Reaching the goal

When concerns about earthly goals arise, we remember that Jesus already accomplished reaching the goal of our faith: the salvation of our souls. 

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

Take a deep breath. Okay, let it out. One more timeinhale deeply . . . and exhale. Do you ever use this relaxation technique? 

For many college students, anxiety marks this time of year. Final exams have arrived or lurk around the corner. Late nights of studyingdeep breathing, extra coffeeall of these can be ways students cope with the end of a semester and the tests that accompany the finish.  

How do you cope? Some students set parameters for themselves. “I will be in bed by 1:00 a.m.” “I am going over all the material three times and then calling it good.” “I am going to eat a healthy breakfast before the test.” The bottom line is that students want to have successful results on the exams they take. Successful test results mean degree that translates into a profession and provides work with both joy and income to live. 

Maybe that is why final exams have pressure attached to them. The future might depend on the results!  

Semester exams can serve as a picture of the trials God’s people experience this side of heaven. Peter knew the struggles that Christians face. But Peter also had seen Jesus. As one of the Lord’s disciples, he was an eyewitness to Jesus’ teachings, his miracleshis death and resurrection. Those who received his letters did not experience that same benefit. And neither have we. 

So Peter provides this encouragement, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8,9). We don’t see Jesus with our physical eyes, but we love him because he first loved us. His love fills us with joy that is beyond words.  Not only do we have a peace that calms our weary and anxious hearts, but our lives have direction! 

A deep focus on the tasks in front of us might cause us to lose sight of our goal. We become engrossed in what we can see, what we can touch, what we can hold. Yet what we cannot see truly brings joy. The goal of our faiththe salvation of our souls—is complete. The perfection of heaven awaits. 

Did you happen to notice that Peter uses a present-tense verb? You are receiving the end result of your faith. Our goal is so certain that the Bible tells us it is already ours. Jesus finished the payment; he burst forth from the grave. Your eternal goal is accomplished through Christ.  

Then what about our earthly goals? What about the trials we experience? What about the anxiety we feel when preparing for and taking exams? Jesus invites us to cast anxieties on him (1 Peter 5:7). He promises that he has plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11). He reminds us that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:37-39). Jesus assures us that we are never alone (Hebrews 13:5). 

When concerns about our earthly goals arise, we remember that reaching the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls, has already been accomplished by Jesus. Paul reflected, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). 

So take a deep breath and let it outJesus has got this. 


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


 

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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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In defense of millennials

Mark G. Schroeder

“One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). 

There is no doubt that every “older generation” tends to view the “younger generation” with a good measure of suspicion, condemnation, and fear for the futureI’m a member of the Baby Boomer generation; I entered high school in the turbulent ’60s. My generation introduced America to men’s long hair, hippies, Woodstock, the drug culture, anti-war demonstrations, and ear-splitting rockandroll music. 

Criticizing the next generation is nothing new. Here are some examples from the past: 

  • “They think they know everything and are always quite sure about it . . .because they have not yet been humbled by life.”Aristotle4th century B.C.  
  • “Youth were never more savagely disrespectful. . . .The elderly are scorned, the honorable are condemned, the judge is not dreaded.”—Thomas Barnes, 1624. 
  • “[They are]a fearful multitude of untutored savages. . . . [They] care for nobody. . . . The morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.”Anthony Cooper, 1843. 
  • “There is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.”Daily Mail,1925. 
  • “Many [young people]are so pampered nowadays that they have forgotten that there was such a thing as walking.”Newspaper editorial, 1951. 
  • “What really distinguishes this generation from those before it is that its the first generation in American history to live so well and complain so bitterly about it.”Washington Post, 1993. 

And now we have the millennials. Boomers shake their heads at millennials and paint an entire generation with a broad brush of criticism and disdain. “They’re lazy. They want success to come easily, without putting in the effort. They’re self-obsessed. They think they know everything. They are too cautious and indecisive. They don’t want to grow up. They don’t know the value of money. They party too much and read too little. They don’t trust or respect institutions and organizations.  

All these criticisms are generalizations and not entirely fairI know many millennialwhom those words would not describe.  

In addition to that, there are also positive things that can be generally said about millennialsMillennials generally value personal relationships more than previous generations. What better place to establish and grow relationships than with people in a congregation whose faith and values they share and who show a genuine love and concern for them 

Millennials love to collaborate. Where better to work together with others than in the body of Christ with its many members?  

Millennials demand authenticity and sincerity. Where could they better find something authentic and true than in a church that teaches and proclaims the unchanging truth of God’s Word? 

Millennials are altruistic, placing a high value on helping and serving others. Our congregations are in a great position to offer young people many opportunities to use their time and skills in service to others.  

Millennials understand technology and modern communications. We can put them to use in the church to help communicate the saving gospel to more people than ever before. 

Perhaps most true of all is that millennials, like every generation before them, are sinners who need a Savior. As the Spirit works in them through the power of the law and gospel, God will build his church. 

Someday aging Christian millennials will shake their heads and criticize the sorry generation that follows them. But they will be equipped to the next generation of God’s mighty acts, just as our generation has done for them.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 6

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 12 to 15 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Seven churches. Seven sealsSeven trumpets. The next grouping is comprised of seven mini-visions. They are recorded in Revelation chapters 1215. We’ll cover the first three this month.  

The red dragon 

The first mini-vision plays out in three distinct but interconnected scenes. We see a woman, glorious, “clothed with the sun” and reigning “with the moon under her feet. The 12 stars in her crown tell us that she represents the church, the bride of Christ, gloriously dressed in the shining righteousness of Jesus, living and ruling with him. Satan, the enormous red dragon, ferociously tried but could not defeat Jesus or derail God’s salvation planSo the dragon, hurled to the earth, turns his murderous attention to ruining the church, the offspring of the woman 

The church seems anything but glorious and influential as she flees into the wilderness. It might even appear that she is abandoned by the Bridegroom and left to fend for herself. But no. She is taken care of by God in that place.  

How? The next scene beautifully reminds us. The accusing dragon is powerless against the works and Word of Jesus. God’s people are shielded from Satan’s rage by the power of the Spirit in the gospel of forgivenessWhile he has time during the New Testament age (42 months), the devil will try his worst, but, armed with the gospel, the church will prevail 

The two beasts 

The second and third visions remind us of Satan’s two powerful allies. They are represented by a pair of strange-looking beasts. The first emerges from the sea. There is unmistakable parallel between it and a vision seen by the prophet in Daniel chapter 7. This beast from the sea has characteristics of Daniel’s four beasts, whom we’re told represent four kingdoms of the earth. So we identify the first beast as representative of ungodly, anti-Christian government during the New Testament age. 

All human government derives its ultimate authority from God. However, the prince of this world seeks to use God’s gift for his own wicked purposesHuman governments often fall under Satan’s evil influencesometimes even using their authority to wage war against God and his church.  

The second beast comes from the earth. It is lamb-like in appearance but dragon-like in speech. This second beast is closely connected to the firstIt usurps and wields the power of the first beast; it works wonders to deceive the earth’s inhabitants into worshiping the first beast and its image rather than God. Itinfamous number is 666. This number seems to represent a counterfeit covenant, seeking to replace Christ and his Word but always falling short of his perfect covenant of grace.  

This beast is deceptive and represents false religions that claim a way to God through works not Christ. It includes groups that claim to follow Christ but show a beastly character by teaching other than what Christ has taught. This beast includes the visible Christian churches that teach a false gospel based on human effort or righteousness. The preeminent example would be the Roman Catholic papacy, which claims to possess Christ’s authority over all Christians. The beast appears innocent but points people to their own goodness and works for salvation. Ultimately the message of this beast drives people away from trust in Christ alone.     


Reflect on Revelation chapters 1213 

  1. Why do you suppose 12:10a is used in communion liturgy (ChristianWorship, p. 34)?As Christians we confront opposition regularly, and it sometimes appears that the church, that is, the believers, are not only under attack but in retreat. Citing this passage reminds us that we are protected by the Lord of all. Christ has come and said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Our salvation is assured, and the sacrament we receive together as believers is our assurance in the doubt and confusion of life here in this world. 

    In addition, the Lord Jesus has given us his body and blood with the bread and wine. That is a miracle that defies our understanding. It depends on the words of institution that have come from the Savior on Maundy Thursday. He has the power and authority to do exactly what he said: “This is my body.” No scientific examination or proof can verify the miracle in the sacrament. We depend on the words, which come to us by “the authority of his Christ (Messiah).  

  2. How does chapter 13 help us better understand the past, present, and future when it comes to human governments and religious institutions?Government was instituted by God (Romans chapter 13) to commend those who do right and to punish the wrongdoer. Yet government does not see spiritual things clearly. At times governmental policies have supported teachings that are contrary to God’s truth, and at times governments even initiate state-sponsored persecution of Christians. These things have happened before, and they will happen again. We are encouraged to show patient endurance during these abuses of power and to recognize that the Lord is in control and has allowed such things to happen for his own purposes. In the end he will destroy those who oppose him and will take us to heaven to live with him in safety and joy. 

