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“We are blessed”

John Stelljes, pastor of Light of Life, Greenwood, Ind., is humble when asked about his congregation’s ministry.

“We’re just faithfully witnessing and taking hold of the opportunities before us,” says Stelljes. “We’re not doing anything particularly innovative. We are not special, but we are blessed.”

Light of Life, which began as an exploratory in the summer of 2009 when Stelljes began his call there, is located in a growing southern suburb of Indianapolis. Stelljes began his ministry as many exploratory pastors do—canvassing and teaching Bible information classes. He and his wife, Angela, also became involved in the community. As the congregation began to grow (it now numbers 103 members), members also saw the importance of community involvement.

As Stelljes says, “We just know that in order to share God’s Word with people, you need to be out with people. And God has blessed us.”

One of the congregation’s recent blessings has been the construction of its own worship facility. After operating from rental facilities for the past five years, the congregation broke ground on its own church building in August 2013. It is planning to dedicate the building in October. Much of the work is being done by volunteers from Builders For Christ, a division of Kingdom Workers. Members from Light of Life are also actively involved. Stelljes loves the attitude that his members have brought to this project and all the work that they do together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

“The personality of our congregation is amazing,” he says. “Our members put their faith into action. I have never had to worry that things won’t get done. They really exemplify what the body of Christ is all about.”

Light of Life member Angela Meister agrees. She wrote the following blog as her congregation embarked on its building project:

“What a wonderful journey our group of believers has been on! It seems like just yesterday that we were meeting with Pastor John about the experiences he was having becoming a part of the community—before we even began meeting on a regular basis. Our excitement over meeting at the community center for our first worship service seems like such a long time ago. The joy of saying ‘Hello!’ to families in the area at the free festival we had was multiplied in witnessing a little girl we met there baptized into her loving Father’s kingdom. She is growing up, and each year she is with us marks in my mind the passage of time in relation to the ‘milestones’ of Light of Life as a congregation.

“We moved yet again into a new, larger space—and it felt good to spread out, to interact with our neighbors from a more ‘permanent’ space. But we have had in our mind a place more fixed from which to operate God’s ministry. And from the beginning of this project, what a wonderful reassurance it was to see that every survey we collected shared the mindset—this isn’t about the building, it’s about the ministry—a place for meeting people with the truth of God’s timeless message of love, peace, forgiveness, and hope in Christ Jesus.

“The saying is stated often, ‘The church is the people’—but it really came to me personally in this project. As this building comes to fruition, I think we will all remember that though we picked this doorknob or that carpet color—that none of this really matters eternally; that this building is temporary; that the church is the people. We are just passing through sharing the love of Christ and the joy we have in our salvation with all of the world so that they too may know that same joy and peace that we have in being confident of who we belong to eternally. May this building be a wonderful tool for us to go forth with our mission.”

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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 Junior Northwestern: 63 years of faith and fun

The cover features a mystery close up photo of blue and white swirls, beguiling young readers to open to articles like “God’s Seed” and “A Guided Tour of Bible Lands” and a story titled “Live and Learn.” Pages 14 and 15 sport puzzles; submitted poems; instructions for creating a magazine collage; and, on the back page, the answer to the intriguing cover photo: “Jack Frost Strikes.” It’s the January 1978 issue of The Junior Northwestern: An Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls, and I liked it so much, I still have it, in a stack with other issues from February 1978-March 1979.

Little is known about The Junior Northwestern’s beginnings, but our synod certainly wished to support its youngest members with a publication just for children. Northwestern Publishing House archives contain copies dating back to 1921 with references to issues as early as the year before. In June 1975, 10,256 copies were printed for distribution. In 1978, a one-year subscription cost $2.25.

A charming and educational monthly segment that ran from February 1974 to 1981 was “Junior Science.” Told in cartoon segment, the piece was written by Professor Paul Boehlke with guest writers including Dr. James Wandersee, Harry Siewert and Mark Tacke.

“Junior Science” had an interesting beginning. “I had just started teaching at Dr. Martin Luther College,” says Boehlke. “My wife, Jeanette, answered the phone. Pastor Harold Wicke, who had recently become editor of The Northwestern Lutheran wanted to talk to me about doing a monthly science article called ‘Wonders in God’s Creation’ for the Junior Northwestern. Pastor Wicke had innovative ideas for both magazines. I said, ‘Yes.’

“As I started doing the science articles, I began to add drawings to illustrate parts of the science topic. A character named Junior began to point out things. Shortly, Junior took over, and the whole two pages were illustrated in cartoon form. Junior had to have someone to talk to, and so he was supported by Harry, who had hair to make him look different from Junior; Curly, who had a question mark on his head; Gladys, who showed that girls loved science but would also warn Junior of dangers; and Thunderbolt, the faithful wonder dog. (Thunderbolt was our very real St. Bernard in New Ulm that many of the profs’ kids knew.)”

Boehlke says the articles always asked readers to do simple hands-on science investigations, while including frequent references to Scripture.

“In 1979 students sent in their answers to a problem about how to get some apples across a gorge using two short boards. We published some of their creative answers,” he remembers.

Another popular feature of The Junior Northwestern was “I Want a Pen Pal.” In this age before e-mail and social media, names, addresses, and interests as well as the age range of the desired pen pal were listed. Wendi Kremer Guenterberg remembers, “I corresponded with a pen pal from the JN for years. . . . It was fun to compare our school situations (I was from the city . . . she in a small town), and I remember longing to meet her. . . . We did eventually meet at Choral Fest.”

Heidi Westphal Martz says, “I absolutely loved making connections with girls with whom I had so much in common. . . . Receiving a letter from one of these girls was the highlight of my week.”

Because of budgetary constraints, The Junior Northwestern came to an end with the December 1981 issue after more than 60 years of publication. In the summer of 1982, Boehlke says the Minnesota District passed a resolution urging the synod to start The Junior Northwestern up again, but the official 1983 synod convention Proceedings simply resolved to thank the people that worked on the magazine all those years and encouraged the Board for Parish Education to continue exploring the feasibility of producing another publication like it.

The WELS video magazine Kids’ Connection, seen in many of our Lutheran elementary schools, is perhaps the modern version of The Junior Northwestern, but for those with fond memories of mystery cover photos; Junior, Curly and Gladys; or a special pen pal, try this: “On cardboard or wood glue various seeds to form the picture of a Bible. Next to the picture write a short prayer asking God to make you good ground.”

 

 

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Author: Ann M. Ponath
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Mobile technology to help missions

More than 30 high school and college students had an opportunity to work with WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) mission fields firsthand this past year to further the spread of the gospel through technology.

In this yearlong project, teams of students from several WELS and ELS high schools and colleges designed strategies for using mobile technology devices for gospel outreach. The students presented their strategies at the Christian Mobile Phone conference, held at Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., in March. The project and conference was sponsored by the Christ in Media Institute.

“This project really opened the eyes of the students to our mission fields,” says Greg Schibbelhut, advisor to the students at Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis. “It was an opportunity to bring them together with our world missionaries to use smartphone technology to spread the gospel everywhere.”

Missionaries and consultants from Mexico, Pakistan, Malawi, Grenada, India, East Asia, and Chile worked with the students to develop the technology needed in their ministries, with projects ranging from creating mobile friendly Web sites and mobile apps to using a solar powered charging station that can download the Bible while a phone charges. “The whole point of this project is to get more people to share the good news of Jesus. We need to help people in remote regions who have smartphones gather people around God’s Word,” says Michael Hartman, missionary in Mexico.

The student team from Luther High School focused their project on creating video content that can be shared easily on mobile phones in Mexico. “The project was a lot of fun; it was a great experience trying to learn Spanish and get past the language barrier,” says sophomore Griffin Finnestad. “I learned different ways to try to communicate with and entertain people in different cultures while delivering an important message. Because of this project, I am now interested in taking part in a prison ministry program and traveling to work with our missionaries in Mexico.”

Teens from Rocky Mountain Lutheran High School, Denver, Colo., worked on creating a mobile friendly Web site for the ELS mission in India—www.christinindia.com. “This project was incredible,” says junior Trent Campbell. “One thing that I definitely took to heart was the teamwork needed, not only on our side but also conversing back and forth with our contact in India to find out what he wanted to benefit the needs of his ministry.”

The impact this project will have on the students will last a lifetime. “They now realize how important world mission work is. It is not just our small part of the world in Wisconsin; it helps them understand what it means when you put money into an offering plate to support mission work,” says Schibbelhut. “It is really cool for them to have the opportunity to see that.”

 

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Studying abroad

While Julius Buelow had lots of time to practice his German while attending the Lutherisches Theologisches Seminar (Lutheran Theological Seminary) in Leipzig, Germany, that wasn’t the most important thing he took away from his experience.

“The main thing is that I know I have those brothers and sisters across the sea working so hard—blooming where they are planted,” he says. “They just go about their business and they never doubt the power of the gospel.”

