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Everyday is a new day of grace

Every day is a new day of grace

A Martin Luther College student shares how his Savior was with him during his fight with cancer. 

Erich Neumann

“Erich, there is no easy way to say this, but you have cancer.”

As a 16-year-old boy sitting in the University of Michigan Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in July of 2011, those words rang in my ears. What are you supposed to say? How are you to react? All that came to my mind was “Okay.” So, that is exactly what I said.

Three months earlier, I was playing baseball and running bases like a normal high school sophomore. I knew something was wrong though. I would get up from sitting and could barely breathe. I felt winded just jogging out to the field. I assumed I was just coming down with a cold, so I did not worry about it.

As school was winding down, I went to the doctor’s office and they diagnosed me with bronchitis. After a while, nothing was improving, just getting worse. With a few more tests, they re-diagnosed me with asthma and gave me numerous amounts of inhalers. A few weeks passed and I felt a little relief but nothing that made a big change. As this was all going on, I was not able to sleep lying down. I could only breathe while sleeping sitting up. The doctors finally ordered a chest x-ray just to take a look inside.

The results of the x-ray showed a thick mass in my chest wrapped around my left lung and my heart. My doctor sent me to get a CAT scan Friday morning. The results from the scan were never clearly given to me, but that evening I was ordered to go to the U of M hospital.

Saturday morning came, and that’s when everything took off. Tests like crazy, doctors in and out of my room, being watched 24 hours a day—but also all you can eat from the cafeteria. For the next two weeks, I would be cooped up in that room and not allowed to do much. There were times when I looked at my parents and could tell they would have switched places with me in a heartbeat. I could tell my dad took it hard and did everything he could to make it better. My mom stayed in the hospital every day and night until I came home.

After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I didn’t want anyone to know. I refused to let them tell people, including family. So the first few days only my parents and my best friend in high school knew what was going on. That might have been a little selfish on my part, but I didn’t want to be treated differently.

After one of my pastor’s visits, all I could think was “Why? Why is this happening?” But then things started to fall into perspective for me. Everything in life happens for a reason, and that reason may never be clear. But God is in control of my life, and he knows exactly what he is doing.

From that point on, I took things as they were given to me and lived one day at a time. My high school football coach encouraged me daily, reminding me of my Savior’s love for me and allowing me to still be part of the football team. The one thing I can remember him saying to me every day was, “Every day is a new day of grace.” He was—and still is—exactly right. Nothing should ever be taken for granted and nothing should ever be pushed off to the side as if it is nothing, for your time of grace is exactly that, grace.

As my doctor made his daily visits, I finally got up the courage to tell him that I made it my goal to play basketball in winter. He said to me “You for sure will not play football this year, and I’m certain you will be lucky if you get to play spring baseball.” From then on I worked at getting better and maintaining my strength, the doctors worked at giving me the proper medicine, and the Lord was watching over everything and making everything turn out for my good.

The next five months were filled with many trips to the university hospital for treatment, sometimes up to three times a week. They were not always the best of weeks, but one pastor shared a very comforting passage: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11). I took that passage to heart and thought of it often.

Through this blessing in disguise, I had many people who supported me and prayed for me. A group of people who were always there for me was my Michigan Lutheran Seminary family. They made extremely generous accommodations for me in the dormitory and also helped me get to and from my classes. That was a tremendous blessing because, without their help, I would have had to wait a year to attend school. Instead, I was able to continue my education.

That fall, four months after my diagnosis, God was gracious to me and gave me enough strength and will to play basketball for the first day of practice. That year, I played my fair share and enjoyed every minute of it. I can’t thank my coaches, friends, and my Lord enough for the opportunity.

As life went on, that next April I was given the all-clear and told I was cancer-free. Those words were some of the best—and some of the most humbling—words I had ever heard. They reminded me that I have a gracious Lord and Savior who watches over me and takes care of me daily with all my trials and struggles.

When I got home that evening, a more serious thought about ministry came to my mind as I continued considering serving in the public ministry. I asked myself the question, “Am I fit for ministry after all that I have gone through?” I still ask myself that question today and wonder if this is where I am supposed to be. But God knows where he is leading me and knows where I will end up someday to best serve him and his kingdom. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”

Today, I see those who stood with me. They have helped me accept what happened and move on—my family, my girlfriend, close friends, professors, and many others. Some of these people didn’t even know me at the time but still took time to pray and support me. I can’t thank them and my doctors enough.

But especially I thank my Lord and Savior for helping me through this blessing in disguise. “Every day is a new day of grace.” Remember to thank him.

Erich Neumann, a sophomore at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Stephen, Adrian, Michigan.

 

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Author: Erich Neumann
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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

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Under God’s sky: Pacific Northwest District

Under God’s sky

The Pacific Northwest District

Theodore D. Lambert

The beautiful Pacific Northwest. That’s the descriptor often attached to this region of North America. Beautiful, indeed! Crystal clear lakes, great rivers, wheat fields that roll in the wind like a golden sea, mountain ranges boasting the tallest peaks in North America, ocean beaches where one can walk forever. The Pacific Northwest District covers the largest land mass of the 12 WELS districts. It stretches over three time zones and includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and the Canadian Province of British Columbia.

Cultures are as diverse as the landscape. Faith, Anchorage, Alaska, offers worship services in English, Spanish, and Hmong. Last year Holy Trinity, Des Moines, Wash., received 38 Sudanese immigrants as members. Holy Trinity already hosted a Korean congregation, so every other Sunday services are now offered in English, Sudanese, and Korean. In Boise, Idaho, Peace in Jesus is the sole Vietnamese-speaking congregation in WELS. Nearby, Nampa is the home of Truth in Love Ministry, dedicated to bringing Mormons to the true gospel. Six years ago Immanuel, Salem, Ore., established a connection in Korea that enrolls Korean students in the congregation’s school.

IN THE BEGINNING

The roots of the district are not traced to a mission board in Wisconsin anxious to plant new churches in the far west, but to a church begun by others. In 1884 the Ohio Synod founded St. Paul’s, Tacoma, Wash. Ten years later, when the Iowa and Ohio Synods broke fellowship with the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods, St. Paul’s petitioned the Wisconsin Synod for membership, and the synod suddenly had a new mission field. In 1905, the second WELS congregation in the Pacific Northwest—Grace, Yakima, Wash.—was organized. Two years later the mission board assigned a seminary graduate to serve central Washington. By train and lumber wagon he traveled a circuit of two hundred miles, ministering to small congregations in logging towns and wheat fields.

In 1918 the Pacific Northwest mission field was upgraded to the status of a district even though it numbered only eight pastors and 447 communicants. The Tacoma congregation was the only self-supporting church; all the rest were still missions.

Growth was slow, hampered in part by missionaries focused primarily on serving German Lutherans in their native tongue. While other church bodies began their work in the cities decades earlier, the Wisconsin Synod was content to establish missions in small towns and logging villages. Pastors frequently accepted the first call back to the Midwest. Lengthy vacancies were common.

HARD TIMES AND HARD GROUND

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the district, three new missions named Faith, Hope, and Charity, were simultaneously begun in Tacoma in 1928. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The following year the stock market crash ushered in the Great Depression. Money for missions dried up. Faith of Tacoma survived, but its infant sisters did not.

Still, God’s gracious hand provided for his church. Grace, Portland, unexpectedly joined the synod in 1929, opening the door for work in western Oregon. When young people from small communities migrated to the cities after World War II, the district mission board saw the wisdom of planting missions in Seattle, Spokane, and Edmonds, Washington, and in Eugene, Oregon.

