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A Look Back: Part: 4

As thousands of WELS soldiers served during World War II, the synod worked hard to provide for them spiritually.

Mark E. Braun

Tom Brokaw calls them “America’s greatest generation.”

They came of age in the Great Depression. They watched their parents lose their businesses, their farms, their jobs, their hopes. Then, just as a glimmer of economic recovery appeared, war erupted across Europe and over the Pacific.

They were summoned to rescue the world from the two most powerful military machines assembled up to that time. They left farms and ranches, resigned office jobs, gave up their places on assembly lines, and quit school or went from graduation directly into uniform.

They fought on bloodied landscapes in France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They flew every day into skies filled with terror. They set sail each new morning on hostile waters thousands of miles from home.

They succeeded on every front. They won the war and brought peace and prosperity.

SERVING OUR BOYS ON THE SPIRITUAL FRONT

Thousands of them were Wisconsin Synod Lutherans.

“What about the spiritual care of boys who have been or will be called to the colors to receive military training?” asked The Northwestern Lutheran editor William Schaefer in 1940. “This, of course, is definite: our synod will take care of the spiritual needs of all our boys.”

By April 1941, Pastor Edward Blakewell, director of the synod’s newly appointed Spiritual Welfare Commission (SWC), addressed a letter to 713 men stationed in the armed forces. “The commission is extremely conscious of its responsibilities,” he wrote. Synod President John Brenner urged readers to “send the names and addresses of all of your members in training to the commission.” By Dec. 7, 1941, as bombs fell over Pearl Harbor, the commission’s list swelled to more than two thousand names.

During 1942 the parish hall of Salem Lutheran Church on East Thomas Avenue in Milwaukee was transformed into the SWC’s work center. Six full-time employees directed dozens of volunteers—almost all of them women—who answered routine mail, updated address changes, and prepared mailings that went out twice in each three-week period.

“I have been receiving the ‘Daily Devotional’ booklets for some time now,” wrote one serviceman, “and I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. They are really the only attachment to the church that I have.”

By 1944, more than 17,000 men and women were listed on the commission’s files, 9,000 of whom were stationed at over a thousand locations in the United States, the rest overseas. While most were Wisconsin Synod members, there were “quite a few young men and women listed who were not communicant members of any church” but were handed SWC materials by other soldiers and sailors. “Your last literature reached me in a hospital in England after following me all over France,” wrote one serviceman in 1945. “You would be surprised how many of the fellows wanted me to give them the gospel literature after I was through with it.”

By war’s end the list contained more than 22,000 names, including hospitalized servicemen, soldiers honorably discharged, men listed as missing in action, even German and Japanese prisoners of war

On Aug. 6, 1945, The Milwaukee Journal reported that “an atomic bomb, hailed as the most terrible destructive force in history and the greatest achievement of organized science” was loosed by an American B-29 bomber. The Japanese city of Hiroshima was covered with “an impenetrable cloud of dust and smoke” created by a weapon “producing more than 2,000 times the blast of the most powerful bomb” ever previously dropped on any target. Japan soon announced it would surrender, and the Journal’s headline of Aug. 14 read simply, “War Ended!”

ANTICIPATING A NEW FRONT

Aug. 6 was also the closing day of the synod’s biennial convention in New Ulm, Minn. The convention’s floor committee on church union reported that the chief question facing the synod was whether pulpit and altar fellowship between the Missouri Synod and the American Lutheran Church could be established “now or later” without compromising scriptural truth. Matters had grown more uncertain due to numerous reported incidents that “anticipate a union between the Missouri Synod and the American Lutheran Church which does not yet exist.”

Wisconsin’s standing committee on union assured Missouri: “We sincerely cherish and desire to preserve the fellowship which we enjoy in our Synodical Conference. We are hoping and praying to God that we come to a favorable understanding and agreement.”

America had won the war, but the Wisconsin Synod would soon be engaged in another war—the prospects of which looked far less promising.

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

This is the fourth 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 5
Issue: May 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 Michigan District: Part: 5

The Michigan District

David A. Voss

Prior to the 20th century, they had been the equivalent of our interstate highways. The waters of the Atlantic Ocean, then the St. Lawrence River, next the Erie Canal, and finally the Great Lakes brought needed supplies from other continents to rugged individuals carving out an existence in the largely unsettled Northwest Territory.

Those same waters carried people who had left Europe to begin a new life in a new land, a good number of whom were Lutherans from Germany.

BEGINNINGS

They left their homes and villages, their farms, and—in some cases—their families in Germany due to the devastation of war and the obstacles to worshiping the Lord as they were convinced he is to be worshiped. The Lutheran German émigrés found forested hills and fertile soil and abundant water. They were delighted to find that portions of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula looked much like the land they had left across the Atlantic. What they didn’t find were Lutheran places of worship and Lutheran pastors to serve them.

A top priority of theirs was to organize congregations and to call pastors. They appealed to mission societies in Germany for help, and in 1833 Pastor Friedrich Schmid was sent to Lutherans in southeast Michigan. Among the first groups he served became Salem Ev. Lutheran Church outside of Ann Arbor—a congregation that still worships on Scio Church Road. Schmid saw a ripe mission field throughout the peninsula bounded by great lakes. Through him, the Lord of the church brought the message of the Savior to souls in Monroe, Marshall, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Sebewaing, and other cities. He also worked among Indians who had been in the area for centuries before European settlers had arrived.

Schmid and two other pastors formed a Lutheran synod in Michigan in 1844, but doctrinal issues led to its dissolution just five years later. In 1860 Schmid was joined by Stephan Klingmann, Christoph Eberhardt, and a few other pastors who formed another Michigan Synod. The good news about Jesus and his work, the “living water” (John 4:10), reached people from the shores of Lake Huron on the east to Lake Michigan on the west and to Lake Superior on the north.

TRAINING PASTORS

Like Lutherans in other areas of the Midwest, the Michigan Lutherans soon felt the pressing need for training pastors here, rather than relying on missionaries from Germany. The first Michigan Lutheran Seminary was opened in Manchester in 1865, then was moved to Saginaw in 1867 where Eberhardt was at St. Paul’s congregation and had land to donate.

When the Michigan Synod merged with the Minnesota and Wisconsin Synods in 1892, the agreement among the church bodies was that Michigan Lutheran Seminary would become a preparatory school from which Michigan students would graduate and move on to Wisconsin’s seminary. Some in Michigan resented this agreement and efforts were made to keep the school’s theological department into the early years of the 20th century. Michigan Lutheran Seminary reopened as a preparatory school in 1910.

EXPANDING OUTREACH

The mission zeal of the earliest Michigan Lutherans continued to burn in those who followed them. Even as America reeled economically from the Great Depression, members of the Michigan District urged expansion of Wisconsin Synod work—and of an increase in thank offerings to support wider work.

The 1945 Michigan District Convention decided to explore fields on the continent of Africa. Then in 1949, the Wisconsin Synod sent Michigan Pastors Arthur Wacker (Salem, Ann Arbor) and Edgar Hoenecke (St. Peter, Plymouth) to make an extensive trip—aided by a Michigan-manufactured van that sailed with the pastors—to what we know today as Zambia.

In the next decade, at the urging of a layman who served for years on the Michigan District mission board and who wintered in Florida, district mission officials planned and directed WELS work in that state, beginning in the St. Petersburg area.

MINISTRY TODAY

At one time the Michigan District stretched east to the Atlantic seaboard and south to Florida. Today, the district encompasses all of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and its eastern Upper Peninsula, Ohio, western Pennsylvania, two congregations in northwestern Indiana, one in Kentucky, and one in West Virginia.

Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) continues to serve as a prep school not just for the Michigan District, but for the entire synod. This school year, students at MLS come from 8 of the 12 WELS districts and from several foreign countries. Each year, a sizeable percentage of MLS seniors enrolls at Martin Luther College to continue training for the preaching and teaching ministry. Two area Lutheran high schools are operated by associations of congregations—Huron Valley Lutheran High School in the southeastern corner of the state and Michigan Lutheran High School in the Benton Harbor area.

Although job losses and economic woes have invaded much of the region that makes up the Michigan District, those realities haven’t stopped the district from seeking new places and new ways to share the Savior’s living water. Crown of Life, Cadillac, Mich., initially started by thank offerings from Michigan District congregations at a time when no new missions were possible in WELS, is now receiving synodical support. The district mission board continues to explore areas in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana where daughter congregations could be formed.

Palabra de Vida in Detroit’s inner-city serves Spanish-speaking people. Daniel Schmidt has been working among Hispanic people in Detroit since 2008 and was joined last summer by Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduate Ishmael Sialer. The area around the congregation is extremely depressed economically, so pastors and members work with area WELS congregations that have Lutheran elementary schools as well as with Huron Valley Lutheran High School to provide quality Lutheran education to members and prospects of the church.

Indians and settlers used the abundant waters of this region to move goods, to travel efficiently, to irrigate their crops, and to provide essential drinking water. The Holy Spirit has used pastors, teachers, and faithful laypeople in the Michigan District to share the even more important water—the Water of Life, Jesus, our Savior. May he continue to do so!

David Voss is pastor at Memorial, Williamston, Michigan.

