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Lessons from the vineyard

Living next to vineyards provides opportunities to reflect on spiritual truths.

Katherine Martin

As far as the eye can see, sprawling vineyards blanket the rolling hills. Paved paths meander through the vineyards creating a hiker’s paradise. I live in Spiesheim, Germany, and this is the view from my window. Although my village has less than a thousand residents, it boasts of 11 wineries.

In addition to the obvious perks of beautiful countryside and great wine, living in the heart of German wine country has provided other benefits as well. Walking through the vineyards has not only deepened my appreciation for the vintner’s backbreaking work, but it also has brought to life the illustration of a vineyard as a tool to teach spiritual truths.

THE VINE

Using a vineyard to teach spiritual truths is nothing new. The word vineyard is used more than 120 times in the Bible (not including the use of vine and vines). The picture of a vineyard was something familiar to God’s people in both the Old and New Testament eras. Jesus himself uses this picture to teach his disciples (see John 15 and Matthew 20–21). In John 15:5, Jesus calls himself the vine. ”I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Even a quick walk through the vineyard reinforces the fact that the vine is the most important part of the plant. The vine connects the branches to an essential supply of water and nutrients. It supports both the single branch that escapes the vintner’s pruning in the winter and the many branches and heavy grape clusters in the summer. Without the vine, there can be no branches, no fruit, and no wine.

The same is true for us as Christians. Without our vine, Jesus, we would be spiritually dead in our sins. Without Jesus, there is no life, no hope, no fruit, and no future.

But with Jesus, ours is a totally different story. Through his innocent life and death in our place, we have new life, forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life. Through Jesus alone we are reconnected to our heavenly Father. And through faith in Jesus alone, we are given the privilege of bearing fruit in this sinful world. With Christ, we dead branches become alive and bear fruit as we serve him and others in our daily lives.

In spite of this new life, our daily battle with sin remains. Busy schedules and life’s trials drive us towards self-reliance instead of Christ-reliance. We squander opportunities to stay connected to our Vine, and often our sinful actions become a stench to those around us instead of a fragrant fruit of faith. But our Vine remains. Jesus waits for us to return to him in repentance and offers us his forgiveness, full and free. Through his Word and in the sacraments, he strengthens and nourishes his branches.

DEDICATION TO THE FRUIT OF THE VINE

Another walk through the vineyard reminds me of another spiritual truth. The vintner’s dedication to his vines is evident on a daily basis. The “putting” sound of his tractor is audible before I have left my comfortable bed in the morning, and the light of his harvester is visible after the sun has set. Although the vintner spends countless hours laboring in the field, it doesn’t end there. He must also labor in his cellar pressing the grapes, fermenting them, and bottling the wine. Yet, the vintner’s care is not perfect. An injury or sickness could keep him from his grapes, or the weather may diminish his harvest.

In contrast, consider the dedication of our heavenly Vintner. As our true God who does not sleep or slumber, his care is perfect. Sometimes, events in our lives may cause us to doubt God’s presence and care. Relationships end, family and friends move away, and death separates us from loved ones. Loneliness sets in, and we hear the voice of doubt whispering, “Is God really there?” The words of Psalm 139 answer that pesky voice of doubt with a resounding “Yes, he is!” “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (v. 8-10). The same God who created us holds us in the palm of his hand . . . this day and every day to come.

PRUNING THE BRANCHES AND THE HARVEST

A further walk through the vineyard brings an added spiritual parallel to life. As the seasons change, so does the manner in which the vintner deals with his crop. In the bitter cold of winter, the earthly vintner handles each plant in a seemingly cruel fashion. He prunes away all of last year’s growth until only the vine and one branch remain. Then, he takes that lone, spindly branch, points it downward, fastens it to the trellis, and leaves it for spring.

At the first sign of spring, dandelions and other wildflowers bloom rapidly around the branch. As they flutter in the breeze, they seem to mock the branch, which appears dead. As summer sets in, the branch finally blooms, grows, and thrives. Now it has sprouted many branches and clusters of grapes so large that three trellises are required to support their weight. In the late summer, the grapes are big enough to eat but not ripe enough to harvest. The vintner strategically places air guns around the vines, knowing the sporadic blasts of air will defend his crop from the circling birds. Finally in the fall, as the leaves on the branches change to beautiful shades of red and orange, it is time for the harvest.

We weather changing seasons in our earthly lives as well. We face times of pruning as we are brought down low in pain. We face times of doubt, persecution from the unbelieving world, temptation, and hardship as we await the harvest. Yet no matter the season—no matter what trials we encounter—we have a God who does not change. Although our heavenly Vintner may deal with us differently in different seasons, his purpose will not change. He will always deal with us in a way that benefits our eternal good—to bring us closer to him now and into eternal glory in the future. We have his promise on that: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Always and in all things!

Now, as branches of the Vine in this sinful world, we long for the harvest. We await the day when suffering is a distant memory and Jesus brings us to himself for eternity in heaven. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:16,17).

As we struggle here on earth anxiously awaiting our glorious future, may we stay connected to the Vine who renews us day by day.

Katherine Martin and her husband, WELS Civilian Chaplain Joshua Martin, live in Spiesheim, Germany.

 

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Author: Katherine Martin
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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: 3

The Shepherd of the stars, who knows each star by name, has not forgotten us even when troubles and doubts hit. He is the Shepherd of our souls.

John A. Liebenow

Shepherd of the stars—it’s a title not much used in our circles, but perhaps Isaiah would encourage us to reconsider its place in our lives of faith. “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26).

A POWERFUL PROPHECY

Just as God had tucked away his promise of grace for Abraham in the multitude of the stars in the skies, so also God had safely deposited his promise of grace for his wayward people in the prophecy of Isaiah. Their stubbornness was taking them down the path of God’s judgment, and just around the corner on the proverbial path of life stood the Babylonians, ready to execute God’s punishment and chastisement upon the people of Judah.

In the midst of the Babylonian exile, God’s faithful people suffered right alongside the unbelievers and blasphemers. And so God sent Isaiah ahead of the exile to proclaim a message of comfort and hope for the faithful jostled and driven in the tempest of God’s exiling action.

Isaiah 40 is a conspicuous Old Testament grace marker proclaimed by God’s most conspicuous Old Testament evangelist. So many images from this chapter stand out in our minds—images of beautiful comfort for the sinner, of John the Baptist, of the gentle Shepherd of our souls, of God’s grandeur and incomparable power, and of soaring on wings of eagles. But Isaiah 40 holds one more comforting and encouraging image, the Shepherd of the stars.

Isaiah reveals a complaint among the exiles that still resonates from the hearts and lips of people to this day. It’s the complaint that God has forgotten me. “Where are you, God?” is still a question that plagues us today. The exiles felt that God had abandoned them, left them for dead, washed his hands of them, and renounced his promises. When the exiles complained that God had done these things and then asked, “Where is he when we need him?”, Isaiah’s answer was, “He’s shepherding the stars.”

“Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

Perhaps their initial response, like ours, might have been, “Well, what’s he doing shepherding the stars when we need him here to take care of us?” But you see, that is exactly Isaiah’s point. In these brief words, Isaiah sets the stage for the most powerful comfort for anyone who suffers or struggles or doubts.

A COMFORTING MESSAGE

Look once more at the starry heavens. Take a walk outside and stand with Job, Abraham, David, Micah, the Magi, and Isaiah and look more deeply into the glimmering truth of God’s celestial pasture. Has God forgotten you? Well, what about all these stars in the sky that faithfully shine night after night in their exact places? Did God miss you along the way? What about the existence of all these heavenly bodies that shine so gloriously, beam so brilliantly, align so dependably every single night?

These beautiful, dependable, tranquil stars have been put there in their exact places by the hand of the almighty and merciful God. It is our God who shepherds a septillion stars, each of them carefully marked and measured. Notice Isaiah’s divine words, “He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name.”

What a supremely comforting picture of our Lord and Savior, walking out of the sheep pen with a septillion stars lined up behind him as he leads them out night by night into their heavenly pastures. He leads them not by the bushel, not by the bundle, not by the system or galaxy, but one by one, name by name, he leads them.

Many of the stars in the sky are only known by numbers—there are just too many of them to name. But the Shepherd of the stars, who also just happens to be our Shepherd, knows each of those stars by name. His knowledge of them, his attention to them, his affection for them is personal. The Creator of the universe is each one’s personal attendant.

I hope you see the point of Isaiah’s portrait. He argues from the lesser to the greater. After all, what is a ball of exploding gasses to an eternal God filled with love and justice and mercy and forgiveness? Is it stars that our loving Savior is concerned about? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, Isaiah’s point about all this shepherding of the stars is that God’s tender, careful, and attentive love is really about us. It’s really for us, his children.

