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A look back: Part 8

Issues discussed in the magazine mirrored issues faced by Lutherans in the 1980s.

Mark E. Braun

When the Northwestern Lutheran (NL) began publishing in 1914, its target audience was the English-reading lay members of the Wisconsin Synod. NL continued the tradition of the Gemeinde-Blatt, which began in 1865 and continued into the 1960s.

NL was still being published for lay readers in 1981, but clearly it was not being written by them. Pastors and professors authored more than 95 percent of its articles that year. Fewer than one percent were written by women.

In 1982 a new editor took over the magazine—James P. Schaefer, Milwaukee pastor, synod stewardship counselor, and public relations director. While pledging unconditional commitment to Scripture and the Confessions, Schaefer promised—or, maybe, warned—that changes lay ahead for the Northwestern Lutheran. “It is a different world we live in. Different questions are being asked.”

NEW AUTHORS AND MORE QUESTIONS

And different voices were enlisted to offer answers. Soon a reflective piece on motherhood appeared, written not by a clergyman but by a mother. Then came a presentation of how cable TV could be employed to spread the gospel, authored by a husband-wife videotape production team. “We are always looking for good writers—lay or clergy,” Schaefer reported in 1984.

A question-and-answer column (answers provided by Pastor Paul Kelm) revealed that synod members were wrestling with issues never before addressed on these pages.

“AL-ANON, which counsels the relatives of alcoholics, recommends withdrawing all material support from the alcoholic until he hits bottom and desires treatment. Does this contradict our Lord?”

“What does the Bible teach about gluttony?”

“Why do our college students, pastors, and professors grow beards and long hair? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that long hair is a shame to men?”

“Why won’t the Wisconsin Synod make use of lay preachers?”

“What is the Christian view of vasectomy?”

“What is the Bible’s view on transsexuals?”

READERS’ OPINIONS

Most controversial was the introduction of a letters column, which, Schaefer explained, would provide “the opportunity for another point of view in matters where that is possible, and some opportunity for reader reflection.” Ground rules were established, correspondence invited, and in came the mail.

“I feel that the article on ‘The Bomb’ has no place in a church publication,” wrote one reader in 1983. Said another the next year, “I have mixed emotions about the strident writings in my Northwestern Lutheran on prayer in public schools and our President’s wish for a Year of the Bible.” The issues readers raised mirrored those facing Lutheran Christians in the 1980s—changing worship formats, availability of previously unheard of technologies, and greater involvement of women in the life of the church.

Schaefer never ducked controversial issues. After the 1983 convention approved development of a new hymnbook, all viewpoints were welcomed. “I cannot see any justification for a new hymnal,” wrote one reader. “Let us be content with our fine hymnal,” said another. “I still love the King James Version and there are lots and lots of things about our Lutheran Hymnal that I dearly love.” One correspondent objected that WELS lacked “the necessary time, money, and expertise” for such an ambitious project.

Others supported a new hymnal: “The language needs updating. We would favor lowering the pitches of chants and hymns to a more comfortable level.” One writer likened the attachment to King James English to an earlier generation’s reluctance to abandon German. “Certainly, we can all agree that it was the thing to do.”

Some chided the “new Northwestern Lutheran” for divulging such disagreements. “Until the synod has spoken its mind,” Schaefer countered—on the hymnal and on other subjects—“the pages of the Northwestern Lutheran will welcome all responsible expressions of opinions from all quarters.”

Critics lobbied for the demise of the letters column. Privately, some groused that the magazine should be renamed the WELS Ladies’ Home Journal. But the editor refused to yield. “I am still convinced,” he wrote in 1987, “that our people, especially the laity, should have a forum for the public expression of their opinions.”

To those who feared the letters column projected a “wrong” image of the synod as “contentious and divided,” Schaefer replied, “I don’t know why anyone would believe that the Wisconsin Synod laity is an army of sheep.” The synod’s members willingly heard and heeded Scripture, but they were “not at all reluctant to question the word of any mere mortal.”

In his own writing, Schaefer went for the heart, but he made his readers think too. His “from this corner” editorials consistently revealed concerns ranging far beyond WELS.

He seldom advocated predictable or easy solutions for an increasingly complicated world.

A plaque on his desk urged, “Crucify the Old Adam—don’t bore him to death.” James Schaefer brought that attitude to the “new” Northwestern Lutheran.

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

This is the eighth 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 9
Issue: September 2014

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

 

Under God’s sky: The Minnesota District

Paul E. Koelpin

The summer of 1918 was a season of action. American troops were engaged in heavy fighting along the Western Front during World War I. Halfway around the world, Vladimir Lenin was establishing his communist dictatorship in Russia. Closer to home, a group of pastors, teachers, and lay delegates—130 in all—met in June at Trinity, St. Paul, to form the Minnesota District of the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Other States.

DISTRICT HISTORY

German Lutheran missionaries had spread the gospel in Minnesota even before it became a state in 1858. Under the leadership of Lutheran pastor and missionary to India, “Father” J. C. F. Heyer, several pastors and congregations organized as the Minnesota Synod in 1860. Already in colonial times, Lutheran synods followed along state, linguistic, and cultural lines. This “state synod” was a gathering of specifically German Lutheran churches. Although it was an independent church body, the small Minnesota Synod did seek affiliation with other larger Lutheran organizations for mutual support and assistance. The process fine-tuned Minnesota’s confessional stance and practice, and the Minnesota Synod became a charter member of the Synodical Conference in 1872.

Proximity to northern state synods in Wisconsin and Michigan, a like-minded Lutheran identity, and strong cultural ties resulted in establishing a formal unification as a “Joint Synod” in October 1892. Each synod remained autonomous while pursuing ways to function more effectively and efficiently as Lutheran churches joined in a common cause. Eventually, the Minnesota Synod adopted a reorganization plan and constitution, which formally made it a “district” of the Wisconsin Synod.

In 1918, the Minnesota District brought 22,000 communicant members into the new synod. Today, not quite one hundred years later, communicant membership in the district has nearly doubled. At its formation, the Minnesota District also included 18 congregations from mission work in the Dakotas. Within two years, these churches organized as the Dakota-Montana District.

SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the Minnesota District in terms of the wider synod is the college located in New Ulm. Dedicated in 1884 as a worker training institution for the then Minnesota Synod, the school, called Dr. Martin Luther College (DMLC), owed its origins to Pastor C. J. Albrecht, a pastor at St. Paul, New Ulm, and the fifth president of the Minnesota Synod.

Albrecht was a man of action. After the synod struggled to sort out location options and to secure funding for the project, Albrecht had footings poured for a building on the picturesque hillcrest overlooking the city in the Minnesota River valley. He begged the synod’s indulgence for his boldness, and DMLC was born. In 1995, Northwestern College (in Watertown, Wisconsin) was amalgamated with DMLC to become Martin Luther College (MLC). Today MLC is the “WELS College of Ministry.” Its chief purpose is the training of pastors, teachers, and staff ministers for our synod. Nearly every called worker in our church body since 1995 has some connection to this school.

The Minnesota District has had a strong connection to education—with 61 early childhood ministries and 38 elementary schools. Three area Lutheran high schools provide secondary education. St. Croix Lutheran High School was founded in 1958 in West St. Paul; West Lutheran High School in Plymouth and Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School in New Ulm were both started in 1979. Since its founding St. Croix has moved to a second campus site and has been visionary in its approach—attracting hundreds of foreign exchange students (chiefly from Asian countries) and establishing an area Lutheran “middle school” on the campus as well.