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


STATISTICS

District president: Pastor John Seifert
Congregations: 147
Mission churches: 6
Baptized members: 38,476
Communicant members: 30,811
Early childhood ministries: 40
Lutheran elementary schools: 40
Area Lutheran high schools: 2
Preparatory high schools: 1

 

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Author: David A. Voss
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

The gift of faith

A woman with cystic fibrosis reflects on how God carries her through the trying times of living with a terminal disease.

Cassie Husby

My faith was front and center last November while I sat in my hospital gown waiting to get new lungs. I have never prayed as hard in my life as I did that day: “Dear Lord, please wrap me in your arms.” With my emotions going in every direction, that is all I could muster. I waited, hoping that these lungs would be my lungs. I just wanted my Lord to take care of me like he did last time, and I trusted that he would.

Four months earlier I waited on the same floor of the hospital, prepped for surgery, to receive what I thought would be my new set of lungs. It wasn’t to be. Fortunately—yes, I said fortunately—I did not receive them in July. The donor lungs that were supposed to me mine were deemed unusable.

At the time I was shaken, sad, and disappointed, but not once did I get mad because of the canceled surgery or the lost chance to breathe again. Why? My faith. I trusted that the Lord had a reason for what he did, even though I couldn’t see it at the time. Isn’t that exactly what faith is: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). I believed there was a reason, and four months later the Lord showed me what it was.

My phone rang again on Nov. 17, 2013, and I was told that another set of lungs had my name written all over them. I was calm, made my phone calls, and sighed that same prayer again: “Dear Lord, please wrap me in your arms.” I had learned it was the perfect prayer. It worked last time in July, so it would work again this time.

And it did. I had a successful double lung transplant on the next day and woke up surrounded by my family. The surgery was nearly perfect, almost as perfect as my new set of lungs. It lasted about eight hours. I was off the post-surgery ventilator after a day, then off of oxygen a half day later. Two days after surgery, I was walking, and I was out of the hospital in two weeks. In less than three weeks after surgery, I was home! Before the surgery my lung function was as low as 20 percent, and my oxygen level ranged in the mid-eighties. Three months after surgery my lung function is already up to 97 percent and still climbing. I’m gaining weight a little at a time, and my oxygen level is at 100 percent. I SAID 100 percent! Perfect lungs.

I knew and still know who to thank. Yes, of course, the surgeon, the nurses, my husband, my family, my donor, and donor family. But the Lord gave me this incredible team. He gets my biggest thanks. The Lord gave me life again. The Lord granted me an awesome gift, a perfect gift—a new set of beautiful, shiny, usable lungs. My prayers, as well as the prayers of many others, were answered.

The Lord knew back in July that those lungs just weren’t right and that these lungs, now my lungs, are more than perfect. Although this is still a long journey, I have faith that the Lord will provide for me and my family and help with any hiccup that may come. Thank you Lord, for wrapping me in your arms.

I have cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that I have had since birth. Life isn’t the easiest road when you know your disease is terminal and may lead to a lung transplant or death.

But I am a very blessed woman. God granted me wonderful things in my life to carry me down that road. He gave me a mother and father who never dwell on the word terminal. They always let me live the life I can while still enduring this disease. God gave me a sister and best friend who have done and will do anything they can to make sure that I am happy and healthy. He gave me an extended family that supports me. He gave me a loving husband who doesn’t see me as a diseased woman, but as a woman whom he can love. He gave me a daughter who understands that Mom is sick and who adapts to almost any situation. He placed my husband and me in a wonderfully supportive congregation. Best of all, he gave me a Savior who, when I die, will open his arms up once again and wrap them around me. I am ready to go to his arms if he wills, but he still has plans for me here.

I have never questioned why God gave me this disease, this road, and this lifelong journey. That’s because God didn’t give it to me. It’s a result of the sin-corrupt world in which we live. The Lord does not sit in heaven dispensing illness and accidents, but he does promise to be by my side, wrapping me in his arms at all times. He promises to make good out of the bad. He provides whatever I need: a chocolate shake to gain weight, a good laugh to raise my spirits, medicine to heal an infection, donations to pay high medical bills, or new lungs to live.

The word terminal can be a very daunting word; it can loom over you every day. But don’t let it. I have life, and even if this disease ends my earthly life at a younger age I still have the promise of eternal life through the death and resurrection of my Savior.

He wasn’t afraid to die. Why should I be? This life is just a short journey until you reach your heavenly home, so in reality we are all terminal.

Sometimes it is hard to see the Lord’s plan as the right plan, but it always turns out to be. I could have turned away from God when he didn’t give me those lungs in July. I would have every right to since they were want I needed, right?! How crazy does that sound? Because, like I said, I had faith that the Lord knew that perfect lungs were on the way, and I needed to keep that faith.

How important faith has been for me! What do people do without it? How do they survive the scary things in their lives? I am not sure that I would have been able to go on. I trust the Lord. He is with me, answering my prayers, keeping me calm in his arms. I trust him each day. I also trust that he will welcome me with open arms when he calls me home for good. I thank the Lord for the gift of faith to settle my fears, to fill the space between mystery and trust, and to provide courage in the face of adversity and the unknown.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of faith. It truly is a gift that keeps on giving.

Cassie Husby is a member at Peace, Hartford, Wisconsin.

 

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Author: Cassie Husby
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Humble courage

Earle D. Treptow

‘Tis the season for graduations. Across the country, at high schools and colleges, commencement speakers will address students ready to take the next step in their lives. They will urge the graduates, “Follow your dreams” and “Make a difference in the world.” Hard on the heels of those words will be the pleas: “Be strong. Be bold. Be courageous.”

What does it mean to be courageous? That depends on the dictionary you consult. Before you grab the Oxford English Dictionary from the shelf, think about how people in our society define courageous. Wouldn’t it be something along these lines? “Having the strength to say and to do what you are convinced is right, even in the face of opposition.” Consider the following example. For as long as he can remember, a man has had sexual desires for other men. He doesn’t recall making a choice about that. For years he has hidden his feelings from family and friends, certain they would point out the error of his ways and then ostracize him. Finally he decides that he will not allow others to tell him how to live. He announces his plan to pursue his desires openly, regardless of what people might say. “That’s courageous,” says the world.

Not according to God. In God’s dictionary, to be courageous is to “do what God commands and to believe what he promises, even in the face of opposition.” The Scriptures portray many courageous people. Abram left his homeland and his father’s household to go to a land he had never seen, because the Lord told him to do so. He believed the Lord’s promise to bless, even though it defied reason. Joshua led the people of Israel into the land of the mighty Canaanites in obedience to the Lord’s command and trusting his promise: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD our God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The book of Acts chronicles the apostles’ courageous proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. They spoke the truth even though they knew they were inviting persecution from both Jews and Gentiles. They did what God commanded, in spite of physical danger, because of the Savior’s extraordinary promise: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

The Lord has made the same promise to you. The One who triumphed over death and took his seat at the right hand of God is with you wherever you go. Therefore, be strong and courageous. Believe what God promises, even as the world around you deems you foolish for doing so. Do what God commands. Proclaim the truth of full and free forgiveness through faith in Christ alone. Confidently. Announce God’s unchanging will regarding human life. Unflinchingly. Communicate the Lord’s design for human sexuality. Boldly. Be courageous.

The courage the Lord desires in his people, however, isn’t just bold. It’s also humble. Why is it that you believe what God promises and are eager to do what he commands? Is it your superior moral character? No, that isn’t the reason. You believe God’s promises only because God showed you grace. It’s only because the Spirit worked a miracle in your heart that you aim to do what the Lord commands. Had it not been for God’s grace, you would be lost in foolishness, believing the lies. Keep that in mind as you courageously speak the truth to those who have spoken against it. Speak humbly, as their servant, eager to see the Lord bless them as he has blessed you.

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

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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: 7

To preach about God and forgiveness, Paul had to teach about all people’s utter sinfulness.

Daniel N. Balge

The apostle Paul had no illusions about human nature. By the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, he preached and wrote so that his hearers and readers were left with no illusions either.

Back then—and just as surely now—the preacher of the gospel had to communicate clearly the utter sinfulness of every human being since Adam’s fall. No hearer should suppose that there is some alternative to the gospel that doesn’t mention sin. A vital part of saying that the second Adam, Jesus, died for the sins of all, is saying that all are thoroughly sinful. To understand that “God so loved the world” (all people and me too), one has to know all people are sinful. To preach about God, Paul had to teach about man.

PAUL IS INCLUDED IN ALL PEOPLE

Paul could teach the hard truth, because he had no illusions about himself. More exactly, he no longer had illusions. Once he had been sure and proud of his own ability to be and do good. As a young, serious, energetic Jewish man, he had been dedicated to saving himself by careful attention to Old Testament law and fervent personal piety. He wrote to the Philippian Christians: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6).

Now he knew better. Converted from his former life as “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13)—that’s how far his self-righteous zeal had driven him—Paul confessed, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18). No illusions in Paul. Even as a follower and proclaimer of Christ, he lamented, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). By pointing to himself, he illustrated what he later told the Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (2:1).

GOD MAKES THE DEAD ALIVE

But just think, God saves dead people. Oh, they may have pulse and breath, but until they know Jesus, they are spiritually deceased. And even deceased sounds as if they had once lived and then died. Not so. From the first spark of physical life, spiritual death rules and eternal death awaits (Romans 5:12).

But the God of our salvation makes the dead live. As Paul put it, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4,5). Coming to faith in Jesus means nothing less than a soul’s resurrection.

