When everything seems lost

Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” John 20:10-13

Joel C. Seifert

There was something that seemed desperate in Mary’s actions. Jesus—the one she followed as her Lord and Savior—was dead. She went to anoint his body in a tomb she knew she couldn’t open. And now that the tomb was empty, she began to search for his corpse. What was she hoping to accomplish?

Faith goes to Jesus, even when all seems lost

Over the years I’ve met many people who say, “I used to be a Christian, but . . .” They tell stories of how they were raised to believe in Jesus and the Bible and God’s love, but then faith let them down. They lost their job, and with their job their home, and with their home, their marriage. So they stopped saying, “I am a Christian,” and started saying, “I was a Christian.” Faith didn’t seem to matter anymore, so they stopped going to Jesus. It’s an awful trick of the devil: At the times we need Jesus most, it’s hardest to go to him.

I don’t know what Mary expected to happen. I think she just remembered what had happened. She was a lost soul; Jesus found her. So in his life and now in his death, Mary only wanted one thing: She wanted to be near Jesus, even if all seemed lost.

That’s where Jesus finds us. Things may seem pointless. You might not have any idea what kind of help you’ll find. Maybe you’re just going back to church or your Bible because once upon a time, it gave you hope, even if nothing seems to matter now. But when you’re near him, Christ finds you and shows you that he still loves you, lives for you, and calls you by name.

When faith goes to Jesus, he uses us to reach the lost

God gave Mary one of the most important tasks in the history of the world: She was one of the first people to ever tell anyone that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s important! Do you know what she did after that? I don’t either. Read through everything the Bible says about this important woman, and all you get is this: She wanted to be where Jesus was. So when he was preaching, she listened. When he was in need, she gave him her gifts. When she saw her living Savior, she told others about him.

That’s the importance you have too. When you’re there listening to Jesus’ Word, that’s important. You’re not just strengthening yourself; you’re encouraging and strengthening others. When you give your offerings to help keep his message sounding in the world, that’s important. People will hear the gospel because of you. When you tell others about Jesus, you become one of the most important people in the world to them.

Most people won’t list Mary side by side with Peter and Paul and James and John as one of the most important people in the Bible, and maybe there aren’t many people who will look at you that way either. But Jesus does. And no matter where you go with him in faith, he makes you important to others.


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


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 6

Micah: A King who’s a small-town kid

Thomas D. Kock

I want him to understand me! I want him to relate to me!

Is that the goal of the reporter’s question?

People who find it hard to relate

During presidential campaigns, reporters sometimes ask the candidates if they know the price of milk or bread. They may not actually ask that question, but they want to know if the candidate “gets normal people.” It amuses me. Are most of our presidential candidates regularly in the local grocery stores, comparing the prices of bread or milk?!? I suppose that maybe some do. I don’t know.

Wouldn’t the difference be even more pronounced for those who are royalty? The prince who grows up in the palace, served by all sorts of people—what would he know about “normal people” or about “normal life”? Probably not much!

A God who “gets it”

Now let’s take it another step. What does God know about us humans? Oh, sure, one could say, “Everything, because he’s God,” and that would be completely accurate. On the other hand, he’s God! He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent. He’s love. He’s the source of all things. What does God have in common with us humans? By nature, nothing.

So what does God do? God comes to earth, as a real human being. Yes, he comes as royalty. Jesus is the Son of David, the rightful heir to the throne.

But he’s also a small-town kid. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which at that time was a “nothing” little town, a “little sister” to Jerusalem, a few miles away. Jesus spends most of his childhood in Nazareth, in Galilee. The “upper crust” at that time looked down on the Galileans. Regarding Nazareth, Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). By our parlance, Jesus is a small-town kid.

So what do we have? We have a Savior who “gets it.” He gets what it means to be a normal person, because that’s how he grew up. He grew up as a normal person in a normal place.

That means he gets you, and he gets me. He understands the challenges of life because he has experienced them. He understands the joys of life, the sorrows, the day-to-day grind. He “gets it”!

And yet he’s also the King! He’s the ruler of all, guiding and directing all things for your benefit, ruling the world for the good of his people.

What a combination! We serve God. We serve the King. He has all power. But we also serve a small-town kid. We serve someone who understands us through and through, the one who was born in a little town, in Bethlehem. He relates to you. He relates to me.

Yep, he knows the price of milk. Bread too.


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


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


Micah

Name meaning: “Micah” means “who is like the Lord.”

Background: Contemporary of Isaiah (late 700s B.C., perhaps early 600s B.C.) from Moresheth (sometimes called Moresheth Gath, cf. 1:14), about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Unique feature: Jeremiah 26:18 quotes Micah 3:12.

Key verse: 7:18: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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Light for our path: Paying taxes

In Matthew 22:17-21, Jesus instructs us to pay the taxes due the government. When we are informed that our government is using tax dollars for the support of wicked and sinful enterprises such as Planned Parenthood (abortion), how are we to look at paying taxes?

James F. Pope

Christians are rightly troubled when they recognize that roughly $500 million from the federal budget goes to Planned Parenthood each year. The organization is the leading provider of abortions in our country. The answers to your question will lead us to see our duty, limitations, and privileges when it comes to paying taxes.

Our duty

Paying taxes is not optional for Christians. In the section of Scripture you cited, a coalition of Jesus’ enemies tried trapping him with a question about the propriety of paying taxes to Caesar. Many people, even some outside Christianity, are familiar with Jesus’ answer: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Years later, through the apostle Paul, God expanded on that instruction: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:6,7). Part of our Fourth Commandment responsibilities is that we support God’s representatives in government through the paying of taxes.

Our limitations

Some representatives of God in government (and the church and the home) represent him well, while others do not. The Caesar whose likeness was on the coin presented to Jesus in Matthew chapter 22 was one of those authorities who failed miserably in representing God faithfully. That was also the case with the Caesar who was in power when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Christians in Rome. But neither our Lord nor his apostle qualified the directive to pay taxes to the Roman government, even though some of their taxes funded idolatrous worship practices involving state-paid priests. Neither our Lord nor his apostle burdened the consciences of Christian taxpayers by leading them to conclude that they were personally supportive of ungodly activities because their taxes funded those activities. Christians who paid taxes to Caesar could not control how Caesar used their taxes even if there were definitely limitations to how Christians wanted their tax payments used.

Christians in America face similar limitations. Whether it is funding abortion providers, sponsoring questionable research projects, or wasting money on overpriced expenditures, Christians recognize their role and the government’s role: Christians provide the revenue, and the government distributes that revenue through budgetary disbursements and appropriations.

But does that mean that Christians simply pay taxes and have no recourse but to grumble about the ways in which government uses their tax dollars? Not at all. Christians can contact their governmental representatives to express their displeasure when tax revenues fund immoral activities. Christian citizens can vote for candidates who will use tax revenues wisely.

Our privilege

Christians can do even more.

Christians can exercise the privilege they have of speaking to the King of kings in prayer. We can do what God’s apostle instructs: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2). It is good that God’s people remember their governmental leaders—at all levels—in prayer.

So, pray that God leads governmental officials to act wisely and to use resources in ways that benefit human life.


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 07
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 8

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

“Catch any?” (John 21:1-14)

“Catch any?”

If they have no fish, is there anything more annoying to fishermen than to hear that question? Even though a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work, “Catch any?” can be a fillet knife that cuts the ego of fishless fishermen.

Unfortunately, the knifing question, “Catch any?” is not limited to dock conversations. An aunt asks her single-not-by-choice niece, “Not married yet?” The ladies at church ask the young, infertile couple, “When are the little ones coming?” The pick-up basketball player asks his unemployed teammate, “Find a job yet?” Each question is just another way of asking, “Catch any?” Catch any men? Catch any kids? Catch any employment? While it may not show in the respondents’ faces, each question is a knife to the heart, as they’d love the reply to be anything but no.

What about when Jesus asked the probing question? “ ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered” (John 21:5). Yet when Jesus asks a heart-knifing question, the conversation doesn’t end at no. He provides the solution. To the fishless disciples, he directed, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat” (John 21:6). One hundred fifty-three keepers later, they trusted Jesus knew what he was talking about.

While we stand in awe of this abundant miracle, notice what Jesus was doing before he provided the blessing. He was getting the grill ready. Isn’t that neat? He knew how he was going to bless the disciples before he blessed the disciples. The same can be said for you. In his wisdom, he may not choose to bless you with what you long for most. But he’s getting the grill ready. He already knows how he’s going to bless you before he blesses you.

And here’s another detail not to miss. Jesus wasn’t only getting the grill ready. Look what was on the grill. Fish. Before the disciples hauled their 153 in, Jesus already had his own catch on the grill, ready to share. Jesus does the same for you and me. He’s preparing to bless you with your own individual blessings, but don’t neglect to see the blessings that he has already caught and invites you to enjoy with him. Hear him say things like, “Come. Come to my Table for the forgiveness of sins.” “Come. Come to the table that I’ve prepared in the presence of your enemies. You have nothing to fear.” “Come. Come to my banquet table where we can feast forever.” “Come. Come and drink the living water that I provide.”

Pray for the blessings that you hope God is preparing for you. But also pray for the blessings that he already has on his grill. As we pray, “Let these gifts to us be blessed,” we will be so amazed at what he serves that we won’t have to ask, “Who are you?” We’ll know: “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).


Food for thought 

1. Why does God allow our nets to be empty at times?

We have a tendency to forget our need for our Savior and his blessings when our nets are full. God may be gently, or not so gently, calling us to stay close to him and not to wander away in our prosperity. Sometimes “empty nets” can lead us to rely on God more than ourselves. One may consider how our prayer life increases when our nets are empty and how perseverance can be God’s way of developing our character (Romans 5:4). Also consider how God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8,9). That is a blessing when we consider that he will bless us in ways that are immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). 

2. Why does the Holy Spirit include the number of fish in this lesson?

While we cannot know exactly why the Holy Spirit had “153” included in the Scriptures, it can lead us to appreciate a few things about God and his Word. We might consider just how well God knows us. If we ask a fisherman, “Catch any?” and he’s had a good day, he’ll tell you precisely how many fish he caught. More than once I’ve heard a fisherman say, “17” or “23.” This little detail speaks of its importance to fishermen.  

The fact that the Holy Spirit shares this detail is a great way to remind us that our God is not just a God of generalities. He is a God of specifics. He knows the very number of hairs on your head. Appreciate that this powerful God who can bring about such an abundant miracle is concerned about the details of your life. 

3. Compare Peter’s reaction to two different miraculous catches of fish (Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14). Why the difference?