    Visible churches do not always remain true to the Scriptures but instead teach doctrines that are nothing but the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9).  Faithful believers will test the teachings of all on the basis of Scripture, will warn of their false teachings, and will avoid being entangled in them (Romans 16:17). Jesus has warned us, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). 


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?

What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?

It’s not often that I don’t chime in with my opinion on a topicbut this is going to be one of those rare moments. My oldest just turned 13, and although the prospect of dating is getting closer every day, this is not a topic with which I have any experience. Honestly, just the idea of my daughter dating makes me a little panicky. That’s why I’m grateful that I can turn to wise Christian parents who have been through this stage of parenting—and in some cases still are navigating it—for tips and advice.  

Do you have any anecdotes or advice to share about how to approach your child’s dating years? If so, e-mail fic@wels.net or comment on the articles posted at forwardinchrist.net 

Nicole Balza


I remember when my oldest son went on his first date as a high school freshman. It was hardly the stuff of romantic legend. Since neither he nor his girlfriend could yet drive, their “date” consisted of sitting in a corner booth at Culver’s while I parked myself in a booth nearby and tried to be inconspicuous. I think the date may have ended with an awkward handshake. If only dating could remain this innocent! But as our teens get older and their relationships become more serious, what’s a parent’s role as a child dates? How much—or how little—do we get involved? 

From the outset, be very clear about dating parameters. Ask where, when, and what questions. Give firm expectations about rules and curfews, and enforce consequences when rules are broken. 

Meet your child’s date and connect with his or her parents, if possible. Even if you can’t meet in person, connect via phone call or text and communicate often. If it’s more than a couple of dates, it’s very important for both sets of parents to be a “team” when it comes to dating expectations and guidelines. 

Have THE TALK with your child—again. Sorry, I know it will be cringe-worthy and awkward, but your child needs to learn about sex from you, not the Internet or peers. Look at what God says about purity in relationships (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and read Galatians 2:20 together to remind your teen that Christ lives in him. Discuss the very real consequences of a sexual relationship outside of marriageeverything from STDs to pregnancyand the emotional and spiritual impacts it has 

Be your child’s “brain.” It’s a scientific fact that the brain isn’t fully wired until about age 25. So . . . the developing teen brain + raging hormones = the opportunity for some very poor choices. Parents can help be their child’s surrogate brain during the teen years. Although teens have to learn to make their own choices and understand the consequences of their actions, we can help guide them through the dating minefield. 

Model healthy and loving male/female relationships in your home. Dads, cherish your wife in front of your daughters. Moms, hold your sons accountable by teaching them to respect you and respect women. Also talk about what is and is not acceptable in a dating relationship. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse are NEVER okay. If your child is uncomfortable or injured in a relationship, teach him to speak up. 

Be realistic about your teen’s dating journey. Are you married to the first person you dated? It happens, but it’s not likely. Keep in mind that dating for our teens is about exploring who they are and what they are looking for in a future spouse. Don’t push too hard or encourage your child’s dating relationship to be more serious than it should, yet don’t be so hands-off that you are unaware of what is happening. 

Pray continually. I recently told a friend, “I will pray for you. It’s the least I can do.” She gently corrected me, “No, it’s the most you can do.” She’s right. We forget how powerful and effective prayer is. Bring your child’s dating relationship to God in prayer. Ask him to help your child remain pure, make wise choices, and stay safe. Also pray for a God-fearing spouse for your child someday, if they choose to marry. Finally, pray for patience and understanding and to be able to lovingly keep the lines of communication open with your teen as he navigates the world of dating. 


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest. 


I’m a parent of 2 boys and 2 girls ages 15 to 22. I have a frontrow seat to view the corn maze called courting. I admit to thoughts of electronic surveillance, homing devices, and background checks. Making it more complicated is that the way my kids date is as unique as they are. They open up to my wife and me in different ways and to varying degrees.  

Along the way, I have learned a few things: 

First, crushes are an innocent way of saying, “I like you and want to spend time with you.” Young teens are practicing their dating legs. They are learning social skills. The early years are building the skills they need for future and more serious relationships.  

You can never prevent them from getting hurt. Sometimes a parent sees and offers caution such as, “Does the person to whom you’re giving your heart make you a better person or bring you down? Liking someone is one thing, but if he makes you feel worse about yourself, ditch himI don’t care how good looking he is. Yet they still get hurt . . . and your heart breaks when your child’s heart breaks.  

Take their feelings seriously. I never joke or make light of their feelings. I may view it as puppy love. But when seen through the lens of a teenager, those feelings of the moment are under a magnifying glass. They are huge and all-consuming. Validate that their feelings are real . . . and realize that these feelings may change at any moment. 

I’m still learning . . . 

To know when to quit talking so I can be a better listener. A good listener will be able to repeat everything back. deep listener internalizes it, mulls it around, and empathizes with a child. A note of cautionbeing a listener doesn’t qualify you as their “relationship fixer. Parents can’t fix relationships. I may want to offer advice on every conversation point. But more important than getting my point across is allowing them to share. That may mean your tongue will bleed from biting it.  

Not to be afraid to ask the hard questions: “Does your boyfriend drink?” “Are you getting in the car with him?” Will there be parents supervising that party? 

Sometimes, a boyfriend/girlfriend can be controlling, like when you see a child with ONLY this one person and no longer with his friends. But differentiate between a red flag and a child who is just private. There’s a difference between hiding things and not wanting to talk about things.  

Finally, I believe that the best way to model dating for your children is to treat your spouse well. It’s like the map that helps them through that corn maze.


Donn Dobberstein and his wife, Beth, have four children ranging in age from 15 to 22.


 

Ah, the halcyon days of dating! The excitement, the romance, the mystery! Will he call? Does she like me? But now, you are the parent, and the word dating seems more worrisome than wonderful. What is your role as a parent in Christian courtship? 

Pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God would have us pray about everything. Certainly early and numerous prayers for our child and his or her future spouse and all things dating fall under this category.  

Teach (Proverbs 22:6). Godly conversations about the blessings of dating, marriage, and sex should also start early and continue age appropriately as your child matures. Not entirely comfortable with these conversations? Christian books to the rescue! Always remind your child that he or she is a special and loved child of Godsingle, dating, or married. 

Model (1 Corinthians 13). Actions speak louder than words! Pray that God gives you the strength to make your marriage a Christian model of sacrificial love. Show your child that your marriage is a priority and a blessing. Fathers, show respect to your wives and daughters. Mothers, encourage your husbands and sons in their Christian roles. 

Advise (Psalm 119:105). As dating age approaches (in our family rules, that’s approximately age 16, because that seemed like a good age, and it’s no fun to have your parents drive you on dates), look for moments like car rides or walking the dog that are good talking and listening times. You can regale your children with stories of your own courtship and marriage. But also remind them that while dating can be fun, the ultimate purpose is to look for a husband or wife, and that is serious business. Most important, continue to point them to God’s Word. How about a Saturday coffee outing that includes a Bible study with your child, looking at passages on God’s love for us, our love for God and others, friendship, marriage, God’s timing, temptation, true beauty, forgiveness, what to look for in a marriage partner, how to handle a break up?  

Host (1 Peter 4:9). As dating age approaches, plan gatherings for your child’s classboys and girlsat your home. Encourage your son or daughter to have their boyfriend or girlfriend over for game nights, baking, movies, and devotions. We call this “family dating.” It’s a cheap date, but it’s also a way for the boyfriend/girlfriend to get to know you, the other siblings, the dog (a true test!)and the Christian values your family holds dear.  

Dating. Ever since God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” in Genesis 2:18, men and women have been seeking the perfect partner. Welcome to this exciting/scary/exhilarating/wonderful phase of parenting! God’s blessings as you pray, teach, model, advise, and host your dating child of God, relying on God’s good guidance and timing.


Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 14 to 23. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 7

Face opposition with courage and confidence 

Eric S. Roecker 

It was a fabulous fall day. The sun was shining. Brightly colored leaves were floating downward from the trees. The air had just a hint of the crispness that makes fall feel like fall. 

It was a fabulous fall day. And I was doing what I lovedwalking a neighborhood near our church, handing out invitations. Where there was no one home I would leave the invitation at the door. But where someone was washing the car in the driveway or trimming the bushes, I would hand out an invitation and say, “Hi! I’m the pastor at the church down the road. I just wanted to invite you to visit us sometime. We would love to have you!” 

Often people responded to my little speech with a smile, a nod, and a wary thank you. I could see in their eyes and the way their body seemed to stiffen what they were thinking. I could read their thoughts as if I were reading a book. “I hope this guy isn’t going to waste the next hour of this beautiful day talking to me about religious stuff.”  