Knowing that is to honor the Spirit’s power, cherish the Father’s grace, and treasure the Son’s gift. Nothing in us or about us helped save us. We were not slightly less corrupt. We were not a bit less resistant to the idea of Jesus, not a tad more open to God’s suggestion that we believe. It is not possible to be a little less dead. No, we were dead in our trespasses and sin, and dead is dead.

And life, thank God, is life. We live because Jesus died and rose and lives. “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

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

This is the seventh 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 5
Issue: May 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

 

Husband and wife

John A. Braun

The e-mail asked if marriage was boring. The sender was some group that sought to link men to married women for more than conversation. Delete! Yes, delete, but it was just another attack on marriage.

Marriage has become something much different than God intended. Jesus commented that “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ ” (Matthew 19:4,5).

I don’t expect that those outside the Christian world will accept this comment of Jesus as anything but an opinion—an ancient one at that. What troubles me is that some within the Christian community don’t give it much authority either. They seem to have adopted a different definition and find rationalizations for it. But that’s another issue.

It’s too easy to whine about the divorce rate when 52% of couples married 20 years or longer are divorced. Of course, not all of these divorces are unnecessary. Some have legitimate reasons for divorce. But the fallout from that statistic can be measured in the pain and misery inflicted on children, husbands, and wives. There is no such thing as a divorce that doesn’t hurt someone or an affair that is okay because no one gets hurt. That thinking is nothing but a stupid excuse for the sinful nature.

We could also anguish over the frequency of cohabitation instead of marriage. Many view cohabitation as a prelude to marriage. Others have no intent to get married and even rear children without marriage.

The tragedy of teen pregnancies multiplies pain. The easiest way to poverty for a woman is to become a young single mother abandoned by the father of her child or children. Of course there are exceptions, but many struggle to find adequate food and shelter without public assistance. The woman must make heroic efforts to rise above those circumstances. Some do. Thank God for their efforts, but the statistics are brutal.

Complaining about such things adds nothing positive to the discussion. It might make you feel better as you talk to others who have the same views. Sadly such conversations occur in the choir loft of similar opinions and don’t offer solutions.

I think what we need to do is be better spouses—better Christian spouses in this world that can’t understand what God intended when he brought Eve to Adam. The world still marvels at couples who have remained faithful for years. They clap when such couples are introduced.

I think it’s also important to recognize how becoming husband and wife has helped build a life together. How the creation of that unit—being one—has created a place where each spouse can grow and flourish. It’s also a place for children to grow and develop a sense of “home” where love, belonging, and nurture occur in profound ways. The negative examples are so evident. A positive example of marriage and family becomes like salt and light.

One significant audience for being good spouses is our children. They learn from us. We can prepare our children to face marriage with a positive Christian example in their memories. They may abandon that example, but it is a legacy we can give them—an example where husband and wife seek to live as Christians.

Christian marriages face temptations and challenges like many others. Sometimes those challenges require significant help from family, friends, counselors, and pastors. But God has given us a relationship that’s worth our efforts to preserve. Kiss your spouse, hug your children, and thank God for the blessings he has given through marriage.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Romans 12:2 Part: 7

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

“One of these things is not like the others; one of these things just doesn’t belong!” Do you remember watching intently as one of the Sesame Street characters pointed out the obvious?

While it makes for a memorable song, “not belonging” is not a lyric we want to describe our lives. We don’t want to clash with the pattern of this world. Whether you’re a teen or an adult, belonging is an important part of God’s creation plan.

If the “pattern of this world” only involved having the latest laptop or trendiest clothes, we’d have little to worry about. Unfortunately, some patterns of this world are spiritually dangerous. All too often we conform to these hazardous patterns just to avoid being left out in the cold. So we conform to the pattern of this world. We fit right in when it comes to placing ourselves number one. We look like naturals when it comes to stabbing others in the back with our words. We work hard at blending in with those who don’t look to God’s Word for direction. Like any good duck hunter, we camouflage ourselves in the patterns of this world.

That is why God sounds the warning: “Stop! Stop fitting in! Do not conform!” Rather, be transformed. Note the passive voice. Being transformed is not something we choose to do. It’s something that is done to us. As the Holy Spirit works through his Word, our lives will be changed. And it won’t be some minor tweaking or a simple adjustment. The Holy Spirit isn’t a spiritual chiropractor. He’s a plastic surgeon. Being transformed means having a whole new worldview. He changes us. Our lifestyles are different. So are our attitudes, thoughts, and interactions. Just as a tadpole becomes a frog or an ugly caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly, so also you and I are undergoing such a transformation at this very moment.

The transformation is noticeable and sometimes astonishing. Hopelessness gives way to hope. Fear gives way to faith. Panic gives way to peace. And our desire to fit in with those who show disdain for God’s love turns into a desire to fall in line with the will of a merciful God.

On this side of heaven, we’re not there yet. Filaments of sin’s cocoon still cling to us. Our sinful flesh will remain with us until we die. But when the last trumpet sounds, we’ll be changed for good. We’ll find ourselves among people of every nation, tribe, and language. We’ll be different, but we’ll belong. That is when we will know in full what God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will is for us.


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. Describe a time that you felt out of place. Remembering that feeling, how does that apply to your life as a Christian?

In many ways, I can be encouraged when I feel out of place. It reminds me that I am in the world, but not of the world (John 15:19). The desire to fit in also provides an open door for outreach. Might we use the desire for “community” to welcome people into our Christian community?

2. What are the blessings and dangers of living a “sheltered” life as a Christian?

A “sheltered life” can be God’s way of answering our prayer, “Deliver us from evil.” The danger of a “sheltered life” is that we can fail to “go and make disciples” of all nations. Remember the old proverb, “A boat in the water is by design, but water in the boat is big disaster.”

3. How does being a Christian change your perspective on your job? on your neighbors? on your health?

Answers will vary. Examples: My job becomes an opportunity to use my God-given gifts to his glory. It can also become my mission field. My neighbors are people that God has planted in my life to whom I can show his love. My health and life is seen as my time of grace.

4. Read 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16. Explain the connection between that section of Scripture and Romans 12:2.

The Christian life will always seem “foolish” to the world. Why would anyone give offerings? Why spend a Sunday morning in church? Why follow “rules”?

5. How could you use this verse to assist people trying to figure out God’s will for their lives?

People beat themselves up trying to figure out God’s will. It’s pretty simple. He simply wants us to be transformed by his gospel and live according to his ways, not the world’s.


 

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

This is the seventh 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 May 5.

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

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Anchored in Christ

A creed for personal confidence

I wrote this for a friend who struggles with feelings of low self-worth and pressures herself into perfectionism. Others may need these same reminders.

David D. Sellnow

I am a child of God. I have a Father who has lavished me with his love and calls me his very own (1 John 3:1). I need not worry about what anyone in the world thinks of me, because I am already and always will be a child of God, and what I will become in my future with him is even greater than I can imagine (1 John 3:1,2).

I am a worthwhile person. I have talents and abilities that are uniquely my own. I don’t need to try to be like someone else. Each person has his or her own gifts to use, his or her own role to play (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12). I simply will accept who I am and the character and gifts God has given to me. I won’t worry about what I’m not or what I haven’t yet become. I will walk in the Lord and with the Lord, and he will lead me to surmount whatever challenges I face.

I am a human being. I know that I fall short of God’s glory in so many ways, but that hasn’t stopped God from loving me or redeeming me (Romans 3:23,24). I will never achieve perfection as a person, even in small things. I must stop trying to chase perfection in one thing after another because such a pursuit only wears me out in body and soul. Instead, I need to do my best. Then I need to cast all my anxieties on the Lord, bringing him all my weariness and burdens. I know he will care for me, and I will find rest for my soul (1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 11:28).

I am a member of a loving family, connected to friends and loved ones who care about me in Christ. I will not wallow in my own isolation or self-hatred. When I am feeling low, I will reach out to those who love me. I will seek strength in brothers and sisters who share my faith and hope. I am not alone. I am loved. And when I have been strengthened by love and compassion, I will, in turn, give love and strength to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

I can do all things through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). I may be weak and frail in myself, but Christ’s grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The only perfection I need is his. No task, no challenge, no hardship, no criticism, no pain or pressure of any kind will ever be able to separate me from the love that God has for me (Romans 8:38,39) or the love that my friends in God have for me. So I can love myself. I will love myself. In Jesus I am loved and lovable. In Jesus I am strong and capable. In Jesus I am alive and life is livable.

Yet, I am human. I am imperfect. That will always be the case, as long as I walk on this earth. But I will walk tall and grow strong, because my Lord and his love go with me. No one—not even I myself by my own insecurities—will be able to stand in my way, because my God will never leave me nor forsake me (Joshua 1:5-9).

I am loved. I am a child of God. I need not be discouraged or afraid.

David Sellnow, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

 

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Author: David D. Sellnow
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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WELS’ outreach movie offers comfort in Mexico

The statistics are sad and sobering, but members of a small congregation in Juárez, Mexico, aren’t letting that stop them from carrying out God’s work.

According to Mike Hartman, a WELS missionary serving in Mexico, Juárez was the most violent city in the western hemisphere from 2007–2012. Cristo Redentor, a congregation of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mexico, is located in one of Juárez’s roughest neighborhoods. In 2008, the national pastor in Juárez had to leave due to a violent threat against him. For four years, no missionary or Mexican church leader could visit the congregation.