Buelow, who will be starting his second year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., this fall, spent the 2012-13 school year at the seminary of the Evangelisch-Lutherische Freikirche (the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church or ELFK), one of WELS’ sister synods. Although it’s an extra year of study for him, the friends he made and the experience he gained made it all worthwhile. “Every year I get extra is another year of seasoning,” he says.

While many of the classes are similar, the classroom experience is quite different. Buelow is in a class of 30 at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary; in Germany he was one of five in the entire seminary. “You make a big difference when you’re one of five,” he says. “You also really become good friends.” The classes are also all conducted in German. “For three months, it was a lot of smiling and nodding,” says Buelow. “But after about three months, it all starts to click!”

Besides attending classes, Buelow was involved in the church life of the ELFK. He presented devotions at the youth gatherings, which just about every youth from age 13 to 25 in the 1,400-member synod attends. He also helped with Kindersingenwoche (Children’s Singing Week), including playing Jesus in the children’s play. “My accent was a bit off, but they said that was okay because Jesus wasn’t from Germany either,” says Buelow. He even was able to attend the Easter Retreat sponsored by the WELS chaplaincy in Germany, where he interacted with WELS members living abroad and even a pastor from another sister synod, the Lutheran Church of Portugal.

Patience and hospitality are two more lessons that Buelow learned in his year abroad. “I had a classmate who was working on a neighbor for ten years,” says Buelow. “He started to come to a few church services while I was there. That’s the kind of patience you need with almost every person who visits the church in Germany.” He says the warm welcome he received from the ELFK also engrained in him the importance of treasuring every Christian you meet.

“We’re not alone. There are faithful Christians in Germany who believe the exact same thing, who support us through their prayers,” says Buelow. “The gospel is needed everywhere, and [WELS] can’t do it all. It’s wonderful that we have these faithful Christians in Germany who live there, who grew up there, and who know how to preach the gospel in that country.”

WELS interacts with sister synods and other Christians around the world through its Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR).

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 2014

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

 

Let your light shine: St. Jacobi, Greenfield, Wis.

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

In 2001, Beth Van Grinsven and her family hosted the first Easter Eggstravaganza at their home.

“Two things inspired us at about the same time,” says Van Grinsven. “One was that we always attended our community egg hunt, and our toddler at the time would always seem to get stampeded. It usually ended on an unhappy note. We also heard a Christian radio program talk about neighborhood evangelism using an egg hunt at Easter. We had a big enough yard and thought that we could do it.”

That first year seven children and a few parents attended, mostly playmates of the three young Van Grinsven children. Seven years later, the Eggstravaganza had grown to an event attended by 140 people that included Bible stories and songs, games, a potluck lunch, and an egg hunt.

“It seemed that everyone we invited would attend,” says Van Grinsven. “Some families would drive 50 minutes to get here. It was unbelievable what God was doing with our yard.”

As the event grew, the Van Grinsvens asked their pastor and teachers at St. Jacobi, Greenfield, Wis., to help lead the Bible story and songs. In 2009, the event moved to St. Jacobi, where it has been held each year since. Usually around five hundred people attend, more than half of those not members of the church.

The Eggstravaganza now begins with a presentation of the Easter message and some music. Then, the Easter egg hunt is held. Next, the children can participate in carnival-type games, crafts, and face painting. Finally, a free lunch is served.

As Lynn Groth, a fellow member at St. Jacobi, notes, “Has sharing the Easter message to hundreds of nonmembers brought dozens of families knocking on our doors to become members? No, just a handful. Some have visited. A few have inquired about our church and school. Many keep coming back, and we again get to touch their hearts with God’s saving Word. That’s what our Lord asks us to do.”

As Van Grinsven reminisces about past events, she says, “I will always remember how God multiplied the eggs, food, drinks, and space. It was watching miracles happen every year. People would just keep coming.”

She concludes, “God is looking for willing helpers. He will provide everything you and I will ever need. The blessing of serving in such a tiny way is something our family will cherish forever. We got to be an outward missionary team for a day.”

To contact Van Grinsven for information on planning a similar event, e-mail Van5@att.net.

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Reaching out to Hispanics on Milwaukee’s south side

Located less than a mile apart, Christ and St. Peter, Milwaukee, Wis., are working hard to reach the growing Hispanic community on Milwaukee’s south side.

While their goal is the same—to share the saving gospel message in a neighborhood that is at least 70 percent Hispanic—their ministries have unique characteristics that reflect their community’s needs.

St. Peter, which has had some form of Hispanic outreach since 1986, is located in an established Hispanic community in which the English language is used more freely. While the adults may have grown up speaking Spanish, their children speak mainly English. Some adults have jobs in which they speak English, and there are more multicultural couples and families.

“These people want a Latin-flavored worship service, but their kids don’t understand Spanish,” says Tim Otto, pastor at St. Peter.

At the same time, the families want to worship together, even though “Mom and Dad want Spanish, and the kids need English,” says Otto.

Otto determined that about one-third of his congregation wasn’t understanding much of the Spanish worship service. He started providing copies of the sermon in English and then began using PowerPoint to “subtitle” his sermon in English. “And yet I still didn’t think I was connecting to the youth,” he says.

Last Christmas, there wasn’t enough room for the screen to display the PowerPoint slides, so Otto decided to preach bilingually—first saying a statement in Spanish and then repeating it in English. The concept worked, allowing families to worship together yet still making sure everyone understood the message. Now Otto conducts all his Spanish worship services this way, with the sermon, children’s sermon, and reading introductions done bilingually and the liturgy and hymns done in Spanish, with English translations in the bulletin.

Bilingual worship is not a new concept. St. Peter, which also has an English congregation, worships together as one group four times a year using bilingual worship. Special events—like baptisms, weddings, and quinceañeras—also are occasionally done bilingually. But conducting regular Hispanic worship in this way, says Otto, is a newer concept and not one used widely in the Milwaukee area. “It meets a need in our church, and we’ll use the service as an evangelism effort as well,” he says. St. Peter is planning on doing a mass mailing advertising this service this summer.

Besides offering bilingual worship, St. Peter reaches out into its community through its food pantry, vacation Bible school, and friendship and family evangelism. It also operates a joint school with Christ, Milwaukee, in which 90 percent of the students are not WELS.

The joint school offers both congregations opportunities to have more continuous contact with families, 60 to 70 percent of which are Hispanic. “A lot of our ministry is time-related,” says Martin Valleskey, pastor at Christ. “When you work with them over time, it’s helpful.”

He continues, “The kids are learning about the Bible so a lot of times the family has interest in learning about that too. This gives us the opportunity to visit them and talk about God’s Word.”

Compared to St. Peter, Christ has a much newer Hispanic ministry. While it had some Hispanic outreach in the 1990s, it first offered weekly worship in Spanish in 2008. The neighborhood consists of more first-generation immigrants and young families, who prefer using Spanish as their main language. Therefore Christ conducts its Hispanic ministry almost entirely in Spanish, although Valleskey says he is finding that more of the children prefer English. “I am looking at that—to find some way to connect with the kids.”

Christ has an English congregation as well. The membership differs greatly, with the English congregation serving lifetime members mostly over the age of 50 and the Hispanic congregation serving families with young children who are new to Christianity. Because of those differences and the language barrier, the congregation’s leadership meets separately even though they form one church.

Both Valleskey and Otto highlight the importance of Hispanic outreach in these neighborhoods. “It’s not hard to find an audience for God’s Word,” says Valleskey. “You have the opportunity to teach God’s Word to people who have not studied the Bible at all in their lives. It’s fun to share the Bible with these people on a regular basis.”

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Supporting pastors in their ministries

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary exists to prepare pastors for the worldwide mission of WELS. That’s not its only mission. The seminary also supports and encourages those already in the ministry.

Through Grow in Grace, the institute for continuing education, online, satellite, and classroom courses are available year-round to help pastors develop a lifelong habit of personal, spiritual, and professional growth.

Not all support is classroom-related, however. Nationwide figures show that up to 70 percent of pastors have suffered from depression and pastoral resignations are over 50 percent. Though resignation figures hover around 27 percent for WELS, many WELS pastors suffer from the same challenges. That’s why Pastor Partners was developed.

“Through a formal program of support from the time they graduate until they retire, pastors receive encouragement and develop long-term connections,” says Professor Richard Gurgel, director of Grow in Grace.

For the first three years of their ministry, graduates can voluntarily participate in a mentoring program. They are paired with a seasoned pastor who helps them adjust to the ministry and shares experiences and wisdom. Of the 2014 graduating class, 21 of 22 asked for a mentor.

Pastor Partners also offers celebrations of ministry retreats for pastors and wives at four key ministry milestones. In May, pastors celebrating their 10th and 25th anniversary in the ministry met in San Antonio, Texas, to grow spiritually, to share their joys and struggles, and to maintain their brotherly support network.

Ruth Bourman, whose husband serves at Abiding Faith, Fort Worth, Texas, couldn’t say enough about the retreat. “I didn’t know how important it was until we were in the Bible studies and workshops. When the weight of the ministry gets to you, to be able to come together with those that serve next to you and with you is so encouraging. Nothing is like being lifted up in God’s Word and being reminded that our loving Savior is serving right next to us.”