The exiles of Babylon were not forsaken, not forgotten, not abandoned! God was carefully shepherding each of them by name. One by one, God was at work to lead sinful souls to repentance and to a deeper trust in his faithfulness, dependability and peaceful love.

In the midst of their suffering, the Shepherd of the stars was guiding, preparing and arranging detail after detail so that the Good Shepherd would come into the world to lead his people to life everlasting. By laying down his life for the sheep, the long-promised Jesus would earn, pay, redeem, forgive, win, and conquer so that not one of God’s children was missing. The Good Shepherd calls them each by name and leads them all to streams of living water.

A CONTINUED PROMISE

The complaint of exiled Judah arises out of our hearts and minds also. Like them we sometimes choose sinful paths to walk, knowingly or unknowingly deviating from God’s ordained will. When his chastising love comes to us, we sometimes blame God for not being there, for not protecting us from our own sinful choices, for not making life easier for us. Yet, like the exiles, the Lord is shepherding us toward repentance and a deeper trust in his loving will for our lives.

So also in seasons of trouble and purification, we struggle and question God’s presence and faithfulness. It so often comes with a loss of health, a loss of job, the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a life’s partner. Where is God when I lose my child or friend? Where is God when my body begins to fail me? Where is God when life is not what I expected it to be?

Isaiah would say, “Let’s go outside. Let’s lift our eyes to the heavens and remind ourselves who made all this. It is our loving God. He shepherds the stars with his gracious power and presence; he shepherds his beloved people with love, mercy and forgiveness to everlasting life. He knows us each by name, walks with us one by one, and in his generous mercy and loving power not one of us is missing. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. And the Shepherd of the stars is the Shepherd of our souls.”

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

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

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Author: John A. Liebenow
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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: Bahmer

The volleyball team at California Lutheran High School didn’t want to just win games. They wanted to win a soul for Jesus.

Linda R. Buxa

Colin Bahmer didn’t believe in Jesus. Born and raised in Santa Clarita, about an hour north of Los Angeles, he first stepped into a church when he was 18. “I wanted to make my girlfriend happy,” he says.

When he was 21, Bahmer, who never made a second visit to church, moved to Temecula. “I moved with a friend on a whim,” he says. “I just wanted to start a new adventure.” Though he didn’t know it then, that’s exactly what he was about to get.

After Bahmer moved, he started playing soccer with Rob Gorney, an assistant volleyball coach for California Lutheran High School (CLHS), Wildomar. When CLHS held an adult volleyball tournament, Gorney invited Bahmer, who was now his roommate. “It was a ‘bring-a-friend’ event—bring someone new to CLHS and introduce them to our ministry and people,” says Andrew Aguilar, superintendent and head volleyball coach at CLHS.

After that day, Bahmer asked if he could join the coaching staff. Though it was the middle of the 2011 season, Aguilar invited him to be the statistician for the rest of the season. “That was how my life at CLHS began,” says Bahmer.

JOINING THE TEAM

“I never asked Colin about his faith, but I knew he wasn’t a Christian. I figured I’d take a chance with him. Maybe it could lead somewhere,” says Aguilar. As Bahmer mastered taking stats on the iPad, he was also in on team prayers and heard the post-game speeches where the coaches reminded the team about the words on the gym wall: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

“One of the huddle breaks we have is ‘PTL—Do Work Team!’ PTL means Praise the Lord,” says Aguilar. “I’m sure that at first he probably thought that was weird to talk about God while playing volleyball.”

Bahmer did think it a bit strange, but he came back for the 2012 season anyway, now as the assistant coach. Bahmer says, “Even though everyone around me there were Jesus Freaks, the love of volleyball and the camaraderie of everyone was what really kept me wanting to continue. We became a family.”

The girls’ team wasn’t about to let their newest family member off easy. “When my girls found out he wasn’t a Christian, they freaked out. That was not acceptable to them,” says Aguilar. “They loved Colin and wanted to see him in heaven with them.”

“Having grown up in the church life, they thought I was crazy to basically not be like them. They asked me what I believed in instead. My answer was simple, ‘I believe in myself,’ ” says Bahmer. “They just thought I was weird, in the nicest way of course. But they wouldn’t accept that from me.”

So on the van rides to away games, the girls took advantage of their captive audience. “They started telling me stories from the Bible and different interesting things about Jesus. Never being brought up in religion, I only knew what I was taught in science and had seen on television. What they were saying about God creating the world in six days was just crazy to me,” says Bahmer. “So now I was the one thinking they were crazy, in the nicest way of course.”

JOINING THE FAMILY OF BELIEVERS

Toward the end of that season, Bahmer and Aguilar began studying the Bible together. “I even gave him homework to do—and he did it!” says Aguilar. Bahmer soon began attending St. Stephen, Fallbrook, with the Aguilar family. He wasn’t nervous to walk into church. “It was just another building,” he says. But church didn’t make sense, so he asked endless questions. He connected with Pastor Caleb Bassett, who took him through a Bible information class. “Still to this day some things do not make sense; I am still learning something new every day,” Bahmer says.

Enough made sense that Bahmer was baptized, and Andrew and Stacey Aguilar were his sponsors. Eight of the 11 varsity members were there, along with some parents too. “I think my girls ‘got it.’ They knew what had just happened. A young man was made a child of God through the power of the Holy Spirit in this amazing sacrament,” says Aguilar.

When the fall 2013 season rolled around, Bahmer was the head coach of the JV team and still the varsity assistant. The change was obvious. “It was awesome to see him patiently coaching the young team. This time, he was leading the team prayers. He was preaching to girls to use their God-given gifts to the fullest and to God’s glory,” says Aguilar.

JOINING THE MINISTRY

Since he was a junior in high school, Bahmer wanted to be a teacher, but he hadn’t reached that goal—yet. “I didn’t do all that great in college to this point. I was too distracted with having fun,” says Bahmer, who attended four different colleges. “But now the only one that matters to me is Martin Luther College.”

Bahmer began attending MLC this January, double majoring in physical education and elementary education with a minor in coaching. “I have always been interested in helping people learn. Being a coach and a teacher gives me the best opportunity to mold young minds and to help them become smart adults. I also believe that keeping kids in school and sports keeps them off the streets and doing things they will regret,” he says. “Now I want to be able to teach about Jesus and show what he can do for you.”

Bahmer is excited for the next chapter of his life. “I know what it is like not to live with Jesus in my life. Because I was not brought up that way, I appreciate everything that much more,” he says. “I will bring my life experiences with me, remembering what it was like to not have Jesus in my life.”

While studying the Bible, Bahmer came across a passage that stuck with him: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). “Since I moved away from everything I ever knew back home, I have surrounded myself with good people who want nothing but the best for everyone around them, generous people that aren’t just thinking about themselves,” he says. “Ever since I got the idea to move away from everything I ever knew back home, life has been nothing but good to me. This is exactly how God wanted me to finally see him and what he can do for me. This was his plan all along.”

Linda Buxa is a member at St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

 

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Author: Linda R. Buxa
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

Contrasts: Part: 8

Not everyone has expressed a positive Christian confession at the end of life.

Theodore J. Hartwig

The last words of most people may be remembered by family or friends. Sometimes on the battlefield or in a hospital someone may hear those words and share them with the family or a loved one later. But most often, no one writes them down for future remembrance. Perhaps last words are especially memorable when they come from the lips of famous people. Those last words often reflect a person’s character during life.

We have looked at the last words of a few important people, and their words capture something of their attitudes and life. The last words of St. Paul, Luther, and others reveal that they were children of God and faithful believers to the very end. But there are examples of famous last words that tell us something quite different from the last comments of a believer.

When contrasting the believers’ last words with the unbeliever’s, the positive words stand out in sharp relief with the negative comments from people who set their affection on things below. Most of them accentuate the message in Psalm 73, that prosperity, power, or possessions set them in slippery places. The psalmist wrote this stern reminder, “Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” (v. 18,19).

Consider these last words of the following:

● French king Charles IX was responsible for the hideous 1572 St. Bartholomew Massacre of all Protestants in Paris. At the end of his life, he said, “What blood! What murder! I am lost forever. I know it.”

● Spanish king Philip III, another anti-Protestant ruler in the early 1600s, found little comfort: “Would to God I had never reigned. What does all my glory profit but that I have so much to torment me in my death.”

● French statesman Talleyrand, who served Napoleon and then helped to depose him, summed up his life: “Behold, 83 years passed away, and all without result except fatigue of mind and body and a profound sentiment of discouragement as to the future and disgust as to the past.”