The contrast is fascinating. Doesn’t it show the difference Jesus makes in our lives? Before I spent time with Jesus, the biggest thing staring at me was my sin, and I was afraid to be in the presence of a holy God. After spending time with Jesus and seeing how he nailed my sin to the cross and buried in in the tomb where it will stay, I don’t have to be afraid of my holy God. I can jump in the water and go to him. One may also consider these words from Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” 


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


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


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 07
Issue: July 2018

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Part 1

Engage in conversation.

Donn G. Dobberstein

According to an Expedia 2015 study, 66 percent of people dread sitting next to someone on an airplane who wants to talk the entire trip. Typically, midair etiquette calls for a little small talk, followed by ear buds, book-reading, or looking out the window. People want peace and quiet.

In-flight conversations

That’s how I thought one such flight was headed after an almost two-hour delay. On board, the seat next to me was empty. Tired, I exhaled with satisfaction and stretched out for a little shut-eye. A scant minute before the boarding door closed, the last passenger boarded and rushed to his seat next to me. Exhaling heavily, he said hello. I smiled and wearily asked, “How are you doing?”

What a dangerous question to ask. I’ve just expressed an interest in a total stranger and opened myself to a conversation that might go well beyond the single word answer of “Good,” which I honestly might have desired at that moment.

My flight seatmate happily shared he was on his way to meet his fiancée. It began a casual, friendly conversation. I learned how they met, where she lived, and all their wedding plans. I couldn’t have been happier for him as we walked off the plane and said good-bye.

A couple hours later on a connector flight, I’m buckled alongside a dozen passengers from England headed for a week of golf in America. I’m sitting next to 18-year-old Jonathan, who lived just northwest of London. Accents collided as the dangerous question was asked again, “How are you doing?” The ensuing small talk was casual and natural. He asked what I did for a living.

“I’m a pastor,” I answered, “… you go to church?”

“No,” he said.

“Ever wonder what they’re all about?”

“No,” was his answer.

“At our church,” I replied, “We tell people about Jesus. Ever heard of him?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, yeah? Where?”

“At school.”

“What’d they tell you about him?”

“That he lived and died. Crucified him, I guess,” he responded.

“Did they ever tell you why they crucified him?”

“No,” was his answer.

“Did you ever wonder?”

“No,” was his answer.

“Would you like to know?”

“No,” he said, with a shrug.

In my head, I was already dreaming of the first ever in-flight adult baptism using the little cup of water the stewardess handed to me. But it didn’t happen. I could tell he was visibly uncomfortable. The conversation returned to casual and safe.

Two days later, I’m boarding the return flight, wondering, Who will I sit next to this time? She was a well-dressed, sophisticated-looking personal financial manager of accounts exceeding a half-million dollars. After exchanging pleasantries, she initiated the conversation, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a pastor,” I answered.

“Really?!” she exclaimed with genuine surprise.

It began a conversation that lasted the entire flight from runway to runway. She talked about the last time she went to church and how she hadn’t been back since—she was turned off by the “meat market” of singles. She talked about her friends in troubled marriages. I talked about the joys of marriage. She told me what she’s looking for in a church: one that can personally relate to her life, one in which she will leave on a Sunday and be able to take something with her through the week. She talked about her upscale world of fine homes, private jets, designer stores in New York City, affluent background, surrounded by materialistic people. She confessed there was something missing.

Engage the world

Jesus had conversations too that engaged an increasingly large world of people who needed more than small talk. We can learn from one conversation with a Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. “Now Jesus had to go through Samaria” (4:4). No, he didn’t. But in order to engage in conversation with total stranger, Jesus went through foreign territory for a Samaritan woman.

Their accents were different. Their cultures clashed. Their conversation was a social no-no (a strange man was not to be talked to in public). She was someone everyone wanted to avoid because she lived an immoral life.

Jesus asked, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). What a dangerous question! Jesus used it to begin an incredibly casual conversation that would break through all human barriers and obstacles. In a matter of minutes, Jesus engaged in talk that touched every aspect of her life. He exposed her moral failure with men, then proved himself to be the Messiah she most needed: “I am he” (John 4:26).

Jesus models for us conversation that engages the world. It may be true that the more secular our world becomes, the less inclined people are to “go to church.” But I believe people are still open to conversations with those who genuinely take an interest and care for them. There is an emptiness, a craving for lasting joy, a need to be known and loved, and a desire for greater meaning in our lives.

Why do we struggle in cultivating a normal conversation toward a faith discussion? The barrier isn’t an airplane seatmate, Samaritan stranger, or human deficiencies. It’s the Christian afraid to engage in conversation.

Why do we talk so easily and readily about work, our kids, the weather, football, but talking about Jesus doesn’t come easy?

Why can parents discuss schedules and family finances, but engaging in spiritual conversation and praying together? “Ah, I just don’t know how to do that.”

How come small talk with the checkout clerk is easier than sitting down with a child and having a conversation about Jesus? “Ah, but that’s just not me.”

Jesus models conversation worth talking about because the gospel is what it’s all about. It doesn’t mean the conversation has to begin with the gospel. It begins with you engaging someone in conversation. Say nothing, expect nothing. There are no shortcuts in relationships. It’s slow work. It’s soul work. But it’s so worth it!

The best part is a God who strategically formatted the gospel into words so that it can be part of our conversations with friends, family . . . or even with a total stranger. God wants us to talk about the gospel! Three flights and three chats with three strangers may not have ended with life-changing or Pentecost results. But they did happen. That’s the point. It proves that even the most casual conversation can turn into an opportunity to talk about Jesus.

“Do not be afraid to testify about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8).

Any conversation is an opportunity where small talk can turn to spiritual talk and where human needs can encounter gospel power. It can happen anytime, anywhere,

with anyone. It can happen over a cup of coffee, while waiting in line, in the backyard, and even on an airplane.

It can happen with you.


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


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


 

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Author: Donn G. Dobberstein
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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“I do.” “He did.”

Glenn L. Schwanke

Statisticians inform us that 2.3 million couples wed each year in the United States. That works out to some 6,301 weddings per day. June is the most popular month for weddings. About $72 billion is spent on weddings each year. The average number of guests invited to a wedding is 178. The average wedding cost is $20,000.

That last piece of information brings a tear to my eye. Why? Lord willing, our daughter is getting married this summer.

The date the wedding is scheduled is June 9, thirty-nine years to the day after my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows on June 9, 1979, at St. John’s, Clinton Avenue, Milwaukee. (The congregation is now called Loving Shepherd.)

I wish I could tell you what the pastor’s wedding address was about all those years ago. But I was far too nervous to take it in. Nervous because of the vows that my wife, Teresa, and I sealed with the simple promise, “I do.”

And this June 9? I will be nervous again, but not because I haven’t performed weddings before. I’ve had that privilege countless times over the years. Yet this marriage will be unique in my ministry. It’s for our only child.

I’ve had folks ask, “Does a pastor walk his own daughter down the aisle?” My response, “I plan to.” When we reach the front of the church, I’ll lift her veil, give her a hug and a kiss, hand her to her fiancé, and give him a firm handshake. Then I’ll step up to the altar, turn, and begin the service in my role as pastor.”

“Will you get emotional? Will you cry?” “More than likely, but I trust God’s Spirit will help me get through the service.”

Don’t miss the point. The service revolves around a man and a woman standing before their families and friends in God’s house. There they publicly declare their commitment to each other with the solemn pledge, “In the presence of God and these witnesses, I take you to be my wife/husband. I promise to be faithful to you, as long as we both shall live.” The service is about the simple promise, “I do.”

Yet the wedding ceremony is about far more than that! Think of all the family and friends who come to the wedding. Some of them rarely, if ever, go to church otherwise. Maybe they’ve never cracked open a Bible. What do they need to hear on the wedding day? What do we all need to hear? “He did.”

Jesus did what no sinner, no husband, no wife, can ever do. As Paul explains, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. . . He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27 Evangelical Heritage Version). Because of what Jesus did, our Lord will shower his grace into our hearts and homes in this life and then wrap his arms around us in the life to come in heaven above! Knowing this, I’ll make sure all the worshippers at this wedding hear, “He did.”

And for the bride and groom? I’ll print copies of the address, just in case, they’re too nervous to listen closely during the ceremony.


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


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 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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Oops, I did it again!

Though we constantly fall, Jesus forgives us and leads us on the path to heaven.

Deborah Koestler-Kuck

People that know me well have learned how accident prone I can be.

The pain of falling

There was the notorious “360 on a high heel” in the church parking lot. I got a 10 for that one! In June, I decided to carefully walk around a puddle at work. I was oh-so-careful. One step, though, and whoosh, boom, I was down on my knees. Only a few weeks ago, my sandal bottom stuck on the new carpet in my office, and I went flying into the door. My favorite coffee cup was in shards. Thankfully, it was empty. Whew. I’ve tripped up steps and fallen down them. I’ve slipped on nothing. I’ve broken plates, vases, and wine glasses.

Then there was the camera. Somehow or other, I managed to crack the lens on my friend’s GoPro while it sat charging in the bathroom. We’d been enjoying a fabulous weekend. I don’t even know how I did it. The question was simple, “Did you break it?” What? As I thought about it, yes, I moved something sitting on the counter so it didn’t get wet. Long story short, my friend thought I knew what I had done and kept quiet. I apologized. I had done it again. Klutzy me.

As I ponder on these examples, they were all accidents and unintentional. They all had rather costly consequences though. I ruined my nylons and broke my heel in the church parking lot. Both falls at work caused some serious knee pain and bruising, which lasted for a few months. Worst, though, was the camera incident. It caused tension.

The pain of sin

Now let’s compare all this to sin in our lives. I would never fall or break something on purpose, but we do sin on purpose. We sin without realizing it, or by accident, too. Do we sometimes offend without thinking about it? Does our behavior cause someone to go against what they feel is acceptable? Do we hurt others by silly jokes or teasing? There are so many ways each day that we absentmindedly go about our sinful ways without even thinking about it. What’s worse, though, is that our sinful behavior has serious consequences. Our sin may cause loss of possessions. Our sins may cause pain or injury to our physical bodies or others. But worst of all, it causes separation between us and a dear friend. That friend is Jesus.

But he is always true, kind, and loving. He not only overlooks our clumsy, klutzy ways, but when we follow him, he shows us a better way. He takes our hands so we don’t fall. He leads safely. And even if we trip and stumble, he catches us and puts it all right again. If we break his rules, he forgives us over and over. Then he directs us away from our sins. He died for the mistakes, whether intentional or not, that you and I make every day. And one day, we will leave this imperfect world to join him and all saints in glorious, accident-free, heavenly glory.