She is also grateful for a congregation that recognized the importance of these retreats—and paid for the couple to attend. “Our congregation was amazing. They had everything planned out for us before we could say yes or no. I am so thankful for them,” she said.

The congregation even encouraged them to spend an extra day to simply spend time together. “I can’t thank them enough for loving us so much to do this,” she added.

 

 

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Author: Linda Buxa
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 2014

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

 

Why hate Jesus?

“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22

Michael A. Woldt

As citizens of the United States we enjoy the constitutionally protected right to the free exercise of religion. We gather for public worship without threat of government interference or persecution.

THE WORLD HATES US

However, our First Amendment right doesn’t mean that others will welcome the biblical message we believe and proclaim. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Jesus warned his first disciples that they would not be among society’s favored people. In fact, just the opposite would be true: “All men will hate you because of me.”

“Wait a minute,” we think to ourselves, “why would anyone hate followers of Jesus?” We understand why people are angry with terrorists. We get it when people express their rage at child abusers. It makes sense when hate is directed toward scammers and cheats. But Christians? Why hate them? Why hate us? Aren’t we the good citizens, the ones who try to obey the laws of God and government? Isn’t it our goal to love our neighbor and help those in need?

Why does the world hate Christians? Because the world hates Jesus! Take out your Bible and read all of Matthew 10. Jesus says, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. . . . If the head of the household has been called Beelzebub [another word for the devil], how much more the members of his household!” (24, 25).

That still leaves the question—why hate Jesus? Why hate the eternal God who became fully human? Why hate the One who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead? Why hate the One who did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many? Why hate the One who invites all people of every nation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)?

CHRISTIANS NEED TO STAND FIRM

The answer lies in the stubborn, sinful heart. “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). Unbelieving sinners hate

Jesus because his holiness condemns them. Unbelieving sinners hate Jesus because he calls for repentance and genuine change. Unbelieving sinners hate the gospel because they understand that the gospel offers no hope for eternity apart from Jesus. He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

But before we point too many accusing fingers at others, we ought to remember that we were all born dead in sin and hostile to God. By nature we all hated Jesus, God’s law, and even the proclamation of his grace. Our lives were changed when the Holy Spirit used the message we hated to bring us to saving faith. The gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

So what is our response to the hatred of the sinful world? Jesus gives the answer! “He who stands firm to the end will be saved!”

Thank God that we have the freedom to worship! Pray that God preserves that freedom for us. Pray that God gives us the strength to stand firm in the faith, even when standing firm means facing scorn. And pray that the Spirit continues to change hating hearts into hearts warmed by the love of Jesus. Share Jesus. He died for the haters too.

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

 

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Author: Michael A. Woldt
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Be ready to speak

Mark E. Schroeder

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, an accomplished and respected journalist, is senior editor at The Federalist. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post. She is also a confessional Lutheran who is not afraid to confess her faith.

Sarah Palin recently gave a speech in which she said something that seemed sacrilegious. In what may have been an attempt at humor, she said, “[Prisoners at Guantanamo] obviously have information on plots to carry out Jihad. . . . Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

In the past, Hemingway has defended Palin from unjustified attacks from political opponents and the media. But in a recent column in The Federalist, Hemingway offered some critical commentary on Palin’s remarks:

When my husband (who was baptized 10 years ago today, as it happens) told me about this, I had a hard time believing that she [Palin] actually said it. . . .

The Lutheran catechism, which I have here on my shelf, is a collection of teachings for the church. . . . The section on the sacrament of baptism explains what baptism is—the water connected to God’s Word; what that Word of God is—the Gospel of Jesus, and what baptism gives us: “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”

Is waterboarding how we baptize terrorists? However powerful waterboarding might be . . . it doesn’t hold a candle to the power of the Christian baptism, as historically understood. Does it deliver those who are subjected to it from the devil, as Christian baptism does? Does it give them eternal life, as Christian baptism does? Is it voluntary, as Christian baptism is? It is none of these things.

Joking about baptism in the context of this aggressive action suggests that we don’t think baptism is as life-giving or important as it is.

Now, it’s also true that Palin, from what we know of her congregational affiliations, is influenced by subsets of Christianity that take a different and far lower view of what baptism accomplishes. They say that it’s mere symbolism rather than means of God’s grace. . . . But I would hope that even these traditions wouldn’t take it so lightly as to joke about it in the context of waterboarding. . . .

I’d hope they recognize how blasphemous it sounds to the ears of Christians who retain the historic and high view of the sacrament. . . .

Baptism—the real kind—turns out to be a wonderful thing to point to at these times. . . . In my church we encourage everyone to daily repent of our sins and remember that in our baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins. As St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.” And St. Paul in Romans, chapter 6, says: “We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

And that’s good news indeed.

We add our “Amen!” to Hemingway’s comments about the power and meaning of Baptism, and we offer a fervent prayer that God would enable each of us to confess our Christian faith with boldness and confidence whenever he gives us the opportunity.

 

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Author: Mark E. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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: Bring my girlfriend to faith

I have prayed and prayed that God bring my girlfriend to faith, but nothing has happened. Doesn’t God want her to be saved?

James F. Pope

Your concern for your girlfriend is admirable. I want to encourage you to continue praying for her and keep in mind several biblical truths regarding both prayer and conversion.

PRAYER: OUR COMMUNICATION WITH GOD

Prayer is definitely a wonderful gift from God. It enables us to communicate our thoughts—in this case the desire for your girlfriend’s conversion—to God. We know that communicating our thoughts to God is not mere psychological, “feel-good” babble. God has given us his own word that he hears and answers our prayers (Isaiah 65:24; Luke 11:9). The Bible assures us that prayer is “powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Still, for the great blessing that prayer is, it is our avenue of communicating with God. God communicates to us through his Word, and in his Word he explains how he intends to change people’s hearts.

THE GOSPEL: THE POWER OF SALVATION

It is through the gospel message that the Holy Spirit works to bring people to faith in Jesus. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). Through the Word and Holy Baptism (Titus 3:5,6), God brings about new life in people’s hearts.

YOUR TWOFOLD COURSE OF ACTION

Knowing that prayer is powerful and effective and realizing that God converts through his gospel means that you want to keep praying for your girlfriend. But you should also see if you can bring your girlfriend into contact with the gospel by attending worship services and Bible classes and reading the Bible. Pray that God directs events in her life so that the Holy Spirit has opportunities to work in her heart through the gospel.

Has that approach “worked” in the past? Certainly. Church history records a well-known example. The times and relationships were different from yours, but the situation was similar. A woman by the name of Monica married a man outside the Christian faith. For years Monica prayed that God would bring her husband to faith. Her prayers seemed unanswered, then a year before her husband died, that change took place. But Monica was not done praying. Her son did not believe, so she prayed for her son. While her son was living an immoral life, Monica continued to pray for him. Finally, her son—we know him as Augustine, the church father—was brought to faith. It was not his mother’s prayers that converted him. It was the Word of God. Augustine heard numerous sermons by Ambrose, the bishop in Milan, Italy, and also read the Bible himself. He found himself in situations where the Word of God was present, and the Holy Spirit worked through it.

This is not to say that the conversion of your girlfriend is as simple as 1) pray and 2) put the gospel in front of her. The work of the Holy Spirit goes beyond our understanding (John 3:5-8). Still, we do know that God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). With that in mind, we have every encouragement to pray for the conversion of others and to do what we can to bring the powerful gospel into their lives. I encourage you to keep doing that!

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

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Seven secrets your Lutheran pastor never told you

Your pastor won’t tell you these secrets because he knows that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Many today want their Christian life to be easy and think, “There’s got to be an easier way!” Sadly, some discover these seven secrets.

1. Eat whatever you like and gain nothing! Spiritually, just take in whatever pleases your palate and, seriously, you won’t see any spiritual growth anywhere. Forget about getting nourishment from the Scriptures and don’t concern yourself at all with the Lord’s Supper. If you find a writer or preacher whose ideas make you feel good or if you just have some great thoughts of your own, just fill up on those!

2. Only go to church when you have to. After all, there’s no law that requires you to be there on any given Sunday, and surely you’ve heard about “Christian freedom.” You know that the pastor is going to talk about Jesus and people are going to sing, so it’s not like you don’t know it all already. Just go to church when your mom or dad gets a little too pushy or on major holidays when things are more fun. Go just often enough to keep the pastor and elders off your back. You’ll find not going only gets easier the longer you stay away!

3. Never grow up! Peter Pan was a clever guy. If you never make any effort to grow up in your faith or life as a Christian, then you can use ignorance—“I just didn’t know!”— and immaturity—“What did you expect from me? You know what kind of Christian I am!”—as ready excuses throughout your life.