But in 1957 the district faced its greatest challenge. When the Wisconsin Synod in its 1957 convention declined to sever fellowship with the Missouri Synod, a quarter of the pastors and churches of this district withdrew and joined the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC). The loss of two self-supporting churches and two missions in Spokane was especially painful.

The independent natures of the loggers, fishermen, miners, and ranchers who settled this part of America also became a factor. This is reflected in a telling statistic: Only 30 percent of the residents claim church membership, and less than 10 percent of the total population attend worship on any given Sunday.

GOD BLESSES HIS WORD

But God works in amazing ways. The severance of fellowship with the Missouri Synod in 1961 fueled enthusiasm for mission plantings throughout the synod. The Pacific Northwest District especially benefited from this awakening. Warren Widmann, who would later serve as district president (1986–2002) was called as mission developer in 1963. With his help, congregations were organized in British Columbia and several cities in Oregon and Washington. At the same time, missions were established in several cities in Washington and in Idaho.

In 1968 a new field was opened in Alaska. The 49th state would prove to be a fertile field for gospel outreach as Faith of Anchorage would be joined by missions in Fairbanks; Eagle River; Wasilla; Kenai; Juneau; and a second Anchorage congregation. Today all are self-supporting congregations. In southeast Alaska, Christ, Juneau, and Grace, Sitka, are two of the most remote churches in the synod, accessible only by boat or plane.

It is not unusual for members to drive an hour to church one-way and repeat that trip during the week to attend other events. Modern technology now allows the district to minister to people living in remote locations. Seventeen churches of this district have opened preschools to reach out to their community. Most are full before the doors open each fall. Nine congregations operate elementary schools in which a large percentage of students are from non-member families, providing a rich mission field. The 25 Asian students attending Evergreen Lutheran High School, Tacoma, Wash., comprise one-fifth of the entire student body. Many baptisms and confirmations have been the blessing of such cross-cultural openness.

In some locales missions have been closed, then restarted years later. Our timing has not always been the same as the Lord’s. We can rejoice that the churches and people of this district who have patiently and persistently shared the gospel are now witnessing God’s fulfillment of his promise.

Ted Lambert served as the Pacific Northwest District president from 2002 to 2014. Recently retired, Lambert is a member at Christ the King, Bremerton, Washington.

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


 

STATISTICS:

District president: Pastor John Steinbrenner

Congregations: 44

Mission churches: 10

Baptized members: 6,903

Communicant members: 5,405

Early childhood ministries: 17

Lutheran elementary schools: 9

Area Lutheran high schools: 1

 

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Author: Theodore D. Lambert
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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

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A look back Part: 7

A look back

The Wisconsin Synod stood firm on the Scriptures, even as the United States became more liberal in social and religious issues.

Mark E. Braun

“The ancient pagan desire to be rid of the burden of defective or unwanted children is finding expression in our own day,” wrote Dr. Siegbert Becker in the first issue of the Northwestern Lutheran (NL) of the 1970s.

Most pending legislation sought to permit abortion “only if the physical or mental health of the mother” was endangered or if “a mentally deficient or physically deformed child” was to be born. “Christian morality is not determined by human legislation,” Becker stated, yet passage of such legislation would “force Christians to take a second look at this matter.”

Thus began the Wisconsin Synod’s response to one of the most controversial and far-reaching social questions of the 20th century.

ABORTION

The argument that “unwanted children” were best aborted by their mothers “sends chills up and down one’s spine,” Carleton Toppe remarked. Should such a principle gain acceptance, “the life of born children will not be safe either.”

A 1972 headline noted that Billy Jean King could not have earned $100,000 playing tennis the previous year had she not terminated an unwanted pregnancy. This prompted John Parcher to reply, “God pity children born into homes where human life takes second place to sports trophies and the whims of parental convenience.”

After the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision barring states from interfering with a woman’s decision to seek an abortion, Joel Gerlach commented, “There is no law which says we cannot voice our dismay and our disagreement with the Court’s decision. We say this, not because we feel there is any merit in legislating morals for the ungodly, but because we think the unborn need a voice to speak for them.”

WATERGATE

NL said surprisingly little about Watergate. When it did, its writers refrained from glib condemnation of others’ failings. “We look for integrity and trustworthiness in our elected officials,” one editorial by Toppe read, “but we are inclined to excuse untrustworthiness in ourselves.” Americans who reserve a lower standard for themselves than for their government “have forfeited their right to exclaim about Watergate.” If citizens are remiss in civic righteousness, and if they discover their officials to be corrupt, “they are getting the government they deserve.”

One change Watergate effected was a move toward conservatism. Though forces generated in the 1960s were “far from spent,” Toppe observed a “greater concern for morality in government” and “more sober thinking about higher education and welfare.” Toppe seemed to concur with the observation of a spokesman from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oak Park, Ill.: “The era of the strong social gospel is sort of out,” replaced by “a trend toward evangelical emphasis.” As liberal churches declined, evangelical and conservative churches were gaining ground.

SYNOD WORK

Following extraordinary congregational growth in the 1960s, the synod’s 1971 convention highlighted personal evangelism. “Many twentieth century Christians harbor the idea that evangelism is a new word and new type of work in the Christian church,” wrote Wilmer Valleskey. Some falsely attributed “shady” meaning to the word, identifying it with “hoot’n, toot’n hollering hallelujahs and fire and brimstone sermons” in revival tents, observed Valleskey.

Not so. Evangelism is spreading the good news—by speaking or printing, in tract or book or tape, personally or by proxy. “Evangelism may never be an elective for Christians,” Valleskey concluded. “It is the heart of the Church.”

Though WELS did not endorse the broadly ecumenical “Key 73” outreach effort across North America, Pastor Rolfe Westendorf insisted the time had come “to reaffirm our oft-repeated intention to preach the gospel to every creature.” Faithfulness to Romans 16:17 may explain Wisconsin’s non-involvement in “Key 73,” yet on the basis of Matthew 28:19 “we certainly cannot explain away any failure on our part to be out there witnessing.”

The United States celebrated its 200th birthday in 1976, moving Toppe to say, “The bicentennial is also our bicentennial.” The Wisconsin Synod supported the separation of church and state, but “that does not mean that we must stand aloof and unconcerned when our country remembers its past with admiration and gratitude.” Religious freedom and material prosperity were “still enabling us to expand our church’s work.”

During the 1960s and 1970s, much of United States Lutheranism suffered “a marked drift to the left.” Yet, Edward Fredrich wrote, “Friends and foes alike agree that the Wisconsin Synod can be aptly described as ‘most conservative’ in doctrinal matters.” A chief reason was the strong leadership provided by Oscar Naumann, who died in 1979 after serving as WELS’ synod president for 26 years. Naumann “resisted the trend of the times” and stood firm with his church body “on the old scriptural and confessional basis.”

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

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

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Author: Mark E. Braun
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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

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All nations-right in the backyard

All nations—right in the backyard

Sharing the gospel with all nations takes on a new meaning at Holy Trinity, Des Moines, Wash. Located within a melting pot of cultures—one of Holy Trinity’s pastors has Somalian Muslims, Filipinos, and Hispanic immigrants living within a block of his home—Holy Trinity has opportunities to reach the world right in its own neighborhood.

“So often in the Wisconsin Synod [the Great Commission] means sending in our mission dollars so that people can go to Malawi,” says Tom Voss, pastor at Holy Trinity. “But it’s been so awesome to see that it doesn’t always mean we have to go across oceans.” Instead God has been bringing opportunities right through the congregation’s front door.

