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I still might get sick

Kenneth L. Brokmeier

The promotional ad simply announced: “Eternity: Heaven or Hell.” The speaker, Bill Wiese, was appearing at the local university, and the event was open to the public.

I had heard of Wiese. A few years back I had read his New York Times bestselling book 23 Minutes in Hell. As I thought about the topic, my curiosity was piqued. This topic had potential for some interesting discussion at our collegian Bible study.

A representative of the sponsoring faith-based organization introduced both Wiese and his wife, Annette, to an audience that filled about half of the large auditorium. In his opening remarks Wiese announced that his wife was on stage to verify that he was allowed to see the terrors of hell on Nov. 22, 1998. Annette stated that at 3:30 a.m. that morning she awoke to find her husband curled up in a fetal position screaming and terrified and asking her to pray for him.

As she exited the stage, visuals began to flash on the screen behind Wiese as he summarized his book. Phrases like “the horrors unimaginable of a place where you wish you could die, . . . burning in flames of fire, and giant demons are biting you, . . . the stench of sulfur, and raw sewage . . . the screaming is so loud” were surrounded by Bible references that plainly disclosed he had imparted this message more than a handful of times.

Several things became clear. He had fervor for wanting all in attendance to know that hell is a real place—even though, Wiese announced, that a majority of surveyed Americans think few, if any, will go there.

Likewise several times that evening he repeated to all skeptics a “motto” that is also on his Web site, “Even if you don’t believe my story, you should believe these Bible verses and avoid hell just the same.”

I admire Wiese for this kind of passion as well as his simple confession that Christ died so that no one needs to go to hell. He also openly condemned universalism—the commonly held belief that all people, no matter what, go to heaven.

As expected, Wiese invited everyone who wasn’t sure if their names were written in the book of life to raise their hands and hold them high so that God could clearly see them. He then instructed those whose arms were reaching for heaven to repeat a prayer to invite Jesus into their hearts.

I also heard any number of disconcerting things, including the disturbing thought both Wiese and his wife introduced during the Q&A session. They believe that if Christians truly follow the proper principles of the Bible (e.g., tithing and other spiritual laws), they will either avoid sickness and disease or be cured of it.

This belief leaves little comfort for those whose loved ones in Christ died as a result of any sickness—sudden or prolonged. Such conviction also offers little hope should any of us suddenly contract a deadly disease in the year ahead or continue to battle a chronic disease we currently carry.

The Christ Child came to spare us from an eternity in hell. God pledges that even if we suffer in life here on earth—it is only temporary (cf. 1 Peter 5:10). As God’s people look back over 2013 and ahead to 2014 we cling to his promise that nothing—including sickness and suffering—can separate us from his love (cf. Romans 8:35-39).

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

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Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Defying doctors’ advice

A mother tells of the blessings that flowed when she opted not to end her pregnancy.

Rachel Hartman

“He called my baby a monster,” says Jeanie Burness. “He told me, ‘Get an abortion—do it now. Do it while you can.’ ”

At the time, Burness’ doctor and medical team believed her unborn child had a severe, fatal defect. An ultrasound taken when Burness was four months pregnant had revealed a sac protruding from the baby’s head. “They were convinced his brain would go into that sac and that he would die shortly after I gave birth,” Burness recalls.

THE DIAGNOSIS

When she became pregnant in 2006, Burness was married and had a ten-year-old daughter. Burness scheduled a doctor’s appointment to begin monitoring her pregnancy.

Burness was 36 years old and knew that the risks for a woman her age carrying a baby were higher than they would be for a younger person. Sitting in the doctor’s office, she learned that some of the difficulties she might encounter included preterm birth and having a child with chromosome abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome.

Due to the increased number of risks Burness faced, her doctor advised her to have an in-depth, or targeted, ultrasound exam.

Burness agreed and had the ultrasound exam when she was four months pregnant. During the exam, the technician noticed what looked like a large protrusion, similar to a balloon, coming out of the baby’s head.

“The doctor told me it was an encephalocele,” recalls Burness. While not very common, this type of birth defect can have a serious impact on a child’s life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), encephalocele is a rare type of neural tube defect. If a baby has this defect, the child’s neural tubes do not close completely like they should during the pregnancy. As a result, there can be an opening along the baby’s head, neck, or spine. Part of the brain and other membranes might protrude through this opening, and when this happens, the portion sticking out is usually covered by skin or a thin membrane. This then resembles a small pouch or sac coming out of the baby’s head.

In the United States, about 375 babies, or 1 out of every 10,000 babies, are born with encephalocele each year, the CDC estimates.

THE DECISION

Due to the condition of her baby, Burness’ doctor advised that she have additional genetic testing done. She agreed. The tests, which were taken to detect additional problems, came back with a clear report.

In an attempt to have a better picture of the infant, Burness’ doctor also requested that an MRI be taken.

“According to the MRI results, the sac came out of my baby’s neck and not his head,” recalls Burness. This condition, if accurate, might have led to a diagnosis for a less severe birth defect. “The doctors thought this was incorrect, however, and that the sac came out of his head,” she adds.

The location and size of her baby’s defect seemed to indicate life-threatening problems. The doctor believed her child did not have a chance of survival and advised Burness to end the pregnancy.

For Burness, who was four months pregnant, that wasn’t an option. “I didn’t want to get the abortion because I don’t know what happens to babies that die without being baptized,” she explains.

Furthermore, Burness wanted to make the most of her child’s life. “Besides the fact that I already loved the child growing in my womb, I thought he deserved to be born, given a name and a baptism and—if needed—a Christian funeral,” she recalls.

After relating her decision to her doctor, Burness was sent to a specialist. The specialist agreed to oversee the remainder of her pregnancy. During the next months, Burness had frequent doctor appointments and more ultrasounds to monitor her baby’s health. “The specialist also told me my baby could be born with severe birth defects,” Burness recalls.

The new doctor soon approached Burness with a recommendation she had already heard. “When I was seven months pregnant and in the third trimester, this doctor told me, ‘You can still get an abortion if you want one.’ ”

Still, Burness carried on with the pregnancy. When her doctor lined up a C-section for the birth, Burness asked the pastor at her church, Thomas Mielke, to come. She wanted him present in case an emergency baptism needed to be performed.

Even though the chances of survival seemed bleak for her son, Burness kept her focus on God and his Word. “I prayed a lot about it and had faith that God would work everything out,” she says.

THE BIRTH

The C-section took place Dec. 23, 2006. During the surgery, Burness was not aware of everything that was happening, but she knew when her baby was born. “I heard the doctor say, ‘Go tell the pastor we don’t need him anymore.’ ”

Burness’ son had been born with a defect, but it wasn’t what the doctors had feared. Instead, he had a meningocele, which is a form of spina bifida. This type of defect takes place when a baby’s spine does not develop properly. As a result, a sac protrudes from the spinal column. This meant the baby had a sac coming from the back of his neck, and not his head as Burness’ medical team had initially thought.

To repair the problem, Burness and her baby were taken to a nearby hospital to meet with a pediatric neurosurgeon. The next day, Burness’ son underwent surgery. The surgeon hoped to be able to remove the sac from the back of his neck.

During the operation, the doctors found that the sac had no connection to the baby’s spinal cord. “If it had had any involvement with the spinal cord, he could have been paralyzed,” notes Burness. As it turned out, the surgeon was able to successfully remove the protrusion and verify that no other damage had been done.

Burness’ son, whom she named Zachariah, recovered quickly. Soon both he and Burness went home from the hospital. “I call him my Christmas miracle,” she recalls.

THE BLESSINGS

Today, Zachariah is an active, healthy seven-year-old. The only indication that anything was ever wrong can be seen in a single mark. On the back of his neck, where the doctor performed surgery just hours after Zachariah was born, he has a scar. Incidentally, the scar is in the shape of a Z.

Even now, Burness is amazed at the blessings she’s received through her son, whom she calls Zachy. “This could have been a tragic story,” she says. “I could have had an abortion, but I just left it in God’s hands.”

“Doctors are well versed in medical things and we need to value their opinions, but they do not know all things and certainly not God’s plans,” adds Mielke. “Even if her son would have been disabled, the Lord would have equipped Jeanie to handle it. Abortion is never the answer in any case.”

Burness is continually thankful. “I believe the Lord has a real purpose for Zachy in this life,” she concludes.

Rachel Hartman and her husband, Missionary Mike Hartman, serve in León, Mexico.

 

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Under God’s sky: The South Central District: Part: 1

The South Central District

Vilas R. Glaeske

Pause a minute. Step back and look over the hills and prairie. See the grass waving in the wind, the dust kicked up here and there, as well as the leaves on the trees turning by the breath of the breeze.