4. Since we are justified by grace, let grace justify anything! Why worry about whether something is a sin or improper or might hurt someone else when you can just act now and ask forgiveness later? It might even turn out that no one cares what you’ve done or said. But even if God is bothered, count on his love to mean he doesn’t really care.

5. Treat your baptism as a get-out-of-hell-free card or good luck charm. Remember just enough of what your baptism means so you can say, “I’ve been baptized, so all my sins are washed away and I’m God’s child.” Then forget everything else. Believe and live however you want, and if anyone ever tries to correct you, just say, “Hey, don’t worry about me—my parents got me baptized.”

6. Claim neutrality. Whenever and wherever being a Christian means taking some kind of uncomfortable stand or puts you in an awkward situation, just take a step back. Leave God’s Word completely out of your considerations and just remain neutral. After all, who really is to say what’s right and what’s wrong?

7. Run from responsibility. Even if you ignore the other six secrets, this one is so simple anyone can do it. Once you get started, it just gets easier. If something goes wrong, don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. No need to repent and try to do better. Find someone else who can take responsibility. Don’t take responsibility for your marriage, children, church, or society. They all serve you, and whatever is wrong must be someone else’s responsibility. When something needs to be done, only worry about yourself. Let other people take care of everything and everyone else.


THE REAL SECRETS ARE NOT SECRET

These “secrets” are indeed not anything you really want to know. Yet every one of them is a real approach to the Christian life followed by real believers. Every one has the potential to starve or strangle faith and to leave souls unsaved and headed to hell.

Your Lutheran pastor would never tell you these “secrets” because, as your shepherd, he wants to keep you from all spiritual harm. He does not follow the latest Gallup Poll or the lowest-common-denominator approach to Christianity. His goal is to be faithful to the Lord Jesus.

And your pastor will keep these “secrets” from you because he is a confessional Lutheran who has vowed to teach and preach nothing but the truth from the Word of God and about the Christian life.

Your pastor has another list designed by God for your spiritual health and growth:

1. The only diet for a Christian is one that feasts on the means of grace. The Holy Spirit promises to work in our hearts only through the gospel in Word and sacraments.

2. Church is where believers want to be every week. That is where they are fed, where they worship, and where they encourage others even as they are encouraged.

3. Growth in knowledge and maturity in faith are the goals of every child of God throughout life. Like any living thing, a faith that is not growing is dying.

4. God’s grace makes us eager to please God. Paul wrote to refute the idea that grace gives a Christian license to sin: “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15). We are forgiven and have eternal life. That makes us all the more eager to please and obey the One who has forgiven us.

5. Baptism means we struggle with sin. It’s not a get-out-of-hell-free card. Martin Luther taught us in the Small Catechism, “that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Fourth part of Baptism).

6. Where God has spoken, there can be no neutrality or compromise. We who have the Word must stand on it, and neither the ignorance nor intransigence of others offers any excuse for unclarity. Differences of doctrine or opinion among Christians are not evidence that the truth cannot be known, but proof that some don’t know or have rejected the truth.

7. Christians can no more run from responsibility than they can slip from their skins. We all have callings that are our joyful privilege to carry out. We serve God by serving our neighbor in our roles as parents and children, sisters and brothers, teachers and students, laborers and bosses, citizens and soldiers, church officers and members, teachers and pastors, ushers and greeters, witnesses and workers.

Don’t believe those who say following Jesus is easy. Bliss and comfort are what await us in paradise. But this side of heaven, we still have to live with the reality of sin in the world, in ourselves, and even in the church. That’s why Jesus didn’t call us to the couch or the coffee shop; he called us to the cross. As his disciples, we each pick up our own cross and follow him through pains, struggles, and all the hardships of the Christian life to joy and eternal life.

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

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

If it’s by grace, why do we work? Part: 2

The subtle work of choosing

Tim H. Gumm

As a teenager, I attended an evangelist’s crusade at McCormick Place in Chicago. Thousands filled the convention hall. We listened as the renowned evangelist proclaimed the immutable truth about us and about God: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10) and a God of absolute holiness cannot and “does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7). There is no escape—not the slightest indication that any of us might be the exception or might be able to offer something to appease the Holy One’s scorching wrath. No, God’s law had crushed each of us—killed and condemned us eternally, leaving us without hope. That’s what God’s law does.

But despair was removed entirely then by another truth: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The preacher explained that God has sent his Son Jesus to rescue fallen and helpless mankind—to live and die in every sinner’s place and to rise to life so that every person in this world’s history might have the gift of full and free forgiveness and the gift of a life in heaven. “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8)—that was the sweet truth proclaimed. And there was relief and release, peace and certain hope, and life! That’s what the gospel, the good news of God’s grace, bestows.

It was then, however, that something entirely at odds with grace was also asserted as truth. A work, albeit subtle and small, was required for salvation: You must accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior from sin. You must choose this grace. You must make the decision to trust Jesus completely and follow him without reservation.

BY NATURE, WE ARE SPIRITUALLY DEAD

What the audience was being urged and required to do that day is not what Scripture teaches. You see, there is a most unpleasant truth about ourselves to be found on the pages of the Bible. The Word of God clearly states that since the time of Adam and Eve and as a result of their rebellion against the Creator, every person comes into this world with a nature that is entirely depraved and dead to God. Dead! We are by nature spiritual corpses. The apostle Paul put it in the most elementary of terms when he told the Ephesian Christians, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (2:1).

Picture a cadaver in the morgue. Not only is that corpse incapable of action and speech, but it is also incapable of thought, desire, decision, cooperation, or anything else. Above all, it is incapable of bringing itself to life. It is, after all, a corpse—not dormant, but dead. Completely and entirely dead!

So it is with the natural spiritual condition of every person since Eden: physically alive and moving about, but completely dead to God. Adam and Eve died when they disobeyed, just as God said. All their descendants are also spiritually dead and utterly powerless to change that. Martin Luther rightly taught us to confess: “I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him” (Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed).

That is, indeed, an unpleasant and distasteful truth. It wars against human pride. But more than that, it puzzles human reason. When we observe that some people come to saving faith while others do not, our human reason demands a logical answer. So many Christians and Christian churches contend and teach that people by nature are not spiritually dead and lifeless—not entirely at least. Rather, by nature, they claim that people have the ability to decide whether or not to receive God’s grace, whether or not to come to spiritual life. They assert that some freely choose to do so, others do not.

While that teaching satisfies human reason, it violates and denies the truth of God’s Word. The Scriptures assert that everyone by nature is spiritually dead in sin and, as a result, there is “no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Understand as well that this teaching also denies and destroys the doctrine of salvation by grace. If it is true that this work of choosing is required—if salvation is contingent on deciding, on mental and intellectual assent to the gospel of Jesus Christ—then grace is no longer grace. Salvation, then, is no longer a free gift of God. Rather, a requirement must be met; a good work—albeit a seemingly small one—must be done: One must choose to receive the gift.

This false doctrine rejuvenates sinful human pride that is always intent on robbing our Savior God of his glory and on somehow earning life in heaven. How are you sure of heaven? They claim, “My personal decision for Christ is what saves me. I’ve decided to believe in Jesus, and my faith is my confidence of life eternal.”

GOD HAS CHOSEN US

As many stepped forward that day in Chicago to make that impossible decision for Christ, I stayed in my seat. I was already Christ’s disciple. Before the foundations of this world were laid, God had done the choosing and had graciously chosen me. One day at the font, then, God confirmed his gracious choice. Through water and the powerful Word I was called from death to life. By the power of the gospel, God’s Spirit filled my heart that day with a living trust in Christ as my Savior. Saving faith, unasked for and undeserved, was given, and with that gift, the other gifts of forgiveness and salvation and peace with God and an eternity in my Father’s house. God gave and gave; he did it all that day! It had to be so.

That is God’s amazing grace: He chooses us because we cannot and will not choose him. Entirely on his own, God brings us from death to life, from unbelief to faith. He gives the works of the Savior to those who have no works of their own. He creates a new heart, warmed and controlled by the gospel, so that human pride and reason are overcome. He creates a new mind so that the intellect, enlightened by the Spirit working in the good news, now voices assent and a resounding “Amen!” to the gospel of Christ.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). God has done it all. From the very start to the very end, it is by grace you have been saved. Rejoice!

Tim Gumm is pastor at Peace, Loves Park, Illinois.

This is the second article in a four-part series on law and gospel.

 

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Author: Tim H. Gumm
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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: Ross

An invitation to a Baptism Sunday starts a family’s journey to learning about their Savior.

Julie K. Wietzke

“You’re not just saving babies. You have the potential to save an entire family and the next generation and the next generation after that. It’s not just one person.”

Liesl Ross was speaking from firsthand experience when she addressed the congregation at Trinity, Waukesha, Wis., to recruit volunteers to make phone calls for the congregation’s annual Baptism Sunday. In 2004, she and her husband, John, were on the receiving end of one of those phone calls. And although the call didn’t go as expected, it led to a family coming to faith.

A HIGH-RISK PREGNANCY

Liesl could hardly believe it. Was that a line on the pregnancy test? She and John had been trying for years to have a baby with no luck. Now they were going to have the child they were waiting for.

