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Heritage Homes leads dementia initiative in Watertown

Heritage Homes, Watertown, Wis., a senior living facility that is part of The Lutheran Home Association, Belle Plaine, Minn., is leading the charge to make the community of Watertown dementia friendly.

“A dementia-friendly city is one where the community is aware that there are members who have problems with memory, and because of these problems with memory, what can [the businesses] do to keep them a vital part of the community,” says Jan Zimmerman, administrator and director of nursing at Heritage Homes.

Simple steps range from how restaurant orders are taken to bank employees recognizing signs of financial abuse. Zimmerman noted that while her initial focus is dementia, many of the techniques will also benefit people in the community with other forms of cognitive impairments.

Zimmerman says that by educating community businesses about how to better serve people with dementia, “we hope they won’t be staying at home as much because they’ll have the opportunity to go out and feel accepted and feel like if they need help there are people out there who will help them and not look down on them.”

The idea started in the fall of 2013 and quickly took off. In a few short months nine area businesses pledged to become dementia friendly and did employee training. In addition, the coalition is working with the local police and fire departments. Dementia-friendly businesses receive a purple angel sign to display, so patrons know it is a safe and comfortable place for people with memory loss to visit.

The program’s reach is extending beyond Watertown too. Zimmerman says she’s received calls from people all over the country asking how they can implement the program in their community or organization.

“We are proud of Jan Zimmerman and our entire team at Heritage Homes,” says Michael Klatt, president and CEO of The Lutheran Home Association. “We are looking forward to growing our memory care services and campus in the future. It is exciting to see the Watertown community be a part of this historic community initiative. As a leader of senior services, we are honored to have inspired residents, family members, team members, community members, donors, and volunteers engaged to advance our Christian ministry.”

Zimmerman says, “Christ has served us, and we feel like this is a way we can serve the community.”

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Fourth graders share “the most important message”

When Lakeside Lutheran High School teacher Todd Hackbarth asked visiting fourth graders, “If you could make a video for the whole world to see, what would you want to show or tell the rest of the world?” Hackbarth says, “Almost immediately with each group, they said they wanted to tell the rest of the world about Jesus.”

In November 2013, about 230 students from area WELS grade schools that are part of Lakeside’s federation visited the high school in Lake Mills, Wis. One of their stops was Hackbarth’s videography class, where he then let the students participate in making their own video. Hackbarth and Steve Lauber, Lakeside’s recruitment director, wrote the script ahead of time, but Hackbarth says that the students had no idea what the topic of the video would be when he asked them what they would want to tell the rest of the world.

He notes, “These fourth grade students know how precious God’s Word is. The message of the video is very simple, but it moves people to tears because it reminds them just how gracious God is. When we are worried about so many things in life, sometimes we need kids to point out what is most important. You are saved!”

Hackbarth explains that other than writing the script and editing the video, the fourth graders handled everything else—operating the camera, holding a boom mike, checking the sound, and performing in front of the camera.

In the video, titled “The most important message! Told by fourth graders!” the fourth grade students boldly proclaim that Jesus saved each one of us. Hackbarth posted the video on YouTube, and more than 2,000 people have viewed it.

Hackbarth says, “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The students think it is awesome to be in a video on YouTube for the world to see. I heard about cheering and laughing among the students as they watched for the first time. Many adults have said they were moved to tears by it.”

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Informal discussions from the Lutheran church

Representatives from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) met for three days in December in Tucson, Arizona, in keeping with the encouragement given by the conventions of both WELS and the LCMS. The meeting, a follow-up on a similar meeting in December 2012, was not intended to be a formal doctrinal discussion but rather was an opportunity for informal discussions intended to clarify doctrinal positions and to gain a better understanding of current situations in each church body. While those who were at the meeting held various leadership positions in the synods, these talks did not take place among the constitutionally established bodies responsible for formal doctrinal discussions. No decisions were made, and no formal declarations were adopted.

The major topic for discussion was Church and Ministry. The group had an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the doctrinal positions of the respective church bodies when it comes to the definition of “the Church,” as well as to discuss in some detail the perceptions and understanding of the public ministry. The talks helped to clarify some issues, to remove some misunderstandings, and to shed light on the various terminology used in the three synods.

The talks were cordial and beneficial. All involved are committed to striving for a better understanding of where there is agreement and where genuine differences remain. The group agreed to hold another meeting in the coming year.

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Popularity of daily devotions grow

Thousands of WELS members—and their family and friends—begin each weekday by reading the daily devotion provided by WELS Commission on Evangelism. The devotions, which are written by WELS pastors, are available for free via e-mail subscription; posted on www.wels.net, www.WhatAboutJesus.com, and WELS’ Facebook and Twitter accounts; and available via podcast and the WELS mobile app.

These devotions have come a long way since they began back in 199? when members of Beautiful Savior, Atlanta, Ga., asked their pastor, Keith Wessel, to create something that could be shared with co-workers and friends via e-mail. Wessel began writing one devotion each week for this purpose.

When Thomas Kock, pastor at Living Word, Gray, Tenn., and the chairman of the South Atlantic Adult Discipleship Committee heard about this, he thought it was a great idea and wanted to share the devotions with the entire district. Soon Wessel, Kock, and layman Blair Schlender were taking turns writing the devotions.

As Kock explains, “It just grew so fast. At first Keith, Blair, and I each kept the e-mail list on our computers, but we were having trouble keeping it coordinated. And soon it was becoming known outside of our district, which was great! Finally we realized that it was bigger than we could handle, and so we approached the synod and asked if they’d be interested/willing to take it over. We’d keep writing (if they wanted us to do so), but they would manage it from then on. And it’s continued to grow over the years.”

Since WELS Commission on Evangelism took over the devotions in 2001, the reach of these devotions has continued to spread further and further. More than 9,000 people now subscribe to receive the devotions via e-mail. Hundreds—perhaps thousands—more read and listen to them each day online. The advantage of electronic communication is that the devotions are also easily shared, so the true reach of these devotions is impossible to determine.

Mike Hintz, director of WELS Commission on Evangelism, sums this ministry up well when he says, “The daily devotions communicate the Word of God to people near and far in an easily accessible way.”


What are people saying about the devotions?

Thomas Kock, one of the writers of WELS’ daily devotions, says, “When I’m writing them, I’m looking at them as being a good-news pick-me-up. I’d like the reader to say, ‘Wow, what a wonderful God I have, who has saved me!’ If people are convinced of that, they will be able to handle whatever the day throws at them.”

Below readers—or listeners—share how they use WELS’ daily devotions.

• “I read them in the morning, while drinking my first cup of coffee.”

• “I listen to them every morning while getting ready for work. Really puts my mind in the right place, and I’m focused and ready to take on anything the day might bring.”

• “My husband and I usually listen to them together in the evening, just before bed.”

• “I get and read them via e-mail most of the time but sometimes read and share them online via Facebook.”

• “I get them via e-mail and normally they are the first e-mail I read each day. A blessed way to start each day. Often I share the prayers via Facebook Timeline.”

• “As an elder, I write a short piece each month in our church newsletter. WELS daily devotions have been a great help in providing ideas for these articles.”

• “I receive them by e-mail Monday-Friday and read them every morning. They give me a good start to my day.”

• “Great outreach for my friends because I get to share!”

• “It is a part of my daily Bible reading and prayer time.”

• “I read them on Facebook and share with my friends! Great way to start the day.”

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Congregation shares gospel in neighboring community

The Western Wisconsin District is numerically the largest of the 12 districts in WELS, yet opportunities for mission work still abound.

“We think everyone goes to church in Wisconsin, and the reality is we’re not living in a Christian nation,” says Joe Fricke, pastor at St. Paul, Mauston, Wis. “There are prospects all over the place.”

Fricke and his 800-member congregation found some of these prospects right in their own backyard. When members of the congregation attended a School of Outreach in 2006, they learned that the neighboring county was 75 percent unchurched. “We did some research and discovered there were 21,000 people in Adams County and only 19 established churches,” Fricke says—none of which were WELS. St. Paul also had a handful of families who lived in the area who were driving a half hour to worship.

In 2008, St. Paul’s members voted to start Bible classes in Adams to gauge interest and commitment. Between 9 and 12 people attended each time—plus Fricke was making contacts with acquaintances of his members in the area. Soon he was holding adult instruction classes. In September 2010, St. Paul began holding worship at the library community center in Adams. More than 40 attended the first service.

When Fricke’s associate pastor took a call in 2012, the congregation decided to request two new candidates from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary—one to continue work in Mauston with Fricke and one to live in Adams and conduct outreach there.

When seminary graduate Brian Schmidt arrived in Adams, he said the first thing he noticed was that the members wanted a more permanent space. By October 2012 the group had rented a storefront in Adams, a former day care center they affectionately call “the Purple Palace.” “Since we got that spot on Main Street it’s almost like we opened the doors and people started coming in,” says Schmidt.

Adams County is made up of a diverse group of people, ranging from those living below the poverty level to blue-collar workers to retirees. “There are a lot of different spiritual needs that these economic groups have,” says Schmidt. “It’s neat to see how the Word brings people like that all together.”

