treasure across the bridge of concrete and steel. So too your sharing of the gospel. Patiently building a connection—no matter what the objections—enables you to convey the gospel in such a way that is personal, respectful, and understanding. 

Building that bridge to that person who objects to our God and his Word is so very important because every person is different. While the gospel is the same, how you respond to questions and opportunities to share it will likely be very different, depending on the person.  

Responding to George was very different from responding to an agnostic former scientist that I once met in a hospital waiting room. The man had retired from the Canadian Ministry of Science. Growing up, he had attended church. He had learned about the Bible. At one time, he had even believed what the Bible said. Yet for much of his adult life, this man had been a proponent of evolutionary theory. He had accepted the argument of evolution that dismissed the Bible as legend and myth. He understood the science and agreed with what the Ministry of Science put forward as fact. Yet something bothered him as he got older. “I know the science, but I hope that what I learned as a child is true,” he said. That was all the confidence he had as he got older and the possibility of dying became more of a reality. There was a sadness about the man. At that moment, I knew exactly what he needed to hear, but sadly, he was not willing to listen. I did not have another opportunity to speak with him. 

How do you reach people where they are? How do you convey the gospel to those who reject or misunderstand God’s Word? You get to know them. You learn their story. You seek to dig beneath their objections. What life experiences made them so bitter toward the church? What happened that made them so angry at God? Why do they reject God’s Word so sharply? How did they get to this point? What is their story?  

To learn someone’s story takes God-given patience and compassion. It means keeping that silver bullet response in the chamber to let Christlike love for that person’s soul keep the bridge open. It means recognizing that no matter how frustrated you are, you need patiently to keep that bridge of communication open for the next opportunity the Lord might present. It means going out on a limb and asking tough questions that peel back what is really the story behind a particular objection. It means taking advantage of even the slightest opening or opportunity that the Lord presents. It takes gentleness and respect for each person. It takes understanding of that person’s situation. Ultimately, it takes love for his or her soul to connect that person to the Savior.  

To share Christ’s story, learn their story! 


Jeremiah Gumm is pastor at King of Kings, Maitland, Florida. 


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


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


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Author: Jeremiah J. Gumm
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Light for our path: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?

I see a lot of upsidedown crosses these days in tattoos, posts on social media, and drawings on kids’ notebooks. I know its origin is biblical, but it doesn’t seem like people are using it that way. Is the symbol now anti-Christian? 

James F. Pope

The meaning people inject into symbols and images can vary, and that is certainly the case with what you are seeing. 

Christian cross 

Centuries ago, Christians developed symbols to depict the lives and ministries of Jesus’ apostles. One of the symbols associated with the apostle Peter is an upside-down cross.  

After the risen Lord instructed Peter to feed his lambs and sheep, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). While Jesus spoke of the future need for Peter to receive assistance in life, some people understood Jesus’ words about Peter “stretching out his hands” to mean that someday his hands would be stretched out on a cross.  

Then, some traditions speak of Peter’s desire to be crucified in a manner that differed from Jesus’ crucifixion—presumably because he did not consider himself worthy to die as Jesus did.  

For unsubstantiated reasons like these, an upside-down cross became a symbol for Peter. 

Satanic symbol 

Not surprisingly, Satan hates the cross and anything connected to Jesus Christ and his redeeming work. The fact that Satan’s followers blaspheme the cross of Christ by inverting it should not catch Christians by surprise either. The apostle Paul offers this reminder: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). To Satan’s followers, it is not just the message of the cross that is foolishness, but it is also the Christian symbol of the cross that is foolishness. The devil’s disciples have expressed that attitude of foolishness by turning the cross upside-down. 

The Church of Satan explains on its website that its members are free to use the upside-down cross as an indication of their rejection of Jesus Christ. They make it clear, however, that the inverted cross is not their official symbol; the Sigil of Baphomet is. 

Trendy times 

Finally, there is a third group of people who might use an upside-down cross in everyday life. Those are people who do not put any significance into using that symbol—it’s just the trendy thing. College students I talked to confirmed this prevalent attitude today.   

Whether it is the clothing they wear, the tattoos they sport, or the genre of music to which they listen, young people might get caught up in the latest trends without intending to make any kind of statement. Those same students also reminded me that Christians might have a tattoo of a cross on their arms that is right side up to them but upside-down to others. 

So, where does all this leave us? It means that when you see someone with an upside-down cross, you may not know what the intended message is until, and unless, you ask that person.  

When it comes to Christians, there is no mistaking our use of the cross: “Lift high the cross; the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred name” (Christian Worship 579).  


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 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Epiphanies change everything

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.  Acts 9:18-20. 

Peter M. Prange 

One of the most famous epiphanies in world history took place when a Greek mathematician named Archimedes jumped into his bathtub and noticed that the water level rose the further he submerged himself. This discovery allowed him to measure the volume of an irregular shape and unravel a conundrum he was asked to solve for his king. As the story goes, the naked Archimedes jumped out of his bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse, shouting “Eureka!” (Greek for “I found it!”). He had a grand epiphany. He wanted to share the good news. 

It was as if a lightbulb had suddenly gone on. Archimedes had taken baths before, so the truth he now discovered had always been there. It had simply eluded him. Finally, he saw it. Eureka! What a change! 

Celebrating Paul’s epiphany 

The same can be said of the apostle Paul. It wasn’t as if Jesus became the Son of God and the Savior of the world the day Paul first realized it. That had always been true of Jesus, even when Paul failed to see it and stubbornly worked to snuff out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus was Paul’s Savior, whether he believed it or not. 

Paul openly acknowledged his former life in darkness under Judaism, how he “was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13) and how he had put many Christians in jail and voted for their execution (Acts 26:10). But then on the road to Damascus, something changed. Paul saw the light of Jesus, literally! He had an epiphany. He came to understand how backward his perspective had been, and it changed everything. 

For many centuries Christians have celebrated Paul’s grand epiphany and conversion on Jan. 25, during the season of Epiphany. His conversion and apostolic ministry are emblematic of the great mystery of God’s saving will, how he shines light on utter darkness.  

Sharing God’s truth 

One would think that Saul would be the last person on earth Jesus would be interested in saving. If anyone deserved to suffer forever for his resistance to the saving gospel, it was Paul. Who could possibly be a more unlikely candidate for conversion than someone who was openly attacking Christians, even seeking their extermination? 