Knowing my two left feet, undoubtedly I will take a few more tumbles and break a few things along my road to heaven. I’ll be saying, “Oops!” until my dying day. But thanks to a loving Savior, when this life is over, one day I’ll stroll into undeserved glory with all the beauty, elegance, and grace I’ve always hoped for.


Deborah Koestler-Kuck is a member at St. Paul’s, New Ulm, Minnesota.


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Author: Deborah Koestler-Kuck
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 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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Some polls should be believed

Mark G. Schroeder

A recent survey of religious beliefs should be more than a little shocking to us. Here are some of the results when members of a large Protestant church body were questioned about their views:

● Only 31 percent of those surveyed said that religion or biblical teaching is the source of guidance for what is right and wrong. The rest identified common sense, philosophy, or science, or stated that they simply didn’t know.

● When asked if there is an absolute standard for right and wrong, 69 percent said that there is no such absolute standard; right and wrong depends on the situation or your own beliefs.

● Fifteen percent of those responding said that they do not believe in heaven; 41 percent stated that they do not believe in hell.

● Sixty-five percent answered that they believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

● Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of the members of that Christian denomination believe that homosexuality should be accepted; 65 percent approve of same-sex marriage.

● When asked about the origin of the universe and life, 78 percent expressed a belief in evolution.

● Fully 80 percent stated that the Bible is not necessarily the Word of God.

What is shocking about this poll is that those who answered belong to a church body with “Lutheran” in its name. (Hint: It’s not the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.)

It is my firm conviction that WELS members’ answers to these questions would be vastly different than the answers in this poll. But the point here is not for us to say with sinful pride that we thank God that we are not like others who have departed from the truth. The point is this: The Lutheran church body to which these members belong was formed at a time when members held and proclaimed the truths taught in the Scriptures. It’s a stark reminder that even faithful Lutheran church bodies and Lutheran Christians can—and do—stray sometimes very far from biblical truth.

The reason for poll results like this can be traced to the very last question listed above. If 80 percent of the members of a church (and probably a similar percentage of their pastors) no longer believe that the Bible is the Word of God, it’s not at all surprising that they adopt beliefs that are based not on Scripture but on their own ideas and opinions.

Not every church that believes that the Bible is the Word of God remains a correct-teaching church. Even Bible-believing churches can—and do—distort the truth of God’s Word even as they claim to hold on to it. But one thing is certain. A church that rejects the truth that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God cannot remain a church that teaches the truth.

So what are the lessons to be learned from these poll results? First, this is a stark reminder to listen to God’s loving warning that those who think that they are standing firm should be careful that they do not fall. Second, these poll results can lead us to be incredibly grateful that God has preserved his truth among us. Finally, this poll should lead us to encourage one another, pastors and members alike, to stand firmly on the Word of God as the unchanging truth that it is; to insist that our pastors preach and proclaim that truth boldly and without compromise; and to be filled with thanks and confidence that when our pastors say, “This is the Word of the Lord,” that’s exactly what we will hear.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Our treasure: the gospel: Part 2

The gospel changes us.

“Seven sticks and a circle saved my life.” This story shows the gospel’s life-changing power to create faith in Jesus.

Nathan C. Buege

In 1970, at the age of 18, Mike joined the military and spent three years in Vietnam, Thailand, and England. Each of those years included heavy drinking. When he got back to the States, he attended college for five years. And the partying continued. He married Linda, his college sweetheart. Together, they raised two handsome boys.

But God was never a part of the picture. The drinking from his military and college days had never stopped. And nearly 40 years later, in 2009, Mike found himself in a terrible place. He admitted his addiction to alcohol. He successfully quit drinking for about 18 months. But God still was not part of the picture.

Then a relapse. During the next two years, Mike spiraled down to new depths. “After my eighteen-month sobriety, those next two years of drinking made my previous 30-some years of alcohol addiction seem like nothing,” Mike recalled. And after those terrible two years, Linda finally had enough. She moved out. Divorce was all but certain. And Mike’s first thought was, Good. I don’t care. Now I can drink without her complaining about it all the time.

Wanting a change

But Mike couldn’t sleep at night. He couldn’t sleep in his lonely bed. He couldn’t sleep on the couch by the TV. He couldn’t sleep on the patio furniture outside by the pool. He tried drinking even more in order to make himself pass out, but he couldn’t even do that. He struggled to care and considered suicide. He missed his wife, he missed his boys, and he realized he was about an inch away from losing everything. He pulled aside a Christian friend from work and spilled his soul. Mike expressed that he was desperate and needed help.

Mike also promised Linda he’d attend an addiction support group meeting. But he got totally lost in metro Houston on the way to the first meeting. He was turned around, stuck in traffic, and furious with himself . . . when he looked up and discovered that he was somehow in the right spot. “Jesus helped me get to that first meeting,” Mike said.

For decades, Linda had begged Mike to attend church with her, but he never would. So Mike decided to make a change on Sunday mornings also. He began to attend a church within walking distance from his house—Victory of the Lamb, Katy, Texas. He purposely came late and left early, never leaving any contact information. He told himself he was just doing this for a little while to get Linda back. “Those first couple of Sundays, I must have checked my watch 50 times during the service,” Mike recalls. “I really was just forcing myself to be there.”

After his third Sunday, Mike was trying to sprint out the door, as usual. But this time, Hal Brazee, a longtime member of the congregation, was waiting for him. “I’ve seen you come the past three or four weeks,” Hal said, “and I haven’t been able to say hello yet. Why don’t you try coming to our Bible 101 class? It starts next Wednesday. I’ll go there with you.” He gave Mike a Bible and said, “You’re going to need this when you come to class.”

Mike thought to himself, You’re just trying to get me to join this church. But he started Bible 101 class anyway.

Hearing the life-changing gospel

At first, it was tough sledding. Mike had many questions: “How can Jesus be God and man? Would God really forgive wretched humans? Does this mean my fourth-grade teacher was a liar because she had taught me evolution?” Mike wasn’t sure if any of the Bible was true.

Almost every week, I always used a drawing of a stick person, a cross, and two arrows. It shows the gospel simply. One stick man is made from five sticks and a circle. Two more sticks depict the cross. Sins follow an arrow to the cross. The perfection of Jesus follows another arrow from the cross to the stick man. The gospel is the news that all our sins are transferred to Jesus and all his perfection is transferred back to us.

After five weeks or so, Mike stuck around after class to express his doubts to me. I listened carefully and then had a suggestion: “There are a lot of things in the Bible that are hard to believe, Mike. Why don’t you try listening to the Bible as a child would? And then, in the end, either you believe it, or you don’t.”

Mike took me up on this suggestion. He simply listened to the Word as a child would listen. The drawing started to make sense. And gradually, without even trying, he noticed his attitude changing. Instead of listing all the reasons why the Bible probably wasn’t true, Mike found himself simply saying, “This is true. I believe it. God loves me, yes, even me! God has forgiven me for everything in Jesus! My life has changed!” And that day after Bible 101 class, a grown man in his 60s skipped home, smiling as big and bright as the stars in the Texas sky.

Living as a changed man

In November 2013, Mike had a great question for me: “Pastor, I need your help. Can you help me write a Thanksgiving prayer? This will be my first Thanksgiving dinner that I won’t be drunk, and I’d like to lead my family in prayer before the meal.” What a wonderful question for a man to be asking! It was a breakthrough Thanksgiving for the Young family.

A little over two years since Mike had forced himself to walk through the church doors for the first time, Mike and Linda were confirmed as members of Victory of the Lamb. And as they walked back to their seats after taking communion, Hal Brazee was waiting for Mike again. This time, it was with a huge bear hug. Through tears, all Mike could say was, “Thanks, buddy.”

After worship on their confirmation day, the Youngs threw a party to celebrate all that God had done for them. Several of their new church friends were there, as well as some other friends who were instrumental in helping Mike fight alcoholism. Mike exclaimed, “You know how many parties I’ve had at my house where there was all kinds of drinking? Well, that party we had on the day we joined the church was the best party we’ve ever had!”

How is Mike doing now? “I can’t even explain how much better my marriage with Linda has gotten—and it just keeps getting better and better. I enjoy serving as an usher, because now Sunday is my favorite day! There’s a kick in my step, and I can’t wait to get to the church service. It’s totally different than it was when I first walked through the church doors.

“And I also love talking about how seven sticks and a circle saved my life.”


Nathan Buege is pastor at Victory of the Lamb, Katy, Texas.


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


 

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Author: Nathan C. Buege
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 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: What do new dads truly need to know?

What do new moms really need to know?

One of the purposes of this column is to support Christian parents. This month we’re focusing on new dads. Check the May column for advice aimed at new moms. (You can search for the articles at forwardinchrist.net using the phrase “May 2018.”)  

I think the dads who wrote this month hit it out of the ballpark with their articles. Each article on its own is filled with practical wisdom for any parent (not just new dads). Combined? A tour de force! Please read each article and then share them with the dads (and moms) in your life.  

Nicole Balza


If the 2018 version of Jim Aderman could advise the late-1970s Jim Aderman about parenting, the first thing I’d tell that whippersnapper is, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E. Spend time with your kids, Jim. Quality time. Focused time. Time free of ringing phones and buzzing text messages. Time divorced from nagging work projects.  

“Will using time for your kids threaten your career goals? Yup. But your children are extraordinary gifts from your Father to you and your wife (Psalm 127:3). They are meant to have a higher value than your career. Even a pastor’s career. Forty years from now you won’t wish you could go back in time to get more done at work.  

“Jim, my second piece of advice is, demonstrate how much you love your kids by loving your wife first. Children feel most secure when they see that Mom and Dad are ‘I-love-you-to the moon-and-back’ committed to each other. Assure them that your marriage is solid because God’s commitment to you in Jesus prompts you to prize their mother above everything else. Even whenno, especially whenshe is hard to love. And, by the way, when you love your wife like Christ loved the church, your wife will find it easier to love you and your kids too. 

“And that reminds me about something else. Jim, your children need to know that you love them because of God’s cross-guaranteed love for you. Rejoice over your kids when they excel in school, when they score in soccer, and when they live their faith. But tell themevery daythat you love them not because they please you, but because of Jesus’ love for you. Tell them that, since God’s grace is constant and measureless, your love for them will never change or fade. Never. Regardless of their grades, their athletic prowess, or their moral standards. 

“Now, you won’t be able to parent your kids like this driven by your own gumption. If you are going to love your wife and kids like Christ loves you, you need to fill your heart and mind and life with Christ. Immerse yourself in his Word. Read it. Think it through. Study it with others. Share it at your family altar. Celebrate its assurances at worship. Talk with Jesus about it. 