Schmidt says that while there are some established churches in the area, none are involved in community outreach. “There’s a need for the gospel here,” he says. “The number of people who have come in since we started shows they want the gospel; they just really haven’t had it shared with them.”

To reach out to the community, St. Paul’s canvasses door to door as well as uses events like the Adams County Fair to meet residents. At the fair and other events, residents can sign up for back-to-school packets, which congregation members then personally deliver to their homes. Laymembers from both Mauston and Adams also conduct Bible studies at the Adams County Jail. Schmidt says he is stressing the importance of friendship evangelism with his members as well.

Currently the Adams congregation has about 60 members, with weekly worship attendance in the high 40s. Schmidt says that in the future the group would like to own its own building and eventually become an independent congregation.

According to Fricke, this has been a great opportunity to teach St. Paul’s members to look for gospel outreach opportunities. “Spreading the gospel isn’t a committee thing, or a church thing, or a synod thing,” he says. “It’s really who God has made us. . . . This is what God put [us] on the planet to do.”

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Worship conference helps Swedish church body

The National Worship Conference, July 22–25, provides opportunities not only for members of the 1,200 WELS congregations in North America but also for people from our sister churches around the world.

Take Gunilla Hedkvist, a member of the Lutheran Confessional Church (LBK) in Sweden. Hedkvist jumped at the opportunity to attend the worship conference in 2008 and will be returning as a participant and presenter at this year’s conference in Kenosha, Wis. “I am looking forward to worshipping with my Christian friends in WELS again,” says Hedkvist. “2008 was like a foretaste of heaven, and I am confident it will be the same this year.”

With only 250 members in seven churches, the LBK is smaller than one medium-sized congregation in WELS. Yet our sister church in Sweden is faced with many challenges, including how to preserve a Lutheran heritage in a country where religion is becoming more secular.

“Sweden is one of the most secularized countries in the world,” says Hedkvist. “Even though more than 60% of the population are nominal members of The Swedish Church [the state church], most regular churchgoers go elsewhere on a Sunday morning.” She says many other denominations are ecumenical and focus on church growth. “Typical of most of these groups are non-liturgical services led by a praise band,” she says.

The LBK, meanwhile, is trying to vitalize Lutheran hymnody and the historical liturgy, and Hedkvist is playing a part in that work. Since Hedkvist returned from the 2008 conference, the church has published the two alternate service beginnings from Christian Worship: Supplement and is using other liturgical texts and music from Christian Worship. Several hymns from the supplement have also been translated into Swedish, including “In Christ Alone,” which, according to Hedkvist, “has become a favorite among the young in our church.” Hedkvist also was involved in putting together a worship booklet with liturgies, hymns, and psalms for the Trinity season.

Hedkvist’s interest in liturgical worship started when she was a teenager. “Liturgies and psalms were not used in the Christian group I was brought up in, but I was influenced by my confirmation pastor in the Swedish church and also by friends there. It wasn’t until many years later that I saw an opportunity to develop this interest further in the LBK,” she says. “Also WELS hymnal Christian Worship has given me a lot of inspiration to start psalm singing in the LBK.” She is taking organ lessons so she can better accompany worship at her home congregation in Norrköping.

At this year’s conference, Hedkvist says she is excited to learn more about the new hymnal project as well as make more contacts who can help advise this small church body as it continues to produce and translate liturgies, hymns, and psalms. She says she also will be presenting on “what has been done within the LBK to keep and vitalize Lutheran hymnody and the historical liturgy.”

And, of course, Hedkvist is anticipating the singing. “The experience of more than a thousand of God’s people praising him together in uplifting worship services and listening to how our Savior is glorified in powerful choral singing helps you through many valleys in life, just by thinking about it afterward,” she says. “You are not alone.”

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

From Christmas to the cross

When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law. Galatians 4:4,5

Steven J. Pagels

How is your Christmas tree doing these days? If your family puts up an artificial tree and if you are a bit of a procrastinator, there is a chance that it is still gathering dust in your living room. But if you are a traditionalist like me who has to cut down or buy a real tree every year, you know that keeping the base filled with water will only postpone the inevitable. Within a few weeks the green starts fading and the needles start falling, and what’s left of a once vibrant tree needs to be stripped of its decorations and carried to the curb.

A SECONDARY PURPOSE

Even though fire marshals discourage churches from setting up large natural trees in their sanctuaries, some churches have held on to that time honored tradition. And after the Christmas season is over a few congregations follow another tradition that dates back several centuries.

Instead of hauling the tree outside and chopping it up for firewood, the branches are carefully trimmed off so that only the trunk remains. The bare log is then cut into two pieces and tied together in the shape of a cross. After the transformation is complete the Christmas tree cross is brought back into the sanctuary, where it is displayed prominently throughout the season of Lent.

Christians want to be good stewards of all the resources the Lord has given us, but when they repurpose their Christmas trees by making them into Lenten crosses they aren’t just being green. Every time they look at the cross in church they are reminded that Jesus was born into this world for one reason and for one reason only.

A SOLITARY PURPOSE

In his letter to the Galatians Paul explains what that reason is: “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law.” Jesus was born into this world for a single, solitary purpose. He was born to die, to die for us, to redeem us, literally to “buy us” for God.

American consumers know a thing or two about buying things, and when our credit card balances come due every month we are reminded that every purchase we make comes with a cost. There is no payment plan, however, that can pay down the debt we owe to God. There is no credit limit that approaches the price Jesus paid to deliver us from our sins. He offered up himself. Jesus sacrificed his life for us for one reason and for one reason only—because he loves us.

We see that love in the manger, where the King of glory was born in humility. The same love was on display on the cross, where the sinless Son of God asked his Father to forgive his enemies and where Jesus gave up his life to forgive us, to rescue us, to redeem us.

Over the years my family has collected dozens of Christmas ornaments. Each one has its own story. Each one has special meaning. But my favorite ornament is a long metal spike attached to a red ribbon because every time I take it down from the tree and pack it away for another year I am reminded that Christmas is not the end. For Jesus, Christmas was just the beginning, and his love for me led him to the cross.

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

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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Repentance: Not just something we do

In the first of his 95 Theses Martin Luther wrote, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Repentance is a word that is often misused and misunderstood, if it’s used at all in our increasingly secular world. For many, to repent is simply to admit your fault and acknowledge your wrongdoing. It means to be sorry for what you have done. It means to take responsibility for your error and to promise yourself and others not to do it again. And once the correction is made, repentance is complete, and people move on until the next time they do something wrong.

For Christians, repentance is much more than recognizing our failures, saying we’re sorry, and striving to be better. It’s certainly much more than an emotional “being sorry” for what we have done. For those who know Christ, repentance is not just something we do from time to time. It is rather a continuing reflection and demonstration of who we are. Repentance is a way of life. Repentance is our life as children of God. Luther recognized that when he wrote the first of the statements that initiated the Lutheran Reformation.

Repentance is the continuing heartfelt recognition that we are sinners in what we are by nature and in what we do in life. It is that truth that we acknowledge quietly in our personal prayers and publicly in our worship services. “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful, and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions” (Christian Worship, p. 26).

But Christian repentance doesn’t stop with sorrow for sin or the admission of guilt. Genuine repentance takes place only in those who have also, by the grace of God, come to know the remedy for their failures. Genuine repentance is begun in us by the harsh pronouncement of God’s law. But it is followed by the joyful, trusting, God-given faith in the Savior who took that guilt on himself on the cross. And, first burdened by guilt, then set free from that guilt by a crucified Savior, genuine repentance then continues to show itself in a joyful readiness to live for the one who lived and died for us.

Every year at this time, we pause to observe the season of Lent. For six weeks we follow our Savior on the road to the hill outside of Jerusalem. Lent is properly called a season of repentance, a time in which the reality of our own sins hits home but also a time when we review the depths of a Savior’s love and the sacrifice he made to save us. What a blessing it is to observe this season of Lent as it leads us to all three aspects of genuine repentance: heartfelt sorrow and confession of sin; childlike faith in the Savior who went to the cross; and a renewed and joyful commitment to live for the one who lived, died, and rose again for us.

It is good to view Lent as a season of repentance. But because of what the Lamb of God has done, godly repentance will continue in God’s people long after Lent is over. After all, repentance is not just something we do. It’s a continuing way of life. It is our entire life.

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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: What about Jesus’ holy life?

“If we believe Jesus’ holy life and innocent death are necessary for our salvation, why is it we usually hear very little in sermons about his holy life when his death is almost always mentioned?”

James F. Pope

Your question is important because it underscores the twofold mission Jesus undertook as our Savior.

THE PROBLEM

Jesus’ mission was necessary because we have failed to live life God’s way. We are to be holy as he is holy, and perfect as he is perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). The sad reality is that we do not come even close. We start out life with one strike against us by having a sinful nature, and then we daily fall short of God’s demands of perfection. That failure deserves punishment from a holy, powerful God, but Jesus came to our rescue.

THE SOLUTION

Jesus was “born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Galatians 4:4,5). Jesus’ miraculous conception meant he entered our world as a human being without a sinful nature, but his shared humanity obligated him to keep the very law he established. And keep it he did. Perfectly. “[He] has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus lived as we are to live, and he also went to the cross to suffer the punishment our imperfect lives deserved.