SPECIAL MINISTRIES

The district is also the headquarters of The Lutheran Home Association in Belle Plaine. The “Lutheran Home” began in 1898 when Sophie Boessling donated farm land and money to Trinity congregation in Belle Plaine. Boessling intended that the donation be used to build a home for orphans and the aged. The Home became recognized for excellent care of the elderly and has continued to expand its facilities and services. Jesus Cares Ministries, which has served the spiritual needs of people with developmental disabilities since 1985, became part of its ministry in 1998.

Proximity to high quality medical facilities such as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the hospitals in the Twin Cities led to the formation of the Lutheran Institutional Ministry Association (LIMA). In addition to visiting the sick, LIMA also supports campus ministry efforts such as The Beacon (Minnesota State University, Mankato) and True North (Twin Cities universities) and has begun coordinating with WELS Prison Ministries (which is headquartered in New Ulm).

OUTREACH OPPORTUNITIES

The Minnesota District includes a handful of congregations in extreme western Wisconsin and congregations in Iowa and Missouri. Mission development in the last several decades focused mainly in the expanding suburbs of the Twin Cities; Rochester, Minn.; Des Moines, Iowa; and St. Louis, Mo.

Evangelism opportunities multiplied with the movement of peoples to these metropolitan areas. God used the work of Pastor Loren Steele to reach out to changing communities, especially to people of Asian descent. After his ordination at Emanuel in St. Paul in 1986, Steele began intensive outreach with Hmong immigrants in his neighborhood, resulting in a specifically Hmong congregation (Immanuel Hmong Lutheran Church) and the local training of Hmong men to serve as pastors. Hmong ministry remains strong in the district.

German Lutheran missionaries planted strong churches and schools as Minnesota was being settled in the 1800s; WELS mission work continues among people of other cultures, languages, and nations on the very same ground. All by God’s design and to his glory!

Paul Koelpin, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

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


STATISTICS

District president: Pastor Charles Degner
Congregations: 158
Mission churches:
Baptized members: 49,454
Communicant members: 39,746
Early childhood ministries: 61
Lutheran elementary schools: 38
Area Lutheran high schools: 3

 

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Author: Paul E. Koelpin
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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

 

Strength to love, honor, and care

One family walks through the dark valley of PTSD to hope and love.

Debbie Sprague

I was blessed to grow up in a loving, Christ-based, Lutheran home. My dream was to provide the same for my children. By 1990, my life was complete with a husband and two children. But my dreams began to crumble. My marriage ended, and I struggled to keep my children at our Lutheran school. With my parents’ help and our commitment to providing a Christian education, they stayed.

In 1993, my ten-year-old son Aaron was diagnosed with cancer. Five months later, he was gone. He was without fear; his faith held strong to his final breath. My seven-year-old daughter Andrea served as a pillar of faith, explaining God’s will to the children at school who had prayed so faithfully for Aaron’s healing and then were crushed by his death.

In 2000, I met Randy, a fellow employee. It was love at first sight. He and Andrea also had an immediate connection. He accepted my invitation to join us at church and soon began to attend classes and was baptized and confirmed. Eight months later, we were married and looking forward to a wonderful Christ-centered life together.

But things began to crumble again. In 2004, Randy began screaming out in anger in Vietnamese. I would wake up to his punching and kicking me, spitting out profanity—words that I had never heard him use in his waking hours. He was always on edge, having angry outbursts for no apparent reason. That left Andrea and me trying to avoid doing anything that would trigger him, even though we had no idea what those “triggers” might be. With an increase in physical pain, Randy began to self-medicate with alcohol and prescription drugs. He became hyper-vigilant, roaming the house at all hours of the night with his gun nearby. I became more fearful of what he might do than of any intruder. Sleep deprivation took its toll on both of us.

More of the burden of everyday life was falling on me. I didn’t ask him to do more because I was afraid of what his reaction might be. My resentment and anger began to grow to a level that I had never experienced. He became numb and withdrawn and would go days without speaking to me. He lost interest in every aspect of our relationship. He avoided social activities and places with crowds and noise, so I had to go alone or not go at all. Loneliness and depression set in. I was also feeling guilty because all of this had to be my fault. And I should be able to fix it—if I could just be better or try harder.

We were blessed by a divine intervention, in the form of Randy’s chance parking lot meeting with a fellow Vietnam vet. They began to talk about their war experiences—experiences that Randy could share only with another vet. The vet told Randy, “Bro, you need help.” The next morning he walked Randy into the Veterans’ Service Office and introduced him by saying, “This vet needs some help.”

And he was right. Repercussions from Randy’s two tours in Vietnam 30 years ago had risen out of nowhere and now threatened to ruin our lives. Not only had he been diagnosed with complications from exposure to Agent Orange but also the invisible wounds of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.

Many types of traumatic events can cause PTSD, including being in a war zone, even without being in direct combat; sexual or physical assault; serious accidents; natural disasters; and working as first responders like firefighters and police officers. Most people who go through a trauma have some symptoms at the beginning. It isn’t clear why some develop PTSD and others don’t. There are conflicting views on the existence of PTSD. Some cite evidence that it was present as far back as biblical times. Some deny that it exists at all.

Randy began treatment for his PTSD with medication and individual and group therapy. But things got worse. Just imagine 30 years of suppressed memories rising up like an angry volcano. We struggled. I struggled in silence because no one around me understood PTSD. When I shared that my husband had PTSD, I received blank stares and comments such as, “It’s just an excuse for bad behavior.”

One day when I was at my lowest of low, I confided in Randy that I didn’t really care about my life anymore, I just felt numb. He simply walked away. But the next day Randy said to me, “You need to find someone to help you, because I can’t.”

I saw two different therapists, who both diagnosed me with PTSD. They also both gave me the same easy answer: Get a divorce . . . just walk away.

But that wasn’t the answer I was seeking. I knew that stranger in my house was the man I fell in love with. Sometimes a glimpse of him would return. Besides, this was not his fault. This happened while he was serving our country, a mere boy at 19, experiencing the horrors of war.

So I walked away . . . from the therapists. I had experienced the destruction that divorce has on a family. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I had vowed to love and care for my husband in sickness and in health. With the Lord’s help, I was going to honor my promise. God’s gift of grace was the sacrifice and resurrection of my Savior, Jesus Christ. He had upheld me during past adversity. I trusted that the Lord would carry me through the darkness of PTSD.

I began praying for strength to be more understanding, patient, and compassionate to my husband. I also needed to honor the life that God has given me by caring for my own physical and emotional health, understanding that only by caring for myself would I have the strength to care for others. I prayed that I could accept that my life was never going to be the same as it was when Randy’s and my love story began.

Randy has worked hard to get better and could not have done it without the Lord. Asking for forgiveness from those he hurt, prayer, worship, spiritual guidance, medication, group and individual therapy are all critical to his continued healing.

The Lord gave us both the strength to save our marriage from the perils of PTSD. In order to begin the work of healing it was necessary to bring the Lord into our marriage at a deeper level than we thought possible. As a result, we have created a peaceful daily existence and renewed hope for our future together. We have a stronger love and commitment toward each other and our faith.

I believe that God has designed my life with the pain and challenges that I have encountered for a purpose. He has given me the opportunity to tell our story so others can understand that PTSD suffered by our veterans affects their spouses and families. Equally important is helping spouses to cherish their needs for their own health and happiness so they can have the strength to love, honor, and care for their veteran in sickness . . . and so they can honor their marriage vows.

Debbie Sprague is a member at Mount Calvary, Redding, California.

 

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Author: Debbie Sprague
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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

 

Check your values

Jeffrey L. Samelson

There was a time when society’s values were by and large the same as Christian values. That hasn’t been the case for quite a while. But many within the church seem to operate as though everything the culture considers good and worthy is what believers should consider good and worthy.