“By the way, Jim, I asked your future granddaughter to review this post. She suggests I should also tell you that you won’t ever be a perfect father. Be sure you apply Easter’s forgiveness to yourself. Then live in its power.” 

Of course, 1977-Jim-Aderman will never hear this advice. But, perhaps, it will help you, young father. Why don’t you let me know how it works? 


James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their eight grandchildren.  


Take a deep breath and see how long you can hold it. Ready . . . set . . . go!  

Sixty-five seconds. That’s all I got. Can you beat my time? In 2012, German freediver Tom Sietas held his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds! That’s a long time without taking a breath! Now try making it a day without confessing your sin and hearing the wonderful assurance that your sins are forgiven. Actually . . . don’t. 

Dads, here’s my advice on how to be a better dad: Breathe. Just as you exhale the carbon dioxide from your lungs and inhale the fresh oxygen you need to live, so to a Christian needs the daily life breath of confession and absolution for their souls to live.  

Dads, one thing I’ve learned in being a dad is that we all mess up. We are selfish sinners. So we will grow impatient, speak harshly, and criticize unfairly. Our selfishness will conflict with the selfishness of our wives and our kids. This is unavoidable this side of heaven.  

But I’ve also learned, dads, that when you mess up, it’s best to fess up. Admit it when you’re wrong. Admit it to God and ask for his forgiveness. Admit it to your family and ask for theirs. In this way you will exhale the carbon dioxide of sin, guilt, and shame that would otherwise poison your soul. 

But don’t stop there. If you only exhaled and nothing more, you would still die. Inhale too. After you’ve exhaled your sin in open, honest confession, then inhale the life-giving oxygen of the gospel. Breathe in the wonderful, joyous, blissful truth that your sins are forgiven by Jesus. He’s paid for all of your sin, guilt, and shame. And he’s taken it all away. Take a deep breath and feel the life, peace, and energy that absolution gives. 

Sound too easy? God promises it! “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As God breathed life into Adam’s lungs, he breathes spiritual life into our hearts by his forgiving grace. 

And as we dads model the daily breath of the Christian through confessing our sins and trusting in the absolution Christ gives, we’ll help our kids breathe a little easier too. They will be able to confess their sins to us, knowing that, even while we enforce consequences, we will also be quick to forgive and to assure them of God’s forgiveness. 

One day soon, unless Jesus returns first, each of us will take our last breath in this world. But with confession and absolution a part of our daily routine, as common as breathing, we will stay ready for that day and help our kids to be ready too. So let’s continue to exhale our sins in confession and inhale the life-giving Word of forgiveness that’s ours in Jesus. It’s the only way to live. 


Rob Guenther and his wife, Becky, have four sons ages 5 -14. Rob serves as pastor at Grace, Kenai, Alaska. 


Math word problems were never my “thing.” But math was my dad’s forte. As a paper scientist, he loved its logic and precision. I would struggle for what seemed like hours with “One train starts from Chicago at 10 a.m. . . .”—then go to Dad. He would look at my scratchings, smile, and say, “Okay, let’s start fresh—a clean piece of paper is a clear mind!” Then off we would go as he explained how to solve it in a way my young mind could grasp.  

Dad is gone now. But his lessons live on. What legacy will we leave for our children and grandchildren? Dad supported my dream of teaching, and, after nearly 40 years in a Christian classroom, I’ve gleaned a few “dad” lessons.  

Enjoy the adventure! From the time our little ones arrive to the day they leave home is a precious window. It’s easy to get caught in the everyday grind. Before we know it, they’re gone and we wonder, “What happened?” The diaper days, toddler years, school days, and adolescence—they all pose challenges. Do your best to treasure those times. Make the most of your hours with your sons and daughters. The Lord promises “a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). 

Play show and tell”be involved and supportive. Dads need to intentionally “be there” for their children, building relationships and making memories. “Teaching them the way they should go” (cf. Proverbs 22:6) means talking, asking questions, hanging out together. Know your children’s dreams and be their cheerleader. Most important—tell them that you love them. Dads can have a hard time sharing those words their children long to hear. Remember to “show and tell” them they are loved. 

Be yourselfnot your kid! Guard against forcing your own “agenda” of unmet needs on your children.  

Discipline in love. Children make lots of mistakes. They sin often. We sin often. A life of forgiveness is what we need to model. We have been forgiven much. Avoid disciplining in anger and shaming your children. God reminds dads to never “exasperate” their children (Ephesians 6:4). 

Live your faith and be honest. Children are God’s gift to us. Being a Christian dad isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s messy; often we’ll fail. That’s the nature of our Christian walk. Our heavenly Father knows that. His Word is our guide. He offers full and free forgiveness. We need that forgiveness from our children as well. Being authentic and honest in our faith walk will leave a lasting legacy for our families.  

And just for the record—I jotted these thoughts on a clean sheet of paper.  


Dave Payne and his wife, Joyce, have four adult children and two grandchildren. Dave serves at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wisconsin, and is a member at Eternal Love, Appleton. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 06
Issue: June 2018

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

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Teen Talk: Jump!

Our heavenly Father is there to catch us whenever we are frightened.

Johanna Leu

Did you ever go on adventures when you were little?

My brother and I always had adventures in our backyard. There was a hill that led down to a valley with a small creek. Near the creek was a place we liked to call “The Kingdom.” It was just a bunch of trees, crushed by one giant, fallen tree, making a long, sheltered area. But it always gave us an adventure.

I have so many memories in that spot. We would spend many hours going outside to manage our “kingdom.” We had a lookout tree to watch for intruders, even a bridge entering into the kingdom, which was really just a fallen tree log. We also found a small curved tree to sit on that had low, small branches that you could wave like a fan at yourself. Of course, since our kingdom was made out of trees, we always were climbing them.

While we were busy adventuring in the trees, my dad would always be near the area, watching to make sure we didn’t fall or get hurt. He wouldn’t intervene, just did other tasks around the area while we played.

I remember once I climbed too high on one of the trees. I was so high I was scared to come down. In my mind, there was no way I was getting down from there.

I yelled to my brother for help. He answered my call from another tree and told me just to climb down. I told him I couldn’t. He tried to walk me through it, but I didn’t trust that I could do it.

I then saw my dad and called out to him to help. He came near the tree and told me to slowly try to reach the branch below me with my feet. I remember him saying, “Try to get to the lower branch. I know you can do it. Trust me, if you fall, I will catch you.”

After some more prodding, I finally started inching down toward the lower branch, but I couldn’t reach it and was too scared of falling. There were no other branches around it to grab onto.

My dad then opened his arms and told me to jump to him. That was an even farther distance away than the branch. “Don’t worry, I’ll catch you,” he said. After a few more moments of hesitation, I jumped.

Doesn’t this sound somewhat like our relationship toward God? We tend to wander off, doing our own things. We get so wrapped up in what we are doing that we don’t realize he’s always there with us, watching us. We only start to look for God when we face troubles.

And even when we face troubles, God isn’t the first one we turn to for help. We ignore the blatantly obvious help that’s always there and try to seek our own way or follow another’s way out.

But, when push comes to shove and all other options are gone, our heavenly Father is there. He patiently waits for us to come to him. He lays different options out before us to try. And then finally, when all seems lost, he opens up his arms to us so that we can get out of our troubles safely and be enveloped by his grace.

All we have to do is jump.


Johanna Leu, a senior at Manitowoc Lutheran High School, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is a member at St. John (Newtonburg), Newton, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Johanna Leu
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Confessions of faith: Heerema

A family finds faith, forgiveness, and their church home. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

They hadn’t lost their faith, but the light of the gospel had grown dim in their hearts. 

“We were just stumbling along,” says Tracy Heerema, of her and her husband, Daniel. 

But they regained their footing—and the light burned brighter—when they started attending a small church right in their neighborhood that has a big heart and a big message of Christ’s love and forgiveness for all sinners.  

“It just felt like home,” says Tracy about Prince of Peace, Flower Mound, Tex.  

And it became their home. 

Shopping for churches 

Lutheran teachings were nothing new to Tracy; she was raised in the Lutheran church until the age of 11. But then her parents switched religions to Mormonism, and Tracy says she stopped going to church after her father died when she was 15 years old. 

“I don’t think I ever truly didn’t believe in my heart that Christ was my Savior,” she says, “but I wasn’t interested in organized religion.” 

When she and her husband got married and started having children, they realized that the spiritual part of their marriage was missing. “We felt like church was important,” she says, “so we bounced around from church to church to church.” 

But something was always lacking in the churches they visited. “I just never felt like I belonged,” says Tracy. “When they say that everything is bigger in Texas, they’re not lying. Most of the churches are huge and overwhelming; to me it felt like it was all about money and show as compared to real community.”  

Daniel had grown up jumping from church to church while his parents searched for a congregation they liked. He didn’t want that for his family, especially when their church searching wasn’t going well. 

So they stopped looking. “We were burnt out,” says Tracy. “We just didn’t make it a huge priority.” For the most part, religion was reduced to a mention of Jesus at Easter and Christmas. 

Making a connection 

When their oldest child was 7, Tracy noticed that Prince of Peace, a church she walked by frequently in her neighborhood, was offering vacation Bible school for the community. “I remembered how much fun I used to have a VBS during the summer when I was growing up,” says Tracy. She and Daniel decided to send their son. “That was when I was first introduced to Prince of Peace,” she remembers. 

A short time later she met Brad Taylor, pastor at Prince of Peace, and his wife, Molly, socially at the school their children all attended. Tracy had just had her second child, and Molly invited her to attend Mornings with Mommy, an outreach program that offers activities for young children to do with their parents, at the church. Tracy started attending the program. 

After she had her third child, Prince of Peace began offering Power Hour as well. This program focused more on sharing God’s Word to parents and their children through Bible studies and activities. Parents were also invited to a parenting class offered by Pastor Taylor. Tracy naturally transitioned into attending Power Hour with her children along with the Mornings with Mommy sessions. 

“During Power 4 Parenting, the 30-minute Bible class that Pastor has, his message and the way he presented everything was so a-ha, so natural,” says Tracy. “It wasn’t like anything else I had heard in any of the other churches my husband and I had tried.” 

Tracy says that during that time she and Daniel were struggling with some marital problems. The messages she was hearing at the parenting class really began to resonate with her. 

“One day, I just said, ‘I am going to try Sunday services,’ ” says Tracy.  

She continues, “When I got to Prince of Peace and started hearing the message, it was like a light bulb went off. I thought, Hey, I know this. I remember this. That was what was missing going to all those other churches—the message didn’t resonate. It was too watered down, too taken out of context. I didn’t feel like it was right.” 