But Jesus does the unexpected, and Paul marveled at the irony. The apostle also understood the Savior’s purpose. “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Paul’s conversion proves many things, but it demonstrates one thing above all: Jesus’ love and forgiveness extends to every sinner, whether they know it or not, whether they believe it or not. No situation is too hopeless. Epiphanies happen. 

When Paul discovered the truth, he couldn’t help but share it. His epiphany changed everything. We have the same privilege today. Our faith in Jesus as the world’s Savior is not just an opinion or one saving truth among many. It’s a singular, objective truth, whether people believe it or not. 

It’s our task to proclaim that truth. It’s Jesus’ job to turn on the light and provide the epiphanies. 


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


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we protect kids without scaring them?

How can we protect kids without scaring them? 

When I was a child, McGruff the crime dog taught us about “stranger danger,” and “Mr. Yuk” stickers alerted us to the phone number for poison control. Boom. My parents’ job was done. We kids knew how to handle dangerous situations.  

That’s probably an exaggeration, but it’s how I remember my childhood. Today as a parent I feel like the dangers have multiplied. School shootings. Child trafficking. Cyber stalking. These are the new fears that prey on parents’ minds—and that are splashed on media outlets each day for our kids to hear about and see images of.  

So, how do we alert our kids to the dangers around us without scaring them? Dan Nommensen and Sarah Reik offer practical solutions that we can start incorporating into our lives today. 

Nicole Balza


How can we protect our kids without scaring them? I think it’s possible to look at this question and focus on at least two different aspects. The first is the practical reality of communicating issues of safety in an age-appropriate way with our kids (for help with that, see Sarah Reik’s article). But the second part of this question involves my own reaction to living in a sinful world with all its potential dangers, pitfalls, and challenges for my kids. As I look at this question with that in mind, I have to say, “Moms and Dads, I’m scared! I really am!” 

In so many ways we can now get instant access to every newsfeed, channel, blog, app, and site that inconveniently keeps us up to date on all the stories of our broken and sinful world. Then, after all that, it’s time to send our kids to the first day of kindergarten or high school or worse—college!  

We not only hear all the detailed ways people’s lives are hurt, but we also have our own life experiences and the hardships we have had to face. Unlike our kids and their developing brains, we are better able to appreciate consequences, dangers, and even our own mortality. Yep—not gonna lie. I get scared for my kids. At times I think, How could I possibly do enough to keep them safe? 

An example to consider. Have you ever read the account in Exodus chapter 2 when Moses’s mother hid Moses from the king of Egypt for three months when he sent out a decree to kill all the baby boys? Moses’s mother did all she could do to keep Moses safe from this danger for the first three months of his life but then came to appreciate the reality that she simply couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t be discovered and be put to death. So she made a basket and sent him adrift down the Nile River. By faith and trusting that God would protect her baby, she watched that basket float away. We know how the Lord protected Moses when he was discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved him from all that could have happened.  

This example of a parent’s trust in God has given me such relief from my own fear. It has reminded me that God is truly in control—not me. As much as I like to think that I have built an impenetrable fortress of safety around my kids, that fortress is nothing compared to the everlasting and immeasurable love God has for my kids.  

A God to rely on. The reality of living in a broken and sinful world means that my kids won’t be living in a protected bubble here on earth. The absence of all evil and danger will come in heaven. Until then, all the dangers of evil will be present in the lives of my children. Let’s remember this—God loves my kids even more than I am capable of loving them. Remember he not only provides his protection, but he also sent his own Son to die for us and our children. When my kids feel the effect of their brokenness and face the results of sin, his love and forgiveness are still there.  

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). 

God is there when they start school or work or even their own family. God is there in the midst of all the joys. God is there at the school parties, on the dates, on the bus, in the subway, on the trip to study abroad. God is there to give strength to resist temptations. God is there when the bad choices are made and consequences come. What a privilege that we have been given to foster faith in our children so they (and we) can always see the Lord’s presence.  

It seems to me that protecting our kids and talking with them about the scary things in life starts with our own recognition of fear and the opportunity we have to trust our Lord. Let the conversations and teachable moments with our kids flow from a parent’s heart of confident trust in God.  


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son. Dan is also a licensed professional counselor and the coordinator of the Member Assistance Program for WLCFS—Christian Family Solutions. 


When my oldest child was very young, we were at our pediatrician’s office for his yearly physical. As she was checking him all over, she reminded him that only doctors and Moms and Dads can look at private parts of his body. She said that if anyone else ever does, he should say, “No,” and then tell Mom or Dad what happened.  

I remember having a mixture of emotions at that time—fear that something so horrible might ever happen to my son, guilt that I hadn’t thought to have that conversation with him before the doctor did, and sadness that it’s a necessary conversation at all. I was also struck by how matter-of-fact she was as she said those things and how my son seemed unaffected while my own emotions were churning.  

How do we talk to our children about staying safe without scaring them unnecessarily? It is an important part of our responsibility as parents to equip our children with tools to keep them safe, and in order to do that, we need to be realistic about dangerous situations they might face. At the same time, I have talked with adults who continue to struggle with fear and anxiety placed on them at an early age from well-meaning parents who were trying to be protective. So how do we achieve a healthy balance in our conversations?  

I believe there are two important concepts to keep in mind.  

Talk to your children about what they can control. We know as Christians that there has always been sin and evil in the world and there will be until Christ returns. We can’t change that. When we focus on stories of bad things in this fallen world that are out of their control, that breeds worry. Let’s talk to our children instead about what they can control.  

Instead of asking, “What are the dangers?” ask, “What are safe choices?” Avoid the phrase “stranger danger,” and focus on “stranger awareness.” Discuss how to talk to strangers and how to get help from safe strangers. (Statistics tell us that most children are victimized by people they know, so strangers aren’t the issue.)  

Role-play with your children what they can do if they are in a potentially dangerous situation so that they have a chance to practice and feel confident. Make it fun. (I’m always a fan of role-playing with stuffed animals. They’re cute, and then they serve a purpose other than cluttering my house.) Teach confident body language like smiling and eye contact. Teach assertiveness skills. “No, I don’t keep secrets from Mom and Dad.” “That’s not okay, and I’m going to tell someone.”  