In January 2013, three Sudanese men attended worship at Holy Trinity to find out more about what WELS teaches. They were told to “go find Wisconsin” from fellow Sudanese Peter Bur, who is a member at Good Shepherd, Omaha, Neb.

Voss soon began Bible information classes with a group of 11 Sudanese adults. According to Voss, the Sudanese hesitated about attending classes since they were already Christian. But that quickly changed. Says Voss, “After three to four weeks one of them said, ‘This is really good. I’m glad we’re doing this. In all the churches we visited this is the first time anyone ever sat down and taught us about what the Bible says.’ ”

In July 2013, the congregation welcomed 45 Sudanese into their congregation, including confirming those 11 adults. The group now attends regular Sunday worship at Holy Trinity. It also holds worship in the Nuer language twice a month.

Voss says now he is concentrating on building a solid foundation for their faith. “The plan is to train leaders,” he says, “to have them continue to grow in the grace and knowledge or our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We’re equipping them to feed their own flock and to take the Word of God into their community.”

Since the Sudanese are a tight-knit group, that community could include Des Moines, Washington, or another city across the country where other immigrants have settled. The group is also passionate about returning to South Sudan to spread the gospel. Sudanese ministries in WELS congregations around the country are working to coordinate outreach and training.

Another opportunity God brought to Holy Trinity came in the form of Youn Soo Park, a Korean pastor looking for a place to hold worship for his small congregation. He became a WELS member in 2001. “I started out as a Korean minister of another Christian religion and was able to go to school through the WELS’ educational programs while working to support my family and my congregation to become an ordained WELS pastor,” says Park. Park graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2010.

Funding from the Board for Home Missions as well as other individual grants allowed Park to sell his laundry business and serve full time at Holy Trinity Korean Lutheran Church. “It is welcomed to know that we are accepted as part of the Holy Trinity campus and that both churches will work to together to make this a long lasting relationship,” says Park.

Holy Trinity Korean currently has 57 members. Besides weekly worship in Korean, Park and the congregation are reaching out to the Korean community in Des Moines, offering English as a Second Language classes (using Holy Trinity volunteers to teach), Saturday classes for the family, and Bible study on the campus of the University of Washington. Park also teaches catechism and serves as a mentor to the Korean children attending Holy Trinity’s school, many of whom come as international students. The congregation wants to start an after-school program, and Park also would like to conduct an evangelism seminar to train his members to share the gospel. “It is truly a blessing to me to be able to share the law and gospel with people of my own background yet grow with them as I too continue to learn,” he says.

Koreans who want to worship in English also can attend English services at Holy Trinity. Mark Schewe, pastor at Holy Trinity, appreciates seeing Sudanese, Korean, Hispanic, and Anglo members all worshiping together. He also notes that families from other cultures—including Samoan, Sikhs from India, Ukrainians, and Russians—are learning about the Savior through attending the school. “You can look around and see how the gospel is for all—and all are coming to hear it.”

 

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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

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Philippians 4:13 Part:10

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

“I think I can . . . I think I can . . . I think I can.” Author Watty Piper geared the book The Little Engine That Could for children. First released for publication in the United States in 1930, the classic’s optimistic message has climbed its way into a mountain of self-help books, motivational speeches, and personal mission statements.

Similarly, so has the Philippians passage. PHIL 4:13 appears on the eye-strips of athletes, and it’s inked on arms, engraved in rings, and printed on posters to motivate people. The reference is a visible reminder to never give up and to aim for success. To many, Piper and the apostle Paul were working with the same concept: “I think I can” = “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

But what happens when cancer isn’t beaten, even though Philippians 4:13 was the patient’s mantra? What happens when the PHIL 4:13 quarterback throws a game-ending interception instead of the game-winning touchdown? What happens when “I think I can” is traded for “I see I can’t”? It’s then, when the mountainous challenges in front of us seem impassable, that we need the intended comfort of Philippians 4:13.

Context is crucial when it comes to understanding this popular passage. Paul was in prison when he penned these words. With chains around his wrists, the likelihood of throwing any missionary touchdowns was slim. Yet he could confidently write, “I can do everything.” What did he mean? Back up a few verses, and we see that Paul is not screaming out a vein-bulging, locker room pep talk in this verse. Rather, he is whispering the secret of contentment. “No matter the situation, whether it’s bleak or bright, you can face it. You can endure it because you are living in Christ. He will provide the strength. Even if you’re running on empty, the Holy Spirit has poured Christ into your tank. You’ll have all the fuel you will need for the journey ahead—the journey to our destination with the Lord.”

Paul’s final words (2 Timothy chapter 4) assure us that he applied Philippians 4:13 to his life. Facing his death, he looked back and was thankful that the Lord stood by his side as he fought his fight and ran his race. He knew that the goal of life was not about climbing the mountain of earthly success. It was to ascend the throne of the Lord. And he knew the strength to make that climb didn’t rest in himself. If it did, he’d only be able to chant, “I think I can.” Rather, Paul knew his climb to heaven’s mountain depended on Jesus. Because of Jesus, Paul lived with an I know I can confidence. So can you, because of Jesus.


 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. List ways you have seen or heard this passage applied. How does the context of the original passage compare to the way it is often applied?

Example of Philippians 4:13 is often used by athletes, politicians or in the medical field.  Philippians 4:10-12 shows that this is more about contentment and strength to endure all situations and not the ability to do all things.

2. What top three things do you think rob us of the secret of being content?

Answers may vary. Examples include commercials, instant gratification/information, lottery/gambling, the de-Christianization of the world which places self at the center.

3. Why is it important to remember that even positive situations are possible through the strength that God gives?

It helps us to be humble and not rely on ourselves.

4. “Who gives me strength.” While not always translated as such, this concept appears seven times in the New Testament. After comparing Philippians 4:13 with the following passages, explain what it means to have strength from God: Acts 9:22; Romans 4:20; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Timothy 4:17.

To be strong in the Lord emphasizes a reliance on him and a zeal to do his will no matter the cost.


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

This is the tenth 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 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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

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Teen Talk: Change can be scary

Change can be scary

Everyone on earth must go through change, but, thankfully, God never changes.

Aaron Schultz

The time came for the school year to draw to a close. Leaving the school building, I said good-bye to my closest friends. Freshman year was not to be forgotten. The transfer from grade school to high school was a little intimidating, but after a couple of days I was used to the new school life.

While I was leaving, I looked into my yearbook at the autograph section to read the notes people had written me. One message stood out to me the most. It said, “Don’t ever change!” I kept the thought close throughout the summer.

With that thought in mind, I came back to school, now a year older, and I noticed things had drastically changed. I’m not talking about moving up a class, receiving new courses and lockers, and making new friends. I’m talking about the attitudes of fellow classmates. Some people changed so much over the summer. Their new attitudes and personalities scared me.

Everyone must go through change. After all, it is a part of growing up. Change can be good. But change is also scary, as in changing to bad attitudes that harm you and others. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). We should keep our attitudes to what reflects Jesus and live according to what God says.

However, keeping a Christlike attitude in this sinful world is not easy. The devil comes to us in the form of friends who do not reflect Christ’s attitude and tempt us into changing our Christian lifestyle just to fit in. If we don’t, we’ll get picked on and maybe lose some friendships.

We can be thankful that Jesus never changed. When he was tempted in the desert, Jesus resisted with God’s Word saying, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’ ” (Matthew 4:10). Could Jesus have escaped being arrested, tortured, and crucified? Yes. But did he? No! Jesus willingly suffered so we wouldn’t have to pay for our sins. And since he rose from the dead, God now gives us a new holy life in Jesus.