As the months went along, everything was going fine. She and John decided to go to Michigan to see their families over Christmas. But when they returned, there was a message from Liesl’s doctor saying that some of her tests had strange results. After an ultrasound, they discovered the baby was really small, but nothing else was conclusive. Liesl’s doctor asked to see her weekly to monitor the situation.

On Feb. 9, Liesl went in for her weekly check-up. Her blood pressure was high, and her protein levels were through the roof. She was diagnosed with preeclampsia and was immediately admitted to the hospital.

Often women diagnosed with preeclampsia late in pregnancy are induced immediately. Since Liesl was only six months along, her doctors tried to use medication to prolong the pregnancy. But when they took her off the medication a few days later, her blood pressure spiked again. “The doctors said to us, ‘You guys are going to become parents today,’ ” says Liesl.

Within the hour, Liesl gave birth to Samantha. At just 13 ounces, she was the smallest baby ever delivered at Waukesha Memorial Hospital up to that time.

Samantha survived the weekend, but on Monday when the doctors tried putting her on a different respirator, her throat closed. “We lost her that day,” says Liesl. “It was pretty awful.”

AN IMPORTANT PHONE CALL

A few months later, when John answered the phone, he was greeted by a friendly voice congratulating him on the recent birth of his baby. But when Adam Nass, a member at Trinity, Waukesha, asked John if his baby had been baptized, John interrupted him and explained the situation. “What’s the worst-case scenario that you could experience? That’s what Adam had to deal with,” says Liesl.

Nass quickly recovered and asked John if one of Trinity’s pastors could call them. John said yes.

The couple had already been searching for a church home. “We’re very much a ‘why’ couple—why did this happen?” says Liesl. “The doctors couldn’t give us any answers. We were at the point where we were ready to hear the Word.”

Liesl wasn’t a total stranger to religion. Liesl’s grandparents were strict Episcopalians, and her mom dabbled in several different denominations. “I had some exposure, but nothing organized—no clear doctrine all the way through,” she says. John didn’t have a background in religion at all. The couple did get married in a church and even had Samantha baptized by the Catholic priest at the hospital. “I had enough exposure that I knew it was an important step, but I didn’t appreciate it until later,” says Liesl. But up to this time, with their busy work schedules and several cross country moves early in their marriage, John and Liesl hadn’t taken the time to think much about their spiritual lives.

That was changing, however. Now they were looking—and not for empty comfort. “When I called them and made an appointment to meet them, the thing that struck me is how John said he was looking for a church that stands for something,” says Scott Oelhafen, pastor at Trinity. “He actually asked me, ‘Do you guys stand for something?’ ”

The Ross’ soon learned that WELS was centered on the Word of God. They started attending worship at Trinity and began going through the Bible information class. “I believe through the experience of the heartache they had with their daughter Sam the Lord allowed them to see how much they needed him and that Jesus was able to help them,” says Oelhafen.

Having science backgrounds, the Ross’ also appreciated that WELS teachings have a solid base—the Word. “We like the fact that we stand up in church every week and admit that we are flawed creatures and we ask for forgiveness and we get it,” says Liesl. “The pastors constantly go back to the Word.”

In 2005, John was baptized, and they both were confirmed. They now had their church family.

A NEW LOOK ON LIFE

But the Ross’ didn’t feel as if their family was complete. They tried having another baby, but to no avail. An international adoption in China was their next step. They were told that it usually took six months to a year once the paperwork was in. “We waited and waited. Things were stretching out longer and longer,” says Liesl. After a particularly hard discussion with their social worker, Liesl says she began wondering if parenting was in their cards.

John went to see Oelhafen. “Pastor Oelhafen told him, ‘You do realize that the little girl you’re getting from China would probably never be exposed to Christ. You’re saving a soul.’ That made all the difference—we could wait forever,” says Liesl.

The Ross’ didn’t wait forever, but it did take three years before they could bring Kadence Trinity home from China—exactly five years to the day that Samantha died. “God works for the good of those who love him,” says Liesl. “That’s the message I’ve been hanging on to.”

Not that being a Christian makes your lives easy. “Your life is not going to be peaches and cream and sunshine because you’re a person of faith—because you’re a Lutheran,” says Liesl. “But it does make [life] easier to bear.”

The Ross’ learned that firsthand when John was recently unemployed for several months. “Even if we lost all the ‘stuff,’ the three of us were all together and we still had our faith,” says Liesl. “There’s a confidence that comes from having faith and knowing that you can count on that.”

Her faith, she says, now helps her accept when bad things happen in life. “Nothing is random,” she says. “I don’t always understand it all, but faith allows me to accept that there’s a plan and I find great comfort in that.”

Now, years after they received that phone call from Nass, John and Liesl are making the calls to invite new parents to have their babies baptized. The importance of their and their children’s baptisms isn’t lost on them. Their baptism certificates are framed and hanging on their bedroom wall, and “John’s favorite part of every service is when we have a baptism. It brings him to tears,” says Liesl. The saving power of Baptism is a message they want to share. “The reason we are sharing our story is to help people realize how important outreach is,” she says. “There are plenty of souls that still need saving.”

Julie Wietzke is the managing editor of Forward in Christ.

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

Campus ministry brings young Christians together for worship and fellowship and sometimes more.

Glenn L. Schwanke

It’s Tsarist Russia. The year is 1905. In the little village of Anatevka, three of Tevye’s daughters are hanging out the laundry. Yente, the village matchmaker, has just stopped by to inform them that Lazar Wolf, the wealthy butcher and also a widower older than Tevye, wants to marry Tzeitel, the eldest daughter. What a match! Not exactly the man of a young girl’s dreams.

Who would be? The three daughters tell us. “Someone wonderful.” “Someone interesting.” “And well off.” “And important.” Then the three burst out in song. “Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make me a match, Find me a find, catch me a catch. Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Look through your book, And make me a perfect match.” (Fiddler on the Roof, 1964)

It’s the United States of America. The year is 2014. In the little town of Houghton, Mich., three Michigan Technological University (MTU) coeds are hanging out the laundry. . . .

Wait! That’s not right, not right at all! Let’s change it to, “In the little town of Houghton, Mich., on the MTU campus, there are almost 7,000 students enrolled. Over 5,600 of them are undergraduates. For a variety of reasons, the student body ratio of men to women stands at about three to one.”

That ratio has actually shifted somewhat in the last decade, because recruiting has raised the number of female students on campus. And among the Wisconsin Synod students who attend MTU? The ratio has shifted even more dramatically over the years. Our student group ratio is about 60 percent male and 40 percent female.

So what? Well, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m kind of like a 21st-century Yente. Well, maybe it would be more accurate to say that our campus ministry functions as a matchmaker—at least on a secondary level. One of the reasons we carefully plan worship and all those Bible studies and weekly fellowship activities is to bring young Christians together. Our model is that of the early Christian church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of

bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Our primary purpose is that of the apostle Paul: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2,3 ). We want young Christians well equipped to live their faith in a society that is becoming increasingly challenging, and at times even hostile, to Christianity.

And if, while doing that, young Christian men and women meet? And start to date? And their relationship gets serious? And they get engaged? And Papa gets a scholar! And Mama gets someone as rich as a king! And a young woman gets a husband of whom it can be said, “He loves his wife ‘just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it’ ” (Ephesians 5:25)! And a young man gets a wife of whom it can be said, “[Her beauty comes from her] inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4)! Isn’t that a rich blessing from our gracious God?

Certainly! And anyway, somebody has to arrange the matches. Over the years, matches like Raj & Mahita, Dan and Kate, Matthew and Heather, Ken and Nicole. . . .

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

 

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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 2014

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

 

A look back: Part: 6

The turbulent 1960s provide The Northwestern Lutheran writers with an assortment of topics to examine.

Mark E. Braun

On Aug. 28, 1963, more than 400,000 people at the March on Washington heard a young Atlanta pastor lament that “the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society.” But Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also had a dream that one day his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

A 22-year old folk singer from Hibbing, Minn., performed at Washington that day. Soon after, Bob Dylan wrote a new song that became an anthem for the turbulent 1960s:

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

CIVIL RIGHTS

“For years everyone has known about segregation,” wrote Carleton Toppe in The Northwestern Lutheran (TNL) in 1964, but pending civil rights legislation was now forcing Americans to confront Jim Crow laws and separate schools and lunch counters for whites and blacks. We owe “no less consideration for the soul of a neighbor of another color than we do for the souls of men whose skin is the same as ours.”

By 1965, a TNL reader asked why our pastors had not joined clergymen in Selma, Ala., demonstrating for civil rights. Though God has not assigned his church the responsibility of improving society, Armin Schuetze insisted, “The heart of the Christian has no room for racial prejudice or hatred.” A white Christian won’t say, “That’s only a Negro, why worry about his health and his life?” A Negro Christian will not say, “What do I care if my white neighbor suffers the loss of his property?”

