Let’s do Lent!

How are you preparing to observe the Lenten season? 

Mark H. Schewe 

I’m sure you are preparing! The Lenten season begins the first week of this month, with Ash Wednesday on March 6. Pastors, worship planners, musicians, food volunteers, and many others have had plenty of time since the Christmas season to get at planning and preparation. All the questions to answerDid the midweek bulletin covers come in? Did the piano tuner stop by for his annual visit? Are we using Evening Prayer or Compline for Wednesdays? Is the Junior Choir scheduled to sing? Owhich Wednesday will the youth group be cooking?  

Reset your focus  

If you’re a veteran called worker or lay leader in your congregation, you might be tempted to jump in and begin grinding out plans and filling in the blanks for a busy season. If so, you need to start over. Even if you’re a regular member of a church, your thoughts can’t begin with the activities and services that you will do during Lent. Your Lenten walk of faith will be adversely affected if it starts out in mechanical fashion. In fact, it’s possible to stand the season of Lent on its head altogether, finishing the season with relief simply because the extra planning and worship are over for the year. 

Lent is not planning what to do for the seasonTo illustrate, our church has a subscription to an online church clip art program. This program has tens of thousands of images and Scripture verses that can easily be inserted into bulletins and newsletters. Very handy! But sometimes it can be a bit interesting or humorous what the Internet site suggests for appropriate clip art for Lent or any other season. 

If you type “Lent” in the search box, a couple options invariably pop up posing the question, “What are you giving up?” One of these images even includes 20 suggestions within the clip art of what you can give up. Some suggested sacrificial items are common, ones we hear every year: chocolate, sweets, coffee, TV. But some newer ones have appeared: Facebook, credit cards, shopping, and TwitterYes, Twitter. 

I know there are plenty of pious Christians who sacrifice something during the 40 days of Lent with a sanctified heart. It can be done properly, of course. But I’m also certain many people in the Christian world hear that the days of Lent are approaching and immediately think, Oh yeah, what am I going to give up this year? In other words, How can I do Lent this year? If that’s your starting point, you’re off on the wrong foot. 

It can be the same for church leaders and called workers. Get ready to do Lent! More choir practices. Suppers to serve. More church services to plan and attend. Instruments to rehearse. More times to clean the sanctuary. More things to communicateExtra sermons to complete. Communion to set up. Paraments to change from purple to black to white. An Easter vigil service on Saturday of Holy Week to prepare. 

We have so much to do as we look forward to Lent. Or do we?  

Remember what you did and what Jesus did 

What do we do for Lent? The proper place to start is to ask, “What did we do for Lent?”  

I was reminded of that when I served at a congregation in the state of Washington. It was my first Lenten season at the church. Our congregation worshiped in a sanctuary that was newly built. On one side were tall windows that faced a busy street. The Christmas tree had been in those windows during the holidays. It was perfect spot, visible to worshipers and the community, and it made perfect sense to build large, rugged cross to place there for Lent. It would be a striking scene for worshipers and commuters alike, draped in the appropriate color for the season.  

One of our church members heard about the idea and offered to bring a tree that had fallen on his property, which could be cut and shaped into a cross. Perfect! After the delivery, we made some basic measurements, and the cutting, notching, tying, and erecting began. It’s what we did for Lent that year. 

But as I notched the wood and hammered the pieces together, it dawned on me: This is not the first cross I’ve made. 

It was true that I had never constructed a physical lifesized cross before, but I had most definitely had a hand in making one already. It was a cross that I had never seen, but one that I had caused. My sin was nailed to it. It was the original cross of my Savior, who went the way of that cross so that my sin and guilt could be paid for.  ‘He himself boreoursins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed’ ” (1 Peter 2:24). 

How do we properly “do Lent? We already did it. We caused it. And this is where a proper Lenten walk begins. Why must Lent come each year, that dark and somber season of the church year with its hymns in minor keys and ashes and blackness? We commemorate how the Son of God had to come in grace and mercy and pay the price that we could never pay. Lent is about what we originally did and continue to do as sinners. And it’s about what Jesus did for us before we saw the light of day.  

So, this year, how can we properly do Lent? Come. Come and marvel that there is nothing you must do, nothing that you must pay for your forgiveness. Come with a contrite and repentant heart to receive what God has to give. Be amazed at the love of your Savior.  

As Lent begins, perhaps the best initial activity we could do would be to meditate on a portion of Scripture or devotion that reinforces where the true action of Lent lies and points out how we are undeserving recipients of God’s grace. Read through Isaiah chapter 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 51, or 1 John 4:9,10. Spend a few moments with the hymn “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now” (Christian Worship 98) and the many other hymns in the Lenten section of the hymnal that reinforce how we are receivers rather than doers during Lent. Go into your morning devotion with that intentional angle of emphasis, especially if you are a church leader consumed by how much there is to do during Lent. 

Receive. Reflect. Be comforted. Soak in the Passion History as it’s read. Come ready to hear the old, old story that gives us so much peace. Sing about it. Marvel at it. Come early to meditate a bit. Enjoy some food and time with fellow Christians pilgrims. Rejoice that God loved you enough to do it all to win your salvation. 

Then, with the right perspective on your Lenten season, you can make a sacrifice to help you concentrate on the cross. After all, maybe you could do without those sweets or chocolate for a while. And that Twitter account.


Mark Schewe is pastor at St. Peter, Clovis, California.  


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Author: Mark H. Schewe 
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

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

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Well pleased

Through the sacrifice of God’s Son, we are now God’s children, with whom he is well pleased. 

Luke C. Werre 

The Transfiguration of our Lord is an event filled with mysteries. To me, one of the greatest mysteries is the heavenly Father’s declaration: “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). 

God’s pleasure in his Son 

Well pleased? Pleased that his Son would be descending the mountain in order to go to Jerusalem, to a people who would reject him? Pleased that he would be headed to the cross and suffering? Pleased that his perfectly obedient Son would sacrifice himself for ignorant and unappreciative recipients of his largesse? 

I have two sons, who are precious to me. Jesus and his Father have had a relationship of perfect love from eternity. There has been nothing but perfect unity of purpose, mind, and will between them. As much as I love my sons, it cannot compare with the heavenly Father’s infinite love for his Son. No matter how much pride, satisfaction, and joy I have in my sons, my heavenly Father’s infinite joy and satisfaction in his Son is infinitely deeper. With him, the Father, the Almighty, is well pleased. 