Now that we are children of God and have the attitude of Christ Jesus, we dare not change back to the sinful life we once lived in. How do we keep our Christian attitudes then? Regularly going to church and Bible class, doing personal Bible study, and surrounding ourselves with fellow Christians.

Looking at the yearbook notes even more, there was another sentence I read. Another friend wrote “I hope you continue to shine a light on everyone you meet.” As children of God, we can share our Christian faith by our attitudes. When other people see this, they will want to know why we act the way we do. This is a great opportunity to show how much our Savior loves us. We can spread that light to others so they can hear the good news.

The quote “People change. Memories don’t” is very true. As we go on with the rest of our lives, the people we meet will change, and so will we. But the memories we make will never change. I also can always trust in God because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). No matter what may happen, God will always stay perfect. Guaranteed.

Aaron Schultz, a junior at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wisconsin, is a member at First Lutheran, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

 

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Author: Aaron Schultz
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Confessions of faith: Rosero

Confessions of faith

A move from Ecuador to Alaska makes an eternal difference in a couple’s life.

Christopher R. Ewings

When Florencio Rosero and his wife, Judith, arrived in Anchorage, Alaska, they expected many changes in their lives. Having lived in Quito, Ecuador, for 50 years, they had become accustomed to the sun’s rigid schedule at la mitad del mundo—the middle of the world. The variance of daylight from the shortest to the longest day of the year is less than two minutes in Quito. In Anchorage, it is just under 14 hours. On the skyline of Quito, the snow-covered volcano Cotopaxi betrays the city’s tropical climate, while the sight of the green mountains of the Chugach in the Alaskan summer belies the eight months spent under a blanket of snow.

Yes, Judith and Florencio Rosero knew that many changes were coming when they headed to Anchorage. They just didn’t know that the biggest change would not be dealing with geography or climate, but hearing the gospel of Jesus.

A LOCATION CHANGE

Both Florencio and Judith grew up in churchgoing families, but the Bible was a closed book to them, even when it was wide open. “When we were younger, our parents read the Bible to us in Latin,” says Florencio. “They would read it, but none of us understood it, not even our parents! We were prohibited from learning the truth.”

In their search for the truth, both Florencio and Judith visited numerous churches but soon became disenfranchised. By the time they were married, they had stopped going to church altogether. Judith remembers her frustration: “We felt like no one could give us the truth, like no one could give us hope, like no one could show us the way to heaven.” Not only did they consider the Bible to be closed to them but the gates of heaven as well.

Florencio and Judith have weathered some fierce storms together. Early in their marriage they suffered the kind of heartache that no parent ever wants to experience—one of their own children tragically died. What little faith or hope they had in God was all but crushed. The distance between them and the church—between them and God—seemed impossible to overcome. Years later, Florencio received more unfortunate news. After serving 20 years at the United States embassy in Quito, he was forced to retire at the age of 50.

The situation became so desperate that they saw only one course of action: They needed to find a new home. Florencio and Judith had read about Alaska in their childhood and admittedly had a fascination with the Great State. An opportunity arose for them to go, and they welcomed the change. Little did they know, this move would make an eternal difference in their lives.

AN ETERNAL CHANGE

After many drastic changes—in country, in profession, and in climate—Florencio and Judith quickly realized that they would have to make another important change: a change in language. They began looking for ways to improve their English and came across an ad for English classes at Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo. 

But when the Roseros signed up, they got more than they expected. This church, the Spanish-speaking arm of Faith Lutheran Church in Anchorage, not only gave them the opportunity to improve their English but also offered devotions and Bible studies. They decided to stay after class one night to hear what the Lutheran church teaches.

What they found was what they had truly been seeking. They heard the life-changing news of the gospel of Jesus, the Word of God, in their native language—so clear and so easy to understand. Says Judith, “Before I never had the opportunity to learn, to hear the true Word of God like there is here in the Lutheran church.” They left class that night overjoyed, and their lives have never been the same since.

The couple was confirmed last October, professing their beliefs together with the holy Christian church and becoming members of the Wisconsin Synod.

A LIFE-ALTERING CHANGE

The changes the gospel has made in the lives of Florencio and Judith are evident. They are usually the first to arrive for Sunday church and the last to leave after Bible study.

But their newfound faith and their zeal for their Savior causes them to do more than just think about themselves. Judith’s and Florencio’s lives were changed by the gospel; now they want to change the lives of others with the same good news. They have been so overwhelmed by what they have learned about the Christian faith that they call their family in Quito every week to discuss a passage they’ve been reading in the Bible or to see if their grandchildren have been studying their new catechism. They openly and actively share their love and kindness with all who attend Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo, taking on the role of surrogate grandparents to all the children of the congregation whose families live overseas. And the Roseros don’t just share their faith with their words but with their actions as well. They give generously of whatever the Lord has given them, be it God’s Word or material blessings.

In his free time, you might find Florencio living the Alaskan life, feet firmly entrenched in sand while holding out a 20-foot pole into the ocean on the rocky beaches of the Kenai River, waiting for a salmon to dart into his net. Dip-netting is now part of his way of life. You’re much more likely, however, to find Florencio talking to his neighbors and coworkers about his greatest catch: the sure and certain hope that he now has because of Jesus. “Fishing is so much fun,” Florencio says, “but what we need to fish for is people! The best thing that has ever happened to me is that Jesus caught me, and I want others to know that!”

Six days a week you will find Judith hard at work at a restaurant, “Mexico in Alaska,” serving entrees to whoever might stop by. She finds it comical that an Ecuadorian would work in a Mexican restaurant, preparing food that she never learned to eat until she came to Alaska. Seven days a week you also will find her looking for opportunities to serve whoever might stop by with the good news that she has come to know about her Savior. “More than I need bread and more than I need water,” Judith says, “I need the Word of God. I have learned so much, and I want to share it with whoever the Lord puts in my path.”

Although Florencio and Judith are still adjusting and adapting to the changes they’ve made since arriving in Alaska—the language, the climate, the darkness, and the distance from family—they are blessed by the stability and the strength that they’ve found in the Lord. “It’s like we are just beginning to live now,” they say.

With a laugh, Florencio says, “It’s really amazing, isn’t it? Not so much how we came to Alaska but how the Lord came to us. This is the single greatest thing that has ever happened to us. I simply can’t describe the joy I have now.”

Christopher Ewings is pastor at Iglesia Luterana de Fe en Cristo, the Spanish-speaking arm of Faith, Anchorage, Alaska.

 

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Author: Christopher R. Ewings
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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

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If it’s by grace, why do we work? Part: 3

If it’s by grace, why do we work?

The subtle work of feeling 

Tim H. Gumm

The delivery room nurses are a bit unsettled, and the grown man senses it. But he is powerless. Emotions take over. An unfamiliar sense of pride and gladness abruptly and unexpectedly takes hold as he cradles his newborn flesh and blood in his strong arms. He surrenders to those powerful feelings. The tears of joy cannot be controlled. Although he perceives the discomfort of others in the room, this first-time father later confesses, “I wept as much as my baby boy,” but he confesses without shame.

You see, it is a blessing to be able to feel, to be fashioned by the Creator not as a block of wood, but as an emotional being. What a great gift from God to be formed in such a way that we are touched and affected by external events and circumstances and then experience—internally—joy or sorrow, calm or uneasiness.

