A gospel-filled life: Part 8

Cross-centered life and thought 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Her first restaurant job was nothing like cooking at home. Personal safety videos. Rigorous sanitation rules. Strict food handling standards. Weeks into the job, she had no chance of forgetting them. Multiple signs made safety an ever-present issue. Other cooks didn’t tolerate shortcuts. Managers kept constant vigilance.  

Likewise, Christians benefit from keeping the basics of the faith in focus at all times. That means that the cross is an essential part of our lives of faith. The cross of Christ and what it means for us is not something we can move beyond and leave behind. Martin Luther adopted a motto to encapsulate his Reformation rediscoveries: “The cross alone is our theology” (Crux sola est nostra theologia) 

Seeing life through the cross 

Christians see everything in our lives through the prism of Jesus’ cross. From a purely human perspective, the cross of Christ is a crashing defeat for his ministry. Yet far from a failure, the cross of Jesus meant he accomplished the rescue of humanity just as he set out to do. So, his cross enables us to see everything in life through the perspective of what we have from Jesus.  

Why is the cross such a crucial and constant element to our faith? Just think back to your default reactions when you experience painful suffering or injustices. Do your prayers accuse God of being unfair? You might never actually say it in these exact words, but when you are faithfully studying God’s Word and spending time in prayer, do you expect favorable treatment from God? 

When Paul says the cross is “is the power of God” for believers (1 Corinthians 1:18), he wants us to know the practical, ongoing value of the cross for our daily lives. Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) for us when we experience struggles that induce doubt, confusion, and uncertainty in our faith. The cross is the key to trusting in God when things in life seem incomprehensible. Luther commends the believer who “comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross” (The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis #20). 

The cross means Jesus fulfilled every condition laid down for the salvation of every sinner. The cross of Christ means we get to enjoy God’s unconditional love because of what Jesus did for us. The cross helps us see our ultimate problem in life isn’t self-improvement, but ingrained and pervasive sin in our hearts. The cross gives us a constant reminder to find meaning in life from the sacrifice Jesus made and the victory he secured for us.  

Living life by the cross 

As we study Scripture, we gain a deeper understanding of who God is. As we meditate on his gospel promises, we are drawn into a great appreciation of his gifts. As our hearts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, our prayers are shaped by the cross of Christ. Every aspect of our lives flows out of God’s riches to us in Jesus.  

The message of the cross is something we need to preach to ourselves. The cross of Jesus is the dual destroyer of both our pride and despair. Infinite riches are ours through the grace of God poured out on the cross. So, the finished work of Jesus provides certainty in the middle of our confusion and a solid foundation for faith in a chaotic world. The cross is something we never outgrow. 


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


This is the eighth 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 9
Issue: September 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 5

Dissentions and factions create roadblocks along the Christian Way. 

John A. Braun 

Paul’s acts of the flesh include some hazards we must avoid on our journey. He lists them as dissensions, factions, and envy. But he does not leave us paralyzed, unable to move toward our heavenly goal. He also cites two important fruits of the Spirit to help us make progress: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Acts of the flesh: Dissensions, factions, and envy 

Paul’s world was different from our own. It’s hard to imagine that Paul faced protests for civil rights, abortion, or other political causesRoman law and power settled almost all such issues. Most found little tolerance for social or political protestsYet Paul was in the midst of a vehement protest with Demetrius and the silversmiths. That disagreement turned into a riot in Ephesus (Acts chapter 19). That was an example of dissention, faction, and envy caused by the message of the gospel.  

It was ugly and dangerous. “Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there [in the theater] (Acts 19:32). Finally the city clerk quieted the crowd and told the people to take their grievances to the courts, warning them of the danger of causing a riot. The crowd melted away.  

In our own age, protests and divisions are part of our everyday newscasts. Differences escalate into heated confrontations. Like the riot in Ephesus, some shout one thing and some another. Perhaps such displays of factions and dissension are part of our system of government. We vote and contend for our positions in a way people in Paul’s world did not. Roman soldiers did not stand by in riot gear awaiting flying stones.  

That factor doesn’t matter much today. What does matter is that dissensions, factions, and envy have not disappeared. The sinful nature within asserts itself from time to time and creates conflict. Paul’s list is not just a list of ancient characteristics we no longer have. His acts of the flesh persist in our age because the sinful nature persists. Envy persists. Factions persist. 

Paul adds envy to the list, I think, to help us understand. Envy distorts every thought to help others. It is subtle at times; at other times, it is blatantly obvious. Sometimes we allow envy to blockade our ability to listen and love. As a result, we become harsh and hostile, ready for a fight or argument. It’s so much a part of our world, we are carried along without thinking. We fall for the temptation to be disagreeable, assert our own rights or thinking, and oppose others.  

It is bad enough that the conflicts arise in our country and society, our marriages and families, our neighborhoods and our government at all levels. Sadly, they also arise within the churchamong God people. Paul was no stranger to them. To the Galatians he warned, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (5:15).  

Yes, these negative attitudes reside in Christians as well. Paul saw divisions rise up in the churches he founded. He warned against “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ,” reminding the Corinthians that even Satan masqueraded as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:12-14). He also told the Romans to avoid those who taught false doctrines (Romans 16:17).  

Paul’s view of the future of the Christian church emerges from his words to Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3,4).  

Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness and gentleness 

Throughout history, the church has often had to contend with those who have not put up with sound doctrine and claimed to be right. Sadly, they claimed to be righter than right. That sentence doesn’t make any sense grammatically or theologically, but it raises the question of who is right and who isn’t. There can’t be two rights or a righter than right. How do we navigate differences and factionsPaul suggests two fruits of the Spirit: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Faithfulness first. The antidote to all the false teachers and heretical factions wasand still isfaithfulness to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has created a desire within us to treasure the Scriptures that tell us of Jesus and of all of God’s promises. So we remain faithful to the Scriptures. They are our authority for truth, our Supreme Court, to decide what is right and what is not. Faithfulness to that truth will move us to compare anyone’s teaching with the Scriptures and evaluate it on the basis of that standard. John suggests, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  

Then, with firmness in the truth, Paul advises gentleness. Peter advises the same attitude when he said that we are to share the hope we treasure with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). No one wants divisions, and we must deal with love and kindness with those who think differently. When they will not listen to the truth, then we have no alternative but to avoid those ideas and the groups that proclaim them. 

But not all disagreements are about doctrine. Sometimes Christians have arguments and quarrels about whether or not to have carpeting in the church and what color it should be. Some question which preacher is better—even Paul mentioned this disagreement (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)others anguish over how the budget was set and whether we should spend money on the school or on the front steps of the church. Every church has these differences or others like them.  

Faithfulness and gentleness are valuable in all these discussions. We remain faithful to God’s Word and also faithful to Jesus command to love one another. Then we can be gentle in our disagreementsnot belligerent or harsh. 

Dissensions and factions dog every step of our journey, and our sinful flesh is often tempted to feed them. They become group activities. One person solicits support from others who are like-minded. Then another person gathers others who disagree. The result can be belligerent, bitter, and divisive.  

We should not let differences get out of hand. Even everyday disagreements may become roadblocks to the Christian concept of loving one another and may block the work of the congregation and the larger church. They will turn the character of a congregation sour. Perhaps they also will turn some away from the path we follow together. Let us walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:16,25,26). Remain faithful to the Scripture and gentle in our dealings with each other. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fifth 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 9
Issue: September 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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Pray for workers

Jesus reminds us to pray for more workers in his harvest of souls. 

John A. Braun 

Northwestern Publishing House hosts a luncheon every spring honoring graduates of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. I sat with six men who would be assigned to begin their service as pastors.  

Earlier I had just heard a report that we have 121 fulltime parish pastor vacancies and 26 seminary graduates. I know that interpreting those numbers depends on a number of factors. As it turned out, 30 men were assigned. Added to these graduates were four from previous classes. I remembered Lord’s words, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37). Those words flowed from his compassion for the crowds “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (v. 36). He saw the need and, it seemed clear to me, that the need has not disappeared. 

I decided to spend a few minutes with these six men to explore what motivated them to begin training for the pastoral ministry. So I asked them. I only said that they could not take the easy way out of my question. They could not say that the Holy Spirit led them to become pastors. Not only is that an easy pat answer, but it is also true for all of themall who are serving today, and all who are still preparing to serve.  

My goal was simple. I wanted to share their stories in the hope that others would pause and think about serving as pastors.  

The first to respond was Aaron Platzer. He began, “I attended public school.” Then I asked what led him to want to be a pastor. His simple answer was, “My pastor!” In many ways the pastors who serve our congregations now are key to finding more workers for the harvest. Aaron went on, “He confirmed me and encouraged me. I didn’t think much about it in high school. But he kept encouraging me and then when I was thinking about college, he thought I should give Martin Luther College (MLC) a try. So I did. 

Tristan Paustian graduated from Shoreland Lutheran High School, Somers, Wis. He, like some of the others I talked to that day, has a family filled with called workers. But he said, “I didn’t want to be a pastor. I wanted to do something else with my life. I thought I could serve God in another way.” His family understood. He ended up going to MLC in order to be a teacher. But in his second year, he decided to shift from the teacher track to pastor track. The pastors in his family were the quiet and persistent model he chose to follow. 

Nathanael Jensen had an easy answer, “I remember that from kindergarten, I always wanted to be a pastor. My father was my role model. I never wanted to do anything else.” His father is a pastor in Watertown, Wisconsin. Nathanael quite naturally attended Luther Preparatory School (LPS) in Watertown and then went on to MLC and the seminary. I know that some young men echo Nathanael’s words. Some see their fathers as role models, but others have found role models in the pastors that confirmed them. In all of these six cases, their families encouraged them along the way. 

Hans Thomford attended Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) in Saginaw for high school. He said that he saw himself as a vet, farmer, or engineer. At MLS he received support to think about pursuing the pastoral ministry. “I got encouragement from the teachers and especially the tutors. I had so many experiences which led me to head to MLC and try it for a year,” he said. After I had one year in at MLC, I knew this was something I wanted to do full-time in my life and for the Lord. I don’t think you get that kind of encouragement anywhere else.” His father, a pastor, was a great influence in encouraging him to pursue serving the Lord as a pastor.  

Dan Rodewald attended LPS. He also received encouragement from his family and especially from the tutors in the dormitory and the teachers in the classroom. I really appreciated all the emphasis on ministry I got at LPS from everyone there, he says. But he still was not sure, even though he went on to MLCHe still had doubts at the seminary. Then he was assigned as a vicar, where he worked under the supervision of a pastor in his congregation. Dan said, “I remember talking with one man and sharing the comfort of the gospel with him. He died a few hours later. I was the last person to talk with him. I knew then that I was sure I wanted to be a pastor. 

Only one of these young graduates was left, Tim Priewe. He went to Wisconsin Lutheran High School (WLHS) in Milwaukee but had no inclination or plans to be a pastor because he was always on the quieter side. Unlike the others, there was no pastor in his family, but he grew up with the example of the dedicated service of his parents in their church. When he came to WLHS, he decided to take Latin because his brother had taken it. When his first year was over, he chose a second year of Latin. His sister, who already was at MLC, convinced him to stick it our for the third and finally a fourth year. Halso began meeting with MLC recruiters. At graduation he applied to only one college, MLC, and enrolled in the pastor track. 

I decided to ask them all one more question, “What do you tell people who want to know why you want to be a pastor?  

Dan answered by returning to the story from his vicar year. “I tell them that I want to share the message of the gospel. That’s the bottom line. I like to use that question to tell people law and gospel and share.”  

The others all agreed.  

Aaron added, “When some of my high school friends and family ask why I want to be a pastor, they see the eight years of study and then the salary and wonder why you spent all that time to be a pastor. They only see the money and the time. But it’s like Dan said, its sharing the gospel that’s most important.” 

Now I think of the congregations and the people they will serve. I look beyond those congregations to see the crowds like Jesus did. I see a world in need of what we all treasure—Jesus and his gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. And I pray, “Lord, send workers into the harvest.”  

Then I also begin to look for students who have the ability and the inclination to serve as pastors or teachers. The harvest remains plentiful, and we all need to pray for workers and then actively encourage those we know to pursue training for the public ministry. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.



By the numbers 

30Men who received assignments into the pastoral ministry this year, including the six seniors interviewed in the article. 

6Pastor assignments made to U.S. home mission fields 

60Requests made by congregations, schools, and other ministries for a pastor, 30 of which went unfilled. 

104Synodwide vacancies for pastor-trained men after assignments, 90 of which are for parish pastors. 

47Men who graduated from MLC’s preseminary program in 2019, the largest class since ?? 

124Anticipated enrollment at WLS for the upcoming 2019–20 school year, up from 110 for the 2018–19 school year.


Did you know? 

A ninth-grader who begins his pastoral education this fall will not be ordained as a pastor until 2031.  


Where they went 

Nathanael J. Jensen to Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.* 

Tristan D. Paustian to Bethlehem, Hortonville, Wis.* 

Aaron J. Platzer to Peace, Loves Park, Ill.* 

Timothy T. Priewe to associate for the Northern Wisconsin district president at Mount Olive, Appleton, Wis.* 

Daniel L. Rodewald to Paradise Valley, Phoenix, Ariz.* 

Hans J. Thomford to Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.* 

*Read the complete assignment list at wls.wels.net/about-wls/assignment-list/


Did you know? 

Pastoral candidates can receive a variety of assignments, from serving aself-supporting congregations to starting new home or world mission fieldsEach year, several graduates also are temporarily assigned to Martin Luther College and WELS’ two preparatory high schools, Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich. They will teach, coach, supervise, mentor, and encourage young adults as they prepare for the gospel ministry. Some graduates become associates to district presidentsallowing the district presidents the time they need to travel and serve in their districts, as well as fulfill their role as members of the Conference of Presidents. 


What can I do? 

Pray for more workers 

Identify young people you know who might make a good pastor, teacher, or staff ministry. Encourage them to consider the ministry. 

Submit names of possible candidates to Martin Luther College at mlc-wels.edu/go/recommendMLC will ask permission to send the student information so they can consider ministerial training for their future. 

Support current ministerial education students from your congregation. Pray for them. Send them cards and care packages. Ask them about their classes when you see them. 


A prayer for more workers 

Lord of the harvest, give your church men and women who are eager to prepare for service in your kingdom. Help me to encourage not only my own pastor(s) and teachers but also to encourage young men and women I think have the gifts to train for ministry.  

In your name,
Amen.
  


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Author: John A. Braun   
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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 desperate need

Earle D. Treptow 

recent college graduate, with what appeared to be a bright future, tried to end her life. Her boyfriend of three months, who she thought was “the one,” had broken off their relationship. Without him, she could see no reason to liveNo one loved her, and no one ever would. Or so she felt. 

young man, for whom his teachers and mentors had harbored high hopes, moved from one crime to the next, from petty theft to grand larceny to armed robberyOnly when he had money in his pocket could he experience joy in living. Or so he felt. 