Before you say, “Yeah, that reminds me of . . .,” stop and check the values you actually hold. Are they against the values God lays out for us in Scripture?

What are Christian values for marriage? It is a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman designed for companionship, sexual intimacy, and both the bearing and raising of children (Genesis chapters 1–2). Sexual relations are only to be between husbands and wives. Divorce is something acceptable to God only in very narrow circumstances (infidelity and desertion—1 Corinthians chapters 6–7).

Are those your values—really? Too many of us nod in agreement at God’s Word, but when the rubber meets the road our true values emerge. “This divorce is okay because, well, my sister’s been really unhappy for a while.” “People shouldn’t marry until they’re in their late 20s or 30s and are ready to settle down, and if our kids sow some wild oats in the meantime who can blame them?” “I still feel funny about same-sex marriage, but I have gay friends; I don’t want to say they can’t do what they want to do.”

How about children? Scripture makes it clear that they are a blessing that belongs with marriage and that having many of them is God’s gift of a good thing (Psalm 127:3-5). Again, too often we agree but then add our “buts.” “But if we have another child we can’t afford the nicer house and can’t travel the world in our 50s as we planned.” “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but my friend didn’t feel she had another option.” “But if we have more than two kids people will look at us funny.” “But we really can’t afford children right now; it just makes sense to wait until we’ve taken care of our careers first.”

Really? How could the Lord who supplies every need give us such gifts without also giving all we need to welcome and care for them? Yes, God has given us the ability to plan our families in ways unknown to earlier generations, and every couple’s different situation leads to different decisions. But are choices about children being made from faith and informed by Scripture or informed by society and made from other motives?

Check your values. What do your credit card statement and checkbook say about what’s important to you—the latest gadget, the newest fashions, the coolest car, the smoothest beer? Jesus reminds us to store up our treasures in heaven, not on earth, and to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness—and every material need will be met (Matthew 6:25-34).

Christians are by faith different, and Christ still calls us to think, say, and do what is different. Our values matter—not just for us, but for the world. Jesus said we are “the salt of the earth,” but if we lose our saltiness, we are “no longer good for anything.” (Matthew 5:13). What’s important to us shows others how important the Lord and his love are. So we repent of our wrong values and turn to Christ for forgiveness and then “let [our] light shine before men, that they may see [our] good deeds and praise [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

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

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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 11

Paul’s letters showcased his passion for reaching out to the lost with the gospel message.

Daniel N. Balge

How can you measure someone’s eagerness to share the gospel? There is no thermometer for that passion. No yardstick exists for that zeal. No scale can put pounds and ounces to that urge to tell the story of God’s grace in Jesus.

REACHING THE JEWS

But you can gauge to some degree the depth of the desire to share the gospel from circumstantial evidence and personal testimony. Consider Paul’s comments in his letters to the churches. In his second letter to the Corinthian Christians (11:23-33) he left a summary of what he had endured to share the gospel, everything from beatings to bandits to false brothers to an escape by basket over the Damascene city wall. Perhaps things he experienced in Macedonia—“conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5)—made this list. “Fears within” might surprise us, but they were not unique to Macedonia. At Corinth too Paul fought through “weakness and fear and . . . much trembling” to proclaim the good news. Such are the measures of Paul’s passion for others to know Jesus.

And consider one more. It comes as a shock. In his letter to the Romans Paul swears on oath that “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (9:3,4). In other words, if it were possible and if it would mean that his fellow Jews, as a people, would accept Jesus as the Christ, Paul would be willing to be damned for eternity.

This is not some throwaway remark, no mere exaggeration for effect. Paul knew heaven; Jesus had given him a glimpse (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Paul knew hell; God’s Spirit pushed Paul’s pen to describe hell as being “punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes” (2 Thessalonians 1:9,10). His passion for souls grew from what Jesus meant for his own soul.

REACHING THE GENTILES

Nor was his zeal only for his fellow Jews. In fact, the Lord called him to focus on the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7,8). Writing to the Ephesian Christians, Paul celebrates God’s grace that gave him the privilege. “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8). His joy in ministry to other cultures explains in part why he was so eager to go to Rome. He felt “obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome” (Romans 1:14,15).

What made Paul so eager? He remembered what he had been before Jesus’ own voice called him to faith and service (Acts 9:3-6). Near the end of his life he rejoiced in what he had become—Christ’s servant—despite what he had been—a blaspheming, persecuting, violent man. His message and his motivation are the same: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

So say we with Paul, “Jesus lived and died and rose for all. For me too.” May God’s Spirit make us eager to tell others, “For you too.”

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

This is the eleventh 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 9
Issue: September 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

 

Don’t whine

Sometimes I think that whining comes naturally to people. It starts at the beginning of our life here. When we were hungry, the only way we could let anyone know was to cry. When we sensed other discomforts, we cried and fussed. As we grew, we became more sophisticated. We learned to complain, and we acquired the fine art of whining. It’s not surprising that whining becomes the first thing we do in the face of life’s burdens.

Christians do not suddenly shed the practice. Over time we grow in faith and trust more and more in our heavenly Father. When things don’t go as we think they should, our weaknesses show and we revert to whining. It’s not unusual to play the victim card when trouble comes to us personally. And we pause, paralyzed to do or think anything more than to whine.

When we see our Savior and his church bashed and belittled in our world, we react. It is more than a simple discomfort prompting a whine. Many times we realize how little we can do to change the world’s attitudes. We curl up like a wounded animal and whimper in our own private space. We go no further than a complaint.

The causes vary. Christian thought is ridiculed and discriminated against while secular thought or even other religious thoughts are given more status and rights. Morality we learned from the Scriptures is considered offensive and disruptive. Christian symbols must be removed even from private spaces. Our local church or our national church faces huge challenges. The list goes on and seems to grow with the passage of time.

Don’t whine. What we experience is all part of God’s plan. Remember Jesus! He came in humility, weakness, and poverty. He was confronted by frequent opposition. He died because others wanted to get rid of him and silence him. Isaiah foretold, “He was oppressed and afflicted yet he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). He’s a good role model for us but also much more.

Before Jesus completed his work, he told his disciples what to expect after he was gone. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. . . . I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you . . . if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20). Disciples of all ages share the bond of opposition from the world. It’s to be expected because we are different. We don’t belong to the world; we belong to Jesus and possess his promises.

Jesus said, “I have chosen you out of the world.” In those words, we find strength. We are different. We are forgiven—a concept the world does not completely grasp. We are heaven bound—an idea that has no scientific proof but only the Lord’s repeated promises. God’s love is undeserved and boundless—a thought that makes no sense to a world that thinks his love must be earned.

We will continue to be tempted to whine and complain, but hold to the words of Jesus. When the temptation comes, remember the humble Lord who once came but now reigns over all things for your good. He’s guiding everything—everything, even what we don’t understand—for the good of his people, and that includes you and me. Instead of complaining, we can pray for the strength to remain separate from the world. In our Savior’s promises we can find the strength to be busy as Christians here—to live not as the world lives but as his disciples. Let him take care of the rest. Don’t whine. Pray. Praise. Give thanks.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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

 

WELS Teens learn “No Fear” in Tennessee

More than 1,600 teens and youth leaders came together to learn and grow in God’s Word at the WELS International Youth Rally June 25–28 at the University of Tennessee—Knoxville.

The three-day event, organized by WELS Commission on Youth and Family Ministry, featured two keynote speakers and several optional workshops designed to instruct WELS teens about living with “No Fear” in God’s Word. The theme was based on Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?”

The rally kicked off Wednesday evening and closed Saturday morning with worship services led by John Boggs, director of communications/mission advancement at Winnebago Lutheran Academy, Fond du Lac, Wis., and accompanied by the band Koiné.