The gospel of God’s grace has the power to do such a thing like nothing else in all creation. To be told by the Almighty that back in eternity he independently chose us to be his for eternity creates a sense of security that cannot be destroyed. To hear the truth that the impossible has happened—sins forgiven, guilt erased, righteousness bestowed, status changed, God reconciled, heaven opened and salvation procured, and all as a free, unearned and undeserved gift through Christ alone—produces a peace that passes understanding and that removes all hopelessness and fear. And to be assured that nothing in this life or the next “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39) generates a core of calm that remains intact in spite of daily struggles. That’s the effect of saving grace on human emotions—so powerful and so moving that it stirs hearts to break forth in exuberant song: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46,47).

WHEN WE DON’T FEEL IT

But what about those days when we don’t break forth in song because, in our hearts and souls, we’re not really feeling it: joy in God our Savior? What about those moments of spiritual numbness when we’re not really sensing the thrill of being rescued and redeemed? What about those times when we don’t feel very close to Jesus and we don’t feel much like the children of God and, to be honest, we’re not all that bothered that we don’t?

Well, Satan is filled with glee on those days. Not only does he delight in seeing God’s people struggle, but “the father of lies” (John 8:44) delights in having a further opportunity to instill doubt in the hearts of Christians, to contaminate the gospel of salvation, and to rob God of his greatest glory of all: his all-encompassing and saving grace. “You don’t feel it?” Satan whispers inquisitively. “Then how can you be sure of it?”

Tragically, the devil has slithered into the realm of the Christian church with his subtle attack on grace and has found receptive ears. You may be familiar with Christian ministries insisting that, without the proper type of religious feeling, without a stirring in and warming of the soul, without experiencing God’s grace emotionally, one really cannot be certain that he or she is truly the object of that grace. Moreover, some will contend that the required spiritual stirrings must and will manifest themselves somehow—perhaps through speaking in tongues or miraculous healings. With or without these external signs, souls are directed to look to the inside—to look for personal sensations and emotions as the final and finishing piece, the seal and guarantee of salvation. Only when the feelings are present, they claim, can there be certainty about God’s grace.

It naturally follows, then, that worship services in many churches are designed with a specific goal: to stimulate human emotions. It is not difficult to do. Carefully chosen music, drama and dynamic speaking, lighting, and ambiance can easily create a “mood” that leaves people feeling good and confident about life, about God, and about his grace.

GRACE IS INDEPENDENT OF OUR FEELINGS

Yet we see serious problems when human emotions become the litmus test for God’s grace. The first is that emotions are not reliable. “Trust your feelings” and “Follow your heart” have become mantras in our day. But simply because a person feels something is true does not make it true. Ask the divorced teenagers who married on impulse because they mistook infatuation for love. Ask the apostle Paul who persecuted the church because he felt certain he was doing God a favor.

The greater problem is that Satan has succeeded in contaminating the sweet news of salvation by God’s grace alone. If saving grace must be supplemented and completed by spiritual feelings, then it is no longer grace; then a subtle work, our feeling, is required. Although in the grand scheme this work is small, Satan succeeds with this lie because it caters to the inborn desire and need of every person to play at least some role in and to contribute some work to salvation.

The results of this false teaching are predictable. To those who are rather stoic by nature or who have been rendered numb by the battles of life, the inability to feel saved can only cause doubt. Am I really forgiven and will I really be in heaven? To those who are more emotional by nature, the result may cause them to base their hope on those religious feelings—rather than entirely on God’s grace in Christ. Then when those feelings take a nose dive doubt and uncertainty also appear.

Our Lord would never have us look to our emotions and the stirring in our hearts as the final seal of his grace. He, in fact, warns us through his prophet: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Instead, God tenderly calls us back, again and again, to the rock-solid revelation of his unchanging grace found on the pages of the Bible. There he assures us that before we felt anything good toward him at all, Christ died for us. There he swears that we are forgiven even if our own hearts should condemn us. There he promises the gift of an eternal heaven even if that promise does not move us to ecstasy. And this good news of God’s amazing grace is entirely independent of what we feel. It’s true because God says so.

While emotions do not produce or add a thing to the assurance of God’s grace, we do feel emotions. The assurance of God’s grace in Christ will often produce internal emotions: peace, joy, calm, and a sense of security. We will also feel consolation in every loss, confidence in every challenge and struggle, and a sure and certain hope that will not disappoint.

“It is by grace you have been saved, . . . it is the gift of God—not by works” (Ephesians 2:8,9), because there is no other way.

Suddenly our hearts too grow strangely warm.

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

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

 

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Author: Tim H. Gumm
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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

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Vacation with Jesus

With Jesus, family vacations are full of blessings and memories.

Matthew J. Plocher

The summer of 1984 was an epic vacation year for my family. We drove with two other families from Saginaw, Michigan, to California—5 adults and 18 children in two suburbans and a van, towing a camper. We stayed in campgrounds and cabins along the way, ending our vacation by overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

For my family, it was an escape. My father had been sick for years, finally dying that February. We were getting away from doctor’s visits, ambulances, medications, hospitalizations, nursing homes, and, finally, a funeral home and cemetery. While it was a difficult journey, Jesus, our Savior and our Lord, walked every step with us.

We had the time of our lives on that vacation. But the trip presented some difficulties as well. While the sights were fantastic—from Mt. Rushmore to Wall Drug, from the Great Salt Lake to sunsets over a Pacific beach—there were trials too. We experienced vehicle breakdowns, mosquito swarms, snowstorms, and flooding rainstorms. In addition, a newly single mom and her six boys struggled with the thought of moving ahead in life without a husband and without a father. Thank the Lord we took Jesus with us on that trip.

Even though we were on vacation, the route was planned around Sunday services. The first Sunday we pulled into the parking lot of a hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, at 2 A.M., in a torrential rainstorm. Our original campground was flooded out, so we packed up and drove the few hours to Cheyenne. All the hotels in town were full with construction crews, so we slept in a hotel parking lot in our vehicles. At church, the pastor and congregation members arrived to find a caravan in their parking lot, with sleeping bags, clothes, and tents hung on fences and side mirrors to dry. We changed clothes in the church then went in to worship our Lord.

The next Sunday we attended a mission congregation in California. We were late getting to the storefront location and came in during the Scripture readings, right before the sermon. The 18 or so in attendance set up 23 chairs for the late-arriving guests, and then they restarted their service from the beginning. They were so grateful to worship their Lord in a full church with cramped, shoulder-to-shoulder seating. The music swelled as additional voices boomed out hymns of praise and adoration to God in gratitude for his saving grace.

Even though we were on vacation, we weren’t on vacation from God. After all, we had watched Jesus our Savior fulfill his promise of salvation and take my father to be with him in heaven. We had also watched Jesus our Lord fulfill his promise of always being with us as he took care of a new widow and her six boys.

How could we skip church? After all, we served a God who “made [mankind] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5), then watched that jewel of his creation turn his back on God and fall into sin. This same loving God knew that all people were utterly and completely lost. But this great God that we serve, out of his great love, became a man like us in order to pay a terrible price for our salvation. He turned death from a punishment into a gateway, a gateway through which we can enter to live as his children in full joy and perfect peace. Forever.

Vacation from God? Never.

Matthew Plocher is a member at Grace, St. Joseph, Michigan.

 

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Author: Matthew J. Plocher
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Many countries, one faith

Many countries, one faith

Confessional Lutherans from more than 20 countries meet in Peru to grow spiritually, encourage one another, and celebrate a common faith.

Julie K. Wietzke

Mario Galvez wears his faith on his sleeve—literally.