Tracy says that after she and the kids attended services at Prince of Peace for a couple of weeks, her husband noticed a change in her—a change that sparked his interest. He decided to go too. 

“Once he heard Pastor’s sermons, that was it,” says Tracy. “It was just so true; there was no crazy fluff. It felt like home. It was not a big, huge megachurch. It was traditional hymns and the reading of the Scriptures. . . . It didn’t need any of the pomp and circumstance because it was just the truth. My husband had the same reaction to it. He couldn’t wait for the next Sunday.” 

The Heeremas started Foundations of Faith classes and were confirmed in May 2017. Now they are volunteering at the same community events that first introduced them to Prince of Peace. 

Finding forgiveness 

Tracy says she notices many positive changes since their family started attending Prince of Peace. Their marriage is getting stronger, and the family now talks about their Savior on a regular basis. “With the kids, we can definitely help them to understand what it means to be a child of God,” she says. 

She continues, “This has been a huge blessing to our marriage for the two of us to go through this journey together. We both know we’re going to stumble; we’re going to fall. But as long as we continue to remember that Jesus died for all our sins, we can wake up tomorrow and try a little harder.” 

Having that message of forgiveness back in the forefront—a message she had learned long ago in her youth—is something that Tracy cherishes. “I just remember feeling a great sense of comfort knowing that I was flawed and that it is okay to be flawed because Jesus died to wash away all my sins. 

“It’s been a blessing. It made me feel like everything has come full circle.” 

They found their home. 


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ. 


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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 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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Salt of the earth: Part 12

Since we have the peace that flows from God’s love in Christ, we desire peace with others and for others.

Aaron H. Goetzinger

The scene was horrific, but I can only try to imagine it since I heard about it secondhand. What I struggle to understand is the agony parents would feel when they saw their son’s blood watering the ground. Would any parent ever dream it? What started as a sibling rivalry ended in death and, more than that, murder. Cain envied Abel, and that envy grew into anger which then grew into hatred. Conflict was crouching at Cain’s door. It desired Cain, and he did not resist.

It’s difficult for many of us to see ourselves in this account. If we identify with either of the two brothers, we most likely identify with Abel. He was the good guy. He happily gave an offering to God, and God accepted it. We like to see ourselves in that kind of positive light. But the lesson is that after the fall into sin, when people live together, conflict results.

Though I have not murdered my brother, the lesson of Genesis chapter 4 has proven itself to be true right up to today. The lesson applies to all of us. We all innately desire to live in community with one another, yet the problem is that our communities are made up of sinful people. Conflict crouches at each one of our doors.

“Fine!” a wife shouts. “Fine!” a husband screams as he slams the door behind himself.

A father retorts, “You need to do your job and give my daughter more playing time!”—all while wagging his finger in the coach’s face.

“IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, YOU’RE THE PROBLEM!” With this line the woman puts the icing on her vitriolic Facebook post and sends it.

We are heirs of the same problems that have plagued human culture and community since the days of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel. Even in a group of like-minded individuals, strife and conflict will rise. This is precisely why the apostle Paul needed to give this reminder to Christians: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

Peace does not take sides

Conflict is a question of sides. Are you a millennial or not? Did you vote for President Trump or not? Are you on the side of right, or are you on the side of wrong? Are you us or are you them? However, contrasted against such a binary view of life, Paul calls on us to live at peace. He does not take sides. Rather, peace looks for common ground and defuses conflict.

Paul takes a wide sweeping view of peace because the peace that Christians have been granted takes no sides. When Paul opened his letter to the Romans, he said “To all in Rome who are loved by God . . . Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7). At the end of Romans, he gave this blessing, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13). Then he closed by saying, “The peace of God be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:33).

Christians in Rome all had the peace that flows from God’s love in Christ. Our entire relationship with God has changed. A relationship that was once marked by animosity and hostility is now marked by a declaration of peace (Romans 5:1). Our minds, since they are no longer controlled by sin and death, are filled with life and peace (Romans 8:6). Just as the peace of God takes no sides, it also ushers in wide sweeping change in each of us. We desire peace with others, even in difficult relationships.

Peace is not weakness

Some may wonder if we become pushovers or if there is a certain weakness in peace making. The cynic may snarl, “Well, if you want peace, prepare for war”—as if we become losers when we seek to keep the peace. This is a very worldly view of peace and conflict.

When the disciples were worried about Jesus’ future, he assured them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Similarly, Jesus assured them that though they may experience strife and trouble the peace that he provides between sinners and the Father transcends and overcomes this world (John 16:33).

Jesus says these things because the peace we enjoy with God can never be taken from us. The peace we have with God is sealed in his blood. Though what your spouse says or does may hurt you deeply, those words cannot impact the peace you have with God. Though someone from a different generation annoys you, they cannot influence the everlasting peace Jesus gives to you. Though you disagree with someone from the opposite side of the aisle, their political statements do not change your standing with God.

Paul understands fully the kind of world in which we live. Christians live in a tense relationship with the world. In Romans chapter 3, Paul says one piece of evidence of sin in the lives of sinners is their lack of understanding of real peace. Later in chapter 12,

Paul acknowledges that Christians will be faced with persecution and evil. This is why he says in verse 18 that we are to live in peace “if it is possible.”

At the same time Paul is not letting us off the hook. He says, “As far as it depends on you.” Though we live in an evil world that fails to understand real peace we are to bless persecutors and not repay evil with evil. We are to live peaceful lives and seek to negotiate peace as much as we are able. Part of that task means we are to share the peace we have because of our Savior with those still trapped in a world of hostility and conflict.

As Christians we are in this world, but we are not of this world. We are salt. We are different from the world. We have peace within. This eternal peace is carried with us in our everyday lives. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), he is encouraging us to “live at peace with everyone.” We are always Christians and peacemakers before we are defined by our own generation, politics, or nationality.

We have the peace that changes our relationship with our God. We have the peace that now fills us and changes us. We have the peace that helps us to see other people less as a threat and more as those who need peace. We have the peace that causes us to understand that the peace of God is not one of sides, but is for all people.


Aaron Goetzinger is pastor at Redemption, Watertown, New York.


This is the final article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.


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Author: Aaron H. Goetzinger
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 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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Bondage and freedom

John A. Braun

“Prove that there is a God!” We all have heard the challenge. After all the data measured by the first Soviet satellites, some boasted that the satellites discovered no evidence of God. Since then we have sent men to the moon and probes all over our solar system. Still no proof of God in all that data. 

So some claim such probing is clear evidence that there is no God. Richard Dawkins and other atheists build their concepts without God and aggressively proclaim that all who believe in God are weak; superstitious; and, to put it mildly, stupid. Stephen Hawking* may have been a little more tolerant of those who believe in God, but he also said, “The laws [of science] may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”  

I thought about this as I listened to the sermon on Easter Sunday. It struck me that the scientists who abandon God are bound and confined by their own self-imposed principles. They are slaves of scientific thinking that can only observe the world and understand it based on the evidence that human senses can provide. I understand that and accept the value of science and the advances made in all the sciences. I even await new advances. Yet all these advances are based on observation, experimentation, and evidence measured and verified by instruments. 

That thinking not only does not see anything beyond the physical world, but it also refuses to assume that something more exists. It will not allow the idea that something exists that cannot be measured or observed. In their view, belief in God is a foolish crutch without any scientific evidence or proof. That’s true if you only accept proofs verified by the scientific method. Yet scientists who abandon God are in bondage, and they fail to see their own bondage. They are limited to the one vision of life without anything more or beyond the horizon of human observation. Their worldview has a hard ceiling that science cannot penetrate because they refuse to entertain any ideas beyond their own. 

While listening to the Easter sermon, I heard again that Jesus has defied the natural laws. He arose from the dead, and he even predicted that resurrection before it happened. I have no scientific evidence of these events. But the Holy Spirit has smashed the ceiling of limited human thought and allowed me to think beyond such physical evidence. God is above this physical world, and he is superior to all human thinking and speculation. He has revealed his love for me through Jesus (Hebrews 1:2). He intervened to break not only the ceiling of my thinking, but he also allowed me to think beyond the natural laws that govern earthly life and death.  

But we must be careful here. I can’t simply imagine anything and claim it is true. The only reliable guidebook I can depend on is the Scriptures.  

With that guidebook, I soar to explore God’s grace. I circle around it as I read the Scriptures, and by its words I marvel at the majesty of his love and his limitless power. The Holy Spirit has given me wings. I glide on those wings and depend on his power in dark and difficult days, as he promises in the Scriptures. Like an eagle, I have a clear vision of Christ crucified and risen again. That vision provides hope for another life in a world no one can yet see except on the pages of God’s Word. I am free because in Christ I can see beyond death and beyond this physical world.  

*Stephen Hawking died on March 14, 2018.


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Light for our path: Please explain Sheol

Can you please explain Sheol? This came up in a recent Bible study, and I knew nothing about it. How does this differ from our thoughts that a believer dies and goes to heaven?

James F. Pope 

Sheol is the transliteration of a Hebrew word into English. It is a word that can have different meanings based on context. While most Bible translations translate the Hebrew word, some translations simply render the Hebrew as Sheol. So, let’s take a look at a few Bible passages and see how context determines the shading of that word. I’ll include different translations that help explain the meaning.

Sheol—All people

“For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (Psalm 6:5 English Standard Version). The book of Psalms features Hebrew poetry, and the hallmark of that genre is parallelism. In some cases, the first half of a verse is restated in similar terms in the second half of a verse. In Psalm 6:5, death and Sheol are synonyms. In Scripture, Sheol often refers to the state or condition of being dead; a person is no longer physically alive on the earth. This meaning of Sheol does not take into account the eternal judgment occurring at death, which places a person’s soul in heaven or hell. Sheol can simply refer to humanity’s common experience of dying: “Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?” (Psalm 6:5 NIV 2011)

Sheol—Believer

“I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning” (Genesis 37:35 Christian Standard Bible). With but two exceptions (Enoch and Elijah), all human beings have experienced death. In Genesis chapter 37 we learn that some of Jacob’s sons had convinced him that his favorite son, Joseph, was dead. Heartbroken, Jacob lamented that his grief would be lifelong—lasting until the time when he, like his son, died. Sheol can also refer to the believer’s state or condition of being physically dead and not alive on the earth. “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave” (Genesis 37:35 NIV 2011).