SPACE TRAVEL

Immanuel Frey remarked that some in the United States had scruples about a 1959 attempt to land a rocket on the moon. “They feel that man is trying to play at being God” and that such an attempt was “a repetition of the Tower of Babel episode.”

Was space travel against God’s will? “Sending rockets into space, putting satellites into orbit involves more than playing with expensive toys about which you can boast; it can well play a vital role in our national defense.” Yet “God will let man know when he exceeds his bounds.” Again citing Babel, Schuetze warned that when men use their building skills in defiance of God or for their own glory, God can intervene to frustrate their plans.

After Neil Armstrong made “one giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969, TNL hailed the moon landing as “a magnificent achievement of man’s inventive genius and of his engineering skill.” Yet “the stubborn facts of human existence remain the same.” The moon exploit would not change the human race any more than did the feat of Columbus or the invention of radio or television.

WAR DEBATES

During two world wars, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans supported their country and fought bravely, but in 1964 TNL had to discuss whether pacifism was unchristian. By 1968 readers were asking, “Shall I burn my draft card?” and “What if I doubt that a war is just?”

When resistance first arose against the United States’s role in a faraway civil war, a TNL writer told readers to refrain from “a sanctimonious second-guessing of the government.” But as losses mounted and explanations grew less convincing, second-guessing the war in Vietnam was no longer dismissed as “sanctimonious.”

In a particularly thoughtful response, seminary professor Irwin Habeck acknowledged that a Christian could be convinced that it was wrong to be involved in a given war and he may decide he “must refuse to serve in this war, let come what may.”

May we protest? Yes, but only within legal limits.

To absolve oneself of responsibility for the country’s sinful course of action, must a conscientious objector also renounce his American citizenship? “We do not want to be hasty about sitting in judgment as God over our government,” Habeck wrote. We must be “very sure, and then very consistent, before we invoke the principle, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.’ ”

MISSION EXPANSION

For WELS, the 1960s became “a decade of decision for home missions.” The synod was opening new stateside churches “at a rate proportionately double that of other major Lutheran bodies in our country.” In only seven years, the number of states containing WELS churches doubled from 16 in 1961 to 33 in 1968.

This church body, which once questioned whether God ever intended it to do external mission work, now reported the names and addresses of 53 world missionaries.

“The Wisconsin Synod today supports missions in places in which it had no intention of going a few years ago,” Immanuel Frey noted. This aggressive mission expansion was “literally forced upon us, in large part as a direct result of the liberal trends which have developed in once conservative churches.” Forced, maybe; but begun. In the next decade WELS would enter the rest of the states.

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

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

 

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Author: Mark E. Braun
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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: Southeastern Wisconsin District

Southeastern Wisconsin District

Mark A. Jeske

Welcome to the Southeastern Wisconsin District! We are a district of paradoxes. Although we are named for the State of Wisconsin, geographically most of our odd-shaped district isn’t in Wisconsin at all. We cover only a sliver of Wisconsin’s lower right corner, plus a small slice of northeastern Illinois, most of Indiana, and Kentucky. We are old and new, rooted in the past and yet driving forward into the future. We are small in geographic size in comparison with our 11 sisters but big in synodical population and institutions. On any given Sunday you can hear majestic pipe organs, brass, and timpani, but you can also hear contemporary Christian praise bands and the thump of gospel music.

YESTERDAY

WELS began here. “Conceived” at a meeting of immigrant German pastors at Grace Lutheran Church on Milwaukee’s east side in 1849, the synod was “born” officially at Salem Lutheran Church in the town of Granville (now Milwaukee’s northwest side) in May 1850.

Salem’s second worship facility still survives. Built in 1863 during the middle of the Civil War, its cream brick still houses special events and is undergoing a slow and loving restoration. Its lower level and old school rooms behind it presently house the synod’s museum. It has a marvelous collection of artifacts from our immigrant past and is open to synod members and groups by appointment. Along with other efforts to preserve WELS history, the WELS Historical Institute works on the restoration and preservation of this church.

An even older church building still in weekly use is in Jackson, Wisconsin. David’s Star’s fortress-like sanctuary was built in 1856. St. Peter’s Lutheran School on Milwaukee’s south side has been full of children ever since its construction in 1872.

That year also saw the birth in Milwaukee of the old Synodical Conference, a blessed and fruitful partnership between WELS and various other Lutheran denominations around the country. The most important and long-lasting relationships were the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), the “little Norwegian Synod” (now the Evangelical Lutheran Synod), and the Slovak Synod (now part of the LCMS). Alas,

Milwaukee was also the scene of WELS’ historic vote in 1961 to sever fellowship ties with the LCMS, and the Synodical Conference disbanded a few years later.

TODAY

Massive German immigration in the 1800s, bringing millions of German Protestants to the upper Midwest, ignited rapid growth in our young synod. But those Germans kept moving. As they left their ethnic neighborhoods in search of bigger lots and newer homes, the congregations that they had founded either faded away or had to find ways to connect with their new neighbors, most of whom did not have roots in central Europe. Our district enjoys a robust ferment of ideas, strategies, and programs to share the timeless gospel message in a constantly changing environment.

Over a century and a half of existence has not burned off our passion for outreach and innovation. Our Indiana and Kentucky “wing” gives us a chance to plant new home missions in places where WELS has not been historically active, places like Greenwood and Lafayette, Ind.

Here in Milwaukee you will find the longest-running and largest voucher school experiment in the nation. After a little initial caution, quite a few of the eligible WELS schools have embraced the program. That infusion of funding has enabled over a dozen schools in Milwaukee alone to be able to say “Yes” to many low-income urban families who otherwise couldn’t afford tuition.

The vouchers have accelerated the growth of our student bodies into a much greater cultural and racial diversity. Milwaukee probably has more WELS African-American members and students than anywhere else in the country and a growing number of Hispanic people at a half dozen churches and schools. Christ-St. Peter School on the south side is home to several dozen Burmese Karen children as well.

Northwestern Publishing House in Wauwatosa has a long history of providing quality scriptural materials, music, and art to support ministries and families in WELS and beyond. NPH also publishes Forward in Christ magazine.

THE HEART

The Southeastern Wisconsin District is still the “heart” of the synod in many ways.

● The synod’s new headquarters is located in Waukesha, just west of Milwaukee, housing all business and administrative functions.

● Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, after a wandering history in Watertown, Milwaukee, and Wauwatosa, now has a beautiful home in the northern Milwaukee suburb of Mequon. All of our synod’s pastors are trained here. Its summer enrichment program draws not only pastors but a variety of other ministry leaders.

● Wisconsin Lutheran College has over one thousand students on its beautiful Milwaukee campus and now offers not only undergraduate degrees but also adult and graduate studies.

● Four area Lutheran high schools call our district home: Wisconsin Lutheran, Milwaukee; Kettle Moraine, Jackson, Wis.; Shoreland, Somers, Wis.; and Illinois Lutheran, Crete, Ill. Wisconsin Lutheran is the longest continuously operating Lutheran high school in the country, tracing its beginnings to 1903.

● A raft of outstanding church-related service organizations call the Milwaukee area home, such as Kingdom Workers, Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society, Christian Life Resources, Wisconsin Lutheran Institutional Ministries, and WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions. These ministries may be based here, but they have a national and even international reach.

● Milwaukee is also home to WELS’ largest mass media ministry, Time of Grace, which has 400,000+ subscribers to its online devotions and is approaching a million viewers of the weekly TV program.

Mark Jeske is pastor at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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


 

STATISTICS

District president: Pastor David Rutschow
Congregations: 148
Mission churches: 9
Baptized members: 68,096
Communicant members: 54,496
Early childhood ministries: 77
Lutheran elementary schools: 68
Area Lutheran high schools: 4

 

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Author: Mark A. Jeske
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Every day a miracle

After his parents refused doctors’ advice to have an abortion, Quinton Corwin grew to be an involved, eager member of God’s family.

Rachel Hartman

If you peeked into a classroom at St. Paul Lutheran School, Plymouth, Neb., recently, you may have spotted him. You might have found him reading his Bible, talking with classmates at recess, or playing a hymn on the piano. Perhaps you may have seen him assisting a younger student in the preschool room.

Meet Quinton Corwin. At 14 years old, his days are full. “He is always willing to help out whenever he has the opportunity,” says Tom Plitzuweit, principal and upper grade teacher at St. Paul’s.

While Quinton leads an active life now, years ago, doctors weren’t sure he would even survive. Before he was born, they told his mother his brain was mostly filled with water. They also diagnosed him with spina bifida and suggested an abortion.

THE BEGINNING

Quinton’s parents, James and Brenda Corwin, were married in 1997. Two years later, concerned it would be difficult for them to have children, James and Brenda consulted a fertility specialist. Before undergoing any treatments, however, they learned they were expecting.

The Corwins stayed with the specialist until Brenda was 12 weeks pregnant. Then they began seeing another doctor. This doctor suggested testing for indications of conditions such as Down’s syndrome or spina bifida. The Corwins, who were living in Crystal Lake, a suburb of Chicago, agreed. The results would determine at which hospital the baby would be delivered.