But it more than that. It’s an apt illustration of the Spirit of our God stirring up the hearts of God’s people to search for spiritually like-minded believers. Those people, moved by the Holy Spirit, seek others who share their faith and with whom they can join in fellowship and worship. It’s a good picture of the development of what is now the South Central District.

THE BEGINNINGS

The families who formed the congregations in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana were for the most part families who out of obedience to their confirmation vows were forced to leave the churches of their youth. They sought to regain what they were losing—doctrinal purity! Many families felt the Holy Spirit urging them to find a different church home during the mid 1960s through the 1970s. In the Lord’s way of doing things this was also right after the breaking up of the Synodical Conference of North America. Consequently WELS needed to go into states where former members had been transferred to Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod congregations. Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana were such states.

The work in Texas began in Dallas in 1964 and soon spread to Duncanville and Desoto. Pastor Robert Neumann served three mission churches. He was joined by candidate Vilas Glaeske in 1965, who was assigned to serve Redeemer in Edna and explore the cities of San Antonio and Houston. By the end of 1966, services were being conducted in all three cities.

Humble, passionate, committed, generous, and faithful describe the founding members of these churches. The zeal of the people and the mission pastors spurred them on to seek out other areas where work could be started. Five more congregations grew from the work in Houston. These daughter congregations repeated birthing of new outreach efforts into new mission fields. The gospel touched the hearts of people, and they joined in fellowship and worship.

In the beginning, the congregations in Texas were part of the Gadsden Conference of the Arizona-California District. The Texas congregations petitioned the synod to create a Texas Mission District, which gave them the privilege of having a mission board of their own as well as representation at the synod level on the Board for Home Missions. As the number of congregations increased in Texas, a petition was placed before the synod in convention to create a new district. The first petition was denied, but four years later, in 1983, it was granted. Besides almost all of the Texas congregations, the new South Central District was to include the congregations in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana west of the Mississippi, which had previously been under the supervision of the Nebraska District.

THE GROWTH

The South Central District continued to reach out with the gospel. Sometimes the breath of the Spirit came through human voices pleading for someone to come and serve them with the Word and sacraments. The district mission board heard these voices. Each year the board’s planning entailed listing places where it thought work should begin and submitting the list to Home Missions in priority order. It happened a number of times that a group of confessional Lutherans would ask to be served by a WELS pastor. So the call was heeded, and the priority list was changed. The Lord’s plans took precedence over those of the mission board. That doesn’t mean that planning is unimportant. It is important, but there needs to be enough flexibility so the Lord is given room to exercise his will.

God also blessed the commitment of God’s people to preserving the truth handed down from the fathers. They possessed a desire to train a new generation of leaders to carry the torch of gospel ministry forward. Those blessings of the Holy Spirit combined to move them to establish Lutheran elementary schools. In the course of time, 12 schools were opened. Sadly, some have been closed due to economic distress in recent years.

Today the Holy Spirit has gathered 50 congregations and preaching stations and nine Lutheran elementary schools in the district.

THE WORK

Through the years pastors have always been willing to extend themselves to organize and serve groups of fellow believers even though it meant long hours of travel and difficult schedules. Sometime weariness meant that curbs were bumped when eyelids became too heavy to hold up. To use a little Texas speak, these men rode hard and put up their mounts wet many a weekend. We thank God that he has preserved these faithful workers, and we thank their families for the time they gave to allow their husbands and fathers to follow the breath of the Spirit.

It would be a real treat to introduce you all to the members who are still in the congregations when they were organized. They are among the finest people living on earth. They are God’s holy, elect citizens of the kingdom the Holy Spirit has been charged to build. The same would be true in introducing you to the gray beards, who were used by the Spirit to speak his Word boldly. There are still some with us. Those who are still here won’t say much because they know that it was not about them but about Christ and what he did to make us one in him.

The whisper of the Word carried on the breath of the Holy Spirit still is moving in the South Central District, and we pray that it will not cease until our dear Lord Jesus returns.

Vilas Glaeske, retired president of the South Central District, is a member at Grace, Scroggins, Texas.

This is the first article in a 12-part series on the WELS districts.


STATISTICS:

District President: Pastor Donald Patterson
Congregations: 50
Mission churches: 7
Baptized members: 7,701
Communicant members: 5,747
Early childhood ministries: 7
Lutheran elementary schools: 9
Area Lutheran high schools: 0

 

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Author: Vilas R. Glaeske
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

This isn’t about me

Worship is first and foremost about my God and Savior.

Andrew C. Schroer

“This isn’t about me.”

As I sat in church this last Sunday, that thought kept going through my mind. As I sat there in God’s house, hearing his Word, singing his songs, I kept thinking, “This isn’t about me.”

The problem is that it can so easily become about me. Without realizing it, many churches fall into the subtle trap of making worship about me. They look for music to entertain and inspire me. They pick hymns that talk about how God makes me feel. They preach sermons that focus almost entirely on me and my life.

Now, don’t get me wrong. All of those things can be good in the proper perspective. There is no “I” in team, but there is definitely an “I” in worship. I do go to worship to be inspired and taught. It should affect how I feel and how I think. It should apply to my life. Worship should also guide me in what I do.

But, really, worship isn’t about me.

Worship is first and foremost about my God and Savior. The music of our worship shouldn’t focus so much on how I feel as much as on what God has done to save me. Because I am still a sinful creature even while I sit in God’s house, sermons should also identify my problem—sin. I must be convicted. Yes, that’s about me, but that’s only the first part of what God wants me to know. Good preaching should proclaim the forgiveness and freedom that Jesus won for all people on the cross. Worship is about our God and what he has done for sinners like me.

Worship is also about those sitting around me. The writer to the Hebrews encourages us: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (10:25). Worship is about engaging and encouraging one another. We not only sing our hymns to God; we sing them to encourage one another. We lift our voices in prayer for one another. In the creeds, we proudly proclaim to one another what we believe.

In our church, we use a liturgy—a set order of worship that has its roots in the ancient church. Do you know what the word liturgy means? It comes from a Greek word that means “service” or “work.”

Many people today go to church, sit back, and say, “Okay. Entertain me. Inspire me. Make me feel good.” But liturgical worship—Lutheran worship—takes work. It takes work to really think about what we are saying and singing. It takes work to listen to and apply the Word being proclaimed. It takes work to praise God and learn his truths. It takes work to worship.

Think about that the next time you park yourself in the pew. This isn’t about me. This is about my God who speaks to me in Word and sacrament. This is about praising and thanking my God for the wondrous works he has done. This is about encouraging and building up those who are sitting around me. And the amazing blessing is that through the gospel message proclaimed in worship, I too will be encouraged. I too will be built up. I too will be inspired.

“Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; . . . Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. . . . Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD” (Psalm 150).

Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.

 

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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

There’s music in the air

Practice and effort create a joyful song to praise the Lord.

Glenn L. Schwanke

I’m at my office computer. My mind is burrowed deeply into a Hebrew text study for this coming Sunday’s sermon. Yet little by little, my thoughts are gently nudged away from Hebrew grammar. Why? There’s music in the air!

Where’s it coming from? Not from the hundreds of MP3s I’ve got squirreled away on my hard drive. (Nor is the music streaming from a Web site like Spotify or IHeartRadio.)

Instead the music is coming from our chapel. College students in our Lutheran Collegian group are practicing again.

That happens a lot these days. Maybe they’re practicing the hymns and liturgy for an upcoming service. Maybe someone is practicing a solo to be used during the offertory or as a reading response. Maybe two vocalists, male and female, are working on a duet. Maybe a keyboardist is smoothing out some timing issues with another student who is playing the guitar. Maybe a small ensemble of flutes and clarinets are rehearsing. But one way or another there’s music in the air.

As I sit back in my office chair and allow the music to wash through me, I’m humbled. I’m also filled with thanks. Why?

These college students usually spend hour after hour practicing for worship. Sometimes that’s because they are nervous; it’s the first time they will be playing for a service. Usually there’s another reason. These young adults take worship very seriously. They practice and practice and practice because they want to glorify the Lord with their music. They spend hours working on their fingering or fine-tuning the dynamics of a piece, even though their playing already sounds sublime to the untrained ear. They practice even though they are swamped with assignments, projects, and papers at school. They practice even on a Friday or Saturday night, when they could be hanging out with friends. They practice, because they want to give their very best to the Lord who gave us his very best.