You may recall that Kuske’s explanation of Luther’s Catechism underscores the importance of Jesus’ life and death in our salvation. There is a question at the end of each commandment: “How did Jesus save us from our sins against the First/Second/Third Commandment?” The biblical answer is that Jesus saved us by keeping every one of those commandments and also by dying for our sins. Jesus’ holy life (that is, his “active obedience”) and his sacrificial death (that is, his “passive obedience”) are both necessary for our salvation. And if both are necessary, then you have realistic expectations to hear about both in sermons.

THE EMPHASIS

And so if in sermons Jesus’ holy life receives less attention than the cross, what might account for that? A couple thoughts come to mind. One concerns the church year, the other, church artwork.

We have a season of the church year devoted to Jesus’ passive obedience, don’t we? Lent. It provides an annual pilgrimage in spirit to the cross. What about time in the church year devoted to Jesus’ active obedience? There are some times. Historically, the focus of New Year’s Day worship services is the circumcision and naming of the Christ-child. When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple for circumcision in accordance with the law of God that began a lifetime of submitting to and keeping God’s law. Then there is the first Sunday of Lent. On that day we recall Jesus overcoming Satan’s temptations in the wilderness.

Beyond that, the sermon text, not the day, will provide opportunities for pastors to highlight Jesus’ active obedience. In short, texts that contain commands or instructions for Christian living or speak of sinful living are opportunities for pastors to shine the spotlight on Jesus, who avoided sin and always did what was right. Opportunities like that need to be seized.

Then there is church artwork. In the cross we have a wonderful visible reminder of Jesus’ passive obedience, but what symbol calls to mind Jesus’ active obedience? Perhaps the lack of one contributes to the perception or reality that Jesus’ holy life receives less attention than his sacrificial death. Regardless, both acts of Jesus’ love deserve our attention in sermons and our praise in life.

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 3
Issue: March 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

 

Our Lenten journey

Follow our Lenten GPS as we travel to Calvary to remember what our Savior has done for us.

Michael Schultz

You can get directions to any place imaginable using a GPS (global positioning system). Many of the devices once mounted on car windshields to give directions have now been replaced by GPS applications on smart phones. Some have enough confidence in the technology that they’re willing to turn wherever the digital voice says to turn. Others may prefer “old faithful”—the paper map. Either way, GPS is about not getting lost. It’s about knowing where you are and where you need to go.

If we are willing to once again regard the Christian season of Lent as a 40-day journey, then we should consider what directions we take. Rather than thoughtlessly and blindly plowing through a season we’ve been through before, we’ll want to do a reality check to make sure we’re on the right road and that we’re heading in the right direction. Let me suggest a Lenten GPS to guide our path.

YOUR ITINERARY

This year’s Lenten trip will take us from Ash Wednesday to the day before Easter Sunday. In reality, there are some earlier stopping points on the itinerary. In terms of the Christian church year, our point of origin is actually Christmas, and all our points of interest along the way are anniversaries. They include the Festival of the Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, and the Transfiguration of our Lord.

The thing about anniversaries is that they are not the actual event. That’s a necessary reminder when it comes to our Lenten itinerary. Every time we join the Palm Sunday crowds, watch and pray with Jesus in Gethsemane, and behold the beaten Savior whom Pontius Pilate displayed to the riotous crowd, our Savior is not again in those places or predicaments. When we make those itinerary stops, we are remembering what once happened there. We are like children who annually joined their parents around the table for the Passover meal. They gathered to remember how the Lord had delivered his people from Egypt.

So we make the Lenten stops at Gethsemane, the Jewish and Roman courts, and Golgotha, and we mark the anniversaries of what Jesus experienced in those places. And we ask the same question those young Israelites asked their parents: This special day that we mark and observe and celebrate with once-a-year activities—what does it all mean?

YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT YOUR DESTINATION

This practically simplistic review of the anniversaries has critical importance when we arrive at our Lenten destination. As solemn and silent, as dark and devoid of music and post-service conversation as it may be, the day on which we commemorate Jesus’ death is also an anniversary. Our Savior does not die again every Good Friday. Though a Tenebrae service may make us feel as though he’s dead on a cross, as we arrive on Good Friday we know that Jesus is living and reigning in glory and grace and power. So why do we travel each year to that mournful place where he died, and, more important, what are we supposed to think when we get there? What does this really mean?

Calvary is a destination where there will always be a blistering declaration of how much God hates sin. A Lutheran confession put it this way: “What more forcible, more terrible declaration and preaching of God’s wrath against sin is there than just the suffering and death of Christ, his Son?” (Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, Art. V). It cannot be sidestepped. All of Jesus’ agony should have landed on us. Our sin put him on the cross. But is that the main reason we go there? Is that why we take this Lenten trip? If so, then we’ve lost our way.

If we’re not led to confess that we have sinned against the Lord by our own most grievous faults and that the Lord should long ago have sent us to suffer forever with the evil angels, then we’ll never have any need for a suffering Savior or a crucified Christ. The point, however, is that another mountain reminds us of our guilt. That hilltop destination is Sinai. Going to Sinai in spirit reminds us that, through his law, God condemns and curses us. There, and through every law-laden passage in the Scriptures, God reveals our depravity and our inability to rid ourselves of one ounce of our sin. Every time we take the trip to Sinai, it’s just plain awful.

That’s why our Lord himself invites us to enter Calvary as the GPS destination for our Lenten journey. Arriving there on Good Friday, we observe the anniversary of one holy man being cursed and killed in place of every man, woman, and child in all of history. It’s an anniversary because what happened on that hill happened once and for all, and it need never happen again. At this blessed destination we learn how it was the Father’s will to crush his Son in our place. We hear how Jesus became a curse for us. We see how “he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). By taking us to Calvary and showing us how his holy Son became sin for us and for everyone, our Father in heaven lets his kingdom come to us and empowers us to do his will. He assures us that he has put us on the right road because he points our eyes in the only direction that puts us and keeps us at peace with him—straight at Jesus our substitute.

The Lenten path we follow, the turns we take, the places we stop, and the anniversaries we observe during these 40 days all lead us to ask the question, “Whose guilt trip is this anyway?” “Not ours!” is the answer our Lord plants deeply in our hearts. The Spirit’s leading voice sounding through the Lenten GPS tells us: “The trip to the cross was a guilt trip for Jesus. Don’t ever let it be a guilt trip for you. His death and resurrection are your eternal life!” That’s a voice to be trusted!

PRESSING THE HISTORY BUTTON

A rather helpful feature on most GPS devices is the history button, where previous destinations are stored. The triune God who gives us the high privilege of calling him our God invites, encourages, and enables us to press that button day by day and even minute by minute, so that we repeatedly return to the unalterable facts that Jesus died for us and that we are God’s children.

As a counseling pastor, there have been times at the end of a session when I gave a fellow Christian the “assignment” of reading the specific Bible chapters that tell of Jesus’ suffering and death—Matthew 26,27; Mark 14,15; Luke 22,23; and John 13–19. Those precious chapters are the record of God’s love and the source of God’s healing for troubled souls. They will be read aloud in public worship services during the days of Lent, usually as part of midweek services. Listen and believe that Christ suffered and died for you.

There are 325 non-Lenten days in a year. On those days also, press the history button. Take the trip. Arrive at the destination. Believe the good news.

Michael Schultz, hymnal project director at Northwestern Publishing House, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.

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Author: Michael Schultz
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Heaven and hell: the reality

We know the reality of heaven and hell by what God says in the clear statements of Scripture. Jesus tells us what will happen when he returns as judge.

Daniel M. Schroeder

It has to be real! How else can you explain it? A four-year old Nebraska boy named Colton claims to have visited heaven. He describes heavenly scenes with biblical accuracy, though he’s never heard it described that way from his Sunday school teacher or parents. He talks about meeting in heaven his sister who had died, though no one had told him his mother had experienced a miscarriage. At age seven, young Colton identifies a portrait of Jesus as accurate. He says that’s what Jesus looked like when he visited heaven. The portrait had been painted by an eight-year-old Illinois girl who claims to have visions of heaven. Colton didn’t know her or her visions, nor had he seen her paintings. Heaven has to be real! The evidence is obvious, isn’t it?

Next month the movie Heaven is for Real will open in theaters across the country. Based on a book that has sold over 7.5 million copies, the big-screen version of Colton’s story will lead many to say, “Heaven has to be real!” How else can you explain what that little boy said and described?

Is that what I need to be convinced heaven is real? Do I need the testimony of a little tyke to shore up a crumbling conviction about my heavenly home? And when it comes to the reality of hell, do I also need a firsthand account of a visitor to the devil’s sulfur-stinking home to make me believe that’s real too? Some might think so . . . and some would still deny hell and heaven’s reality.

DENY REALITY?

How could a loving God of mercy be so merciless? If he really is love, how could he send some to hell for eternity? But that’s not God’s love. His love isn’t like a soggy piece of bread, weak, easily mashed, and manipulated. The God of mercy is a God of solid, steadfast grace. Like a protecting father, the love in his heart radiates an intense passion for his children. He loves them so much that he despises and hates anything that would come between him and those he calls his own. When sin and sinners worm their way in between, he must destroy anything that threatens those who are his. He loves his dear ones—he loves you—so much that he acts. This side of heaven, you’ll never be able fully to understand the extent of his love for you. He’s your God who is full of mercy yet fair in his judgment. Who am I to tell him what is and isn’t just? Hell is a reality for those who stand against him.