The two keynotes, presented by Jon Enter, Hope, West Palm Beach, Fla., and David Panitzke, Shepherd of the Hills, Knoxville, Tenn., were themed “No Fear—The Lord Shelters Me” and “No Fear—The Lord Hears and Teaches Me.”

Rally goers took away important spiritual lessons from the keynotes. Karl Christie, 17, from Trinity, Waukesha, Wis., says, “I thought [Enter’s] keynote today was such an edifying experience, showing us how to put our trust in God in our daily lives.”

Shannon Reicherts, 16, from Prince of Peace, Flower Mound, Tex., says she learned that “God does stuff for a reason; you might not think he’s benefiting you, but he is.”

Noah Giebel, 16, from Bethany, Kenosha, Wis., shares what he took away from Panitzke’s keynote: “We can always learn from biblical heroes of faith, because they went through struggles like us. They sinned and made mistakes, but they overcame their struggles through trust in God.”

Drew Hiltzheimer, 15, from Messiah, Alpharetta, Ga., says, “I realized that no matter what the problem you’re facing in your life, big or small, God will be there for you.”

Boggs says, “This year, with the theme ‘No Fear,’ everything that we’re trying to do is to let [teens] know they are safe in God’s hands. That’s a big thing we want them to know because teenagers hear the other side of it—they hear they’re under attack. They hear that Satan hates them, that there’s temptations and shortfalls. We want them leaving here knowing that God loves them and that God is bigger than their problems.”

The next WELS International Youth Rally will be held in 2016.

Author:
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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

 

Jeremiah 29:11 Part: 11

“ ‘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.’ ”

Joel S. Heckendorf

POW! SHAZAM! KABOOM! ZING! Decades ago, such “exciting” words set the tone for an action-packed episode of the Batman TV series. Similarly, the favorite verse before us today is chock-full of exciting words: PLANS! PROSPER! HOPE! FUTURE!

PLANS!

While spontaneity provides excitement for our daily activities, it is rarely a welcome guest for the long term. We make career plans, retirement plans, and wedding plans. Yet, all too often, we realize the truth of the adage, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” God’s plans are different. They never go awry. And his plans include you. Before he set his creation plan in motion, he planned for you. When sin entered the world, he revealed his plan to send a Savior. When the time had fully come, he executed that plan. Through that Savior, his eternal plans include you.

PROSPER!

Who doesn’t get excited about the word prosper? Fancy cars. Luxurious homes. But what does God mean when he promises prosperity? As sinful human beings we lack something bigger than Porsches and mansions: peace. Until the relationship with our perfect God has been mended, we will always be searching. Through Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we gain what our sin lost. And we soon realize that only when we have peace, do we have prosperity.

HOPE!

A quick online search shows there is no shortage of “hope” quotes. It’s not a coincidence that the book of suffering Job employs the word hope more than any other book. Until we’re in heaven, we’ll always have reason to hope, because we’ll have reason to look for something better. In Jesus, that’s exactly what we get. Through Jesus, we can be assured that the best is yet to come.

FUTURE!

Celebrations are short-lived. Within a day of hoisting the championship trophy, general managers are looking to re-sign contracts for next year’s championship run. We are future-driven people. While we may miss the present blessings in our lives, thank God that he has wired us to be future driven, for the future is with him.

PLANS! PROSPER! HOPE! FUTURE! Exciting words. Everything else in life may be relegated to yadayadayada. Yet it’s the yada in this verse that offers the greatest comfort and care. In the original language of the Bible, yada is the word for “know.” How awesome that your plans, your prosperity, your hope, and your future are not dependent on your feelings or experiences. They are known by God, and there’s no better place to be.


 

Questions to consider

1. Think of a time your plans went awry. How did God reveal the wisdom of his plans?

Answers will vary.

2. Jeremiah wrote to a wayward people of God, yet the Lord promises them prosperity, which literally is the Hebrew word shalom, or peace. How does the context affect your understanding of this promise?

While we may give up on God, he does not give up on us. He constantly seeks to restore the relationship, the shalom, that we have with him through Jesus.

3. “While I breathe, I hope.” Analyze the truth of that ancient proverb.

Perhaps it’s because we live in such a time-centered society, but it seems like we are constantly looking to the future. We wonder, How long will I live? What will I be when I grow up? But we soon learn that all our dreams for the future are not certain. The only thing that is certain is heaven, because “In Christ alone, my hope is found.”

4. Why can looking back be the best way to face the future?

The future will always be unknown. But when we look to the past, not just the past of our lives but the past history of the world as God reveals it in Scripture, we see his loving hand steering all things for our good. Thus, we can have confidence for the future.


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

This is the eleventh 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 9
Issue: September 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

 

Separation Anxiety

Saying good-bye can have a sharp painful edge, but the Lord soothes and comforts us.

Katherine Martin

Neither the sparkly, princess backpack nor my positive pep talk seemed to make a difference. It was the first day of preschool, and my daughter was experiencing separation anxiety.

IT’S NOT EASY TO SAY GOOD-BYE

As she dressed for school, her anxiety showed itself as a barrage of incessant “What if . . . ?” questions. On the way to school, it escalated from quiet whimpering in the back seat into full-fledged crying by the time we arrived. Finally, in culmination, my quiet, complacent daughter resisted entering her preschool classroom with a doorframe death grip. As I pried her tiny fingers off the doorframe and put her into the capable hands of her teacher, my own tears began to flow. Earthly separations can create strong emotional reactions.

As adults, we continue to experience separation anxiety. We may have moved far from family, said good-bye to dear friends, or stood at the grave of a loved one. Although we may no longer whimper, scream, or attempt a doorframe death grip, we may still feel that same desperate apprehension. As we watch loved ones walk out of our earthly lives, this apprehension can often give way to loneliness, grief, and despair.

The elders from the early Christian church in Ephesus knew it too. Paul sent for his friends from Ephesus as he headed to Jerusalem, fully aware that prison and hardships may await him. He sensed he wouldn’t see these dear friends again and wanted to say good-bye and encourage them with the gospel. We read of their tearful good-bye, “They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again” (Acts 20:37,38).

SEPARATIONS ARE ONLY TEMPORARY

But through the tears, Paul offered some powerful words of comfort: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). Paul committed the Ephesian elders to an almighty God who is not limited by distance or location. More important, Paul entrusted the souls of his dear friends to the Lord who had won them an eternal inheritance. Because of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil, Paul, the Ephesian elders, and all who believe now have an eternal inheritance that can never “perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4).

As that lump of anxiety rises within, our Savior comforts us too. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . . In my Father’s house are many rooms; . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you. . . . I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). In spite of the heartache that earthly separations may cause, in Christ, they are only temporary. In Christ, good-byes are only a “see you later.”

After my daughter’s first day of preschool, I was waiting for her with open arms. Even as she grew into a teenager and we now are separated for school across the Atlantic, my position does not change. My arms are still open. How much greater is the unconditional love of our perfect heavenly Father! He stands with open arms offering us the grace of his forgiveness and bandaging our broken spirits with his balm of healing.

And one day, those open arms will usher us into his heavenly mansion where our separation anxiety will be replaced with joy forever.

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

 

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Author: Katherine Martin
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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

 

Three District Presidents elected

Three new district presidents were elected at the 2014 district conventions that were held in June. These men will join the other nine district presidents in encouraging and equipping called workers, helping congregations carry out their ministries, and serving on the Conference of Presidents.

Peter Naumann, who served as president of the Dakota-Montana District for the past 20 years, declined the nomination for election to another two-year term. As he reflects back on his time as district president, he says that his greatest joy has been “meeting the members, serving the congregations of the district, and getting to know the pastors and teachers better.”