● Here is the last expression of Stalin, rendered speechless by a stroke, as recorded by his daughter: “[Stalin] cast a glance, insane, angry, full of fear of death, at everyone in

the room and, with a final menacing glare, he lifted his hand as if banging down a curse over us all.”

● Thomas Paine was an influential voice advocating America’s War for Independence as common sense. He was neither wealthy nor a ruler, yet representative of many who claim to be Christian. During his lifetime he wrote, “I believe in one God and no more, and I hope for happiness beyond this life. . . . But I do not believe in the creed of Catholics, Protestants, nor any other church. My own mind is my own church.” As he lay dying at a house in New York City, his doctor asked him, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” Paine, like many nominal Christians, responded in a whisper: “I have no wish to believe in that subject.”

Thus negatives highlight positives by stark contrast. To believe that Jesus is my Lord apart from whom there is no salvation is to have his example in mind and heart at death: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

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

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

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Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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: 8

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

John A. Miller

Every vote counts. Everyone’s opinion is important. Those are assumptions of a democratic society. Freedom of speech guarantees the right to express any point of view, but who’s right? We live in a pluralistic society advocating not one truth, but many. Can they all be equally correct, even if viewpoints contradict one another?

Nowhere is this pluralism more evident than in the realm of religion. No doubt we’ve all heard people piously claiming, “All roads lead to heaven; we all worship the same god; no one has the corner market on the truth.” Of course this applies to opinions about Jesus too: “He’s merely a great man who taught humanity how to love and accept others.” “He’s the greatest teacher who ever lived.” “He was merely a misguided martyr.” “He is the champion of the downtrodden and those considered to be the dregs of society.”

PETER’S CONFESSION

Opinions about Jesus weren’t much different in Jesus’ day. Even when his voice still resounded in human ears and his miracles were clear to human eyes, people’s opinions about him varied. Jesus once asked his disciples about that, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples told Jesus what he already knew. Some mixed him up with John the Baptist. Some thought he was merely a great prophet and teacher. Others thought he might even be an ancient prophet returned to life.

Jesus cared more about the disciples’ own view of him. “ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ ” (Matthew 16:15,16, NIV 11).

Peter got the right answer. Jesus was the promised Messiah, chosen by God to be the one to deliver the world from sin and death. He was the very Son of the only true God—yes, God himself present as a human being. Peter’s confession was a rock-solid conviction given to Peter by God himself. Only by the working of God could Peter confess that Jesus was the Rock. And the church would be built on that truth—Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, the Son of the living God. There was one truth about Jesus and why he walked the earth.

THE ONE RIGHT ANSWER

And there still is only one right answer to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” It is still revealed to human hearts by God alone. Jesus is the one God chosen to be the righteous sacrifice for the sins of the world. He himself is the only way of salvation, the only truth about God, and the only way to eternal life with God in heaven. Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Not many ways. Not many points of view. Not many truths. Only one.

The world always will go on thinking that all opinions about Jesus are equally valid, and claim that like beauty, truth is in the eye of the beholder. But that won’t change the correct answer to the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?” He was and always will be the Messiah, the Son of God, our Savior. And when we believe that, and others join us in that belief, we thank God that he still works to place new living stones on the foundation—the Bedrock of faith—Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

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

This is the final 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 2
Issue: February 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

 

Teen Talk: Let your light shine

It should not matter to us how popular or unpopular we are. All that should matter is that we do not hide our faith.

Ashley Dyrssen

What are some things that you think about before you head off to school in the morning? Maybe, “What should I wear today? What will other people think of my outfit? I hate my hair!” Okay, maybe that is more from a girl’s point of view. From a guy’s point of view you may be wondering about other things: “Will I play well in my game tonight? What will people think of me if I ask that girl out?” We might wonder if we will do something to become the nerd that everyone ignores.

A big struggle for teens is showing people who we really are. Many of us feel like we are out of place. We are scared of what our friends may think of us. For instance you may want to act, be on the chess team, or want to play the trombone, but your friends reaction keep you from following through. What others think of the clothes we wear, the personalities we are stuck with, or our appearances may make us change. Sometimes we might even change our attitude towards God.

As little kids most of us went to church or Sunday school and sang many songs about Jesus, but now that we are older we have a totally different slant on all those things. We may not want to live our faith because other people may think it is not cool. We skip church because we think that other people will judge us for going, but that should not matter.

Just because we think going to church may not be the cool thing to do, it still is the right thing to do. What friends think about our church attendance does not matter. What matters is what God says, and he tells us not to stop meeting together.

This is a case where we should not care about what others think of us, but it should be a time when we can let our light shine. God says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We know that since we believe in God we will have eternal life in heaven. The “cool” things that other people do—like drink or do drugs—should not matter to us.

We should not be afraid of what other people think of us. God will help us through all our troubles no matter how big or small. It should not matter to us how popular or unpopular we are. All that should matter is that we do not hide our faith just because it is uncool. People make us think that we have to be like them because that is how we will stay friends, but that might be the time to evaluate if these are the friends we should have.

Jesus had this same issue that we have. People had different expectations for him. Some just wanted him there to be their earthly king and free them from the Roman reign. Others just wanted him to take care of their physical needs and do miracles. Jesus had to overlook all those incorrect expectations and do the right thing. He obeyed his heavenly Father and died for the sins of the world.

Even though it might not always be the popular choice, we are forgiven and can follow God’s will. Don’t be afraid to let your light shine and be uncool.

Ashley Dyrssen, a sophomore at California Lutheran High School, Wildomar, California, is a member at Beautiful Savior, Carlsbad.

 

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Author: Ashley Dyrssen
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

A look back: Part: 1

Our early church leaders struggled to make the transition from German to English. Ultimately, though, they were “bidden to read the signs of the times.”

Mark E. Braun

Change isn’t easy. Transitioning from German to English was especially hard for our church forefathers. However, it became more than wise as Lutherans became established in the United States. After World War I began, it became necessary.

CHANGE RESISTED

Our synod and our big sister Missouri never intended to preach and teach only in German. In the 1850s the Missouri Synod founded an English college at Fort Wayne, Indiana, and set guidelines for the formation of English congregations. As the inaugural issue of The Northwestern Lutheran announced in 1914, an English magazine had been “a long-felt want” in the Wisconsin Synod.

Yet early leaders of both synods worked and thought almost entirely in German. Congregations commonly required the language of worship and instruction to be “German forever,” mainly because some feared a “tricky translation” of their pure Lutheran doctrine.

Even if pastors might have gladly learned English, and sought to win their “American” neighbors, the boatloads of German immigrants arriving weekly left them more than enough to do. In the 1880s and 1890s, some pastors performed hundreds of baptisms every year, mostly in German.

Not surprisingly, as late as 1911 only three percent of churches in the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods used English in their worship. “German is here still the everyday language,” wrote Missouri Synod President Frederick Pfotenhauer’s brother in 1914.

Though Wisconsin Synod’s Prof. August Pieper admitted that Lutheran teaching could be expressed as well in English, he said, “Ich will deutsch selig werden” (“I want to be saved in German”).

And, when pastors sought to initiate the change in the Dakota-Montana District, their members objected, “Der Heilige Geist kann kein Englisch” (“The Holy Ghost cannot speak English”).

CHANGE ACCELERATED

The transition would have occurred anyway, but it was greatly—and painfully—accelerated by World War I. German-Americans generally urged American neutrality, though some openly favored the German cause.

Admitting a “lack of enthusiasm” for the war in Europe, Pastor Max Lehninger wrote to the Nebraska Council of Defense, “It is a hard thing for human beings to take up arms and wage war against their kindred,” which could be said for any ethnic group.

A 1916 editorialist for The Northwestern Lutheran pleaded, though, that “When you say ‘German-Americans,’ please put all the stress on the last part of the compound. German-Americans are Americans, first, last, and all the time.”

CHANGE FORCED

But loyalty was severely tested following the United States’ entry into the war on Good Friday 1917. Observance of German customs was now considered dangerous, regard for ancestral homelands traitorous, attachment to one’s native tongue subversive.

“If you turn hell upside down,” thundered evangelist Billy Sunday, “you will find ‘Made in Germany’ stamped on the bottom.”

Across the country, hamburger became Salisbury steak. Sauerkraut was renamed liberty cabbage. Schmidts and Schneiders were now Smiths and Taylors. In Milwaukee, the Deutscher Club changed to the Wisconsin Club, and the number of school children enrolled in German classes plummeted from 30,000 in 1916 to 400 in 1918.

The more “immigrant” a church was regarded, the more fiercely it was despised. German Lutheran pastors were accused of taking an “oath to the Kaiser,” and sometimes even were attacked and beaten. Parochial school houses were splattered with yellow paint. Congregations proved their good citizenship by selling war bonds, displaying American flags, and hanging patriotic posters in church vestibules and school hallways.