The thought of a never-ending punishment does not put pleasing pictures into one’s head. Some argue, “Doesn’t it take it a little too far to believe that God would perpetually pummel people for such little lapses?” To some it doesn’t seem fair that God could take a person’s one misstep and declare they’ve earned the wage of an endless death. But crimes are punished for what is done, not how long it takes to commit them. A heart that remains unrepentant will face and fear the one who first spoke those Ash Wednesday words, “For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Hell is a reality for those whose hearts die in unbelief, no matter how unfair they think God is.

But even the reality of heaven is questioned. A number of polls state that about 80 percent of people in America believe there is a heaven. But what does that mean? Do they all believe it is a heaven with only Jesus and those who trust in him as their Savior from sin? Most likely not. To some that would seem to be too exclusive. Yet, that is the reality of heaven. Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” The thought of being taken to a heavenly home is supposed to numb you to the misery of your reality and allow you to lift your hopes and dreams believing you’ll live in a Cinderella-like castle. Billionaire Ted Turner is infamously known for his comment, “Christianity is a religion for losers.” To some, only those who can’t make it in the real world have to imagine themselves to be winners in a contest they have to invent. But heaven is a reality even if many belittle it or don’t believe it.

KNOW REALITY

It doesn’t matter what a four-year-old boy describes in detail about what he saw. It doesn’t matter what an eight-year-old girl sees in what she says are her visions of heaven. It doesn’t matter what my reason regards as an acceptable explanation.

We know the reality of heaven and hell by what God says in the clear statements of Scripture. In simple and straightforward language, Jesus tells us what will happen when he returns as judge. Having separated out those whose faith rests in him from those who reject him, Jesus says to the unbelievers, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). The judge declares them damned, flung into the penitentiary of the forsaken, with no ending to the sentence because of good behavior or time served. Martin Luther said, “No doubt it now is, and will be, far worse than anyone is able to describe, picture, or think it to be” (What Luther Says, 1915). To deny the reality of hell is to call God a liar.

Hell is a real place with real people experiencing the fulfillment of God’s real punishment.

Just as clearly, those who are connected to Christ through faith enjoy life with their Lord that knows no limit. “Then [the unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous [believers] to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). That’s where they go. It is a sure thing. Through Jesus’ sin-removing work, it’s a reality. God attaches certainty to his promises of heaven.

In just a small sampling, notice how many times your Savior expresses rock-solid reality in what he promises you:

● “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).

● “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

● Believers in Jesus “will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).

● Jesus “will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10) to those faithful to the point of death.

● Those who die believing in Jesus “will rest from their labor” (Revelation 14:13).

● “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).

Heaven is a real place with real people enjoying the fulfillment of God’s real promises. It has to be real! How else can you explain it? Jesus says so. That’s reality.

Daniel Schroeder is pastor at Risen Savior, Chula Vista, California.

This is the first article in a three-part series on heaven and hell.


POINTS TO PONDER

● How would you describe to a little child what heaven will be like?

● If someone has doubts about heaven, to which of your favorite promises would you point them?

 

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Author: Daniel M. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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: McNichols

God worked through sin and hardship to bring a man—and his sister—back to his grace.

Julie K. Wietzke

A gambling addiction. A four-year prison stay. Cancer. A “chance” meeting at an office supply store.

These weren’t mere coincidences. They were a coordinated series of events in the hands of a loving God looking for a straying sheep. Mike McNichols was that sheep, and his sister Julie was another.

Through the hardships in Mike’s life God brought him back to his Savior. These events also touched Julie and brought her back as well. It’s no wonder that one of Mike’s favorite Bible passages was Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” His life is a testament of how God is in control, no matter what.

DRIFTING AWAY

Mike, Julie, and Connie McNichols grew up in the 1950s in northern Illinois. Baptized at the ages of 9, 8, and 7, they were raised Lutheran but often attended church on their own. “My parents didn’t go to church very much,” says Julie. “My mother went once in a while with us, but my dad didn’t. Her purpose was for us to know the Lord and to know that when you died, if you were a Christian, you would be going to heaven.”

When the McNichols moved to the Madison area, Mike, Julie, and Connie attended a Baptist church for about 10 years until they stopped going because of problems in the church.

Julie says that she didn’t go to another church after that because she was busy taking care of her ailing mother. But she always felt that she believed. “I never stopped believing, and I never stopped being a Christian,” she says. “I just didn’t go to church.”

Mike got married, had three kids, was a thriving businessman, and “played Christian.” But in 1992 he did something that would change his life forever—he went to a casino. It didn’t take long for his visits to increase. In three years, he was a compulsive gambler. In his book Prison, Insanity, But Not Quite Death: Confessions of a Compulsive Gambler, he writes about his addiction and his time in prison, including how he felt when his life began unraveling: “My moral compass had become clouded, and I was having a hard time distinguishing right from wrong. Now I was facing the consequences of my evil behavior. Every day I was living a lie. No one knew what had happened, and I feared being found out. I was living in a prison I created because of my addictive behaviors.”

By 2005 he had embezzled more than $1.6 million from his company’s clients to pay for his gambling and other addictions. Soon he had to pay the penalty for his behavior. In 2006 he was sentenced to seven years in prison. He lost his business, his home, his family—and his freedom.

His sisters watched it all happen. “It was the most devastating thing that a family could go through,” says Julie. “I wasn’t angry—I felt bad for Mike. I felt like maybe there was something I could have done to help him.”

RECONNECTING WITH THE LORD

Julie began visiting Mike in prison three times a week, and she says she started noticing a change in him. “His life just completely turned around,” she says. “He realized he had fallen away from the Lord and found himself going back to the Lord.”

Mike began reading the Bible, going to Bible studies, and taking other inmates to church with him. Says Julie, “He explained to me that when you are in prison that is pretty much the only thing you had to grab a hold of.”

Another unexpected discovery made his reconnection with the Lord all the more immediate. In 2008, Mike found out he had cancer—something he would battle for the next three years. He attended an early release program and was released from prison in February 2010, three years sooner than he expected. He relocated to Madison to live with Julie, who took him to his chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Later that year, God gave Mike one more push. Mike ran into Bruce, who had conducted Bible studies that Mike had attended in prison, at a local office supply store. They started chatting, and Bruce, who at that time was attending Resurrection in Verona, Wis., invited him to worship. “It was really God’s hand that Bruce and Mike ran into each other so that the conversation could get started,” says Nathan Strutz, pastor at Resurrection.

Mike began attending church at Resurrection and soon started taking the Bible information course. He was confirmed in July 2011.

But by the time he was confirmed, Mike’s cancer was back and getting worse. Strutz and the congregation’s vicar regularly visited him at home and at the hospital—often running into Julie as well. “I had also gone to church several times because Mike was too weak to go by himself,” Julie says.

Mike and Julie also were thinking more and more about the future. “Mike and I talked about him dying, and I often asked him if he was afraid to die,” says Julie. “He said, ‘No, I’m not afraid to die because I’m at peace with my soul and I’m going to go to heaven.’ ” He had found the peace Jesus offers all sinners. That peace was evident in his life, causing his sisters and his ex-wife and children to reconnect with the man they thought they had lost to a gambling addiction.

Julie continued to hear Mike’s confession whenever friends and family would visit. That confession made her begin to think about her spiritual life and her relationship with Jesus. “I just thought I need to be reconnected with the Lord; I need to be involved with the Lord,” she says.

Mike continued to battle his cancer and even may have understood that he would not recover. He encouraged Julie to take classes and become a member at Resurrection. “I made a promise to him that I would do that,” she says.

Mike died in November 2011, one year after he started attending church at Resurrection. Julie began taking classes at Resurrection in April 2012 and became a member in July 2012. “I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner, but I’m just so happy being involved with Resurrection Lutheran Church,” she says.

Julie is also thankful for how the Lord used these devastating events for his good purpose. “Mike went to prison. He paid for his crime, but he also reconnected with the Lord,” she says. “From all that, I have reconnected with the Lord because I see that we need the Lord.”

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ.

 

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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 journey that gets even better

Whether in sickness or in health, a husband reflects on the blessings of 53 years of marriage.

Richard E. Lauersdorf

“Love, honor, cherish . . . in sickness and health . . . for better or for worse” were promises we made to each other before the altar of our God some 53 years ago. Little did we imagine what those promises would all involve as we journeyed together on life’s way

BROUGHT TOGETHER

Several weeks before entering the seminary, three friends and I piled into a second-hand Chevy and headed for the Pacific. After days of scenic stops and a brief splash in the ocean we headed back. One friend had a fiancee teaching in the Lutheran school in Sparta, Wis., so we stopped there. Teaching with her was a blond-haired girl named Charlene, whom I met. The rest of the story you can guess. I would tease her that I had to travel across the country and back to find her, but that wasn’t really true. It was the Lord who found her and brought us together. Looking back, the words of Solomon take on added meaning. “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22).