During that time, Gerardo, a layman, was called to serve as Cristo Redentor’s pastor. He and his wife, Rosa, have lost all three of their sons since he began serving. Two were innocent victims of violence.

In 2013, the situation in Juárez began to improve. As Hartman notes, “This has created an opportunity for the congregation. There are a lot of people hurting in that city. Many mothers and families need counseling and are looking for peace—not just physical peace, but peace in their souls.”

Therefore, when members of Cristo Redentor first watched Come Follow Me, it resonated with them. They wanted their family and neighbors to also have the chance to see the movie and experience the comfort and encouragement that it brought them.

Congregation members decided to schedule a showing of Come Follow Me at their church. They are handing out 2,000 flyers in their neighborhood and are planning on giving all attendees a DVD of the movie.

Hartman says, “This movie has helped excite a group of Christians to share their faith. I’m not sure how many people will come to view the movie in Juárez, but I think that this project has already been successful.”


Come Follow Me, released in fall 2013, is the second in a series of four outreach movies that are a collaboration between WELS Commissions on Evangelism and Adult Discipleship; Northwestern Publishing House; WELS Multi-Language Publications; and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc. Road to Emmaus, the first film in the series, is available in seven languages and is often used in WELS mission fields as well as in local congregations. The original DVD of Come Follow Me includes English with closed captioning and Spanish. WELS Multi-Language Publications is working on providing Come Follow Me in other languages to enhance its use in outreach.

WELS’ 2013–14 Walking Together emphasis is designed around Come Follow Me. Walking Together is an annual emphasis that encourages congregations to set aside time to reflect and rejoice on how we walk together as a synod. An eight-part Bible study and a discussion guide for Come Follow Me are available as free downloads to complement the movie.

Congregations can order copies of the movie in bulk for members and prospects for only $2 per copy. Individual copies are available for $14.50.

 

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Planning for the future in Toledo, Ohio

“The challenges are great, but the reward is awesome!”

Steve Schmeling, pastor at Zion, Toledo, Ohio, is talking about his congregation’s ministry on the west side of Toledo. This 124-year-old mostly white congregation is working to reach out with the saving gospel message in its African-American community. “While our congregation currently doesn’t reflect [our neighborhood], it is our goal to better serve God’s people in the place where he has put us,” says Schmeling. To do this, Schmeling, together with the congregation, has put together aggressive outreach plans to get into the community.

One of their top goals is to use the congregation’s school for mission outreach.

Zion Lutheran School is part of the EdChoice program in Ohio, which provides funding for students attending academically failing public schools to enroll at a school of their choice. “We have what they are looking for!” says Schmeling. “[Zion Lutheran School] has been here for more than 60 years, has a great reputation, and is attractive to family ministry.”

For the past few years, the school has been concentrating on contacting neighborhood families and sharing what it has to offer. The school is growing, almost doubling its enrollment in the 2013-14 school year from 20 to 38 students—of which 80 to 85 percent are not WELS. “We’re setting a stage so we can introduce these families to Jesus Christ on a regular and daily basis,” says Schmeling.

Although the growth in the school hasn’t translated to new members at the church yet, God’s Word is making a difference. “Learning hymns and Bible passages is brand new to them,” says Luke Scherschel, Zion’s principal. “Hearing that they’re learning the truths of God’s Word that you’ve been teaching them—what an awesome reward that is. It really is neat to hear and see the faith come out of the kids—not only out of their mouths and in the classroom but also in their lives.”

Parents also are strongly encouraged to take a Bible information class to “help them see what our church and school are teaching and see the truth of God’s Word,” says Scherschel. Zion holds family events at church, activity nights, and programs like Christmas and Easter for Kids to connect school parents with the congregation and its members as well.

With many of the children living in single-parent, low-income homes, Scherschel says it has been an adjustment—and a challenge—to provide the academic support the students need. To help the neighborhood youth further, Zion just opened a Youth Center in the church’s balcony to offer kids somewhere to go after school either for help with homework or just for a place to hang out. Schmeling says the congregation is starting out slow—only opening one night a week—but hopes to expand the center’s offerings in the future.

With only a 145-member congregation, finding volunteers to work at the center and to help with school outreach is key. To help get things going, Zion is using college students. Four Wisconsin Lutheran College volunteers just spent their spring break there canvassing, painting, and phone calling. Two Martin Luther College students will help with vacation Bible school, the youth center, and continued school outreach this summer. The congregation is hoping to secure funding to call a staff minister to run these programs and help reach out to new prospects in the future.

Zion has more big goals, including adding outreach worship opportunities, determining how to provide transportation for the students, and adding a gymnasium as enrollment increases. “We see the challenges that are before us, but we also see those challenges as opportunities,” says Schmeling. “We trust [God’s] will for our lives. When we find a closed door, we know he will point us in a new direction. Please keep us in your prayers, ‘for this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.’ ”

 

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Issue: May 2014

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Michigan campus ministry reaches people from around the world

Established more than 40 years ago, Campus Ministry (CM) in Lansing, Michigan, serves the students at Michigan State University and Lansing Community College. In recent years, the ministry has placed increasing emphasis on reaching out to international students. We have made many good friends over the years, and many of them participated in a variety of campus ministry programs. Yet at times only a handful or two may be found in weekly Bible classes or Saturday night worship. Some were baptized, but for others was it essentially a social experience? We shared the Word, but were we really making a difference in their spiritual lives? Were we a tool in leading them on the path to eternal life with their Savior?

Campus ministry coordinator Doug Tabor and CM’s part-time pastor Mark Eckert wanted to measure the program’s effectiveness by something other than attendance. They contacted some of the past and present participants and asked them to share the blessings they received through Campus Ministry. The responses were not only surprising, but overwhelming:

  • * “I appreciate your time and patience during English conversation class. I appreciate your effort to help our family. I appreciate for many reasons you and CM. But I don’t want to say “thank you” for just these. I think you gave me and my family more than these. It’s God. It’s hearing of God. It’s a belief that I can be in God. I arrived at MSU as a foreign student and non-believer, but left as a true believer in God. I don’t know how many “thanks” are enough for this.”—Jongkyoung, South Korea
  • * “CM is the place where we came to know the Lord. We grew from atheist to Christian at CM through God’s blessing and all the wonderful people there. Growing up in China, we were taught that religion was like opium to the mind; it would stop us from thinking on our own. Today, how blessed we are to know the Lord and all the sacrifices he made for us so we can have everlasting life. Knowing the Lord brings peace, happiness, and harmony to our family. It was through attending the services and many activities at CM that we knew the Lord and became Christians.”—Changyou, China
  • * “CM people let us feel that we were at home even when we were thousands of miles away from our home in China. When my first son Raymond was born, Pastor [Mark] Eckert was the first one to visit him, and he [later] baptized my family. I went to Friday women’s Bible class at CM as my routine activity. I learned about the Lord a lot from the class. We prayed every time. We shared our laughter, tears and happiness together. We are thankful to CM for helping us know the Lord.”—Jianhong, China
  • * “I’ve learned God’s love, friendship, hope, happiness, enjoyment of life and English at CM. CM gave me beautiful, impressive and unforgettable memories that have enriched my life.”—Eun-Mi, Turkey
  • * “CM helped me to reopen the Bible again after seven years at the age of 30 and blessed my husband, studying the Bible for the first time at his age of 34. . . . He has started to realize who God is and how mighty he is. My family really appreciates the friends and the pastor at CM who showed us the right way to be children of God.”—Somin, South Korea

So were our interactions more than just friendly and casual? Was the Word more than just a mechanical conversation piece? Has God’s work at CM truly made a difference? Based on these wonderful responses, we can see that through God’s guiding hand and blessings we have once again received the reassurance promised in Isaiah 55:11: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

 

 

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Author: Ted M. Reuschel
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Translation Liaison Committee hits the ground running

After deciding not to adopt one Bible translation as the official translation for WELS publications at the 2013 synod convention, delegates resolved that a new standing committee be appointed by the Conference of Presidents. This committee would evaluate major Bible translations, communicate with Bible translation editors and publishers, and offer suggestions to improve Bible translations. In November, the Conference of Presidents established this committee and named it the Translation

Liaison Committee. Membership includes two Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary professors, two Martin Luther College professors, and three parish pastors.

This new committee has been busy in the few short months since its formation. After discovering that the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is in the process of being revised, the committee has been focusing its work on this translation and working with HCSB representatives to discuss the upcoming revision. When WELS pastors reviewed the HCSB in 2012, many considered it to be a fresh and insightful translation. However, since the complete translation was only first published in 2004, reviewers thought that it could benefit from revision. Therefore, news of this revision immediately interested the Translation Liaison Committee and led to a meeting with representatives of the HCSB by MLC professor Tom Nass, chairman of the Translation Liaison Committee, and Geoff Kieta, one of the parish pastors on the committee.

Kieta describes this January meeting as a “wonderful opportunity.” He says, “I was very impressed with the leadership at Broadman and Holman Publishers. They have poured years of work and millions of dollars into producing a new translation of the Bible. Yet, three of the leaders in that effort were willing to not only meet with us but to spend a whole afternoon listening to our critiques of their work. They showed such a spirit of Christian humility, and they made us feel like they valued our input.”