By total contrast, I am the son with whom God should not be well pleased. Often enough he gives me a peek into caverns of my heart where total depravity still lurks deeply like so many years of layered bat dung. A little suffering or a little adversity quickly reveals the muck of pride, impatience, hatred, hostility, resentment, faithlessness, despair, and self-absorbed concern. I don’t like myself very much for such things. I’m thankful that God doesn’t allow me to dwell on the totality of my sinfulness. I’m sure I could not bear it. I feel like it would destroy me. But I can perceive just enough of it to assess myself as the hymn writer did: a worm. “Alas and did my Savior bleed And did my Sov’reign die? Would he devote that sacred head For such a worm as I?” (The Lutheran Hymnal 154:1). 

God’s pleasure in what his Son did 

The wonder of it, the grand mystery of it, is that the heavenly Father was not merely announcing his pleasure with who Jesus is, but also with what Jesus came to do—that he would devote that sacred head for such a worm as I. The apostle Paul framed this truth in another way: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

The Father was well pleased with his Son because the Son would do his Father’s will. Jesus descended the Mount of Transfiguration, marched on to Jerusalem, and sacrificed himself on the cross for sinners like you and me! And God the Father was pleased! 

Do you see that, because the Son obeyed, your heavenly Father has no ill will toward you? You and I would be appalled to see our sons suffer to make someone else’s circumstance better. But your heavenly Father does not hold back his Son. There is not even hesitancy on his part to make the greatest possible sacrifice for you as he sends his Son to agony and death in order to atone for your sinfulness. No longer are we regarded as worms because he “redeems [our lives] from the pit and crowns [us] with love and compassion” (Psalm 103:4). 

No longer a worm. A child of God with whom God is well pleased—that’s the new status for each of us as we trust in Jesus. By his death our sins have been forgiven. God finds no fault with us. He is pleased not to find fault with us!  

Is this not a mystery? Is this not grace? 


Luke Werre is pastor at Peace, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Luke C. Werre
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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An easy question?

Earle D. Treptow 

The same question may be easy or complex, depending on the person you ask. For example: What are the factors of 2xy – 10x2y + 4x2y2? A sixth-grade student would consider that complex. Even some who have completed college may find it difficult. For the mathematician, however, the question is easy. In the end, you’d hope, if you found the question complex, that those who considered it simple wouldn’t look down on you because you couldn’t answer correctly and quickly. 

Here’s another question that one person may find easy, another complex: What is your gender? You may think of that as the easiest question. Some, on the other hand, consider the two possibilities most often presented as inadequate. Neither “male” nor “female” accurately capture the way they view themselves, so they look for some other word to communicate their gender.  

When it comes to math, we expect that those in the know will be patient with those who have not been taught or who struggle to grasp the concept. Above all, we expect that they will not regard with contempt those who can’t give the proper answer. Do those same expectations apply when it comes to questions of gender identity? Do we expect it of ourselves as we interact with those who struggle with an issue that is so clear to us? 

Christians know the answer because God has taught us in his Word. In the opening pages of Scripture, he says, “God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The Lord formed human beings as male and female. That was his perfect design in his perfect world. Adam and Eve accepted God’s design as a gift of God’s goodness.  

When our first parents decided that God had unfairly forbidden them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, things changed for the worse. Adam and Eve experienced serious confusion. They were so confused that they tried the impossible—to hide from the Lord in the garden. Their confusion led them to doubt God’s mercy, so they deemed it necessary to blame God and others for their sin. The Lord, by his promise of a Savior, cleared up their confusion about his mercy, but their sinfulness meant that confusion would regularly persist. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve passed along their sin to their descendants and, in so doing, passed along their confusion too.  

We ought not be surprised, then, that people are confused about gender identity. Sin has corrupted us all, so that God’s clear and beautiful design seems unclear. Don’t we know that from painful personal experience? Must I not say about each sin I commit that it’s a rebellion against God’s design? Every sin arises from the confused idea that God’s design doesn’t fit our current circumstance or our view of how things ought to operate.  

God graciously calls us to repentance day after day and then patiently teaches us the truth yet again. He invites us to deal in the same way with others who do not grasp his clear design. With the strength the Lord provides, we don’t dismiss people who are confused about gender issues as hopelessly in rebellion against God. Instead, we serve them, as one wretched sinner to another. In humility, we proclaim God’s love for them in Christ. 

We teach God’s design. And then we pray that the Holy Spirit would enlighten confused hearts and minds, just as he has done with all us undeserving sinners.  


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


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Where is God?

John A. Braun

We were at a restaurant for breakfast with family after church. As we talked and waited for our food, I noticed two women in a booth nearby. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their conversation appeared intense. From their gestures, low voices, and facial expressions, I concluded that they were discussing some problem, family conflict, or heartache. 

Of course, I may have misread the entire situation, and they might have been sharing some secret, but joyful, personal news. They were too far away, and I was too busy with family to be sure.  

But I thought of them afterward. It’s not unusual to sense the personal problems and personal joys of others. They surround us. They are behind the awkward smiles of the strangers we meet or in the conversations that are just out of earshot. 

Remembering the two women, I thought more of the woes we all carry than the joys. Perhaps that’s because I sense we all carry woes behind the everyday facade. But I also wondered if these women had been in church that morning to hear of God’s love. Then I wondered how that love could make a difference if their conversation was about personal unhappiness, loneliness, or pain. 

People are quick to complain about God when they carry heavy burdens. He’s powerless to help, they conclude. And he doesn’t seem to care because they hurt so much. “Where is God when you need him?” is a question asked so often that it’s no surprise to hear it even from Christians. 

So, where is God when hushed conversations reveal pain and misery? He’s there as a quiet listener, just as he promised. He’s there also as a powerful ally to give strength, comfort, healing, and solutions that will serve for our good. 

But to some that seems to be only so much wishful thinking. We often cannot make the problems disappear, and God doesn’t always make the problems disappear either. Whether we are Christian or not, we all have private conversations about the troubles we bear. That’s what life here is. The days of our lives—no matter how short or long—are trouble and sorrow and then we fly away (cf. Psalm 90:10). 