GROWING TOGETHER

At graduation from the seminary I was assigned to the first mission of our synod in Canada in the growing city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. To our relatives, Canada meant fishing in remote lakes and hunting in thick forests. For us it meant the challenge to work for the Lord together. And it was a challenge! Lutheranism was practically unknown in Sault Ste. Marie. Yet soul by soul the Word did its work, and a little congregation called Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church was gathered. It took three years but finally we had our own chapel. Meanwhile, my talented wife encouraged me when I was down, taught the kids in our little Sunday school, gathered a young people’s choir, and made the parsonage our home.

We were over four hundred miles from our parents, a blessing in disguise. Times of disagreement arose as we grew our life together. There were no cell phones or Internet to use in “running” to our parents. So we had to solve our problems by ourselves.

Disagreements do arise, even in the parsonage, but Paul’s advice still held good, “Simmer down before sundown” (c.f. Ephesians 4:26). Besides, there was the fun of making up.

A gracious God blessed our love together with four children, two of them born in Canada. Over the years my wife was always there for them. When I’d be gone sometimes for several weeks working with our missions in Africa, Mexico, or South America, she did double duty encouraging, disciplining, taking our children to piano lessons and basketball practices, and above all training them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Nor did she neglect me. I depended on her for so much. When she packed my bags for travel, she would include “love notes” in with my socks. When I returned, what a thrill it was to see her waiting for me at the airport.

Congregation members may not always recognize what a helper the pastor’s wife can be. My wife would wait up for me after meetings so that she could encourage me if I needed it or rejoice with me when possible. She also used her talents to teach music and art in our Lutheran school. Members of our church groups knew they could call on her when they needed artistic work done.

So over the years we traveled the road of life, growing together in our Lord and his work.

STRENGTHENED TOGETHER

Then came the day when our doctor called with some shattering news. The work-up for her projected shoulder replacement surgery revealed cancer in her left lung and in the lymph nodes on her chest. What followed was an 11-month journey together dealing with the problem. Radiation, 37 treatments in all, and chemo spread over seven weeks went to work on the wayward cells—but not without serious side effects. Partial loss of hair was minor compared to what the radiation did to her esophagus. She shriveled away before my eyes, unable to take liquids or food by mouth. Several trips to the emergency room for intravenous hydration followed. Finally a gastric feeding tube was inserted through the abdomen into her stomach. A week-long stay in the hospital and three weeks in the nursing home followed before I could bring her home. Further testing now has revealed that all cancer cells are gone except for the reduced tumor and a suspicious nodule in her lung. We still have to deal with that. Where that leads, only the Lord knows.

Now came the test. First, would we trust the Lord to deal in his wise love with her? Pastors and wives are not super human when it comes to faith. “Why, Lord?” is a question they can raise too. Complaints come from their lips too. Even prayers that try to tell the Lord the solution instead of just bringing the problem to him. Senior years are supposed to be “golden years,” not ones tarnished by trouble.

How about our love for each other? “In sickness and health,” we once vowed. Easier said than done. Watching a loved one suffer and not being able to do anything about it can be so frustrating. Helping her bathe, dress, or even move with her walker; giving medication and food through her tube; and trying to keep her spirits up require more than can be imagined. Learning to separate the colors in the wash, preparing meals using her 54-year-old Betty Crocker cookbook, and cleaning the house when the dust gathers too thickly are tasks that now are mine. As one friend quipped in her Christmas letter, “Now the man of the cloth has become the man of the dish cloth.” But even as I go about these tasks, I have to marvel at her courage in this debilitating battle.

Why do I do it? Rather the question is, “How can I not do it?” That’s my beloved wife whom the Lord gave me, my helper for so many years, the mother of my children, my companion on the journey of life. We’ve strengthened each other with our love on that journey for so many years. Now it’s my turn to be strong for her.

Above all we need to be strengthened by the Lord. Trouble may seem to tarnish the “golden years” of our lives. In reality it’s the Lord polishing the gold and drawing us closer to him. The more we realize that problems are the golden twine he uses to tie us closer to him the more we can follow his leading and rely on his strengthening. His promises encourage us, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11). His precious gift of the Savior is our guarantee that he will also give us what else we need.

It’s true. It does get better along the way. Best of all will be the day when we stand beside our Jesus in heaven. Though we will not be husband and wife in that eternal day, we will join all the saints at his side in joy. It can’t get any better than that.

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

 

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Author: Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Pastor, what about?

Jesus is the solution when conspiracy theory books attack Scripture and our Christian faith.

Glenn L. Schwanke

An e-mail appeared in my inbox. A graduate student who is an officer in our Lutheran Collegian student group had a question: “Pastor, a friend of mine shared a link with me. It’s rather disturbing. Could you do a Bible study on this with us?”

I checked the link. The Web site is about a Blu-ray disc and a book. The title was controversial: Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.

Disturbing indeed. I scanned a bit further. The author proposed that Jesus was the invention of the Roman Imperial Court. What? Roman Caesars invented Christ? How? The author claimed that the Caesars used the first-century historian Josephus to ghost-write the New Testament. And how did the author come to that conclusion? He claimed to have discovered parallels between the works of Josephus and the New Testament.

Hmm. The “evidence” felt flimsier than paper-thin. Then I wondered, “Why would the Roman Caesars bother with such an ambitious project?” The author anticipated the question. He suggested that Rome feared the revolutionary spirit of the Jews would infect the rest of the Empire. Huh? My recall of history told me that Rome squashed Judah like a bug in A.D. 70. Her capital city of Jerusalem was destroyed along with her precious temple—just as Jesus prophesied (Matthew 24:2).

My reaction to this book and video was that it was nothing but speculation heaped on top of fabrication. But still, my student was concerned. I downloaded the eBook.

I read the book. I groaned with the turning of every page. I regretted that I burned $8.69, the cost of the download. There’s nothing in this book that comes close to proving the author’s damning claims about the New Testament Scriptures. This is nothing more than the devil’s first lie clumsily repackaged for unsuspecting 21st-century readers: “Did God really say . . .?” (Genesis 3:1). I researched a bit further and found out that even the rankest of atheists disavow this book.

I prepared a Bible study and shared it with my student group. Some wondered, “Then why is this book so popular? Why are so many listening to it?” The questions were heart-wrenching, because we’re talking about classmates, roommates, and friends. I suggested that the answer lies, in part, in the genre of the book: “conspiracy theory.” Conspiracy theory books are all the rage right now because so many people are disillusioned with authority, whether it be in government or society or religion. And frankly, Christianity is often singled out for the fiercest of attacks. Therefore even the most outlandish claims gain traction.

But that’s not the whole answer. Attacks on Scripture, on our Savior, and on our Christian faith will continue to the Last Day because Satan is still a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Desperate beyond despair, the devil will seek to destroy our faith any way he can, even though he knows he’s already been crushed by our Savior’s heel.

Yet why are people so gullible, even eager to believe the devil’s lies? Our Lord explains. “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

The solution? It goes far beyond pointing out the half-truths and lies of devil-driven scholarship in conspiracy theory books. The solution is Jesus. His good news alone softens stubborn human heads and hearts that are dead in sin.

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

 

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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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: 2

While life within the church remained quiet during the 1920s, life in American society swirled with controversy.

Mark E. Braun

They call it the “jazz age,” the “flapper era”—the 1920s. Evidence of declining morals abounded, and writers throughout the United States, including The Northwestern Lutheran (TNL) writers, reacted to this shift in moral principles.

DECLINING MORALS

● “America is facing a most serious situation regarding its popular music,” wrote Anne Shaw Faulkner in the August 1921 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal. “Never in the history of our land have there been such immoral conditions among our young people.” Faulkner’s article “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?” placed blame squarely where she believed it belonged.

The National Dancing Masters’ Association decreed: “Don’t permit vulgar cheap jazz music to be played,” because it “almost forces dancers to use jerky half-steps, and invites immoral variations.”

Industry experts even noted that jazz played in factories and workshops had a “demoralizing” effect, causing “unsteadiness and lack of evenness” in workmanship.

● TNL writer John Brenner decried the growing custom of a bride’s refusal to take her husband’s name: “Evidently women of this type regard it as a degrading sign of bondage.”

● Brenner further wrote that the Moving Picture, which “might have been the greatest achievement for education and wholesome entertainment,” had fallen instead into “sordid commercialism that panders to the lowest and vilest elements of human nature for the greed of gold.” Silly, slapstick comedies and sex relations dominated the movies, while the real-life “divorce scandals, hotel episodes,” and “free love” of movie heroes and heroines too often became the ideals of young people.

RISING LIBERALISM

The 1920s also witnessed the battle between fundamentalism and liberalism.

“These are the modern names,” wrote Hans Moussa of TNL, for “the age-old warfare between Bible faith and moralistic humanitarianism,” the struggle in which “the

Church always finds itself contending for its faith against the forces of the Devil and the world.” This great debate between fundamentalism and modernism was actually “a very good thing,” Moussa suggested, because it offered “the one chance to put a stop to the ruin that has been eating at the heart and vitals of Christian faith.”

While “no open conflict between modernism and fundamentalism” was apparent in the Missouri and Wisconsin synods, John Brenner cautioned, “We cannot deny that there have been heard among Lutherans utterances criticizing the traditional conservatism of our church and demanding that we grow more liberal and broad.”