Sometimes when I listen to the students practice, I’m struck by something else. I don’t know the music. It is new to me. So I need to ask questions about it. Who is the composer? Who wrote the lyrics? May I preview the lyrics?

Why do I ask those questions? I know that our gracious Lord has given us New Testament Christians breathtaking flexibility and freedom when it comes to the forms of music we use. Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians proves that. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). However, the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” of Paul’s day and the different musical genres available to us today still need to breathe “the word of Christ.” The sweetest music, played ever so skillfully, does little good if the message isn’t soundly scriptural. Instead, it can do great harm.

These college students get that too. So they patiently bring their “aged” campus pastor up to speed on the music they prepare. Then that music is introduced in worship for the first time. It’s repeated, and soon it becomes one of my favorites—and one of the congregation’s favorites too.

But now it’s time for me to get back to my text study. The music I hear drifting in from our chapel is an added encouragement for me to do my very best in preparing next Sunday’s sermon.

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

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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Special words of faith: Part: 7

“We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

John A. Miller

“Mommy, why does that man walk with a limp?” the little girl asked.

“He can’t help it. When he was younger he had an accident. It caused him to walk differently.”

Sometimes we do what we do because it’s just the way we are. As with a limp or some other disability, we truly can’t help it. With other things, like angry outbursts and sinful habits, we may think we can’t help it. Our sinful flesh compels us to do the wrong thing, and the devil convinces us we had no choice in the matter.

CHRIST COMMANDED US TO SPEAK

There is a greater influence at work in the lives of those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, however. It’s the same thing that influenced the apostles Peter and John when they were hauled in before the Jewish religious officials and commanded not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John boldly replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19,20).

Speaking up for Jesus was the right thing to do. Jesus—yes, God himself—commanded it when he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). As Peter and John had said just a short time earlier, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It was the right thing to do because all people, even the Jewish religious officials, needed to hear the message of forgiveness of sin in the name of Jesus.

CHRIST’S LOVE COMPELS US TO SPEAK

But their primary motivation for speaking up was not the command of Jesus. Instead the Lord’s love for them moved them to speak. The Holy Spirit had changed their hearts. Jesus ruled and resided there. As the apostle Paul would later explain, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). That’s why Peter and John couldn’t help it when they spoke up about Jesus. They had to do it because of what Jesus did for them and what he did for the unbelieving Jews and a lost world. Even the threats of punishment and imprisonment couldn’t stop them.

We have the same saving influence in our hearts and lives. “We can’t help it.” We can’t help but serve the Lord who “came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). That’s us! We also can’t help but speak—even when it is difficult, unpopular, or politically incorrect. There is only one name by which people are saved today too, and they need to know that.

Will the time come when the government and other authorities will attempt to hush our testimony? It seems unthinkable, but it’s possible. It’s happening all around the globe. Christians are killed to silence them in some places. But this is our comfort: The Lord’s love will not fail us. No one can rob us of heaven and the riches awaiting us there. Regardless of what the world thinks and does, it’s all the more reason to speak up about Jesus as the only way to life with God. We can’t help it!

John Miller is pastor at St. Andrew, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the seventh article in an eight-part series on special words of faith from the Bible.

 

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Author: John A. Miller
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Last words: Bach: Part: 7

The last words of Johann Sebastian Bach were hymn verses, fitting for a man who left behind a myriad of church music.

Theodore J. Hartwig

Before thy throne, my God, I stand,

Myself, my all, are in thy hand;

Turn to me thy approving face,

Nor from me now withhold thy grace.

Grant that my end may worthy be,

And that I wake thy face to see,

Thyself forevermore to know!

Amen, Amen, God grant it!

BACH’S SERVICE TO THE CHURCH

How appropriate that Johann Sebastian Bach’s last words were the two stanzas of this hymn. He also dictated an organ prelude to its accompanying melody. The text of the hymn is not in Christian Worship (CW), but the melody belongs to CW 413, “When in the Hour of Utmost Need.”

Bach is the exceptional example of a highly gifted artist who put his genius into the untiring service of his Lord and his Christian faith. His birthplace in Eisenach is just down the hill from the famous Wartburg Castle. A plaque posts a quotation that epitomized Bach’s belief about his art: “Where there is devotional music, God is always present with his grace.” A fine thought to carry with us when, as listeners, singers, or performers, we are engaged with music making to the glory of God. It fits well with our Lutheran emphasis on music. Martin Luther once said, “I am not satisfied with him who despises music, as all fanatics do; for music is an endowment and a gift of God, not a gift of men. . . . I place music next to theology and give it the highest praise” (What Luther Says, p. 980).

BACH’S GRUESOME END

When Bach spoke the hymn words above, he was in extreme distress. He was paying the price of intensive lifelong use of his eyes. As a youth he spent long nights studying.

As an adult, his eyes paid close attention to the details as he composed so much music. In the last year of his life an eye disease developed, which he hoped to have corrected by surgery. The first operation turned out badly and was followed by another, which caused loss of vision and the breakdown of his whole system. Extreme measures, described as horse cures, had been employed for the operation. Fastened to a chair, his head held in a vise, boiled apples were applied to his eyes to soften the cornea. Anesthetics were unknown, and sterilization of surgical instruments was deemed unnecessary.

Further treatment included bloodletting, laxatives, and a poisonous narcotic. Bach’s condition went from bad to worse. Then he sustained a stroke followed by raging fever. He lingered in this condition for ten days. Without regaining consciousness, death came on the evening of July 28, 1750. He was in the 66th year of his life.

In spite of all the music he composed and left behind, monetarily, Bach’s second wife and nine surviving children inherited little. Bach was not a wealthy man. With his music, however, Bach bequeathed a priceless treasure by which the entire world has been enriched.

Theodore Hartwig, professor emeritus of Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

This is the seventh article in an eight-part series on memorable last words.

 

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Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Confessions of faith: Yonce

An e-book provides a searching woman with her spiritual “aha” moment.

Nicole R. Balza

“I’ve known for years that Jesus died for our sins,” says Christine Yonce. “You hear it so much, but for me they became just words. I never really grasped what that meant or the magnitude of that sacrifice until I met Pastor Oldenburg, and he lent me Who is Jesus?”

The daughter of two non-practicing Catholics, Christine grew up with the belief that religion as a whole was an emotional crutch for the weak. She says, “My exposure to Christianity was limited to Christmas and Easter Mass, and for me, really Christmas and Easter were about Santa and the Easter Bunny. Jesus was just a nice story.”

She continues, “It wasn’t until I had my daughter that my heart started to change. I began to open up and welcome those conversations about who Jesus is and what he has done.”

For 13 years, Christine visited churches, joined Bible studies, and searched for answers to her questions about who Jesus is, all the while “struggling with the disconnect” between her heart and her mind.

Then Christine and her husband, Joey, and their three children—Jordan (13), Jacob (11), and Cameron (7)—moved to Castle Rock, Colo. In March 2013, the Yonces visited Eternal Rock in Castle Rock.

As Jared Oldenburg, pastor at Eternal Rock, explains, “We have ‘Take Action Cards’ that have four possible checkboxes for guests: 1) Tell me more about Jesus. 2) Sign me up for Bible Basics. 3) Tell me about Rock Kids. 4) Sign me up for the eLetter. Christine checked all four boxes! Once I got to know her, I realized that her previous experiences with church were frustrating and disappointing.”

Just months before the Yonces’ visit, Oldenburg had authored an e-book titled Who is Jesus?. The book creates an interactive media experience for readers and was written for those who are searching spiritually.

“When I wrote the book,” says Oldenburg, “I wrote it for someone who has an idea about Jesus but doesn’t really know what Jesus means for them personally. This described Christine. She was so excited to read the book, I think she read it in one night!”

Who is Jesus? bridged the gap between my heart as a Christian and my mind as a person of this world,” explains Christine. “The book itself is in multiple formats that weave together—questions, maps, videos, etc., which was easy for me to understand and created a perspective that I could grasp. Personally, I think I identified most with the two men walking down the road with Jesus by their side, who actively leads them through their own “aha” moment. Similarly, this book walked beside me and led me through mine.”

Christine adds, “Who is Jesus? was the tool that helped unify my belief between my head and heart. And as a result, my family and I are now members of the church and are actively shifting our focus toward a life with Christ.”

Christine completed the Bible Basics class at Eternal Rock, and the Yonces joined the congregation in summer 2013. Their youngest child, Cameron, was baptized, and Jordan and Jacob are in confirmation class.

“I feel guilty about submitting my children to all the different churches as I was searching, but I was grasping at straws,” says Christine. “We are all really happy to be in one place now.”