CHANGE ACCEPTED

Still, converting to English “was not what most of the German-speaking members wanted,” a South Dakota pastor recalled. The synod’s German publication, the Gemeinde-Blatt, continued to outsell The Northwestern Lutheran for more than two decades after the war. It was not until 1940 that subscriptions for the English church paper outnumbered those of the German.

The transition from German to English was hard, but necessary. And, new issues like modernism and liberalism began to overshadow the language change.

Mark Braun, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a member at Grace, Waukesha.

This is the first article in a 10-part series looking at how WELS and Forward in Christ history is intertwined with major historical events over the past one hundred years.

 

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Author: Mark E. Braun
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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 Nebraska District: Part: 2

The Nebraska District

Earle D. Treptow

They wanted to get away. Tired of the fighting between a growing number of synods, a group of Lutheran Christians that had emigrated from Germany and settled in Ixonia, Wis., made plans for independence. On May 14, 1866, about 125 people set out from Ixonia in search of ecclesiastical freedom. A scouting party sent out beforehand had identified an ideal place to settle—at a spot more than five hundred miles away—where they would have the freedom they desired. The territory on which they had their eyes was the junction of the Elkhorn and North Fork rivers in northeastern Nebraska.

THE BEGINNINGS

After two months of travel, the 53 covered wagons arrived at their destination on July 17, 1866. Pastor J. M. Hoeckendorf, who had encouraged the people to pursue this venture, joined them the following year and established a Christian day school in a town they named Norfork, after the North Fork River. (Postal authorities, assuming the word had been misspelled, changed it to Norfolk.) Both pastor and congregation strongly desired to remain independent, free from any connection to synods and synod worker training schools. For that reason, Hoeckendorf trained his son to replace him. Unfortunately, his son died not long before he was to be ordained and installed at St. Paul’s in Norfolk. When the father died soon thereafter in 1877, the congregation had to seek another shepherd.

They turned to President Ernst of Northwestern University in Watertown, Wis., for counsel, believing that he shared their concern about the proliferation of synods. At his encouragement, they called Michael Pankow, a man who would soon graduate from the seminary in Springfield, Ill., to serve as their pastor. While the congregation insisted on remaining free from synodical affiliation, they allowed Pankow to join the Wisconsin Synod three years later.

The Lutherans in Norfolk, even as they retained their independence, desired to extend the fellowship. They cooperated with the Wisconsin Synod in mission ventures in Iowa, South Dakota, and Colorado. As time passed, their trust in the Wisconsin Synod increased. The Nebraska Lutherans did what seemed highly unlikely when they first moved from Ixonia. They decided, in 1901, to form a Nebraska District of the Wisconsin Synod. When distance from Wisconsin made having a Nebraska District unworkable, they formed the Nebraska Synod in 1904 and later became one of the six charter districts in the 1917 merger known as the Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States. By 1919, there were nearly 3,000 communicants in 25 congregations and 4 preaching stations in the Nebraska District, served by 21 pastors.

A CONTINUED COMMITTMENT

Almost a hundred years later, the Nebraska District looks a little different. For one thing, the district is much larger, numbering nearly 90 congregations, with more than 11,000 communicants spread across nine states. Much, however, remains the same. The attitude that marked those Lutheran Christians in northeastern Nebraska at the end of the 19th century also marks the members of the Nebraska District today.

By the Holy Spirit’s work in the hearts of his people, the desire to extend the fellowship remains strong. The two district mission boards (Nebraska and Colorado) that serve the Nebraska District actively seek new opportunities for gospel work. Sometimes it’s in an area where there is a core group of WELS members, like a mission started in Castle Rock, Colo., in July 2010. The congregation currently meets for worship at a middle school and works hard at serving the community they aim to reach with the gospel. Though a number of the members of the core group are no longer in the area, the group has grown to about 100 communicants, with an average attendance approaching 90.

Sometimes missions begin without a core group to serve as the nucleus, because of the apparent potential for gospel proclamation in a growing area. This past summer, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary professor Michael Quandt accepted a call to St. George, Utah, in the southwest corner of the state. He will be working to establish a third WELS congregation in a state in which about 60 percent live in the darkness of Mormonism.

On other occasions, congregations band together to support gospel ministry being done in the area. The Mid-America circuit, consisting primarily of congregations in Kansas, decided to direct a portion of their offerings to Hmong ministry being done in conjunction with Rock of Ages, Kansas City, Mo. The Lord has poured out his blessings on the congregation. Now operating independently and subsidized by the Board for Home Missions, Grace Hmong congregation is looking to purchase its first worship facility.

The devotion to Christian education also remains strong. Congregations of less than two hundred communicants, like Immanuel, Hadar, Neb., and Trinity, Hoskins, Neb., continue to operate Lutheran elementary schools for the instruction of their children and to serve the families in their communities. The district’s first school, at St. Paul’s,

Norfolk, is thriving. In the last six years, enrollment has more than doubled in grades K-8, from 42 to 99.

The Lord of the church continues to bless the preaching of his Word and the administration of his sacraments, where and when it pleases him to do so, whether that’s among the 20 in attendance each week at Zion, Bonesteel, S.D., or the 310 in worship at Gethsemane, Omaha, Neb. It has pleased him to bless the preaching of his word in the seven congregations in the Denver metropolitan area (population of about 2.5 million) and in Plymouth, Neb. (population of about 400), where St. Paul’s serves a membership of about 350, with a preschool to grade 8 enrollment of 63.

Though much has changed in the Nebraska District, much remains the same. Most important, the Lord remains the same. He is doing what he has always done, keeping his promise to work through his gospel for the edification of his people and the glory of his name!

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, president of the Nebraska District, is pastor at Zion, Denver, Colorado.

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


STATISTICS:

District president: Pastor Earle Treptow
Congregations: 90
Mission churches: 23
Baptized members: 14,238
Communicant members: 11,047
Early childhood ministries: 30
Lutheran elementary schools: 18
Area Lutheran high schools: 2

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

Treasure the Word of God

A story about a family now living in Okinawa reminds us that the Holy Spirit works faith through the gospel and nourishes that faith when the gospel is proclaimed.

Ann Ponath

Think about the church service you attended last Sunday. Was a real-live pastor standing in the pulpit, sharing God’s Word with you? Can you imagine if he wasn’t? But first, can you imagine not even knowing that you needed to hear God’s Word at all?

Our story begins in Idaho. Amber was a single mom, bartending to make ends meet. Garry Brust was working as a civilian for the United States Air Force. “When we met, neither of us attended church or knew God,” says Amber. A native New Yorker, Garry’s dream was to move to Florida. He was blessed to get a job at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. “In one year we got married, bought a house and had our daughter, Abigail,” says Amber. “We happened (God-guided) to buy our house down the street from Risen Savior. You can see God’s work through this whole thing. Remember our family still didn’t know God.”

She continues. “As we were living life in Florida, I began to see how happy people were around me. They were glowing. I couldn’t figure it out. . . . I remember Garry coming home from work and explaining, ‘You will never believe it. We prayed before we ate pizza.’ You can see we were very far from God.”

Amber realized that the happy, contented people around her all had one thing in common—God. “Once I figured it out, I had it set in my mind we were going to start going to church and I was going to talk with my husband when I got home. We had one problem—there were churches on every corner and I had no idea where to start.

“On that very same day while driving home, I drove past a little church called Risen Savior. My great-grandma had taken me to a Lutheran church when I was a little girl and had me baptized. I knew this little Lutheran church would be a good place to start.”

Now she had to convince Garry. “We had never really talked about God or church before. I was ready for a fight,” she says. “After we put the kids to bed, I casually said, ‘I think we should go to church this Sunday.’ ”

Amber was totally surprised when Garry responded, “I think that’s a good idea!” Then he asked, “Where should we go?” Amber pulled up the Risen Savior Web site, and they began their research.

So the next Sunday, the Brust family went to church. “We walked into Risen Savior that beautiful Sunday morning trying to look put together,” says Amber. “We were greeted at the door with smiles and a warm voice. As we were in worship, my heart was filled with joy. It brought back memories of the few times I went to church with my great-grandma. Garry and I listened intently. . . . We both felt peace. Without talking to each other, we knew this was it! This was the place we wanted to worship and grow closer to God. The people were friendly, and the message was pure.” Before the Brusts left that first Sunday, they signed up to begin a Bible Basics class.

Classes—“many of which lasted twice the normal length due to a thirst for the Word,” according to Risen Savior’s pastor Steven Prahl—ran from January to June 2008. Amber recalls, “As we went through [the classes], it all came clear. The fog of life had lifted. We now had a purpose for this life on earth.”