His coat—with the Luther seal on the front and a picture of Jesus on the back—depicts what all 74 delegates and guests at the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) convention believe and teach around the world: salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

Galvez, the president of the Iglesia Christana Reforma Luterana Republica De Chile (the Christian Church of the Lutheran Reformation in Chile), was one of 10 attendees from that church body at the eighth triennial CELC convention in Lima, Peru, May 30–June 2. This conference was a historic one for this 120-member Chilean church. Started in 1992 as a mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the group became an associate member of the CELC at this convention along with four other church bodies: the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Albania; St. John’s Lutheran Congregation in Finland; Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Ministries—India; and the Lutheran Mission of Salvation India.

That’s a big deal for a church body preparing to become independent by 2017. “It’s an achievement because we are such a young church that has had many divisions, but in the last years we are slowly maturing,” says Victor Henriquez, a leader in this Chilean church body. “It’s also a challenge to us that this opportunity we have to mature will permit us to grow in the future—and that growth begins with faith.”

Henriquez, Galvez, and seven others are studying theology to be leaders in this church body. Many of them already conduct worship and preach sermons. Currently one missionary trains these leaders and serves the four congregations, and three English teachers assist with evangelism.

Meeting Lutherans from around the world was a highlight for the Chileans, who often feel isolated living in a country that has been called “the end of the world.” “I want to take back to Chile a message that we are not alone,” says Henriquez. “There are others that believe the same things that we believe. But I didn’t think that there were so many and from so many parts of the world.”

Besides time for fellowship, the conference provided opportunities for spiritual growth, with five essays presented on sanctification, following the convention’s theme,

“We are God’s workmanship—created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Presentations from church bodies and mission fields also allowed attendees to rejoice in the work of the Lord being done around the world.

But while each of the churches’ presentations showed the individuality of each mission field, Galvez reminds us that the distinctions between the CELC church bodies are not important. Instead it’s about sólo Jesús—only Jesus.

Thanks to Missionary Timothy Erickson for translation help. For more information about the CELC, visit www.celc.info.

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ.

 

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Light for our path: Objection over judgment?

Light for our path

Other people, even fellow Christians, object when I point out sin and tell me that I shouldn’t be judging them. Is that right?

James F. Pope

You are speaking for many Christians when you describe your experience. You are concerned about sin in the life of someone close to you, you speak out in love and concern, and the person rejects your words with a “who are you to call me a sinner?” response. Invariably, then the person informs you that the Bible prohibits you from judging. So what are Christians like you to do? We turn to Scripture to see what God does and does not say about judging others.

DON’T JUDGE . . . 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). That was not the end of Jesus’ words on the subject, however. The words that follow indicate that the type of judging Jesus forbids is hypocritical judging. That kind of judging takes place when I rebuke others for their sins but fail to recognize and confess my own sinfulness—perhaps the same sins that prompted my rebuke.

Jesus used vivid language to describe that kind of judging. He has us picture a person with a log in one eye trying to remove a sliver from someone else’s eye. Who would want an eye surgeon like that? Similarly, Christians offer little help to others when their judging is hypocritical.

DO JUDGE . . . 

But the truth of the matter is that, apart from that warning about hypocritical judging, Scripture does direct us to judge. Perhaps it is a misunderstanding of that word judge that leads those whom we are rebuking to become defensive and combative. In the scriptural use of the term, to judge is to take someone’s words and/or actions, line them up with God’s Word, and reach a conclusion, a judgment: Has sin taken place or not?

That kind of “evidential judging” is what God directs us to do. Consider these instructions: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). How do we know if someone sins against us? We set the person’s words or actions alongside God’s Word and see how they match up. Then there is 1 Corinthians 5:12: “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” The expected answer is yes.

So in obedience to what God says and in love for fellow Christians, we speak to others about sin in their lives. We do that in a spirit of gentleness and love and concern—the same attitudes we want others to display when they point out sin in our lives.

JUDGMENT’S LIMITATIONS

Previously you read the second half of 1 Corinthians 5:12. The first half of the verse contains this question: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” The expected answer is: “It isn’t my business.” That is to say that it is not the responsibility of Christians to be the thought police (or word police or action police) of unbelievers. “God will judge those outside [the church]” (1 Corinthians 5:13). Still, we want to be salt and light to the unbelieving world, letting them know what God’s will is regarding sin and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus his Son.

So continue to be a beacon of truth in your relationships with others. If your Christian witness results in verbal abuse, consider that a Christian cross—a cross that is to be carried joyfully in life.

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

James Pope also answers questions online.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Accountable . . . to whom?

Accountable . . . to whom?

Mark G. Schroeder

Sometimes, unremarkable words seem to take on a life of their own. They are old words that, for some reason or another, become suddenly popular and are used almost to the point of exhaustion. One example of that is the word accountable.

Scandals erupt in the world of politics, and critics demand that someone be held accountable. Corporations experience a rapid decline in sales and market share, and stockholders demand that someone be held accountable for bad decisions or sloppy planning. Someone struggling with substance abuse is encouraged to find a friend or partner who can hold him accountable for his behavior.

The word accountable has found its way into the language of the church as well. Church leaders are expected to be accountable to those who have entrusted them with their positions. Those who manage the finances of a congregation or a synod are accountable for the way that they spend and keep track of money given and spent. Called workers are reminded that they are accountable to those who have called them as pastors or teachers. Some are encouraging called workers to have peers hold them accountable for spiritual and professional growth.

Accountability to other people, whether peers or supervisors, is not a bad concept. If I am accountable to someone else, it tends to keep me honest. It encourages me to be diligent. It is an incentive to strive for my best.

But there is a different kind of accountability that trumps all others. In the end, we are ultimately accountable to our Savior. Husbands and wives are to honor, love, and respect each other not just because they feel accountable to each other, but because they are accountable to the One who united them in marriage. Children are to obey and respect their father and mother not just because they are accountable to their parents, but because they know that God himself expects it of them. Workers are to be diligent and faithful in their jobs and careers not just because they are accountable to their employer or supervisor, but because they are serving their Savior in all they do. Called workers are to be faithful in their calling not just because they answer to a congregation, a circuit pastor, or a district president, but because they know that it is God himself who has called them and God himself who expects them to be faithful. God’s people strive to hold on faithfully to God’s Word and hear it often not just out of loyalty to a tradition or to a denomination, but because God himself has encouraged them to treasure the truth that he has entrusted to them.

It was this kind of ultimate faithfulness and accountability to God that the apostle Paul was thinking of when he wrote to the Corinthians, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court. . . . It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:2-4). Paul was not denying that he was accountable to other people. But he recognized that his accountability to God was far above any other.

God has entrusted us with many things and many responsibilities—as spouses, parents, children, employees, citizens, called workers, and church members. We may be accountable to many different people in those roles. But in the end, the accountability that matters most is the one that will lead us to long to hear our Savior’s words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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The secret to loving your job

The secret to loving your job

It is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. Ecclesiastes 5:18,19

Norman F. Burger Jr.

Labor Day is coming up. What is your field of labor? Do you love it?

SATISFIED WITH YOUR JOB?

According to a 2013 Gallup poll, that’s not likely. Seventy percent of those surveyed either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged. Not even incentives and extras—like workout facilities, nap rooms, child care, free lunches and massages—change these negative perspectives.

Their complaints reflect why so many people hate their jobs. The boss is a jerk. The people they work with are jerks. They’re unappreciated and underpaid. They come to work only because they need the money and not because it is what they want to do. The job stresses them out, frustrates, exhausts, or bores them.

Maybe that sounds a little like your complaints. If you dwell on those negatives, you end up hating your job. If you hate your job, you become bitter, angry, or depressed. Then it is hard to be the husband, wife, parent, friend, or neighbor God wants you to be. It is hard to be a light in this world when you’re the grumpy malcontent at work. And that is not good.