Nass explains that after the January meeting, the Translation Liaison Committee went to work to put together a comprehensive list of “global” issues that it feels can be improved in the translation. These are general characteristics of the translation that the committee would like a revision to address. Translation Liaison Committee members will meet with HCSB representatives again in May to present these issues. Later, the committee will work through a book by book review of the translation and then present those findings to the HCSB representatives.

Kieta also explains that the HCSB representatives “clearly want to get away from the idea that the HCSB is a Baptist Bible. They have added two conservative Lutherans to the committee—one from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, one from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. We are very encouraged by their attitude toward us, and we hope that we can help them to make a good translation even better.”

As Nass notes, “Regardless of whether or not the HCSB becomes a translation widely used in WELS, we are looking forward to helping it become a better vehicle for communicating God’s Word.”

 

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Issue: May 2014

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Popular devotion booklet available electronically

Meditations, a collection of daily Scripture-based devotions and prayers published by Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) for almost 60 years, is now available as an Apple app and as an e-Book.

“Both the e-Book, which is one quarter of the devotions for each year, and the app make it easier for people on the go and using mobile devices to access the devotions no matter where they are,” says John Braun, NPH vice president of publishing services.

Printed quarterly in correlation to the church year, Meditations currently reaches almost 70,000 subscribers through its booklet format. With the addition of electronic media, NPH gives WELS members another way to access this popular publication as well as reaches an even broader audience. “With the app we hope that people outside our fellowship will find the content and the format interesting and they will use it,” says Braun.

More than ?? people have already downloaded the app, which was released March 1. One reader writes, “I have been looking for a nice devotional app that isn’t too cheesy and has specific topics and Bible chapters to cover. This one is perfect. I love it!”

The iOS app, available through the Apple App store, offers a daily devotion as well as Scriptures readings, daily prayers, and special occasion prayers. After a two-week free trial, buyers can continue receiving devotions through a 30-day or a yearly subscription.

Meditations has been published as an e-Book since December 2013 and is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Meditations isn’t the only publication that NPH is delivering electronically. According to NPH president, Bill Ziche, more than one hundred new, bestselling, and classic NPH book titles are available as e-Books. This year, NPH also began offering a digital version of Forward in Christ in celebration of the magazine’s 100th anniversary.

“God’s Word is constant and unchanging, but the ways to reach people with his Word are always changing,” says Ziche. “Looking forward, Northwestern Publishing House will continue to explore new ways to reach and meet the needs of those we serve—in places and ways that are relevant to them.” Learn more about Meditations, including how to subscribe, at www.nph.net/meditations.

 

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Food drive for Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

On a below-freezing night in November 2013, a truck drove onto the campus at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, loaded with food, paper products, and cleaning supplies for the seminary’s food pantry. For the past 12 years, about 30 congregations in the Michigan District have collected these donations, which are then driven to the seminary.

“The food truck starts at St. Paul in Saginaw and makes stops in the Detroit area and Benton Harbor area on the way. We put 555 miles on the truck zigzagging our way there and 450 miles on the way back,” says William Brassow, pastor at St. Paul, Saginaw, and one of the drivers. “The congregations just love this opportunity to help out our pastor students and their families.”

The donations, which literally weigh over a ton, are a blessing to the married students and their families. As the cost of food rises, budgets get even tighter. The donations to the married student food pantry offset the costs associated with living off-campus and raising families. Many of the donations are non-perishable foods and goods. Some people donate money and gift cards that are used at local grocery stores. It’s not a small amount either. In 2013, more than $5,700 was given. Others give gas cards that offset the cost of commuting to campus.

First-year student Peter Wells is grateful for the donations. “There is another, bigger benefit to the donations: the encouragement that the gifts give,” he says. “When the winter gets long and the studies continue on, I am reminded that my brothers and sisters are praying for me! I am encouraged to continue working hard.”

 

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Author: Linda Buxa
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Ministering to the elderly in Michigan

Martin Luther Elder Care Ministries (MLECM), a new organization in the Michigan District, is working to share the saving gospel message with a growing population that desperately needs to hear it—the elderly.

“The aging of America presents an incredible outreach opportunity to reach those nearing the end of life with the words of life,” says Jim Rohrback, MLECM administrator.

The ministry grew out of another organization, Martin Luther Memorial Homes, which at one point operated six elder care facilities in Michigan. But running and maintaining those facilities was becoming tougher. “The whole purpose of the bricks and mortar facilities was to provide places for the elderly to live and to hear the words of life,” says Rohrback. “But more and more the ministry was turning into dealing with bricks and mortar issues, not spiritual matters.” The board decided to sell its remaining two homes and use its resources to minister more directly to the elderly in the Michigan District.

The board came up with a twofold plan. The first part was to have pastors hold ongoing half-hour weekly worship services at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, with MLECM compensating the pastors for their time. Thirteen pastors in the Michigan District currently serve 26 facilities—two apiece—ministering to more than three hundred people collectively.

While the board originally thought that this would be a way to serve WELS members, they soon discovered that the services also are an incredible outreach tool.

James Bartz, pastor at Grace, Eau Claire, Mich., says the majority of the people he serves at these services are not WELS and often are looking for answers. “When a person is sick with cancer, maybe they are wondering what is going to happen to them. And we get to share with them that lifesaving message,” he says. “I appreciate the opportunity to let them know that because of Jesus, we’re going to be in heaven.”

Besides working with pastors to serve the elderly directly, MLECM wants to train laypeople to help their pastors with this important ministry. “The vision is to develop an online training program that would equip lay members to make effective one-to-one visits on aging WELS members who are homebound or in elder care facilities,” says Rohrback. MLECM is working with Martin Luther College and the Commission on Special Ministries to create an online elder care certificate program that can be used not just in the Michigan District but across the synod.

Carl Pagel, a retired pastor and member of the MLECM board, is excited about this possibility of involving WELS laypeople. “If every congregation could train two or three people to visit the elderly in their homes, then every shut-in could have a visit every week,” he says.

Having that visit, says Pagel, is key during the later years in life—another reason he is thrilled about the new direction that MLECM has taken. “There are many temptations to doubt and fall away,” he says. “People feel that everyone else has forgotten them. Now their church comes to them and every week reminds them of their Savior’s grace. This is a very important thing—to strengthen these people in their last days. Also to reach out to others who may have lived most of their lives without any impact from the gospel. . . . It’s just a wonderful opportunity to help them as they face eternity.”

Learn more at www.mlecm.org.

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Talk to God

The words, “It has been a crazy week,” echo through the hallways of every high school. But how often do we forget that our greatest help comes from Jesus?

Samantha Sievert

Life is stressful. It’s inevitable. Sometimes we find it hard to cope with the chaos of life. The pressure put on us by parents, teachers, coaches, employers, and friends can make it difficult to focus on what is really important. What happens when we feel the pressure build and we have to shoot an important free throw? What happens when we have a difficult clarinet solo? Do we call on God in times of stress, or do we push him aside and let the pressure of a chaotic life get to us? It seems that we tend to abandon God when we feel the most pressure.

The truth is that even when we are nervous, the best person to help is God. In Psalm 46:10, the Lord tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Sometimes we feel that we don’t need to bother God with our problems. But he is God, almighty and powerful, and he wants us to take the time to be still and talk to him. You know the old phrase, “You should stop to smell the roses.” I think we should change the phrase to “You should stop to talk to God.”

One of the best things about God is that he is never too busy for us. You will never have to leave a message after the tone. Jesus is our greatest friend, and we should make an effort to talk to him every day. What would your best friend do if you went a day or two without talking to him or her? Thankfully for us, Jesus doesn’t keep track of how many times we forget to talk to him.

God doesn’t require a fancy prayer. He just wants to hear from us about anything. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” I talk to God like he is a friend sitting next to me. He doesn’t expect much; he just wants to hear from us. God is never too far away. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

We know that we talk to God, but shouldn’t we listen to him too? God gives the best advice through his Word. We can find it all over the pages of the Bible. It doesn’t matter if we are feeling lonely, depressed, frustrated, or brokenhearted—God wrote something for us. What a comforting thought it is that God knew in advance that we would be feeling lonely, so he gave us Isaiah 41:10: “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.” Spending a few minutes each day finding what advice God gives you can be so important. God has a lot to say in his Word, so we should take the time to listen.

A chaotic life is unavoidable. We know that for sure, but we also know that there is something to keep us calm in the face of pressure. Exodus 14:14 tells us, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Don’t worry about anything. God’s got your back!

Samantha Sievert, a senior at Illinois Lutheran High School, Crete, Illinois, is a member at Zion, Crete.

 

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Author: Samantha Sievert
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

First the cross, then the crown

As disciples of Jesus we treasure his promises, endure the crosses, and await a crown of glory.

Joel J. Gawrisch

In these last weeks of the Easter season, his words of comfort have soothed our troubled hearts. We have heard again his command to be his witnesses and to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. As his devoted followers we confidently celebrate the Ascension of our Lord with these precious promises resounding in our hearts and minds. He has ascended and sits at the right hand of his Father, promising to care for us while we remain here. He will return again to take us home. We have embraced the promise of the many-roomed eternal home that he prepared in anticipation of our arrival.

DISCIPLES WAIT FOR THEIR HEAVENLY HOME

But being a disciple of Jesus isn’t always so easy. We are always tempted to hold on to the things we can see and touch rather than wait for the future eternal home we can only dream about. Running after the wealth, prestige, and glories of this life only will provide a temporary home.