But once in a while, the person lit up like a Christmas tree, eagerly taking the invitation and asking, “Where is your church?”  

“Just down the road. The one with the tower.” 

“Oh! Sure. I drive by every day on my way to work. It’s beautiful. I’ve actually thought about stopping in some Sunday. We haven’t been to church for quite a while and have been meaning to get back into it. So what kind of church is it?” 

And we would be off and running. I would share information about the church. My new friend would ask questions. I would do my best to answer. Sometimes the conversation lasted five minutes. Other times it lasted an hour. Every time it was exhilarating.  

So there was a bit of a bounce in my step as I made my way down the sun-drenched street of the subdivision that Saturday, looking forward to my next adventure. Whom would I meet? What would they say? What would they ask? Where would our conversation lead? God only knew.  

I certainly didn’t know. And it is probably good I didn’t. Otherwise, I might have been tempted to turn around, get back in my car, and head home for the day.  

He was standing in the middle of his front lawn, rake in hand. There was nothing extraordinary about him. He was middle-aged, brown haired, wearing khaki pants and a flannel shirt. He looked like he belonged there. Just your average middle-class American homeowner doing his weekend duty taking care of his yard. 

I approached cheerfully and began my now-familiar speech, “Hi! I’m Eric Roecker, the pastor at . . .”  

I didn’t say another word for 20 minutes. I couldn’t. The air was too full of other wordshis words.  

He began with a general tirade against religionall the evils it had brought into the world, all the cruelty, from ancient Christian crusades to modern Islamic terrorism, from the scandals of televangelists to the scandals of Roman Catholic priests.  

I had heard his objections beforemany times. What surprised me was the anger. I was completely unprepared for it. His voice grew louder and louder. This man was angry. 

What should I do? What would you do? How should a Christian react when facing such opposition? Although the Bible does not give us a playbook that spells out the specific steps to handle every uncomfortable interaction with an unbeliever, it does tell us the following: 

  • “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”(John 3:16). The red-faced man screaming at me in his front yard was loved by Godso loved that God sacrificed his son to save that man’s soul. 
  • “We love because he first loved us”(1 John 4:19). Rather than hating this man for hating people like me, I loved him and wanted him to know the joy and peace and comfort I know because I know my Savior. 
  • “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”(1 Peter 3:15,16). 

So, what did I do? I listened. By God’s grace, I didn’t get angry. I didn’t shout back. I just listened.  

Eventually, his tirade reached a kind of climax, and he began to speak more quietly. He was still angry and still attacking, but he was losing steam. Finally, he stopped. Now I was able to respond.  

I did not respond to everything he had said. Instead, I decided to address the last point he had made to see where it might lead. He had pointed out that there were many different religions in the world and they all basically taught the same things. Christianity wasn’t anything special. 

“Well,” I replied, “You are right, of course, that there are many different religions in the world. However, they are not all the same. Hinduism, for example, teaches that there are thousands of gods. Christianity teaches that there is only one God.” 

“So, who’s to say Christianity is right!?” he shouted angrily. 

“My point isn’t that Christianity is right,” I answered. “I am simply pointing out that Hinduism and Christianity cannot both be right. Either one is right and the other is wrong or both are wrong. But they cannot both be right.” 

He thought about that for a moment. His face was now closer to its original color than the crimson red hue it had been for the past few minutes.  

“I suppose that’s true,” he said. 

“Obviously, as a Christian pastor, I believe that the Christian teaching about God is the true teaching about God. And that truth about Godwho he is, what he’s like, what he has done for you and for meis incredibly comforting. I don’t want to take up the rest of your afternoon, but would it be alright if I very briefly shared it with you?” 

He never did visit our church. But he did hear about Jesus that fine fall day. And, where the good news about Jesus is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit of God is at work. 

Remember this the next time you face opposition when witnessing: You are not alone. In the very last verse of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20).  

I was not alone on that lawn. My Jesus was right beside me, giving me the love and patience I needed to tell this angry man that his God loved him. And Jesus will be right beside you every time you tell others about him


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


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


Sidebar:  

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


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Author: Eric S. Roecker 
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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Ambassadors: How I shared Jesus – submissions

Through several different seriesForward in Christ authors have been providing tips and encouragement from their own personal experiences about how to share God’s Word with people who desperately need to hear about God’s grace.  

We asked for your feedback, and several of you have shared your own tips, encouragements, and outreach stories. Take a look:


A waiting room opportunity 

Betty Pfeiffer, a member at Heritage, Gilbert, Arizona, shares her story of praying dangerously for the opportunity to tell someone about God’s love [“Praying dangerously,” Feb.]. 

My husband needed an eye exam, and it was going to require dilation of his pupils. I went along to drive him home. I was in a hurry and walked out without a book to read. None of the magazines in the waiting area held any interest for me, so I sat there figuratively twiddling my thumbs. 

Until an older man sat next to me and started a conversation. He asked me if I believed that the world is billions of years old. 

I replied with a smile, “No. I’m a Christian.” 

“Well,” he responded, “do you believe in spirits that live in heaven and come down to earth to inhabit earthly bodies?” 

“No. I don’t believe it that either.” His premise was becoming clear to me. He was a Mormon. So I asked, “Are you a Mormon?” 

“Yes, and we believe . . .”  He started to tell me about the necessity of good works to get into heaven. 

When he paused, I (more or less) responded, “I know that’s what you believe, but you see, I can’t find any scriptural foundation for that. Remember Christ said on the cross that it is finished. That is, he completed all that was necessary for the forgiveness of our sins.” I went on to quote the book of James that says faith without works is dead, but that means only that if we don’t love one another enough to help them in ways we can, we don’t love Jesus enough to follow his commandments. Our works come from our faith, through our love. They won’t earn us anything more. Christ has done it all. To think we can add something more or better to our salvation than when he said “It is finished” is arrogant. 

I quoted a couple more passages as the gentleman sat there quietly blinking. Then he was called in for his eye exam. 

I have prayed that God would give me opportunities to share his good news, but I never really expected an encounter like this. Did I say anything that would change his beliefs? Only the Holy Spirit knows. But I am glad that I forgot my book.


Coffee evangelism 

Scott Albrecht talks about a unique evangelism program at Beautiful Savior, Grove City, Ohio. He writes:  

Coffee Evangelism is a weekly meeting of evangelists at our local diner where we fellowship over coffee briefly but then get it in to-go mugs as our meeting is half fellowship/half evangelism (half and halfhonestly didn’t see that joke coming). 

One of our members maps out a neighborhood near the diner. After our coffee, we hand out coffee sleeves to those who answer the door and leave them for those who dont. The sleeves have information about our church on one side and an invite on the other side to join us at the diner next week to learn more about our church—coffee is on us! 

After a year we have visited over 1,600 households. Many friendships have been madeand visitors at our church are on the rise.  

The level of skill or education to go door to door is not daunting. The presentation is easy: The ask is to have a cup of coffee for free with church members or attend a service if they do not have a church home.  

I pray this idea may inspire others to come up with creative new ways to share God’s message


A meaningful day 

A story from Thomas Gumm, a retired pastor, shows that you will never know when God will give you an opportunity to proclaim his name. You just need to be ready.  

Yesterday I had a young man come in to get info on a storage unit. After talking with him, he told me he was a pastors kid but was the black sheep. We talked for an hour. He was guiltridden and unable to forgive himself. This was causing great problems in his marriage. I took him for a walk to the cross. I explained Gods forgiveness. I also explained that God loved him because God wanted to love him. Tears flowed a number of times. It was a very meaningful day.


 Taking time to reflect  

In his article “KISS them” [March], Ken Brokmeier recommended that after an evangelism opportunity, we should take time to evaluate and reflect on the encounter.  

Ann Behrs, a member at Christ Alone, Mequon, Wisconsin, shares that she writes down a synopsis of each encounter she has. As part of her summary, she asks and answers some simple questions—questions ranging from What can I do to start a conversation? to How did the conversation transition to something spiritual? to How can I get to know this person better? She says, It’s a great way to try to understand if it was effective, what worked, and what didn’t.” 