To hear such storiesand stories like that multiplyis to come face-to-face with the identical issue, though revealed in different outward manifestationsPeople regularly look in the wrong places for joymeaning, and purpose in life. They’ve been misled by their sinful flesh and deceived by the Liar. The recent college graduate and the young man, as it turns out, have the same need. They both need to hear God’s Word. That should be said more strongly: They desperately need to hear what God has to say, both about their sinfulness and about his gracious solution to the problem they cannot solve. You can probably identify a few people who rise to your top ten list of people in our life who desperately need to hear God’s Word.”  

But then the devil sees an opportunity. He seeks to convince us that we are slightly different. Yes, we need to listen to God’s Word, but we are not like those who desperately need to hear itThe difference between “need” and “desperately need” is subtle, but significant. While we still recognize our need to hear the Savior speak to us, we consider it far more critical for those who do not know God’s love to hear the Word of God.  

In heart and mind, we begin to think that our need for God’s Word is like our need for exercise. All would readily acknowledge the importance of exercise and its value for a person’s physical and emotional health. But, as some of us have provenone can continue to live even without vigorous exercise four days a week. Some of us have skipped exerciseor at least skimped on itwhen life is busy, and we have lived to tell about it. We may need exercise, but apparently, we don’t desperately need exercise.  

But is that our relationship with the Word of God? One might compare it instead to our relationship with oxygen. We desperately need oxygen; without it we die. We don’t just need to listen to our Savior. We desperately need to sit at Jesus’ feet and hang on his words, for they alone give and sustain lifeThe devil loves it when we think that it’s others who desperately need the Word and we don’t.  

Think of what Jesus said to Martha when she was frustrated with her sister. Martha thought Mary should have been helping her serve the Savior and support him in his ministry to those who desperately needed to hear his Word. She felt that there would be other times for Mary to listen to Jesus teach. The Lord’s words to Martha were clear and powerful: “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42 NIV 1984). Mary recognized that she didn’t just need to listen to her Savior; she desperately needed to do so 

So do we. 


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


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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God’s policy of love

John A. Braun

The song “Jesus Loves Me” has come from the voices of little children for as long as I can remember. Their voices move us to smile and to appreciate the lesson they are beginning to learn: Jesus loves them and all of us. So says the Bible, as the children remind us.  

A few years later, wlearned of his love as children too: “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). God’s love is sacrificial and gives the best gift—his one and only Sonfor the world.  

“Jesus Loves Me is a worthy theme. Love is God’s guiding principle. We notice his love for all humanity in so many ways. God gives us life and breath. He sends rain and sunshine—and not just for those who believe in him (Matthew 5:45)Other regular blessings also flow from his love. People fall in love, marry, have children, work to support their families, and enjoy food, clothing, and shelter. 

When little children grow older, they sometimes wonder about God’s love. Moses wrote that no matter how old we become life is still filled with “trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 90:10). As children we may have been sheltered from some of those troubles, but later we often question God’s loveJob had questions. So did Jeremiah, and troubling questions have also burst into our thoughts. 

The Lord’s policy of love doesn’t mean a troublefree life here. He sends troubles. Yet we confess that his love endures forever (Psalm 118:1-4). He helps us when we have questions.  

  • First, he promises never to forsake us.We all have favorite passages to cling to in our difficulties.  
  • Second, he has also revealed that he will guide all things for our good (Roman 8:28). 
  • Third, he is our loving Father who at times uses difficulties not to punish us but to discipline us (Hebrews 12:7) 
  • Fourth, he reminds us that this life and all we experience here are temporary. “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Our coming deaths and the deaths of those we love point us to the salvation his Son has accomplished for us. We are reminded, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31,32). Eternal peace and joy await all believers. 

God in love wants all to be with him. (1 Timothy 2:4). He will dry our tears and soothe our pain. But God does not enable unbelief. And for those who do not know Jesus, God exercises a tough love. He challenges them with the sorrows and troubles of life so they might realize that this life is often filled with troubles. In those trials, he lovingly invites them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mathew 11:28).  

When we suffer, we find one more reason why God in his love sends such troubles. As we suffer and live with others who suffer, we have opportunity to share the hope we have in Christ—to witness and to show compassion and to point others to the glory that awaits all those who trust in Christ. The troubles of life often open doors that in other times remain closed.  

Yes, Jesus loves me, this I knoweven in difficult times.  


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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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Roller-coaster ride

A family endures the ups and downs of life, always trusting the providence of God. 

Ann M. Ponath 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day a truck arrived to move all the Sonntags’ earthly goods from Cadillac, Michigan, to Bozeman, Montana. Pastor Jeff Sonntag had taken a call to serve Shining Mountains in Bozeman. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The day they heard that their unborn 21-week-old baby had a hole in his diaphragm and other health challenges.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018. The same day they learned no medical facility in Montana could handle these challenges.  

Trusting in God’s providence, Jeff and Anne, their two children, Ellie and Micah, and the unborn baby proceeded with their move to Montana. 

Continued blessings 

Life went on. The Sonntags spent the summer getting to know members at Shining Mountains and settling into their new home. Extra prenatal doctor appointments kept them busy. Their Michigan specialist, who by God’s design just happened to visit Montana periodically, was only three hours away. Ellie started kindergarten in the local public school. 

In mid-September, when Anne was 36 weeks pregnant, the president of the congregation loaned the Sonntags a van to drive across the mountains to Seattle where medical facilities were equipped for special deliveries. Just as the Sonntags crossed the border into Idaho, they received word that a room at the Ronald McDonald House just a few blocks from the hospital had opened upanother real blessing!  

After getting Anne and the two children settled in Seattle, Jeff flew back to Bozeman. As the waiting and doctors’ appointments dragged on, the family made an important connection with CalvaryBellevue, Washington. Ellie continued in kindergarten there, and it gave the displaced family a routine and Christian friends, friends who would prove a definite blessing later on. 

A challenging beginning 

Finally, on Oct. 5, Caleb Jonathan Sonntag was born via C-section. The doctors had prepared the Sonntags for the worst. Everyone was surprised when 9 lb., 9 oz., Caleb burst into a lusty cry. The words, “He shouldn’t be able to breathe on his own!” were heard! After a few minutes of being held, a baptism in the room right next to the operating room, and a quick kiss from Mom, Caleb was whisked to the children’s hospital where the staff quipped, “What is this big, chunky baby doing in the NICU?”  

Three days later, newborn Caleb underwent surgery to repair his diaphragm and give his left lung room to fully develop. Although the procedure “felt like forever,” it was completely successful. Just a few days after surgery, Caleb was moved out of the NICU. Recovery took six and half weeksa little longer than expectedas a high flow respirator aided breathing and inflated the underdeveloped lung to help it grow. Caleb was also kept on a 24/7 feeding tube for just enough nutrition, but not enough to over-fill his tiny stomach and affect his breathing. 

God provided for them during this time, including help from fellow Christians. Anne recalls, “Our story about our stay in Seattle is not complete without mentioning the outpouring of love and support from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at Calvary in BellevueWhen our stay extended beyond the point that our family could be there, I knew I had to ask for help, even if asking for help was hard. I asked some of the ladies if they would come lend a hand at the hospital snuggling Caleb so I could focus on the older two for that time. Our new friends were so helpful, making it fit in their schedules and braving downtown traffic to help us not only in the afternoons but also some evenings that week. The prayers, the food, the supportit meant the world to me and was such a beautiful reflection of God’s love working in their hearts.” 

God’s protecting hand 

Finally, Caleb was given the okay to return to Montana Thanksgiving week. But the excitement was not over yet. On day two of their journey, coming down Lookout Pass on the border of Idaho and Montana, the van hit an icy stretch. “I didn’t have control,” Jeff remembers, as the van slid, then rolled two or three times, and finally landed on its right side in a field. But God provided again, sending his angels to protect them. Anne had a bump on her head, Jeff, a cut and broken finger, Ellie and Micah, not a scratch, and Caleb slept through the whole thing.  

 “It’s amazing how the Lord took care of us!” says Jeff. Five accidentsone which included a fatalitytook place in the same location that same day.  

The family stayed overnight in a local hotel until the next morning when the church president brought a new car to take them safely back to Bozeman just in time for the Thanksgiving Eve service. They attended the service and shared the account of God’s protecting hand on their journey home. There were “lots of tears.”  

Repeated prayers 

Six month later, Caleb is off oxygen and the feeding tube and “looks like an average seven-month-old baby.”  

Looking back on this experience, Anne says, “It was definitely a roller coaster. First, the excitement of Caleb being born stable enough to be able to hold him right awaysomething we usually take for grantedto then being separated and spending the next 36 hours recovering sans new baby on the maternity floor with all the other moms with their babies. Then making great progress in the NICU and thinking our hospital time was almost up to a step backward the next day with his oxygen level that meant our stay was increased by at least a couple of weeks. There were lots of tears, lots of ‘why’ questions floating around my head. 

She continues, “One of the Bible passages that really stayed with me and became a repeated prayer were the words of Psalm 51:10,12, ‘Renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  

For Jeff, Caleb’s experience has solidified that “the Lord knows what he’s doing. He’ll take care of us. . . . His care, love and protection will work for our good.” Jeff says he is so thankful for “so many messages of people praying for us. The congregation was amazing with prayers and support.”  

As for Caleb’s name, that has a story too. Anne remembers, “Part of our prenatal care included a three-hour specialized heart ultrasound to make sure every last part of the heart was in its proper place. After an extra 45 minutes solely trying to get a picture of the elusive aortic arch, his heart was cleared. Shortly thereafter, we were discussing names and looking up the meanings. When we found out Caleb meant ‘whole-hearted,’ it seemed a perfect fit.” 

 


Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North St. Paul, Minnesota. 


Update: On May 18, 2019, a day of vomiting and severe stomach pain took Caleb back to the Bozeman hospital. A chest x-ray revealed a re-herniated diaphragm and a bowel blockage. Anne and Caleb flew via medical transport to Seattle. Successful surgery followed. Caleb was “sore, worn out, and once again connected to lots of cords,” says Anne. But nine days later, he and his family were home. “Caleb is back to his happy self and we are happy to be home,” report Jeff. Another example of God’s amazing love and providence!


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Author: Ann M. Ponath 
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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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More about the divine call

Mark G. Schroeder

The news usually comes in an announcement after worship. Your pastor or one of the teachers in your school has received a divine call to serve in another place. That announcement comes as the result of a process that began with the vacancy in the other church, and it signals the start of another process as your called worker now prayerfully considers and decides where he or she will serve in the future. 

Although calls for staff ministers and teachers are similar, for simplicity’s sake, let’s use the example of a pastoral vacancy. When a congregation has a vacancy in the office of pastor, the leaders of the congregation typically take time to discuss and determine the ministerial needs and ministry plans of the congregation. Often the district president takes part in that discussion, providing advice on the factors that the congregation should consider and listening carefully to the needs of the congregation. Relying on that information, the district president compiles a list of pastors who, in his judgment, would fit the needs of the congregation. He shares that list, which includes biographical information and a brief summary of the skills and previous experience of the pastor, with the congregation. 

For the sake of good order and out of consideration for congregations and pastors, district presidents follow several guidelines. One guideline is that pastors should serve in a congregation for four years before receiving another call. In addition, pastor should receive a call no more than every six months and should receive only one call at a time. Sometimes circumstances indicate that exceptions to these guidelines should be made, and, despite efforts to avoid it, a pastor may receive two calls at the same time. 

Once the district president presents the list of candidates to the congregation’s voters’ assembly, they pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, discuss each candidate, and conduct an election. When one person receives the majority of the votes, a motion is made to make the election unanimous. This emphasizes that all members are expressing their full support of the new pastor if he accepts the call. 

The pastor is informed that he has been called to the new congregation. Now begins his prayerful consideration of where he will serve.  If the pastor is serving in his current congregation by a call from God, why does he decide where he will serve? The answer is that he now has two calls, both of which are from God. 

How does a pastor decide between those two calls? He considers many things. He talks to the leaders of both congregations. He consults with coworkers. He discusses it with his wife and family. And, most important, he prays for God’s guidance. 

A pastor will think about several factors. He might naturally consider the health and welfare of his family and the availability of Christian education for his children. But these alone will not determine his final decision. In the end, only two questions will bring him to a God-pleasing decision: “Where can my talents and abilities best be used in God’s church? Where will my weaknesses and limitations do the least harm?” Those are questions that require a pastor to take a careful and honest look at himself and how he will best serve God’s people. 

The answers to those questions will determine his decision. And when those questions are sincerely asked and honestly answered—regardless of what the answer is—the pastor has his decision. In that decision, both congregations and the pastor himself are blessed. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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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Returning by the power of God

A native Paraguayan finds motivation from the gospel to revisit her country and share the message of Christ with residents there.  

Rachel Hartman 

Earlier on in her life, Juliana Kennell left Paraguay with the desire never to return. Now, years later, time and again she has gone back to the country. The change of heart, she says, can only be accredited to God and his powerful Word. After finding a Lutheran church in the United States, Juliana realized she could find ways to help others in South America learn more about Christ. 

Early years in Paraguay 

Juliana was born and raised in Asunciónthe capital and largest city in Paraguay. She lived with her mother, who raised her and sent her to a Catholic school. “It was an all-girls school run by a nun,” Juliana says.  

When she was older, Juliana got married and had a child. Her mother moved to New York, but Juliana remained in Paraguay with her family. Her life quickly took a troubling turn when her child passed away at the age of six. “I was very hurt and felt very bad,” she says. “It took me years to move on.” She found her life empty. 

During this sad time, Juliana’s mother developed a heart condition and grew ill. “She invited me to go see her in New York,” Juliana says. Accepting the invitation, Juliana recognized the chance to move on from her past. “I closed the door on Paraguay,” she says. When I left, I said I would never come back.”  

A new life in Florida 

Juliana stayed with her mother in New York for some time. Eventually, when she was again single, she moved south to Florida and began to rebuild her life. One evening, she went fishing at a beach park. During the outing, she met LaVonThe two exchanged phone numbers and two years later, got married. A little later, the couple had a child they named Abby. Life in Florida was a new beginning.  

After LaVon and Juliana got married, LaVon wanted to see the place Juliana had come from. Even though Juliana had vowed never to return, she decided to take a trip to show him what life had been like. When their daughter Abby was just nine months old, they made their first visit back. “My stepdad has a ranch, and LaVon loved it there,” she says. The couple appreciated the way their daughter was welcomed and appreciated in the setting in Paraguay. 

They returned to Florida and soon began thinking about Abby’s education. She was just a toddler, but based on their assessment and comments from others they felt it might be helpful to have their daughter in an environment where she would feel challenged 

One evening, the family went out to dinner. While there, they struck up a conversation with another diner who intrigued their daughter. During the chat, they realized the person was the preschool director at a nearby WELS school.  