We eagerly hear stories of sprawling mansions, moneyed families, gentile manners, and wielded power. Consider one of Minneapolis’ largest and costliest homes. It was an Italian Renaissance Revival-style mansion built in 1913 for the ill-fated son of legendary businessman John W. “Bet-a-million” Gates. John W. Gates made his fortune in barbed wire, railroads, and oil. He was called “Bet-a-million” Gates after wagering a tidy $1 million dollars on a horse race in England back in 1900.

John’s son Charles seemed to have inherited his father’s extravagance gene. After marrying socialite Florence Hopwood of Minneapolis, Charles Gates announced his plans to build a “cottage” overlooking Lake of the Isles. The so-called “cottage” stretched out about 38,000 square feet. To put that in perspective: the average home in the United States at the time was about 800 square feet. The house Charles planned was a stone palace outfitted with the best of everything money could buy: multiple marble staircases, elevators, gilded fixtures, stone vaulted ceilings, and what is reputed to have been the nation’s first home air-conditioning system. The estimated cost was in the millions of dollars.

Sadly, for millionaire Charles Gates, money couldn’t buy him a reliable appendix. With his Lake of the Isles “cottage” still to be completed, he died during an appendectomy. He was 37. Even though the building project did not cost him his life, would it ever have crossed his mind that he might not live to see the home completed or, for that matter, live to see the next day?

The example might be a bit extreme, but the words of Jesus should encourage us to hold to his promises and not substitute the wealth of this world: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19,20). Disciples of Jesus need such reminders.

THE COST OF BEING HIS DISCIPLE

Jesus ascended to his heavenly mansions and his throne at his Father’s right hand. It was clear to his disciples that his ascension marked the end of their training and the beginning of their kingdom work. While we wait here, our kingdom work as his disciples continues, and it’s not easy. It will require effort, suffering, and sometimes persecution.

This time of year is marked by confirmands vowing their faithfulness to the Lord. Think back to the day you stood before the congregation and pledged your faithfulness to Christ. How many of us have made that vow without truly understanding what it would mean to remain faithful? Was your own mortality on your mind as you made your vow to be faithful to your Lord and Savior even if it should cost you your life?

For most of us, that cost of discipleship lies just beyond our thinking. The majority of us live in a world marked by peace and stability. It is almost as if we are willing to make such an extravagant vow because we don’t ever expect to have to pay that cost—to suffer death rather than fall away from Jesus. But if faced with life-threatening reality, would we think the cost is too great?

Charles Gates’ widow inherited a fortune of $10 million, making her one of the richest women in America. When the house was completed in 1914, she moved into the palatial home her husband had built. But by 1916, she had remarried and moved to Connecticut. A St. Paul physician bought the house but never lived in it. He died in 1929, but there were no buyers for such a costly property. It was estimated that the maintenance of the residence alone was about $60,000 per year. With little choice the extravagant “cottage” was demolished in 1933, less than 20 years after it had been built. The cost was just too great.

What cost are you willing to endure as a disciple of Jesus? He said, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. . . . Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27-33). How great is the cost of discipleship. It almost makes us want to give up rather than risk ridicule, failure, battle, heartache, or disappointment. It makes us want to jump ahead to what awaits us. So we say, “Give us the mansion of heaven! Give us the crown, Lord! Enough of this cross-bearing stuff already!”

But Jesus lovingly and knowingly responds, “My dear child, first the cross, then the crown.” And no one knows this better than he. It was on that first Good Friday when all the ugly power of sin, death, and the devil was unleashed on God’s own sinless Son. All the weight and burden of our guilt was heaped on him and nailed to him on his cross. He lovingly and knowingly paid the greatest of costs—his very life.

First the cross . . . then the crown. Because God himself in human flesh was given into death, you and I are given the crown of life. Jesus has promised the crown to all who believe: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). This is what awaits all of Christ’s disciples. This is what makes the cost of discipleship nothing compared to what awaits us—when Jesus returns to take us to be with him where he is.

The cost of discipleship becomes resolve in the face of ridicule, faith in spite of failure, bravery in the midst of battle, wholeness in the pain of heartbreak, determination in throes of disappointment, and boldness in this world to build his kingdom. Paul called all the things of this world rubbish in comparison to knowing “Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). Carry your cross in the full knowledge that you will receive your crown when your ascended Lord brings you home.

Joel Gawrisch is pastor at Christ, North St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

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Author: Joel J. Gawrisch
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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: Jezowski

After the loss of his wife, a man discovers the comforting message of salvation by faith.

Julie K. Wietzke

For Tim Jezowski, coming to faith and understanding God’s Word and the message of Jesus it shares was a process—a long process.

“It’s not like all of a sudden you get whacked by lightning and you’re saved,” he says. “It’s the piecemeal approach—a little piece here, a little piece there, and after a while it sinks in.”

When reflecting on how he became a WELS member, Jezowski says he now can see some of those pieces and how they fell into place. “Somebody had a plan . . . and I think we know who it was,” he says.

DORMANT FAITH

Jezowski grew up Catholic but says he questioned some of the teachings from early on. Although the Bible was used for the sermons and lessons in church, “there was no Bible in my home as I was growing up. Once you went to church, you did your duty for the week,” he says.

It was the 1960s and the time of the Vietnam War. Jezowski enlisted in the military and spent a year in Vietnam. He returned home in 1970, the day of his 21st birthday. He married his high school sweetheart six months later.

But things didn’t get better for Jezowski spiritually after Vietnam. “A lot of things didn’t make sense back then,” he says. He tried going back to church but soon stopped because he felt people weren’t practicing what they preached. “I decided I should read the Bible and see what’s in it myself, but that didn’t happen until much later in life,” says Jezowski. “So I basically didn’t do anything. I was a dormant Catholic. I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t go to church.”

Fast forward 35 years. Jezowski and his wife, Vicki, were retired and traveling around the country “living our dreams.” Until 2005, when Vicki died suddenly. “That’s when I started questioning a lot of things in my life again. What’s the meaning of life? Where do you go from here? What’s next?” he says. “That’s when my coming to Jesus started.”

REAWAKENED FAITH

Jezowski says he thought about trying to read the Bible after his wife died but just didn’t do it. Instead he started backpacking. In 2007 he decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. “I figured I would do that for a week or two or until my body gave out,” he says. He ended up spending 14 weeks there—from April to July—and hiked almost 1,500 miles.

God was in his thoughts during that time. “I always felt the presence of God outside,” he says. He also met a group of young people on a Christian camping retreat. For a week, he hiked during the day and then met up with the group at night. “Every night they would start a fire and read the Bible,” says Jezowski. “I was drawn to that. . . . I knew that I was going to have to get that Bible and read it.”

That didn’t happen, however, because when Jezowski returned home in July, his mom had a stroke soon afterward. She died in October.

Then in January 2008, Jezowski got a call from Judith, one of his neighbors growing up who he hadn’t seen since high school. Now living in Missouri, she had heard that his mom had passed away and wanted to pay her respects. They talked for an hour, and she asked if she could call back the following week. After several more conversations, she asked if Jezowski wanted to do a Bible study with her. “I felt like she was sent by the Holy Spirit to guide me along. It was to bring me to Jesus,” he says. “She was key in getting me started.”

Jezowski and Judith started doing weekly Bible studies over the phone. “She was not in my face. She was bringing me along slowly,” he says. Jezowski was particularly interested in the lesson on how salvation was assured if you’re a believer. “I had her go through that again because it was just a concept that I hadn’t grasped before,” he says.

Along the way Judith kept asking Jezowski why he hadn’t read the Bible when he’s always wanted to and why he wasn’t going to church. Jezowski says he never had a good answer for her, so he finally bought a Bible, and by June 2008 he decided it was time to go back to church.

Judith was WELS and suggested that Jezowski go to a WELS church. “I was after the truth,” says Jezowski. “She told me WELS was a conservative church and the same wherever you go.” Jezowski later compares going to a WELS church to going to a McDonalds: “You go to any one across the country, and you know what you’re going to get.”

The first church Jezowski tried was Good Shepherd, Midland, Mich. “As soon as I went through the door I had the sense that I belonged here; this is home,” he says. Although he tried other denominations, he never had that same feeling.

When he approached John Seifert, Good Shepherd’s pastor, about becoming a member, Jezowski learned he had to go through a 20-week Bible information class first. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “The first meeting I was very apprehensive, but within minutes I knew it was the right thing to do.” Jezowski’s lessons oftentimes doubled in length because of all his questions. Salvation by faith, not works, continued to be the message that astounded him. “Now I know that good works are the fruit of your faith,” he says.

ACTIVE FAITH

Jezowski became a member of Good Shepherd in December 2008. But he knows that this was just the beginning of his journey. “You never mature as a Christian,” he says. “You’re never done.”

Since Jezowski bought his Bible, he has read it three times. He likens his reading of the Bible to putting together a giant crossword puzzle. “The first reading was like putting together the border, but there was so much more inside,” he says. “The second reading was like starting to fill in the pieces. But it wasn’t until the third reading that I really got the overall picture. I just started on the fourth. I’ll never stop!”

Now he is sharing his faith with his two daughters and their families as well as his friends. His second wife, Nancy, has gone through Good Shepherd’s Bible information class and became a member in 2013.