Sheol—Hell

“For a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol” (Deuteronomy 32:22 New American Standard Bible). In Deuteronomy chapter 32 Moses spoke to the people of Israel for one of the last times in his life. In his message, he spoke of God’s fiery wrath for those who reject him. It is clear that Sheol can refer to hell, the place of eternal punishment. “For a fire is kindled in My anger, and shall burn to the lowest hell” (Deuteronomy 32:22 New King James Version).

It is context that gives Sheol its various shadings. For the Christian, Sheol can mean only the grave or the condition of being physically dead. Unless the Lord returns visibly to this world during our lifetime, you and I will experience physical death, but that is just the beginning of a never-ending life with God in his presence.

Heaven

Old Testament writers who used the word Sheol also spoke of people enjoying God’s eternal blessings through faith in the promised Messiah. The writers described heaven in different ways: being at God’s right hand (Psalm 16:11), dwelling in the house of the Lord (Psalm 23:6), being with God in glory (Psalm 73:24), having joy (Isaiah 26:19), and enjoying everlasting life (Daniel 12:1-3). Rest assured: When Christians die, their souls go to heaven.


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 06
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 7

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

The best is yet to come (Luke 24:36-49; Acts 1:7,8) 

Over 20 years ago, Robert William Thomas wrote the “Keep Your Fork” story. It’s often quoted in magazines or at funerals, and if you haven’t ever heard this short story, I’d encourage you to look it up. The essence of the story is, in the author’s words, “Keep your fork, because the best is yet come.”

Long before Robert Thomas published his story, Jesus instructed his disciples “that the best was yet to come.” At first glance, that might seem hard to believe. How can anything get better than having the Son of God and Son of Man as a regular dining partner? What can possibly be better than having Jesus begin with “Moses and all the Prophets” and explain how things had to play out the way they did (Luke 24:13-35)? What can possibly be better than having a bit of fish with a living Savior, proving his defeat of death (Luke 24:42)? Yet, after dining with them off and on for 40 days, he promises something better: “Stay in the city until you are empowered from on high” (Luke 24:49 Christian Standard Bible [CSB]). Basically, Jesus tells his disciples, “Keep your fork.”

We don’t always know what sweet thing is coming from the kitchen, so the disciples likely had no idea what a tremendous blessing Jesus had in store for them just 10 days after he ascended into heaven. But as promised, things got better. No longer just satiated with their Savior but “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), the disciples became confident witnesses (Acts 1:8). As the sweet gospel went out from their lips, the blessings kept pouring in. About three thousand people were added to their number on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Thousands were baptized.

But don’t stop with the day of Pentecost. Look what happens next, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles” (Acts 2:42,43 CSB).

As we are about to embark on the non-festival half of the church year, there may be a tendency to push away from the table because we feel spiritually full. Over the past six months, we’ve been fed the beautiful truth of “God with us” as Jesus became one of us. We’ve “tasted and seen” that the Lord is good as we watched him give body and blood for our forgiveness. We feasted over the great celebration of Jesus’ victory over death. Yet, the same Holy Spirit that was promised to the disciples is promised to us every time we gather around Word and sacrament. Like the early Christian church in the days after Pentecost, may we continue to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Though these things, the Lord assures us the best is yet to come.

Therefore, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit—to us be blessed. Amen.”


Food for thought 

  1. Why is Pentecost often the least celebrated holiday?

    Perhaps Pentecost is celebrated least because it has not been commercialized. Instead of bemoaning this, understand how this can be a good thing. Instead of Christmas becoming about Santa and Easter becoming about a bunny, we can continue to emphasize the spiritual blessings of this “holy-day” — the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  2. List three practical ways that you can keep“being devoted to the apostles’ teaching” during the summer months when people are often tempted to push away from the table because they think they are spiritually full?Answers will vary. Family or personal challenges about doing an in depth Bible study, visiting churches across the country when on vacation, memorizing a hymn a week, etc. are examples of “keeping our fork” during the non-festival time of worship.
  3. Why did Jesus tell his disciples to“wait” for the gift of the Holy Spirit instead of sending this gift right away?

    While I can’t say definitively Jesus’ reason, think about the same reason why parents tell children to “wait” for various gifts. When you have to wait for something, you usually appreciate it more. Also, by creating a ten-day gap between his physical presence and the promised gift, Jesus was showing that all authority in heaven and earth did belong to him and that he was still in control, even if he wasn’t physically with the disciples.


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


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


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 06
Issue: June 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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Saved & healed

Jimmy Cassadore has not had an easy road, but God led him back to a life of service.

Debbie K. Dietrich, as told to her by Jimmy Cassadore

My grandfather brought me up in the Lutheran church. I sat with him in the front pew. By eighth grade, I was confirmed. By high school, I was still going to church but sitting in the back pew, half the time hung over or still high from a night of partying.

After high school, I wasn’t happy, so I kept drinking. I tried the homosexual lifestyle and learned to become the life of the party to hide my pain. I lived a sad, quiet life at home when not partying, getting high, getting drunk, or selling myself for a moment of pleasure and a bit of money to keep me high.

Finally, in a moment of clarity, I went to trade school to be a mason. But the pain didn’t go away. Work wasn’t the answer. Work gave me money, and I lived life high on cocaine while at work. When that didn’t help, I switched to meth. I thought I’d found the answer. I stayed high using meth to keep me awake at work and came home sad, tired, lonely, and in deep emotional pain. So I drank beer until I fell asleep.

This routine kept me going for almost six years. My pain just grew worse. I worked at my job only to stay high and when that wasn’t enough, I sold myself to men and women and finally started selling drugs myself. I lied. I cheated. I stole. I had gone from the back pew of church to out the back door.

The road back home

Soon, it happened. I got arrested and taken to jail—for one day! After I was released, I tried to hitchhike a couple hours to my home. It was cold, raining, and no one was around, so I walked. Along the way, I yelled and argued with God. I thought, He doesn’t even care about me. So I laid down in the middle of the road on the side where most of the cars were coming. I was just waiting to get run over, but no cars or trucks came!

I got up and started walking and really screamed at God, because now cars and trucks kept going by. I laid down again in the middle of the road and waited to die, thinking that would end my pain. Nothing. No cars. No trucks again. Just cold, rain, and lots of pain.

Finally, I got up again, yelling at God until I was exhausted and fell to my knees crying in pain. “God, I’m sorry, please forgive me and show me the way to go from here just like you showed Moses.” And then I fell asleep in the cold rain on the side of the road.

When I woke up, it was pitch black, and I just prayed God would get me home. A trucker stopped and picked me up. I told him I’d just been praying for a ride home and then he appeared. We talked, and he listened and let me use his phone to call my mom to pick me up. She said she had no car, but she’d work on it.

When the trucker let me off where my mom might come to get me, he would not leave me alone. He stayed for 30 minutes. Finally, my mom came, and I was still so angry at everything. I had planned to yell at her for letting me hitchhike. But when she opened the car door, I fell down weeping like a small child and crying to her that I was so sorry. She welcomed me home where blankets and food, hot drinks, and my grandma all waited. We all hugged and cried together.

The phone rang, and it was the truck driver asking if I’d made it home and praising God that I had! Sometimes I wonder if he was an angel or God himself. Whatever it was, it was God saving me and getting me home.

A few weeks later, one Sunday, I woke up my mom. When she asked, “Where are you going now?” I told her, “To church with you.”

I quit all those drugs and alcohol and the homosexual lifestyle. It wasn’t easy at all. For two solid years I dreamed of doing all those sinful things and often felt afraid. People hated the person I had been, but they hated me now too. Yet I kept clean and dry and also kept going to church. A friend told me about a Lutheran recovery program so I went to check it out. It was awesome. I met people just like me. We shared our hurts and habits and encouraged each other with God’s Word. I was getting help. I was thankful to God that for some reason unknown to me he must have a purpose for me on this earth.

A road forward

When someone at church suggested I take Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) Bible classes, I said, “No way. I already go to church. You don’t know what’s good for me.” But he said I’d get a lot out of deep Bible study, so I tried it. I was hooked! We studied the Word deeply and then discussed how it applied to our lives. I’ve learned to share the messages from the Bible at work and also discussed them with my mom, relatives, and friends. I was on fire for the Lord, and I couldn’t get enough of studying and sharing the good news about Jesus! I still feel that way.

Then the pastor who was teaching asked me if I would become a leader for our Lutheran Recovery Ministry.

“ME?” I said “No, I don’t think so. I’m not worthy. I’ve been into drugs, a homosexual, a dealer, and put many people in danger. I’m just a mason. Pastor, go find someone with credentials!”

Pastor said, “We just did, Jeep! (That’s what they call me here.) You can use your past experience and your love and deep knowledge of the Scriptures to be a Christian leader helping those who’ve been where you’ve been and want out. We need you here in the Lutheran Recovery Ministry.”

Now I’ve been eight years sober and clean and four years with the ACTS Bible program. The classes have opened my eyes to exactly what God tells us in the Bible, and I can clearly see how our Lutheran churches do not add or subtract anything from the Bible. It’s not about race, culture, age, or our past. We’re a family who is always there to hold each other up as we serve in our families and communities, at work, and in our churches.

Life is still hard. I’ve been beaten, bruised, and raped, and that hurts. But now I’m saved, healed, redeemed, and serving as a Christian leader. I have never been happier. God did have a plan for me. He brought me back to serve him. Hang in there; God has a plan for you too.


Debbie Dietrich is the Native American mission communication coordinator. Jimmy Cassadore is a member at Open Bible, Whiteriver, Arizona.


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Author: Debbie K. Dietrich, as told to her by Jimmy Cassadore
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 5

Obadiah: Did God say that?!?

Thomas D. Kock

Did God say that?!?

The question is reasonable, and Obadiah likely raises that question.

A cruel message of punishment

The one-chapter book of Obadiah is unusual. It’s addressed to a specific nation: Edom. Edom was located to the east and south of the Dead Sea and was a perpetual enemy of the Israelites. That is tragic, for the Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. (Read the account of Jacob and Esau, starting at Genesis 25:19.) So, Edom was a cousin nation to Israel.

But the relationship between Edom and Israel was awful. Psalm 137:7 tells us that on the day Jerusalem was destroyed (586 B.C.), some Edomites were there, crying out, “Tear it down . . . tear it down to its foundations!” Wow!

So perhaps we’re not surprised to hear God say, “But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged!” (v. 6), and “everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter” (v. 9), and “you will be destroyed forever” (v. 10).

Edom was Israel’s enemy. Edom deserved this. And yet, it’s quite reasonable to ask, “Why would God say that? It sounds so cruel! So harsh!”

In a sense, it is cruel; it is harsh. But it’s a message that I need to hear. Why?