Here are a few clear safety guidelines we can share with our children from early on: 

  • Know your name, address, and phone number.
  • Other than doctors or parents, don’t let anyone touch your private parts or tell you to touch theirs.
  • Tell a trusted adult if something or someone makes you uncomfortable. Keeping secrets is never safe.
  • If you get lost, freeze and wait for the adult youwere with to come back and find you.  
  • Don’t share personal information online.
  • Respect dangerous items like matches and weapons.

By teaching our children what they can say and do, we empower them instead of scare them.  

Control your own fear. I am scared of heights. I am proud to say that my children are not. The few times I’ve been brave enough to go on a Ferris wheel with my children, I’ve taken deep, silent breaths, and smiled and gushed about how beautiful it is to be up so high.  

When we talk to our children about staying safe, it is important first to be calm ourselves regarding the issue we are discussing. If you find it is difficult to keep your own anxiety at bay, either because you struggle with anxiety in general or because you were the victim of something yourself as a child, seek help from a trusted friend or professional so that you do not pass along your fears.  

I can equip my children to help them stay safe, but I cannot protect them perfectly. It always comforts me to remember that my children are God’s first. He claimed them by Baptism, forgave them, and made them his own. He has given them guardian angels, and he is working even harder than I am to protect them. Rest securely in that truth, and share it with your children. 


Sarah Reik and her husband have four grade-school-aged children. Sarah is also a licensed professional counselor with WLCFS—Christian Family Solutions.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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

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Light in the darkness of doubt

A woman’s trust in God’s plan for her is challenged by a difficult-to-diagnose disease. 

Darla Nagel 

I had no hope, no idea what to do now. Why are you letting this happen to me, God?  

I sat on my bed in my college-town apartment and let the tears loose. Holding them in seemed like a poor way to spend the energy I had left.  

I’d just received a brief phone call from my dad. He passed along the results of a sleep study I’d had at the University of Michigan hospital. The sleep technicians had initially had a difficult time assessing my breathing with their equipment. My hopes soared; maybe sleep apnea was the cause of a host of debilitating symptoms I’d developed two years earlier, at age 19. I have been experiencing crushing and gradually worsening physical and cognitive exhaustion. It threatened my pursuit of a degree in English and of a career in publishing, possibly even Christian publishing.  

The news was not good: the sleep study results had been negative. They could not find the cause. 

The darkness 

I can’t take this. How is this going to be good for me? I was thinking of a usually comforting Bible verse framed in my bedroom at home: “For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). I felt my frustration with the lack of a diagnosis. It began transforming into anger at God. I knew I’d regret that anger later, so I tried a different tack.  

I grabbed the box of tissues out of the bathroom, blew my nose, and grabbed my journal to vent by writing all the questions I wanted answered. My head felt pressurized from trying to control my crying and streaming snot. I asked whether God really was perfect, really cared about me, and really would help me through this. I knew I surely didn’t deserve his help, after all I was doubting and criticizing him.   

For the next two days, anger at God darkened my thoughts. It didn’t seem loving for him to allow me to hope about the sleep study and then not to give me any idea about where I should go to find a diagnosis. I feared that I’d never know what was wrong and end up bedridden.  

While walking through God’s beautiful autumn creation and gazing at it from the fourth floor of the college library reassured me of his perfection and power, I wasn’t sure about his love. The love of Jesus in redeeming me was forgotten. If he didn’t love me, I was heading for disaster in this life and in eternity. If a perfectly wise and powerful God wouldn’t make a good plan for me, how could I make one with my limited intelligence and strength? That would be harder than assembling a puzzle while its picture was still being painted.  

I didn’t share what I was wondering about with anyone because this situation seemed between just God and me. But as hours passed, I sank into despair at the thought of handling life with a chronic illness.  

The light  

I sat on my bed that Saturday evening, gazing at the greasy-haired, frowning girl in the mirrored sliding doors of the closet because I couldn’t do anything productive. Then it hit me—or God hit me with it. Jesus loves this girl in the mirror. If I couldn’t trust him, I couldn’t trust anyone or anything.  

So I needed to trust him. I’d have nothing at all if I didn’t have him. My burden was too much for my family and me to bear alone. It was clear that I’d fallen into an inaccurate, negative thought pattern. Just because I thought that I’d never have a diagnosis and that no treatment option would succeed didn’t make either true.  

After a few more days and many prayers, I decided not to give up and decided to get a referral to Cleveland or Mayo Clinic. I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician to get that referral.  

The day of the appointment, my 22nd birthday, my prayers and my family’s prayers for a diagnosis were answered. My doctor diagnosed me with the illness that deep down I’d suspected I had. Having a name sparked a surprisingly bright light of relief, given the condition’s unpredictable prognosis. I have a multisystem disease that has no cure, no Food and Drug Administration–approved treatment, and about a dozen recognized specialists for more than a million patients nationwide: myalgic encephalomyelitis (pronounced my-ALL-jick en-SEEPH-uh-lo-MY-eh-light-is.). It’s also called by the wimpy name “chronic fatigue syndrome.”  

Light shared 

I continued my college studies, trying treatment after treatment that failed or even intensified some of my symptoms. As my physical health worsened, my mom’s spiritual health also worsened. 

One day two weeks before my graduation, she saw me suddenly sit down in exhaustion. She sat down next to me and said, “I’ve prayed and prayed about you, but God doesn’t do anything. A perfect God wouldn’t do this to you.” She seemed to forget about Jesus too. 

Mom had brought me up in the Lutheran faith and for two years had been my Sunday school teacher. To hear her doubt God’s perfection was worrisome and shocking enough to keep my brain from generating a response—until I remembered doubting God after hearing the sleep study results. Then I knew what I could say that might help her. 

“There was a time when I doubted that God loved me,” I began. “I finally realized that if I can’t trust him, I can’t trust anything or anyone. I’d have nothing at all if I didn’t have God. Life would be completely pointless and hopeless.”  

Mom sighed. “I suppose.” 

At a time when my disease often scrambled my words or made my mind go blank when I needed to make a decision or a response promptly, the words my mom needed flowed. The words and the delivery maybe weren’t perfect, but both were guided from above.  

I didn’t know that many dark days were yet to come—days when I couldn’t stand up unassisted to greet my parents when they came home from work. We waited and prayed for a brighter future. 