Jezowski says he used to struggle with knowing what to say to people about his faith. But it has gotten easier, he says, because he now realizes that God will give him the words to say. “I don’t worry about that anymore. When I talk to someone about God and Jesus, it just comes out. I’m really kind of amazed by it.” And though his family and friends are surprised at his newfound faith, Jezowski says they respect it.

He says, “I just keep talking to them. I put it out there—don’t forget about Jesus.”

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ.

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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 rewards

Though we deserve the reward of hell, our loving God wants us to enjoy the reward of heaven, a reward earned for us by Jesus.

Daniel M. Schroeder

A poster on a telephone pole in Beverly Hills, California, offered a $2,500 reward if someone returned a dog to its owner. Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards program allows one to earn points for discounted flights by purchasing items with your Visa. We are surrounded by offers of rewards.

Rewards don’t stop in the physical world. We even speak of rewards in our spiritual world. A reward sounds like it is something to be enjoyed, but that isn’t always the case. In the dungeon of hell, the residents there wish they could return their reward.

A REWARD THEY WISH COULD BE RETURNED

The residents of hell are given a reward. This might, at first, sound rather strange. But they have earned what they receive. Those who wanted nothing to do with Jesus will be rewarded with everything hell has to offer. Remember that hell is the place where there is no Jesus, nor his love or care. It’s just what those imprisoned in hell desired—a separation from God. He rewards them with what they now wish they could return.

Look at what that means when God’s grace and blessing are not present (2 Thessalonians 1:9). The Bible describes hell as a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). We understand why there is weeping. We can’t imagine constant sorrow where there is never even a glimmer of hope or relief. Not even a drop of water is offered on the tip of the tongue. Even our worst situations on earth eventually have a swing upward. Not in hell.

An unquenchable fire burns the souls and spirits (Matthew 3:12). But this fire is unlike any other because it never flames out and it never destroys. It brings an unceasing, unbearable burn. The residents of hell are bathed in a fiery lake that discharges a stinking sulfur smell (Revelation 21:8). In this lake the tormented have a worm that eats away at their dying bodies, but that gruesome meal is never finished (Mark 9:48). There is never a lifeless corpse, only an eternity of decaying. We understand why these bodies are described as loathsome (Isaiah 66:24). No matter what beauty awards they won on earth, no Hollywood make-up artist can help them now.

They long for relief! No mother will soothe with her voice. No nurse will medicate to numb the pain. The residents of hell find no one who feels sorrow for them. No one consoles them. Teeth grind in hatred for God who damned them and for those living together in that agony. There is no camaraderie, no we’re-all-in-this-together encouragements. They hate everything about everyone around them, even themselves. No gospel promises put their consciences at ease. It is even worse for those who knew that gospel and rejected it. Forever they will know they had the opportunity for heaven, but they discarded it (Matthew 10:14,15). And they know they are never leaving this place.

The most unbearable suffering rewarded to those in hell is having to be banished from God’s face. The Lord had designed humans to be in communion with him. Living with God brings an immeasurable joy. To never experience that crushes a spirit.

Perhaps this description of hell’s reward for the eternally damned shocks us. It is supposed to send a jolt! God’s Word warns us against unbelief and self-security so we never have to take ownership of hell’s reward. Our loving God wants us to enjoy the reward heaven holds.

A REWARD GIVEN AS A BLESSED GIFT

We deserve the reward of hell. Nothing we do will earn a different reward. Nevertheless there is a different reward—one earned for us by Jesus. That reward is an undeserved gift of his grace. And Jesus earned it for everyone who has ever lived for “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Heaven is the blessed reward earned by Jesus. The Bible often describes heaven by listing what won’t be there. When we hear what will be missing in heaven, we see why it is a blessed reward. Though the souls in hell weep, the heavenly residents never shed tears (Revelation 7:17). Nothing shakes their emotions or brings hurtful sadness. No tears flow because of bruised ankles, broken dreams, or buried bodies of loved ones.

We are so used to parts of the body breaking down with age, but it won’t happen in heaven. Glorified, shining bodies will bear the likeness of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:49). Perfect in every way, they will never grow weak. Never will they be famished for food or have dry mouths and need a drink. From those mouths perfect songs from perfect voices will echo beautifully in heaven (Revelation 5:9). Radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and dialysis will never pain their patients again. (Revelation 21:4).

The mind will be sound. No voices will speak in the head of the schizophrenic. The darkness of depression will disappear. Jesus, the light of the world, shines and dispels all traces of darkness. Panic and anxiety attacks will never push down across the chest.

Feelings will never be hurt because of angry words. Separation anxiety will never strike because heaven’s residents will always be in familiar surroundings with the family of believers (Revelation 3:12).

There are no cemeteries, caskets, or crematoriums in heaven because the last enemy, death, has been destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). King Jesus conquered the grave and will resurrect the bodies of believers. With no death or mourning, heaven’s residents never have to say good-bye to a loved one or experience a separation from those they love. Though it may have been only fifty years to enjoy someone’s company on earth, compared with an eternity, those years seem like only a nanosecond.

It’s rewarding to know that saints in heaven never experience an attack. No sinful nature will strike at weaknesses. Pet sins that never move out of earthly houses won’t follow into heavenly homes. Christian faith and beliefs may seem out of step in earthly society, but in heaven we walk in one undivided faith as one church. Today the devil, the roaring lion, prowls around seeking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8), but heaven’s residents are safely kept (Revelation 21:27).

And if this reward isn’t quite enough, there is still one more part of it that puts it over the top. Heaven’s residents will forever be with Jesus, the Lamb, the one who earned this reward (1 Thessalonians 4:17). In your own flesh, with your own eyes, you will see God (Job 19:27). He is there with his people (Revelation 21:3).

Perhaps this description of heaven’s reward makes us long for that New Jerusalem. Good! It is supposed to! Stay connected to God’s gospel promises; persevere in your faith; and, as a future resident of that very real heaven, look forward to the reward Jesus brings.

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

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


POINTS TO PONDER

● What reward of hell are you glad you’ll never have to experience because of Jesus? Why that one?

● What reward of heaven are you most looking forward to receiving? Why that one?

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

God’s dear child

Loved by God as his own child, we find the strength to love one another—as parents and as children—because of who we are through Jesus.

Melissa M. Berg

Frail hands, bent and twisted with age, clutch a music box that displays the words, “Mother, when I think of you, I think of all things beautiful.”

Busy hands, taking a short break from work, hold a coffee mug that claims, “Behind every great kid is a great mom.”

Young hands, opening a Bible, gently remove the tattered, glitter-covered bookmark that exclaims in first-grade scrawl, “I love you, Mommy!”

We love sentiments like these, don’t we? Such gifts and priceless words remind us that our caring has not gone unnoticed and that we are loved by those most precious to us. In later weeks, months, and years, we cling to these gifts, remembering a daughter’s eyes filled with adoration, a loved one’s smile of appreciation, and the marker-stained fingers of a hand offering a dear, dear treasure. On Mother’s Day, these memories of love and caring spring forth from long-ago and not-so-distant corners of the heart and remind us, “This is love!”

THIS IS LOVE?

Digging through our trove of memories, though, can also unearth other thoughts and feelings in addition to those we hold so dear. We remember the less than beautiful things that have been said and done between mother and daughter. We recall the many not-so-great mom moments that occurred this past week. We wince at the actions of the child who once gave such words from the heart and has just stomped to his room in complaint about tonight’s dinner. To these thoughts our hearts say, “This is love?”

What happened? How do those moments filled with love so quickly become tarnished by disappointment, frustration, impatience, and anger? The sad answer is all too familiar. As we live our lives here on this earth, sin threatens even our dearest family relationships. We say with the apostle Paul, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).

As moms, we experience this sin daily. Harsh words once spoken come back to haunt and hurt. Yelling at a repentant child replaces the hug of forgiveness we should have offered. When frustration fills us over a child who won’t sleep, won’t eat, or still won’t use the potty, we see the sin. It’s pure evidence that the devil has not yet given up on his prey. He waits, ready, always to deceive and destroy.

We witness the sin in our children’s actions as well. We’re appalled at the toddler who bites his baby sister. We cringe at the attitude expressed by teenage sons and daughters, and we wish that the adult son, so busy with his own life, would take the time to call.

GOD IS LOVE

How do we cope when sin so blatantly stares us in the face? What do we do when the loving mom reflected in every Mother’s Day sentiment becomes a sham in the face of the constant failures of our everyday experiences? How do we continue to guide and love our children as they move through each stage of life with its unique temptations?

We look away from ourselves and from attempting to measure just how strong our love is. We look away from inventing another way by which we surely will overcome our sin or the sins of our children, and we look instead to Jesus, fixing our eyes on his cross and his sacrifice for us. We remember passages like, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18) and “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Yes, sin stains our every thought, word, and action—and those of our children as well. Our love, no matter how strong, will never be enough to make things right. But God’s love is perfectly strong and covers every sin! Jesus came to our earth and lived perfectly for us, facing exactly the same temptations that we face. Jesus gave his perfect life on the cross, so that we, in all our imperfection, would be forgiven.