TNL paid special attention to the Tennessee trial of a high school biology teacher accused of violating a state law that forbade the teaching of evolution. Former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan arose in support of the Tennessee law.

“As all the world knows, there is no Christian body more outspoken against Darwinanism [sic] and the whole evolutionary system than is our own Lutheran Church,” said a TNL editorial. “But that does not make us allies of Bryan, nor is he our ally.”

At trial’s end, and after Bryan’s sudden death, Moussa said Bryan would be remembered as an “outstanding defender of orthodoxy” from “the ravages of destructive science and criticism.” Yet as a champion of Christianity in public life, “we must deplore his methods and his principles.” Bryan failed to separate church from state. “Never can the gospel of Christ be served by laws or by majorities or by the accidents of political ascendency.”

MAINTAINING PURE DOCTRINE

Our synod was less than half as old in the 1920s as it is today. It marked its 75th anniversary in 1925. “Synodical consciousness was never inordinately strong in Wisconsin,” Moussa reflected. Pastors and laymen possessed a “spirit of individuality” that was not so much disloyalty to their synod as “a manner of asserting independence of all mass influences.”

Perfection was not to be found in the Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States, nor in any other body of believers on earth. Yet Moussa praised his synod’s strengths. “If the world stands another 75 years,” and if “our descendants delve into the distant past to read their future by their past,” they will read God’s handwriting in its history. “They will thank their German founders in one breath for the gospel they brought to these shores, for their zeal in keeping it pure in doctrine, and for their tireless devotion to schooling in the hearts of the young.”

DEALING WITH DISASTER

The front page headline of The New York Times on Sunday, Oct. 13, 1929, reassured readers: “Stock Prices Will Stay at High Levels for Years to Come.”

Only 11 days later, on Black Thursday, Oct. 24, new headlines read: “Prices of Stocks Crash in Heavy Liquidation, Total Drop in Billions,” and “Many Accounts Wiped Out.”

Wall Street’s disaster struck all Americans—including Lutherans in the synod of Wisconsin. And, while the stock market crash itself happened in 1929, the aftereffects shaped the way of life in the 1930s.

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

This is the second article in a ten-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 3
Issue: March 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 Western Wisconsin District: Part: 3

The Western Wisconsin District

Herbert H. Prahl

The Western Wisconsin District is one of the synod’s heartland districts. With 69,000 baptized and 54,000 communicant members, it is numerically the largest of the 12 districts. God’s people worship in 172 congregations, from the forested northwest down through the rich agricultural areas of the central and western part of the Badger state. The district also includes congregations in southeastern Minnesota, northern and central Illinois, and northeast Iowa.

ROOTS

A large number of the district’s congregations trace their organizational roots to the 1800s, during the era of German settlement in the state. Those Lutheran immigrants fanned out across the hills, prairies, and coulees of the region to start a new life. They brought with them tools of their trades. They also brought with them their Bibles, hymnals, and catechisms, God’s tools to sustain their faith and spread the gospel to others.

Vestiges of these German roots still can be noticed in traditions held dear, including the singing of “Stille Nacht” on Christmas Eve. For more than a century and a half, these mainline congregations have continued to serve as seedbeds for gospel ministry, outreach, and recruiting future pastors and teachers.

TELLING EACH NEW GENERATION

Realizing that children are born unbelievers, congregations have committed themselves to reaching the hearts of the young with law and gospel. Sunday schools, vacation Bible schools, confirmation classes, and 47 Lutheran elementary schools are staffed by faithful and committed lay and synod-certified teachers. While many congregations have supported and maintained their elementary schools for generations, some schools are of more recent planting, such as those in Pardeeville, Bloomer, Rice Lake, and Viroqua, all in Wisconsin.

Several areas of the district have a robust concentration of congregations and members, so much so that they mutually support an area Lutheran high school. There are three such centers of synodical gravity: Lakeside, Lake Mills, Wis.; Luther, Onalaska, Wis., and Northland, Mosinee, Wis. In addition, Luther Preparatory School, one of our synod’s two prep schools, is located in Watertown, on the same campus since 1865.

Responding to a need for Christian influence through the Word and the example of Christian people, a growing number of congregations are operating preschools and, in some cases, childcare services. St. Peter, Schofield, Wis., has just such a stand-alone facility called Key to Life Christian Community and Childcare Center, built in and among a large housing development

EVERYDAY STRENGTH

Some congregations are situated in once-flourishing communities that have slowly declined in population and local job opportunities. West central Wisconsin, once the center of the nation’s dairy industry, has experienced a sharp reduction in family farms. Young people have gone off to college or found employment away from home. The result is a “graying” of the congregations as well as declining financial support. The majority of congregations recognize this as an issue needing attention as they look for ministry strategies to reach and retain the younger generation. They know that there are no quick fixes and face the struggles with confidence in the Lord as their refuge and strength.

CAMPUS MINISTRY

The district is reaching out to the younger generation through many campus ministries. A network of part-time campus ministries includes university communities in places such as Whitewater, Platteville, La Crosse, Menomonie, Eau Claire and Stevens Point, all in Wisconsin. Pastors and lay members alike welcome students from across the state, offering rides to worship and organizing events to help them integrate into the Word and worship life of the congregation.

Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel in Madison in particular offers an extensive and fully-staffed program of nurture, ministry experience, and outreach to both domestic and foreign students in its new and well-designed facility in the heart of the university’s academic and social scene.

SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES

The district’s pastors, lay leaders, and congregations are looking to reach new people in many areas of the district in new ways. Here are a few examples:

● St. Paul and Peace, in Cataract, Wis., merged several years ago to form Faith Lutheran Church. Members moved the center of their ministry into a new facility in the growing city of Black River Falls.

● Zion, Columbus, Wis., recently began constructing a new sanctuary, placing it on the same site as its elementary school.

● Trained Hmong pastors reach out to the Hmong communities in both La Crosse and Wausau, Wis.

● This winter, Peace, Sun Prairie, Wis., voted to add several classrooms to its Lutheran school, which was dedicated in 2006.

● Bethel, a dual site congregation located in Galesville and Arcadia, Wis., was blessed with an anonymous donor’s generosity, enabling it to construct an elegant sanctuary just outside Arcadia.

● A pastor and staff minister at St. Mark, Watertown, Wis., lead the outreach efforts to an expanding Hispanic population.

● Zion, Leeds, Wis., located amid the farm fields north of Madison, added a second pastor with the intention of moving beyond maintenance ministry.

● Hope, Dousman, Wis., has developed a “nomadic ministry,” converting rented space each Sunday into a worship and Christian education atmosphere with the contents of a large trailer and the set-up/take-down labor of many volunteers.

● Three congregations in the southwestern edge of the district (St. Paul, Platteville, Wis., Faith, Lancaster, Wis., and St. Peter, Savanna, Ill.) joined together to lend support to a new “daughter” congregation—Living Savior, Dubuque, Iowa.

● St Paul, Mauston, Wis., began outreach Bible studies in Adams/Friendship in central Wisconsin several years ago. The congregation has added a pastor to reside in the small community and devote his time to outreach.

● Divine Word, Plover, Wis., is leading a year-long radio outreach effort with the help of the pastors of the circuit. Each pastor prepares a different 60-second message with information on the supporting congregations.

Rooted firmly in God’s truth, the members of the Western Wisconsin District face their challenges and opportunities with the strength and optimism Christ himself gives.

Herbert Prahl, president of the Western Wisconsin District, is pastor at St. Mark, Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

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


STATISTICS

District president: Pastor Herbert Prahl
Congregations: 172
Mission churches: 5
Baptized members: 69,066
Communicant members: 54,172
Early childhood ministries: 56
Lutheran elementary schools: 47
Area Lutheran high schools: 3
Preparatory school: 1

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Author: Herbert H. Prahl
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Another day of God’s grace

A woman finds blessings after undergoing genetic testing and learning she has an increased risk for cancer.

Rachel Hartman

When it comes to cancer, Betty Kuether Gast is no stranger.

Her mother died of it, and Gast herself had first been diagnosed with cancer in 1995. She was 58 years old.

So when breast cancer struck her daughter at the age of 36, it didn’t come as a surprise. At the time, largely due to the diagnosis and treatment options available, Gast’s daughter asked her mother to undergo genetic testing. This type of testing would look for mutated genes that increase a person’s risk of getting cancer.

Gast agreed and underwent the testing in 2006. The results came back positive: she has a mutated gene known as BRCA1, thus making it more likely for her to have a recurrence of cancer.

The news didn’t cause Gast, a member of Cross of Christ, Portage, Wis., to feel down and out, however. “The results brought great joy,” she recalls. “What humbleness, acceptance, and energy I had as I learned that the BRCA1 gene was in my body from conception and this was God’s plan for me and my body from the very beginning.”

ABOUT THE TEST

In its basic form, a breast cancer gene (BRCA) test involves drawing blood from a patient. A blood test follows to check for specific changes, or mutations, in genes that help control normal cell growth.

Finding changes in these genes, called BRCA1 and BRCA2, can help determine a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer,

It’s important to note that a BRCA test does not test for an actual occurrence of cancer. And this test is only done for people with a strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, and, sometimes, for those who already have one of these diseases, according to the University of Wisconsin (UW) Health Web site.