Amber says that one of the most powerful days was when her husband and two children were baptized on Father’s Day 2008. “God is so good!” she says. “We went from a life full of sin and darkness to life with God’s grace and love.”

About a year and a half and many prayers later, a job transfer took the Brusts to Okinawa, Japan. The family was excited to experience another culture, but, says Amber, “we were scared of growing weak in our faith.” Their church search was frustrating. Everywhere they went, “the Word was watered down,” says Amber. The family decided to worship in their own home with sermons from Prahl, but they weren’t alone for long. The Hofferbert family, in answer to an ad seeking area WELS members, joined them. This inspired more invitations, and soon they needed a larger worship space.

Mitchel Krauss, a Navy seaman, discovered the group through WELS Special Ministries and helped them obtain a regular Sunday reservation at the base chapel. Normal worship involves a DVD service from Trinity, Brillion, Wis., or “live” services with sermons provided by WELS pastors and read to the group.

Every four to six weeks, however, Pastors Kevin Stellick or Brad Wordell, from area Asian churches, come for the weekend to conduct Bible studies, adult Bible information classes, and youth catechism classes. They also offer family and marriage counseling, assist with Sunday school, participate in fellowship activities, lead worship, baptize, and confirm.

Stellick is not new to the Okinawa mission efforts. He visited military families there in the past, but regular visits ended due to lack of funding. Thanks to the Internet, Stellick has continued to offer direction and resources, like Skype Bible information classes, through the years. He says, “Bimonthly visits from myself or Pastor Wordell are a boost in the arm for them, but reality is that they must learn all that is needed to minister to their group. . . . This experience for those who join clarifies why they believe what they believe, why it is important to gather around the Word. . . . They are a joy to work with and equip for serving one another.”

According to Garry, the biggest challenge the group faces is not having a full-time pastor. Yet the group continues to grow. “This past week we were contacted by someone arriving on the island,” says Garry. “We have a new family coming in January 2014.”

The Okinawa group is partially able to support themselves, and, back in Florida, Risen Savior and others help by sending them Sunday school offerings and gifts designated to defray the costs of visiting missionaries and other religious resources. “We could not function . . . and grow without support from our stateside churches,” says Garry.

Garry encourages fellow Christians to appreciate the blessings of having a church and a full-time pastor. “Take advantage of all that your local church offers, and join your congregation as often as you can to hear God’s Word,” he advises. “It is a precious gift. Having a church to go to is so important. We have felt the pain of not having a church and are now so blessed to have Our Living Hope congregation.”

Wordell agrees, recalling his latest visit to Okinawa. “One of the Hofferberts’ girls leaned over and asked her mom during the service, ‘Is this a special service?’ Her mom replied, ‘Whenever we can have a real pastor preaching to us it is a special service.’ ”

Ann Ponath is a member at St. John, Stillwater, Minnesota.

 

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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

Personal and private?

Earle D. Treptow

“Religion is an intensely personal matter.” That’s true, of course. Faith resides in the hidden confines of the heart. Those who do not personally trust God’s promise of forgiveness through the life and death of Christ will not live, but die. The Lord will shut them out from his presence forever.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned against thinking that an external connection to him would guarantee a place in glory: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matthew 7:22,23). Trust in Jesus as my personal substitute, through whom I stand before the Father clothed in Christ’s righteousness, is a matter of the heart. No one else can believe for me. It is indeed personal.

The world firmly believes that religion ought to be only a personal matter. That’s why the unbelieving world cries foul when Christians dare to speak out on matters of morality like abortion, homosexuality, or sexual relations outside of marriage. “You should keep your personal beliefs personal,” the world opines. Similarly, when Christians speak up and proclaim that eternal life is a gift of God’s grace, acquired by Christ, and received only through faith in Jesus, the unbelieving world often responds angrily, “Keep your religion to yourself. That’s your private opinion.”

Yet Jesus directs us, as the salt of the earth, to speak out against immorality. He has commissioned us to proclaim his all-atoning sacrifice to the world, even if unbelievers revile us for doing so. Evidently, Jesus doesn’t see Christianity as only “an intensely personal and private matter.” Because Christ lives and reigns in our hearts by his gospel, we will open our mouths to speak the truth of his Word. We simply cannot stop ourselves from announcing his triumph over sin and death and pleading with people to trust in him. Because we believe, we speak.

The devil and the world want us to see our Christian faith as a personal and private matter for other reasons too. If it’s only personal and private, then no one can confront sin. Then the world can respond to any rebuke with a countercharge: “Who exactly are you to point out my failings? When you are free from sin, you are welcome to pick up a stone.”

If I believe the devil’s lie that Christian faith is only a personal and private matter, then I quickly absolve myself of any responsibility to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

That, however, is not the Lord’s design. The Lord incorporated us into his body that we might love one another. That love takes concrete form as we break free from our obsession with self and engage in the lives of others. Love compels us to pray for them in their challenges, care for them in their need, encourage them in their Christian faith and life, and rebuke them when necessary. The Lord aims to bless your fellow Christians, and he graciously intends to work through you to do so.

When you hear the devil and the world pounding on their pulpit, insisting that faith is only a personal and private matter, remember the prayer the Savior taught us: “Our Father.” Christianity is not, and never will be, merely a personal and private matter.

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, president of the Nebraska District, is pastor at Zion, Denver, Colorado.

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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: 4

After his conversion, Paul spent the rest of his life sharing the gospel message.

Daniel N. Balge

No one knew the need to speak the gospel clearly better than the apostle Paul. No fudging. No dodging. No smudging the sharp line between God’s pure grace and human effort in answering the question, “How can I be right with God?” The good news must be unmistakable—by grace alone, by faith in Jesus alone, by Scripture alone—because human nature always looks for ways to misunderstand it. The sinful pride within each one of us wants to claim credit for saving our soul.

SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE

From his own life Paul was well aware of this tendency. Before being brought to faith on the Damascus road, he had been Saul, a Pharisee, a member in good standing of that sect of Judaism that had twisted the Old Testament into a do-it-yourself manual. He had actually been an all-star Pharisee (Philippians 3:4-6), well regarded, and quite sure of his ability to keep the law. Paul was supremely confident of his own works and worth.

But the voice of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit changed it all. After his conversion, Paul spent the rest of his life sharing the good news, utterly “resolved to know nothing . . . except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We hear it in his sermons, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38,39). We read it in his letters, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:21-24).

SHARING THE GOOD NEWS

And those letters gave early Christians the opportunity to review and be refreshed in the gospel. When doubts arose, when false teachers infiltrated, or when human pride jostled for position with faith—and all these things did and still do happen—Paul’s epistles corrected, strengthened, and comforted these new believers. They had rightly heard and believed the preaching of Paul and others: Salvation is completely God’s absolutely free gift. It comes by faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Consider how Paul laid it out for the Christians in Ephesus (2:8-10). He lists three key, overlapping features of what God has done for us and next to each point refutes proud human reason:

● “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves.” It’s all from God’s undeserved love. Not even faith is something you developed or decided.

● “It is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Human pride and accomplishment have no place in salvation.

● “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Works have a place in a Christian’s life, but only because God enabled us to do them and even set them up for us to do. Good works are the result of—not the reason for—salvation.

Trust this truly and say it clearly.

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

This is the fourth 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 2
Issue: February 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

 

Why don’t they believe?

I believe that every Christian harbors the same desire Paul expressed. As a prisoner, he stood before Agrippa and said, “I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29). We also want everyone to believe in Christ.

But why don’t they believe? The quick rejection of Christ is perhaps just because someone didn’t understand the gospel or didn’t want to be bothered. We can hope that some time in the future, someone else will explain better, and they will have the time to listen.

The answer to why they don’t believe is more difficult when we know someone understands but chooses another path. Among these are the atheists. They, of course, reject the gospel as so much superstition and see no evidence for the existence of God or anything spiritual.

This outright refusal comes from the human inherited corruption—original sin. That old sinful self wants nothing to do with God in any way. God and his truth make no sense to the natural human mind. Once Adam and Eve disobeyed, the corruption and distortion of their hearts and minds became evident. They cringed at the thought of God coming to them. And they hid from him. Believers ask, “How can you hide from a God who sees and knows everything?” But they did because they were corrupted.

That sinful self is perverse. Outright rejection of God and a refusal to hear anything about Jesus is just one way that nature shows itself. It takes many forms. It might be active persecution. That persecution of Christians was part of the church’s history in the first century. It hasn’t stopped. Today Christians around the world are persecuted for their faith. Some become martyrs.

Refusing to believe in Jesus might be more subtle than open opposition. Some will accept religion and yet refuse Jesus. What they believe seems foolish to Christians. We might ask ourselves, “How could anyone believe that?” But some do, and we shake our heads in disbelief.