Six years have now passed since I shared my epiphany with my mom. I have the blessings of a job that uses my English degree, a Christian myalgic encephalomyelitis specialist within driving distance, and an inexpensive off-label drug that completely lifts the fog of my cognitive exhaustion and somewhat lightens the physical exhaustion.  

Shadows remain: The job could be lost, the specialist could retire, and the drug could stop working. There’s nothing like illness to remind us of the imperfections of our bodies and nothing like doubt to remind us of the imperfections of our understanding of God. I still face the darkness of an uncertain future with my chronic illness, but I trust that my Lord not only holds but also is the light my family and I need. 


Darla Nagel is a member at Emanuel, Flint, Michigan.


This article is adapted from Nagel’s memoir, Lightening the Shadow: Diagnosing and Living with an Invisible Chronic Illness.


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Author: Darla Nagel
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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No need?

John A. Braun

Ads for the Christmas shopping season appear early. I think I got the first one in September. If someone would suggest that we have no need for Christmas, retailers would get in line to object. Perhaps the only people who would eliminate Christmas are those opposed to the reason for Christmas—the birth of Jesus. Maybe it would be Hindus, Muslims, atheists, and others around the world who see no need for Jesus. 

Most who experience Christmas would retain the lights, the tree, the family gatherings, the presents, and perhaps even the solemn quiet of “Silent Night” or the warmth of little children singing “Away in a Manger.” Many would retain those pleasures as their personal annual celebration. Yes, there’s a need for such a Christmas. Just ask almost anyone. 

Dig a little deeper and ask if they have found a need for Jesus in their lives, not just a need to celebrate his birth. Perhaps they might understand the need to keep Jesus in Christmas, although they might think more about Santa, Frosty, or Rudolph. And yet Jesus would disappear for another year as fast as Rudolph.  

We love to celebrate the birth of a newborn. Jesus is no exception. He’s a special child. But what about Jesus, the Savior, the full-grown man who “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3)? Do we need him? Absolutely! 

Look at the news any day of the year—shootings, drunkenness, perversion, fraud, greed, and so much more. I’m guilty of walking away from the television when the news is bad—which is all to frequently—but it’s only a temporary journey. The bad news will find me, or I will be drawn back to it after my brief protest. I can’t change any of it. Do we need Jesus? Yes.  

The bad news reminds me that God cared enough—loved enough—to send his Son Jesus here. Jesus did not live in a quaint, nostalgic world without trouble. Drunkenness, perversion, fraud, greed, and bloodshed—although not by automatic weapons—are as old as history. This disturbing world with all its faults is not what God wanted; it’s what we have made it. Jesus has come that we should not perish in the mire and muck but have everlasting life in his Father’s house (John 14:2). 

In the daily schedules of life, we concentrate on what is close and familiar—the job, the family, the finances, the house. All those things demand our attention every day. We busy ourselves with these things and consider ourselves fortunate to avoid trouble and often stop there. Our everyday life is like a little castle with walls of ordinary concerns that keep out the bad stuff, most of the time. We conclude we don’t need Jesus in our personal castles. 

Perhaps that’s because we don’t notice how things change. The children slowly grow older and move away to start their own families. We see them less because they live in their own castles now. And slowly our own lives change. Our parents first had difficulty coming to family gatherings at Christmas, then they can’t come, and finally they are gone. The pattern repeats in each generation, and we can’t change it. Do we need Jesus?  

But I shouldn’t look at everyone else. My own life is not free from faults and mistakes either. No one’s is. I am not, nor is anyone I know, innocent. I deserve to be abandoned by a holy God. Everyone deserves the same verdict.  

Do we need Jesus? God thought so and sent Jesus. His love and forgiveness give us hope, joy, and peace.  


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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What if your Christmas isn’t so silent?

Glenn T. Schwanke 

We had just finished our Christmas Eve service, and the familiar words of the closing hymn, “Silent Night,” were still echoing in my mind. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm.” As I glanced out our chapel’s window, I smiled as I saw the light fluffy snow falling idyllically, as if our Lord was laying a thick, white blanket over the Copper Country and hushing nature itself. Moved by the moment, I stood to make the final announcements.  

“Isn’t Christmas here amazing? If snow is what makes your Christmas special, we have plenty of that! And with Michigan Tech on Christmas break and so many of our businesses closed for the holiday, those of us still in town can concentrate on the real meaning of Christmas—the Son born of the virgin Mary and laid in the manger. All because it’s so qui . . .” 

I never got to finish that last word, for just then our chapel was flooded by ear-piercing blasts from our fire alarm! It went off because a young boy was fascinated by the big, red fire alarm handle located in the back of our chapel. It said, “Pull Down.” So he did.  

What followed was chaos. As the siren blared, the members looked to the pastor, expecting him to know how to silence it. But they soon learned their pastor must have snoozed through the Practical Theology class at the seminary that was devoted to fire alarms. So the siren continued its assault. Thankfully, one of the worshipers, the county sheriff, had called the fire department to report a false alarm. Finally, after everyone’s eardrums were on the edge of bleeding, we found the alarm manual and silenced the system. 

So much for a silent night. 

What will your Christmas celebration be like this year? Maybe not so silent because there are alarms thundering deep inside you that cause you to toss and turn every night. Maybe an alarm pulled by the fear that your marriage seems to be heading toward the rocks? A parent-child relationship stretched to the breaking point? A faltering business or a career careening into the ditch?  

Maybe your inner alarm can’t be silenced because this Christmas seems far too quiet, especially late in the evening when your home feels so empty and cavernous. All because your lifelong spouse went home to heaven this year.  

Maybe your inner alarm has been pulled by worry over a loved one serving in the Armed Forces, far away from home this Christmas season. Some 450,000 US troops serve oversees, and some are stationed in hot spots like Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. 

I claim no expertise in silencing fire alarm systems in our chapel at Peace. So I defer to the experts. What about when it comes to silencing the inner alarms? I humbly defer to the Child. Isaiah gives us this unforgettable guarantee: “Every boot that marched in battle and the garments rolled in blood will be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born. To us a son is given. The authority to rule will rest on his shoulders. He will be named: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no limit to his authority and no end to the peace he brings” (Isaiah 9:5-7 Evangelical Heritage Version). 

I pray you and yours are blessed with a calm, silent night this Christmas, one marked by the true peace the Child came to bring.  


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


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Author: Glenn Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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A light in the darkness

Fear gives way to light and joy because of the baby born in Bethlehem. 