Based on the initial encounter, LaVon and Juliana decided to check out the preschool. The place offered a program for children prior to preschool, and they opted to enroll Abby in it. “We started with the school and really liked it,” Juliana says.  

Soon their toddler was exposed to chapel and the Bible. The couple watched as their daughter developed in a Christian environment. It was a place that Abby visibly enjoyed.  

At the time, the family was attending a different evangelical church. While they went regularly, they didn’t find clear teachings regarding the law and gospel. They also came across few resources when looking for further instruction for their daughter. 

The situation led them to turn to Ascension Lutheran Church, Sarasota, Fla., the church connected to the preschool Abby was attending. “I wanted her raised in the truth,” Juliana says. The preschool director invited them to try a Bible class. They soon discovered the church offered a Bible study for adults and a Sunday school for children. 

Growing in the Word 

Juliana appreciated the chance for her daughter to learn more about the Bible and soon found herself absorbed in the Word too. “I knew very little with my Catholic background. I never understood the Bible,” she says. From her past church experiences in Paraguay, she remembered not being able to ask questions to gain a deeper knowledge. 

In the Lutheran church, the Bible was explained, and Juliana learned of the free and full forgiveness offered to her from Jesus. She was eager to study, learn more, and become a member. “I fell in love with the church, she says. She was drawn to the opportunities to talk about God’s World and apply it to daily life. 

Living in Florida, she was far from her other family members. Yet she found a sense of belonging in the congregation. That is the amazing part of Ascension. It’s a small church and feels like family, she says. 

Reaching out back home 

LaVon and Juliana kept making trips to Paraguay and discovered they could help those living thereThe elementary school, for instance, had a green board that was nearly the same color as the chalk they used. This made it difficult to read what was written on the board. The couple came up with an idea to take slatecolored paint for the board when they next visited. 

During following visits, Juliana brought clothes and supplies for family members, friends, and community members. “We started helping people,” she says. On one occasion, the family noticed that elementary children were drawing water from an open well every day for school. They helped oversee a project to put in a cistern and change the well structure, making it an operation that used gravity to draw water. This created a safer source of water for the children who used the well every day 

Back home, the family continued to attend Ascension and grow in the Word. “I like the Bible classes,” Juliana says. “The more I learn, the more I know and can share with others.” Over time, LaVon and Juliana realized they could do more to help those in Paraguay; they could help with the spiritual need they had observed. “The priest comes just once a year,” Juliana says. “The Spirit led us to the opportunity to bring the gospel to the village.”  

Juliana felt God had put her in a position where he could use her to share the message of Christ. “I can explain things in my own language, and I have the experience from the time I spent there before, she says. She could relate to the people and bring the gospel to a place that was hungry for it.  

Now Juliana has made numerous trips to ParaguayHer congregation got involved, and the pastor and other members organized a mission board called Solo Cristo. They also reached out to WELS World Missions and are working with missionaries to spread the gospel further there. 

Juliana recognizes her mission efforts stem from the Word being present in her life. “It’s not what I did; it’s what he did,” she says. “He put us together to work for him.”  


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


Read more about how Ascension is involved in outreach in Paraguay at ascensionwels.org


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Author: Rachel Hartman 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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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Welcome Home: Part 3

An elder appreciates the opportunity to encourage other members to stay close to Christ. 

Rachel Hartman 

After first hearing of Jesus as a child, Jim Plumlee was baptized as an adult. He now serves as chairman of the board of elders at CalvaryDallas, Texas. He has learned many lessons. “The spiritual wisdom and strength that come from the Word and volunteering time and talent to God’s church is priceless,” Plumlee says.  

Moving around 

Plumlee was born in Dallas but moved to Alabama when he was one year old. Then he moved to North Carolina. “Dad was in a retail tire business and traveled the East Coast,” he says. His grandmother lived with the family and helped care for Plumlee and his three siblings.  

After the family had settled, World War II broke out. As a result, tires were rationed, and the family moved back to Dallas. Plumlee’s parents took jobs at North American Aviation and helped build the B17, B-25, and P-51 Mustang airplanes. Both worked ten-hour night shifts.  

During that time, Plumlee’s grandmother helped care for the children. In addition to cooking and cleaning, she looked after their spiritual needs. On Sundays, “Grandmother had us children walk the 2.5 miles to a Methodist church,” Plumlee says. “There I was taught about Jesus. . . . . Sunday fried chicken dinners and fruit cobbler were a reward,” he says.  

When Plumlee attended high school, he continued to look for ways to learn about Christ. He went to meetings run by an organization called Young Life and purchased his first King James Bible. At graduation, a neighbor gave him a small book of Proverbs. “These two books made a difference to me,” Plumlee says. 

Then Plumlee went to Texas A&M UniversityHe kept attending Young Life meetings and went to a Methodist church when he could get a ride into town. He listened to preachers on the radio and looked for ways to learn more about God and help others. “Texas A&M was an all-male military college back then, and as a senior I was appointed Assistant Corps Chaplain on Corps Staff, he says.  

Taking on new roles  

Plumlee got married and went into the manufacturing industry after college and military service. He spent 32 years helping build a family company, serving as CEO the last nine years. The family sold the business in 1982, and he purchased a ranch near Athens, Texas. After some time and a move back to Dallas, Plumlee’s wife, Joyce, wanted to operate bed and breakfast. The couple decided on a location in East Texas. 

While Plumlee and his wife were overseeing their bed and breakfast, a friend invited them to attend Grace, Scroggins, Texas. The couple went and were happy with the experience. “It was awesome,” Plumlee says. They began attending as often as they could, and Plumlee got baptized there. “The congregation was kind and loving, and the pastor inspired me to a faith in God through Jesus so real, which had been absent in my life for so many years.”  

After seven years in the business, the couple moved back to Dallas and transferred their membership to Calvary. They attended regularly and continued to grow in the Word. When the pastor encouraged Plumlee to consider leadership roles, he took on the duty of congregation secretary. He also began serving as an elder. For the past four years, he has been the chairman of the board of elders. 

Encouraging others 

The elder program at the congregation is set up as three groups, designed to help care for the spiritual wellbeing of members. The first group consists of eight core elders who oversee administrative tasks and meet once every two months. Another group of eight duty elders rotate duties for worship services. Sixteen visiting elders, made up of the core elders and eight additional elders, visit members. 

As an elder, Plumlee has become familiar with the system the congregation uses to identify members and record their attendance. During worship, attendees fill out a sheet in a book on the pews. They note the date, their family name, and visitor or membership status. “From these pages from each service, a spreadsheet format is used to enter the attendance information for that family as it accumulates each month,” Plumlee says.  

The spreadsheet shows how many worship services were available during a month and the number of services each member family attended during that time. This information is compiled into a report every two months and is also listed as a running total for the calendar year. The ratio of the number of services attended compared to the number of services available is converted to a percentage for each family member. “This is an extremely valuable tool for our visiting elders,” Plumlee says. “They can see at a glance from their group of families who they need to contact either by phone, text, email, or in person.”  

Elders first undergo training from the pastor to gain insight and direction. They then reach out to members who rarely attend or don’t attend at all. They ask for the reason the family is not able to worship more consistently and then ask them to aim to attend more services. “The family needs to be in the shelter of God and within the arms of Jesus Christ,” Plumlee says. “All joy and peace come from it.” 

Each elder oversees between 7 and 15 members, who are divided up by geographical location. If a family’s attendance level declines or drops to zero, the congregation takes notice. “This is one of our church’s concerns and has high priority,” Plumlee says. “Finding WELS Christians who are attending worship just a little bit or not at all has the attention of leaders because it generally is a soul, or family, who is hurting. And Christ and the Word is the answer. 

Growing spiritually 

Helping others stay close to the Word has helped Plumlee place a priority on his own spiritual well-being. “By being more active in the needs of our church, the efforts become the nutrients of growth, spiritually and health wise,” he says. He views the journey of faith as one that needs a continual connection to the Word. “If you plan corn without water, good soil, and sun, it will stunt or die. Faith is like that.”God’s Word and the sacraments are the water they need, and attending church is where they can get watered. 

During his time as an elder, Plumlee has also had the opportunity to see younger members take on new roles in the congregation. “It is a blessing to me that we are experiencing a younger generation of active worshipers,” he says. “I encourage young people to choose to volunteer time to benefit their church.” Even if a member is only able to help in a small way, that initial start is worth the effort.  

Plumlee adds. “They can grow from that as time passes.”  


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


This is the final article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 


There are approximately 155,000 WELS individuals who attend worship three or fewer times a year. Having a strong elder program in place can help a congregation as they encourage those who are not attending worship regularly. WELS Congregational Services has produced an online video elder training program as well as resources to help congregations track member attendance. Find the materials at welscongregationalservices.net 


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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 10

Be careful of the facts! 

Samuel C. Degner 

I was lingering in the plumbing aisle when an employee noticed me. “Can I help you find something?” he asked. I explained what I needed. He picked up a part and told me it would do the trick. I had put in a few hours of work that morning and two trips to other stores. I had learned enough to know that he was wrongSo I politely thanked him and kept looking. He had lost my confidenceIt’s not that I thought he was deceiving me to make a sale. But his error led me to question his ability to help me. 

Can we, as ambassadors of Christ, have the same effect on people? 

Our conversations with the unchurched of this world can be far-ranging. Our goal is to proclaim the gospel, but often witnessing opportunities arise in the context of back-and-forth discussions. People ask tough questions. They are skeptical—or even hostile—toward what the Bible says. In those kinds of situations, we may want to reach for outside facts that can help us defend biblical truth. 

Make sure of the facts 

While I think it’s rare for Christian witnesses to be purposely deceptive, it’s probably not as uncommon for us to be careless with the facts we present. That fact that you readthe one that supports your biblical point of view—what’s the source? Where did you hear that statistic? The internet is notoriously fraught with misinformation. That something comes from a Christian source doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, no matter how much we want to believe itA person may have a PhDbut that doesn’t make him an expert in everything. It may not even mean he is respected in his own field.  

This isn’t about biblical truths that can only be accepted by faith, like a six-day creation or life after death. This is about facts that have to do with observation and reasonAsk yourself: Is this information reliable and respectable? You might even go a step further and ask whether non-Christians will find it persuasive—or at least worthy of consideration. If not, that doesn’t necessarily make it untrueit just might not be useful in your witnessing.  

Last summer I took my family to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky. This full-scale model of Noah’s ark was built to persuade skeptics of the plausibility of the Bible’s flood accountThe interior is outfitted to demonstrate how the eight passengers could have lived and taken care of the animals on board. Displays describe how the biblical flood could have caused the geological and fossil records we see on earth today. The experience helped us appreciate how big the boat was. It was heartening to see fellow Christians unabashedly proclaiming the Bible’s truth—including the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Nonetheless, as I walked through the ark, I found myself wondering what a scientist or skeptical layperson would think—not about the biblical message, but about the science they use to support it. I had the sneaking feeling they might shake their heads at some of the theories presented. And while these were offered only as possible explanations of what happened in Genesis, I wondered how many Christians would go home and repeat them as facts in future evangelistic conversations. That might not seem to be a problem. But what if the person they’re speaking with finds valid holes in those facts? What if those particular models are refuted by solid science? It wouldn’t make the flood untrue, but it would make the ones who shared those theories look untrustworthy. 

This is just one exampleConsider others, like the statistics Christians sometimes present on the effects of divorce, homosexuality, or abortion on people and society. Think of archaeological evidence that speaks to biblical accountsCertainly, it’s refreshing to hear a Christian perspective in fields like science and historyespecially for our young people in secular schools who are constantly bombarded with anti-biblical points of view. It can be gratifying to see God’s wisdom for human thriving confirmed by secular studies. It’s good for people to hear legitimate interpretations of data that are compatible with Scripture. Still, caution is in order.  

In our day, many consider truth to be malleable (like the presidential counselor who coined the phrase “alternative facts”). This is one result of postmodernism’s creep into every crevice of our society. But that doesn’t make it okay to play fast and loose with facts—especially for us who follow the one who calls himself the Truth. It doesn’t excuse laziness in vetting information before passing it along. In fact, it means we ought to be more careful than ever. People are wary of the spin. They know they’re constantly being marketed to. If we’re careless with the facts we present, people may see us as untrustworthy and be less likely to listen to the gospel we want to share.  

Use the one fact wknow 

Yes, we need to be careful about the facts . . . but not so cautious that we avoid conversations for fear of saying the wrong thing. Remember, the sacrifice of the Savior who never once spoke falsely atones for all the times we have done so, even if unintentionally. His resurrection guarantees forgiveness for our imagined need to prop up his gospel with feeble factsMoreover, that same Savior gives us his Word of truthwith which we can navigate this whole issue of facts without fear. Trusting in that Word, we can look for—even patiently wait for—opportunities to unleash its power.  

We have an objective standard like none other. We have a Scripture that “cannot be broken” (John 10:35 CSB). This means that we can compare anything we hear to what God has already said. If it contradicts his truth in any way, we know we need not be influenced by it, no matter what “authority” decrees itIf what we hear is not in conflict with Scripture, we can consider it. We’re cautious, of course. We use our God-given reason and resources to evaluate it. But we need not be afraid of it nor enthralled by it. 

Furthermore, our Spirit-worked confidence in the inspired Word frees us from the need to latch onto any extra-biblical facts that seem to support our messageWe don’t have to search for science that backs up our belief in a six-day creation or a global flood. We aren’t waiting for the latest archaeological finds to confirm that what God said happened or for studies that show God’s commandments are goodThese kinds of facts can be valuable for starting or prolonging conversations with skeptics. But our witness in no way depends on them. God’s truth stands on its own. The gospel is God’s power to change hearts. Jesus died and rose for us—you can never go wrong with that fact! 

Unlike me in the hardware store, many people in this world don’t know what they’re really looking for. We have iteternal salvation in Jesus—and want to help them find it. That desire to share the truth heightens our concern for truth in everything we say.  

 


Samuel Degner, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


This is the tentharticle 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? How did you respond to a know-it-all? 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: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 2019

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

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God’s actors

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21) 

Peter M. Prange 

God works in mysterious ways. We’ve probably all had opportunity to experience that reality. For instance, we may have the feeling at times that God has abandoned us in our time of need, only to have the problem were facing resolve itself in a way we could have never imagined. With a smile, we conclude, “God works in mysterious ways. 

His mysterious ways 

The Scriptures indeed tell us that God works in mysterious ways. He’s acting behind the scenes, so to speak, hidden from our eyes. That’s what a mystery is: a reality hidden from sight. 

The Old Testament believer Joseph had a wonderful and heart-wrenching opportunity to suffer God’s behind-the-scenes work in his life, only to have God’s good purpose revealed to him much later on. He went from being a young prisoner sold into slavery by his jealous brothers to second-in-command over all Egypt and in a position to save his family and many others from starvation. “You intended to harm me,” he reminded his brothers, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). 