Still others live under the umbrella of Christianity but deflect the message of the gospel. They major in the minors. Church architecture, Christian scholarship, education, history, and music are all important aspects of Christian thinking and life. Yet, it is possible—and I’ve witnessed this trait—to be so concerned about these things that they can avoid Christ—the center of Christianity.

It has been said that there are only two religions in this world. One finds value within the human heart or in good behavior and assumes the doors of heaven will open to all good people. The other understands God cannot be bribed by any human effort and grasps the lifeline God freely provides: the forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit we understand this gospel is not only the power of God working in us. It is also the wisdom of God. Yet, Christ crucified is still foolishness to so many.

When that message disappears from our thoughts and lives, we move toward the foolish darkness of unbelief. That’s a warning for us all. It also comes as an encouragement to make sure the gospel is proclaimed in our classrooms and churches. The gospel and the gospel alone is the power of God.

Like Paul we have the task of sharing Jesus. Pray that God gives you and your fellow believers the opportunity to share. Then wait for the work of the Holy Spirit. He works through the gospel. It’s his means to bring grace to others.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

Psalm 23:4 Part:4

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

Lonely. Lovely.

A lone child sits wide-eyed in a dark bedroom, imagining monsters creeping out of the closet. Cradled in the arms of a parent’s love, the child drifts off to sweet dreams of unicorns and butterflies. Even though the pizza is made for cheese lovers, a solo Valentine dinner is topped with layers of loneliness. A widow worshiping with hundreds has never felt so alone now that her pew neighbor is no longer the one she loved. Lonely. Lovely. So close, yet so far apart.

David knew lonely. He knew what it was like to be alone at work. Bleating flocks provided the only harmony to his psalms. He knew what it was like to be alone in his family. While there were many voices around the dinner table, his didn’t seem to matter. He knew what it was like to be in a solo cage-match with his conscience. Pinned by his guilt and with his bones being crushed, for months David felt there was no partner to tag for relief. He knew what it was like to be alone in the fight for his life. The cool shadow of a cave provided little respite from the shadow of death cast by his best friend’s father and his own king’s spear. How could David walk through these lonely valleys? How can you walk through lonely valleys?

Psalm 23:4. No matter the number that follows the colon, we are quick to recite the opening verse, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Shepherd is a beautiful picture of what our Lord does. He leads. He restores. He guides. He prepares. He anoints. Find comfort in what the Good Shepherd can do. But don’t miss the comfort of verse four. It shows us where the Good Shepherd is: right next to us. “You are with me.”

Learn to love the Shepherd’s “with.” Where is the Shepherd when I’m lost? With me. Where is the Shepherd when my soul is broken? With me. Where is the Shepherd when my cup is empty? With me. Where is the Shepherd when I’m in the valley? With me.

It’s not a coincidence these words are the center of this psalm. They are central to our comfort. They form the core of our confidence. We can walk through any valley because we aren’t alone. The Lord is with us.

In essence, isn’t being with the Lord paradise? Paradise is not lonely. It’s lovely. So no matter the valley you’re in now or the valley you must face tomorrow, go forward with these four words, “You are with me.”


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

• What was a lonely time in your life?

Answers will vary.

• Describe a time when a person’s presence meant more than their actions.

Answers will vary.

Examples:

Someone travels across the country for an event in your life.

Someone visits you in the aftermath of a loved one’s death.

A friend stops in just to see how you are doing.

Grandchildren come home for Christmas is the best gift you could have received.

• Evaluate this statement: Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.

This is an extremely important point to remember for people in our churches, communities, and workplaces. Just because people are surrounded by people, let’s look for opportunities to show our Christian love.

• David switches from “he” to “you” in this verse. What’s the significance?

David didn’t just see the Lord as a Shepherd directing and guiding from far away. He found comfort in knowing the Lord was close by, so close that he spoke to him as if he was right there. The pronoun switch reiterates the truth: “You are with me.”

• How does life with the Lord change our perspective?

Imagine life without him. Funerals, natural disasters, job loss, etc., could easily lead to despair if we didn’t know Jesus was walking through those valleys with us.

• How can loneliness be a gift from God?

Sometimes all the activity in life can be a distraction from the greater blessing we have in God’s companionship. If God allows us to enter the valley of loneliness, might we use it as an opportunity to be with our Lord in his Word? We soon will see how lovely that can be.


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

This is the fourth 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 Feb. 5.

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

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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’s grace

Holding a grandchild becomes a special blessing and a reminder of God’s rich grace.

Martin and Sharon Baur

On June 8, 2013, my dear wife, Sharon, and I became grandparents. Our first grandchild was born to our oldest daughter Kristina, and her husband, Justin. What a blessing to be part of this experience and even more so because of my wife’s failing health.

A DEVASTATING DIAGNOSIS

When Sharon was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in the fall of 2012, we were not sure whether the Lord would give her good health long enough to hold her first grandbaby. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rapidly progressing neuromuscular disease for which there is no cure; managing the symptoms is all that can be done. Those affected gradually lose the ability to walk, to use their hands, to speak, to eat, and finally to breathe. Little is known about the cause, but upon diagnosis, patients are given two to five years to live.

Sharon handled this devastating news with grace, poise, and a solid faith in Jesus. She saw a blessing in long good-byes and spent the first weeks and months following her diagnosis planning for the time when she would no longer be here. Among the many thoughtful preparations she made was how to use her wedding gown. She had me bring her wedding dress down from the attic and open the box that had been sealed for 31 years. She tried her dress on long enough for me to snap a few pictures and then did what she had always planned to do. She had her dress made into baptismal gowns for our future grandbabies—one for a baby boy and one for a baby girl. She didn’t know whether she would experience the blessing of grandchildren, but she felt comforted knowing the gowns would be ready for the day of baptism.

A BEAUTIFUL REMINDER

A short time later, Kristina and Justin made the announcement that a baby was on the way! It seemed more likely now that this important event would become a reality for Sharon.

We watched and waited as the pregnancy progressed. Each month brought us closer to the anticipated arrival of our grandbaby. Along the way, we learned it would be a girl. We all gave our suggestions on a name for the little one, but to no avail. The parents had already been chosen her name, but it would remain a surprise until the baby was born.

On the day of her birth, we were given a pink envelope announcing the name. It read:

Paityn Grace Heinzen

The middle name Grace was chosen in honor of Sharon.
Although we do not know how long you and Paityn will enjoy each other on this earth, we are confident that because of God’s grace you will spend eternity with her.

What a tremendous reminder couched in the midst of her name. God’s grace, the kind of love God has shown us. That is why Sharon was able to hold Paityn Grace in her arms. A gift of God’s love given in a tough and disappointing world. What a blessing to hold onto grace and to hold onto Grace.

We don’t know how long Sharon will hold Grace, but she holds God’s grace in her heart and by that grace will spend eternity in heaven. By God’s grace little Grace will join her when her journey is over.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith . . .” (Ephesians 2:8).

Martin and Sharon Baur live in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Martin is pastor at St. Paul, Wisconsin Rapids.

 

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Author: Martin and Sharon Baur
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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: Treptow

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

Earle Treptow, Forward in Christ’s newest editorialist, hopes to keep Christians out of the kettle through his writing.

Treptow explains, “A frog dropped into a boiling kettle will quickly jump out, but one in water that is gradually heated will adjust to the temperature until he ends up being boiled to death. That’s a warning to me as a Christian. I like to think that I am in the world, but not of the world. The reality is that I often find myself thinking like the world around me. I don’t think I’m alone in that. It seems to me that editorials ought to take a close look at the thoughts of the world that Christians might be tempted to espouse and analyze them from the light of God’s Word. Editorials ought to teach us to be critical of what we see and hear around us. They ought to remind us of the importance of grounding ourselves in the truth so that we can more readily discern the lies.”

Treptow serves Zion, Denver, Colo., and is the Nebraska District president. He and his wife, Jeanne, have three children—Jordan, 20; Bennett, 18; and Ty, 9.

“The Lord blessed me in ways beyond what I could even have imagined when he gave me Jeanne as my helper,” says Treptow. “We were married in the summer of 1990. Jeanne has carried a heavy load in raising our children, in supporting me personally and professionally, and in pitching in wherever needed in congregational life. I cannot thank God enough for her. I simply wouldn’t be able to serve in the ways that I do without her.”

Treptow’s service has given him a wide view of the synod. A 1993 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Treptow was assigned to serve two congregations in the suburbs of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. In 1997, he accepted a call to serve as the director of admissions for the pastoral studies program at Martin Luther College.

Then, he says, “After five years of encouraging people to consider becoming pastors, it was time for me to go and be a parish pastor. Nothing beats being around God’s people and sharing in the ups and downs of their lives.”