Lessons from the county jail 

Dan Krueger, a member at Mt. Zion, Kenosha, Wisconsin, leads a Bible study in a county jail. He shares the following things he learned from his experiences: 

  1. The men at the weekly meeting have different experiences than me, and not just because they spend their days and nights in a cavernous room of 70 bunk beds, a few tables,and a TV, with others who are accused of breaking the law. They ask my opinion about personal situations that are new to me. When you talk to other people, they may bring up something in their past that surprises or even shocks you. But it’s an opportunity to point out the biblical principles that address the situation. You can plainly state you don’t have a simple answer but offer to help them look at what God says. 
  2. The people you meet may not know their Bibles well. If you are talking to others about Jesus, look for opportunities to assist them in opening a Bible so they can read it for themselves. 
  3. In the county approved sessions, we have a strict warning to avoid doctrinal differences. Your unchurched friends may ask about something unique to their church background,but it’s likely they are just trying to put things into perspective. You can stick to the basics of sin, grace, and peace in Jesus.   
  4. The faces at the prison Bible study can change from week to week. It can be daunting knowing that you may only get one meaningful conversation, one opportunity to tell them what Jesus has done for you and what Jesus can do for themIt’s a good reminder that our task is to get involved and then let the Holy Spirit continue the work.   
  5. Feeding yourself at Bible study, especially at church, is huge. The pastoral insight on the context of passages and how they relate to our modern culture gives you confidence, credibility, and flexibility when witnessing. The other benefit is listening to the questions and answers of other members. Just like the unchurched people we want to reach, other members may view the question from a slightly different perspective or background than your own.  

What’s your story?How have you shared Jesus? E-mail responses tofic@wels.netwith the subject line: “How I shared Jesus.” Include your name, congregation, and contact information. Questions? Call 414-256-3231.


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Author: Various Submissions
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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Our very great reward

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1             

Daniel J. Habben 

What is the greatest reward you’ve ever received? Your fifth-grade spelling bee trophy? A medal from a race in which you set a personal recordA work-related bonus delivered to you personally by an appreciative boss?  

The best reward possible 

God once told the patriarch Abraham that he was Abraham’s “very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). I love that phrase. God didn’t just say he was Abraham’s reward. He didn’t even say that he was his great reward. He said that he was Abraham’s very great reward.  

Think of how that phrase highlights this truth: Our God doesn’t deal in minimums! He didn’t, for example, send his Son Jesus just to forgive past sins and enter us in the race for heaven—leaving it in our hands to finish securing eternal life. No way! Through Jesus, God forgave our past and future sins. Because of Jesus, we look forward to an eternal life of happiness.  

To put this mind-boggling gift in earthly terms, that’s like saying that even though we’ve cheated on our taxes, the tax auditor not only refuses to press charges, but he also gives us a check for a million dollars! Likewise, Jesus doesn’t just keep us out of hellhe also gives us heaven.  

A reward we do not earn 

But how can God really be our very great reward? Isn’t a reward something that is earned? 

If we’re honest, we have to admit that we’ve done nothing to earn God’s favor. Even those kind words we spoke this week—weren’t they partly shared to feel good about ourselves and to receive praise from others? Or consider why you’re reading this devotion. I hope it’s because you want the Holy Spirit to work through the message to strengthen your faith. But isn’t there also a part of you that picks up this magazine because, well, you paid for the subscription, so you might as well read it? You’re expected to keep up with what’s going in our church body anyway. I know I approach the study of God’s Word that way sometimes—as if it’s just a textbook that I use in my preaching and teaching.  

So how can we say that God’s love is our reward when we often do the right things for the wrong reasons? We can because whenever the heavenly Father looks at us, he sees his perfect Son to whom we have been joined in Baptism. It’s like Jesus is the star vocalist in the choir who covered up my mistakes. “The choir was great today, Pastor!” members often comment. Ah yes, by joining his voice to the choir’s, the star vocalist makes the congregation smile. Jesus, of course, doesn’t simply add to what we have done. No, his life and his death are the sole reasons that heaven is ours. What we have done—no matter how great—is not enough. The reward that we have received from him is a reward of grace.  

I am your very great reward. God gave Abraham this reminder after the patriarch had returned from a successful commando-style mission to rescue his nephew Lot, who had been carried away as a prisoner of warMaybe Abraham felt on top of the world after that experience. Yet God reminded Abraham, and now he reminds us, that no matter what success we enjoy in life, there’s only one reward that matters: the very great reward of his grace.  


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


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben 
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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A gospel-filled life: Part 4

Prayer comes from the heart 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Once preschoolers have acquired the ability to talk, their words just pour out. What tumbles out of their mouths can be a source of great entertainment. What might be slightly embarrassing for parents is mildly amusing to grandparents. Nonstop chatter around exhausted stay-at-home moms converts into a delightfully endearing experience at the infrequent visits with grandparents. They can’t get enough. They soak up every word. They cherish every moment they get to spend with these wide-eyed explorers. While grandparents appreciate the childishness of grandchildren, they still cheer for their growth and work to develop their maturity.  

Prattling our childish prayers 

Christians can appreciate our relationship with our God in the same way. Our Father loves to hear from his children. He is always available. He invites us to come to him whenever with whatever is on our minds. He cherishes our time with him.  

Yet our sinner-saint status distorts even our devotional life. Our natural, default mode for prayer is to approach God to get things we want in life. We blurt our verbal vomit, foaming up out of our feelings about what we think we need. Hearts filled with pain overflow to express our suffering before God. Anxious, wondering minds prattle incomprehensibly. Awestruck shock at life’s unexpected plot twists leaves us open-mouthed and speechless before our Creator. Unexpected joy runs over in blathering ecstasy, unleashing giddy ramblings to our all-knowing God.  

Through it all, God delights to hear from his children. Yet our childishness in prayer reveals more about our own hearts than it does about God. We assume we know what is best for God to give us without first consulting God himself. We struggle to find the right words but know exactly what we expect in return. 

Developing a childlike faith 

Skim through the book of Job. After repeated examples of venting frustration at God’s silence (Job 7:11), Job gets a dose of humility. When God finally answers (Job 38 & 39), Job becomes aware of the childishness behind his arrogance. God-granted humility strips him of his assumed certainties. Job was made to stand dumbstruck in silence before the awe-inducing omniscience of the Lord (Job 40:4,5). He matured. Childlike trust developed where there had been childish demands to God.  

Reexamine some of your most cherished psalms. King David and other psalmists express themselves to God, pouring out their souls, exposing the raw emotions of their hearts (e.g. Psalm 4:1; 5:1; 12:1,2; 13:1,2; 60:1-12; 70:1,2). Yet as we work our way through their poetic outpourings, they take us on a journey of faith development. God directs the psalmists back to his promises. They come to understand that God is not removed from the pain of his children. He’s not standing aloof from our concerns just because he isn’t granting our every request. Neither, though, is God our personal assistant scurrying after our every whim, hoping his frantic positive responses will bring us the satisfaction we seek.  

Prayers come from the heart. But devotional life centered on God’s promises transforms our hearts. God’s promises show us a Father who gave us his best when he gave up his Son for us. God’s promises guarantee God’s unconditional love for us through everything life throws at us. God’s promises direct us away from the mess of our own hearts to see him as the true source of our joy and hope. As children of God, we come to our Father with childish prattle, looking for repeated assurances of his love. God gives us that assurance in his Word. That reorders our hearts. Prayer then becomes a response of faith to God’s gracious words of promise.  


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


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


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?

Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?

James F. Pope

Your question leads us to look in Scripture and examine how the devil measures up against God and people. 

The devil and people 

The Bible makes it clear that the devil has abilities superior to those of human beings. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11,12).  

While the devil’s abilities are superior to people’s, they are inferior to God’s. That brings us to the heart of your question. 

The devil and God 

As an angel—a fallen one at that—the devil is not omniscient. Only God is. The devil cannot read hearts and minds. Only God can do that (1 Kings 8:39). The devil operates by observing patterns in people’s lives. As an angel, the devil is not omnipresent either. Only God the Creator is (Psalm 139:7-10). Much as the human soul, housed in a body, can occupy only one space at one time, so the devil, a spirit being, can occupy only one space at one time.  

Yet, as a spirit being without a body, the devil is able to move from one space to another faster than human beings can. And move he does. Job 1:7 and Job 2:2 describe the devil “roaming throughout the earth.” 1 Peter 5:8 states that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Roaming and prowling describe the devil’s non-stop activity as he moves from person to person, seeking to destroy them. 

Although the devil himself may not be able to “tempt you and a lot of other people at the same time,” he has helpers to assist him in his dastardly work (Matthew 25:41). The devil’s minions flit about from person to person on seekanddestroy missions. 

The devil and the sinful nature 

More than having helpers in the form of evil angels, we need to recognize that the devil has an accomplice inside each person. The sinful nature, passed on from generation to generation, is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7). The sinful nature hates anything good and godly and desires to do the devil’s bidding (Galatians 5:19-21). So while the devil is not personally present in the life of a Christian 24/7, his ally, the sinful nature, is. 

With intermittent and ever-present enemies like these, what is a Christian to do? “Put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13) and launch a counter-offensive. That is not a foolhardy course of action. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) is God’s instruction and promise. More than that, we combat our sinful nature through daily contrition and repentance, and we build up the new self through God’s gospel in Word and sacrament (Ephesians 4:22-24). 