The reality is that God is present with every person every moment of the day, acting in and through the people of this world, both believers and unbelievers. “For in him we live and move and have our being, St. Paul taught the skeptical crowd at Athens about their “UNKNOWN GOD (Acts 17:23,28). But our loving Father’s acting in us and through us is hidden from our eyes and the eyes of the people around usWe don’t normally see or understand it because God works in mysterious ways. 

His actions through us 

Have you ever considered yourself one of God’s actors? That’s what you are. Martin Luther described all people as “masks of God” to illustrate how God is acting through us. Especially as someone who trusts in Jesus, God employs you and your spiritual gifts to bless the people and world around you. He has sent his guiding Holy Spirit into your heart to lead you gently in all your thoughts, words, and ways. “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Yes, God has been acting inside you and through you in a mysterious way, even if you didn’t realize it! 

And what’s God’s ultimate “good purpose” for your life? Simply put, he doesn’t want you to “be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good.” God is good, and he can do nothing but good, even when we initially judge his work in our lives to be evilIn all circumstances, God has called us to be his actors in a spiritual war against evil. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood [i.e., human beings],” Paul reminds us, “but . . . against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). We need to realize that our enemy, the devil, also works in mysterious ways, “looking for someone to devour.” We need to be alert (1 Peter 5:8). 

How do we win this spiritual war against our unseen, evil enemy? By putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), which will protect us when the day of evil comes. Then the devil won’t get the best of us. Instead, God’s Word will lead us in victory over Satan’s evil schemes, as we allow our loving God to reveal the good he desires to produce in us and through us as his actors. 


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


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange 
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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 the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?

Years before I became a mother, I wrote a news article for Forward in Christ in which I interviewed a dad who described his nightly ritual of blessing his young daughter before she went to sleep. He noted, “Blessing your child is not hocus pocus. When I bless Kayla, I am asking the Lord to keep my daughter in the faith forever. It’s another tool that I can use to demonstrate my love for Christ and for my child, based on the love that Christ showed for me.” 

That idea resonated with me, and after my daughter was born, I began blessing her each night. I’ve continued the ritual with my sons as well.  

Do you have a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with you through the years? If so, please share it with us! We want to compile feedback from our readers to share in the November issue. Send your advice to fic@wels.net 

And that dad I interviewed? When I started compiling authors for this column, I knew I wanted him to be a part of it. So, you can find his advice on the next page. He’s contributing author Dan Nommensen 

Nicole Balza


What’s the best parenting advice you received?


There have been a number of people in life who have either demonstrated or shared this important piece of parenting advice that I have kept on my heart. In our confessional Lutheran understanding of Scripture, we treasure a right understanding of the importance of God’s law and gospel. Yet I must admit that my tendency is to lean on the law side of my parenting approach. The encouragement that I have received, and try to pass on to others, is not to neglect the importance of the gospel. The pure understanding that I am forgiven, a saint, a new creation through the work of Christ is what sets my heart looking for ways to demonstrate my love for Godnot because I have to, should, or must, but because I can’t help but look for opportunities to be thankful. This is our treasure! Don’t leave it to a chance understanding for your kids. Live in joy with your children and be intentional in sharing the gospel with them so they too can be motivated by Christs love. 


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son.   


Sam and I have given this some real thought. Independent of each other, we both wrote down the same parenting advice my father gave us early in our parenting journey: Dont sweat the small stuff, and pretty much everything is small stuff. Such a seemingly simple saying and yet so full of wisdom!


Mary Clemons and her husband, Sam, have three children and seven grandchildren.


Heres mineI got it from a priest named Zechariah (Luke 1). 

Take your child in your arms every night and speak into their heart the truth. Dont be afraid to tell them what this world is really like. Its dark and deadly outside, Zechariah said (cf. Luke 1:79). Then show them GodSon who has come to dispel the darknessHis love arises for us like the sun each day, bright and warm. Say something like, Tomorrow, my child, you will awaken to a bright new day in God’s love. Let it be the lullaby of their life that wraps them up secure each night no matter what the darkness. 

Im borrowing metaphors and images from Zechariahs great canticle and imagining the scene there where he sings by the Spirit, saying, You, my child (Luke 1:76). Luke marks it in Scripture as a truly Spirit-led parenting moment. 


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


What parenting advice do you give?


I have two pieces of advice.  

First, I encourage young parents to cultivate a spirit of empathy and service in their children. Start early by finding a cause that your family is passionate about and volunteer for that cause regularly. Help kids to understand the motivation behind serving others (1 John 4:19) and the joy it brings to all involved. Send a clear message that serving others doesn’t need to come with compensation or reward—we do it out of love for those around us and for the God who created us. In serving, we also come to appreciate all the blessings that God has showered upon us! 

Then, I encourage parents to teach children the value of work and how to work, starting at a very young age. As soon as they are able, give children age-appropriate chores, then add responsibility as they get older. Teach them that all members of a family need to contribute to keep a household running smoothly. Once they are old enough, encourage them to secure a job outside the home to help them learn the value of work and responsibility with finances. After all, one of our main jobs as parents is to raise our children to be productive members of society! 


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three 20-something sons.


My favorite advice: Say yes first.  

My toddler wants ice cream right before dinner? “Yes! That sounds yummy. Let’s eat supper as fast as we can so we can have ice cream!”  

My over-stretched middle schooler wants to take on a paper route? “Yes! That sounds great. What are some factors to think through before you sign on? Can you foresee anything you wouldn’t like about it? And you do know I won’t be getting up to help you, right?” 

My high schooler is thinking about studying art or music at a pricey college? “Yes! How could we make it work? And what will you do with your art or music degree?” 

When we say yes first to our kids, we’re shifting the responsibility to them. They have to weigh the ramifications. And if they choose unwisely, they have to live with the consequences. That’s what growing up is all about. 

And the best benefit? Saying yes means they’ll keep coming to us with all their schemes and dreams. They know we’re not the dream crusher. We’re the cheerleader! We’re excited to watch them decide how they’re going to take a big bite out of life and make a mark on the world. 


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her adult daughter and son and his teenage son.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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 7

Heart transformation

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Fall sports seasons are preparing to reboot. The starting quarterback reports to camp in excellent shape. Over the summer he has been training vigorously. Intense workouts got his body ready for peak performance. Hundreds of times each day he repeated the same movements to improve arm strength and accuracy. He’s ready.  

But the first time he goes under center and delivers a pass to an open receiver, the coach immediately halts practice. Something is amiss. The long, hard hours the quarterback spent over the summer getting into better shape and improving his skills were flawed. Improper mechanics had been repeated over and over. Poor form had been ingrained. The coach has no choice. He has to strip down the entire throwing process and start all over.  

Going back to the basics 

Christians know God’s Word is good for us. We spend time in prayer, Bible study, and meditation with the best of intentions. We know God will bring us personal benefits. Occasionally though, it’s good to take a step back and remember our natural need for the work God does through his Word.  

Galatians 5:17 tells us about a real and persistent conflict competing for dominance in our hearts: The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” God points his people to the heart transformation worked by the Holy Spirit when we take advantage of time in his Word.  

As we embark on our journeys into God’s Word, Luther’s first of the Ninety-five Theses gives a good reminder: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” As we pray in Jesus’ name, we recall the benefits of his life and work. As we grow to know God better, we have confidence in the forgiveness he freely offers. Repeated repentance becomes a crucial component to our spiritual growth. 

Devotions for Christians aren’t just about developing habits or gathering information. Even as we grow in the Christian faith, we still need to strip it down to the basics. Repentance and forgiveness are key to seeing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. 

Reaping the harvest 

As we watch athletes appear on fields and take their places on courts, we are reminded of another seasonal reality. Soon summer heat will transition to fall chills in many parts of our country. Minor weather alterations remind us harvesttime is near. In my state, freshly picked chiles roasting outside grocery stores will send pungent aromas into the air. Trucks filled with Colorado peaches will soon rumble into town, loaded down with their sweet goodness.  

God’s people can expect a different kind of harvest from the Word planted in our hearts. The Holy Spirit plants the seed of faith in our hearts and causes it to grow. Repeated use of God’s Word pushes out the weeds of anger, anxiety, discouragement, and relational strife. His rays of sunlight warm what he has planted until sprouts of kindness, goodness, and faithfulness break into view. Faith flowers into joy, love, and peace in the soil of believing hearts. God benefits our lives and the lives of those around us with a harvest of gentleness, forbearance, and self-control.  

Our prayers, Bible study, and meditation take various forms. But through that focus on God’s Word, we reap a necessary harvest. God breaks it down to basics and transforms human hearts by the power of his Holy Spirit. 


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


This is the seventh 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 8
Issue: August 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: Applauding in church…what advice can you give?

Recently our congregation has begun applauding the singing groups in our worship services. This offends some people. If we discouraged applauding, others would be offended. What advice can you give? 

James F. Pope

It is not likely that I can resolve this tension, but I hope I can give both groups spiritual food for thought.  

Applause in society 

There is nothing innovative about applause. History is replete with examples of applause in the politics and theater of ancient civilizations. Regardless of the venue or the objects of applause, people have long seen clapping as “a pat on the back from a distance,” in the words of sociobiologist Desmond Morris. With applause in society, people are stamping their “secular Amen” on the efforts of others.  

Informal worship styles and cultural differences among Christians worldwide are among the factors that explain the presence of applause in worship services. As your question illustrates, that can create tensions in congregations. 

Freedom in church 

Christians will want to recognize that the Bible does not address the topic of applause in worship services. Certainly, Scripture states, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” (Psalm 47:1). Those instructions of clapping and shouting, framed in the language of Hebrew poetry, guide children of God in their overall praise of the Lord. Yet Scripture is silent on applause—for songs or sermons—in worship services; that practice is one that God neither condemns nor forbids. That means there is Christian freedom in this area of worship. 

Christian freedom is definitely a topic the Bible addresses. 1 Corinthians chapter 8 and Romans chapter 14 instruct Christians to exercise their God-given freedoms with an eye toward others. While the sinful nature in us likes to assert our freedoms “because we can,” the new self in us is very willing to pull back on those freedoms for the same reason: “because we can.” Christian freedom is also the right not to do something out of consideration for others. Christian thoughtfulness and selflessness can go a long way in resolving differences of opinions and personal preferences in congregations. 

Gratitude to God 

If applause in worship services remains a practice in your congregation, perhaps there is a way for those who are bothered by it to adjust their thinking. Rather than seeing the singers as the objects of applause, perhaps they can view the acclamation being directed to God. That suggestion is not far-fetched. 

In one of the congregations I served, volunteer help for church cleaning and lawn maintenance was essential. To recognize efforts and express appreciation, the Sunday worship folder listed the names of the volunteers under a simple heading of “We thank our volunteers.” One family that volunteered regularly did not want any public expression of thanks. If I had honored that request, one could have wrongly concluded that our volunteerism was suffering or that church maintenance happened on its own. So I asked the family what they thought of having their names listed in the service folder under a new heading: “We thank the Lord for our volunteers.” They were okay with that, and a new custom started. 

That custom was not new to the apostle Paul. He informed the Christians in Thessalonica: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). The faithful lives of Christians moved Paul to thank God for them. Likewise, the singing efforts of others can move us to thank God—perhaps even in audible ways. 


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 8
Issue: August 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 4

Solomon wrote, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Yet sadly those on the Christian Way easily turn down the road to jealousy and anger. 

John A. Braun 

Road rage is a relatively new term. One expert said that it was coined in 1988. Today the local news frequently carries a story about two drivers enraged and creating danger not only for themselves but also for other drivers.  

The apostle Paul never drove a car or truck down a freeway, but he listed “fits of rage” in his list of acts of the flesh. Two additional attitudes—jealousy and selfish ambition—help us see what lies within us allPaul also knew the fruits of the Spirit—kindness and goodnessthat were different and part of the Christian way of life.  

Acts of the flesh: Jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition 

All three of these acts of the flesh—jealousy, fits of rage, and selfish ambition—flow from the natural sinful tendency within us. Sometimes they lie hidden behind a face of respectability. At other times they erupt into acts that are destructive and sometimes violent.  

For example, a driver cuts another driver off, almost oactually creating an accident. Most of us have been in that situation. We feel the sudden surge of anger. We may control the impulse and drive on, still seething. But the urge doesn’t disappear all at once. At times it explodes like a volcano, sending sparks and hot angry retaliation. We don’t even think. We just react as our blood pressure spikes and our sinful natures take over.  

We easily see the trouble with road rage. It’s explosive and dangerous. Yet fits of rage also show up in marriages. Ask any police officer about domestic abuse calls. Bruises, broken bones, even gunshot wounds are familiar to police who must calm a fit of domestic rage. Shelters for abused women and children exist because of such fits of rage. Some of those angry outbursts hide behind closed doors and never rise to the level that requires a police report. 

There are victims. Children are abused, starved, beatennot just by fathers and boyfriends, but also by mothers. Sadly, children sometimes are in the middle of a family dispute and are hurt in the crossfire of words, fists, and whatever else is handy to throw. These acts of the flesh are obvious as Paul says (Galatians 5:19), and they are destructive at so many levels. Even if we have escaped the worst of the consequences, wall have felt the anger and rage within. Sometimes we have painfully learned how destructive rage can be. 

Jealousy and selfish ambition may hide from public view, but they also lurk in the sinful human heart. They quietly take over, sometimes with just a slight bump of discontent. Shakespeare described jealousy as a green-eyed monster in the Merchant of Venice. His story tells how jealousy can destroy love, distort words, imagine the worst, and bring destruction. Jealousy sours marriages, families, and friendships. It removes contentment not only from the vocabulary but also from the heart. All the while it hides behind that face of respectability while consuming us from within.  

Is selfish ambition any different? Maybe a little, but it’s related to jealousy. Perhaps it does not hide as cleverly as jealousy. We should remember that there is nothing wrong with ambition and a desire to achieve. But selfish ambition drives people to action in order to seek an advantage over someone else at all costs. A person’s desire to move ahead can leave wounded and bruised people who have been sacrificed for advancement. The wounded know they have been run over or used, but they are in the rear view mirror of selfish ambition and no longer count. The greatest casualty of selfish ambition is love and concern for others. The same casualty comes in the wake of rage and jealousy. Personal agendas and desires trump love for others. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness and goodness 

The counterweights to rage, jealousy, and selfish ambition are kindness and goodness. These are created within us by the Holy Spirit. We remain sinners, forgiven, but still retaining our sinful flesh. So the works of the flesh show up in our lives, and at the same time so do the fruits of the Spirit. We are both saints and sinners.  

Others, even those that do not know Jesus, are often gentle and good. We should rejoice and give thanks for those qualities no matter where we find them. They contribute to the welfare of our neighborhoods and society. At times they put Christians to shame. Yet our kindness and goodness on the way to heaven has a distinctively Christian characteristic. 