Forward in Christ’s readers will now benefit from Treptow’s experiences and his insights into applying God’s Word in our lives.

 

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Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

Lutherans in Pakistan producing Christian TV program

In June 2013, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pakistan began producing a 30-minute Christian television program that is being aired via satellite once a week in the Urdu language. Each episode is divided into 10-minute segments that focus on an illustrated Bible history account, a puppet show (pictured) that illustrates a biblical truth, and a teaching from Luther’s Catechism. This small church body operates in an area that is 97 percent Muslim and openly hostile to Christianity. Yet, it is boldly spreading God’s Word.

Congregation members in Pakistan have worked on each facet of the program, from creating the puppets by hand to serving as on-camera talent to editing the show. Because they are familiar with the culture and the sensitivities related to Christianity in their country, they have crafted a show that is appropriate and is being well received—even by those of other faiths.

“It’s amazing the talents they have found in that little church of 100,” says the coordinator of WELS’ work in Pakistan. “It sounds like ‘Mission: Impossible.’ It’s heart-touching to me to see a confessional Lutheran church broadcasting in Pakistan.”

No WELS missionaries serve in Pakistan but WELS does work with the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church there. Most of WELS’ ministry in Pakistan is conducted through the distribution of biblical materials translated by WELS Multi-Language Publications. Since 2006, more than 118,000 Christian books have been distributed, and more than 35,000 people have enrolled in the Bible correspondence program. The use of humanitarian aid, often provided through WELS Christian Aid and Relief, opens the door to share these Christian publications.

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Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

Let your light shine: Nemmers

In the spirit of Matthew 5:16, we’re sharing examples of people who live their faith.

Our examples today are Joanne and Brent Nemmers, members of Atonement, Plano, Texas. The following article by Joanne was originally printed by Truth in Love Ministries in its November 2013 updates.

“You did what?” I asked my husband.

He had been out walking and had met two Mormon sister missionaries. He’d invited them to talk with us about the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) faith.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “You just provide the snacks, and I’ll do the talking.”

My husband and I both knew a little about witnessing to Mormons. We had been to a seminar where we were encouraged to invite Mormon missionaries into our home. It sounded like a great thing to do; I just wasn’t sure I could do it. I decided that if my husband was willing to take the lead, the least I could do was provide cookies and moral support. Even so, I was nervous.

When they came I was immediately struck by their friendliness. They began by talking about the Bible and the Book of Mormon and their belief that if you pray to God, he will give you a conviction that the Book of Mormon is the truth. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but respond. When the missionaries asked how I know what truth is, I said “I compare it to the Bible. If it doesn’t agree with the Bible, then it’s not from God.” My husband and I spoke of how feelings can be misleading but that God has given us the Bible as our source of truth.

Over the course of four more visits, I have found my voice again and again and am reading the Bible with new insight. How would this help to show the truth to the Mormon sisters? How can I present the truths of God’s Word without using terms that they define differently? How can I better connect with them and let them know I care?

What progress are we making with the Mormon sisters? My husband will tell you that, more than once, I have wanted to give up because “we’re never going to get through to them.” He simply replies that we are just supposed to “plant and water,” and God’s Word will work. Each time they have come they’ve brought someone else along. We have been able to plant and water with eight Mormons so far.

I do know that God’s Word has worked on me through all of this. I was afraid to be a witness, but God gave me the words and made it so rewarding. By searching God’s Word for ways to say it better or differently, my faith has been encouraged—and yours can be, too. If you see Mormon missionaries in your neighborhood, trust God’s promise that he will give you the words, and invite them over for a little planting and watering. You won’t be sorry you did!

 

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Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Updates from Martin Luther College

The year 2013 was a busy one at Martin Luther College (MLC). The college continues to advance its offerings as it works to educate future called workers for WELS congregations and schools.

Early childhood

About 3.7 million (at the time of publication) has been received to build the new 15,500 sq. ft. Early Childhood Education Center, which was dedicated in October 2013, as well as provide scholarships for MLC early childhood education students and early childhood teachers enrolled in continuing education courses. Mark Zarling, MLC president, says the building was built without debt, with funds being raised in just a little over a year and a half. “To see so many people give such an outpouring of gifts to make the construction of a new early childhood learning center a reality leaves me humbled,” says Zarling. “It truly is a reminder of God’s powerful love in the lives of his people.”

Urban ministry

Another area which the MLC Governing Board seeks to expand is training for urban ministry. For the last ten years, the MLC Urban Ministry Trip, developed in partnership with The Center for Urban Teaching, has promoted interest in and an understanding of urban schools in Milwaukee’s central city. Participants experience seminars on urban teaching conducted by urban teachers; classroom observation; workshops on culture building in the classroom; and talks by school leaders. The board is planning to establish an urban ministry minor and hire a part-time urban ministry coordinator.

Mandarin language training

In a pilot project funded by an Antioch II grant, Mandarin has been offered at MLC since the 2012-13 school year. The MLC Governing Board decided to establish Mandarin as a language offering by continuing its use as a minor for education students and by adding Mandarin as a non-biblical language option for preseminary students. To accomplish this, the board will call an individual to teach Mandarin and other courses. The addition of this position will also allow the college to establish a centralized office for international ministries both on and off the campus.

Special education

The MLC Governing Board approved the addition of a special education undergraduate major in February 2013. Work continues on that major, which leads to an Academic and Behavioral Strategist (ABS) license at the undergraduate level. The purpose of the ABS license is to prepare special education teachers to work across multiple disability areas. MLC envisions a number of MLC students double-majoring in elementary education and special education, equipping each to serve as a regular classroom teacher as well as a resource for the school’s special-needs children, their parents, and faculty members. Work also continues on the special education emphasis in the master’s program.

New Teacher Induction

New Teacher Induction (NTI) guides beginning teachers through their first two years of teaching through training seminars and the use of mentors. NTI is working in seven districts (Southeastern, Western, and Northern Wisconsin; Minnesota; South Atlantic; Nebraska; and South Central), in which 51 first-year teachers and 26 second-year teachers have trained mentors. Currently 37 teachers are actively mentoring new teachers, and 15 more mentors are being trained. The goal is to have as many May 2014 graduates assigned a mentor as possible.

 

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Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Remodeled building offers more outreach opportunities

Location has been key for Christ, Denver, Colo., a mission congregation in Denver’s inner city. “We haven’t struggled to meet people,” says Paul Biedenbender, pastor at Christ. “We have a great location right on the corner; lots of people just walk in to find out what we’re doing. A lot of our outreach is being at church with the door open.” Yet space was limited in the 100-year-old building in which Christ has been conducting ministry for the past 13 years.

But in 2011, Christ received a special grant from Home Missions as a result of a $1 million gift from WELS Church Extension Fund (WELS CEF) to help missions get into worship facilities more quickly. That money—along with additional WELS CEF grants and loans as well as gifts and grants from other congregations and organizations—helped Christ buy and remodel the building it had been renting since 2001. The congregation hopes construction will be completed by Easter.

Outreach in this area started in 1998 when WELS mission counselor Eugene Ahlswede gathered people from outlying Denver metro congregations to look into reaching out to the Hispanic population in the inner city. In the summer of 1999 volunteers held a one-week vacation Bible school at a playground they rented from a public elementary school. The event brought in many prospects, and volunteers held more events the following year. In 2000, the Colorado District Mission Board called Eileen Zanto to serve as coordinator of this outreach.

WELS Denver Urban Outreach, what the mission was known as at the time, began renting part of its current building in 2001. “I remember the dirt floor in the bathroom, pipes sticking up through the floor, along with the rebar on the windows for security!” says Zanto, who now serves as a staff minister at Christ. “WELS volunteers from Colorado came to fix it up, and what a facelift our two rooms totaling about 1,100 square feet received!”

Area volunteers started conducting kids’ Bible hours twice a week and an adult Bible hour every Tuesday. English as a Second Language classes soon began. In 2005, Biedenbender was assigned to serve part time at Christ; the first bilingual worship service was held Christmas 2005. The congregation began renting the entire building so Biedenbender could conduct both English and Spanish services. He was serving full time at Christ by 2007.

Now the congregation has 160 members, with more than 50 attending English services and 45 to 50 attending Spanish worship. The building expansion includes a new sanctuary with seating for 140 and a gathering area, allowing the space where worship used to be held to be remodeled into classrooms.

Biedenbender says having more room will give congregation members more opportunities to interact. “Right now we have two bilingual services a year—Thanksgiving and Ash Wednesday,” he says. “A bigger sanctuary will allow us to have more opportunities to do that.” It will also give them a place to congregate between services. A library as well as a lounge area will make the ministry center inviting for community walk-ins. “There’s a lot of natural curiosity with the building going up,” says Biedenbender. “Two families are in our Bible information class because they poked their heads in [during construction].”