Jonathan R. Hein 

“They were sore afraid.” I remember reciting those words as a Lutheran elementary school student. I also remember asking my teacher what that meant—sore afraid. He took a moment, then answered, “They were so scared it hurt.”  

Not bad. Indeed, fear comes in a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is some mild uneasiness or worry. It is a nuisance, but you can live with such fear. But at the other end is crippling panic, anxiety so thick it makes you feel ill. You are sore afraid—terrified. 

The shepherd’s terror 

That type of fear—the type that makes your break out in a cold sweat—is what the shepherds experienced on that first Christmas Eve. Why? “An angel of the Lord appeared to them” (Luke 2:9). 

This is not the first time an angel appears in Luke’s gospel. In chapter 1, an angel appeared to the priest Zechariah. Zechariah “was gripped with fear” (v. 12). Throughout Scripture, when one meets an angel, fear is the normal reaction. It is not simply that the person has never seen an angel before. They have never seen holiness before. That holiness is what is so scary.  

Flaws become frighteningly visible when you hold them against the foil of perfection and power. For example, I am not afraid to play golf with my friends. They are hackers like me. My game looks just fine compared to theirs. Conversely, I would be terrified to play golf with Tiger Woods. My golf swing is hideous compared to his. The perfection of his game would expose the ugliness of mine.  

Those shepherds—face to face with a holy, perfect angel—were stripped of all illusions that they were “good people.” Their flaws, failings, and sins became all that more glaring as they looked at perfection. They knew they were far from holy.  

But there was something else that made them “sore afraid.” “The glory of the Lord shone around them.” In the darkness, they were suddenly bathed in light. But it was not a full moon or nearby bonfire. It was “the glory of the Lord.” 

You find that phrase often in the Old Testament. In Exodus 24 we read, “To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain” (v. 17). The glory of the Lord was a visible manifestation of God’s presence, and it filled the Israelites with dread. Likewise, on that first Christmas Eve, the shepherds knew they were not only in the company of an angel. God was there. Thus, the terror.  

Our fear of God 

But what makes God so scary?  

First, we are aware that God sees all and knows all. Imagine someone said to you, “I had a miniature drone following you for the past year, 24/7. It recorded everything you did and said.” Wouldn’t that be terrifying, knowing people could watch everything you did even what you did in private? Well, someone was watching. There is no “behind closed doors” to God. He is everywhere, all the time. There are no secrets you can keep from God. He can and does read your thoughts. Everything about you is exposed to him. That is scary. 

Second, we know God is our Creator. And when one creates something, it is for a purpose. The farmer plants his crop so that others might eat. The engineer designs a machine to make some sort of work easier. The artist paints to inspire others with beauty. Likewise, God made us for a purpose—to be as flawless as that holy angel, to show perfect love for God and our fellow man. But we have failed. We have not lived according to that purpose. God knows that too. That scares us. 

Third, we know that God does not let sin slide. If good tolerates evil, it ceases to be good. God is good; therefore, he must punish sin. Justice must be served. God has seen the sin you committed today. He cannot let it go. There must be punishment. It is scary truth, yet truth nonetheless.  

“The glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were terrified.” We might imagine the fear of the shepherds. Their hearts were pounding. Their legs went weak.  The silly, little things we tend to worry about in life suddenly seem just that—silly and little. They faced a legitimate reason to panic—being in the presence of an all-seeing holy God who hates sin and punishes it with breathtaking wrath.   

We have nothing to fear 

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid’ ” (Luke 2:10). 

“Angel” means “messenger.” The angel was simply sharing what God wanted the shepherds to know. Fear was unnecessary. Why? “A Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. . . . You will find a baby” (Luke 2:11,12). Yes, the glory of the Lord surrounded the shepherds that Christmas Eve, but it was not a consuming fire. God came to earth as a tiny, helpless, newborn baby. There was nothing scary about his person, nor anything scary about his purpose. He had come to be “a Savior.”  

Because God is holy, where there is sin, blood must be shed. Because God is love, he took on our flesh, so that he might have blood to shed for us, to atone for all that sin. 

The angel said, “. . . born to you.” What heart-stirring words! These were shepherds. They were not among the societal elite. No one considered them special. But their almighty God did, despite their flaws and failings. God wanted these humble shepherds to know that the Savior had come not just for some generic “world.” He came specifically for them 

And just like that, the shepherds went from being horrified to understanding they need fear nothing, not even death. Their God treasured them. “A baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” would make peace between sinners and a holy God.  

The promised Messiah would open to them—to us!—the gates of Paradise.  

We have a message to share 

I am told that having a near-death experience changes someone. A crotchety old man has a massive heart attack and survives. He’s changed—less irritable, more pleasant.  

Being inches from death helps one prioritize life correctly. The shepherds just had a near-eternal-death experience. They were forever changed, their lives reprioritized.  

“When they had seen [the child], they spread the word” (Luke 2:17). It is a dark, scary world. The shepherds had the light. They were compelled to let it shine, sharing “the good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10).   

Brothers and sisters, “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). As Christmas draws nigh, meditate on that. You were a whisker away from God’s powerful hands snuffing you out. It is okay, healthy even, for that thought to send a shiver down your spine. For then, when you look into the manger, you will see more than a baby. That is the Light in the darkness. That is the Savior given to you. You will be warmed. Your fears will melt. And you will “spread the word,” just like those shepherds.  

Merry Christmas!  


Jonathan Hein, director of WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.


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Author: Jonathan R. Hein
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Blessings many—and varied

Mark G. Schroeder

Anyone who has visited New Zealand will tell you that there is simply no place on earth like it. 

One of the most striking things about New Zealand is its unrivaled natural beauty. Most visitors arrive on the north island in the capital of Auckland, a large city located on a beautiful harbor. Drive only an hour to the south and you find yourself in rolling hills with thousands of grazing sheep. Travel another hour and you are standing on the shores of a strikingly beautiful lake created by an ancient massive volcanic eruption. Keep driving and you will have an opportunity to hike on any one of four volcanoes (thankfully dormant).  

The South Island is just as striking. You’re first greeted by flat sandy beaches. But only hours later you find yourself gasping at the grandeur of the Southern Alps. A little later you stand in a humid, tropical rain forest. But then you look up and towering above you only miles away is the massive Franz Joseph glacier. All this from the creating hand of a powerful and gracious God! 