Well, if that’s your answer, they say, then what good is God? I have an answer. God saw and still sees all the pain and misery of all people here. He knows the evil, the heartache, the loneliness, and the tears. He’s known it long before any conversation in a restaurant booth. He did not want things to be that way, and he took steps to change it all. 

He planned our rescue. He sent his Son to earth to change our future. The people Jesus knew while he was here faced problems, woes, and pain just as we do—but without smartphones and television. He healed some and had compassion on all. He showed himself to be God, come to earth to do what none of us could do. He gives eternal life—but not an eternal life filled with the same kind of troubles we face every day. Instead, we have the hope of a life free of all that. 

That has practical everyday benefits. Because of Jesus we have peace with God—a peace that transforms us and gives us hope. The pledge that God cares for us is assured by the blood he shed to change our futures. If he so loved us, whatever woes we experience are not devastating dead ends. His love gives us the strength and hope to rise from our hushed and painful conversations to endure and grow (Romans 5:1-5). 


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


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Encouraging young people for ministry

Do you know a young person whom God has blessed with the talents to be a pastor or teacher? Perhaps it’s the eighth-grader who patiently helps the preschoolers in Sunday school and vacation Bible school. Or the high school freshman who bravely stands up for a classmate being bullied. It could be the teen who coordinates service opportunities for your congregation’s youth group.  

Brad Gurgel, principal at St. Peter, St. Peter, Minn., decided to make your next step easy. He developed a card to give to young people who you feel that God might be equipping for full-time ministry. The card (pictured, right) can be personalized for each situation.  

“I strongly feel that if we strive to more regularly give out personal words and letters of encouragement about considering the public ministry to the young people in our lives, many more would be led to consider serving God in this way,” says Gurgel. “With this in mind, I attempted to design a card that would make it quick and easy for anyone to let a young person know that they recognize gifts in them that could be used in the public ministry. Taking just a few minutes to fill this out for someone in your life might make all the difference in helping them to decide to move forward in pursuing the goal of becoming a pastor or teacher someday.” 

Gurgel knows from personal experience how much of an impact it has on a young person to be encouraged to use their gifts to serve in the ministry. He notes, “When someone took the time to personally communicate this to me, it caused me to stop and reflect on the gifts and talents that I had and to think seriously about the possibility of the ministry. I know it gave me confidence and reassurance that, yes, I truly did have certain talents and gifts that I could use to serve God as a pastor or teacher. These little reassurances that I received were vital to me eventually choosing to become a Lutheran school teacher.” 

As WELS continues to experience a shortage of pastors and teachers, this type of encouragement is an easy way for all members to help with recruitment. “When people present themselves at Martin Luther College to train for the ministry, almost all of them have a story about someone who encouraged them to do just that,” says Paul Prange, administrator of WELS Board for Ministerial Education. “A card or comment like this could make all the difference!” 


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Teen Talk: Strength in sorrow

Even when we don’t understand all that happens in life, God gives us hope and peace. 

Kelsie Bramstedt 

I woke up to my alarm clock on Tuesday, thinking it was a normal day. I turned on my lamp and started reading through some texts from my friends as any normal teen would. I noticed that I had received a text from my grandma. She normally messages me about her day and the things she has been up to, so I opened it excitedly. The words “Samantha is with her Lord now” weren’t the words I wanted to hear at 6:00 on a Tuesday morning. 

Samantha was my 29yearold cousin. She’s married and a mother of two daughters. I remember when she and Eric, her husband, wanted me to stand up in their wedding as the flower girl. That was the first time I had my hair done all pretty, and I wore a white sparkly dress. I can’t remember too much about that day, but I know it was windy and rainy. When we went outside to take pictures after the wedding, Samantha was still so happy and thankful, even though the weather didn’t cooperate.  

I also remember the trouble she faced. It all started with back pain and surgery. The surgery was supposedly successful, but then more pain started to occur. The doctors confirmed that it was cancer. That meant many chemo treatments in the next months. She had a second surgery to scrape her organs in hope of removing the cancer and then to give her organs a “chemo bath.” 

Soon afterward, we got news that the surgery was unsuccessful. The only option was for her to receive hospice at home, where she could be close to her family. She was only at home for less than two weeks before passing away. Cancer had controlled and depicted her life for about six months. 

Samantha was a very strong person and never wanted to be the center of attention. The Lord blessed her life here on earth by giving her a strong faith and much time with her two little girls. She loved to take walks with her dog, Cooper.  

Following her death, we all wondered, Why? Why would God do this to such a good person? How are her daughters going to grow up without a mom? The things that go through my mind are to rely and trust in God above all else. I know he has done this for a reason, and he will provide for her family in the ways that they need most. 

We may not understand why God gives us struggles, but we can find peace in his great knowledge and tender mercies. 

God has given us his Word so we can trust his plans. He says, “I know the plans I have for you, . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Those words give me comfort every day. When something just doesn’t go your way, you can look to God and ask for his help.  

Samantha never doubted her faith. She somehow found God’s love in that dark time in her life. We, as Christians, can learn from her. Samantha was a great example of a strong faith and a loving person throughout her whole life. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you” (Psalm 9:10). 


Kelsie Bramstedt, a junior at Manitowoc Lutheran High School, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, is a member at St. John, Newtonburg, Wisconsin.  


 

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Author: Kelsie Bramstedt
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Confessions of faith: Carlson

A search ends when the gospel becomes clear and precious. 

Keleen Carlson 

As of September 2017, I am a Lutheran!  

Born in Texas in the late 1960s, I was raised a Christian, primarily in nondenominational churches, by my mother. I know the churches meant well, and there were some awesome people there that I still consider to be friends. But when I became an adult, I began to be disillusioned about some of the teachings. There were things that began to make me doubt the teachings and why my mother raised me in that church. Besides the teachings, I noticed some things that were going on with the leadership of the church at the time. I also started being drawn to the liturgical style of worship, not realizing where God was taking me. In July of 2015 I stopped attending church altogether.  

Back to the beginning: my father was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was a confirmed Lutheran, but my mom and I were the only ones who attended church. My parents moved to Texas shortly before I was born. Mom was not raised Christian but decided to attend a nondenominational church when I was very young. After mom died in 1991, I took care of my dad in his failing health for 12 years. My dad reaffirmed his Lutheran faith a few years before he passed away, but he was unable to attend church due to his health.  