What lies behind Christian goodness and kindness? Two things. First, our faith in Jesus has changed us. We know the love Jesus has for us unworthy, angry, jealous, and selfish sinners. We are deeply loved and forgiven. That warms our hearts and changes our attitudes. We see things differently. Second, our attitude has changed so we want to do as Jesus directed. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. . . . The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself  (Mark 12:30,31). We are familiar with his two commandments and also know his example. We understand his compassion for us and for those who suffer in this world. We know that he did not show rage, jealousy, or selfish ambition while he lived here. We are his disciples here and now and want to be like him. We want our lives to show our compassion, our generosity, and our willingness to do what is right and good for others. 

So the Christian Way is a path of kindness and goodness. It is also a way of repentance. We all find it difficult at times to wrestle with and control the acts of the flesh when we feel the strong urge to be angry, jealous, or selfish. Again and again we must repent of our failings, turn toward the mercy of our loving Savior, and resolve to be better disciples.  

The works of the flesh erupt so quickly in our marriages, families, and daily lives. It’s no wonder that we learned “the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desire be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism, The Mean of Baptism for Our Daily LifeFourth). Note the word “daily.” 

We are to be lights in this world and let our good deeds—including our kindness and goodnessbe seen so others can give glory not to us but to our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). When our light is dimmed by our rage, jealousy, or enmity toward others, Jesus beckons to us embrace the forgiveness we need, to turn away from those acts of the flesh, and to repent, so that we can reignite the light of kindness and goodness on the way to heaven. 

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fourth 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 8
Issue: August 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: Beasley

woman finds true peace after learning about God’s full forgiveness and grace.  

Alicia A. Neumann

“Never have I felt so loved, valued, and taught correctly in my life.” Those are the words of Gina Beasley, member at The Vine, Couer d’Alene, IdahoGina was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and never thought that someday she’d be part of a small, Lutheran mission church. 

Growing up Mormon 

Gina was the youngest of eight kids and went to church every Sunday with her familyShe says she always grew up having faith in God and Jesus, but “there were a lot of morals and standards to live by,” Gina remembers. “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or do anything bad or wrong.” Based on what she was taught, Gina says that God’s love seemed conditional. “It was, ‘Do this or you won’t live with your family in heaven, ” she says. “And that’s a tough one to swallow when you make mistakes.” 

After high school, Gina moved to Utah to get a job. She met a man who converted to Mormonism, and they got married in the Mormon Temple. However, after three years, they divorced. Around that time, Gina started withdrawing from the Mormon church. “I wanted to go out with my friends on the weekends. I wanted to participate and have a drink. But I felt guilty because drinking was against the LDS Word of Wisdom. It was against their standards, she says. 

Eventually she met Jason, who was Catholic. After they started dating, they talked about religion. “I wanted to see if our religious philosophies matched up; that was critical,” says Gina. So Jason read the Book of Mormon twice and visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to join. “He said he didn’t feel quite right about it,” Gina says.  

Finding WELS 

A few years went by and Jason and Gina hadn’t made any substantial decisions about religion. “We were working a lot, and honestly we wanted to sleep in on the weekends,” says Gina.  

It was around that time that Jason’s longtime boss, a WELS member, invited them to St. Matthew’s in Spokane, Wash. 

Ron was kind of like a father figure to Jason,” says Gina. “We had a really nice relationship with him and his wife, Margot.” Gina says she really appreciated how Ron and Margot invited them to church in a way that didn’t make them feel pressured, so the Beasleys decided to give it a try. “We would go with them every once in a while,” says Gina. “I felt really good in my heart about the messages I was hearing in the sermons. Finally, we decided we should just start going to Ron and Margot’s church. It just felt like it was where we needed to be, spiritually.” 

Eventually they started taking a Bible Information Class at St. Matthew’s, which was about an hour drive for the Beasleys. “I loved how the messages we were learning were straight up from the Bible,” says Gina. Even though I had heard them before, I had never fully grasped and understood them.”  

One of the lessons was especially eye-opening for her. “We were talking about God’s grace. Pastor said it’s like an umbrellayou just step under it, and you’re protected from the rain.” Gina says this was so different from what she’d been taught growing upthat you have to “do” something to receive God’s full grace and be able to go to heaven. She says she had always felt guilty and worried as a result. “But in that moment, I felt truly forgiven; it took off the huge backpack of rocks I felt like I was carryingThe guilt and shame were gone, and I felt peace,” she says. I am so grateful every day that we decided to go to that class.” 

Gina has been trying to share that same peace with her family members, who are all still part of the Mormon church. “I see them once a year, and I try to put my little words of love in there if we are talking about religion,” she says. “In the past when we’ve talked about grace, they’ve said, ‘Gina you are right,’ but they aren’t living that. They are living good works. I think deep down they know what’s right, but they are still on that hamster wheel of trying to get to heaven.”  

Gina hopes that someday her family realizes that they don’t have to be perfect and that God’s grace is not conditional. “I’m trying to help them understand and accept God’s grace and get the ultimate peace, she says. 

Thriving at The Vine 

A few years after the Beasleys got married, St. Matthew’s began a new ministrya mission church called The Vine in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, which was only 20 minutes away from them. “It’s been great being part of a small, mission-style church,” says Gina. She still struggles with Mormon teachings from time to time, and she appreciates being able to talk to her pastor anytime and ask him questions. “I also get to sing with the worship band and really utilize my talents. It makes me feel fulfilled,” Gina says.  

In addition to participating in the church’s outreach activities, the Beasleys now host a Bible study twice a month. “I invite people I’ve established a relationship with,” says Gina. “If you earn peoples trust first, they are more apt to come. She says some people are afraid to come to a class if they feel like they’re committing to something, so the Beasleys use a curriculum from their pastor that makes it easy for people to join in when they can. 

Gina also has had opportunities to share her journey of faith through connections she made with other moms at the local preschool her son attended. A couple of new friends from the preschool have met me and asked if I am Mormon because they used to be Mormon too. It’s been kind of interesting discussing my upbringing with them, she says. 

Gina says her upbringing has made a big impact on how she’s raising her own kids. “When I grew up, I would hear people ‘give their testimony’ at church. And as kids, they would teach us the exact words to say,” remembers Gina. She says it would have been much more helpful to learn why it’s important to pray and how to pray from the heart. “So, really try to be open with my children and talk to them about the reasons we believe what we do and provide them with factual structure, she says. 

Gina says it’s been really amazing to see what God has done for her and her family. “I am just so grateful for how God has orchestrated it all,” she says. “Someday when I’m an old lady in my rocking chair, I will look back at how God has connected all the dots and think, ‘Wow!  


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


Learn more about the home mission The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is this month’s edition of WELS Connection. 


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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 few words about the divine call

Mark G. Schroeder

What does it mean when your pastor or teacher receives a call to serve somewhere else? How is it that they were chosen to receive a call? If a call is divine (from God), why do they get to choose whether to accept or return a call? How does someone decide? Answers to those questions and others help build confidence in the calling process and in the person that God sends to serve us with his Word. But we must understand a few things first. 

Every Christian has been given the task of sharing and proclaiming the message of salvation. Jesus commissioned every believer to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). We do that in whatever situation God has placed us. All believers are to be ready to share the reason for the hope that they have in Christ. This is what we call personal ministry. These responsibilities and opportunities come from our Lord and Savior. 

But God has also established something called the public ministry. That means someone uses God’s means of grace—the gospel in Word and sacrament—in the name of, in behalf of, and at the request of other Christians. The called worker proclaims God’s message not just on his own, but as a representative of God and of other Christians. 

Throughout the history of the church, God has called individuals to serve in the public ministry. In biblical times, that call came directly from God. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush and called him to lead his people. God also spoke directly to Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the other prophets. Jesus called his disciples to leave their previous lives and to follow him. The risen Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus and called him as his messenger to the Gentiles. 

In apostolic times, however, God began to call his messengers indirectly through his church. The church in Jerusalem, asking God for his Spirit’s guidance, chose Matthias as the replacement for Judas. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem chose the seven deacons to assist them in their growing ministry responsibilities.  

Since that time, God continues to call men and women to serve in the public ministry through his church. The apostle Paul recognized that ministers of the gospel are called and provided by God: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11,12). 

The Lutheran Confessions clearly state that no one has the right to enter the public ministry by his own desire or decision. He or she does so only if properly called by God through his church (Augsburg Confession Article XIV). So today, God continues to provide workers for his church and calls them into the public ministry through believers. 

While we believe the call to ministry is from God through the church, we also recognize that God has not established or mandated specific procedures in the Scriptures for calling someone to serve. So, in our freedom as Christians, we have adopted an orderly process for extending divine calls. The process we have agreed to is not a perfect process. Human weaknesses and flawed human judgment sometimes insert themselves. But the possible flaws in the process in no way diminish the divinity or validity of the call once it is received. 

Next month, we’ll explore some of those questions and details about the divine call and the process for calling.



Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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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Lord, have mercy!

John A. Braun

On most Sundays, after we are reminded that we begin worship in the name of the almighty holy and majestic Triune God, we confess our sins. Together we begin, “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you . . . 

I admit to having a variety of thoughts when speaking those words. Sometimes I recite them without thinking much at all. They are routine words that tumble from my lips in the same way the Lord’s Prayer sometimes becomes a series of words spoken so often I don’t think about them. Another sin to add to my list. 

My list of “thoughts, words, and actions” also comes to mind. I can’t recall all that I have done wrong. There simply are too many of them. They are all lumped together and confessed as the sins I have done and the good I left undone. For them I pray, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

Another series of thoughts comes when I say that I am “by nature sinful.” I remember David’s confession, “Surely I was sinful at birth” (Psalm 51:5). I think of Isaiah who stood in the presence of God and said, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), or the words from the book of Job describing a human being as “only a worm” (Job 25:6). I confess that I am worse than the enumeration of wrongs I have committed against God and others. I am thoroughly corrupt by nature. 

I think, perhaps, there should be another series of thoughts because I stand with others who say the same words. I don’t know their thoughts, but we all stand before God as we are—sinners with our imperfections and acknowledging that we are flawed and defective—not at all as God created our first parents. We come knowing that we have no business standing before a righteous, almighty God. 

I wonder if this last thought is important for another reason. We invite visitors to worship with us. When we confess our sins publicly, are we telling these visitors that we aren’t better than others as so many imagine? We come before God with our faults, sins, fears, doubts, trials, troubles, mistakes, guilt, and fears. We challenge visitors to see us that way and invite them to join uwith their lists and the simple prayer, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” No pretenses, no pride, just recognizing ware all sinners in this condition together. 

But then. Then we hear the answer to our humble prayer. We hear that “God . . . has given his only Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” I have come into God’s house just to hear this news again: My sins are forgiven because of Jesus. I remember that Jesus was like me—and all of us—except without sin. In prophecy he even claimed to be like us. David has the Messiah say, “I am a worm and not a man. . . . All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads” (Psalm 22:6,7). He took our place. His blood cleanses us (cf. 1 John 1:7). I hear Jesus say to me the words he spoke to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). 

Why do these thoughts come to my mind now? I have been reading some authors who do not share the treasure we all possess. They believe they can keep the commandments, be holy, and earn an audience with God. I choose simply to pray, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner and receive the undeserved gift of forgiveness. 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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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Accepted

College applications require good grades, good test scores, and more. Heaven is different. 

Leah M. Kuchenbecker 

When I hear the words college applications, I automatically think of all the stress and worry that comes along with them. 

As I was entering high school as a freshman, I was already thinking about getting into college and what I needed to do to be successful throughout my high school career. I was already worrying about keeping my GPA high enough to get into a good college.  

I took the ACT my junior year of high school. This test brought even more stress as I studied to get a good score and waited to see my results of the test, hoping that it would be as high as I wanted it to be. Sometimes I wished someone else would just do it all for me.  

Now it is my senior year, and I am applying to college and hoping that all of my work has paid off. I am writing essays, trying to keep track of deadlines, and filling our resumes. I am also beginning to think about how I am going to pay to go to college. I need to apply for scholarships and loans. While doing all of this, I need to continue to keep my grades up because even if I get accepted into a college, I still will need to send them my final transcript of gradesAll of this work and stress is sometimes really overwhelming. Somedays I just want to give up and not go to college. As I wait for an acceptance or rejection letter, I wonder if I have done enough to make it into college. I wonder if I will be accepted.  

Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t run heaven like a college! 

We are full of sin, and by ourselves we can’t do anything to get into heaven. God wouldn’t even consider us for heaven if we had to get there on our own. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  

Thankfully, Jesus did it all for usJesus came to earth as a humble, lowly child to live perfectly since we can’t. He died on the cross, covered in our sins, so that we are perfect in God’s sight. Finally, Jesus rose from the dead to give us a completely free entrance into heaven. “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). We don’t have to be perfect or make up for our sins because Jesus did it all.  

We don’t need an application to enter heaven. There are no fees to pay, essays to write, or deadlines to meet. There is absolutely no worry or stress involved in our path to heaven because Jesus did it all.  

We don’t have to worry about how to pay for heaven either. We don’t need good works to earn our place or money to pay our way in. Heaven is a completely free gift given to us purely through God’s unmatchable grace. We can’t be rejected from heaven, and God won’t change his mind on us either. We will be with God forever in heaven at no cost to us.  

College applications may be stressful and hard work, but our application to heaven isn’t. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t need to apply. We are already accepted! 


Leah Kuchenbecker, a member at Morrison Zion, Greenleaf, Wisconsin, recently graduated from Manitowoc Lutheran High School, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She will be attending Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, in the fall. 


 

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Author: Leah M. Kuchenbecker 
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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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Not just the capital of Rhode Island

Andrew C. Schroer 

In December of 1630, Roger Williams, a Puritan pastor from England, boarded a ship called the Lyon and sailed to the New World. He and his wife, Mary, hoped to find peace from the persecution they had suffered as Puritans. They settled in the Massachusetts colony and began serving a Puritan congregation in the town of Salem. 

Williams, however, was soon expelled from the congregation due to his radical views. You see, Williams believed that church and state should be completely separatethat the government shouldn’t get involved with or regulate churches. To our modern sensibilities, such an idea is far from radical. In fact, it’s one of the founding principles of our countryin large partly due to Roger Williams. 

In the 17th century, however, the separation of church and state was considered fanatical and subversive. So Williams looked for a place where his family could live and believe what they wanted without government interference. He took a boat to a tiny island called Rhode Island, which at the time was inhabited almost entirely by Native Americans. There Williams founded his own settlementWilliams was so thankful God had provided him and others a refuge where they could believe and worship as they wished, he called the place “Providence.”  

But Providence isn’t just the capital of Rhode Island. 

It’s what God does for you and me every day: He provides for us. Just look around at all that you havehomes, cars, phones, beds, clothes, and TVs. We have so much food that we periodically have to clean out our refrigerators because it goes bad. We have so much stuff that our biggest frustration with our homes is that the closets are too small. Sit down one day and try to make a list of everything you owneverything you have. Just look at all the good things God has provided for you.  