At year’s end, I invariably take time to recall some of the things that have taken place in our synod during the previous 12 months. Seeing God working through his Word is always a reason to marvel and to give thanks. But it’s not just the amount and scope of the work that God has done to build his church; it’s also the variety in the ways that God is blessing the spread of his gospel. 

In our congregations, God feeds the faith of his people regularly with Word and sacrament in worship and in classes. Many congregations sacrifice to provide Lutheran elementary schools, high schools, and a college—not only for their own children but for mission prospects as well. The growth in the number of early childhood programs is staggering. 

Beyond congregations we see dozens of WELS-affiliated organizations carrying out specific ministries designed to serve people and spread the gospel. 

On a synodical level, we see how God enables us to maintain schools that train future called workers and how he provides the young people who have been moved to say, “Here am I; send me!” 

The synod’s Congregational Services provides resources to congregations and individuals to assist them in stewardship, evangelism, discipleship, worship, and ministry to those with special needs. 

I consider the many ways in which our Board for Home Missions is busy spreading the gospel: planting traditional mission congregations, working with existing congregations to open second campuses or plant daughter congregations, and providing campus ministries that serve our own students and that reach out to other students on college campuses who so desperately need to hear God’s truth. 

I am amazed to see how our world mission efforts are reaching people from the refugee camps in Sudan to the mountain villages of Nepal. Through online instruction we are training spiritual leaders in every country in Latin America; we have requests from nearly a thousand others from around the world for theological training. WELS students teaching English in East Asia have helped to establish a new Lutheran synod there. Now we have been invited by the government of Vietnam to establish a school in Hanoi where ethnic Hmong pastors will learn what it means to be Lutheran. 

The list could go on. 

New Zealand is striking and beautiful and varied in its unforgettable geography. But nothing compares to the many and various ways in which God is building his kingdom among us. We marvel at what God is doing. And we thank him for the privilege of being a part of it.  


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Joy to the world! He was born to die!

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of deathHebrews 2:14,15

Peter M. Prange 

There is perhaps no event that brings greater joy to the human heart than the birth of a child. How many times have we watched the scene play out on our television screens? A young mother is in the throes of childbirth being urged on by her doctor, “One more good push.” An anxious father stands nearby, awaiting the long-anticipated outcome.  

And then it happens. We hear the newborn cry, and the little baby is placed into Momma’s trembling arms. She sheds tears of joy and celebrates the amazing, divine gift of new life. Dad grabs his cell phone to broadcast the baby’s birth in one big blast. Life is worth celebrating, and parents can’t help but share their joy. 

Our Savior is born 

It was no different for the virgin Mary on that first Christmas night, though the circumstances were entirely different. No warm hospital room, not even a room in the inn. Her birthing center was most likely a dank, dirty cave. There were no doctors or nurses to attend her needs. She probably made due with a nervous husband and some unassuming farm animals. But despite those differences, what joy! True, Joseph didn’t tweet, but as the babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes the holy angels announced his wondrous birth.  

For good reason. This child would bring joy to more than a select group, courtesy of a text message. Instead the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10,11). A Savior has been born to you. What joy! 

Our Savior must die 

Let precisely what that means sink in. Why was Jesus born exactly? Our Savior was born to die. At least that’s the point an inspired writer emphasized in his letter to the Hebrews. We who are flesh and blood needed a Savior-God who was flesh and blood too. Why? So that he could die for us in our place, be our sacrifice, yes, become “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He was born so that “by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.” 

In other words, our Christmas joy should always include a tinge of Good Friday sadness because the one naturally foreshadows the other. It’s a biblical truth beautifully depicted by Johann Sebastian Bach in the final chorale of his Christmas Oratorio. There he intertwines the celebratory tones of trumpets with words set to the Good Friday tune of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”—a poignant reminder that Jesus was born to die. 

But why? To “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” True, it is sad that Jesus was born to die. But what does his death and resurrection bring? Freedom from fear. Life eternal. Victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell. In other words, joy. Eternal joy that is found in the fact that our Savior was born to die our death so that we might live forever. 


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


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Let God’s light shine

Christmas can be a dark time. We need to share the light of Jesus so all can see what their Savior has done for them. 

Nathan W. Strutz 

Christmas. The day is supposed to be filled with such happiness. Who doesn’t love gathering with family? Who doesn’t love seeing a tree with presents that fill the living room?  

A time of darkness 

Maybe you don’t. Maybe your family is not a happy gathering. Grandma’s place at the table is dark because Grandma isn’t there anymore. Your nephew Jimmy will be there, but not with the wife and kids after their recent divorce. Uncle Joe hasn’t come in years, because he’s been estranged so long. Maybe there isn’t a room full of presents. 

Instead there’s a heart full of fear, a darkness that there won’t be enough money to pay the bills. Maybe the lights don’t brighten your heart because all you can see is darkness. 

Sadness spikes in the winter time. Suicide rates go up around the holidays.  

Too many think, I’m supposed to be so happy, but I’m not. I’ve done my share to make the family gatherings awkward or haven’t done anything to reach out to Uncle Joe. Maybe it’s my fault. I could have worked harder and been nicer to the boss. Then money wouldn’t be so tight. If I had just made better choices, just worked a little harder at being happy, I could really enjoy Christmas. 

Jesus is the light 

There is hope. Jesus is the light for that darkness, especially at Christmas. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). 

Jesus brings light to lighten your eyes beyond your earthly troubles. Jesus loved you so much he made you part of his perfect family. The holy God is your Father, loving you so much he sent his Son into a manger, to a cross, to rise from the dead to give you the light of life. Jesus is your perfect brother, the brother who took all the blame for all your sins. What other brother would do that? Jesus did! Jesus, our perfect brother, piled all the darkness for all the guilt of everyone on himself. That means your guilt is gone. Your darkness has become light. 

Jesus provided your greatest need: forgiveness. Jesus will take care of all your other needs as well. 

Jesus has given you a heavenly mansion, monogrammed with your initials, already waiting for you. He signed it with his blood, sealed it with his empty tomb, and delivers it to you in water and his Word, “You are baptized! You are my child!” 

We must share the light 

This light needs to be shared. Just as the shepherds shared it on the first Christmas, just as a parent or friend shared the light with you, so you get to share this light with others. Who wouldn’t like to hear, “Your guilt is gone!”? Who wouldn’t love to hear, “Your sins are forgiven!”?  