After my dad died, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with very close friends, who were my pastor’s family at the time. I never had children, and their girls were like nieces to me. When the pastor decided to move to Tennessee, the family asked me to go with them. I had never even been to Tennessee, but I felt God was telling me to move. After just four years, they moved back to Texas and even bought their old house back when they moved. But I stayed in Nashville.  

Troublesome teachings 

Things began to trouble me about what my church was teaching. It spent so much time on the prosperity message and the topic of the end times, trying to predict the date of the rapture. It focused a lot on tithing, teaching that if you do not tithe God will not bless you. Meanwhile, I was personally struggling even to maintain my Christian walk and was simply told that I should try to be holy. There wasn’t much discipleship and teaching about the Bible and how to live as a Christian on a daily basis. My church taught that the Lord’s Supper was just a symbol as was Baptism. We didn’t really do anything special for Christmas. I never knew what Advent was until I became a Lutheran. Instead of increasing church services during that time, the church canceled them because of the holiday. I always felt that was odd; we didn’t even celebrate the birthday of the Savior, except to sing a song or two close to Christmas and read the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel.  

The church also called things sin that are not, such as drinking alcohol in moderation. This frustrated me, especially after one pastor told me he does not see anything wrong with drinking in moderation but that the denomination does not allow its ministers to drink or they would be expelled. It made no sense to me that a minister would believe something different than what his church actually teaches. When the church was failing due to lack of funds, one of the ministers even prophesied that God would send four rich businessmen from the east, west, north, and south to support the church financially. That church closed a year later. I was so disillusioned! 

Looking for a new church 

After I stopped attending church altogether in 2015, I did try to find another church, but many were so contemporary and seemed unfriendly. I was disheartened. None seemed true to the Bible; they were always looking for new, fun, and fancy ways to attract people.  

Then I began to research Lutheran churches to get back to my dad’s original beliefs and to find a church with a liturgical style of worship. After a bit of research, I realized that the Lutheran churches I was finding were way too liberal for me. I knew when my dad attended the Lutheran church it was not that way.  

Then came WELS! I finally found Rock of Ages in Madison, Tennessee. I had never heard of WELS before, so I did some research and found its beliefs were based on the Bible. It was just what I had been looking for! 

I attended the early service one Sunday in May 2017 and loved it. The pastor was very friendly and so were the people. They smiled and said hi, which was not my experience at some of the other churches I tried. There was such a reverent, holy feeling in church that morning.  

I filled out the friendship register, and the pastor scheduled a time to meet with me at a local Starbucks. I explained everything about my background to him, and he was compassionate about my struggles to find a good church that really believed the Bible. He told me how to become a member—by taking the Bible information class. Even though the class was not running at the time, he met with me personally each week at the church to teach me. That amazed me and almost brings me to tears even now, because it was so personal and caring. He is a great pastor with a true heart for people and a great sense of humor. He’s always available when I have questions.  

Found: the one thing needful 

The way my church focuses on Christ, his death, burial, resurrection, and him as our soon coming King is so refreshing to me. Our teachings on Baptism and Holy Communion are also very dear to me. Jesus comes to us in Word and sacrament! Wow! We don’t have to try and be good all the time and do good works to make it to heaven. Holy living and good works come from our love for Christ and what he has already done for us.  

The celebration of the church year, with Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter is also new to me and beautiful as we remember Christ’s sacrifice for us. Advent is also a special time for me. The Advent wreath with the candles is so beautiful—a baby is on the way! It gives me so much expectation from Thanksgiving to Christmas when we light the final candle to show that the Light of the world has come!  

I have some experience in writing and photography, and I am the media person for our church. I am glad I can use my talents to serve the kingdom of God. I always read Forward in Christ each month because it is so rich in biblical truth. Thanks to the pastor and the members of Rock of Ages for accepting me into their fellowship.  


Keleen Carlson is a member at Rock of Ages, Madison, Tennessee. 


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Author: Keleen Carlson
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Merging for mission – Part 2

Finding that they could be stronger together, two congregations decide to merge into one. 

Julie K. Wietzke 

Steve Waldschmidt describes a recent church merger between Good Shepherd, St. Peter, Mo., and Apostles, Dardenne Prairie, Mo., as a simple math problem: “You have twice the weekly offerings, twice the pastoral staff, twice the volunteer base, and twice the members. Then you cut the debt in half.” 

What does it equal? New opportunities for ministry within the congregation and for mission outreach out in the community. 

The merged congregation’s new name, Christ Alone, completes the rest of the equation: “The name Christ Alone serves as a reminder to ourselves of why we’re here and why we’re doing this—to serve Christ alone,” says Tim Raster, president of Christ Alone, now a one-year-old congregation. 

Understanding the situations 

Good Shepherd and Apostles were both located in St. Charles County. Situated about five miles apart, these congregations worked to reach out in this suburban area about 30 miles from St. Louis across the Missouri River. 

Started in the 1980s, Good Shepherd decided to add on to its facility in the early 2000s to open a preschool to serve the community. The school ran for about ten years before the congregation decided to close it in spring 2016.  

The school’s closure opened up some questions for the 150-member congregation. What would be the ministry focus moving forward? How were members going to pay the building loan? How should the congregation use its building now that it no longer had a school?  

While a task force considered options like leasing part of the building or maybe even moving into a storefront, the congregation reached out to its neighboring 120-member congregation Apostles to find out what its plans were for the future. Apostles started as a daughter church of Good Shepherd in 1999 when growth in that area was booming. 

Good Shepherd discovered that while their ministry situations were different, Apostles was having similar difficulties: a lot of debt, tired volunteers, and reduced programming due to lack of funds. Getting the congregations’ names out was also difficult in an area so close to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s headquarters. 

“The devil was working on both of our churches,” says Seth Bode, then pastor at Apostles.  

Analyzing the options 

Apostles and Good Shepherd were already working together in certain areas, like combining some education classes and preaching at one another’s congregations. As the pastors began talking, they wondered if they should collaborate even more.  

After attending a WELS multi-site conference in Arizona, Bode and Waldschmidt discussed some options with their congregations. “We could become a multi-site where we had the same name and same branding, or we could combine our efforts where we are still stand-alone congregations but doing more ministry together, or we could do a full merger into one building,” says Waldschmidt.  