Yet at times, we have the gall to consider ourselves poor, or at least not rich. We look at the “rich” people down the road. We don’t have what they have, so we think we must be poor. We fail to see that the poorest of us are richer than 90 percent of the world. 

But wait a minute, you may be thinking. God didn’t provide this. I did. I worked my rear end off to pay for all this stuff. Yes, but who gave you the opportunity to work? Who gave you the ability to work? Who gave you your body and mind? 

Everything we have is because God in his love has provided it for us. In fact, he has provided us with the things we need the mostforgiveness and heaven. Those are gifts we don’t deserve. You and I have fallen and failed so many times. We have thought, said, and done so many bad things in our lives. The only things we deserve are God’s anger and punishment in hell. 

But in his great love, God provided a Savior, Jesus, who suffered our punishment in our place. Through Jesus, God provides the forgiveness we so desperately need. Through faith in Jesus, he provides you a forever home in the riches and happiness of heaven. 

Look at all that God has done for you. Recognize what he has provided for you. Thank him every day. 

Because Providence isn’t just the capital of Rhode Island.


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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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: Mount

A man’s “before and after” spur him on to become a pastor and share the message of salvation. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

Nick Mount, a new pastor serving in Nebraska, loves to tell people about Jesus. 

Maybe that doesn’t surprise you. I mean, what pastor doesn’t love to share the good news of salvation? 

But Nick has a unique perspective: He didn’t always have faith. 

“Members say, ‘He’s so enthusiastic,’ says Diana Mount, Nick’s wife. “I say, ‘Of course he is. It’s because he has a before and an after.’ ” 

Nick adds, “I know what it’s like to be without faith, and I know how scary that can be.” 

But he also knows the peace and joy that came from learning about God’s undeserved love for sinners. And that’s a message he wants to share with everyone. 

“Something missing” 

Although he was baptized as a baby in the Lutheran church, Nick didn’t grow up going to church. His parents divorced when he was eight months old, and he lived with his mother. “My mom’s side of the family was Catholic, and there was no emphasis on going to church,” he says.  

Although his dad would take him and his brothers to worship and Sunday school when they visited, for the most part Nick grew up in a household where God’s Word wasn’t present. “My mother’s side of the family had a bigger influence on me because I lived with my mom,” he says. 

When Nick graduated from high school, he joined the military. After serving for five years, including two tours of duty overseas, he returned to Wisconsin where he grew up. 

Nick decided to live with his father and go back to college, but it was a struggle for him to acclimate to civilian life. “I remember feeling lonely and disconnected from the community. I was nearing depression,” he says. “The whole time there was always something missing.” 

His father continued to share God’s Word with him over the next two years, but Nick wasn’t quite ready to believe it. “Going to church wasn’t something that I was hostile to, but it wasn’t something I did,” he says. “Things were starting to make sense, but I didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t know what to do with my sin. I kept thinking, I’m a mess. What am I going to do about this?  

Finally, not knowing what else to do, he started praying. 

A captive audience” 

A few weeks later, Nick was out celebrating the end of the school year with his friends. As they were driving to a party, he was having an intense conversation with the driver about the existence of God. “Just as I was saying, ‘No, there has to be a God,’ right at that moment, we were hit by a drunk driver—a head-on collision,” he says. 

Nicholas woke up in the emergency room, not knowing what had happened. He had broken his tibia and fibula and had hit his head on the windshield. His dad nursed him back to health, the whole time sharing God’s Word with him. “I was a captive audience,” Nick jokes. 

But God worked through the Word, and Nick started going to church and Bible instruction class. 

“I had to be thrust back into the kingdom,” he says. “Ever since the car accident my life just went in a completely different trajectory. I can’t completely express what happened.” 

He continues, “You look back at the terrible things that happen in life and you realize that they can be the greatest blessings because my life completely changed at that point.” 

Besides going to church, he started getting involved at the Point of Grace, a WELS campus ministry for Milwaukee-area college studentsThere he met other believers—including his wife, Diana. “I look back and see how faithful God is,” he says. “The people I hung out with prior to the accident for the most part weren’t believers at all. But God just kept bringing people into my life who were believers so I was being nurtured.” 

“God’s grace” 

At that time, Nick still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. After he and Diana married in 2006, he even mentioned going to Martin Luther College to study for the ministry. But the couple dismissed the idea, and Nicolas finally decided to become a speech therapist. He began pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. 

But that path left him dissatisfied—especially in light of his newfound faith. “I wanted to help people [as a speech therapist], but [I felt] if I can’t tell them about Jesusam I really helping them?” he says. He began witnessing to people he met at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he worked as a security guard in the evenings. “Nick would look for every opportunity to share Jesus,” says Diana. “He would spend his shifts witnessing to people. I think that was his training ground.” 

Finally in 2012, Nick dropped out of his master’s program and again began talking about becoming a pastor. Things fell into place, and the couple decided to take a leap of faith and move their young family first to New Ulm and then to Milwaukee so Nick could study for the ministry. “We knew if we didn’t do this now, we would never do it,” says Diana. “Those six years were hard, but the Lord supplied all our needs.” Nick graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2018. 

The Mounts are quick to thank all those who helped them along the way. “We would not be able to do this if we would not have had support from countless Christians, countless WELS members, people we met along the way and people we never knew,” says Diana. “We didn’t have to ask for anything; it’s just God using people to provide for us.” That support came through prayers, encouragement, and monetary gifts. 

Nick noticed that same community years ago when he first was coming to faith. “It wasn’t just one person; it was a patchwork of people helping me and sharing God’s Word with me,” he says. 

He says that support—and also his varied life experiences—helped prepare him for the ministry. “I’ve been prepared from so many different places in my life,” says Nicholas. The military gives you a lot of confidence to face the battle, but it doesn’t prepare you to deal with somebody as a loved child of God. I developed that compassion when working in the hospital. 

His firsthand knowledge of what it’s like living without faith also spurs him on to share God’s mercy and love with those who are struggling, including veterans. “These guys are coming out of the military with questions like, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ Or the guys in combat who think, Did I just murder somebody? . . . It’s so important to be there with God’s grace.” 

 That grace made an eternal difference in Nick’s life—a difference he is all too happy to share. 


Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine. 


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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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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Welcome Home: Part 2

A WELS member loves listening to the gospel regularly after coming back to church. 

Rachel Hartman 

Kristin Young grew up in Wisconsin and learned about Jesus at an early age. “I was in a WELS church since I was a baby,” she says.  

Hearing the old story  

In the mid-1990s, Kristin and her son Matthew joined St. Mark’sWatertown, Wis. Her son was confirmed there, and the two attended worship regularly for several years. As he grew older, however, Matthew stopped coming to church as consistently. “Like some young people, he fell away from the church,” notes Kristin. “He went through some rough times. I was still going to church and encouraging him to go as much as possible.” Despite her efforts, Kristin’s son didn’t return to the Lutheran church. 

As a young adult, Matthew began working at a restaurant in Watertown. While there, he became friends with a coworker who was associated with a Baptist church in the area. The friend invited Matthew to visit a Baptist service and see what it was like. Matthew accepted the invitation and soon after started attending services at the congregation. After getting to know the church, Matthew decided to join the Baptist congregation and asked Kristin to go there with him.  

“I started going to church with my son and discontinued going to St. Mark’s,” Kristin says. She didn’t always attend services at the Baptist church, as she worked night shifts as a nursing assistant at a nursing home in the area. “I would go to church when I could,” she says. “I never knew if that was the right decision in my heart.”  

A tragedy strikes  

During the next years, Matthew grew more involved with the local Baptist congregation. Kristin continued to go to church with her son when she could and watched him take on leadership roles. “He became very strong in the Baptist church and very strong religiously,” she says. “He went preaching in prisons in this area to the inmates.”  

In addition to taking on more duties at the Baptist church, Matthew continued working at a restaurant. At the age of 27, he appeared to be a healthy, active young adult. During the month of January 2014, he grew ill and suspected he had the flu or a cold. “It was more life threatening than he and I both thought,” Kristin says.  

Several days after developing flu-like symptoms, Matthew passed away. “He had a blood clot in his left lung that entered his heart, and he died from that,” says Kristin. “The autopsy revealed where the clot developed and how it developed.” Grief-stricken and heartbroken, Kristin decided not to pinpoint the exact cause of the blood clot. “I just left the death in God’s hands. This helped as I tried to find peace and acceptance with everything that happened.”  

A change of direction 

“After my son passed away, it wasn’t the same for me,” Kristin says of the Baptist congregation. She stopped attending. She then looked for a place where she could continue to learn and grow on a spiritual level. After time and thought, she decided to return to St. Mark’s. “I felt more comfortable at the WELS congregation setting, and I felt a strong need to come back to St. Mark’s. I was longing to get backI felt like a lost soul.” 

On her first Sunday back to St. Mark’s, the pastors welcomed her warmly. “Different members came up and said ‘Hello.’ The congregation had changed a little since I had been there, and there were some people whom I didn’t know. The ones I knew were happy that I came back to church, she says. 

Once she made the initial return to the Lutheran congregation, Kristin was satisfied with her direction. The pastors of the congregation asked her to take a Bible information class to review the teachings of the Bible. “We met every Tuesday and went through different parts of the Bible,” Kristin says. “If you’ve been a member of the church for a while, it’s like a refresher course.” 

Kristin appreciated going through the different highlights of the Bible and reviewing the story of Jesus. She enjoyed taking another look at Jesus’ death on the cross and how his resurrection brings victory for us over our sins. She started attending weekly worship as often as her work schedule would allow. The Bible information class ended, and she was reinstated as a member. After that, she started coming to a different Bible study during the week.  

Gaining peace at heart 

Reflecting on her start at the Lutheran church, shift to a different congregation, and eventual return to WELS, Kristin is content with her path. “I feel in my heart that I made the right move to come back,” she says. “I think it was God’s will and God’s direction. I have peace of mind knowing that I made the right decision.” 

Young had long sensed a spiritual need, which she traces back to her childhood. “I’ve always felt a strong desire to be near God. I’ve always had a strong spiritual side since I’ve been a little girl, especially in the past few years. Losing my sonthe only thing I can say that has helped me gain the acceptance of the death and go on through my life is the strength that God has given me through the Holy Spirit. For household decisions and life decisions, I always lean on God.” 

Even though the congregation has around three thousand members, Kristin has made personal connections during her time there and feels a sense of community. “It’s a very close-knit group,” she says. “It’s nice to know that I truly belong. 

She also notes the spiritual concern the ministers show for the people they serve. “I’ve known some of the pastors here for a long time, and they care about their members,” she says. “Even though there are many people, they all know how to address the needs of the congregation and how to address everyone’s individual needs.  

Kristin continues to look forward to the Bible-based teachings, which focus on Jesus’ forgiveness and promise of eternal life in heaven with God. She will often send an e-mail or note to the pastors, referencing a message in a sermon that was especially meaningful to her or expressing her appreciation for the preaching of the gospel. 

To those who attended a WELS church at one time but no longer come, it’s worth taking the time to attend a service at a Lutheran congregation in your area, Kristin says. “If you’re uncertain, just talk to one of the pastors and say you’re thinking about coming back. Always pray, and God will lead you in the right direction. I’m so glad I made the switch.”  

And if you know someone who was once regularly present in a Lutheran congregation but now is not, consider reaching out to them. “Never tire of inviting back your family and friends who wander, says Karl Walther, pastor at St. Mark’s. “You might catch them at the right time.”  


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


This is the second article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 

 


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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 most blessed freedom

Of all the freedoms we have, religious liberty is the one we cherish the most. 

Richard E. Lauersdorf 

She was crying. As she stood there in the row of communicants, Grandma Rebase was crying.  

A freedom to cherish 

The Russians, when their tanks had rumbled into Estonia, closed most of the churches. Even if Grandma Rebase had been able to attend one, her life would have been in danger. She was a high school teacher and as such was not allowed to pollute minds with religion.  

When she reached the age of 65 in 1965, the authorities allowed her to emigrate to Canada to join her daughter. She also joined our little mission congregation in Sault Ste. Marie. There at Our Saviour’s she was privileged to receive the Lord’s body and blood again after so many years. She didn’t miss a Communion service after that unless she was ill. To say that her newfound Christian freedom was precious to her would be an understatement. 

A most important freedom 

We can travel from sea to shining sea without once stopping at a checkpoint or showing a passport. We can work at whatever occupation we desire and use our paycheck, at least some of it, for our own desires. We can live in whatever part of the country we likewhether hot, cold, or inbetweenand move if we change our minds. We can speak our minds freely, even at times in criticism of our government, though always respectfully. And we can believe and worship whom, what, where, and how we desire.  

Of all those blessed freedoms, isn’t that last one—that freedom of religion—the one we cherish the most? 

The founders of the United States and of Canada wisely recognized how important the freedom of religion is. In the U.S., when they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution, their very First Amendment stated, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This important amendment forbids the government from establishing, preferring, prohibiting, or funding religion of any kind. It also protects citizens and institutions from governmental interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs.  

How to cherish this freedom 

The experts who do the counting tell us that Christians are oppressed in at least 60 countries. Nor is the demon from hell leaving our nations alone. The black clouds of atheism, skepticism, and intolerance are hovering over our land and trying their best to flood away our freedom.  

What’s the answer? Isn’t it to cherish the religious liberty we have? 

“LORD, I love the house where you live,” declared the psalmist (26:8). Is that also our reaction? Do we look forward to slipping into our familiar church bench on the weekend to have our soul refreshed and our strength renewed? 

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly,” Paul urged (Colossians 3:16). We don’t have to sneak away to some remote corner of our basement or hide our Bibles and devotional books. 

“Bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord,” Paul commanded (Ephesians 6:4). Gladly, sacrificially, freely we seek to use any means we can to bring and keep our children in the Savior’s arms. 

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” the Savior commissioned us (Mark 16:15). Lifting high the cross, we reach for sinners among us, around us, and far away from us. 

No one had to tell Grandma Rebase to cherish and use the religious liberty she had in her new home. How about us? Do we need to be reminded? 

 


Richard Lauersdorf is pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.  


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Author: Richard E. Lauersdorf  
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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 8

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 15 & 16

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Often in Revelation the seventh in a series serves as a springboard into a new seriesAfter the seven seals, we read about the angels with seven trumpets (8:1,2) and the seven trumpets bring us to the seven last plagues (15:1).   

Seven angels in heaven 

Chapter 15 brings John and his readers to a familiar place. It is God’s throne room While the place is the same as we saw in chapters 4 and 5, the mood is decidedly different. The Lord still reigns. The sea is still glassy. The faithful believers are still victorious. The redeemed are still singing praisesBut seven of God’s pure and holy angels are carrying the “last plagues.” They are then given “seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God” (15:7) by one of the four living creatureshigh-ranking angel 

God’s judgment is not an easy topic to talk about, even for believers. But God speaks about it plainly and often as a reminder and a warning. All those who cling by faith to Christ and his righteousness are spared from the wrath of God. By faith we hold on to God’s amazing gospel truth, that his justice was already satisfied by this world’s perfect Savior from sin! Those who fall under God’s judgment have only themselves to blame for stubbornly refusing the saving truth of the gospelBy faith, we are free from God’s wrath, but we also trust that his judgments are just and true for those who reject him.   