Owning a larger updated facility will help with many of the challenges Christ has been facing, but Biedenbender is quick to point out that this is just the start of the congregation’s work. Training members and getting them involved in ministry work continues. Congregation leaders are also working to instill a mission spirit in Christ’s members. “Ever since October 2000, when I began serving, I was touched by the many, many WELS people from around the United States who supported us monetarily,” says Zanto. “We continue to receive encouragement in many forms from people all over the U.S. We are trying to pass this mission spirit on to our own families.”

The changing neighborhood is creating new opportunities to put that spirit into action. The cost of living in the neighborhood is rising, causing young professionals to move in and lower income families to move out. Besides reaching new prospects in their neighborhood, Biedenbender and church leaders are looking into conducting Bible studies at a large apartment complex where some of Christ’s members are relocating. “It will be a little satellite of the church,” says Biedenbender.

He continues, “We have much to look forward to and to keep working on.”

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Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

Give thanks for God’s leaders

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1,2

Steven J. Pagels

Has this ever happened to you? You went to your mailbox on the third Monday in February, and when you opened it you were surprised to find that the box was empty. Or you stopped by the post office the same day, and when you tried to open the door you discovered that it was locked. After a few seconds, your initial confusion went away when you remembered, “Oh yeah, today is Presidents Day.”

Technically, Presidents Day is not a national holiday. Some states celebrate it as Washington’s Birthday, while others set aside the day to commemorate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. And if it weren’t for the post office closings and the flashy red, white, and blue Presidents Day sales promotions, the holiday would probably go unnoticed by most.

THEY ARE A BLESSING

Presidents Day may never be elevated to the status of Memorial Day or Labor Day in our country, but it shouldn’t be forgotten either. In fact, it would be good for Christians to make a special effort to remember this secular holiday because we recognize that our earthly leaders are blessings from God.

The apostle Paul honored the spirit of Presidents Day when he urged his friend Timothy to pray for “kings and all those in authority.” His inspired words encourage us to do the same. So do we? Do we take those words to heart? Do we put Paul’s words into practice? Do we pray for our elected leaders as much as we criticize them? Do we ask God to bless them, or do we blast them whenever we get the chance?

It’s easy to find fault with the people God had placed over us because they are full of faults. Sometimes they abuse their authority. Sometimes they make mistakes. We need to remember that our representatives are sinners, just like the people they serve. They need a Savior, just like you and me.

WE ARE BLESSED THROUGH THEM

Ironically, God used dishonest and corrupt leaders on Good Friday when he carried out his plan of salvation. Waves of false witnesses testified against Jesus in the Jewish high court. The Roman governor knowingly sentenced an innocent man to die. From a legal perspective it was a gross miscarriage of justice, but from our perspective it was a beautiful display of sacrificial love. The King of heaven and earth chose to give up his almighty power to become one of us. The sinless Son of God willingly gave up his life to rescue us from eternal death.

Through Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven, but we have many more blessings. Our Savior gives them to us through the earthly leaders he placed over us. Our government is by no means perfect, but for the most part Christian citizens are able to “to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” And the laws of our land allow us to live our faith and share our faith without fear.

You don’t have to wait until the third Monday in February to show your appreciation for these blessings. Remember Paul’s encouragement. Pray for your leaders. Give thanks for God’s leaders on Presidents Day and every day.

Contributing editor Steven Pagels is pastor at St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

 

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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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

 

A generation at risk

They are called the “Millennials”—the generation comprising young people from age 18 to 29. Some are just now completing high school or college. Some have begun to work in the careers. Others are getting married and starting families.

Millennials have been in the headlines in recent months, primarily because the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is counting on them to enroll in large numbers to make the program viable.

This is a generation that should be getting attention not just from the architects of the health care law and the news media. It’s a generation that should be drawing the close and careful attention of the church as well.

They are in danger because they are surrounded by a culture that has adopted radical new views of sexuality and marriage. Many of them are products of an educational system in which Christian values and beliefs have been rejected and openly mocked. They are bombarded by entertainment in which there are no boundaries and no sense of shame. At a point in life normally characterized by youthful idealism and optimism, instead they find themselves living at a time when standards of living are dropping, opportunities are disappearing, violence is increasing, and news seems to be constantly bad. Facing all of those challenges, some of the Millennials are wandering away from the very things that can help them—the church and the Word of God.

What can the church do to help today’s young adults overcome the challenges they are facing? What can we do to help this generation hold on to Christian faith and values while so many of their peers are abandoning those things?

The answer is not to conclude that the church needs to change or adjust its message. The help that the church can offer is not to be found in innovative new programs. What the church can do to help the Millennial generation and to keep them connected to the church is much simpler than that.

Pastors: Preach specific law in your sermons, warning against the very real sins that surround our young people and calling them to repentance. Proclaim the unconditional gospel, pointing them to the cross. As you prepare Bible classes, offer courses that address the life challenges that young adults are facing. Put time and effort into planning solid and edifying worship. Take a personal, individual interest in the lives of the young people in your congregation.

Church leaders: Encourage congregation members to keep in contact with young people away at school. For those still living nearby, put the skills and energy of young Christians to work in your congregation by giving them opportunities to serve. Give them real responsibility and seek their input. Train them to be leaders who will someday take your place.

Parents and grandparents: Remember that your responsibility to guide and direct your children does not end when they leave your home. Don’t hesitate to give them Christ-centered encouragement and, when necessary, loving admonition. Show them by your example that hearing God’s Word and gathering regularly for worship is vital for them and for their faith. Talk with them about the Savior and Christian values. The Savior and those values will prepare them for life in a difficult world.

“One generation will commend your works to another,” the psalmist wrote (145:4). There is no better thing for us to do for a generation at risk and in danger. And we can do that with confidence, knowing that the power to preserve faith in young people and to equip them for faithful service rests in the Word of God itself.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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: If you Could do something, but don’t?

“If you believe you could do something to help prevent your parents from getting a divorce, is it wrong not to?”

James F. Pope

I do have to say that your question puzzles me. I do not know anything about the situation that prompts your question. I do not know why you would want your parents to divorce if you could do something to prevent that from happening. I do not know if there are contributing factors to your question, such as anger or dislike on your part toward one or both of your parents. With very limited information on hand, I cannot address your circumstances specifically or thoroughly. What I can do is highlight the subjects of marriage and divorce and honoring your parents, and then encourage you to pursue the right course of action.

DIVINE DESIGN AND DIVORCE

God’s intent has always been that marriage be a lifelong union between a man and a woman (Matthew 19:5,6). That special union provides a wonderful way to enjoy intimate companionship, it furnishes the appropriate and God-pleasing place for sexual activity, and it offers a stable environment to raise children. Within the marriage bond, God directs wives to submit to their husbands “as the Church submits to Christ” (Ephesians 5:24), and he instructs husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). With Christ as the pattern for both spouses, the formula for marital happiness is in place.

And yet, sin threatens that happiness. Sin adversely affects the marriage relationship as it does all relationships. Sin shows itself when spouses break the marriage bond by their unfaithfulness to one another or their abandonment of one another. Sin shows itself when spouses sever the marriage bond when there is no scriptural reason to do so. Thus, sin is present whenever divorce takes place. Sin calls for repentance, and repentant sinners flee to the mercy of God, revealed in Jesus Christ his Son.

PURSUING PARENTAL OBEDIENCE

Jesus affirmed his heavenly Father’s desire that a marriage, like your parents’, is to be lifelong (Matthew 19:6). If you desire something different, then your views are at odds with God’s—and, perhaps, not just in the area of marriage. What about the Fourth Commandment? “Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:2). You have to ask yourself if you are honoring your parents—showing them respect and esteem—if you allow them to divorce, an act that most Bible translations describe as something that God “hates” (Malachi 2:16). You have to ask yourself if you are looking to “the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4) by remaining silent and not doing what you can to help a marriage survive.

Finally, I would have you think about conscience. Far too many people have pangs of conscience because of the wrongs they committed or, potentially in your case, the good they failed to do. While Christ’s forgiveness covers all sins, far too many Christians live with regret and painful memories of the sins they committed. I would not want you to deal with that in the future, should you remain silent and should your parents divorce.

So, yes, it would be wrong for you to remain silent. I encourage you to talk with your pastor about your situation. Explain what is behind your thought process not to speak up to prevent your parents’ divorce. Remind them of the commitment they made to each other and your hope for a united family. They may still divorce, but you have done what you could.

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

James Pope also answers questions online.

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 2
Issue: February 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