After the testing, the Corwins were told things didn’t look quite right. Another ultrasound was scheduled.

“At that appointment, we got the news that the baby had spina bifida, his brain was 69 percent water, and that he most likely would be brain dead before we could deliver,” recalls Brenda. They were handed a paper and told: “Sign here and we will take care of it on Tuesday.”

Tuesday was a week away. “We cried and couldn’t bring ourselves to sign the paper,” says Brenda. The couple left, holding unsigned forms, and called their pastor. He came to their home right away.

“Pastor brought us back from the medical talk of ‘it’ and the facts and figures we had been presented to remembering that this baby was a gift from God,” Brenda says. “We realized God had a purpose for him whether he survived or not.”

The next morning, Brenda called the medical team to say she and her husband would not be pursuing an abortion. In response, doctors suggested further tests. The results didn’t show a cause of the spina bifida, or any other conditions.

In the coming weeks, the Corwins looked into the possibility of a new procedure to help their child. At the time, fetal surgery was being performed in an attempt to preserve leg function in infants with spina bifida.

When she was 19 weeks pregnant, Brenda was accepted into a trial at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where the surgery would be done. To prepare, James quit his job, Brenda took a leave of absence from her work, and they moved to the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, pre-surgery tests showed the baby’s foot was badly clubbed, and he wasn’t moving much at all. The doctors felt the clubbed foot made him a poor candidate for the surgery. Furthermore, they felt he was dying since he was so unresponsive.

Crushed, the Corwins moved back to Crystal Lake.

TWO BAPTISMS

Once there, James and Brenda saw a doctor who suggested fetal surgery might not preserve leg function but could reduce the need for shunting. A shunt, or small device that helps the brain drain fluid, is placed in many individuals with spina bifida. The doctor referred them to a surgeon at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Tennessee.

Surgery was scheduled for June 17, 1999. The Corwins were among the first hundred families worldwide to have the particular fetal surgery carried out. James and Brenda asked the surgeon, Dr. Joseph Bruner, to baptize the baby during the procedure. He agreed.

Six days after the operation, the Corwins returned home. Brenda spent the following weeks on bedrest. During that time, “the congregation at Lord and Savior Lutheran was wonderful to us,” remembers Brenda. “They came to clean, bring food, and even held a fundraiser.”

It soon became clear that the surgery had helped the baby’s health. Quinton was born on August 18, 1999. He was delivered by the same doctor who had originally suggested an abortion.

Brenda had grown up attending a WELS congregation, but James was not raised in a church. He took instruction classes after marrying Brenda. In September 1999, when the family had a reaffirmation service for Quinton’s baptism, James was baptized too.

GROWING IN CHRIST

During his early life, Quinton underwent numerous health challenges. One doctor concluded he would never walk. Another doctor, however, tried a number of treatments, including a series of casts and club foot repair. During the next year, the family put Quinton in a standing frame several times a day. This helped him learn to bear weight on his legs.

“He began to walk with a walker in spring, just before his second birthday,” says Brenda. He walked away from his walker shortly before Thanksgiving that same year. “He had gotten the walker stuck and just left it behind and walked away.”

In 2000, the family moved to Nebraska to be close to Brenda’s family. When Quinton reached school age, his parents enrolled him in public school. They felt he would receive speech therapy, physical therapy, and also occupational therapy.

By the end of first grade, however, the family noticed Quinton was receiving only speech therapy. Also, he frequently disrupted class.

By this time, the family had another child, Amara, who was ready to start kindergarten. They wanted her to go to St. Paul. The teachers there suggested both Quinton and Amara enroll, which they did in the fall of 2007. “We could not have made a better decision,” says Brenda.

Those at St. Paul loved having Quinton at school. “He has a great way of bringing out the best in the teachers and students,” notes Plitzuweit. Parents volunteered over the following years to help Quinton with his homework.

In the meantime, Quinton delved into God’s Word. “Quinton’s favorite discussions center on what he is learning in our Bible classes,” says Plitzuweit. Quinton enjoys serving as an usher in church and was so excited about getting confirmed on Mother’s Day this year that he counted down the days to the event.

This focus led Quinton to enroll in Nebraska Lutheran High School, Waco, Neb. He will begin his studies there in the fall of 2014. Quinton will live with his grandparents, who purchased a home in the area, during the week. Plitzuweit notes, “He is driven to learn more about his Savior, so when it comes to education, he only wants to be at a school where he can learn of Jesus each day.”

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

 

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Movies with religious themes

Kenneth L. Brokmeier

I don’t usually see many movies on the big screen. Instead I wait and catch them on DVD—often years later. But this past Lenten season I saw four movies, Son of God, Noah, God’s Not Dead, and Heaven is for Real, within eight weeks. The local theater owner invited the area clergy to preview three of those films in private showings. I went to the fourth knowing I would likely be asked my opinion by members or others.

Since Son of God was about the life of Jesus one could argue it was the most scriptural. It left me with the impression that Jesus seemed to struggle a bit with why he came into this world. Most disappointing was that this movie failed to convey the clear scriptural truth that the Son of God came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

God’s Not Dead featured several story lines with the main one built around Josh, a college student who’s enrolled in the philosophy class of Professor Radisson, an atheist. Radisson’s first assignment was for all students to sign a pledge that God is dead. Josh refuses, and the plot unfolds.

Watch God’s Not Dead and experience the culture of the “isms” many Christians encounter in college. Your eyes will be open to the need to actively support our WELS campus ministries, both to equip college students who daily wage this war and also to reach out to the many lost in this vast mission field.

I came away from viewing Heaven Is For Real believing it is. But I already believed that since God’s Word has clearly revealed this truth. This movie prompted a local paper on Easter to publish “Thoughts on Heaven,” based on interviews with people from Islamic, Catholic, Lutheran (ELCA), Jewish, tribal (Lakota), and academic backgrounds. Like the movie this article said little about why heaven is for real. It is real for us because Christ’s death and resurrection are for real.

This brings me to Noah—the movie that jarred me the most. In a March interview published by The Guardian (theguardian.com), the film’s star, Russell Crowe, said, “You come out of this movie and you want to talk . . . about our stewardship of the earth, our relationship to animals, what is spirituality, who am I in this world—all these fantastic subjects for conversation.”

I did come away from that movie wanting to talk, but not about those items. When the lights came up a number of clergy briefly discussed the film. I was asked to go first. Still numb, I basically stated, “There was an ark. There was a flood, and there was a rainbow in this movie, and that is about as biblical as it was.”

What can be disconcerting is when those who don’t know the biblical story of Noah see Noah and draw many wrong conclusions. In short, so often all that Hollywood offers is only a further erosion of the biblical illiteracy already so prevalent in our society.

Are seeing and discussing Hollywood’s religious movies with all their embellishments and sometimes complicated themes a good investment? Perhaps. But an even better investment is to teach the simple truths of God’s Word, like the flood, in simple second-grade language. After all, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).

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

 

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Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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: 9

After celebrating the facts of our salvation, Paul lays out principles and applications for Christian living.

Daniel N. Balge

For the Galatian Christians, who had been “bewitched” (Galatians 3:1) by false teachers preaching law as gospel, Paul reviewed his personal story (1:11–2:21). He gave them both credentials—called by God himself—and a resumé—serves the Gentiles and equal to the other apostles. With these references, Paul corrected those erring believers. In summary he said, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20). Those few words capture the essence of—and the reason for—any believer’s life in this world.

THE WAY AND HOW OF CHRISTIAN LIVING

By faith the “why” we live as Christians is easier to grasp: Jesus lived, rose, and died for all—for me too. My sins are forgiven and forgotten (Hebrews 10:17). I live for him.

But the “how” challenges us every day. How does my faith inform my life? How do I keep the law—God’s dos and don’ts—so that my life consistently says thank you for what God has done?

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians vividly sets forth the gospel’s “Done!” This epistle rejoices over the gospel’s success among these new Christians. Paul celebrates the facts of their salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (2:8,9). Then he applies that truth to practical matters of their “life . . . in the body.”

By the Spirit’s inspiration Paul lays out general principles and applications for Christian living (4:17–5:21) and then gets specific about three key human relationships—husband and wife, parent and child, and master and slave (supervisor and employee). His words—God’s Word—are not easy to carry out. Between sinful human beings each relationship has great potential for tension, but Paul shows them also as venues for mutual blessing for believers.

SPECIFIC EXAMPLES

For the married (5:22-33), the relationship between Christ and his church is the pattern of their life together. The wife is to submit to her husband as to the Lord, happy to take her lead from him. Does this make us moderns wince? Not when she keeps the church and Christ as her model. Not when her husband lives according to the much longer exhortation to love his wife as Christ loves the church, always looking out for her interests ahead of his own. Their marriage is neither her burden nor his dictatorship, but is rather their shared reflection of what Jesus has done for them both.