Jesus sees the mother filled with remorse over words spoken long ago and says, “My death on the cross forgives every word of hurt.” Jesus sees the mom juggling work and family, and he gently reminds her, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28). He has not forgotten the mom of multiple children or the mom experiencing the rigors of potty training and sleepless nights. He reminds them, “I’m with you always.” And when her frustration and impatience get the better of her once again, he promises, “I forgive you.” And when Jesus sees the toddling children hurling toys and the teenage children hurling words of accusation, he says, “I lived a perfect life in their place and gave myself on the cross—for them!”

Thinking on these promises, we say with the apostle John, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” With grateful hearts we then say, “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10,11).

This, then, is our strength when our lives as moms fail to match the Mother’s Day gifts and words, and when our children’s actions reflect their sinfulness too. We find the strength to “love one another,” to reconcile our broken relationships, to keep fighting our temptations, to forgive and help our children only because of who we are through Jesus.

Jesus says to us, “Before you were born, before the world came into being, I chose you to be mine. I lived perfectly in your place and died to wash each of your sins away. In your baptism 25, 45, 85 years ago, the Holy Spirit worked faith in your heart to trust in me as your Savior. Through my Word and the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Spirit has continued to strengthen your faith in me. When my Father looks at you, he sees ‘all things beautiful,’ ‘a great mom,’ and a mom perfectly loving and loved, because my perfect robe of righteousness is draped over your shoulders. You are God’s own dear child!”

“Lord, thank you!” our souls cannot help but say. Knowing the wonder of this love so undeserved—this forgiveness so full and free—we continue to be mama, mommy, mom, or mother. We love our children at all ages through times that make us smile and still love them when they reflect the unloveliness that also resides in our hearts. We share with them the Word that convicts hearts but that also has given a message of reconciliation. Rejoicing in God’s promises, we continue on, coming to our God in humble repentance when we sin, trusting his forgiveness, praying for his help, and living another day caring for our own families even as we find joy in being part of his family, for Jesus’ sake.

This is love!

Melissa Berg is a member at Zion, Akaska, South Dakota.

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Author: Melissa M. Berg
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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: Old Testament still applicable?

James F. Pope

“Old Testament laws are often quoted on Facebook as still being applicable. I would like to let people know from the Bible that this is not correct. Where can I start?”

Other Christians have shared your experience. You post a comment on Facebook or another kind of discussion forum on what the Old and New Testaments say about marriage or homosexuality, and someone replies: “Why don’t you stone adulterers while you’re at it? And why are you wearing clothes made out of two different kinds of fabric?” Those antagonistic questions are usually followed by references to Leviticus or Deuteronomy.

Where do you start with a response? By recognizing that the laws in the Old Testament varied in purpose and duration.

DIFFERENT LAWS

While we recognize that the Bible does not use the terms civil, ceremonial, and moral to categorize God’s laws in the Old Testament, those terms are helpful in distinguishing the different laws that we find there.

Civil laws regulated the nation of Israel and had the intent of directing obedience to God and to others. In that way, the civil laws—the laws of the land—kept order among the Israelites. And, yes, there were provisions for capital punishment for adultery (Leviticus 20:10), and there were prohibitions for wearing clothes of blended materials (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11). While the theocracy of Israel was in place, the civil laws were in force. When God’s Old Testament people ceased being a nation, the civil laws likewise became obsolete. God’s general directive to people in New Testament times is to render obedience to governments, without relaying mandates about specific details on government policy (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

Ceremonial laws regulated the worship life—and related items—of the people of Israel. Among other things, those laws dealt with sacrifices, festivals, the priesthood, diet, and (un)cleanness. Those laws had the purpose of pointing people ahead to the promised Messiah. When the Messiah came into the world as the God-man, Jesus Christ, he abolished those laws. The tearing of the temple curtain in Jerusalem at the moment of Jesus’ death was a vivid illustration that the ceremonial laws had served their purpose and were no longer in effect. That is a point Scripture makes very clear (cf. Galatians; Colossians 2; Hebrews 4–10).

That leaves us with the moral law. That is often defined as God’s will for all people of all time. People naturally know that facet of God’s will because he has written it into their hearts (Romans 2:14,15). The Ten Commandments serve as a good summary of the moral law, even though they contain some references to civil law and ceremonial law.

DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN LAWS

While it would be nice if Old Testament laws were packaged and labeled “civil law,” “ceremonial law,” and “moral law,” that is not the case. That leaves us with the task of differentiating which laws were binding only for Old Testament Israel (the civil and ceremonial laws) and which reflect God’s will for us today (the moral law).

How do we make that distinction? Martin Luther offered this insight: “When Moses issues a command, we should let him remain a master, teacher, and a lawgiver of the Jews and should not impose him on the Gentiles or Christians and again entangle or confuse their consciences with his regulations. For he concerns us only insofar as he agrees with the Natural Law.” Recognizing that will enable us to sort through Old Testament laws accurately.

God grant you patience, wisdom, and love as you witness to others through social media.

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

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

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Plead for the privilege

The apostle Paul was writing about Christians in the region of Macedonia who knew what it meant to be faced with challenges and struggles—spiritual, social, and financial—in their personal lives. They were also people who knew what it meant for their congregations to be confronted with problems and difficulties as they worked together to proclaim Christ in a hostile and uncaring world.

Yet this is what Paul said about those struggling Christians to their brothers and sisters in Corinth: “We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).

Paul had informed the Macedonian Christians that their fellow believers in Jerusalem were hurting. Many were poor and hungry. Others were facing the difficulties caused by ongoing persecution. But the Macedonian Christians were themselves anything but wealthy. They too were undergoing a severe trial, and they too were in extreme poverty.

In spite of that, Paul directed their attention beyond themselves, beyond their own very real needs, and pointed them to an opportunity to demonstrate their love for fellow believers. He invited them to participate in an offering for the needy believers in Jerusalem. Even in their need, Paul encouraged them to see the needs of others.

You might think they would resent Paul for trying to gather an offering for others. “Doesn’t Paul know that we have needs and responsibilities here? Doesn’t Paul realize that we are stretched as far as we can go, barely able to survive and to feed our families?” But just the opposite happened. When they heard about the need and the opportunity to help, they actually pleaded with Paul to let them participate in the offering.

Such a response was brought about by only one thing. It did not occur just because there was a need or because someone asked them to give. It certainly was not done out of a sense of guilt or obligation. The Macedonian Christians did what they did purely and completely because of the gospel at work in their hearts. They knew the grace of God in Christ. And they responded in the way only believers can.

Our Wisconsin Synod has been blessed in so many ways. We have the precious gospel preached and taught faithfully in our congregations and schools. We have the opportunity to worship our God in freedom and peace. We have been blessed materially in ways that go far beyond our basic needs. We know the same grace that the Christians in Macedonia knew.

It’s my prayer that God will continue to work in us the same gospel-motivated response as he did with the believers in Macedonia. They looked beyond their own lives, their own congregation, and their own local communities and recognized that they could show Christian love to people that they had never seen or met. It’s true that our congregations sometimes struggle with finances. There are bills to be paid and things to be done. But the mission of spreading the gospel extends far beyond the walls of our local churches and schools. Opportunities are there, through our Congregation Mission Offerings, to show our Christian love for others by meeting their greatest need—the need to know that they have a Savior who has lived, died, and risen to set them free.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Faithful to our Lord

“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.” Joshua 24:16-18.

Michael A. Woldt

It’s that time of year again. Young people assemble in front of their congregations and answer these questions:

● “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this teaching and to endure all things, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

● “Do you intend faithfully to conform all your life to the teachings of God’s Word; to be faithful in the use of the Word and sacrament; and in faith and action remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as long as you live?”

Christian parents beam with gratitude and joy as children answer their confirmation questions and affirm their faith.

CHALLENGES TO FAITH

Yet these same parents may privately wonder how long those confirmation promises will be kept. The devil, that great enemy of God’s children, still “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Some argue that challenges to the Christian faith have never been greater. Hardened consciences ignore the natural law God inscribed on the hearts of all people. Voices advocating morality are routinely marginalized and ridiculed in the public arena. Those professing Jesus as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” are labeled as intolerant bigots or ignorant fools.

In reality, believers of all ages have faced similar challenges. Saving faith has always been under attack by the devil, the world and the sinful nature that resides in every human heart.

THE LORD PROVIDES STRENGTH

More than three thousand years ago, Joshua listened as the children of Israel made a sincere confession of faith at Shechem. “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24). Why would they serve any other god? The Lord had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land. The Lord had given them victory over all their enemies.

What was Joshua’s reaction to their bold confession? “You are not able to serve the LORD” (24:19). Joshua didn’t mince words. No one can remain faithful to the Lord if they depend on their own power and strength. Unfortunately the warning went unheeded. After Joshua died, Scripture tells us that “another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. . . . They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt” (Judges 2:10-12).

There’s a lesson for all of us, whether we made our confirmation promises last week or last century. None of us can remain faithful to the Lord on our own. St. Paul put it this way: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

But here’s the good news! The Lord gives us the strength we need to overcome the world and every attack of Satan. Word and sacraments proclaim Jesus’ saving work and his unconditional love for sinners. His life was lived for us, and his death was offered as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. His power is at work in us.

Set free from sin and strengthened by the Spirit we joyfully renew our confirmation promises each day: “We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”

Contributing editor Michael Woldt is pastor at David’s Star, Jackson, Wisconsin.

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Author: Michael A. Woldt
Volume 101, Number 5
Issue: May 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