SATISFIED IN YOUR LABORS FOR THE LORD

God wants us to have a different perspective.  It’s good, he says, for us to find “satisfaction in our toilsome labor.” Why is that so hard?

Sometimes you and I have an unrealistic expectation for our lot in life, work included. Who works with only fantastic people, for great pay, doing what they love, and goes home every day completely fulfilled and appreciated? Do we forget what God told Adam after he disobeyed? “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. . . . By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:17-19). It will always be so. And as sinners, it is what we deserve.

But you know something different. You know what your lot in life is through your baptism. Your boss may be a jerk, but God is your loving Father. You may not be appreciated at work, but God considers you his dear child. Your pay may be meager, but you are wealthy beyond imagination in the unfailing love of God, the forgiveness of all your sins, and the promise of heaven in Jesus. And this is all due to the grace of God. To see all of life from that perspective is a gift from God and a blessing of faith.

Through faith in Jesus, happily trust that your God of grace has given you the job, income, and life he wants you to have. Don’t live an unhappy life of unfulfilled longing for what you think you deserve or wish you had. Happily trust that God has you in exactly the right place right now where he has determined you can best serve others and share the difference Jesus makes in your life. Thank God for making you his child by happily going to work and doing your job as his grateful, content, and faithful child in Christ.

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

 

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Author: Norman F. Burger Jr.
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Vacation with Jesus : Plocher

With Jesus, family vacations are full of blessings and memories.

Matthew J. Plocher

The summer of 1984 was an epic vacation year for my family. We drove with two other families from Saginaw, Michigan, to California—5 adults and 18 children in two suburbans and a van, towing a camper. We stayed in campgrounds and cabins along the way, ending our vacation by overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

For my family, it was an escape. My father had been sick for years, finally dying that February. We were getting away from doctor’s visits, ambulances, medications, hospitalizations, nursing homes, and finally a funeral home and cemetery. While it was a difficult journey, Jesus, our Savior and our Lord, walked every step with us.

We had the time of our lives on that vacation. But the trip presented some difficulties as well. While the sights were fantastic—from Mt. Rushmore to Wall Drug, from the Great Salt Lake to sunsets over a Pacific beach—there were trials too. We experienced vehicle breakdowns, mosquito swarms, snowstorms, and flooding rainstorms. In addition a newly single mom with her six boys struggled with the thought of moving ahead in life without a husband and without a father. Thank the Lord we took Jesus with us on that trip.

Even though we were on vacation, the route was planned around Sunday services. The first Sunday we pulled into the parking lot of a hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, at 2 a.m., in a torrential rainstorm. Our original campground was flooded out, so we packed up and drove the few hours to Cheyenne. All the hotels in town were full with construction crews, so we slept in a hotel parking lot in our vehicles. At church, the pastor and congregation members arrived to find a caravan in their parking lot, with sleeping bags, clothes, and tents hung on fences and side mirrors to dry. We changed clothes in the church, then went in to worship our Lord.

The next Sunday we attended a mission congregation in California. We were late getting to the storefront location and came in during the Scripture readings, right before the sermon. The 18 or so in attendance set up 23 chairs for the late-arriving guests, and then they restarted their service from the beginning. They were so grateful to worship their Lord in a full church with cramped, shoulder-to-shoulder seating. The music swelled as additional voices boomed out hymns of praise and adoration to God in gratitude for his saving grace.

Even though we were on vacation, we weren’t on vacation from God. After all, we had watched Jesus our Savior fulfill his promise of salvation and take my father to be with him in heaven. We had also watched Jesus our Lord fulfill his promise of always being with us as he took care of a new widow and her six boys.

How could we skip church? After all, we served a God who “made [mankind] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5), then watched that jewel of his creation turn his back on God and fall into sin. This same loving God knew that all people were utterly and completely lost. But this great God that we serve, out of his great love, became a man like us in order to pay a terrible price for our salvation. He turned death from a punishment into a gateway, a gateway through which we can enter to live as his children in full joy and perfect peace. Forever.

Vacation from God? Never.

Matthew Plocher is a member at Grace, St. Joseph, Michigan.

 

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Author: Matthew J. Plocher
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

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Philippians 4:13: Part: 10

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

“I think I can . . . I think I can . . . I think I can.” Author Watty Piper geared the book The Little Engine That Could for children. First released for publication in the United States in 1930, the classic’s optimistic message has climbed its way into a mountain of self-help books, motivational speeches, and personal mission statements.

Similarly, so has the Philippians passage. PHIL 4:13 appears on the eye-strips of athletes, and it’s inked on arms, engraved in rings, and printed on posters to motivate people. The reference is a visible reminder to never give up and to aim for success. To many, Piper and the apostle Paul were working with the same concept: “I think I can” = “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

But what happens when cancer isn’t beaten, even though Philippians 4:13 was the patient’s mantra? What happens when the PHIL 4:13 quarterback throws a game-ending interception instead of the game-winning touchdown? What happens when “I think I can” is traded for “I see I can’t”? It’s then, when the mountainous challenges in front of us seem impassable, that we need the intended comfort of Philippians 4:13.

Context is crucial when it comes to understanding this popular passage. Paul was in prison when he penned these words. With chains around his wrists, the likelihood of throwing any missionary touchdowns was slim. Yet he could confidently write, “I can do everything.” What did he mean? Back up a few verses, and we see that Paul is not screaming out a vein-bulging, locker-room pep talk in this verse. Rather, he is whispering the secret of contentment. “No matter the situation, whether it’s bleak or bright, you can face it. You can endure it because you are living in Christ. He will provide the strength. Even if you’re running on empty, the Holy Spirit has poured Christ into your tank. You’ll have all the fuel you will need for the journey ahead—the journey to our destination with the Lord.”

Paul’s final words (2 Timothy chapter 4) assure us that he applied Philippians 4:13 to his life. Facing his death, he looked back and was thankful that the Lord stood by his side as he fought his fight and ran his race. He knew that the goal of life was not about climbing the mountain of earthly success. It was to ascend the throne of the Lord. And he knew the strength to make that climb didn’t rest in himself. If it did, he’d only be able to chant, “I think I can.” Rather, Paul knew his climb to heaven’s mountain depended on Jesus. Because of Jesus, Paul lived with an I know I can confidence. So can you, because of Jesus.


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. Context. Context. Context. List ways you have seen or heard this passage applied. How does the context of the original passage compare to the way it is often applied?

Example of Philippians 4:13 is often used by athletes, politicians or in the medical field. Philippians 4:10-12 shows that this is more about contentment and strength to endure all situations and not the ability to do all things.

2. What do you consider to be the top three things that rob us of the secret of being content?

Answers may vary. Examples include commercials, instant gratification/information, lottery/gambling, the de-Christianization of the world which places self at the center.

3. Instead of thinking of negative situations, why is it important to remember that even positive situations are possible through the strength that God gives?

It helps us to be humble and not rely on ourselves.

4. “Who gives me strength.” While not always translated as such, this concept appears seven times in the New Testament. After comparing Philippians 4:13 with the following passages, explain what it means to have strength from God: Acts 9:22; Romans 4:20; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Timothy 4:17.

To be strong in the Lord emphasizes a reliance on him and a zeal to do his will no matter the cost.

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

This is the tenth 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 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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The presence of evil

John A. Braun

We want an answer. Something that helps us make sense of what we find disturbing and dreadful. Two pre-teen girls attempt to kill a third girl. Pretending to be friends, they stab her several times and leave her for dead. We ask, “What were they thinking?”