On June 10, Douglas Free was elected the new president of the Dakota-Montana District. Free, a 1983 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., currently serves at St. Paul’s, Rapid City, S.D. He has been the first vice president of the Dakota-Montana District since 1994.

How has God prepared Free to serve as district president? He notes, “As God had James write, ‘Everyone should be quick to listen,’ having attended so many meetings, I realize the importance of listening carefully and prayerfully to everything that’s being said. My entire ministry has been spent in the Dakota-Montana District, so the called workers and various ministries are fairly familiar. That will make it easier to work with everyone in our district.”

John Steinbrenner was elected president of the Pacific Northwest District on June 12. Theodore Lambert, who had served as district president for 12 years, is retiring from the ministry. Steinbrenner says, “President Lambert did a great job of maintaining a good attitude during stressful times and situations—a reminder that God is in control and all will work out and that it is a privilege to serve the Lord regardless of our positions as servant leaders. He didn’t let himself get overwhelmed by crises—a good reminder that we are not the ‘saviors’ of the church. Jesus is the Savior of his church. We simply serve faithfully and let God bring the results.”

Steinbrenner graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 1991. He was called to start a church in northwest Boise, Idaho, in 1994 and continues to serve at Cross of Christ today. Steinbrenner has served as the first vice president of the Pacific Northwest District since 2006.

“I am looking forward to working/visiting with the called workers of this Pacific Northwest District and enjoying mutual encouragement with them,” says Steinbrenner. “I am also looking forward to meeting and learning from the other district presidents and our synod’s presidium. I have a deep amount of respect for these leaders and trust I can benefit from their vast experience and Christ-centered guidance.”

Douglas Engelbrecht, president of the Northern Wisconsin District, is also retiring from the ministry. On June 17, the district elected Joel Zank to serve as its new district president. Zank, a 1987 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, has served as pastor at Mount Olive, Appleton, Wis., since 1996. In 2011, Zank began serving as first vice president of the district.

Zank says, “President Engelbrecht truly has the heart of a servant. Anyone who has worked with him knows he lives to serve Jesus. God has gifted him with the ability to be patient and loving even in the most difficult situations. You can’t learn those traits from someone, but you can admire them and pray that God would bless you in the same way. That is my prayer—that God would grant me that same servant’s heart.”

When asked what his advice for the new district presidents would be, Engelbrecht said, “Be extremely patient in dealing with people. Place all of your burdens in the hands of the Lord before you go to sleep each night. Enjoy the opportunity to serve.”

Three new Synodical Council members also were elected at the district conventions, replacing men who chose not to stand for reelection. New members are Mark Bannan, Michigan District; John Fowler, South Atlantic District; and Gary Graf, North Atlantic District.

 

 

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Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 2014

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Using Art to explain the works of God’s hand

St. John’s, Minneapolis, Minn., is using the art in its church to proclaim the gospel—to members and nonmembers alike.

While members can see the stained-glass windows and the biblical messages they display every week, the community gets a special opportunity to view the windows—and more—at the annual Art A Whirl weekend, a northeast Minneapolis community event.

Held each May, Art A Whirl offers area artists an opportunity to display their works. More than 50,000 people come to this three-day festival, held in a neighborhood recognized as a national art district.

St. John is located in the middle of this neighborhood. Five years ago, the congregation decided to participate in the event. “This presents a once-a-year opportunity for curious neighbors to visit us and meet our congregation without the commitment of a worship service, which we know can be a scary prospect for some,” says Kai Grohs, a member at St. John’s.

The congregation started small, just giving tours of the 100-year-old church and the art contained within. Soon, however, the congregation invited WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) artists to display their works as well. The church even became a trolley stop during the event.

Dan Lindner, pastor at St. John’s, says Art A Whirl provides an opportunity to proclaim the gospel message to people who normally wouldn’t come through the church’s doors. “Many who love this event follow the messages of secular humanism,” he says. “They love the idea of making the world a better place, but the world they are thinking of is void of Christ. Churches are a threat to them and their belief system. Yet they love art.”

The tours provided at the church, however, not only point out beautiful art; they also are strategically planned to proclaim Christ’s story. “The artwork throughout the sanctuary points to Christ and his work of redemption,” says Lindner. “While art displays the work of man, St. John’s uses this event to explain the work of God’s hand.”

This year the congregation featured five WELS/ELS artists along with its building tour. For the first time, it also added live music by the Lutheran Ceili Orchestra. A special concert and worship service in which WELS artist Jason Jaspersen created sand art while the Lutheran Ceili Orchestra played even captured the attention of the local media. Between 200 and 250 people visited the church that weekend, not including those who came to the special concert and worship service.

“Overall Art A Whirl is an opportunity for us to honor God-given talents within our church community, reach out to the community immediately outside our doors, and ultimately witness our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to neighbors and strangers alike,” says Grohs.

 

Timothy Spaude is pastor at St. Jacobi, Greenfield, Wisconsin.

 

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Issue: September 2014

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Merger offers opportunities for outreach

Ten years after it began through a merger of two congregations, Crown of Life, West St. Paul, merged again—this time with Beautiful Savior, Eagan, Minn.—all in an effort to tell more people about their Savior.

In its heyday, Beautiful Savior, the only WELS church in Eagan, was gaining many young families and had more than one hundred in church on Sunday. But around 2003, the congregation began struggling. “We’ve had numerous families that lived in Eagan attend Beautiful Savior,” says Dan Plath, principal at Crown of Life Lutheran School. “But once the children became school-aged, [families] would leave the congregation and go to a church with a school”—oftentimes Crown of Life. By 2011, the congregation had dwindled to less than 40 members.

When Beautiful Savior’s pastor retired in 2011, the congregation was thinking about closing because it was having difficulty supporting a full-time pastor. The Minnesota District President met with area pastors in 2012 to look for solutions so WELS could keep a presence in this city, the fifth largest in Minnesota.

“Our long-range planning committee was already looking into different possibilities, and one possibility of outreach that we identified was Eagan,” says Mark Kom, pastor at Crown of Life. “So we began serving the vacancy there with the intention of merging and having Eagan be our special mission outreach.”

In 2013, the two congregations merged and became one church with two campuses. The Board for Home Missions provided funding to Crown of Life so it could call a third pastor to focus on outreach in Eagan. Zachary Pudlo, a 2013 Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduate, was assigned to the congregation to work with Kom and Richard Schwerin.

Now the congregation is working to spread the Word in Eagan. Involvement in community events—including having a booth at the weekly farmer’s market—is making the church more recognizable in the neighborhood. Having a school on the West St. Paul campus 11 miles away also provides opportunities to reach young families. “The hope is that we can gather a lot more students,” says Plath, “and hopefully do some more things educationally on the Eagan campus that will draw people in.”

Members and non-members also have varied worship opportunities each week with five different services offered between the two campuses. “Whether you want contemporary, traditional, small group, large group, you have your variety for people who want a different atmosphere,” says Kom.

The merger has given members another way to be involved in the church’s ministry. “What’s been interesting has been watching people and their involvement and the excitement level that you see,” says Plath, who has been at Crown of Life for both mergers. “It’s been exciting to see individuals grow in their faith in that matter.”

Says Kom, “We at Crown of Life are grateful . . . that we can reach out in a different part of our community with the help and prayers and funding of our synod so that we can reach more souls for Christ. It means a lot to us, and we hope to be able to pay it forward in the future so we can help the next congregation that wants to try something like this.”