After both congregations agreed that the topic should be explored further, a joint task force made of members from both congregations began studying the situation in earnest.  

The group began by mapping out where members from both congregations lived. The maps dramatically overlapped. “We’re looking at two physical properties serving the same area,” says Raster. 

The discussions then revolved around opportunities. “We really were laying it all out on the table and starting with what do we want to do rather than what resources do we have,” says Bode. “Then we matched those goals with a vision of what things could look like, always knowing God could determine the steps far better than we could.” 

This led to looking at the options open to the congregations: two buildings, two pastors; one building, two pastors; two buildings, one pastor. “We talked about every angle,” says Raster. “Some of them were uncomfortable topics. As a group we had to be very sensitive. There’s logic; there’s emotion; there’s spiritual; and there’s God’s Word. Trying to balance that together and make good decisions was challenging.” 

The group decided that merging into one church with two pastors at the Dardenne Prairie site was the best direction. Both congregations overwhelmingly agreed, and Christ Alone, the new congregation, held its dedication Oct. 15, 2017. 

Maximizing the mission 

Christ Alone celebrated its one-year anniversary in October 2018 and is going strong. The congregation now has 305 members and had five youth confirmations this past year. Waldschmidt reports that members are excited to volunteer and have been meeting a lot of new people from the neighborhood through community events held at the church.  

The congregation also sold its other church building and now has more money for ministry. “Before everything was about cost,” says Raster. “Now we need to stop thinking about ways NOT to spend money, and we actually need to think of ways to put our money to good use. This is a new challenge for us!” 

That isn’t their only challenge. Waldschmidt now is the only pastor at Christ Alone, after Bode took a call last summer. Members also have to learn to work together to develop the congregation’s culture and determine ministry methods. “What we need to focus on is how Christ Alone is going to do this, not how did Good Shepherd do this or how did Apostles do this,” says Waldschmidt. “We have to keep it mission-driven rather than me-driven.” 

Being mission-driven is the lesson that Waldschmidt says he took away from this merger experience. “Mindset really is everything. You can’t do this in a way that is survival-driven or you’re not going to make it. You have to do it in a way that is mission-driven.” 

Being mission-driven also means that the work doesn’t stop once the merger is complete. “If you’re going to maximize the mission and escalate your efforts in the community, it works best if everyone works just as hard as when you started,” says Bode. “The danger is that you think because there’s more people, you can help out half as much. But that defeats the purpose of the whole idea.” 

Working together to carry out the Lord’s mission is key when discussing a merger—whether it is expanding as a multi-site or, as in this case, narrowing to a single site. “That’s what makes it different than just trying to cobble two congregations together,” says Peter Kruschel, who served as a home mission counselor for ten years, including working with Christ Alone through the merger process. “It takes people who are willing to work together to carry out their mission.” 

He continues, “It was critical that [Apostles and Good Shepherd] joined forces. It could have taken so many forms, but they needed to work together because neither one was strong enough to carry out the mission of the church effectively alone. They can do so much more together.” 


Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ.


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


SIDE BAR:

Congregational Services is working on a program that will help clusters of congregations that are considering merging into a single site or operating as multi-sites. Jon Hein, coordinator of Congregational Services, says the plan is to help congregations work through all the options and considerations that are part of a merger process similar to the one Christ Alone experienced. “The goal is to have congregations thinking about mergers and multi-sites proactively, not just as a desperate Hail Mary pass,” says Hein. “There are legitimate reasons for churches that are doing well to consider merging or going multi-site, simply so they can be even stronger together.” Look for more on this program in summer 2019. 


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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Not just an emotion

Mark G. Schroeder

It was their wedding day. The bride and groom stood in front of me, looks of excitement, nervousness, and happiness on their face. It was time for the wedding sermon. 

I began by saying, “I have a question for you. Do you love each other?” 

The bride’s eyes widened, and she nodded her head eagerly. The groom looked at me with a look that said, “Are you serious? Of course, we do!” 

Then I said, “I would also like to ask you another question—one a little more difficult: How would you define the love that you have for each other? What do you mean when you say you love each other?” 

Sadly, it’s a question that a lot of couples—both newlyweds and those celebrating decades of marriage—do not know how to answer correctly. Some would say, “I know I love him because he makes me feel happy when I’m with him and he makes me laugh and smile.” “I know I love her because I feel attracted to her, emotionally, romantically, even physically.” 

Now those are good things. But those responses have one thing in common: They are all feelings, all emotions. And you know what happens to emotions. They always change. One day you’re happy; the next day you’re sad and depressed. One day you feel optimistic, the next day you feel like nothing will go well.  

If love is just an emotion, then we shouldn’t be surprised that so many people wake up one day and realize that their love for their spouse is gone. Their feelings have changed, and when it comes to changing feelings and emotions, there’s not much you can do to stop it. 

God, the creator of marriage, has given us a different definition of love in a marriage: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). 

Jesus’ love for us is not just a feeling, not an emotion. His love for us was a commitment to act, a commitment to give himself completely to us and for us—all the way to the cross. His love for us meant that he made us more important than himself and he made our happiness and welfare the most important thing to him. He was willing to do everything not for himself, but for us.  

God’s kind of love in a marriage is action—doing—for the welfare and benefit and happiness of the other person. God’s kind of love puts the other person’s needs first. God’s kind of love never asks, “What’s in this marriage for me?” but rather, “What can I do today for you?” With Jesus’ love as the model and motive, Christian spouses give themselves to each other fully and completely. When that is happening in a marriage, no one ever needs to worry about “my wants, my needs, and my welfare,” because the spouse is already taking care of those things. 

How can you be sure that your love is the kind of love that God wants you to have, the kind of love that will guarantee a lifelong, joyful, and fulfilled marriage? Stay close to the Savior who demonstrated that love for you by dying on the cross for your sin. Build your marriage relationship on your growing relationship with your Savior as you worship him regularly, hear his Word, and live your lives for him. Then when you hear those words, “I love you,” you will both know that such love is not just an emotion, not just a feeling, but a commitment to put each other’s happiness first in everything. 


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Meet the editorial staff: Enderle

Ever ask yourself, “Who are these people who write for Forward in Christ?” Through this series, you can find out. 


This month, Forward in Christ welcomes Jeff Enderle to the editorial staff as the newest Bible study contributor. 