It reminds me that there is a God who rules this universe and to stand against him is a horrible decision. Indeed, the only ultimate result of obstinately standing opposed to God (as Edom did) is to suffer an eternity in hell.

That’s a message I need to hear because my sinful self too often takes sin so lightly. Every sin is rebellion against God. As I hear God’s strong words to Edom, I’m reminded that I too deserve what Edom received: “As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head” (v. 15). Just as Edom deserved punishment, I deserve punishment. I need to hear that!

A needed message of deliverance

Thankfully, Obadiah continues. “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance” (v. 17). Jesus came to win deliverance for sinners, for all sinners. He won forgiveness for the

Edomites—and for me. It happened on Mount Zion, the “mountain” on which Jerusalem was located. No, Mount Zion isn’t as impressive as some of the mountains of Edom, but what happened there was oh-so-impressive. There Jesus earned deliverance for all mankind—by dying and rising. Obadiah reminds me of that; I need to hear that.

Obadiah ends, “And the kingdom will be the LORD’s” (v. 21). Obadiah reminds me that God is in charge. He really does rule all things! Even when nations are in overt rebellion, God remains in charge. Even when I’m struggling mightily, God remains in charge. Even when I’m soaring high, God remains in charge. I need to hear that!

So, in Obadiah I’m reminded that I’m a sinner who deserves God’s judgment. In Obadiah I’m reminded that God has earned salvation for all, for me. In Obadiah I’m reminded that God is in charge, always.

Did God say that?!? Thank God, yes, he said that


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


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


Obadiah

Name meaning: “Obadiah” means “servant of the Lord.”

What is Obadiah?: Is “Obadiah” a person? Or a title? We don’t know.

Background: Obadiah prophesied sometime after 586 B.C., when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.

Key concept: God rules all things. Mock him at your own risk!

Key verse: “Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (v. 4).


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Words that fight for peace

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:32-34

Joel C. Seifert

They seem like fighting words. Jesus calls us to speak his truth faithfully, and he says when we do so, it’ll bring a sword. Jesus doesn’t hide what faithful witnessing brings. Those who speak his words will be imprisoned and punished. The words they speak will bring strife into their family life and hatred from the world.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. The world Jesus sends us into so often sees God’s will for our lives as out-of-date—or even threatening. Those who hold to a biblical worldview of creation are publicly mocked. So many even in the visible church oppose those who hold to the teachings of Scripture. We have a lot to fight against, don’t we?

Christians are for Christ

Christ sent the disciples out with a simple task: “Proclaim this message, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’ ” (10:7). They weren’t sent out to eradicate sin or reform society. Jesus didn’t call them to erase divisions in the visible church and drive out false teachers. The purpose of the church isn’t to defeat those evils; they’ll exist until the end of time.

God calls us to proclaim his kingdom. Matthew chapter 10 is a list of the challenges that will simply be there when we go about our work. But that doesn’t mean we’re on the defensive. We have a different strategy. We share the news of a Savior who doesn’t promise an immediate fix for a sinful world but forgiveness and salvation for the sinners in it.

Christ is for Christians

But as we do that, Jesus says it will bring trouble, even in our families. It will bring a cross. Are we attacked? Is our faith mocked? Our natural reaction is to respond with fear or anger, but we don’t need to. Jesus has won the victory. Christ is for us.

Do you see the freedom those words bring? It’s an easy temptation to see yourself as on the defensive—a victim in a culture war against Christian values. And that makes it all the more tempting to lash out in kind: to mock, to accuse, to insult. But dear Christian, Christ has won for you. So, follow him. Proclaim his kingdom with kindness, love, and respect. Will you be attacked? Of course! The world attacked Jesus too. But Christ is for you, so follow him as you speak the truth in love.

At the end of June, the church remembers the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession. It’s one of the foundational confessions of the Lutheran church. It was delivered by Lutheran princes and laymen to Emperor Charles V on June 25, 1530. Because they held to God’s Word, they were condemned and threatened by their emperor with loss of land, wealth, and even life. Consider reading the Augsburg Confession this month. You’ll find in its pages a wonderful confession of the truths of Scripture in the face of false teaching. And with that, you’ll find something else beautiful: the entire confession is filled with humility; respect; and Christian love, even as its writers faced punishment or war. They weren’t afraid; they knew Christ was for them. And they let their words and actions speak clearly: They were for Christ


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


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Amen.

John A. Braun

Amen is a word we say so often we don’t even realize we say it. At the end of every prayer it’s a kind of a spoken period. When we worship, we sing or say it in response to the worship leader said. If we use it outside of church and our prayers, it’s simply something like, “Amen to that.” We agree with what someone has just said. It often simply means, “Yes, I certainly agree.”

The word, of course, has roots in both Old and New Testament. Actually it’s a Hebrew word emphasizing certainty, assurance, and dependability. For example, Psalm 89 ends, ”Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen”. (v. 52). The Psalms have other examples of Amen used to assert and confirm praise to God (Psalm 41:13, Psalm 72:19).

The apostles Paul, Peter and John also use the word to emphasize their praise. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (4:20), Peter used the word in the same way, ”To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11). And John’s Revelation ends with two uses of amen. Both are part of his concluding prayer, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:20,21).

The word also comes from the mouth of Jesus, but it’s not translated as “Amen.” Instead it becomes “Verily” (KJV) and “Truly” (ESV and NIV). When the gospels quote Jesus using the word “Amen” they write, Jesus said, “Truly (amen). I say to you.” The word emphasizes the truth of what Jesus said. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “ Truly (amen) I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). When John quotes Jesus he often doubles the amen. For example Jesus said, “Very truly (amen, amen) I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life” (John 5:47). John’s double use of amen doesn’t mean that Jesus words are “really, really” true and the other sayings of Jesus are only “really” true. Whether there is one amen, two amens, or none. All of the Scripture is equally true and sure.

So what does this all mean to us in our worship and our spiritual lives. First, I think it means that we are following the example of believers throughout the history of the world. Amen was on the lips of God’s people in the Old Testament and the New. We are connected with them all by faith in Jesus, and the little word amen is one of those connections. What a amazing blessing that is! Then also remember that we say it together with our brothers and sisters here and now. We are also connected to each other whether we say the word in worship or at home with our loved ones. Our amen affirms we are all of the same mind. It is a word of faith and trust in God.

And that’s the second thing. Amen is a word of faith. When we speak it, we say we trust in the God who gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen! Like little children we come to our heavenly Father with our prayers and praise. He scoops us up in his arms and soothes us with his love. Confident in his arms, he invites us to praise and pray. “Amen” is our word of confident faith in all the promises God makes and a word of assurance that the Lord’s Prayer and every prayer ascends to our heavenly Father where it will receive his attention. Amen! Amen!


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Life’s arrow

The seemingly endless stress and hardship that we feel now is a tiny speck of time compared to the eternity that we will spend with Jesus. 

Katelyn Raddatz 

To us, time seems like such a definite thing. Sixty seconds from now, I expect my clock to show that one minute has passed. Sixty minutes from now, I will be one hour closer to my alarm waking me tomorrow morning. 

Because time seems so definite to us, we often complain. We complain when we’re so busy that we feel we have no time to relax. We turn to God and beg for a break. When he answers, we feel content. But then contentedness fades, and we complain again. We complain of boredom, because we don’t have enough to keep us occupied. Then the cycle repeats itself.  

Our lives are like roller coasters. They have their ups and downs, their sharp turns and dramatic changes in speed. But unlike a roller coaster’s path, which we can see in advance, we lead our lives blind, not knowing what lies ahead. We may try to map out our lives in advance, planning how we think things should go, but more often than not our path turns right when we thought a left turn would be best. Our roller coaster speeds up when we want it to slow down and slows down when we so desperately want it to fast forward. We struggle because we cannot accurately pinpoint when our lives are going to be hectic and stressful. 

To us, tragedies and sadness seem like they are such a gigantic part of our lives, but in reality, they are not.  I’m reminded of something a teacher showed our class in grade school. He used the geometric description of a ray (a line with a start point but no end point) to explain what God promises us: an eternal place in heaven. Our life begins at one point, and we die at one point. Throughout that time, we go through ups and downs. We experience things that make our lives come to a complete halt. But when life gets tough and time seems to stand still, we find comfort in God’s promise. The seemingly endless stress and hardship that we feel now is really a tiny speck of time in the big scheme of things. It is just one tiny dot on a line that goes on forever. It is nothing compared to the eternity that we will spend with Jesus. Eternity never ends; it is like the arrow on the ray that keeps going and never stops.  

God’s promise extends to our lives on this earth too. When we reach a fork in the road and we don’t know which way to turn, God directs us. Each of us can say, “[The LORD] guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). God leads us in the right direction. When we stumble off those paths, he guides us right back to them. And when we walk through the darkest valleys of life’s journey, we need fear no evil because the Lord is with us and comforts us (cf. Psalm 23:4). 

Next time you are feeling the weight of time bringing you down, remember the promise that Jesus spoke: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). 


Katelyn Raddatz, a sophomore at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, Sparta, Wisconsin. 


 

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Author: Katelyn Raddatz
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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His address is heaven

A school project demonstrates the faith of a child.

Holly J. Beckman

Kindergarten is a lot different these days. Kids already can print their names, count to 50, and know their address, phone number, colors, and shapes. These are things I learned in first and second grade.

After only a few weeks in kindergarten, my grandson had to write a family profile. This seemed quite advanced to me. The kids had to write family names, where their grandparents live, and what they love most about us.

My grandson brought it home to work on it. My daughter helped him spell some words, and when he was all done he excitedly showed it to her. She then forwarded it to me. I love getting school papers, brightly colored Bible story pictures, and cute art projects that I proudly display on my refrigerator. All grandmas love to show off anything about their grandkids!

My grandson had filled in all the blanks. For my address, he wrote Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But his grandpa’s address was different. He wrote Heaven. My daughter said she never helped or prompted him in any way. He did this totally on his own.

His grandpa, my husband, had gone to heaven nine months before. My grandson had visited him before cancer took him to heaven. Coming to Wisconsin for the funeral was something I doubt any of the kids will forget. It brought them comfort, strength, peace, and closure.

Little ones are such an example. They see things with fresh and exciting eyes. They never doubt what they learn about God. This comes later as we grow up. We adults know all about doubting. But little children thoroughly trust that what God says is rock solid and will never change. God made a promise, and he is good for it.

My grandson is content. He knows he will see Grandpa again. He is satisfied to wait for God’s perfect timing. I love that about my grandkids. They spur me on. They inspire me with their strong faith.

Recently, this little boy, in all sincerity, asked if he could Facetime Grandpa in heaven!