Finally, we remember that our spiritual enemies are not permanent. Our sinful nature is limited to life on this earth. Satan is an enemy whom Jesus has already defeated (Genesis 3:15). One day, he will lose all ability to tempt us (Revelation 20:10). 


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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Confessions of faith: Lore

An assault survivor shares how her life went from tragedy to triumph and how that has helped her reach out to others.  

Alicia A. Neumann 

Jay Lore says there was “nothing spectacular” about the way her story started. She was born to a working-class family in New Jersey in the late 1950s. She says they weren’t especially religious, but she and her brother did attend the Baptist church down the street. “I learned the Bible verses. I learned Jesus loves me. I listened to the felt-board stories about all the people God uses to do mighty things.”  

She says her mom described her as a “happy-go-lucky kid.” But that all changed when she was four years old and she was sexually assaulted by her older sister’s husband. “He was a monster,” Jay says. “He said if I tell [my family], they wouldn’t love me. So what choice did I have? Who else would I tell? Who would believe me?” She says it wasn’t a topic that anyone talked about in the 1960s. 

Spiraling downward 

Afraid of the consequences, Jay says she kept silent for years as the abuse continued. She eventually turned to drugs to numb the pain. “I worshipped the euphoric, pain-free feeling,” she says. “That became my mission: to numb all feelings. I was hell-bent on self-destruction.” By the time she was 16, Jay says she had tried suicide twice. “I was filthy, inside and out. Tainted. Broken. I felt like the great God of the felt-board stories was absent and silent; he had better people to take care of anyway, she says.  

She calls the next decade her “drug years.” She says, “It was just a messThings got progressively worse. I started dealing drugs to support my habit.” During that time, she also had three children. “I thought I was going to screw up three more lives,” she says. “It was a frightening thing. I thought, How do I protect them if I can’t protect myself?”  

Things finally reached a breaking point in 1987. Jay describes that night: “I decided I had had enough. There was nothing left to lose. I had lost my house, my car, my kids, my dog, my hope. And now I was going to lose myself. I remember screaming at God with fists clenched, ‘Where are you? You’re supposed to be so great and good! What have I done to deserve this?’ I laid down to die. A billion thoughts were racing, then everything got so still. I thought, This is it. In the stillness, a voice said, ‘Jay, come.’ I turned my head slightly, and a hand wiped a tear. I could not move. Hallucination from drugs? A desperate mental hope? Jay is convinced it was Jesus.  

Discovering forgiveness 

A few days later, Jay went to a nearby clinicthe first step in her long road to recovery. With the help of her counselor, she was able to get sober and finally start processing everything that had happened to her. Eventually, her counselor invited Jay to attend a Lutheran church. “When I got there I thought the roof would fall on my head!” she says. “But then I realized this is what’s been missing. I heard that Jesus loves me and my sins are forgiven, washed away. The more I heard it, I thought, Really, even me? And the answer was yes, even me!” She continued attending and was eventually baptized.  

As Jay continued her recovery, she got her kids backand she insisted they go to counseling. “It wasn’t just me who suffered,” she says. “They needed help too.” She says it took time, but they worked through it together. “My son was in the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in school and he wrote an essay on me and my recovery and how proud he was. He won the D.A.R.E. bear for his essay and gave it to me. That meant so much; I still have that bear.” 

Jay started helping her counselor give presentations to different community groups on the topic of abuse. She also began reaching out to other survivors. “Those who have experienced it are the best counselors,” Jay says. “I tell them, ‘I’ve done everything, I’ve made mistakes. You’re not alone anymore. You don’t have to dry your tears. I’ll hold your hand, I’ll walk with you through it.’ I want to help them take that first step.” 

Finding a home 

Fast forward to 2016. Jay was asked if she could help start an adult support group in Colorado. After a lot of consideration and prayer, she loaded all of her possessions into her car and headed west. She was staying with one of her friends in Commerce City as they worked to get the new group started, but then her friend unexpectedly died. “I looked to heaven and said, ‘Now what?’ I had no family, no friends, no place to stay and I was a stranger in a strange land.” Soon after, her car blew up. Jay was stranded.  

“I have an issue with depression, and I could feel it hovering,” she says. “I knew despair wasn’t far off. I was sinking into the muck. Old, ugly thoughts started rising. I thought of taking my own life. I was in deep trouble.”  

Living Hope was across the street, and she felt that being in God’s house would help. She said the people were friendly and it was a good experienceuntil communion. “About 20 people went up and I was left sitting alone, excluded from the Lord’s Supper,” she says. “I was offended. A vicar was preaching that day, and I asked him about it, but the poor guy couldn’t answer my rapid-fire questions. I left, vowing never to return.”  

But then the new pastor reached out to Jay. They talked about the church and the practice of close communion. “He asked me to visit again, and I said I’d think about it, but I didn’t,” she says. “I wasn’t going back there, period.”  

But she did return. “If that wasn’t the Holy Spirit moving me, I don’t know what is,” she says. When I got there, I made eye contact with the pastor and I knew I was home.” 

Jay says her fellow members at Living Hope have shown her the goodness of God. They provided her with transportation and helped her find a place to live. “It was an answer to my prayers,” she says. “I have found a home here among these folks, and I can’t do enough for Godnot because I need to, but rather because of all he’s done for me.” 

Now, Jay greets everyone at the door each Sunday. She calls herself an “ambassador for Jesus” and hopes that sharing her story with others will show them what God can do.  

“My life went from tragedy to triumph; I went from a mess to a messenger,” she says. “I live in the joy of the trial. I sometimes wonder what potential was stolen, but it’s all good. I’m glad God thought I was strong enough. And I truly believe we all go through what we go through in hopes that we turn to God and he can give us the triumph.” 


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


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

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

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Walk by the Spirit : Part 1

We are surrounded by immorality, but we are different. In the love of Jesus, we find strength to love. 

John A. Braun 

When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, he sets us on the path to heaven. The early Christians described that path as the Way (Acts 9:2; 24:14). We know Jesus is the Way. Wwalk on that path through life to the destination of heaven, but it is also a way of acting and thinking.  

As we follow the path, we encounter crossroads that can lead us in different directions. We know they lead us away from the Way, and our sinful flesh is often tempted. As saints and sinners at the same time, we often need correction to avoid paths that lead us astray 

In Galatians 5:19-23, the apostle Paul warns us about the crossroads he calls acts of the flesh, and then he encourages us to retain the fruits of the Spirit.  

First on the apostle’s list of acts of the flesh is “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.”  

Acts of the flesh: Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery 

These acts of the flesh are not hard to find. Again and again they cross our paths to lure us from our way. We see them as we browse the Internet, as we watch television and the movies, and as we read magazines or books. Their temptation invades much of what we hear and see in our entertainment choices. And because we still have the sinful flesh, we are not immune to their attraction. 

We find ourselves leaning a bit toward immorality. We laugh at situations and jokes that are off-color. Our entertainment choices push the buttons on our desires of the flesh. We monitor what our children watch in order to shield them from the worst influences, but our own choices sometimes reveal a compromise with the acts of the flesh. We find it difficult to resist some of the influences, and sometimes we pause at the crossroad, looking longingly down the road of temptation. 

But it all leads in the wrong direction. Child pornography and sexual misconduct lead to latenight news stories exposing teachers, politicians, reporters, clergy, and even news agencies. Some lose their jobs. But the immorality persists. Even these consequences are not enough. Some of it still attracts us and can lure us into sin.  

But we don’t like to hear that word sinThat word confronts us with its accusation. If as children of God we use it to describe these acts of the flesh, we are sometimes ridiculed as prudes, oldfashioned, and out of touch with the modern worldWe live in that world and mingle with people who have a different attitude toward sexual immorality. We do not wish to be ridiculed for our morality so at times we go along and hide our Christian way of thinking 

The world doesn’t think carefully about how destructive these temptations become. A family is destroyed by sexual unfaithfulness. A child is murdered by a live-in boyfriend who is not the father. Pornography addiction quietly ruins relationships and marriages. Drugs and human trafficking flow from these acts of the flesh to destroy men and especially women. Children are considered objects of desire, not precious gifts of God. Love is distorted, as some look for love only in intimacy. It results in a “total eclipse of the heart,” as the popular song even acknowledges. 

But we must not become Pharisees and point the finger at all this evil as if it remains on the other side of the street. Christian marriages are sometimes heaped on the jagged rocks of acts of the flesh. Lives have been destroyed. Pornography seeps quietly into Christian lives, destroying some and altering others. It distorts the attitudes of Christian love and marriage. Parents don’t teach their children about alternatives to immorality. Pastors, teachers, church leaders, friends and relatives abandon fruits of the Spirit for acts of the flesh and discredit the message of Christ. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Love 

The Holy Spirit through the gospel has created a new attitude within us. We are children of God by faith (Galatians 3:26). But we are not perfect yet. Within us we still carry the old sinful nature and the desire to yield to those temptations of the flesh. We want to live as children of God, but so often we discover a desire to be rebellious and disobedient renegades. We struggle. Paul says the Spirit and the flesh are “in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5:17). Paul mentioned sexual immorality first among the acts of the flesh. He also mentions love first among the fruits of the Spirit 

The path to sexual immorality will frequently beckon us. When it does, the love of Jesus gives us strength and the willingness to take positive steps as children of God. Love is part of our thinking and acting on the Christian way. We love. Of course, love has many applications. One of them is that it is the opposite of the sexual sins. So Paul mentions it here. 