The gospel is the focus of Enderle’s Bible studiesHe hopes to demonstrate how the message that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for us should be central to daily life. 

“Sometimes we get so caught up in our responsibilities that we treat the good news as an afterthought rather than the main concern,” he explains. “It gives us the power, strength, peace, and comfort to meet other challenges. If the gospel is the key part of our lives, it will come out in all the things that we do.” 

The gospel message was part of Enderle’s daily activities from an early age. His father served as a pastor at Christ, Grand Island, Neb. Enderle recalls helping his father with basic Sunday worship preparations such as using a mimeograph machine to print out the weekly bulletins. Occasionally, he or one of his siblings would travel with his father to a mission site for a second Sunday worship service in the afternoon. 

Seeing his father serve and developing a love for sharing God’s Word, Enderle pursued the ministry himself. He attended Nebraska Evangelical Lutheran High School, Waco, Neb.; Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., graduating in 2002. 

Enderle currently serves at Christ the Rock, Farmington, N.M. He was called to the congregation “to reach out to the cross-cultural communities of the Four Corners,” including the Navajo nation and Hispanic groups.  

“We’re blessed that our church reflects the whole of our community,” he says. “We have a diverse congregation.” 

While cross-cultural ministry has its challenges, those challenges can bring about opportunities to share the gospel message. 

“We had a funeral for a gentleman who was a member, but he hadn’t been coming to church for a while,” Enderle recalls. “After his funeral, we were able to reach out to his wife and her family, who are Navajo. She began to come back to church. I would visit her parents on the Navajo reservation in the same way I would conduct a regular shut-in visit.” 

Soon, a few members of this family began taking Bible Information Classes. 

“It’s a tragic, heartbreaking situation,” Enderle continues. “But, because of it, we are blessed with an opportunity as they turn to their church, their pastor, and the gospel.” 

The next nearest WELS church to Christ the Rock is about three hours away. Knowing this, Endrele is thankful for the connection he and the members have to the synod, which will hopefully be enriched even further through his Bible studies in Forward in Christ. 

“Our people really appreciate the strong bond of faith and prayer we have with WELS,” says Enderle. 


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Enduring Word

Fire destroyed a pastor’s place to study God’s Word—his cave—but God’s Word still remains.

Eric J. Ziecker

Long before the availability of digital materials, seminary professors encouraged students to build up a library of theological books. Public libraries don’t often provide enough Lutheran resources.

I listened.

So over the course of 25 years of public ministry I accumulated more than 250 books, not including digital resources. While a few became expensive, oversized paperweights, the majority of them were not decorations. I used many of them daily. I knew the books well and had them loosely classified by topic on my bookshelves. Many were used for reference, but others were beloved devotionals and used much more regularly.

The cave

I put my books in a small triangular study right off of our church’s chancel area. This little room was part “man cave” and part “pastor cave” because it contained mostly bookcases and books. My desk filled most of the remaining space. No matter how small the room, the sight of books covering an entire wall was any bibliophile’s dream!

There were some personal touches. The room included a Mexican hand-carved wooden head of Christ, a paper dragon that my daughter made for Chinese New Year, a pectoral cross from Ethiopia, and a resin facsimile of the 12th-century ivory carving of the 12 apostles.

Many pastors would agree that their personal study is a special place. Through reflection and the study of God’s Word, the Lord fortifies us personally and equips us to feed and guide those under our spiritual care. A pastor’s anxieties may be voiced in that study. Prayers for the world, our nation, our church body and congregation, and our foreign missionaries often arise from there.

In my cozy little pastor cave, I prepared most of my preaching and teaching materials. Although there was nothing holy about the room itself, it was like hallowed ground to me because I studied the Lord’s Word there more than in any other place. The Bible is enough to make us wise for salvation in Christ Jesus, and yet lexicons, hymnals, commentaries, and devotionals helped me to mine the Scriptures and apply them for

Christ’s flock. My pastor cave contained a theological treasure trove of timeless, divine wisdom. All of it lay at an arm’s length and was accessible to me any day of the week at any time of day or night.

I don’t think that pastors are the only people who have a special place to study God’s Word. I think many have a special place—perhaps a cave—where they regularly read and meditate on the Word of God and other Christian materials.

Rubble & ash

It took only minutes to watch the room—my pastor cave—and all of its contents reduced to ash.

The phone rang shortly after 5:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. Groggily, I wondered if I heard the dispatcher correctly when she said: “You have a structure fire at your church.” I rushed to the church.

As I watched, my silent prayers for the firefighters walking on our roof and those dangling off of ladders rose alongside the thick smoke. The smoke eventually cleared. The rising sun made it easier to see only empty space through the open side door of the church. My pastor cave was gone. Now only burnt, water-soaked rubble remained. I was nauseated and depressed.

Good reason to keep all your books in the cloud, you might think. Yes, but at times I still enjoy a book to hold and contemplate, especially during my personal, quiet devotion time. Long before I crank up the computer for the day and start web surfing, tweeting, answering e-mails, taking phone calls, and scheduling meetings and appointments, I’ve come to enjoy the routine of having a physical book open on my desk and a cup of coffee at my elbow.

But the fire changed that.

Satan’s firebomb

The likelihood of you suffering similar consequences due to an arson fire may be statistically slim. But we are all in Satan’s crosshairs. He would like nothing better than to sever your connection to Christ. He’ll seek to hit you wherever and whenever you commune with God. If he cannot destroy the physical place where you read and study God’s Word, he’ll seek to firebomb your resolve to commune regularly with your Savior. He’ll disturb the peace of those sacred times spent listening to your Shepherd’s voice. Satan knows that if we are not hearing our Shepherd, we cannot follow him.

Along with all people, we have an urgent need for peace with God. We have disturbed our peace with him—perhaps by placing material things above the spiritual or by enjoying the created more than the Creator or by loving and trusting the gifts more than the Giver. We must admit to frittering away many opportunities that we have had to become better servants of Jesus through greater personal study and prayer. Bemoan, lament, and bewail your sinfulness. A broken and contrite heart he will not despise.