Christine, who loves working with young people, is teaching Sunday school at Eternal Rock, and she says her kids are building relationships with God and with other young people in the congregation. She credits her husband with great patience during her years of searching. Joey grew up Lutheran and had a deep faith, and he tried to steer her in the right direction.

“I was a very selfish, superficial person,” explains Christine. “But after reading Who is Jesus?, a peace came over me. I’m not as self-sufficient as I thought I was—and that’s okay, because it’s by grace that I’ve been saved.”

Christine concludes by saying, “I’m a baby Christian, but I’m so grateful for what God has shown me this year.”

Nicole Balza, a staff writer for Forward in Christ, is a member at Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.


More about Who is Jesus?

“Reading Who is Jesus? was a game changer for me,” says Christine Yonce.

Who is Jesus? creates an interactive media experience for readers and includes clips from Road to Emmaus, the WELS outreach film, which is what sparked Yonce’s “aha” moment. Who is Jesus? also includes a comprehensive glossary of key people, places, concepts, and artifacts; art galleries and imagery; and interactive maps, Scripture readings, and timelines that help tell the story of Jesus’ life.

Steve Boettcher, a member of Calvary, Thiensville, Wis., and his partner, Mike Trinklein, self-funded this e-book. The partners hired Jared Oldenburg to write the book. Oldenburg’s experiences as a home missionary and his understanding of technology helped him as he worked on the project.

As Oldenburg notes in the article, Who is Jesus? was written for those who are familiar with Jesus but don’t know why he is so important for their lives. It is the perfect resource for a tech-savvy searcher such as Christine Yonce.

 

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Author: Nicole R. Balza
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Sola fide: Part: 3

Three principles guide Lutheran thinking and Lutheran theology: by Scripture alone, by grace alone, by faith alone. Those principles are worth exploring regularly in a world that treats religious ideas like fads.

Paul T. Prange

One time during my college years, I was working the night shift in a gas station, and a tough-looking biker came in to buy some merchandise. As he approached the counter, he looked me up and down and asked in a gravelly voice, “Do you go to that pastor college?”

“Yup,” I squeaked back.

“That’s a Lutheran college, right? Is that the kind of Lutheran that doesn’t believe in Girl Scouts?”

I thought for a minute and took a risk. “I believe that Girls Scouts exist. Don’t you?”

“Sure,” he answered, confused enough not to challenge the man behind the counter any more.

When Lutherans talk about saving faith, we are not talking about the belief that something exists. We are talking about the personal trust that God works in our hearts. It’s a trust in Jesus our Savior.

WE ARE JUSTIFIED BY FAITH ALONE

“Faith alone” is one of the great principles of the Reformation. It is the scriptural teaching that God saves us through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own good works (Romans 4:5). “By faith alone” in Latin is sola fide, which you see listed often with sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone) and sola gratia (by grace alone) as the three solas of the Lutheran Reformation.

We have faith that God keeps his promises, even though we did not witness many of the historical events in which he has kept them so far (Hebrews 11:1). God declares all the wicked “not guilty,” an action that we call “justification,” and we receive the benefits of that declaration of God through faith, through personal trust, not through any of our own works (Romans 3:28).

The Bible makes the idea of faith clear by saying what it is not, as you see in Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”

When Martin Luther translated that verse in his German Bible, he added the word alone (allein), which is not there in the original Greek, after the word faith. He explained:

It is the nature of the German language to add the word allein [alone, only] in order that the word nicht [not] or kein [no] may be clearer and more complete. To be sure, I can also say, “The farmer brings grain and kein money,” but the words “kein money” do not sound as full and clear as if I were to say, “The farmer brings allein grain and kein money.” Here the word allein helps the word kein so much that it becomes a complete, clear German expression. Luther’s Works 35:189.

He went on to describe the importance of knowing the language of those who hear the message of God, “We must inquire about this of the mother in the home, the children in the street, the common man in the marketplace. We must be guided by their language, the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly. That way they will understand it and recognize that we are speaking German to them.”

Faith is also not a simple knowledge of biblical facts, a knowledge that never affects our emotions and actions; if that is what faith means, then we are not saved by that kind of faith alone (James 2:24). Human eyes see human works. Do those works come from faith? Only God knows whether they come from saving faith. Yet real, saving faith always produces good works, especially acts of love. They are not the reason for our salvation. But they are so attractive to human eyes that we are constantly tempted to think that they are. And we are tempted to think than anyone who acts with compassion and love must have faith. Even worse, then we think that God will accept all who do such works.

That is why emphasizing justification by faith is so important. Our Lutheran Confessions say:

[The Holy Spirit] works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our merits, but for Christ’s sake. Augsburg Confession, Article V

We obtain the forgiveness of sins only by faith in Christ, not through love, nor on account of love or works, although love follows faith. Therefore we are justified by faith alone. Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV, paragraph 77.

CHRIST IS ESSENTIAL

The principle of “faith alone” works correctly only when it is combined with the principle of “Christ alone.” The object of our faith is what saves us, not our faith itself. When we focus on Christ Jesus and his cross, we are living the faith that God has given us. Saving faith is a gift of God, not a sneaky way of getting some credit for our own actions anyway (Ephesians 2:8). Saving faith is saving only because it has a saving object, the thing it trusts. That thing is Christ alone and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

One reality remains for all who think that they do not need Christ. If you want to ascend above and stand in God’s presence, if you want to go to heaven, you have to be perfect, pure, holy, and righteous (Matthew 5:48). God in heaven is perfectly holy, and he says about heaven, “Nothing impure will ever enter it” (Revelation 21:27). When I look at myself and at other human beings, I see that we don’t make that standard (Romans 3:23). No one can.

Christ is essential. God has provided righteousness for us in the person of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). Christ did not sin in any way, but he took the punishment for our sins on the cross. In him, we become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Only Christ can be our righteousness, because only Christ has risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). If Christ had not risen, our faith would have been useless (1 Corinthians 15:14). But he has risen from the dead, and faith reigns.

I know my faith is founded on Jesus Christ, my God and Lord;

And this my faith confessing, unmoved I stand upon his Word.

Man’s reason cannot fathom the truth of God profound;

Who trusts in worldly wisdom relies on shifting ground.

God’s Word is all-sufficient, it makes divinely sure,

And trusting in its wisdom, my faith shall rest secure.

(Christian Worship 403:1)

Paul Prange, WELS Board for Ministerial Education administrator, is a member at St. John, Burlington, Wisconsin.

This is the final article in a three-part series taken from the 2013 synod convention essay on the three solas.

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Author: Paul T. Prange
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Shepherd of the stars: Part: 2

Our God owns more glory than any of us could conceive. Yet, the Millionaire of stars sent Jesus Christ to live, die, and conquer death for you.

John A. Liebenow

“. . . in all these breaths permeated with love, in this interchange of reverberations and reflections, in this marvellous expenditure of rays, in this infinite outpouring of liquid gold, one felt the prodigality of the inexhaustible; and, behind this splendor as behind a curtain of flame, one caught a glimpse of God, that millionaire of stars.”

In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo describes the brilliance of a late morning moment. After describing a wealth of beauty in the world, he concludes with the above quotation, attributing the glory of this breathtaking morning to God, whom he calls “that millionaire of stars.” It is a most welcome title for the God we trust and serve.

MILLIONS OF STARS DECLARE HIS GLORY

In the sacred Scriptures the Lord God occasionally reminds doubting or debating people of how many stars there are in the sky. Count them, if you can! One of those notable moments was when the Lord was with Abraham on a starlit night and took him outside to lift his eyes to the heavens (Genesis 15). There in the Land of Promise, the Lord allowed the clear, starry sky to receive and hold a promise for Abraham and his descendants that is still held there to this day. The Millionaire of stars would grant Abraham grace beyond his wildest imagination and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

That starry promise might remind us that the stars were originally created as markers of precious things. God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth” (Genesis 1:14,15). As markers of time, the heavenly bodies also became markers of important events like Passover, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths.

So how many stars are actually out there? According to one source there is a septillion of them in the universe. What does that mean? I think it means that no one has any clue how many stars there are. Not only does it boggle the mind to consider how many stars the universe holds, but it makes you crazy trying to grasp where the boundaries lie for all these stars. These are things beyond our understanding or comprehension.

But they are not beyond the understanding or care of one—the one we can call the Shepherd of the stars. Psalm 147 teaches us, “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (v. 4). There is someone out there who truly knows how many stars there are in the sky. He planned them and created them; he designed the physics needed to run them. He placed them exactly where he wanted them to be and every single one is accounted for. He knows them each by name.