Furthermore, having a BRCA mutation is not common. Inherited BRCA mutations are responsible for about 5 percent of breast cancers and about 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers, notes the Mayo Clinic Web site.

GOD’S GUIDING HAND

By the time Gast learned that she carried the mutated BRCA1 gene, she had already experienced cancer and treatment several times.

When breast cancer first appeared in 1995, she underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. Years later, in 2003, she was diagnosed again with cancer. This time, it was ovarian cancer. Treatment included surgery and chemotherapy. And in 2004, she had a recurrence of ovarian cancer.

Due to her health background and BRCA test results in 2006, Gast was led to look into taking further steps. She considered some of the possible preventative measures available to her. “The decision to have another mastectomy in 2008 to extend my life became a ‘go,’ ” she says.

While undergoing the process, she felt thankful that God allowed her to have the genetic testing and learn of its results. “He is all knowing, and he guided the doctors with their knowledge and skills.”

This step contrasted sharply to some of the religious experiences Gast had gone through in her early years. She was raised in a religion that held specific beliefs about physical aspects of a person’s body. Discussing these physical changes was generally not allowed. And if sickness struck, it was thought that prayer and meditation alone could bring healing.

“I grew up thinking I was a Christian yet not truly knowing God’s powerful Word, the Bible,” says Gast.

When she left home to attend college, she found herself searching for another religion. She came across a Catholic church near campus and started taking classes. After some time, however, Gast’s instructor told her that Catholicism probably wasn’t the right religion for her. “He told me, ‘There is something inside you that is not working here,’ ” she recalls.

Gast was frustrated and longed for a religion that would bring comfort and guidance. She knew her college roommate attended church on the weekends. One Sunday, Gast joined her and they attended a WELS church in Appleton, Wis. “As soon as I went, I was more comfortable, and I was at peace,” she says.

During the following years and decades, Gast continued to attend WELS churches. Knowing that God created her and that Jesus died for her sins became a source of strength in her life. “My years of questioning where I belonged in this world, especially in my relationship with God, now had an answer,” she says. “I am his!”

Furthermore, Gast appreciated knowing that God cared not only for her spiritual well-being but for her physical needs as well. “God is not just in a little cubicle—he knows what’s going on,” she says.

This knowledge helped Gast accept the genetic test results with a peaceful perspective. “Knowing one is BRCA1 positive does not have to be fearful,” says Gast. “It simply gave me the opportunity to learn about the body God gave me and to keep in touch with the physical changes of that body.”

A CONFIDENT FUTURE

While the preventative surgeries may help lengthen Gast’s time on earth, she knows they don’t serve as a cancer-free guarantee. In fact, since she had the genetic testing and following operations, Gast has had one more incidence of ovarian cancer. In 2009, she underwent a third encounter with ovarian cancer surgery and chemotherapy.

Now 76 years old, she knows she may have to face cancer yet again in this life. “This is a long, hard road,” she says. To get through both the easy and difficult days, Gast focuses on God’s Word, knowing it will provide the endurance she needs.

At the same time, “I have the feeling of ‘wow’ when I get up in the morning,” she says. “I have another day, and if it would not have been for God and the testing, I might not be in this situation.”

Gast has also encouraged other family members to be tested in order to understand their health situation better. When her son underwent genetic testing, he learned that he also carries the mutated BRCA1 gene. For men, this means their risk for certain cancers is greater as well.

In addition to encouraging relatives to undergo testing, Gast seeks out others who are struggling with cancer in their lives. She uses her knowledge and experience to offer Christian support to those going through similar situations. She emphasizes how important it is to “know one’s body, to be alert to changes, and recognize that early detection saves lives.”

Having a gene mutation doesn’t have to be viewed as the end of one’s life, notes Gast. It can even be a blessing, she adds, citing God’s promise in Isaiah: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (41:10).

Regarding the future, “there is no fear,” says Gast. “Even if I have to go through this two or three times again, it’s going to be in his hands.”

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

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

New isn’t always improved

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Stick-in-the-mud. Fuddy-duddy. Reactionary. Dinosaur. Backward-thinking, stubborn, closed-minded traditionalist. Those labels are often attached to those in our society who dare to resist the changes “everyone” knows are for the best. It has been a slow but steady shift in our culture from a respect for the way things have been to an increasingly unquestioned attitude that what is new and what is now are always better than what was.

Politicians promote and judges embrace previously inconceivable opinions on things like marriage and sexuality while condemning those views that society accepted as good and proper just years before. In entertainment and in our own communities, schools, and homes, behaviors that once brought shame have become cause for celebration, and those that resist this new immorality are considered quaint.

For many the only history that matters begins with their births, so for them any new thing that meets with their own or their peers’ approval must be a good thing. It’s a kind of thinking well-aligned with the persistent promotion of evolution. If life is always improving and advancing, then humanity itself is also always getting better. So what is popular today must always be an improvement over yesterday’s ideas. The urge is ever forward, and the conviction is that change will always put us “on the right side of history.”

What this way of thinking fails to see is that not all forward movement is progress and not every innovation is an improvement. A train going full speed on the wrong tracks is getting ahead, but not where it needs to go. A floodwall that needs to be strengthened against storms is not improved by painting a rainbow on it. A favorite dish made with different ingredients or an altered recipe will never taste the same.

As Christians we could simply sit back and lament these trends in society, but that would be to miss the warning: This “if it’s new, it’s improved” thinking also affects the church. Seminary professors eager for acclaim and armchair theologians alike seek and promote “insights” gained by leaving behind God’s revealed truth and inventing new doctrines. Insistently aiming for the memorable or unique, church planters and worship leaders introduce new practices and musical innovations or seek to mold their message to the world—and assume it always has God’s blessing.

We know better. As students of Scripture, we understand that the things that come to us from the world are corrupted by sin and that the things that come to us from our own hearts and minds are still influenced by the sinful nature. This is not to say that every new way of expressing a doctrine, every new practice or song or instrument, or any change to the established order is necessarily evil or wrong or even that everything old is good or every tradition a blessing. But we must always recognize the need, with anything new, to “test everything” so that we may “hold on to the good” and “avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22).

The way forward for Christians and churches—to true improvement—is the same as it has always been. When it’s time either to go with the new or stick with the old, we go to God’s Word and ground every decision in it. We pray for wisdom and that his will be done. Then, humbly, we employ the minds God has given us—not just our own, but our brothers’ and sisters’ too—to choose and to use, new or old, what is truly good.

Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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: 5

Paul’s epistles provide a clear explanation of who God is, something sorely need both then and now.

Daniel N. Balge

No less than people today, the people of the first century A.D. needed a clear explanation of who God is. Paul’s epistles provided that. They had to; the Roman Empire swarmed with wrong ideas about God. Paul’s letters were reaching relatively new Christians who had grown up in different cultures amid traditions that depicted God or the gods in different ways.

MISTAKEN UNDERSTANDINGS OF GOD

Some Gentiles still followed the ancient myths of the Greeks and Romans. When Paul healed a lame man at Lystra, the onlookers reckoned that he and fellow missionary Barnabas were the gods Zeus and Hermes. Only with difficulty did Paul and Barnabas keep the people of Lystra from sacrificing bulls to them (Acts 14:8-18). The Lystrans typified those many Gentiles who still believed in gods that were essentially outsized human beings—great powers and big deeds, large flaws and huge sins—interested in people mainly for the worship they owed and offered. Such gods, the stories went, were both more fickle and less moral than their followers. Faith in myths was not confined to small towns and the countryside. Think of the riot at cosmopolitan Ephesus in defense of the goddess Artemis (Acts 19:23-41).

Other Gentiles took a wholly different approach in their effort to understand God. Consider the cultural elite of that day, some of whom Paul met in the marketplace in Athens (Acts 17:16-34). Already for centuries Greek intellectuals had been posing hard questions about the gods, wondering whether there was a better story than the myths, even daring to ask whether gods really existed at all. When their answers came up short, these thinkers had, at least at Athens, a plan B: the altar to an unknown god. It saved a seat for that god until better revelation came along.

Not that the Christians of Jewish origin had—for all their advantages—always understood the true God well. To be sure, there were Jews who like Anna and Simeon had awaited the Savior with a blessed grasp of God’s grace (Luke 2:25-38). Such Jews, believers in the Lord’s Old Testament promises, welcomed and put their faith in Jesus’ New Testament fulfillment. Iconium (Acts 14:1) offers a good example.

But others followed the lead of their cultural elite, the Pharisees, and knew God only through the law. Their understanding of him had twisted their faith into a members-only club of work-righteous descendants of Abraham. These Jews needed a careful explanation of who God is.

PAUL’S CLEAR TESTIMONY

By the Spirit’s inspiration Paul gave it to them all, Jews and Gentiles, in his epistles. His letter to the Romans, a letter of introduction to Christians among whom he had not yet ministered, sets forth his doctrine and, therefore, the truth about God. His greeting (1:1-7) assumes the Trinity, three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—in one God. He goes on to note unbelievers’ awareness of God, a valid conclusion from both creation (1:20) and conscience (2:14,15) that leaves them without excuse before God, who is both all-powerful and fiercely serious about his holy law.