But Jesus’ invitation still stands, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Rejoice again in the peace restored between you and God, the full forgiveness achieved by Christ’s innocent, righteous life, and his willing sacrifice for your sins. Only at the cross is God’s full justice for your sins satisfied and his eternal grace poured out for all. At the cross your self-centeredness becomes Christ’s; his self-sacrifice becomes yours. Your untamed tongue becomes his; his peace-bestowing tongue becomes yours. Your rebellion becomes his; his obedience becomes yours. Your mind, set on earthly things, becomes his; his mind, set on heavenly things, becomes yours. We confessional Lutheran Christians rejoice that he delivers these benefits to us personally through his Word and the sacraments.

Unquenchable fire

The Messiah’s person and work were explicitly foretold and detailed in prophecy. Once achieved in time, he declared from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus’ redeeming work and his resurrection are now complete and firmly rooted in history. Although Satan can never undo Jesus’ work or reverse his victory in our behalf, he seeks to silence our gospel proclamation so that no one hears it. He desires to incinerate our personal faith and make charcoal of our communion with God. He wants us to take God’s treasures and blessings for granted and let them slip through our fingers like ash.

In place of those destructive flames, the Spirit will kindle in you again his own purifying and unquenchable fire. Within your own cave—with the resource of God’s Word open in front of you—the Spirit reignites gratitude in you like a spark on dry tinder. May he fan that spark into an ever-increasing, unquenchable inferno. Not even the loss of place, not even the loss of earthly life, not even the loss of all that is created, can destroy God’s love for you in Christ.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35).


Eric Ziecker is pastor of Peace, Rio Rancho, New Mexico.


Note: Peace, Rio Rancho, N.M., observed a rededication and open house of its rebuilt church in December 2018, 16 months after the fire had been set. Damages totaled more than $700,000.


 

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Author: Eric J. Ziecker
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Book nook: Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You

The back cover of Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You by Amy Vannieuwenhoven says that the book is “an interactive journal that helps parents communicate with their grade school and high school children about smartphone usage and genuine connection.” My 12-year-old daughter Julia and I worked through the journal, and we found it to be that and so much more.  

Although Julia doesn’t have a smartphone yet, the journal was a great tool for her and me to learn more about each other. More than half of the book has nothing to do with smartphones, and the part that does can be easily translated to other electronic devices (for example, Julia has an iPad). Vannieuwenhoven has a relatable writing style—Julia loved her use of emojis and her sense of humor—and she’s found a great format to help parents with a relevant topic.  

Most children yearn to spend meaningful time with their parents—whether they’re willing to admit it or not. This book helps parents and children share important details of their life with one another in a safe space—the journal. It helps build a foundation for a solid relationship with one another. It also helps equip children to have the responsibility of using a smartphone.  

Finally, Vannieuwenhoven weaves God’s Word throughout the journal. She shares Scripture, statistics, and advice, all with a casual tone. I hope that many parents and their children work through this journal together and find it to be the blessing that Julia and I did.  

Nicole Balza 


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Author: Nicole Balza
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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Being a good Samaritan

Prayers are answered in many different ways. For 10 years, a building sat empty on the property of St. Matthew, Appleton, Wis., after the church’s school closed. There were numerous prayers and discussions on what this space could be used for. Through God’s grace, it now serves as a resource center for the homeless population in the Fox Valley area, providing hope for many and a unique way to spread the gospel. 

This endeavor began when Betsy Borns, a member at Immanuel, Greenville, Wis., started her fieldwork as manager of Project RUSH (Research to Understand and Solve Homelessness). Borns conducted research through an experiment where she lived as a homeless individual for three days.  

During this time, she discovered what resources were available to this population and what was missing. She found that there was a large gap in the area for daytime housing. 

“I saw that there were a few places that tolerate homeless people, but there wasn’t anywhere that actually welcomes them,” Borns says. “Learning these things firsthand helped me conceptualize a place where people would be welcomed to relax, get warm, and receive additional help.”  

While Borns was doing research, Jonathan Kuske, pastor at St. Matthew, was ardently praying for an opportunity to use his congregation’s empty building to serve the community. His prayer was answered when he met Borns. 

“You often pray for guidance and don’t know what form it’ll take,” Kuske says. “Creating a resource center wasn’t what we were originally expecting to use the building for, but it’s been a great way to introduce people to Christ and to show good Samaritan love.”  

This meeting between Borns and Kuske was the inception of the new Day Resource Center in Appleton, a place for community members to receive support both physically and spiritually.  

A lot of work went into the building’s opening in September of 2018. To begin, Borns conducted extensive research on other communities’ homeless shelters. Homeless Connections, now a part of the non-profit group Pillars, was brought on board to manage the project.  

After serving the homeless for just a few short months, the resource center is already flourishing. “When I talk to the leaders in the shelters, they discuss all the time how people’s spirits have lifted,” Borns remarks. “We’re giving people a little hope, and it makes us really proud.” 

The center provides counseling for mental health and addictions, as well as educational resources. But most important, it offers Bible studies and spiritual discussions with Kuske at the church next door. Four individuals have even attended church at St. Matthew.  

“There is so much good being done for these people who are destitute,” says Kuske. “At times, it can be a long road out of their current situations, but coming here gives them some encouragement that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”  

Gabriella Moline 


Want to learn more about this project? Borns is part of a panel discussion exploring how our churches can be good neighbors at the upcoming Christian Leadership Experience, March 15–16, in La Crosse, Wis. Learn more at christlead.com 


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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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A gospel-filled life: Part 1

simple way to pray  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

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

Devotional encouragement 

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

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

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

Devotional instructions 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

 

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

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

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Merging for mission – Part 1

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

Julie K. Wietzke 

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

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

Case study: Wisconsin 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merging for mission 

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

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

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

Another case study: Arizona 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gains and losses 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona merger 

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

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

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

And now the real work could begin.  

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

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

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

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

Merger in Wisconsin 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


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


SIDE BAR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 4

Ask Questions Before You Confront 

Jeremiah J. Gumm 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Luke 10 : Part 1

Pray dangerously 

Eric S. Roecker 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you heading home or vacationing in Florida?” 

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

“Oh! What do you do for a living?” 

“I’m an actress in New York.” 

“What have you been working on?” 

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

“Really!? Wow!” 

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

“I’m a Lutheran pastor.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to pray dangerously? 


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


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


 

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

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

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Called to love, called to speak

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

Joel C. Seifert 

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

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

Remember the mission of the church 

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

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

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

Remember God’s call to the Christian  

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

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

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Reflecting Christ’s love to those facing disaster

Tornadoes, hurricanes, heavy rainfall, forest fires—it’s been a busy fall for WELS Christian Aid and Relief, which responds on behalf of WELS members to reflect Christ’s love to people facing natural disasters and other hardships.