A SINGLE STAR DECLARED HIS COMING AND GOING

And in a most unusual way, that Millionaire of stars used the lavish abundance of his inexhaustible supply of stars to illuminate the most precious of all blessings. Think of it. If you were a millionaire of stars and you wanted to draw the world’s attention to your most glorious work, how many stars would you pour into your production? Millions, certainly. Billions, undoubtedly. A septillion? Why not? They’re all at your disposal. But when this Millionaire of stars wanted to celebrate the most profound gift ever given, the Lord God didn’t choose a billion stars, or a million, or a thousand. The Shepherd of the stars ushered out the announcement of his gift with one single star.

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

Wow, talk about understatement. When God sent his Son into the world to redeem sinners from their sins, the Millionaire of stars chose one star to lead the procession to the house where this young child lay. With just one star, God announced that his child born in Bethlehem was not just any child, but the long awaited Messiah. He was promised to shepherd God’s people to everlasting life. “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” (Matthew 2:6).

This Ruler, this Shepherd, would provide for and protect God’s people with his own triumphant sacrifice. With obedience more abundant than the stars in the sky, Jesus would earn holiness and righteousness for every sinner under the sun. With innocence purer than light itself and a sacrifice more powerful and glorious than all the stars in the sky, Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world. He provided forgiveness for every last offender and brought peace between the beggars of this world and the Millionaire of stars.

At the most powerful moment of his sacrifice, our God allowed a second star to “speak” and to mark this most precious expression of God’s love to humanity. He called upon the star of our solar system to withhold its light as the Son of God suffered and died to take away the sins of the world. One star shining at his entrance into the world; one star veiled at the sacrifice made once for all.

THE MILLIONAIRE OF STARS CARES FOR YOU

The Shepherd of the stars is the Shepherd of our souls. The same God who is to be praised for a glorious late-morning splendor of light is the God who will be more profoundly praised for his glorious gift of Jesus, our Savior and life. He is the fantastically glorious owner of the universe. And he rightly bears the title “Millionaire of stars.” The nighttime sky reminds us of the incomprehensible breadth of his wealth and power and majesty.

But though he could have poured out the riches of the skies, he chose instead to come to us differently. St. Paul said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). His goal was not to proclaim his celestial wealth but to save our souls so that we can be wealthy with him. He’s done this through the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ, who described himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).

A millionaire, a billionaire, a septillionaire who genuinely loves, cares, watches, and shepherds—this is our God. He owns more stars than humans have breath. He owns more light than mankind can see in a lifetime. He owns more glory than any of us can conceive. Yet, this Millionaire of stars sent Jesus Christ to live, die, and conquer death for you. He is the Shepherd of the stars. He is the Shepherd of your soul.

John Liebenow is pastor at Cross of Glory, Washington, Michigan.

This is the second article in a three-part series on our awesome God.

 

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Author: John A. Liebenow
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Light for our path: Dementia and Communion

“Dementia leads my elderly father to speak like he has lost his faith. To make matters worse, our pastor will not give him Communion. What am I to think?”

James F. Pope

Like you, I’m saddened when anyone loses physical or mental abilities, especially when it is a family member. God’s design was that we have perfect bodies and minds here on earth, but sin’s entrance into the world introduced physical and mental suffering and, ultimately, death. You asked what you are to think of your father’s current situation. Here is what I would encourage you to think about.

FAITH IS A MATTER OF THE HEART

While a book of the Bible like James teaches us that Christian faith is living and active (James 2:17), visible and audible in daily living, we want to keep in mind that faith is a matter of the heart. Faith is trusting in Jesus Christ as the Savior from one’s sin. The fact that your father cannot always express Christian faith does not mean that faith has vanished. I would liken his situation to a child.

Was your father baptized as an infant? Were you? I was. Could any of us right after baptism express with our mouths the Christian faith the Holy Spirit planted in our hearts? No. The physical and mental abilities to do that had not yet developed. Still, the inability to confess Christian faith with the mouth at that young age did not mean faith was absent. Adults like your father can be in a similar situation at the other end of the age scale; diminished physical and mental capabilities can make it difficult for him to confess Christian faith consistently.

So is there a way to nurture and preserve his faith? That’s where your second question comes in.

THE WORD OF GOD IS POWERFUL

While it is certainly understandable that you would like your father to receive Holy Communion—and your pastor shares that attitude—we want to remember what God says about the distribution and reception of the Lord’s Supper.

Scripture instructs us that “a man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). God requires that people who desire to receive Communion examine their hearts beforehand. A proper examination leads to a confession of sins and a confession that Jesus gives his very body and blood in the Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins. The very young are not able to make this kind of examination and confession, and so we do not commune them until they can. In other cases, such as your father’s, waning mental capabilities may prevent Christians, periodically or continually, from examining themselves or expressing the results of an examination of the heart. In those instances, pastors have to make a judgment call and withhold Communion. And while family members like you can be frustrated about such a decision, I also can assure you that pastors are saddened to arrive at that course of action.

All this does not mean that your father is cut off from the means that will strengthen and preserve his faith. The simple spoken Word of God can penetrate his heart. When your pastor speaks God’s Word to your father and points him to the cross and the empty tomb, the Holy Spirit uses that Word to deepen and sustain faith. The Word is that powerful (cf. Romans 1:16).

Praise God for that power—and his promise to perfect our bodies and minds on the Last Day!

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

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

News you can use

If there is one thing that characterizes the age in which we live, it’s the increasing ability of people to communicate with each other. At nearly the speed of light, information passes from one person to another, from one person to thousands of people, from one place to places around the world.

Like most developments in technology throughout history, the advances in communication have brought both benefits and problems. Facts and truths can be shared and spread instantaneously, but so can rumors and lies. News stories can be reported as they are happening, but with no opportunity to establish the facts and ask the right questions. Those stories often paint a false picture of what is really going on. Disseminating and sharing information is important, but for that information to be beneficial it needs to be true and accurate.

For a long time our synod has recognized that our members will benefit from timely and accurate information about the work we do together to carry out the mission God has given us. Members of our congregations appreciate learning about God’s blessings in our mission fields and congregations, getting reports about young people training for the public ministry, and receiving updates on the latest challenges posed by an increasingly unbelieving and skeptical culture. And they want to be assured that the updates they receive are accurate. They also welcome devotional materials that explore the truths of God’s Word and explain how those truths are relevant to their lives as Christians. With all the religious opinions we encounter as well as the distortions to God’s Word we read and see, our members want the truth of God’s Word, not a distortion.

For one hundred years, Forward in Christ (in earlier days called The Northwestern Lutheran) has been making that possible. Forward in Christ has served as the official publication of our synod, providing not only important information but also spiritual nourishment and encouragement to our members.

Many of our readers read Forward in Christ from cover to cover as soon as they receive it. Some of our readers even take the magazine with them when they travel. On a recent trip to Michigan, I was in a terminal in Muskegon waiting to catch the ferry back to Milwaukee. A woman walked by me several times. She seemed to be looking at me with more than a little curiosity. Then she stepped up to me with a magazine in her hand. She pointed to a page in Forward in Christ with my article and said, “You’re this guy, aren’t you?” She had been traveling away from home and made sure to take her Forward in Christ with her. Yes, I was that guy.

A printed magazine may not be on the cutting edge of technology in this information age. But it is still a good way to communicate God’s truth and important news about the synod. As Forward in Christ marks one hundred years as “a Lutheran voice,” take a moment to thank God for this blessing. It is not a small matter that the magazine has been around for one hundred years. Other denominational magazines have disappeared, and those that survive today experience increasing financial challenges. Thank God for what he has given us in this magazine. Pray the Lord will continue to bless its work.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

God has a name

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. Luke 2:21

Norman F. Burger

He was the most enthusiastic little boy in my group of pre-K kids at our soccer Bible camp. Always one of the first to arrive, he ran onto the field with a soccer ball in one hand, a water bottle in the other, and a bunch of questions in his head. “What are we doing today? What is the treat? When are we getting started?”

By the end of the camp’s second day he had another question: “Who is this ‘God’ everyone keeps talking about?”

Imagine what it would be like for you to enter this new year not knowing the answer to that question.

GOD’S NAME MEANS “SAVIOR”

January 1 on the church year calendar means a lot more than the start of a new year. It marks the circumcision and naming of our Lord eight days after his birth. And it reminds us that we don’t go through this year clueless about God. God has a name. His name is Jesus, a name that means “Savior.”

Luke is careful to remind us that this name came from God through the angel that announced his miraculous birth to Mary. It was a name, then, that God himself had chosen to communicate what he most wanted mankind to know about him. What he wants us to know is that he came to save us from that punishment. He is Jesus—Savior.