 

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Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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New opportunities for Hmong outreach

Hmong ministry continues to thrive in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area since Pastor Loren Steele began outreach to the Hmong immigrants there in 1986. Pheng Moua, one of the first Hmong men to become a WELS pastor, has been serving Immanuel Hmong, a 200-plus member congregation in St. Paul, since his ministry began in 1999. Several members of his congregation also have trained for the ministry and are serving Hmong congregations throughout the United States.

Recently two new opportunities for Hmong outreach have surfaced in the area. The first is in Brooklyn Park, a northwest suburb of Minneapolis with a Hmong population of around 7,500. Brooklyn Lutheran, the WELS church in Brooklyn Park, has contact with Hmong residents through its community gardens, which according to Brooklyn’s pastor Curtis Holub “ended up being pretty much used by the Hmong.”

Enter Josiah Vang, a member at Moua’s church who went through the Pastoral Studies Institute to become a WELS pastor. When he graduated in 2013, the Board for Home Missions authorized a new Hmong ministry to begin in Brooklyn Park, using Brooklyn as its base.

Holub says work has been slow in gathering new Hmong members, but the congregation has been holding Bible studies and working toward getting enough people together to start offering worship in the Hmong language.

Hmong ministry isn’t the only international ministry at Brooklyn. The congregation also reaches out to a large Liberian population, and Holub and other area pastors have been working with a Laotian pastor from another denomination who is taking courses in WELS doctrine. The congregation’s preschool has 50 students from 15 different nations. “My dream for Brooklyn Lutheran . . . ultimately is that this would be a very nice congregation with Caucasians, Laotians, Hmong all worshiping together,” he says.

Six miles away, a group of 27 Hmong worship weekly at Holy Trinity, New Hope, Minn. The extended family was referred to WELS by Bounkeo Lor, a Hmong WELS pastor in Kansas City, Kan., who grew up with the family’s leader, La Xiong, in Thailand.

Dennis Klatt, pastor at Holy Trinity, began going through a Bible information class and English studies with Xiong in February 2012. Soon the rest of his family joined in. They began attending worship weekly. “It was a really exciting journey to go through and to see them grow,” says Klatt.

Later that year, Xiong began leading a Hmong-language worship service once a month, in which he would preach one of Klatt’s sermons. Xiong worked through the sermon with Lor in Hmong, while Moua helped with translating the liturgy and prayers.

On Palm Sunday 2014, Klatt baptized 13 and confirmed 10 from that extended family. Klatt says the congregation is working hard to integrate the group into congregational life.

Now Xiong is studying to be a pastor through the Pastoral Studies Institute, working with area pastors like Klatt and Vang. This is on top of his full-time job and caring for his eight children. Says Klatt, “La is just on fire to do outreach. . . . His heart bleeds for those involved in Shamanism [Hmong pagan religion]. He wants to be able to continue to have opportunities to reach them.”

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Author:
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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You are a tree planted in Christ

You are a tree planted in Christ

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Psalm 1:1-3

Norman F. Burger Jr.

The oldest known living tree, known as “Old Tjikko,” is a 16-foot-tall Norway spruce found at an elevation of 2,985 feet in the Dalarna province of Sweden. Researchers estimate that it has been growing for 9,550 years. Imagine what this tree has weathered over the past 90 centuries!

WEATHERING THE STORMS THROUGH CHRIST

What are you trying to weather these days? Is it a difficult relationship? Is it stress from work or school? Is it the loss of a loved one that has left you feeling adrift and alone? Is it a chronic health problem that causes you constant pain? Is it too little income and too many bills that has you constantly worried? Is it a temptation that has been getting the best of you? Is it pressure to compromise what you believe?

Will you be able to weather what you are facing? Before you answer, “I don’t know. That’s what scares me!” listen to what God says about the person who trusts in Jesus: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” A tree on the bank of a stream always has the vital water it needs.  Like that tree, you and I always have everything we need in Christ.

Life can blast us with the heat of troubles and trials. We can place ourselves under a scorching sun of guilt from our sins. We can be in a drought of not enough work or money or support from people in our lives. But Jesus is with us. His cross, where we see how much God loves us, how committed he is to us, and how forgiven we really are since God’s Son himself paid for our sins, gives us comfort and peace. His empty tomb, where we see his power over death not only for himself but also for us, gives us hope when there is none anywhere else. Through our connection to him in our baptism he gives us strength to continue to trust in him, to bear our crosses without complaining, to stand firm in our faith, and to do his will even when it is not easy.

KEEPING ROOTED IN YOUR FAITH

Keep that connection to Jesus strong. Though church attendance is declining and respect for the power and the authority of God’s Word is eroding in America, make God’s Word your delight. Through the gospel God will continue to stand firm. Hear it often, read it daily, and think about it frequently during your day for its flawless guidance and unfailing comfort. Rely on the gospel proclaimed in Word and sacrament to keep the roots of your faith sunk deep in the grace of God that is yours in Jesus Christ.

For you are a tree planted in Christ, the one who gives living water (John 4:10-14).Through him you will weather all the storms and remain fruitful in a life of faith that gives him glory. Through him you will outlive even “Old Tjikko,” for you will live forever.

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 9
Issue: September 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

 

Whatever happened to mission festivals?

Whatever happened to mission festivals?

Mark G. Schroeder

Missions festivals. Some would say they are quaint relics of a bygone era. I’m old enough to remember when congregations throughout the synod considered the fall mission festival one of the highlights of the church year. I remember as a child traveling two hundred miles over pre-interstate roads to my grandparents’ congregation in rural Minnesota, just to be a part of the annual mission festival. The entire day was set aside to emphasize the importance of mission work—a special reminder that the congregation had both the opportunity and the privilege to think beyond itself, to consider the fields ripe for God’s harvest, to join together with fellow Christians to proclaim the gospel in places throughout North America and around the world.

Normal services with a mission emphasis were held in the morning. Following the service was the kind of outdoor potluck feast that no one can do better than Lutherans. There were tickets for soda and ice cream and activities for the kids. Then came the highlight of the day—the special mission-themed service in mid-afternoon with the sermon delivered by a special guest preacher, often a missionary, who told riveting tales of how the gospel was bringing life and light to a dying and dark world. The congregation listened with rapt attention, sang “Hark the Voice of Jesus Crying” with sanctified zeal, and prayed for God to bless mission efforts in the way that only he can.

Whatever happened to those old-fashioned mission festivals? There may still be a few, but they are becoming rarer.

I understand that many more activities and forms of entertainment compete for our attention today than they did generations ago. I am aware that with advances in communication our members have much more information available to them on a daily basis than they had in the past. I realize that congregations may have many more financial commitments today than they did 50 years ago. So, in a way, the disappearance of the old-fashioned mission festival is understandable. But should we simply concede that such events have no place in our modern, busy world?

It’s true that many WELS congregations still set aside at least one Sunday each year for a special mission emphasis. Mission zeal remains alive and well in our congregations, fueled by the precious gospel that we hear each Sunday. Most, if not all, of our congregations regard the support for mission efforts in the way that the first congregation I served did by labeling the line item for missions in its budget “Our Wider Privileges.” WELS gatherings, such as the annual convention of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society and synod and district conventions, focus on the work that we are doing together in our mission fields. If there is one thing that all WELS members can agree on, it’s that missions are vital. Supporting them is a joy.

Maybe it’s time to capitalize on our inherent love for missions by considering a throwback to an earlier era. Maybe we can put the festival back into our efforts to highlight the importance of missions, recognizing that mission work is not just something to support but a privilege to celebrate. It’s true that there may be other ways to accomplish this, and many congregations are doing those things. But it’s more than just nostalgia that leads me to long for another good old-fashioned mission festival. It’s a desire to see mission work given the special attention it deserves.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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: Dedication to Michael and angels?