As Robert Hein, chairman of Christian Aid and Relief, explains, “When we hear a natural disaster has struck a community, we contact the local pastors in the affected area and, often, the district president. These leaders may also contact us when a disaster arises.”

A representative from Christian Aid and Relief asks these leaders a series of questions.

“How were the church, school, and called workers affected?”

“How were the members of the church affected?”

“How was the local community affected?”

“Are there ways the congregation wishes to reflect Christ’s love by reaching out to meet a community need?”

As Christian Aid and Relief receives answers to these questions, the organization can determine how to support the congregation, including the level of financial support needed and whether an onsite assessment or outside volunteers may be necessary.

“We personalize our efforts working through pastors, missionaries, and churches whenever possible,” says Hein. “This allows us to have careful oversight of the projects and involves God’s people in the relief effort.”

Six disaster relief trailers stand ready to help congregations following a disaster. These trailers are stocked with items such as generators, chainsaws, rakes, brooms, ropes, buckets, helmets, and gloves. They are stored in Oskaloosa, Ia.; Pewaukee, Wis.; Stillwater, Minn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; and Houston, Texas.

In August and September, the trailers in Pewaukee and Stillwater mobilized to help flooding and tornado victims in Wisconsin.

Brian Roeller, a member of Salem, Stillwater, Minn., drove the Stillwater trailer to Brownsville, Wis., over Labor Day weekend to help clean up the damage from the F2 tornado that struck there on Aug. 28. Roeller has volunteered for Christian Aid and Relief projects many times over the past five years. “I love to see the reaction on people’s faces when we show up,” he says. “Often they’re in despair, and it makes their day to see us showing Christian love.”

The Jacksonville, Fla., trailer may be mobilized to help with clean up following Hurricane Florence. Christian Aid and Relief is staying in close contact with those congregations that have been affected by the storm and its aftermath and has already supported efforts by Amazing Grace, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Ascension, Jacksonville, N.C., as they’ve helped community members in need.


For more information, visit wels.net/relief or visit facebook.com/WELSChristianAidAndRelief.


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Author:
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Serving those who serve

The Care Committee for Called Workers (CCCW), part of the WELS Commission on Special Ministries, exists to help congregations provide spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional care to their pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. This can take on many forms, depending on the needs of the workers and congregations, but one constant is that congregations with a CCCW place a high value on aiding and supporting those who serve them. 

Kurt Holzhueter, an investment advisor and member at Christ Our Savior, Rockford, Mich., was asked to produce information on retirement planning for the CCCW a few years ago. He’s now the chairman of the group. While retirement planning is his specialty and one of the latest efforts from the committee, Holzhueter says that other areas such as help when moving for a new call and acclimating to a new community, confidential spiritual care or counseling, and continuing education are also ways a congregation’s care committee can help its called workers. 

Lisa Schroeder and her husband, Bob, have been serving on the CCCW at Immanuel, Greenville, Wis., for about 10 years. At Immanuel, Lisa explains, the committee is made up of couples, and while it doesn’t need to be that way, it works out well as they try to support the called workers and their families. Each committee member has “designated” workers whom they follow up with and help as needed.  

“The reason we got involved is because the called workers are so important to us and we want to make sure they have support and know that they’re appreciated,” says Schroeder. “We try to meet with them periodically, once to twice a year, to get together with them and see how things are going and if there’s something we can do to be of service to them. We always mention if they have any concerns they’d like to bring to us anonymously or would like any assistance with, we’d be glad to help with that. And, also we let them know we’re praying for them and praying for their ministry.” 

One aspect that Schroeder coordinates is helping new workers move to Greenville, whether it’s organizing a moving company, getting volunteers together to help unload boxes, or getting a meal together for the family on their first night in town. 

“Our called workers are giving their lives to share the gospel and they need our support, and it’s so good to get to know them on a level you might not otherwise,” says Schroeder. “It’s just been such a positive experience. 

Holzhueter says that many congregations do not have an active CCCW but he would like to see more congregations do something, even if it’s not a formal committee, to make sure its workers’ needs are being met. “To get more participation from congregations, we’re trying to make things simpler, easier to get started, and a little less formal,” he says. 

The CCCW has many resources available online, including a quick-start guide, to help a congregation get started on forming a care committee for their workers, as well as additional aids for specific areas of assistance.  


Find more information about Care Committee for Called Worker resources at wels.net/cccw. Also, in this month’s edition of WELS Connection, learn about how congregations can help and support new pastors through a mentoring program.  


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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

How can parents model healthy cell phone use?

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

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

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

Nicole Balza


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

Value 

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

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

Evaluate 

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

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

Value in struggle 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

James F. Pope

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

Bridging the gap 

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

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

Acquitting the guilty 

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

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

Recasting the content 

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

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

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


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 3

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 4 and 5

Timothy J. Westendorf 

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

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

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

The throne in heaven 

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

The scroll and the lamb 

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


Reflect on the Revelation  chapters 4 and 5 

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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Archaeology and the couch

An old couch teaches an important lesson. 

Michael A. Thom 

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

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

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

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

Forgotten items 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not so sure,” I replied. 

An enduring message 

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

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

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

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

And so it will. 

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


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


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

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

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Drowning in a sea of bad news

Andrew C. Schroer 

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

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

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

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

Thankfully, God can. 

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

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

And he was right.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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Turning pages

John A. Braun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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 fresh start

With our God, the past is truly passed. 

Jonathan P. Bilitz 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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Confessions of faith: Harry

A music camp helps a family find their church home. 

Alicia A. Neumann 

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

First impressions 

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

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

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

Looking for a connection 

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

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

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

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

The difference at Hope 

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

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

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

Getting involved 

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

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

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

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


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


Sharing music and the gospel with the community 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 12

Malachi: “The Son-Rise” 

Thomas D. Kock

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

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

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

The wounding darkness of sin 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The healing light of forgiveness 

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

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

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

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


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


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


MALACHI

Lineage: “Malachi” means “my messenger.”  

Date of writing: c. 450 B.C.  

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

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


 

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

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

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A very safe prediction for 2019

Mark G. Schroeder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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

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

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