While many have a distorted view of love, Christians understand love from Jesus. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). How different the Christian concept of love is. Paul expands the definition: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9,10; cf. 1 Corinthians 13).  

Jesus unselfishly did what we could not do for ourselves. He shed his blood for us, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He gave himself for us. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are his. We love and have the fruit of the SpiritWe have an unselfish concern for others that changes our relationships and alters the way we think of sex and immorality.  

Paul encourages us to turn away from acts of the flesh. Love, as Jesus taught it, helps partners in marriage remain devoted to each other and find a Godpleasing place for sexual intimacy. Our relationships in families and friendships honor others and seek their good. We do not exploit others to gratify ourselves. We pursue what is good and turn from what is evil.  

Yet we struggle with our sinful nature. We may have seriously underestimated its grip on us, even as Christians. Acts of the flesh may have destroyed our relationships with spouses, children, friends, and others. The boundless love of Jesus calls us to repent, turn away from our failures, walk by the Spirit, and refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The loving arms of Jesus are always ready to embrace us with forgiveness and strength. When we stumble, he can plant our feet firmly on the correct path and keep us headed toward our room in his Father’s mansion.  


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the first article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Trophies of grace

A heart attack opens the door for the gospel to win a soul for Jesus. 

Eric S. Hartzell 

In 1919, a white man stepped into the Apache reservation in Arizona to share God’s message of grace and forgiveness in Jesus. He was Pastor H.C. Nitz, and over the years he witnessed the miracle of the gospel winning the hearts of people. He wrote about these trophies of grace among the Apache nation. 

His experiences are like so many others in many other settings. The gospel wins the hearts of people; they become trophies of grace. Each one of us is also a trophy of God’s grace because he has called us by the gospel and made us disciples of Jesus. 

I have a story of two trophies of grace to share. I met them in Georgetown, Texas. I’m going to call them the husband and the wife, because what their names are is not as important as who they are. It is only important that Jesus knows their names. And he does.  

The husband is a Vietnam veteran who was severely wounded in the war. His awful wartime wounds were not as painful, however, as the wounds he suffered at home from an unappreciative and uncaring public. The best thing he did—and he will tell you this today—is that he married his wife, who is a strong believer in Jesus and who tried to get her husband to believe like she did. It was to no avail though. He loved her dearly, but he just couldn’t believe in Jesus. That’s what he said. Maybe he was talking like a soldier, but one time he said, “I think it is a real bad idea if someone would have to die for my sins. If someone needs to die for my sins, it should be me.” 

One day his wife and I were working together with other members of the congregation at booth for the church in GeorgetownWe were trying to get some publicity for the little Lutheran church and invite people to come. My cell phone rang with a call from the neighbor lady who lived across the street from the couple.  

The lady on the phone said, “They are working on him right now. Apparently, he has had a bad heart attack.” The wife left right away to be with her husband at the hospital, and I promised to come to the hospital as soon as the event was over that evening. 

When I arrived at the hospital later that evening, things had stabilized. The husband was laying on the hospital bed. His wife was there, and I offered a devotion as I tried to talk about Jesus. The husband was polite, and he listened. What choice did he have?  

Then a doctor came into the room to tell the couple where things stood. I stood off to the side to let the doctor speak to the couple. The doctor was from one of the countries of the former Soviet Union, and he spoke with a very heavy accent. He told the husband the bad news and what he would have to do now.  

When he left the room, the husband looked at his wife and said, “We have to do what this doctor says. We have to believe what he has told us.” Whether those were exactly the words or not, it doesn’t matter. That was the gist of it.  

I stepped up to the bed at that point and said to the husband, “This doctor came into your room and you could hardly understand him. He’s from another country. You are just a patient of his, and you believed everything he told you. People who love you are here, and they are telling you to believe in Jesus and have life and you won’t believe them.” And then I left the couple and went home. 

Early the next morning my cell phone rang. The wife announced, “Pastor, he’s ready to talk to you now. Can you come?”  

And now it would be possible in a way to say, “And the rest is history.” The gospel had begun to claim another trophy, and it was handsome! From “I can’t believe in Jesus,” it was now, “I want to believe in Jesus.”  

The gospel continued to work, and, after some time of rehabilitation, the husband asked if he could be baptized. It happened with water from a white Dixie cup in another hospital room. The words of promise were from the Word that says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).  

It still wasn’t easy. The husband’s health was shaky. He went home, but there were questions and some doubts expressed along the way. His wife was there every second for her husband. He steadily became stronger. 

But it was not over yet! After some time, the husband and wife were away at a gathering, and another heart attack came. My cell phone brought the news. The EMTs were a half an hour away, and they were bringing the husband to the hospital. His wife was coming in another vehicle and would get there as soon as she could.  

Inside the emergency room, a small group of believers in Jesus gathered and waited for the wife. The EMTs were working frantically on the husband. Under their breath, we heard the EMTs say, “How long are we going to keep this up?” The pounding on his chest and the other measures weren’t helping. They packed him in ice to keep the swelling down in his brain. It had been a half an hour, and his heart was stopped. “Please wait until his wife gets here before you stop trying to revive him, the forlorn little group pleaded. 

And then we prayed. The prayer of this hopeful but helpless group was, “Jesus, please help this man. He knows you and he loves you. Save him. Please.” Our prayers continued when the wife arrived. 

Then there was a blip on the screen . . . and then another. The husband started fighting the respirator and the breathing apparatus and began to breathe on his own. “Get that ice off of him,” and they did. “I’m holding your hand now,” the wife told her husband. “If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.” His hand squeezed hers! Then he opened his eyes. After a while someone said, “What was the score of the football game yesterday?” and he answered . . . correctly. 

Everyone who was there is still convinced that they saw a miracle that day. But actually, the real miracle had already happened when the husband said, “I want to believe in Jesus.”  

Today it is also a wonderful thing to hear the husband’s confession, “Jesus has saved me.” He’s not afraid to tell anyone. In fact, he tells everyone. He and his wife are now charter members of Redeemer, St. George, Utah.  

Together with other members, they are all God’s trophies of grace!



Eric Hartzell is pastor at St. Peter, Globe, Arizona.



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Becoming “those people”

A knock on the door brings tragic news and a need for Christian comfort. 

Brian D. Guhr 

During my career as a deputy sheriff and detective for a local sheriff’s department, I found that making death notifications was the most distasteful of all my duties. Oftentimes this notification was received from another jurisdiction where the death occurred. The information we received usually only contained the names of the deceased and the next of kin. We never delivered the information alone, and officers told the surviving family to contact the other agency for any additional information.  

It was difficult. We would arrive at a stranger’s home, wake them in the early morning hours, and deliver the worst of all news: A loved one had passed away. We would stay for a short timeoffer condolences and any services we could provide, and then leave. We were not to be clergy or counselors, just messengers.  

I always wondered what became of “those people. 

The knock on the door 

On Feb. 13, 2017, my wife and I were awakened by a pounding on our front door at about two in the morning. Two officers told us that our oldest daughter had passed away. Since all deaths are investigated, they told us to contact the department that was handling the investigation. Along with offering condolences and any services they could provide, they offered us the services of their department chaplain. We thanked them and told them that their chaplain was one of our pastors. They stayed for a short time and left. Ironically, we had just become “those people.” 

At my daughter’s funeral, when receiving condolences from family and friends, a good friend from our church’s Saturday morning men’s Bible study gave me a hug and whispered something in my ear. I was a physical and emotional wreck so I had to ask him to repeat it. He whispered, “Romans 8:28.”  

I had read and meditated on that passage many times before: “We know that in all things God works for the good of all those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This time, because of my emotional state, I wasn’t feeling “the good, but those words stayed with me. 

For the funeral service, our pastor chose Jeremiah 29:11 as the text for his message:  ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” Pastor told us that in all the years of his ministry, he had never selected this text as a basis for a funeral message but felt that it would be a comfort to us. 

Months earlier, my wife and I had booked our winter vacation to Punta Cana. We were scheduled to leave on Feb. 23, ten days after the knock on the door. The days between our daughter’s death and our departure were spent wavering between going or staying. With the encouragement of our family and friends we decided to go. Our winter vacation history is that of “planting” ourselves at the resort. We don’t stray, but keep close to our room, the beach, the groomed grounds, the beach, the dining room, and the beach. We would have ample time with our thoughts. 