But what neither creation nor conscience could convey about God, Paul makes clear in Romans 5:1-11, as he does elsewhere. He describes the three Persons of the one God working together to bring us to believe the most important thing to know about God, the one saving truth: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). Jew or Gentile, then or now, you cannot know God, unless you know that.

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

This is the fifth 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 3
Issue: March 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

 

“Our Father”

“Our Father.” How often have we said those words together in worship and privately! We learned that God “tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children” (Luther’s Small Catechism). We also give voice to the idea when we confess our faith in the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds. We are children of our heavenly Father.

The relationship, of course, identifies us as inferior to our God. We are children. He is Father. Recognition of that moves us to pray, sharing with our Father everything that burdens us or asking for what we need on our journey through life. If you have had a good earthly father, the relationship you sense is positive. If your father on earth was not an adequate model, calling God Father may bring negative impressions and feelings.

But as a believer in Jesus, no matter what image we possess of our earthly fathers, we understand our heavenly Father’s love for us. He has sent his one and only Son to enlarge his family and to make us brothers of Jesus and therefore his dear children. Jesus tells us that our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothes the flowers (Matthew 6). With that picture he reminds us that our Father also feeds and clothes us and encourages us to set aside all worry.

We are children, deeply loved and cared for by our Father in heaven. He is superior to everything we know and understand. We simply cannot begin to understand all that he does for us and for others.

Yet sometimes we are just as childish as our own children. Which of your children understands completely all you do for them and how much you have sacrificed for them? Childishly we sometimes assume we know everything our heavenly Father knows and does. We challenge what we don’t understand and what doesn’t make sense to us, just like our children.

In addition, children live in the present. They have little concern for yesterday, and tomorrow is beyond their horizon. They grow impatient and crabby when they sense they do not have a parent’s immediate attention and quick response. Maybe they even scream, stamp their feet, or throw a temper tantrum. They can even hold a grudge for a time.

As a parent you have perhaps responded with a sharp rebuke or some form of discipline. Your love has not ceased. You still love your children but realize that training and discipline are important for their future lives.

That’s a lesson for us too as children of God. When trouble, disappointment, pain, and misery come, how often do we act as children? Do we scream at God and blame him for not giving us his direct and immediate attention? When he chooses to delay responses to our requests, how childish do we become? Because we cannot see very far into the future, don’t we worry about what he has already taken care of for us? It might be good to read the first section of Hebrews 12.

Yet there is a beautiful comfort in knowing that we are children of God. He puts up with our childish behavior and attitudes. He continues to wrap his arms around us in love and tell us the story of his love in Jesus. He tenderly invites us to address him as Father and bring our concerns—some of them perhaps flowing from our own immaturity—to him in prayer. He promises to listen as a loving parent listens. Then he assures us as our Father in heaven that, when he decides, he will call us by name and tell us to come home.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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1 Cor. 13:4 Part: 5

1 Corinthians 13:4

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

I love ice cream. I love baseball. I love my wife. Imagine trying to learn the English language and grasping the meaning of love by the way we use it. One could think that the emotion one feels for ice cream is the same as what one feels for one’s spouse. Really? Therein lies the problem. All too often, we limit love to an emotion. Love is much more than a feeling that ebbs and flows like waves on the sea. As God defines it, love is an attitude that results in an action. Love is better defined by what it does.

What does love do? Ultimately, “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). But we can’t lay down our life every day. How can we love one another on a daily basis? With 15 distinct descriptions, God inspired the apostle Paul to give examples of love in action. In the prime position:

LOVE IS PATIENT

Snap, crackle, pop. No, it wasn’t the bowl of Rice Krispies® on the kitchen table. It was the pine logs in the firepit making all the racket. Within just a few minutes, the $5 bundle of campfire wood went up in smoke.

A cheap bundle of wood costs a few bucks. Love that burns up too quickly costs much more. Studies have shown that “hot heads” are more prone to heart disease. Employees whose fuses easily flare have been fired. Short tempers have shortened many marriages and ruined many friendships. Love that is tainted by impatience can be symptomatic of a loveless, unforgiving heart.

Thankfully God’s love isn’t like a chunk of pine that quickly turns to ashes. When Adam and Eve sinned, our patient God didn’t zap them into a carbon spot on Eden’s floor. Rather, he promised a Savior. For thousands of years he showed his patience to a wayward Israel. He kept on calling them to repentance. He kept on holding out his forgiveness. When his own disciples were slow to believe, Jesus patiently taught them the truths of his Word.

When our tempers flare, our loving Lord sends out the disturbing message of his law. Then he waits. Like the anxious father, he patiently peers down the path for a sign that his repentant prodigal son has returned. Our God is slow to anger and abounding in love, patient love.

The next time you find your nostrils flaring or steam coming out of your ears, remember your God who patiently says, “I love you.” When you’re ready to shout, “That’s enough! I can’t take it anymore,” remember your God who patiently says, “My Son lived and loved perfectly for you. My Son died for you. That’s enough.” As we do, God’s love will be the oak log in the fireplace of our hearts that equips us to patiently love those around us.


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. Name three things that you love. How does your love differ for each?

Answers will vary. Depending on your answers, you may note that if you love a thing, the object usually does something for you (e.g., brings you enjoyment, helps you, etc.). If you love a person, the stress is on what you do for that person.

2. Compare the 15 characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Which three do you consider to be the top characteristics?

Answers will vary. Personally, I would rank “not self-seeking” as the top characteristic. By putting someone else’s needs ahead of my own, love will become an action instead of a feeling.

3. Which characteristic is the most difficult to put into practice in a marriage? In a congregation? In your place of employment?

Answers will vary. For example, “not keeping a record of wrongs” is extremely difficult in a marriage because you know each other’s faults more than anyone else. Congregation members may struggle with “not being self-seeking” because we have many opinions about what we “like” at church. Employees may struggle with envy because a coworker or boss has more authority, personal gifts, or higher pay.

4. List at least four believers from the Bible whom you consider to have the spiritual gift of patience. Whom do you consider to be the most patient?

Answers will vary. Job is the usual answer as he patiently endured suffering. Other examples include Abraham, waiting for a child. Likewise, Hannah waited for a child. Simeon and Anna patiently waited for the Savior.

5. Analyze the connection between Galatians 5:22,23 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Since love is a fruit of the Spirit, the only way to have “First Corinthians 13 love” is to be nourished by the Spirit through Word and sacrament. What a comfort to know that God doesn’t just command us to love, but he equips us to love. Note the many similarities between the fruits of the Spirit and the descriptions for love.


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

This is the fifth 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 March.

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

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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

 

Golgotha . . . who cares?

Who cares?

So many people—now and in Jesus’ time—don’t care about what our Messiah did for us at Golgotha.

John A. Liebenow

There is a garden area a little more than a quarter mile north of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is believed by some that this is the place where Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. On the east side of the garden there is a rocky cliff that bears the ominous look of eyes and nose glaring out from the rock. Some call it Golgotha, the place of the skull.

“WE ESTEEMED HIM NOT”

It’s a powerful place to be. Standing there one is transported back two thousand years imagining Jesus nailed to a cross there. One imagines passersby long ago shaking their heads at Jesus of Nazareth and wondering why he does not use his power and come down from the cross. It must have been a busy road that day as pilgrims and visitors and tourists flooded the city for Passover.

Today, adjacent to the Garden Tomb property and abutting the hill of Golgotha, there is a bus station. It is a busy, noisy, smelly, hectic parking lot. The people who work there are undoubtedly trying to get their buses out on the road on schedule. I really doubt that they pay much attention to the tourists crowding the observation platform to catch a glimpse of Golgotha.

The juxtaposition of these places is enlightening. I imagine the places exactly today as they were two thousand years ago. Just as little as the people at the bus station probably care about the tourists gathering on the back corner of their parking lot, so also I imagine that the people pouring into and milling about Jerusalem on Good Friday gave little attention to the men who were hanging there on the crosses—the two criminals and the one in the middle. “He was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

For me, the contrast was crushing. I’ve known for most of my life that Jesus was humbled in his service as Savior. I’ve known he endured reproach, suffering, and the agony of the cross. For as long as I can remember I’ve known that Jesus suffered the torment of my punishment for my sins. But when I stand on that observation platform viewing Golgotha, the humiliation of Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah and Savior of the world, deepens so profoundly that it shakes me. While doing his most important work—the most important work ever done—of bearing the sins of humanity on the tree of the cross, so many, many people undoubtedly walked right by with no interest, care, or concern at all.

“GOD DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE FOR US”

Who cared that the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, the Savior of the world, was dying for our sins? One certainly did! “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). With pretty much 100 percent of the world not offering one moment of interest, not giving one care, not paying one ounce of attention to what Christ was doing at Golgotha, our Savior and Messiah gave his life in obedience to his Father. He loved his enemies in spite of their enmity, in spite of their rebellion, in spite of their ignorance and indifference.

God’s love and concern for us demonstrated itself in the most profound way. God’s love and concern was demonstrated to us even when we were too busy to notice.

This Lenten season, our Father gives us another chance to notice, to esteem, to care. What wondrous love! What a gracious God!

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

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

 

Author: John A. Liebenow
Volume 101, Number 3
Issue: March 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