But it’s not just his name that tells us that. His entire life makes that statement. Look! Here is your God—at eight days old—a small human child, obeying his Father’s command by becoming circumcised according to the law, becoming one with God’s people to live under the covenant in perfect obedience to his Father his entire life. In that life he will love and help and serve and heal sinners wherever he goes. He will suffer and shed his blood on a cross for all of our failure to live as God’s holy people. He will die for us but rise again—the conqueror of death and source of eternal life. He lived the name he was given: “Savior.”

GOD’S NAME MEANS “MY SAVIOR”

Feel free to put a “my” in front of your God’s name because he is your Jesus, your Savior. And he is not done living out his name “Savior” for you. You know what he has promised to do for you this entire year.

Though you will not always be faithful to him, he will remain faithful to you. Though you will sin, he will forgive that sin in the gospel proclaimed to you over and over in his Word and in his Supper. Though you will face hardships that will make you afraid, he will be with you to comfort you with his presence. Though you will bear a cross for him, he will give you strength and courage to know that nothing you suffer for him will be greater than what he suffered for you. He will assure you that his love is unfailing and that your future is bright with eternal glory.

In this new year, live in the comfort and strength of your God’s name. Live to glorify his name by a life of thankful obedience. Live to share what his name means to those who don’t yet know.

Contributing editor Norman Burger is pastor at Shepherd of the Hills, Lansing, Michigan.

 

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Author: Norman F. Burger
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Have this letter read to all: Part: 3

Paul was a preacher of the gospel. But he also had to preach the law so all could understand why they needed a Savior.

Daniel N. Balge

If the apostle Paul had carried a business card, it might have introduced him the way he introduced himself to the Christians in Rome: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). Those are the essentials about Paul: name, position, title, work. In sum, he was a preacher of the good news of Jesus.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LAW

But he preached bad news too. He preached God’s law, which delivers a devastating message. Paul had to preach law, because the good news that Jesus the Christ died for the sins of the world—died for you—means little without the law’s bad news that you have sinned. Even worse, says the law, God hates not just sin, but sinners too (Psalm 5:4-6).

In light of that, it means everything to hear the good news that God’s love for all people put his one and only Son on a cross to pay for the world’s sins. Without the law the gospel is just a puzzling story of a good man’s hard death, a what without a why. So in Romans, as in other letters, God’s Spirit inspired Paul, who was “set apart for the gospel of God,” also to set forth a clear explanation of the law of God.

A PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE LAW

Paul writes for Gentiles raised as pagans or schooled in philosophy and for Jews brought up, as many were, in a misunderstanding of the law. In broad strokes (1:18-32) and pointed application (2:1-6) he leads his readers to conclude, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (3:20). That’s its main task.

In addition, as a practical matter in this world, the law has the power to keep civil order. It is a blessing to all when even those who “do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” (2:14,15). The natural law written in human hearts still speaks, however imperfectly, a sense of right and wrong. Every society demonstrates that, and the world benefits.

But what is the gospel believer’s relationship to the law? For Christians the law guides our lives of gratitude to the One who saved us. It helps us better understand how God would have us thankfully, peacefully, joyfully live. Thus Paul urged the Romans to “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:1,2).

As much as Paul longed to be with the people he served (15:23), it was sometimes God’s will that Paul teach by letter. The disadvantage of separation God turned to advantage for people who could not only read Paul’s explanation of God’s law, but also could review it, think on it, share it, and preach and teach it themselves. The letters united the young church in faith, even across the miles. Across many more miles and even across some 20 centuries, they still do.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the third article in a 12-part series examining how the written word in Paul’s epistles strengthens early and present-day Christians.

 

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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Sharing the gospel

What can one say when marking one hundred years of history? What memorable words can capture such an event and what has happened along the way? Are there eloquent words that can be remembered or quoted? Some have succeeded in capturing such a moment. Others have not.

I won’t pretend to succeed. Perhaps no one will return to these pages in the future to consider what was written on this occasion. My guess is that only a very few historians may dust off the volumes in a library or search some database somewhere. Curiosity will drive them. What is left behind will fade away. It’s that way with all human effort.

I think it is more important to remember now what this small magazine has attempted with the blessing of our Savior. From the beginning it was about the gospel—the message of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ. The convention that authorized the magazine’s beginning desired to communicate the gospel to others. They desired to share the one thing needful with common everyday believers in simple, uncomplicated language.

The Northwestern Lutheran grew up in a church body that wrote, spoke, and thought German. Its dominant church paper, the Gemeindeblatt, continued until its last printing in 1970—somewhat surprising to me and to many others, no doubt. But one hundred years ago, those more comfortable in German had the vision to share the gospel with those who were not as comfortable in the language of Luther. The wisdom of that decision became evident all too soon. The days came when some considered German speakers with suspicion. Sharing Christ in English became essential.

Flipping through the pages of older issues of the magazine, whether The Northwestern Lutheran or Forward in Christ, one can easily find Jesus. Writers and their lives pass on only to be viewed with nostalgic curiosity. But the message of Jesus they shared has touched the hearts of readers over these years. That’s what matters. Not the eloquence or lack of eloquence. Not the perceptive insight or the restatement of the obvious. It’s Jesus and his message that matters.

That’s all that still matters. One generation after another has used this magazine to confess faith in Jesus and to encourage fellow believers. We are just the latest to have the opportunity and privilege.

The world has not outgrown its need for forgiveness and the hope of eternal life in Christ. Progress has not removed human sin, and medical science still has not prevented death. Trouble still stands in our way. Once it might have been a world war. Now terrorists and senseless violence disrupt tranquility and frustrate a desire for peace and quiet. We still need the gospel’s gracious promises, and we are impelled by what we know of Jesus to share him and those promises.

So we take our place and share the gospel in these pages. Tomorrow and the days after tomorrow will not make the message any more obsolete than the yesterdays did. Tomorrow will just require that new writers will take our place in proclaiming Jesus, just as we have taken the place of those before us.

And it doesn’t matter if someone will dust off an old issue somewhere in one of those tomorrows. What is most important is that today you hear about Jesus and the Holy Spirit warms your heart and enlightens you through the words before you—either in print or on a screen. God be praised for the privilege of sharing the gospel yesterday and today. We pray for his continued blessing on tomorrow.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Proverbs 3:6 Part:3

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

“BN BLSD.” That was the license plate of the 45-foot RV perched out on the best campsite in the park. Attached to the RV’s tow bar was a sporty, red convertible that hailed the license plate “BN BLSD 2”. A conversation with the owners quickly revealed that these license plates were more than descriptions of their vehicles. It was their attitude toward life. Through thick and thin, these Christian campers recognized they had “been blessed” by God’s hand. Every time they boarded their house on wheels or went for a top-down cruise for ice cream, the license plate reminded them to acknowledge God for his gifts. In addition, the license plate sparked conversations, providing an opportunity to acknowledge God before others.

Our cynical voice says, “It’s easy to acknowledge God when you have an RV and convertible. What if you were tenting it like us?” Some could have said the same about Solomon. His chariots were the 45-foot RVs of the day. How easy to write, “In all your ways acknowledge him.

In wisdom, Solomon had BN BLSD. In wealth, he had BN BLSD 2. But he had also seen his share of challenges. Although he could have afforded it, Solomon’s path was not always paved with gold. Political adversaries created plenty of potholes. Strained relationships formed plenty of dips. Poor choices carved out plenty of ruts. No matter how much gold he had stored up in the treasury, Solomon’s path would not always be smooth.

Neither is ours. Neither will be our children’s. So what do we do? Pull over and refuse to drive down the difficult path? Advise our children to map a path that is straight or at least not so curvy? Such an “Easy Street” life doesn’t exist.

The only way to successfully navigate through life is to “acknowledge” God. Know who he is and what he does. More important, know he leads us through our desert drear to our heavenly home. Know that Jesus is the Word who clears the sinful clutter of our hearts and prepares our way to him. Know that Jesus is the way, and eternal life will follow.

Then, enjoying eternal life with him, we’ll realize the full extent to which we have BN BLSD.


 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. To “acknowledge” God is not only to give him credit for our present situation. It also means knowing who he is and what he can do about future situations. Which characteristic or activity of God brings you the most comfort?

Whether it’s through our natural knowledge of God or the revealed knowledge of God (Scripture), we find comfort for different situations in life. For example, when I feel weak, I am comforted by his power. When I feel guilt, I am comforted by his grace. When I face a major life change, I am comforted that our God doesn’t change.