Once airborne, I remember thinking that the weather and our vacation routine would probably be good, but then we would have to return home. Nothing would have changed. Our daughter would still be gone, and my grieving would go on. The sorrow I was feeling for my loss overwhelmed the joy of knowing that our daughter was with our Lord and Savior, Jesus, in heaven. 

Our meditation 

My wife and I spent countless hours in prayer and meditating on God’s Word and promises as we lounged on the beach. My prayers were for God to send his Holy Spirit for comfort and peace. My meditations focused on some of these important verses and readings:   

  • Exodus 14:14: “The LORDwill fight for you; you need only to be still.”  
  • Psalm 46:10: “Bestill, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  
  • Matthew 8, Mark 4,and Luke 8: The account of Jesus calming the storm“Quiet! Be still!” was an important verse to remember. 
  • Deuteronomy 31:6:“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave nor forsake you.”  
  • Joshua 1:5:“No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I treasured the promise that I will never be alone in my storm.  
  • Romans 8,especially verses 26-28. 
  • Hebrews 11 (Byfaith).  
  • Jeremiah 29:11: the versethe pastor preached on at my daughter’s funeral.  

With my focus now on God’s truths, the scales began to tip in the favor of joy. The return home was not as dreadful as I had imagined. 

Continued comfort 

Over the years, our daughter had become a not-so-frequent church attendee. My wife and I had some concerns as we had modeled and expressed the importance of regular worship to all of our children. After we returned home, our daughter’s brothers and sister were cleaning out her apartment. Among her possessions they found her Bible and a small plaque that she had purchased. On it were the words of Jeremiah 29:11. 

As the grieving process continued, I realized that I had never experienced anger. My wife and I went through this process together as well as individually. My wife also never experienced anger. The only conclusion I could come to was that deep in our hearts we have the blessed assurance of knowing that one day we all will be reunited in heaven. God, through his Holy Spirit, has strengthened my faith using his Word in Isaiah 57:1“The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil,” and James 4:8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” 

My wife and I continue our worship, small group participation, and individual Bible studies at home. The peace and comfort we receive from God’s Word and promises, our daughter’s plaque on our mantle as a daily reminder, and the fellowship we share with our Christian brothers and sisters bolster our faith. I now better appreciate the words: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1).  

As two of those people,” we thank God for all of you, our brothers and sisters in Christ. 


Brian Guhr is a member at St. Paul’s, Muskego, Wisconsin.



 

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Author: Bryan D. Guhr
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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

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No time for silence

Mark G. Schroeder

“For you created my inmost being;you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). 

David knew. He knew that his life began not when he was born, but when God gave him the gift of life at conception. It was then that God brought together everything needed to create a human life. David knew that, and that’s why he could refer to himself as “me” before he was born 

Human life begins at conception. This is something that we know from common sense, something that we understand instinctively from the knowledge that God has written in our hearts, and something that has been demonstrated by science. Because we know that truth, we find it incomprehensible that so many in our society deny it 

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Roe v. Wade case in 1973, states have been unable to outlaw or ban abortions. In recent years, however, there have been successful efforts to pass laws that restrict when and how abortions can be legally carried out. Some states have passed laws stating that abortions cannot be performed after a fetal heartbeat has been detected or after a certain point in time of the pregnancy.  

Others have banned the practice of “partial birth” abortions. Still other states have forbidden the use of tax dollars to support the practice of abortions. In some cases, the Supreme Court has ruled that states do have the ability to impose “reasonable” restrictions on abortion without violating the Constitution or the Roe v. Wade decision. 

Reacting to these successful but limited attempts to restrict abortion, pro-abortion forces have responded with an all-out effort to legalize even the most radical abortion practices. Last year, Illinois passed a law expanding the use of state tax dollars to pay for abortions; in January its new governor boasted that Illinois was now the most “progressive” state when it comes to access to abortion. In January, New York passed a law that permits abortions until the time of birth. The gruesome law that will end the life of fully viable human being was celebrated by lighting the One World Trade Center in pinkAt least six other states are considering similar laws. 

WELS takes a clear and consistent stance on the issue of abortion, publicly declaring our opposition both on biblical grounds and on the basis of natural law. 

We testify that only God creates life and only God has the right to end it. We encourage our members to exercise their rights as citizens in efforts to put an end to the barbarity of abortion. We assert that unborn children not wanted by their mothers will be welcomed and wanted by those who are seeking to adopt a child. We support women who choose life for their babies, even in the most difficult and challenging circumstances. 

But these recent efforts to promote later and even more horrible abortion procedures should lead us to do more. We need to hold on to God’s truth more firmly in our own heartsWe need to resist the temptation to become calloused toward a tragedy that continues unabated. We need to thank God that there are churches and individuals that stand with us in defending the unborn. We need to testify to God’s truth more diligently—whether people want to listen or not. We need to be the salt that brings needed change to a decaying world. We need to pray that God will rekindle a love and respect for human life that seems to be disappearing in our land. 



Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.



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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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The shroud

John A. Braun

On more than one occasion we have been delayed by a serious accident on the freeway.  At some of those scenes, emergency personnel erected canvas tarps to prevent us from seeing the damaged vehicles and, in some cases, the dead. The tarps also prevent gawkers from causing additional accidents. But, of course, it is customary to cover the dead, even at accident scenes. Those who are covered need no medical help. The living—those still uncovered—are rushed to hospitals. 

Battle fields are different. I walked the “Bloody Lane” at the Civil War battleground in Antietam. The dead were long gone, but old pictures of the scene were taken when the bloody bodies were still there, uncoveredThe pictures are difficult to forget. I remember some of photographer Mathew Brady’s other pictures: one uncovered dead sharpshooter at Gettysburg and another of the dead at Vicksburg who were covered with shrouds, awaiting burial. 

I walked the graveyard at Gettysburg and have seen photos of Civil War graveyards made in haste with stones crooked and leaning. I also walked the neat rows of white gravestones marking the Americans dead in Luxembourg. The dead are not visible in those places—only stones to mark their remains. At the burial, the coffins wore American flags as shrouds on the final steps to their final resting places. 

The war dead continue to come home to rest, draped with American flags—their returning shroud. From before the Civil War to long after the most recent war, the dead do not stop coming.  

But death does not take lives only in war. Closer to our personal lives, our families are not immune to death’s infection. We have laid to rest many we called dear. Their bodies were covered and, out of sight, transported to the funeral home to be prepared for burialWe saw their lifeless bodies again as we said good-bye and consoled each other with family and friends.   

We have all been infected. I have known some who are in the habit of reading obituaries so they don’t miss the passing of a friend or relative.  

This is not the way God intended things to be. He created us to live. When death became our heritage because of sin, he stepped in and provided an alternative. He sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus’ body was wrapped in a shroud and laid to rest like most of the dead, but Jesus promised he would not remain in the tomb. On Easter morning he arose. The grief and sorrow that still come with death are not permanent. Life has triumphed. Jesus has triumphed, and he promised, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).  

The shroud Jesus wore is worthless now. If it exists, it’s only a curiosity. He doesn’t need it to cover his dead body. He’s not dead.  

When I hear that the body of Jesus was “wrapped in linen,” I remember a beautiful passage from Isaiah that pictures what happened on the raised ground of Golgotha and the adjacent tomb in Joseph’s garden. Isaiah wrote, “On this mountain  [the LORD Almighty] will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples; the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:7,8).   

Death has been swallowed up in victory as Paul wrote, as Christians throughout the centuries confessed, and as we sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives! (Christian Worship 152:1). We don’t need shrouds. We will live.  



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



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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

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

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Teen Talk: Proof doesn’t change anything

Thomas wanted proof. We simply believe what God tells us. 

Gilbert Haw 

Do you remember the story of Thomas?  

After Jesus rose from death, he appeared before his disciples. Most of them, anyway. Thomas was not present. When the others told him what they saw, Thomas didn’t believe. He said that if he did not have proofseeing the marks from the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet and the stab wound from the spear in his sidehe would not believe (John 20:24-29). 

When I was younger, I don’t think I understood this. Why would Thomas doubt what the people he’d been traveling with for three years were saying? Why should he need proof? Jesus said he would rise!  

Unfortunately, that opinion begins to change as we leave our Christian bubble. As we go and see the rest of the world, we don’t see universal support for our beliefs. We see a morally decayed world abandoning the God who created it and encouraging others do the same. We are taught to demand absolute, irrefutable proof to justify our beliefs. It becomes easier and easier to question God. After all, how can we possibly prove that anything God has told us through his Word is true? 

The only honest answer to that question is that we can’t. Like it or not, it is simply impossible to prove, one way or the other, that God created the world in six days or that Jesus actually turned water into wine. While our faith is centered around the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which could, in theory, be proven, that will not happen until the Last Day when he comes again.  