Holly Beckman is a member at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


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Author: Holly J. Beckman
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Optimist or pessimist?

Earle D. Treptow

Do you belong to the “pessimist party” or the “optimist club”? Your answer may depend on the day you’re asked. For instance, if asked whether your favorite team will win a championship, you may be a pessimist, conditioned by years of futility. But two months later, when the team is exceeding expectations, you may be an optimist.

On a more serious level, would you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist on the possibility of eliminating, or reducing, the mass shootings that plague us? Do you think steps can be taken to preserve life? Or do you feel that attempts to address the situation won’t make any substantial difference? How does your Christian faith influence your view?

Christians have learned, by the Father’s grace and the Spirit’s work, to tune their ears to God’s Word when they’re bothered by horrific events. What Christians hear is God speaking the truth about all people, including us: “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). We can’t be overly surprised by these senseless shootings. Sinners sin. The law that God has written on human hearts curbs sin, but it doesn’t stop all sin from occurring, as we know from our own personal struggles.

Christians also hear what Jesus said about the final days of this world: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). People will become increasingly self-centered. They will do what their corrupt hearts want to do, with little thought to the impact of their actions on others.

Christians who believe what God says about sinners don’t expect an end of senseless violence in this world. Laws may well be enacted to make it more difficult to get the kinds of weapons used in these shootings. Yet laws do not change hearts. Sinful hearts will remain loveless. Christians see the glass half empty.

But Christians whose ears are tuned to God’s Word also hear promises that fill their hearts with confidence. The Lord Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, promises to direct all things for the benefit of his people. The Lord is ruling over everything, even if rampant wickedness makes it appear that the devil has gained the upper hand.

When we reflect on senseless violence, we often focus only on the hard-heartedness of sinners and forget about God’s grace and power. The One who desires all to be saved promises to work through his powerful gospel to call people to repentance and faith.

What’s more, he promises to empower his people to speak the gospel through which the Holy Spirit miraculously transforms hearts and lives. Believing the Lord’s promise that he can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), we take up the task of speaking God’s Word to the world. We need not feel helpless in the face of rampant violence. Jesus gave us the task to proclaim his heart-changing gospel to everyone, and he gave us his promise that the Spirit will accompany the Word we speak. Christians see the glass half full.

When Christians focus on sinful human beings, they’re pessimistic—sinners will continue to sin. When Christians focus on the grace and power of God, they’re optimistic—the Lord can change hearts. We know and confess the sinner’s natural depravity, which makes every sin possible. But we also know and confess the grace and power of our Savior-God, for whom nothing is impossible, not even transforming hearts and altering lives.


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


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Finding the real cure

Mark G. Schroeder

In February, our nation endured the trauma of yet another mass shooting. By the time you are reading this, it would not be surprising if another similar terrible incident has taken place in a different school or public place.

When these terrible tragedies occur, the questions immediately come. What could have been done to prevent this? What can be done to prevent similar atrocities in the future?

The public debate invariably centers on two solutions. One suggests tighter regulations and laws on the sale and possession of guns. The other argues that the solution to the problem is increased efforts to provide security in schools and other public venues, to better enforce the laws already on the books, and to give more attention to mental health diagnosis and treatment.

But none of these solutions provide an answer. That’s because they don’t address the real problem. These solutions attempt to treat the symptoms of a deeper problem rather than providing the cure for the disease.

We know what the root cause is. From the time of the world’s first murder, when Cain took the life of his brother Abel, the cause of such behavior is the sinful and wicked human heart that neither knows God nor desires to serve him. It’s sin in the human heart that separates a person from God and is the fountain from which flow the evil and wicked deeds that plague our fallen world. It is sin that moves a person to devalue and disregard the life of everyone—from the child in the womb to the elderly in a nursing home. It is the sin-darkened heart that contemplates and causes harm to others—from hurtful words to deadly shootings. It is sin that has shown itself throughout history in man’s inhumanity to man.

So, the solution to the problem of gun violence and mass shootings is not really to be found in political arguments or governmental actions. If the root cause of this problem is sin—and it is—then the only solution is to be found in the cure and remedy for sin: the saving and transforming gospel of Christ.

Sad to say, the pure gospel of forgiveness and salvation in Christ is all too often not seen as the solution we so desperately need. Even Christian churches today have set aside the one true remedy and have focused their attention on the symptoms. Like Martha, they have forgotten the one thing that is needed (cf. Luke 10:38-42) and instead replaced it with misguided efforts to fight for social justice and to root out poverty and oppression. When the church abandons its mission to preach the gospel, sin-darkened hearts are not changed, life continues to be devalued, and love for others is replaced by self-interest, self-promotion, and every kind of evil

I am thankful to belong to a Christian church that, by the grace of God, is committed to a mission that says, “We preach Christ crucified!” God has graciously preserved his saving truth among us, and in doing that he has given us the only effective remedy against the corruption within each of us. It’s the gospel that motivates us to do God’s will, not our own. It’s the good news that alone changes the heart of the young adult who feels marginalized and alone. It’s the message of Christ that leads people to turn from sinful desires and to follow him.

The gospel alone is the cure. By grace, we have that gospel. With God’s help, we proclaim it and teach it as faithfully as we can—not to change society, but to watch its power change hearts and lives.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Our treasure: the gospel: Part 1

The gospel preserves the church

The gospel is God’s power. While opposed by many, it still brings sinners to faith in Jesus.

John A. Braun

Two worlds collided. Jesus was clear about that: “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22). His disciples later suffered because their world, built on Jesus, collided with the world that opposed Jesus. In the conflict they had one weapon. It also provided the strength, comfort, and courage to be faithful to Jesus.

That weapon? The gospel.

The apostle Paul reminded Roman Christians that the gospel was “the power of God” (l:16). In the darkest hour the gospel sustained Paul and the other believers. It was a power for them and became a power for those who heard its message. We are believers because of the power of the gospel. “Christ crucified,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians was so much foolishness to many but, “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

The collision of these two worlds hasn’t come to an end because of some peace treaty. It only flares up hotter at different points in history. A short, honest review of history will confirm those periods of opposition to the gospel. Of course, the persecution of the church, Christians, and the gospel have not come to an end even in our own age. Nevertheless, the gospel always—always—is a power and has preserved the church through those periods of opposition.

Jonas Schröter: The first chapter

A real story can illustrate how the gospel is God’s power to preserve his church. At the end of World War II, Europe—Germany in particular—was divided into two zones. In the east the government adopted an ideology that clearly opposed the gospel and Christian churches. It wasn’t open persecution where churches were boarded up and Christians were sent to firing squads, but two distinct worlds still collided—Christians and those opposed to Christianity.

Jonas Schröter lived with his family in Grimma, Germany, the city where Katherine von Bora, Luther’s wife, was a nun before she married Dr. Luther. There in Grimma the gospel brought people to faith. Lutherans still lived there when World War II began.

But when the war ended, things changed. The streets were renamed. Signs for familiar streets came down, and new signs replaced them. Karl Marx Street and Lenin Street were among the new names. Jonas remembers the irony of one street that retained its name: Paul Gerhardt Strasse. Paul Gerhardt was not a communist hero. He was a Lutheran theologian, pastor, and hymn writer born in 1607. His name appeared in the hymnal Jonas used. Eighteen hymns in Christian Worship bear his name. Jonas comments, “Even at that time God was king and he ruled.” Yes, the Lord, had left a witness even in a world that sought to erase his name and his glory.

In school Jonas learned the communist ideology: There is no God! Religion is the opium of the people. The officials believed that their ideas were superior, and they chose to focus on the young, educating them with the guiding principle, “We have a scientific world view which is superior to all other religions and beliefs.”

Jonas went to school where he heard the mantra of the new government. But he was a part of the other world—the Christian one that listened to another voice, the voice of Jesus. At home his Lutheran family taught him to know Jesus the Savior. Jonas says, “In the home my parents believed that the Bible is God’s Word through which God shows us the way of life.”

In school he learned that the problems of the world could be solved by removing ownership of property. At home he says he learned that “the root of all problems of this world is found in the sin of man. We find the only rescue in the blood of Jesus Christ, which washes us clean of all unrighteousness.” In school the teachers believed that the church was superfluous and would soon be forgotten. At home they wondered “how long could worship services be held and if Lutherans would soon face open persecution,” says Jonas.

The opposition did not become open, but it was clearly directed at erasing the church. Jonas tells his experience, “The school required almost obligatory participation in communist youth organizations and their activities. As confessional Lutherans we did not participate, especially in the Jugendweihe—a youth dedication rite that was devised to substitute for confirmation. It included a public confession to the communist and atheist ideology. Whoever stayed away was put on a black list.” Students that remained “stubborn” were blocked from higher education and better career choices. Jonas says, “I was denied the opportunity to enroll at the school that was just two blocks away from my parents’ house.”

Jonas Schröter: The next chapter

Another chapter in Jonas’ story illustrates Paul’s assertion that the gospel is the power of God. In spite of the opposition and challenges, Jonas became a Lutheran pastor. He studied at the seminary in Leipzig and also at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Wisconsin. He still serves as a parish pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Germany.

An important part of this chapter is that he was asked to preach for a Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) service that commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. That conference was held in Grimma, Jonas’ childhood home, and the service was held at the school he was denied attending because he remained faithful to Jesus—the Gymnasium St. Augustine. Jonas said, “You can imagine how excited I was when they asked me to preach on sola gratia in the very assembly hall and from a stage where earlier I was expected to speak my communist youth vow. The service took place exactly on the campus that was off limits to me when I lived [in Grimma] as a teenager.”

He went on to observe, “My knees were shaking and on a very personal level for me it was as if the Lord gave a small glimpse into his kingdom: ‘See, I told you, I’m in charge.’ ” That’s a lesson that wasn’t lost on Jonas and should not be lost on us either.

The changes in Germany have been dramatic. Jonas observed, “Today we speak no more of those who wanted to build a new world [in Grimma]. They have failed miserably. . . . Yet one thing stands firm. To fight against the living God is a senseless act. . . . What armies does God sent out to secure his power? With what weapons does he fight? . . . The incredible message of God’s grace in Jesus Christ—that is the weapon with which God builds the kingdom in this world.”

This German pastor brings the lesson to our ears and hearts, “What can you do about the opponents who appear before your congregation? What will make your preaching appealing to modern ears? What deep wisdom . . . will build the kingdom of God? Preach the word of reconciliation! Make known the God of grace who in Jesus Christ seeks and saves sinners. Preach the message of grace alone.”

The gospel was, is, and always will be the power of God for salvation.


John Braun is the executive editor of Forward in Christ.


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


 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

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