Children are encouraged to show their parents the same honor they show the Lord. Parents in turn are directed tenderly to do all they can to lead their children to know the Lord better. In this exchange mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, prosper (6:1-4).

And amazingly, also slave and master (6:5-9) can show Christian love to one another. Paul here makes no endorsement of slavery. But he does offer a clear statement that even in—especially in—this relationship both sides can reflect the attitude of Jesus—servants sincerely obeying masters and masters treating slaves as fellow blood-bought souls. These words still speak to anyone in the workforce.

And thus we apply the certainty of heaven to the realities of life on earth.

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

This is the ninth 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 7
Issue: July 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

 

Saints!

John A. Braun

Saints! Who are they? The answer might come easily to people from New Orleans. It’s their football team! Of course, then the rest of us couldn’t be saints, and we might even choose to be Packers, Vikings, Padres, Cardinals, Angels, or Dolphins instead.

New Orleans music might suggest another kind of saints. And we would want to be in their number when finally the saints come marching in, at least according to the song. But who are those saints?

When we use the word saints, most often it refers to someone else. Perhaps it’s someone who has appeared in our lives at just the right time with exactly what we needed—a helper, a deliverer, an encourager. Often at the death of a treasured family member or friend, we think, “What a saint!”

I can’t define the word saint any better than the apostle Paul. He wrote to the “saints” in the cities where he established congregations. The word he uses could also be translated as “holy people” or “holy ones.” That might solve one problem, but it still leaves us with difficulties defining who these people are. It just changes the label. Who are these saints morphs into who are these holy people.

What does Paul mean? Who is he addressing? Paul has in mind the people who have come to faith in Jesus. He writes to them to correct, encourage, comfort, and strengthen them. They are believers. Why not simply call them believers? What makes them saints? We might also ask if there are any of these “saints” still around in our world. The newspaper accounts would cause us to wonder. Even a look at our own lives causes some doubt. Me, a saint? Nope! I’m no holy person.

But wait. You are! You are because you are a believer in Jesus no less than the believers in Corinth, Ephesus, or Rome.

But still we wonder, “A holy person? A saint?” We wonder because we know what lies inside. We hear the voice of evil inside us everyday—a voice no one else hears but us. We hide that disturbing voice but know we cannot hide it from God. Yet God has forgiven us. Even though the voice still nags our daily activities, the blood of Jesus purifies us from every sin (1 John 1:7). We become saints, holy, pure, perfect by faith in Christ. God no longer counts our sins. He sees us wrapped in the robe of Christ’s blood and righteousness.

Another part of being a saint should also be dear to us. God is holy—without sin—and he is different from sinners and the world of sinners. When he makes us holy—pure and innocent in Christ—he also makes us different, special, set apart from the world around us. We are aliens here. We think differently than the world. We act differently. We are set apart as God’s people here. We are light to the world’s darkness. We are God’s saints, his holy people. You are. I am. So is every believer in Christ.

In our world some have changed the category of saints and made it a kind of exclusive club for superior Christians. That’s an invention—a new teaching not found in the Scriptures. Yes, God does use some Christians in dramatic and spectacular ways, but God’s saints also lead quiet ordinary lives of humble believers. Your life might never be included in any “Who’s Who.” Yet God set you apart for his own purposes, made you his workmanship, and gave you a place among his holy people. You are a saint, a holy one of God.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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 8:28 Part: 9

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

“Help!” Such a shrill scream put the lifeguard into action. Before jumping into the water, the lifeguard threw a lifesaver toward the flailing swimmer and screamed, “Hang on to this!”

Your neighborhood pool days may be behind you, but the shrill calls for help never cease. Grandma is in the hospital. “Help!” Dad and Mom are getting a divorce. “Help!” Our screams for help don’t fall on deaf ears. Rather, they put our gracious God into action. Before he drags us to shore, he throws us a lifesaver labeled “Romans 8:28” and says, “Hang on to this!”

This favorite passage has kept many a Christian afloat during difficult times. But it’s the following passages that give buoyancy to the hope that we can know God will work for our good.

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, because:

  • God foreknew you. How many moons should orbit Jupiter? How many species should fill the seas? So many questions to answer before God would command, “Let there be.” But there was one question he didn’t need to ask: “Who are you?” From all eternity, God foreknew you.
  • God predestined you. “We’ve got plans for you!” In a job setting, those words offer job security. God has long-range plans for you! That’s security of the best kind.
  • God called you. Only a third of the world’s population knows Jesus. Yet, by God’s grace, you have come into contact with the lifesaving message of his Word. Consider the miracles it took for you to be called. A safe ocean journey for an ancestor. A persistent neighbor who kept on inviting. A loving parent who brought you to be baptized. We all have different stories, but God called you.
  • God justified you. “Out!” That’s what the host said to the man who arrived at the country club without a jacket. As host, God could say the same to us as we stand at the entrance of the heavenly banquet. We all fall short of his entrance requirements. But instead of saying, “Out!” God reaches into the closet and hands us his Son’s coat. Donning Jesus’ righteous robe, it’s “just-as-if-I’d” (justified) never sinned, and the host shows us our seats.
  • God glorified you. Of the five, this offers the most buoyancy to God’s promise. God takes us to the finish line. Yes, the finish line is in the future, yet glorified in God’s eyes assures us that it is as good as done. Our glory is more than a distant prophecy. It’s an accomplished fact. Help is not on the way; it’s a done deal!

Collapse these five fingers of God’s truth together, and you have a closed hand that clutches the promise, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”


 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. Why does Paul use a word for know that means head knowledge instead of to know by experience?

On this side of heaven, we cannot always see the finish line. Nor do we always “experience” good. But by faith we can be confident in God’s promise.

2. Agree or disagree: If I love God, he will work things out for my good.

The comfort of this passage is lost if we focus on our love. God explains that those who love him are the ones “who have been called according to his purpose.” It is not our doing but God’s doing that brings the comfort in this passage.

3. Translations vary on this passage. Does God work “all things” for our good, or does he work “in all things”? What’s the difference?

Depending on how one reads it, it either sounds like God causes all things or he simply takes all things and makes them work together. God doesn’t cause sinful actions, but God can take even sinful actions and work them for our good. Either reading reflects basically the same thought. The point is that our favorable outcome is guaranteed.

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

This is the ninth article in a series on the 12 most popular Bible passages accessed in 2012 through Bible Gateway, an online Bible resource.

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

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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

 

Now . . . not yet

Like a little girl waiting for her birthday to arrive, we wait for the day we can enter heaven.

Andrew C. Schroer

“Now is it my birthday, Daddy?”

Just about every day for the three weeks before my daughter’s fifth birthday, she asked me, “Now is it my birthday, Daddy?”

“No, not yet.”

“Now is it my birthday, Daddy?”

“No, not yet.”

Then finally the day came. “Now is it my birthday, Daddy?”

“Yes, now it is! Happy birthday!” I said, as she squealed with excitement.

Now . . . not yet. As we live our Christian lives here on earth, it is important for us to understand the difference between the “nows” and “not yets” of God.

NOW

The Bible tells us what we have right now as Christians. Because Jesus suffered our punishment two thousand years ago, we have forgiveness right now. God forgives you the errors of youth that still haunt you today. He forgives you that night two weeks ago when you drank more than you should. He forgives you for those ugly words you said to your wife this morning. Right now, at this very moment, the warm, comforting blanket of forgiveness covers you completely.

Right now, you have heaven. No, you aren’t in heaven yet. You can’t see heaven yet, but heaven is already yours through faith in Jesus. It belongs to you right now. The apostle Paul wrote: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

God also promises to be with us right now and to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He promises to make all things that happen right now work for our eternal good (Romans 8:28). That is our “now” as Christians.

But our now also includes other things. Our now includes conflicts in the Middle East and Russia, polarizing politics in our own country, and violence seemingly everywhere. Our now includes cancer, divorce, and stress. Our now includes guilt, regret, and heartache. Our now includes watching people we love suffer and die.

NOT YET

As we look at the problems and pains of our now, the apostle Paul reminds us, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

One day we will be free from all the hurt and heartache of this world. One day we will see with our physical eyes that which we can only see now through the eyes of faith. One day we will experience the heaven that belongs to us right now. One day we will have all those things, but not yet. For now we must wait.

Like a four year old waiting for her birthday, though, we often struggle with the wait. We get impatient with God when he doesn’t free us from our pains right now. We get frustrated as the problems of right now pile upon our shoulders. We question why God doesn’t give us what we want right now.

Yet God lovingly tells us to wait. So often, his answer to our prayers is simply: “Not yet.” Now we must wait with the patience and confidence he gives us in his Word and promises. As we wait, however, we have the opportunity to live for him who gives us every good “now” and every perfect “not yet.”

Right now we wait in eager expectation. We wait knowing that one day we will open our eyes and squeal in excitement. One day we will be free. One day we will see God face to face. One day we will be reunited with our loved ones who died in Christ. That will happen one day—just not yet.

Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 101, Number 7
Issue: July 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