We don’t like having to just trust someone. Like Thomas, we always want proof.  

Fortunately it isn’t having undeniable proof that saves us. In fact, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus knows that it’s hard to trust him when we don’t have proof. Yet he tells us that we are blessed for believing without proof of seeing him, his miracles, his death, and his resurrection.  

While this may be difficult to accept, it important to remember that we are not saved by proof. When Jesus told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, he said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Jesus tells us that all we need to know is in the Bible. Proof, even if  someone rises from the death before our eyes, won’t change anything. We believe what God says. It isn’t proof that will give us faith. It’s his Word.  

Throughout life, it’s pretty much inevitable that we will experience doubt. We, like Thomas, will want to demand proof before we believe. Despite this, we should know that we are forgiven for our doubt and that it is through Jesus that we are saved just as Jesus said and as we read in the Bible. We are not saved by absolute certainty of any proof, except the words of Jesus 

It may be difficult to accept that, and it won’t get any easier as time goes on, but we can take comfort in knowing that God will keep us in the faith and will strengthen that faith as we hear his Word and receive his Supper. We may not be able to satisfy scientists and intellectuals with proof of our faith, but with God’s help and through his grace, we can be firm in what we believe.  


Gilbert Haw, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at St. Paul, Lake Mills.  


 

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Author: Gilbert Haw
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Judgement-free zone

Andrew C. Schroer 

On July 22, 2018, a 34-year-old man named Eric Stagno walked into a Planet Fitness gym in New Hampshire. He stopped at the front counter, took off all his clothes, and then proceeded to do yoga in the buff. Those exercising at the time were both shocked and disgusted. The police were called immediately. 

Upon his arrest, Stagno claimed he thought he was in a “Judgement Free Zone,” referencing the company’s longtime slogan. 

With 1,500 locations and over 10 million members, Planet Fitness is one of the most successful gym franchises in the world. Its claim to be a “Judgement Free Zone” resonates with many people. The pressure of exercising with sculpted body builders and embarrassment over their own bodies often keep people from going to the gym. 

They feel like they are being judged. 

Planet Fitness has found a way to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for the casual gym user. But, as Eric Stagno found out, there is no such place as a completely judgement-free zone. 

One of the things our world today fails to distinguish is the difference between judging and being judgmental. Being judgmental means being quick to judge or harsh in your judgment. It means setting yourself above other people or thinking you are better than them. 

God doesn’t want us to be judgmental. We have no right to set ourselves up as judge and jury for someone else. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks strong words about those who pridefully judge others (Matthew 7:1-5).  

God, however, does judge. He is the Supreme Court of all creation. His moral code will be the standard by which we will all be judged one day. Every single person will be judged by God for what they do in this life. Before God there is no such thing as a judgmentfree zone.  

When we as Christians lovingly and humbly share God’s moral code with the worldwhen we call sin “sin”we aren’t being judgmental. We are simply sharing the decrees of the Judge of all creation. 

Our world, however, calls that judgmental. It doesn’t want you or me to say that certain actions or attitudes are wrongThat is considered unloving and intolerant. For our world, love is living judgement free. 

But then when a guy gets naked in a gym or a pedophile molests a young boy or a terrorist massacres the innocent, suddenly the world sees the importance of judges and juriesThen there is a higher moral code by which people should be judged. 

Deep down we all know there is a higher moral code. We know we haven’t lived up to that moral code. We deserve to be declared guilty by God the Judge. 

And yet because Jesus lived and died in our placebecause he suffered our guilty verdict in our placeGod declares all those who believe in him to be innocent of all charges. Through faith in Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of judgment day. 

But that doesn’t change the fact that judgment day is coming. Even here on earth there are no judgement-free zones, as Eric Stagno discovered. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all judging is judgmental. God wants us boldly and lovingly to proclaim his moral code and his judgments even when people don’t want to hear it. Only then will they be able to see how desperately they need Jesus as their Savior. 

There is no such thing as a judgement-free zone.


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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A new story

The stone marks the place of those who died. But one cemetery tells a different story. 

John P. Bortulin 

The sights and sounds and the subdued quietness of the 9/11 Memorial on the southside of Manhattan told a story that left a sobering mark on us.From there my wife and I headed a few blocks east and stumbled across a historic church with a cemetery filled with markers dating back to the late 1600s. 

Cemeteries tell stories, and this one was no exception. 

“Here lies the body of . . .” was inscribed on stones all around us. The oldest stone belonged to a five-year-old boy; not far from there a 37-year-old doctor.Next to it a small stone read, “In memory of eight children of . . .” and “Of such is the Kingdom of God.” Heartbreak at every turn. Walk a little further, and there lies the body of Alexander Hamilton. 

Cemeteries tell the same story, stone after stone: young and old, rich and poor, famous and infamous and insignificant, this unwelcome intrusion into God’s good and perfect world called death plays no favorites.Same story, death wins. 

A different story 

Death wins, the women must have thought that first Easter, with their burial spices in hand. Did they kick the dirt and did tears sting their eyes as they went to anoint the dead body of the one whom they loved, the One who loved them? Could this really be the end of his story?  

Cemeteries tell stories, and that one was no exception. Except on that Easter morning, that cemetery told a different story! A holy angel had moved the stone away so that he could tell the story that Job would have inscribed in stone forever. 

 ‘Don’t be alarmed, [the angel] said. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you”  ” (Mark 16:6,7). 

Did you catch it? The turn in this story? He’s alive! Jesus the Nazarene, the one crucified for your sins and the sins of the whole world, the one who did not cry out “it is finished” until it really was, the one who was an answer for this unwelcome intrusion into this worldan answer for sinfor the women, for Peter (and have you had any Peter moments lately?) and for you. Most important this Easter—for you. 

A victorious story 

Cemeteries tell stories, and this one was no exception. 

I think of cemeteries far removed from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan (with the street vendors peddling hot dogs and gyros and three “I Love NY” hats for $9.99). I think of cemeteries I have stood in next to knee-high corn or in bitter January winds. I recall cemeteries I’ve muddied shoes in as pastor, family member, and friend.  I think of stones with names of those I love. Yet every one of those stones marks a victory, because in every one the angel’s message still rings true: “He has risen. He is not here.”  

It’s a new story. A beautiful story. Death loses, Jesus wins.Those who die in Christ, live in Christ.Here’s the story: He lives for the women and Mary and the disciples and Peter and you.  

“Here lies the body of . . .” Not foreverEaster says, not forever. “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”   

Cemeteries tell a story but none greater than the empty one on Easter morning. For the Lamb once slain is resurrected. Victorious. Alive.  

That’s not just the end of the story. It is your story! 


John Bortulin is pastor at St. John, Mukwonago, Wisconsin.



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Author: John P. Bortulin  
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Risen indeed!

The reality of Christ’s resurrection affirms our faith. 

Michael J. Berg 

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

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

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

Fact: Jesus rose 

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

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

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

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

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

Another fact: You were baptized  

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

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

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

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

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

This is a sight that gladdensWhat peace it does impart! 

Now nothing ever saddens The joy within my heart. 

No gloom shall ever shake, No foe shall ever take 

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


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Silent no longer

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

Stephen G. Helwig  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stephen Helwig is pastor at Gethsemane, Omaha, Nebraska.  


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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A Lutheran Lent

John A. Braun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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A gospel-filled life: Part 2

Prayer in Jesus’ name 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

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

Prayer slumps 

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

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

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

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

Successful prayer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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



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



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

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

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Frogs in heated recliners

Glenn L Schwanke

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

The dream?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But Dad . . .”

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

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

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

Has the same happened to you?

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


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


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

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 5

KISS them 

Kenneth L. Brokmeier 

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

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

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

KEEP 

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

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

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

IT 

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

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

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

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

SIMPLE  

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

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

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

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

SINCERE 

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

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

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

An example 

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

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


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


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


Sidebar:  

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


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

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

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Merging for mission – Part 3

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

Julie K. Wietzke 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facing struggles 

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

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

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

Forging partnerships 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving forward 

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

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

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

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


Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ.


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


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

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

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A parent’s worries and advice

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

Mary Sieh 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



 

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

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

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Confessions of faith: Ensign

A woman finally discovers the blessings of Baptism. 

Alicia A. Neumann 

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

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

A busy life 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Pat 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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Hindsight shows God’s blessings

Mark G. Schroeder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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

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

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Close enough to love

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

Joel C. Seifert 

And who is my neighbor?”  

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

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

Love brings us close to our fellow man  

A subtle detail helps us understand love better.  

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

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

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

Love is found in the God who draws close to us 

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

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

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


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


 

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

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 5

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 8 to 11 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

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

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

The first five trumpets 

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

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

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

The sixth and seventh trumpets 

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

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

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

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


Reflect on Revelation chapters 6 and 7 

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

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

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

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

     


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


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


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

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

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