We shake our heads in disbelief. Other stories flash on the news. We find stories like the two pre-teen girls or another mass murder with gun and knife. Most recently I heard the story of one man with a sword lashing out to bring death and bloodshed to others.

We want to make sense of this. Why did it happen? Why does it continue to happen? Poverty? Drugs—including alcohol? Gangs? Revenge? Mental illness? All of them could apply, depending on the circumstances. When we find these convenient explanations, we might think we are safe from such awful mayhem. Or we might find some consolation in the random and limited nature of these tragedies. Others were killed or hurt. We escaped.

Yet we want to know why so we can prevent its repetition. That’s an important strategy. Laws are intended to curb the worst of crimes, but we have learned that the important word here is curb. The police arrive at the scene only to mark it off with yellow crime scene tape. The courts also come into play afterward. They curb and punish but cannot prevent every outbreak of lawlessness. Perhaps we feel safe with that half measure and do not choose to probe for the source of evil.

Tranquility permits us to carry out our schedules without a serious interruption and without looking deeper—at least until the next episode of human chaos. We like to believe that we are not like these people. We are better. More law abiding. Less violent. But the gene pool from which these people come also has produced each one of us.

So from where does such evil arise? Jesus has a stark assessment of the source of evil: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). The source of evil is within the human heart.

We don’t want to face such a dark truth. We resist thinking that we are no more than a few restraining thoughts from evil. While we may not want to face the truth about ourselves, God knew it before Adam and Eve’s first disobedience. Still he chose to love his flawed creatures. One measure of his love is the rain and sunshine he sends on the evil and the good. Another is Jesus, who came to cleanse our hearts and lives of evil. His sacrifice paid the penalty for what lies within our hearts and what flows from there into our words and actions.

But his love also supplies a new life, which his undeserved forgiveness creates in our hearts. We are new creatures with added power to resist the evil within. God did not abandon us to our self-inflicted evil, mayhem, and chaos. He forgave. He gives power to resist evil through the gospel and his Spirit.

But it will always be a struggle to overcome the evil inside, even for Christians. Each outbreak of evil is a reminder that this is not what God intended. So we come to his house and his Word, not to show we are better than others but for power to resist the evil within us. By the power of the Spirit through the gospel, we honor our Lord and Savior by overcoming every evil inclination and by living a new life marked by love and service to others.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Have this letter read to all: Part 10

In his letters to the Corinthians, Paul offers a model of stewardship in action as well as a specific example of Christian giving.

Daniel N. Balge

Christian stewardship expresses itself as mind, mouth, muscle, or material goods are put into service to the gospel. Still, it is in all its forms essentially a spiritual exercise. Often we gauge stewardship by time spent, money given, or skills used. Yet Christian stewardship expresses a soul’s thankful love for Jesus. So it has always been and always will be.

A STEWARDSHIP MODEL

So it was in Corinth—even in Corinth—where a young congregation of believers new to the faith was beset by many problems. Even with them Paul takes up the matter of a special collection for fellow Christians in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). Aptly his words come on the heels of his famous resurrection chapter. Shortly after a reminder of what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean—“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:57)—Paul answers a question that the Corinthians had apparently asked about gathering a gift for their fellow believers.

His answer offers a model of stewardship in action. As far as is known, the Corinthian Christians did not know their Jerusalem brothers and sisters in the faith well, if at all. Great geographical and probably greater cultural distance separated the predominantly Gentile congregation in Greece from the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. But love of Jesus united them and motivated the Corinthians to give without a thought of benefitting themselves or gaining some future advantage.

In a pattern borrowed from the Galatian Christians, Paul encourages the Corinthians toward giving that involves the whole congregation (“each one of you”). He directs that they schedule their giving so that it is both routine (weekly, every Sunday) and timely (collected and ready when couriers are commissioned to carry it to Jerusalem). Their gifts were to be proportional to the income with which God had blessed them, although Paul mentions no specific percentage. So the gifts would vary in size from believer to believer and perhaps from week to week. Instead the love of Christ compels the giver (2 Corinthians 5:14). Nothing about such stewardship implies a bill to pay, but everyone who knows Jesus’ love assumes a debt of love for his fellow human beings (Romans 13:8).

A CHRISTIAN EXAMPLE

Along with love for Jesus, trust in Jesus informs the Christian steward’s heart. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, while still encouraging this special offering for Jerusalem’s believers, he points them to the example of the Macedonian congregations—Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea (Acts chapters 16-17)—who, despite their own “extreme poverty” (2 Corinthians 8:2), begged to be allowed to help in the collection for Jerusalem. “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (8:3,4).

The Macedonians welcomed some pain for the gospel’s gain. In their poverty, they gave anyway. They lived in the confidence Paul later expressed to some of these Macedonians. As he thanked the Philippian Christians for yet more gifts that supported his ministry, he wrote, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Stewardship is a spiritual exercise also in another sense. It is how faith works. It draws energy from Christ’s love for us and grows from exercise.

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

This is the tenth 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 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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Illegitimate conclusions

Earle D. Treptow

The unbelieving world regularly opposes what God says in his Word. Relationship experts opine that couples ought to live together before marriage, to “take a test ride.” Political leaders declare that a woman has the right to end the life of a human being through abortion. They express opinions in opposition to God’s declaration. We are hardly shocked at such proclamations.

We expect those without the Spirit to speak at odds with God’s Word. After all, “the sinful nature is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). The default position of sinful human beings is opposition to God and his Word, making anti-scriptural declarations the norm.

While we expect the unbelieving world to speak contrary to Scripture, we don’t really anticipate it from the visible church. We presume that those who confess faith in Christ and the Bible will issue declarations reflecting what God says. When they fail to speak as the Scriptures speak, we are disappointed and frustrated. Shocked, even.

But we shouldn’t be surprised when members of the visible church speak contrary to Scripture. Jesus told us to expect false teachers within the visible church as the end draws near. False prophets appear to be not only genuinely godly and gentle, but also loving and eager to serve. From their mouths come magnificent words about Jesus and his unconditional love. They speak in glowing terms about Jesus’ willingness to accept people as they are. It’s true.

But then, under the banner of unconditional love and acceptance, they draw conclusions: “The Lord who loves you wants you to be happy. If you aren’t happy in your marriage, you can and should get a divorce.” Or, “Jesus understands if you want to live with your boyfriend to make sure you are compatible; he will not judge you.” Or, “If God made you with desires for people of the same sex, you can pursue those desires; Jesus certainly will not cast the first stone.” Those conclusions are illegitimate. They glide right past the fact that “no one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). Sadly, but not surprisingly, large crowds gather around such teachers.

We learned early on that the majority opinion is not necessarily the right opinion. (Your mother must have said to you at least once, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?”) But the devil stands ready to use the illegitimate conclusions of the visible church to divert us from the legitimate teaching of Scripture. We like to think that we could never be swayed from the truth of God’s Word. Unfortunately, the old Adam still plagues us. We listen as he says, “My Jesus accepts me and will never condemn me, regardless of how I live, because his love is unconditional.”

You see the challenges. The devil has allied himself with some in the visible church to whisper “sweet nothings” in our ears. He knows that we probably won’t fall for an open rejection of God’s Word, so he suggests conclusions that appeal to the sinful nature. Left on our own, we would certainly fall for these illegitimate conclusions. Thank God that he has chosen to take up residence in us by his Spirit. The Spirit drives us back to the Word again and again, so that we reject illegitimate conclusions and cling to the truth.

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

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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