Light for our path

Why do we have a church service dedicated to Michael and all the angels? Shouldn’t we be focusing on Jesus Christ in worship?

James F. Pope

Questions about worship often involve style and personal preference. Your questions, though, address the substance of Christian worship. Answering your questions means taking a look at the past and reexamining the purpose of worship.

A CHURCH CALENDAR CRAFTED IN FREEDOM

As New Testament followers of the Lord, it is probably difficult for us to imagine just how rigid the worship life of Old Testament believers was. From Moses’ time on, God prescribed when and how his people were to worship him. There were three annual, major festivals and a weekly Sabbath to observe. Old Testament worshipers did not have the leeway to tweak their worship calendar; God set it for them.

But all that changed on Good Friday. The tearing of the temple curtain ended all the Old Testament regulations regarding worship and ushered in a new era of freedom for the worship life of God’s people. That was a freedom God wanted preserved. When the Christians in Colosse experienced attacks on that freedom, God inspired Paul to write them: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:16,17).

In years following, Christians exercised their freedom by constructing a church calendar that highlighted significant events in the life of our Savior and also emphasized important elements of the Christian life. The 16th-century reformers of the church retained much of that church calendar, without attempting to impose its use on all churches. The church calendar in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal reflects the ancient calendar: highlighting the Sundays of the year and major festivals as well as 33 minor festivals—“St. Michael and All Angels” being one of them. Once again, congregations have freedom to observe or not to observe those minor festivals. If they do observe them, then proper focus certainly needs to be maintained.

WORSHIP THAT ALWAYS CENTERS ON CHRIST

Toward the end of the book of Revelation, the apostle John wrote that he “fell down to worship at the feet of the angel” who had been showing him wonderful things (Revelation 22:8). The angel said, “Do not do it! . . . Worship God!” (Revelation 22:9). We also know that it would be idolatrous to direct our worship to anyone or anything other than God. So, in a worship service at the minor festival of St. Michael and All Angels, the focus needs to be on God. Such a service can remind worshipers that angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14), but the focus needs to be on Jesus, the LORD of hosts and commander of the heavenly armies.

Similarly, observing other minor festivals that recognize the apostles can be ways to “remember your leaders” (Hebrews 13:7), but we are to “fix [our] thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1).

The focus in all our worship services needs to be on God. It is his Word, after all, that we come to hear. It is his Holy Supper that we come to receive. It is his message of forgiveness that we need and for which we sing his praise. For worship, whether major festivals or minor festivals, it’s all about God.

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 9
Issue: September 2014

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

 

God holds our hands

God holds our hand

God promises to take hold of our hand. What comfort we find in his promise.

Eric S. Hartzell

A long time ago the Beatles crooned the refrain, “I want to hold your hand.” Today it seems pretty tepid and tame that two people who love each other would still want to hold hands. That doesn’t seem so exciting in our world that has everything before marriage and little after. A song about holding hands wouldn’t sell many downloads or albums today.

PEOPLE STILL HOLD HANDS

You still can see handholding though. You might notice Grandma and Grandpa holding hands in the assisted living home. You might think to yourself, “Aw, isn’t that nice! Look, they still love each other, and they still hold hands!” How quaint!

You can see handholding on the first day of school when the older brother takes his younger sister’s hand and walks with her through the school doors. She keeps looking up at him. It’s at that time that an older brother might realize that he really does love that little sister of his. Never mind the spats they have when she insists on tagging along after him at the house.

You can see a pastor hold the hand of that dear widow at her death bed. He feels like holding her hand and maybe pats it once in a while with his other hand.

And, of course, you see mothers holding the hands of their children at busy traffic intersections.

Our Father in heaven likes to hold hands. If you look, you’ll see him do it. If you listen, you will hear him say it: “I will take hold of your hand” (Isaiah 42:6). You also will hear Asaph in Psalm 73 say to this God who likes to hold hands, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (vv. 23,24).

GOD’S GRIP IS STRONG

Go back and look at the mother with her child at the busy intersection. Look at how she holds the hand of her youngster. As she watches the cars hurrying by, she doesn’t hold out her hand and say, “Here, hang on to Mommy’s finger.” She says, “Give me your hand!” Then she clamps down on that hand with all her parental love and protection. When they go across the busy intersection, it isn’t going to be the child hanging on to Mom’s hand. It is going to be Mom hanging on to her child’s hand.

It is like that when our God says, “I will take hold of your hand.” We notice with Asaph that it is, “You hold me by my right hand” (emphasis added). What a great thing to know in times of trouble and weakness that being safe isn’t dependent on our grip. Being safe is dependent on God’s grip . . . and it is very strong. In fact, nothing in the world can pry his fingers loose as they hold onto our hands.

We notice the scars on his dear hands. He got those scars holding on to our hands. Yes, he did! Because he was holding on to our hands, he got the wounds to his hands. He proved how tightly he was hanging on to our hands when he offered those same hands to the soldier with the mallet that day at his cross. That Good Friday Jesus took us by the hands at the intersection of his cross and God’s righteous judgment and walked us across that straight walkway. It wasn’t because of clever footwork on our part that we avoided the oncoming semi-truck of our impending judgment. We made it safely across that day because Jesus held our hands. It was just as he said: “I will take hold of your hand.”

When David was in the wilderness of Ziph running scared from King Saul, dodging this way and that to escape his relentless pursuer, he may have thought what Asaph wrote, “My feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold” (Psalm 73:2). His perception was that his hand had almost slipped too. Perhaps he was thinking to himself, “How am I ever going to escape? How is life ever going to be right for me again?” But that same Psalm 73 that speaks about our feet slipping also says that God is holding us by our right hands.

David’s friend Jonathan knew this. He went looking for his friend David and found him in his wilderness of Ziph. “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). How did Jonathan do it? Did he shout from the curb, “Just hang on, David”? David was weak and tired. He couldn’t hang on. Or did Jonathan say what Isaiah said, “David, your God says, ‘I will take hold of your hand!”? That’s where the comfort and encouragement lies for all of us on our bad and harried days. Our God says, “I will take hold of your hand.”

THE THRILL OF HOLDING HANDS

People who love each other thrill when they hold hands. It still happens today. Thank God it does! The two who love each other remember when they had the courage on that date long in the past to reach for each other’s hand. They didn’t know how it would be received that first time. They furtively reached for that dear hand. It was maybe clumsy too. They could hear their hearts pounding in their ears. And joy of all joys! The hand they reached for didn’t pull away. It actually squeezed back!

If you think this reminiscence is you squeezing God’s hand, think again. This emotion and feeling—and love!—are his. He remembers that first time. He who has written your name on the palm of his hands remembers. He is the one who thrills to hold your hand—and have you squeeze his hand in return. He loves you so! When he says, “I will take hold of your hand,” he isn’t talking about a thoughtless action. Reaching for your hand and grasping it isn’t something God does with no emotion. He does it because he loves you. He likes to hold your hand. And he especially likes it when he knows you love to hold his hand too!

Think for a moment about the one holding your hand. Think who he is. Look up! It will make you smile. In times of trouble it can even make you laugh. What could possibly make you sad and afraid then? There he is! There’s your God! And he has told you once again, “I will take hold of your hand!”

And you say with your smile and your heart, “You hold me by my right hand!”

Eric Hartzell is pastor at Cross and Crown, Georgetown, Texas.

 

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Author: Eric S. Hartzell
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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 4

If it’s by grace, why do we work?

The subtle work of reforming

Tim H. Gumm

“What must I do to be saved?” 

That’s the question the jailor of Philippi, who was about to take his own life, asked (Acts 16:30). Because God “has . . . set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), the jailor understood that there is an afterlife; his conscience, roused by the near-death experience, told him he wasn’t ready for it. So he asked the question.