2. “We may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” How does this familiar saying apply as we begin the new year?

Much of our life is spent planning. While a new calendar on the wall brings a “fresh start,” experience has also taught us that a new year often brings a whole new set of challenges. No matter how much we plan, there will always be unplanned events. What a comfort to know that our God who promises to be with us always is the One who promises all things to work out for our good.

3. God making “our paths straight” is another way of saying he removes obstacles. How does knowing God remove or smooth out the following obstacles?

a) Worry

Knowing God provides the birds of the air with food takes away the obstacle of worry (Matthew 6:25).

b) Low self-esteem

Knowing God bought us with his Son’s holy, precious blood takes away the obstacle of low self-esteem as I am assured of my value in his eyes. Also, Isaiah 43:4 reminds me that I am precious, honored and loved by him.

c) Anger

Knowing God is patient with me (e.g., 2 Peter 3:9), if nothing else, serves as a model for me in my relationships with others. Or I might consider how 1 Corinthians 6:12 shares that my new self does not need to be mastered by anything, including my anger.

To know that the Holy Spirit equips me to live a life that is God-pleasing gives me confidence as I deal with the obstacle of anger in my life.

d) Death

Knowing God is the “resurrection and the life” allows me not to grieve like the rest of the world which has no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Death is the biggest obstacle that people of this world face, but to know God demolished death when he roared back from the grave makes death nothing but a sleep and my entrance into God’s presence.

4. Read 1 Kings 2:1-4. How does hearing David’s advice to a young Solomon affect your perspective on this proverb Solomon teaches to the next generation? If you could give one piece of advice to a child, what would it be?

It’s been said that the best way to judge one’s parenting is to look at your grandchildren. People often parent as they have been parented. That Solomon is passing along the ways of the Lord as he had been taught makes me grateful for the generations who have gone before me and have handed down the ways of the Lord. If I could pass along one piece of advice to my children, it would be no different than Solomon’s advice: Know the Lord.


 

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

This is the third article in a series on the 12 most popular Bible passages accessed in 2012 through Bible Gateway, an online Bible resource. Find this study and answers online after Jan. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. Here you can also compare other translations of this passage.

Scripture references in this study are taken from the New International Version 1984.

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

South Central district mission outreach expands

The Board for Home Missions provided funding for two missions in the South Central District this year. Both missions were started several years ago by existing congregations working with the South Central district mission board.

The first, Christ Alone, Keller Tex., was one of ten home missions authorized in spring 2013 and approved at the 2013 synod convention. This mission started in 2009 as an outreach effort of Immanuel, Fort Worth, Texas. The 250-member congregation saw potential for growth 20 miles northwest of its church. College student volunteers helped canvass the area and promote a soccer camp the congregation sponsored in the area. The camp brought in lots of contacts, and, after working with a Home Mission counselor and the district mission board, Immanuel decided to daughter a congregation in that area. With help from the district, the congregation had enough funding to call a pastor for this outreach effort. The first service was held in January 2010.

Christ Alone has since tripled in size, with about 95 people in worship each week. “We have a group of people who are really zealous and ready to do gospel work,” says Paul Seager, pastor at Christ Alone. Initially, ongoing funding for the mission came from several three-year grants and the congregation’s offerings, and now Home Mission help will allow the group to continue to move forward. “The BHM money is a perfect fit to help us continue our ministry unhindered—without having to cut—and allowing us to be completely aggressive in our outreach work,” says Seager. The congregation, which is worshipping in an elementary school gymnasium, is looking to buy land so it can build its own church.

Grace, Norman, Okla., was one of two additional missions authorized by Home Missions in September 2013 with funding approval from the Synodical Council in November. Funding for these two new endeavors came from a sizeable estate that was left to Home Missions as well as additional gifts from individuals.

Holy Cross, Oklahoma City, started Grace, Norman, in 2010. Norman is the most rapidly growing town in Oklahoma and has a sizeable unchurched population. Holy Cross is about a 20-minute drive from where Grace meets for worship. John Strackbein, pastor at Holy Cross, and another part-time pastor, through funding from a special gift, were serving Grace; about 25 attend weekly worship and Bible class. Funding from Home Missions is allowing Grace to call a full-time pastor to expand the ministry as well as allowing the group to become an independent congregation working closely with Holy Cross and other WELS congregations in the area.

Grace, Norman, is the first mission started under the South Central district mission board’s 10 in 10 plan, an effort by the district to start 10 missions in 10 years. In this plan, the district mission board meets annually with pastors in the district, many of whom have congregations that are in a good position to consider starting a new mission effort. “We encourage them to move forward, we support them, and we see the process through,” says Caleb Schoeneck, chairman of the South Central district mission board. While it may take years to get some of these missions off the ground, Schoeneck calls the program “proactive” and “a starting point” for mission outreach in the district.

 

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Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Seminary celebrates 150th anniversary-2013

On Nov. 17, more than three thousand people gathered—in person and online—to celebrate Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s 150th anniversary.

“My heart is full and I’m sure yours is too,” said Paul Wendland, seminary president, “This throng, and those joining us by live streaming, are proof that it takes more than a seminary to grow a pastor. It takes a synod.”

In his sermon, WELS President Mark Schroeder shared how the synod grows a pastor. “This school has chosen not to produce scholars, theologians, and linguists—though it does that to some degree—but they produce shepherds who feed God’s flock,” he said. “For 150 years, very wise men have set aside their own reasoning for the foolishness of the cross.”

Special guests also reminded those attending how WELS works together to prepare servants for God’s church. The presidents of Martin Luther College, Luther Preparatory School, and Michigan Lutheran Seminary read the Scripture lessons. And for the first time in the synod’s history, the choirs from the four ministerial education schools—about 175 singers—were together in one place.

For Noel and Jenny Ledermann, though, this was about more than the seminary’s anniversary. “When Noel asked me how I wanted to celebrate our 30th anniversary, I said, ‘I want to be here!’ ” said Jenny. So, to celebrate their wedding anniversary, they flew from Plymouth, Calif., for the service—and to visit their children who live in the area. Their son, Gunnar, is a second-year student at the seminary and a member of the choir.

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary was founded in 1863 in Watertown, Wis., with one professor and one student. In the past 150 years, the seminary, now located in Mequon, Wis., has prepared more than 3,500 pastors for the worldwide mission of WELS.

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Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Meet the editorial staff: Pope

He’s the new Q & A (renamed Light for Our Path) contributing editor. He’s “looking forward to searching the Scriptures to help people find answers to their questions about the Bible and their faith.” He’d “like questioners and readers to have more certain knowledge about God’s word and God’s will for their lives.” But before he answers our questions, FIC had some questions for him…

Professor James Pope was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, the youngest of three boys. He received his education at Northwestern Prep (1973), Northwestern College (1977) and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (1981). He’s been married to his wife, Cathy, “a blessing,” for 31 years. Two grown children, Ashley, adopted from South Korea, and Jeremy, adopted from Florida, more “blessings from God,” complete their family. In his free time, Professor Pope enjoys the outdoors, golf, music, photography and family time.

“I’m a fourth generation WELS pastor, so the idea of being a pastor was not a novel one for me. And while there was never any pressure to follow in my dad’s footsteps, his example was always there for me to see and imitate. I’m glad I did. It’s a rewarding life.” After graduating from WLS, Professor Pope was assigned to St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, where he served seven years. Twelve years at Peace Lutheran Church, Bradenton, Florida, were followed by a call, 14 years ago, to teach history, theology and staff ministry courses at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota. He is also assists with off-campus supervision of staff ministry internships and chairs MLC’s Theology Division.

“It’s definitely rewarding to see what the Holy Spirit does in the hearts and lives of people. In my current calling, it is amazing to see the spiritual growth and maturity that takes place in young people—at a school like Martin Luther College—and how God uses them in his kingdom.”

Professor Pope brings a variety of experiences to his ministry. Past district responsibilities include pastoral conference chairman, LWMS pastoral advisor, Board for Parish Services district chairman, area Lutheran high school board of directors’ chair, district pastor-teacher conference chairman and district second vice-president. On the synodical level, he’s served as a member and as secretary on the Commission on Inter-Church Relations. Currently, he works on the synod’s Chaplain Certification Program committee and hosts a weekly half-hour radio program, The Lutheran Chapel Service, broadcast in the New Ulm area and streamed online. “The program is thought to be the longest-running religious radio program in…Minnesota. As it began in 1949, next year will, God-willing, be our 65th year.”