We’ve set a goal as a church body to reach one million people this Christmas with the good news of great joy that is for all the people: A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. One million sounds like a lot of people. But 35,000 people get this magazine. They—you—are today’s shepherds. I encourage all of you to do what the shepherds at Bethlehem did: “Spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). If each one of you would share the light of Jesus with 10 neighbors, friends, or relatives, we would be on our way to reaching one million.  

What a merry Christmas that would be!


Nathan Strutz is pastor at Resurrection, Verona, Wisconsin. 


Learn more about the goal to reach one million people with the gospel message this Christmas at wels.net/c18


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Author: Nathan Strutz
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 2

So many need to hear about Jesus. Pray for them and for the opportunity to share Jesus with them.  

Kenneth L. Brokmeier 

“Prayer changes things!”  

Go ahead! Google “phrases about prayer.” You quickly can find yourself immersed for hours sifting through the sites, uncovering little snippets about prayer. Some excerpts are authored by well-known believers like Martin Luther, and other quotes are by those who aren’t even Christian.  

Prayer is an important part of our calling as Christ’s disciples. We pray because we are connected to Jesus. But like so many other facets of our Christian life, sometimes prayer can seem almost non-existent . . . until crunch time. You know what I mean. Suddenly there is trouble! That’s when we take God’s invitation to call upon him (Psalm 50:15) rather seriously. 

Those on the wrong road 

Well, there is trouble out there right now. There is a whole world without Christ, and they on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Jesus knew it. He described them as harassed and helpless—sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)—people misled by the lies and philosophies of the world and, sometimes, even the church. Before his very eyes were souls who were still looking for answers because their own solutions always brought the same dead-end results. Jesus had compassion on them because they didn’t even realize their great need. They had numbed themselves into thinking that there is no God or that Jesus can’t be God’s answer.  

The years and the faces may have changed, but the problem is still there. It’s not just on the other side of our planet but right in our own families, friends, and neighbors. It is on the campuses and classrooms of not just colleges, but all levels of education. Do you see them? The sheep? Sheep who think they know better, even though they were once Jesus’ little lamb. Sheep who are wearing the glitter and glitz of their own self-righteousness. Sheep who think they have all the answers to life’s questions because of their education. Sheep who are quick to tell you to your face you are foolish for following your Good Shepherd. Sheep. And all of them are unaware they are lost because they don’t have the heavenly Shepherd named Jesus. What’s a person to do?  

Listen to Jesus. Pray! That is what Jesus tells his disciples to do—pray, literally beg the Lord to send out more workers.  

Our prayers as God’s ambassadors 

But wait! Are you ready for this? Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for more workers and then he sends those same disciples out as those workers (Matthew 10). When we pray, he sends us out as his workers. 

Knowing that we are the answer to our own prayer leads us to pray more fervently and zealously to the Lord, “Help!” And he does. We have examples from Scripture of ambassadors praying to the One they represent for help. Look at Daniel (chapter 6). Daniel knew the king’s decree that anyone who prayed—except to the king—would be thrown into the den of lions. Yet Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day, just as he had done before. I can imagine Daniel begging God to be with him so he could testify boldly when he stood before the king. God answered Daniel’s prayer.  

Paul and Silas prayed (Acts 16:25). They had just been beaten and locked up, and yet they prayed and sang hymns. Can’t you just picture Paul begging God to open doors for the spread of the gospel? God answered Paul’s prayer. He not only opened the prison doors but also the heart of the jailer to believe in the Lord Jesus!  

God also promises to answer our prayers as his ambassadors. So pray! Ask boldly that God will give you wisdom so that you may know him better and trust his incomparably great power that is at work in you (cf. Ephesians 1:17-22).  

When you pray, trust that God will keep his promises that he will never leave or forsake you (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) when you are called upon to witness.  

Pray dangerously. Challenge or beg that God would permit your life and the life of the one for whom you are praying to intersect so that you can be God’s ambassador. Then look for God to open those doors to encounter others with whom you can share the news of Jesus. Most of all, be ready to walk through those doors when he opens them!  

Pray with urgency. After all, billions are still in the state of spiritual darkness or unbelief. Scripture clearly teaches that if they remain and die in that state, their destiny is more than just darkness. It is the eternal misery, pain and suffering of hell, where “their worm that eats them will not die, the fire that burns will not be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24).  

Our personal connections 

Sometimes that sense of urgency can wane, can’t it? We don’t always picture the mass of humanity on the other side of the world who are hellbound without Christ. After all, we are busy with our lives of tweeting, texting, or updating our status on Facebook with the latest picture of what we deem to be important.  

But then it hits us. A friend. Someone with whom we have broken bread at many meals. Someone with whom we went to Lutheran grade school and high school. Slowly they have stopped coming to church. Or they head off to college and we lose touch and, before you know it, they are caught in the web of ungodly philosophies.  

Or it might be a family member—a parent, sibling, child, niece, or nephew. “What happened?” we ask ourselves. We might, humanly speaking, know the answer. But, more important, we know the solution: Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus!  

So pray! Because “prayer changes things.”  

My family knows this to be true.  

There were six children in my family growing up. We all had received the blessings of a Christian upbringing, including attending a Lutheran grade school and high school. But something happened, spiritually, with my brother. He made poor choices and drifted, slowly but surely, away from his Savior.  

Those who loved him—his parents, siblings, relatives, pastors, and teachers—spoke words of concern, warning him he was on that broad road. He would often respond— sometimes saying the right things—but his actions were also speaking, unfortunately, louder than his words. The drifting continued.  

Those who loved him prayed for him. We prayed boldly. We prayed dangerously. We prayed with urgency!  

God answered . . . with an accident. An accident that suddenly found my brother teetering between life and death. An accident that would leave him needing care 24 hours per day for the nearly 16 years remaining in his life. But, most important, God answered our prayers with an accident that opened the heart of his blood-bought child to once more hear, believe, and completely trust that Jesus is the only Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). 

And so, as his ambassadors, we pray!


Ken Brokmeier is pastor at Our Savior’s, Brookings, South Dakota.  


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


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


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Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can our families stay focused on Jesus this Christmas?

How can I help my son grow into a godly man? 

Sometimes providing ideas to tackle parenting challenges can get complicated. We deal with some complex issues as we raise these little people. Other times it’s surprisingly simple. 