Seven bowls on the earth 

A loud and commanding voice introduces chapter 16 with instructions to the seven angels to pour out their bowls on the earth. There is a striking similarity between the vision of the seven bowls and the seven trumpets (chapters 8 to 11). If you lay them alongside each other it is difficult to miss the parallel thoughts and themes. The latter seems to be a repetition and intensification of the earlier vision’s message.  

Recall that the trumpets point to the damage done to human hearts by the presence and preaching of false doctrine. Holding to such false teachings results in the further darkening of minds and obscuring of God’s truthhis law and gospelSatan and his allies work tirelessly to darken the counsel of God, depriving mankind of the one thing needful. Finally, God, in judgment, allows people to have more and more of what they show they want—something other than the gospel 

As this world draws to a close, we’ll expect to see God’s truth neglected and rejected. It will seem like the dragon and the two beasts are in total control. They’ll be allowed to inspire and orchestrate the gathering of evil forces to attempt a complete obliteration of God’s church. But the day of their choosing turns out to be the Lord’s day. And then the end comes, and the world is judged.  

Let fearful and anxious hearts find true comfort and calm in none other than Christ Jesus, who redeemed us and rules over all things for the good of his church!  


Reflect on Revelation chapters 15-16 

1. Read Matthew 24:22-25 and 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. To whom does God send delusions? Explain why.  

God sends delusions to those who have refused to love the truth.

When Jesus was faced with opposition to his message, he sometimes withdrew. When the Jews resolved to kill Jesus, we read, “Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples” (John 11:54). Leaving Judea meant that Jesus would not teach the truth of God to them. They had rejected his message. So God withdraws his gospel from those who reject it and allows unbelievers to listen to teachers proclaim ideas that are not the truth. Without the gospel and the Scriptures, nothing corrects those false ideas. When God removes the gospel, those who rejected it believe the lies and delusions and delight in wickedness. It is a judgment from God that confirms their unbelief.

2. Read 2 Timothy 4:1-4.  

a. Create a list of things you can do to carry out Paul’s charge in verse 2. 

Preach the Word. How do we do that? Make sure the gospel is the center of our worship every Sunday. We can support our congregation’s ministry to adults and children. We can witness to our friends, relatives, and neighbor. All our mission work throughout the world is an opportunity to preach the Word as we wait for the Lord’s coming. Our message is a witness to our faith in our Lord’s return and an invitation for other to repent and come to faith in Jesus.

We can prepare ourselves through our Bible study, devotions, and worship attendance so that we are ready to respond “in season and out of season,” that is, whenever we can. We should respond to the questions and concerns of others with patience and care. For that reason, we should stay close to Jesus and his Word so we can be prepared.

b. What kinds of false doctrine appeal to “itching ears”? List three.

“Itching ears” want to be soothed, not cured. What sounds good to those ears soothes them. What appeals to the sinful flesh is soothing. Therefore concerns about sin, death, and judgment are words of the law and not soothing. The message of Jesus who was crucified for sin is not a soothing message to those who are unwilling to confront their own sin and the judgment of God on human sinfulness.

Ideas that appeal to the itching ears:

      1. A religion that speaks of tolerance and acceptance of all, no matter what their belief. It is appealing to those ears to think that God will accept everyone and will condemn no one.
      2. A message that emphasizes human achievement and morality but does not proclaim Jesus.
      3. A message of “God in general,” which removes Jesus and yet claims to be Christian.
      4. A message of merit that claims we can earn our place in heaven by our efforts. This comes in so many different forms and in some ways is part of all the teachings that appeal to itching ears.

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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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 6

Meditating on God’s Word  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

I’m a list person. I have to write things down or else I’ll completely forget about them. So I make check lists. Whatever has to get done goes on the list. And then there’s a sense of satisfaction in accomplishing important things.  

Checking it off the list 

Christians understand the value of God’s Word. If there is one to-do most of us have in common, it’s to spend more time in God’s Word.  

Here’s the problem with putting personal Bible study and prayer on a list. It develops into something I am supposed to do, but might not. Something I should do, but probably won’t. It can even become something I feel like I have to do.  

And what happens once I’ve checked off my devotion time? Move on to the next task? Progress to the next project?  

That’s a very different sense than what’s expressed in Psalm 1. Instead of obligation to be in God’s Word, we hear eagerness. Instead of getting through God’s Word and then moving on, the psalmist encourages us to spend time in God’s Word. To savor it. To enjoy it.  

So much depends on our attitude toward the things we do every day. Your morning cup of coffee can be something you slug down to fuel your day. Or it can be something you sip and savor as you take time out from the chaos of your day. Your favorite novel or TV show can be something you consume and blast through to get to the end. Or you can relax and enjoy your escape as a good story transports you to a different time and place. You can wolf down that last slice of chocolate cake to make sure it doesn’t disappear. Or you can relish every bite, making sure not a crumb gets wasted.  

Savoring every word 

God gives you his Word to enjoy. The psalmist describes this attitude“Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night” (Psalm 1:2 Christian Standard Bible). Every bite-sized verse. Every chapter-length slice. 

You can savor it by asking yourself a series of questions from a section of Scripture just like you would when breaking news gets broadcast across your screen. What does it say? What does it mean? How does it affect me? What difference does it make in my world? How can I celebrate this good news? You can relish it by holding onto a simple verse or phrase from Scripture as you would a carefully crafted piece of art. You can turn it around and gaze at its beauty. You can enjoy it as you repeat the section of Scripture, rephrase it in your own words, or commit it to memory the way you would a catchy new song.  

Psalm 1 tells us God’s Word benefits our faith. God’s Word provides spiritual nutrients for souls withering and wilting under doubts and confusion. It changes us. God’s Word gives life when feelings of inadequacy crush us. It gives the refreshment of forgiveness when past sins resurface to torment us. God’s Word takes us back to the hope we have in Jesus. 

Before you check off devotion time, take time to enjoy your time in God’s Word and prayer. Let your mind marinate in God’s truth. Let it flavor and add seasoning to your life. Give opportunity for the Holy Spirit to get it into your heart so it affects how you feel about yourself, your relationships, and your world. Get into God’s Word and get satisfaction from the blessings God is giving you and the fruit he brings into your life. 


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


This is the sixth 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 7
Issue: July 2019

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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How should we handle it when people undermine our parenting decisions?

How should we handle it when people undermine our parenting decisions? 

I think that parenting is often like an ice cream sundae bar. No two people make exactly the same choices as they go through the line. That doesn’t mean that one person will criticize the choices of the other. One sundae is not right and the other wrong. They simply made different choices.  

Of course, this analogy breaks down when a parent knowingly disobeys God’s will, but in general, I believe that most Christian parents are trying to be the best parents they can be. God gives us some general guidelines for how to raise our children so they walk in his path, but much of what we do is a judgment call. We pray for guidance and that God will bless our decisions. Being criticized for those decisions can hurt. Our authors this month offer three viewpoints on how we can handle it when people undermine, question, or criticize our parenting decisions. 

Nicole Balza


You’ve decided not to give your children any sugar until age three. Your friends get it, but your parents—not so much: “Is this a millennial thing? You ate sugar when you were little, and you turned out all right.”  

You chuckle at the teasing, but you give a gentle reminder when you leave little Garrett with his grands one afternoon: “No sugar, remember?” 

Still, Grandma gave Garrett a sucker. Sugar on a stick. The telltale artificial coloring is still on his lips when you get back. Now what?  

You could blow up on the spot: “What did you do?”  

You could go all passive-aggressive: Say nothing and never ask the grands to babysit again.  

Or you could wait a couple days and then have a little talk, having the spouse whose parents did the deed take the lead. (If that spouse is afraid to stand up to Mom and Dad, you might have bigger problems than Garrett’s sugar intake.) 

Here’s one way this conversation could go.  

Set the scene: “Mom, Dad, can we talk about something a little difficult?” (This preemption gives your parents the chance to be noble, to be big. It also sounds serious—Do you have cancer? Were you fired?which makes the real topic almost a relief.)  

Say what happened: “Garrett ate a sucker at your house.” (A little gentler than “You gave Garrett a sucker.”) 

Explain how it made you feel: “That disappointed us so much. This sugar thing is important to us. It’s not the end of the world that he had a sucker. We’re not mad. But we want to go back to our no-sugar policy.”  

Make a request: “Can you back us up on this, even if you don’t really agree with it?” 

Notice what’s not happening in this conversation:  

  • You’re not attacking them: “How could you do this? You just don’t respect us.” 
  • You’re not patronizing them: “We realize you don’t know as much about sugar as we do.” 
  • You’re not arguing the policy: “We’re right about this. Sugar is bad.” 

You don’t need to convert them. It doesn’t matter whether they agree with your no-sugar rule or not. Because the real point is this: You’re the parents. God gave Garrett to you to train up in the way he should go (cf. Proverbs 22). While you’ll always honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and be open to suggestions—my parents gave me tons of excellent parenting advice, and so will yours—you’re allowed to determine your own parenting procedures.  

Chances are, at the end of your 30-second speech, they’ll agree to respect your wishes. Then you can quickly smooth the rough edges by offering a face-saver: “On another topic, do you think we have to be worried about Garrett’s rash?” Or maybe even wrap it up with a little comedy: “Glad that’s settled. Let’s all have some cake!”  


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.  


Have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it? Please share your thoughts at forwardinchrist.net


My mother hardly spoke of it. But when she did, even in old age, hurt haunted its telling. 

On a Sunday morning, right after worship, Mom decided to visit her parents. I was in second grade. The next brother was in kindergarten, and the youngest was three. 

The Adams’ farm was our Disney World. It thrilled us with live acts starring chickens, dogs, pigs, and cows. Its mud and muck, ladders and lattices were playgrounds. Adventures always awaited in the barn, haymow, machine shed, and an assortment of outbuildings.  

But not on this day. Mom warned, “Do not leave the house. Do not get your good clothes dirty.” 

Of course, my kindergarten-age brother and I chafed under being tortured in my grandparents living room by adult conversation. When we realized that Mom was fully engaged with her parents, we tiptoed toward the door and eased into the backyard. 

We were escapees for only a few minutes. Transformation to ragamuffin doesn’t require longer. Our shoes were caked with mud. Our pants glowed with grass stains. Our white shirts had smears of something unspeakable. Mom’s voice shattered Adventureland. “James Allan! David Dean! Get in here this instant.” 

Punishment should have been swift and painful. But Grandpa stepped between Mom and us. “Fran,” he said, “you should have realized this would happen. If you didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty, you should have had them change.” 

An instant later we were on our way home. Grandpa saved us from the hurt of a spanking, but Mom experienced the hurt of feeling disrespected and shamed by her father. 

Mom’s story urges me to evaluate how well I show respect for my daughters’ parenting. My daughters are great parents. I admire their wisdom, commitment, and sacrifice. However, from time to time, I do feel I have advice to offer. Then I struggle with choosing counsel over silence. I know my Savior’s advice about “speaking the truth in love” and saying “what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:15,29). Gratitude for his grace prompts me to honor his words, but applying his advice is challenging. 

Several questions help with that challenge. 

  • Is there a risk of significant harm? (By the way, I’ve never answered that question with yes.)
  • Is this the right time and the right situation for sharing my “wisdom”?
  • How can I give advice in a gentle way that shows love and respect? 
  • Have I put the best construction on the situation? Do I understand the backstory?
  • Have I asked, “Is there a way I can help?” 
  • Is this a difference in parenting styles or is this a parenting problem?
  • Have I taken my emotional pulse? 
  • Have I asked Jesus for advice? Have I talked this over with my wife?

Now it’s your turn. Parents and grandparents, have a conversation. 


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


“You sure make parenting hard!”  

That’s the statement I heard from another parent as I finished explaining to my young child that we were running to the grocery store. My child didn’t want to stop playing, but we needed to go. My friend insisted that a child should not have to do something he didn’t want to do if it wasn’t fun for him. I calmly replied that a quick run for milk was just one of those things we sometimes do as part of a family. No surprise that as we were walking to the car, my son screamed, “You’re not a fun mommy!” Wow. Pop that aspiration! 

This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that my parenting would be undermined. While the circumstances were not terribly important, the principles were. I have seen firsthand that sticking to principles in the early years has payoffs in the later years. It was important for my son to hear and learn some important lessons.  

He needed to know that how other people’s families run was not his concern. He did not need to hear his mother pass judgment on someone else’s parenting. Whatever I may have thought privately was not the business or worry of children. As a classroom teacher, it was often evident when children heard gossip from their parents’ lips. What my children needed to know were the rules for our family and our house. Other kids’ parents were quite often more fun and less strict than my husband and I were. Entering a parenting popularity contest ensures somebody is going to win at the cost of somebody else losing. 

Dealing with contrary forces outside our home was at times difficult as well. Many times we found no need to address the undermining with our children because our stance was clear and consistent. Our children were smart enough not to waste their breath. Sometimes we did find it necessary to affirm our rules to other adults in light of their questions or actions. We tried to point out what we did without becoming defensive or critical. Again, our concern was with our own family, not theirs. On occasion, it was made clear that the house rules of another family were in direct or dangerous conflict with ours. This passive form of undermining sometimes resulted in limiting exposure to these homes or children. It meant opening our home to social interaction with our children’s friends. This had the unintended reward of getting to know and love our children’s community.  

People are more receptive with your parenting choices when you show love, especially to their children. When we were asked why our children got along or why they were respectful, the door was open for a joyful testimony to the goodness of God’s love and forgiveness. 


Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Sam. They have three children and seven grandchildren.  


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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 3

Quarrels and hatred come so naturally from our sinful nature. Yet our patience comes from Jesus. 

John A. Braun 

On our Christian journey to heaven, signs often point us to paths that lead away from our destination. Paul identifies one of those signs as hatred and discord. We don’t even need this sign to beckon us to these acts of the flesh. They arise quickly within our sinful hearts and burst from our mouths with bitter venom. Without much coaxing, so often we cause heartache and cripple positive action even among our fellow believers in Christ. 

Acts of the flesh: Hatred and discord 

Arguments arise at all levels and in all kinds of ways. Sometimes those arguments are over silly and unimportant issues. The neighbor’s dog leaves a deposit on your lawn, and you step in it when you’re mowing. You get angry, and the words that tumble out of your mouth make your neighbor angry. It doesn’t take long for you to be on the road to discord and quarreling. Husband and wife easily turn down the road, and so do parents and children. 