Writing is nothing new to Professor Pope either. He lists contributions to several sermon study books, numerous devotions for Meditations, a couple of FIC feature stories (the most recent in December 2012), and two books, A Lutheran Looks at Episcopalians (2008) and When Christ Walked Among Us (2012).

One final word. When asked if there was anything else he’d like to share, Professor Pope answered, “As I tell my students, don’t take my last name too seriously. I’m not infallible.” That said, welcome to FIC, Professor Pope, and God bless our questions and your answers!

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Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Time of Grace reaches 500 episodes

This January, Time of Grace will be airing its 500th broadcast. For the past 12 years, the program has offered a Bible study-type format to viewers, sharing the hope of Jesus. The program is the main vehicle of gospel communication used by Time of Grace Ministry, an international outreach media ministry with the mission to share the gospel using the most effective technology available.

The ministry started in Milwaukee, Wis., in 2001, and features Pastor Mark Jeske, senior pastor at St. Marcus. The idea was to produce a Lutheran television show that could reach people not just in the Milwaukee area, but eventually around the world.

Bruce Becker, executive vice president of Time of Grace, says, “The original mission of Time of Grace was to be a seed sower of the gospel and to use technology to do that—to share the good news of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible through the most effective technology available.” He says viewers range from Christians who, for a range reasons, can’t make it to church to military personnel to prisoners.

What Time of Grace offers that no other major televised religious programming does is the distinctive Lutheran message. “Time of Grace is the largest syndicated Lutheran television program in the world. There’s a distinctive message of forgiveness, free and full,” says Becker.

Now, in the advent of the program’s 500th episode, Time of Grace estimates U.S. viewership at more than 880,000 people; in addition, the broadcast reaches more than 200 other countries through satellite networks. “When we started out, Time of Grace aired on one station here in Milwaukee,” says Becker. “Today, we air on more than 125 local stations around the country, three satellite networks, ABC Family, and the American Forces Network.”

While the television broadcast is the ministry’s flagship outreach tool, Time of Grace has grown to include multiple media channels. The Web site—timeofgrace.org, social media, print, and more recently, mobile apps have allowed the ministry to reach more people around the world. It has recently partnered with the YouVersion Bible App™ to offer daily reading plans based off of the ministry’s Grace Moments devotional booklets, which are written by Jeske and cover a wide range of topics. Currently, more than 300,000 people subscribe to these devotional reading plans on the YouVersion app.

“The mobile aspect has shown us that we are broadening our international base and people are coming because it is the gospel message in simple English,” says Becker. To better serve the growing number of global viewers, Time of Grace has partnered with WELS Multi-Language Publications to translate every “Grace Moments” devotion into Spanish and eventually into Mandarin and Japanese.

While Time of Grace has grown since the program’s first broadcast 12 years ago, three things have stayed the same: it is always filmed at St. Marcus; Jeske has always been the speaker; and the message of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace is always the center of each episode.

Learn more at timeofgrace.org

 

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Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

I was blind, but now I see

In a recent blog post, John Holtz, a missionary in Malawi, Africa, shares the amazing life story of Willie, a Malawian evangelist who serves the Lord despite whatever obstacles block his path.

“I woke up, but I didn’t know where I was. I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t see. I was asked what had happened, but I couldn’t remember. I still can’t remember.”

The doctors, policemen, and eyewitnesses gave Willie the news. A minibus, cruising at an alarming speed, smashed into a bicyclist. The man on the bicycle was Willie. The accident resulted in total blindness.

The impact not only knocked Willie off his bike and the sight out of his eyes; it also knocked him out of his years at the seminary in Lusaka, Zambia.

It was 1996. Willie, who had finished his studies at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, Malawi, in 1990, had six years of practical training at various congregations. He was looking forward to completing his formal studies. He envisioned what he hoped to finally become—a full-time pastor in the Lutheran Church of Central Africa.

Everything was in order for Willie Gama Matengula: his documents, his passport, his family, his life. Then came the minibus. The accident disordered everything. Instead of traveling to Lusaka, he was making regular trips to the hospital. Instead of going to classes, he was having surgeries. Instead of seeing his classmates, he was unable to see anything. Nothing at all.

Nothing, that is, with his eyes.

He couldn’t help but “see” the love of God through God’s people. His wife, Margaret, worked the fields, kept the house, cared for the children, and stuck by him through those dark days. His congregation showered him with gifts. His relatives and his church family extended hospitable hands. Missionaries gave him generous doses of help, encouragement, rides to and from the hospital, and comfort from the God’s Word.

Willie didn’t become angry or vengeful, even though he knew he couldn’t study at the seminary at this time. Instead, with eyes of faith, Willie searched for a different way to serve the Lord. And the Lord opened up a door for him—a classroom door!

Using audio tapes prepared for him by a missionary, Willie studied the teacher’s edition of the books used for confirmation classes. Though completely blind, he taught the youth of the congregations. When he wasn’t teaching, he was learning Braille.

Willie discovered that if there is one thing he loves to do, it is to teach God’s Word. Even without the use of his eyes, Willie saw more than ever before. He realized that he could serve the Lord in whatever circumstance he found himself.

And, little by little, Jesus restored his sight. What an impact this had on Willie, his family, as well as the congregation! Talk about a gift of grace touching not only his eyes but also the hearts of others. By 1999 Willie had regained his full sight, something he credits entirely to his Lord. The congregations held a big celebration, and Willie preached a sermon from Isaiah 55:1-5: “Come and See!”

Willie never did go back to the seminary. However, the Lord kept opening doors for him to serve. Since the time of the accident, Willie has served congregations in three different regions as an evangelist and continues to do so today.

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Amazing grace amidst amazing change in Malawi

It was June 1963. Raymond Cox and Richard Mueller, missionaries in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Africa, had just completed a 700-mile trip—mostly over gravel roads—to Nyasaland (now Malawi). Their mission: To share the saving gospel message to a country in dire need of it.

This past October, Cox returned to Malawi to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Lutheran Church of Central Africa–Malawi (LCCA), the church body he helped start so many years ago. Now this largest of WELS world mission fields has more than 40,000 members, 130 congregations, and 29 national pastors.

“Going from nothing to this—that is amazing change,” says Cox, who served in Malawi and Zambia for 28 years. “It’s the amazing grace of God that Dick [Mueller] and I can plant a seed, and, wow, there’s the tree and there are the birds bending down the branches.”

The amazing changes Cox noticed didn’t stop there. Malawi as a country has progressed since he left in 1992, with televisions in the home, cell phones, computers, security walls around homes, and more paved roads.

The African church has changed as well. Early on, the focus for WELS missionaries was direct gospel outreach—witnessing to Malawians and starting congregations. Now six missionaries concentrate on training new national workers as well as supporting current ones. The LCCA also is more independent financially, with many African congregations compensating their own called workers. “What we missionaries hoped, planned, and prayed for has come to pass!” says Cox. “It’s wonderful to see our missionaries and the Malawi pastors working together as brethren, each with their specific responsibilities.”

While visiting Malawi, Cox was able to return to many of the places he served in the past. He traveled to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Lilongwe, where 19 men are training to serve as national workers in the LCCA. Cox served as principal and instructor there from 1990 to 1992. He visited the city of Blantyre where the ministry in Malawi began, which is now home to the urban congregation Beautiful Savior and a Christian reading room. He saw a mobile clinic in Suzi, one of five rural health clinics in Malawi that provides medical care as well as health education. Under Cox’ leadership, the first medical mobile clinic in Malawi was started in 1970.

“I look back on those early years that are flooded with memories. So many of those memories remind me of the promise of Christ our Savior: ‘I will build my church!’ ” says Cox. “The church belongs to Christ! . . . He gives us the privilege of being involved.”

A highlight of the trip for Cox was preaching—in the African language Chichewa—at Wisconsin Lutheran Church in Mpherembe Village in the northern region of Malawi. This celebration was one of three special anniversary services held throughout the country Oct. 25-27. The theme passage for the anniversary—Psalm 98:1-3— was reflected in the songs the Malawians wrote for the celebration as well as in Cox’s prayer for the church’s future. “The work that has begun must go on and on and on,” he says. “Go and tell it to the nations by telling it to the next generation. Tell them the wonderful works of the Lord. Tell of his marvelous redemption until he comes back to take us to that Kumwamba [Chichewa for “in the above”].”

Cox knows that he very likely won’t be returning to this place he once called home. But he is thankful for the opportunity to greet his old friends whom he baptized and taught long ago. Says Cox. “Those were the precious times—to see some of these old-timers and to say good-bye to a church that has grown so much and to say I’ll see them in heaven. Tidzakomana Kumwamba. We shall meet together in the above.”

 

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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:
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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