This month, our authors remind us that we don’t need to go to great lengths to focus our families on Jesus this Christmas. Simple traditions, simple questions, simple explanations can provide rich opportunities to worship our King and celebrate his birth.  

Interested in beginning your own family Advent devotion time this year? Visit forwardinchrist.net/chrismons for a resource that can help you put together a devotion similar to the one the Geiger family enjoys (see Anna Geiger’s article).  

Nicole Balza


During most of the year, our family gathers each evening for a Bible story and song. But we take a break from our regular devotions for Advent. Instead, we sit at the dining room table around a lovely handcrafted Advent tree, a gift from my father-in-law.  

Simple Advent devotions 

First, my husband lights one or more candles, depending how close we are to Christmas. Then we choose a Chrismon (a Christmas decoration with a Christian symbol) to hang on the tree. My husband leads an impromptu devotion based on the symbol we’ve chosen, and we conclude with a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” 

The short devotions are often simple. The cross reminds us that Jesus died to take away our sins. The shell reminds us that God forgave our sins and brought us into his family through Baptism. The lamb is a symbol for Jesus, the Lamb of God. 

Sometimes our devotions are a little more complex. We may talk about the fish being an ancient Christian symbol because the letters of the Greek word for fish stand for Jesus. We may talk about the Chi-Ro, which looks like a P with an X on top. These two letters are the first letters of the Greek word Christos, which means Christ. 

Our five oldest kids (4, 6, 8, 10, 11) take turns doing different jobs. One chooses the Chrismon, another places it on the tree, a third child turns out the lights, a fourth child passes out the music, and a fifth has the favorite job of blowing out the candles. Because our youngest will be turning 3 this Advent season, he will be part of the devotions as well. I suppose we will need a sixth job . . . but I don’t think we’re ready to let the kids take turns lighting the candles! 

A meaningful tradition 

With a houseful of young children, I wouldn’t exactly call our Advent devotions peaceful. And the proximity of children to open flames keeps my husband and me at the edge of our seats. But all of us look forward to this simple family tradition. Not only does it distract us from the hustle and bustle of the season, but it also keeps our eyes on our coming Savior.  


Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wisconsin. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. 


 I can see the candlelight in her eyes. It flickers there in the dark sanctuary. It lights up her small face in constantly new ways as the flame dances, pushing shadows off her face. It was Christmas Eve 2014. She was singing “Silent Night.” 

I almost lost it. I hope it wasn’t just sentimentality. I doubt it was. I long for something as a father. I pray for it more than most anything else in my life. It makes me do things like ask my daughter every day on her way to school, “Who are you?” Just to hear her say back, “I’m a blood-bought child of God.” It makes me haul out my little devotional every night at dinner or lay on the Bermuda grass outside just so I can point to the stars and say, “Look at what God did.” I want my daughter to see the Lord just like Job once did (Job 42:5). 

There are few better places to see him than the manger. I’ve got no secret sauce for that. I’m not sure we even have totally rooted family traditions around Christmas yet. I do know that I’ve done some things now for a few years. I love to walk with her up to the Chrismons. I love telling her what they mean. I love talking to her about the lights on the tree and how they point to the Light of the world. I love talking to her about the Christmas lessons she learns every year at Sunday school. I love interrupting her occasionally to remind her to back out of the commercialism and to ask her what the season is really about. I love to open the presents with her and tell her where they all ultimately come from and what the best gift of all is. I love to bust out the hymnal and sing a Christmas hymn before we go to sleep. I love to help her with her recitations just so I can make a comment to her about what they mean.  

I hope you know I’m not slavish about how I lean into unique Christmas moments. I’m not. There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes it’s best simply to grab some Christmas cookies together and laugh about how crazy her dad is. I do, however, at Christmas time maintain the regular ways I disciple my daughter and always look for opportunities to use the uniqueness of the season to connect truth to her soul. No, it’s not a secret sauce. It’s just real life, trusting the Spirit to use the Word in my daughter’s life.  

I love my daughter. More than anything else I want her to have the joy of seeing the Lord in her life. I want that because I know that is what will chase away the shadows and darkness that lie within her and will make light dance in her little heart in new ways all year long. 


Jonathan Bourman is a pastor at Peace, Aiken, South Carolina. He and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter


It’s almost Christmas. Time stops for no one. So we dash through the snow to pick up kids. Buy the latest toy. Find dresses for the girls and suits for the boys. Bake Christmas cookies. Help the kids memorize their part in the Christmas services. Set up Christmas get-togethers with our family and friends. Bake more Christmas cookies. Schedule and wrangle crabby kids to get family pictures taken for the two hundred Christmas cards we have to order, address, place in envelopes, buy stamps for, and send. Decorate upstairs. Decorate downstairs. Decorate outside. Did I mention bake cookies?  

My house, inside or out, doesn’t look like a Pinterest page. My kids might be wearing hand-me-down dresses and suits for the Christmas services. My gifts might not be wrapped until the night before Christmas Eve (and might just be placed into a gift bag!). We will eventually get the Christmas tree up. And perhaps a string of lights outside . . . if we’ve taken them down from last year. My cookies just might be bought from the local grocery store. But, this is what allows our family to savor and enjoy Christmas. The simplicity.  

You don’t have to spend hundreds of hours or dollars making a perfect Christmas. We already have a perfect Christmas with the most perfect gift—Christ Jesus. Our focus should not be on making more work for an earthly perfect—one that takes the center of attention away from the true meaning of Christmas—but on how to bring our loved ones closer to the manger.  

First comes our beautiful Christmas Eve service filled with children’s voices, praises to God for sending his Son, and the comforting passages and hymns we have committed to memory. 

Then our family continues in sharing God’s goodness in our living room. Sharing the blessings he has given us, reminding our children of the best gift that allows us to give them gifts, and reveling in the love of family—one of the most marvelous gifts God has given us on earth.  

Traditions are wonderful and can be an amazing blessing to you, your children, and your grandchildren. But in the busyness of Christmas, might I suggest keeping it simple?  

Set aside time to spend with your family.
Find a Christmas service or two.
Remind your loved ones of the greatest gift of Christmas.
Breathe in the crisp winter air (or the warm breeze).
Take in some twinkling lights.
And feel the love of Jesus envelop you.   


Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, are raising four children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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