It happens in neighborhoods. It happens in families. We are frustrated or hurt by what someone says or does. A little further down the road something else happens to fuel the tension. Soon we have turned down the road where hatred awaits. Hostility and enmity characterize conversation and action. A couple more steps and we are off the Christian way and building a hate wall. 

Sometimes the turn from the Christian way seems so natural. Our prejudices and thinking contribute to building the wall. We know we are not “one of them.” It seems natural to call different ethnic groups by offensive names, and they in turn label our ethnic origins in demeaning ways. The road of discord and hatred includes waysides were like-minded people stop and feed on the racial hatred of each other. 

And racial hatred has a twin—ideological hatred. Both are born from a human heart that has turned away from the Christian way. We hate Democrats. We hate Republicans. We hate this politician and his or her supporters of the policy or personality we detest. Yes, we can disagree about differences on any subject, but the human heart is a perverse thing. Actions of the flesh all too often play out in destructive rhetoric that destroys peace and hardens the discordeven turning it into hate. If there is any doubt, surf social media and read the vicious attacks on all sides of almost any issue. 

Name calling and disruptive actions that flow from hatred of others are not part of the Christian way, and they destroy neighborhoods, families, friendshipsand society in general. Jesus suggests, “Anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. . . . Anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).  

We should not be surprised that hatred, enmity, discord, and antagonism are so easy to find in our own hearts. We know the Christian way, but we also still have our sinful flesh. We know better, but we quarrel, and words hurt. Paul knew his own sinful heart and ours: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18). It’s a short trip from disagreement to enmity, hatred, and malice. It happens in the congregations of Christians too. Arguments create a stew that can bubble and boil over to set members against members. Paul reminded the Galatians “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Galatians 5:15).  

In this discussion, we should remember that God allows us to hate only one thing—whatever opposes his grace and mercy in Christ. We hate such evil with God’s blessing, but we do not have his approval to inflict harm on others who do not share our beliefs. We are reminded not to turn the other cheek and speak the truth in love. Peter advises, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing.” He continues by reminding us that we are to share our faith with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:9,15).  

Fruit of the Spirit: Patience 

One sign calls us back to the Christian way. In large letters it says, “Patience.” Yet in the heat of arguments and disagreements, the sign is difficult to see. Our first reaction to verbal attacks is to raise our voice and retaliate. We forget that we are children of God who know his love. Because we are redeemed and forgiven by a Savior who has shed his blood for us, we can stop, remember our Savior, repent, and be patient with others. It is not easy, but the love of God for us unworthy, wayward, and rebellious sinners can soften our attitude toward others.  

We are told to stop, drop, and roll when our clothes are on fire. Good advice! It’s good advice also when we are on fire with hatred and discord. Stop! Drop to your knees and roll yourself in the forgiveness and love of Jesus. Then stand up as a child of God and be patient.  

The word Paul used for this fruit of the Spirit could also be translated as “forbearance” or “long-suffering.” Those two words are helpful. In the malice and anger that are directed at us, we can find the strength in Jesus to hold back, forbear, and be patient in spite of provocation. Longsuffering is similar. Endure whatever personal attack you experience—suffer the insult quietly, and do not be quick to retaliate.  

How can we do this? Remember Jesus who has endured our sins and paid the penalty for our anger, harsh words, and malice. In spite of our sins, he went to the cross to claim us as his children. Think of what that means. His perfect example of patience in the face of discord has achieved the good our sinful flesh lacks. He did what we could not do. His righteousness covers our unrighteousness.  

And yet there is more. He wants us to be like him here in this life and has given us a perfect example to follow. Think of Jesus responding to the Pharisees who claimed that he had supernatural power from the devil (Luke 11:14-28). Think of Jesus before the high priest and before the crowds that called for his death. Think of Jesus standing before Pilate. He quietly endured and is a perfect example of longsuffering, forbearance, and patience. Like him we are to be peacemakers and not agents of hatred in this world of discord, quarrels, and enmity 

When we walk along his way, he knows that our steps will not be steady and resolute. We stumble and fall. It’s an ongoing struggle to avoid the quarrels that come so naturally from our sinful nature. Yet he calls us back, encouraging us to repent and turn once again to the way that leads to the eternal home he has prepared for us. He seeks to renew our hearts and attitudes with his forgiveness and his example. 

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the third 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 7
Issue: July 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 9

Responding to the knowitall  

Jonathan R. Hein 

The poet Stanislaw Jerzy Lec once wrote, “The only fool bigger than the person who knows it all is the person who argues with him.” That aphorism contains two truths.  

Truth #1Confrontation is a poor tactic when dealing with know-it-alls. Psychologists explain that know-it-alls fall into two categories. Some have a sense of superioritygenuinely believing they know more than others. They will not listen to any argument, for they assume they already have all the pertinent information. Other know-it-alls have an underlying insecurity. If you confront themthey will perceive that as an attack upon their self-worth and dig in their heels. Arguing with either type of know-it-all is going to be ineffective. 

Truth #2When encountering know-it-alls, you want to argue. Perhaps it is because you find their smugness annoying. However, your inclination to argue is more likely because you believe know-it-alls are sharindangerous falsehoods as truth. Perhaps it is a college professor who claims that anyone who questions evolution has been misled by religious zealots into anti-scientific superstition. Perhaps it is a neighbor who, after reading a few books that question the historicity of Jesus, now explains how pointless church and prayer are. We want to quarrel with them because we love our Savior and his Word. Yet quarreling with them is ineffective  

So how do you deal with the knowitall? Here are some suggestions:  

Love the know-it-all deeply.  

It is easy to view the know-it-all as an enemy to be vanquished. Ask the Spirit to help you see him as a soul to be won.  

We think, But that know-it-all is such a jerk.” Look at him or her in a different way. When we come into this world, all of us were dead in our transgressions and sins—spiritual corpses (Ephesians 2:1). But without asking or deserving it, the God of grace intervened. He “made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5). Were it not for the Spirit’s effort, you would be every bit as opposed to Christianity as the know-it-all. But God used someone to enable you to see the light. That person loved you enough to bring you to the font . . . to witness to you . . . to teach you ScriptureIt is your turn to show love. “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Being that light begins with loving the lost. The know-it-all is desperately lost and in need of love. 

Ask questions that probe why the know-it-all believes what he does.  

Some have compared an argument to a house. In this metaphor, what one believes is the roof. To be held up, that roof needs strong walls. In other words, one must have sound reasons why he believes, or eventually what he believes crumbles. So, ask the know-it-all questions about why he believes what he believes. 

Take that neighbor who read the book questioning whether Jesus was a historical figure. He says, “It is very scholarly. They guy who wrote it has his PhD!” You might respond, “Okay. But most history scholars say there is plenty of evidence that Jesus existed. Why do you value the opinion of this author more than other scholars?”  

Thtrue goal is to get the know-it-all to examine if the rationale for his beliefs is rooted in objective fact or personal desire. If Jesus is who he claimed to be, then the know-it-all is under Christ’s lordship. Therefore, his inclined to accept that author’s claims because he doesn’t want Jesus to exist. A followup question for your neighbor might be, Do you think you are being completely unbiased? Might there be a reason you don’t want Jesus to be a real person?” 

Help the know-it-all to see that Christians are reasonable.  

Some believe that being Christian means setting aside human reason. That is a gross misrepresentation. For Christians, Scripture is supreme. When Scripture says something that conflicts with reason, we simply acknowledge that we cannot grasp all of God’s works and ways. However, Christians still use reason.  

Take Jesus’ resurrection. We believe it is true because through the gospel the Holy Spirit created faith within us. However, in creating that faith, the Spirit addresses our God-given intellect. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:6St. Paul writes, “[Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brother and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living.” Paul challenges those skeptical of Christ’s resurrection to consider the eyewitnesses. Ask the know-it-all, “Isn’t eyewitness testimony still something reasonable people value?” 

Or take one’s approach to science. I believe there are laws of nature. I also believe that God wrote those laws and is above them. Therefore, I am open to the supernatural. When scientific inquiry suggests that the universe is so orderly that it appears as though it were engineered, the unbeliever must find a natural explanation. So, he theorizes that there was time—billions of years—for the universe to come to exist only through natural means. When I look at the same evidence, I’m open to the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful Designer who created everything supernaturally. I am not anti-intellectual or close-minded. The unbeliever assumes everything came to be without God. I assume God created it. Both of us have assumptions about how to explain things. I’m willing to accept supernatural explanations, but the unbeliever rejects that explanation. I’m actually more open-minded than the unbeliever 

But we aren’t blind. We see everything the unbeliever does. We just interpret what we see differently. At death, the unbeliever sees a corpse. I see a sleeping Christian. The Spirit’s power is why I believe that. But the testimony of more than five hundred eyewitnesses tells me it is also reasonable to believe that.  

Tell the know-it-all what he does not know. 

You may have softened the know-it-all with your love. You have tried to help him understand that the way he views things is not entirely objective but flows from some personal assumptions. And your questions show that you aren’t some mindless zombie. You also think deeply about things. All these things give you the opportunity for conversation with the know-it-all, maybe even more than one.  

But none of this will win the know-it-all for Christ. Only the gospel is the power of God for salvation. So show the know-it-all Jesus. 

The know-it-all thinks he knows what God would be like, if there were such a being. He believes that God would be judgmental and controlling and if you were to fail him, there would be dire consequences. Like all of us, the know-it-all has a conscience. Failing God is a terrifying thought!  

As Christ’s ambassador, you get to tell the know-it-all, “Friend, you do not know God at all!” You get to tell him of a God who had no interest in exacting a pound of flesh but instead took on flesh so that he might also take our guilt, paying for it with divine blood. You get to tell him of a Creator who gave this ordered universe to all humans to enjoy and care for. You get to tell him that God’s Word is there not to control us but to set us free. Sharing this good news . . . that is the only hope for the know-it-all. 

Only a fool argues with the know-it-all. So don’t argue. Love. Question. But ultimately, proclaim the wonders our God has done.  

 


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


This is the nintharticle 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? How did you respond to a know-it-all? 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: Jonathan R. Hein
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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 you please explain Matthew 5:20 in relation to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone?

Can you please explain Matthew 5:20 in relation to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone? I have always understood the doctrine of faith alone to mean that someone is not saved by their own righteousness but through their faith in Jesus. 

James F. Pope

Your understanding is correct. Examining Jesus’ words in context will verify that.  

Good 

In Matthew 5:20, Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

To unsuspecting first-century Judean eyes, the Pharisees could have easily appeared to be paragons of virtue. They displayed a zealousness for God’s laws—and their own rules as well. While most Jews fasted a handful of days throughout the year, Pharisees boasted of fasting twice a week (Luke 18:12). While certain items were exempt from God’s commands to tithe, Pharisees made it a point to tithe everything (Luke 11:42; 18:12). Casual observers quickly could have concluded that the Pharisees were good people and model citizens. They appeared to be righteous to everyone. 

Better than good 

Jesus states that if people want to enter the kingdom of heaven, their righteousness needs to go beyond “that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” On the surface, the Lord’s words appear to be saying that if people are to have any hope of salvation, they need to do more and be better people than the Pharisees. If that surface meaning is accurate, then the doctrine of salvation “by faith alone” would be in jeopardy. But digging deeper into Jesus’ words enables us to arrive at an accurate interpretation. 

Remember that Matthew 5:20 is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In that discourse, the Lord was not explaining what people needed to do to become his followers. The “congregation” listening to that sermon consisted of people whom the Holy Spirit had already brought to saving faith. He was teaching his disciples (Matthew 5:1,2) To these Christians Jesus spoke of the need to have a righteousness that surpassed the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Knowing what kind of righteousness those people possessed is critical to understanding Jesus’ words. 

Perfect in Jesus 

The “righteousness” of the Pharisees was their moral outward righteous behavior. They were not righteous in God’s eyes (John 15:5; Hebrews 11:6). So what would surpass their righteousness? The only righteousness that counts: the righteousness that comes from Jesus.  

Just a few sentences earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus came into the world to fulfill all the commandments of God perfectly. That is precisely what he did.  

He is “the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). Through faith in Jesus, his righteousness is credited to people who are joined to him in faith (Romans 4:22-25). God considers Christians righteous in his sight. In this way, our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, because we have the righteousness of Jesus by faith. So this verse harmonizes well with the doctrine of salvation through faith alone. 

Martin Luther described well the righteousness Christians enjoy through faith in Jesus: Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.”  

Because of Jesus’ righteousness, we have entered the kingdom of heaven. 


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 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 shelter in God’s shadow

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1 

Daniel J. Habben 

I wonder how many natural disasters will strike the world this summer. How many hurricanes will blow through our communities? How many earthquakes? How many floods and fires?  

The approach of judgment day 

In 2016, Canada suffered its costliest disaster when a forest fire sped through Fort McMurray, Alberta, forcing the evacuation of every one of its 88,000 residents. I was living four hours south of Fort McMurray at the time, and many fire evacuees took shelter in and around my community. News about the Fort McMurray fire was front and center for months. It seemed to be the first thing that anyone talked about. We all knew people who had been directly affected.  

Every forest fire, every earthquake, every flood, and every tornado is a not-so-distant rumbling that signals the approach of judgment day. When that day comes, how many will “evacuate” successfully? Will you be among those who escape God’s righteous anger over sin? Surely, the coming of judgment day should be forefront in our minds, just as the news of a local forest fire would be.  

But is it? 

I find that the heat of mid-summer has a way of slowing me down. Projects and plans don’t seem quite as appealing as a little time on the porch with an ice-cold lemonade. Yes, summer often affords a break from the usual routine, an easing of the knot between your shoulders. But summer is not an excuse to let our guard down spiritually—to roll over on a Sunday morning and choose an hour of sleep over an hour in worship. The Word of God that is prepared for our consumption during summer worship and Bible class is no less important than during the rest of the year.

That’s because you and I need to be continually reminded that there is a firestorm coming. The flames of judgment day won’t surrender to all the water bombers in the world, any more than the flood of Noah’s day could have been held back as water burst from sky and earth.  

The refuge of God’s shadow 

So how can we escape God’s righteous anger over sin? The psalm verse above reminds us that when we continue to dwell in God’s shadow, we have nothing to fear. Those who stand in the shadow of the cross know that Jesus’ death protects them from eternal death and punishment. Time spent in Bible study and church is time spent in that sweet shade. As we find shelter in God’s shadow, we are also reminded that since Jesus has rescued us from the fiery consequence of our sin, his arm is not too short to sustain us in any other calamity that may upset our lives 

How can you encourage your family members and your fellow church members to keep standing in the shadow of the cross, even during the “lazy” summer months? Set the example by being regular in worship. Speak often about the truths you’re learning in Bible class. Encourage your fellow members to stand in the shadow of the cross as zealously as a mother directs her children to put on a hat and sunscreen before they head outside. 

This summer will no doubt bring another round of natural disasters. Lives will be disrupted. But believers can take refuge beneath a promise that cannot be burned or drowned or broken: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  


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


 

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Author: Daniel J. Habben 
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

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