All humankind, if not with the lips then in the secret heart, has asked the same question. Praise God that he has not kept the answer a mystery.

DO THIS AND LIVE?

An expert in the law put the question to Jesus like this: “ ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ [Jesus] replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered: ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” ’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live’ ” (Luke 10:25-28).

Here is the answer for searching souls hungry for heaven: Obey God’s law. And to avoid any confusion over the necessary degree of obedience, the Lord expounded through his inspired writer: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Perfect obedience to all of God’s commands: that’s the answer. “Do this and you will live.”

While it is good news to know the answer, the answer is not good news. It only takes a moment of honest self-reflection in the mirror of God’s law to realize that we can’t even come close to meeting his demands. Falling far short of perfection, our lives are an endless record of rebellion and sin. What is more, our nature is so corrupt that we’re incapable of change. All pride and self-confidence is destroyed as the law declares and convinces us that we simply cannot do a thing to earn salvation.

After a lifetime of falling short, one might hope simply to go out of existence. God’s law, however, demands that the lawbreaker be punished in “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Not annihilation, and certainly not life in heaven, but an unending, torturous death in hell. Far from saving us, the law damns us. It creates a despair that leads the lost sinner to beg, “Please, God, have mercy.”

GOD HAS HAD MERCY

That jailor pleaded, “What must I do to be saved?” and there came a different answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31). Why? Because in his boundless and undeserved love for desperate and condemned sinners, God sent his Son in human flesh to be our substitute under his law. That impossible law with its impossible demands no longer hangs over us because our divine Stand-in kept that law perfectly in our place. His perfect record of obedience has become our perfect record. And the condemnation of the law on our sorry lives does not hang over us either. Christ took our offenses and guilt on himself and then died the death of the damned in our place. The demands of the law and the punishment due the lawbreaker have been fully satisfied for us in Christ.

What the law says is true: There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. But the sweet message of the gospel is also true: There is nothing we have to do, for Christ our Savior has done it all. Is it unreasonable that this be done for sinners? Of course it is, but it is truth nonetheless. “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” (Ephesians 2:8,9). Blessed, glorious truth!

STILL NOT BY WORKS

It’s hard to imagine, then, that any Christian who already has salvation would still try to earn salvation. Wouldn’t that nullify the gift? And yet, it happens.

You see, even though Jesus has given us complete rest from the law, there is something in each of us that urges us to roll up our sleeves and get to work so God can reward us. It’s the natural religion found in every heart and mind. Sadly it loathes God’s grace; discards it as too easy; and, deeply offended, rejects the absolute need for that grace. Contrary to Scripture, it maintains that something can still be done—in fact, must be done—to win God’s favor.

When this faulty religion makes its way into Christian communities, the one who has already set us free from the law is presented, ironically, not so much as Savior, but as a teacher who has more laws for us. His gospel message of “Done!” is subtly replaced by the old, worn-out “Do!” The assurance of salvation is sought not so much in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ but in the life of the good Christian who obeys the rules. “If you really are saved,” it says, “then you’ll look saved. If you really are a Christian, you’ll reform and change and follow these guidelines and meet this standard for the Christian life.”

That teaching not only destroys the gospel’s sweet proclamation that there is nothing we have to do; it also destroys the law’s proclamation that there is nothing we can do. To maintain that the Christian life somehow completes God grace or makes it more certain undermines the very idea and teaching of grace. In addition, it requires God’s people to ask the question that grace already has made null and void: “What must I do to be saved?”

To those who insist on working but will forever come up short, St. Paul wrote: “Through [Jesus] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:2). Christians aren’t struggling and striving for a state of grace. They’re not in a long and uncertain process of achieving it. They stand in grace—forgiven, at peace with God, saved eternally through Christ alone—even in those moments when their words and actions may not be perfect.

Yet in this amazing grace of God is a power for the Christian that cannot be found in any law. It’s the power behind the overwhelming desire to live for God, to please him with holy words and loving actions, to freely serve and joyfully work for him, to look for one more way and then another to somehow glorify him by our existence. Grace moves us not because we’re being coerced by the law or because we want to earn something from God, but because we’ve been freed from the law and saved by his grace alone.

And now, to live for him . . . in that grace—there’s no better way to live.

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

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

 

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Author: Tim H. Gumm
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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: Hochmuth

Confessions of faith

An amazing story of one woman’s journey from Mormonism to Lutheranism.

Ann Ponath

“In his heart, a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Betty Hochmuth loves this verse, but she’s also lived this verse in an amazing way. This former Mormon’s story includes a pair of Lutheran doctors, a determined young man from Minnesota, and some china. But perhaps it’s best to start at the beginning.

Betty was born in Provo, Utah, the fifth of 13 children. “Most of us were a year apart; Mom had ten kids under the age of ten!” she says.

Betty’s dad came from a devout Mormon family; her mom converted to Mormonism before their wedding. “[My dad’s] great-uncle was the seventh prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Joseph Smith, who started the church, was the first prophet,” says Betty. Betty’s great-great uncle was the last prophet to practice polygamy, and he received the revelation prohibiting coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco use.

Betty grew up as a strict Mormon in Colorado. “We attended church every Sunday for three hours, and we were very involved in church activities during the week,” she says. “Mormonism is more of a culture than a religion. Most everything we did—sports, dances, friends, campouts, parties—we did with members of our congregation. I believed I belonged to the one true church. I was taught that other religions had some truths, but that the Mormon church was the only church established by Jesus Christ.”

When she was 21, Betty accepted a job as a New York nanny, but then was advised by her family not to go. That same night, Betty attended a meeting at her church. “Never in a church bulletin would there be an advertisement for employment, but that night, on the back of my bulletin, was an ad—a family who lived 30 minutes away looking for a nanny. . . . I interviewed with the family a couple of days later and they offered me the job.”

She continues, “As I got to know this family, our conversations often turned to religion. [They] were Lutheran, and they always had questions about my beliefs as a Mormon. At that time, I felt very strongly that God had put me with them so I might convert them to Mormonism.”

Wendy and Paul, Betty’s new employers, hailed from the Midwest, and a few months later, they asked Betty if she’d like to vacation with them in Minnesota. “Toward the end of the week, my employer’s grandmother was hospitalized. I went to the hospital with her and was introduced to her aunt [Chloe], uncle, and cousin. The next day, Wendy took me to her grandmother’s house. They were getting ready for an estate sale, and I noticed a box of china. . . . Wendy told me she was sure that her Aunt Chloe would give me the china. I said that wasn’t necessary; I just thought it was pretty. About a month after we returned to Colorado, a package arrived for me. When I opened it, I found the china.

Wendy and Paul returned to Minnesota twice a year to visit their family. When they planned a three-week sabbatical to Europe, they left their kids in Minnesota with their grandparents. Betty went to Minnesota with the kids.

“I took care of the kids during the week, but Wendy and Paul wanted me to have some fun on the weekends,” she says. “They approached Wendy’s cousin Karl [a brother to the one she met earlier] and asked him if he would be willing to take me on a date. . . . We dated for two weeks. . . . He asked that I call him when I got home. At the end of our conversation, he asked me to marry him.”

Betty flew back to Minnesota two weeks later so Karl could propose in person. “During those two weeks, I had to tell my family that I had met someone in Minnesota, we were getting married, and he happened to be the son of a Lutheran pastor,” she says.

“The time leading up to our wedding was probably the most stressful time of my life,” says Betty. “My family and friends were obviously not in favor of me marrying outside of the Mormon church. I received daily visits and phone calls from them asking me to reconsider.”

But six months later they were married. Betty’s family came to the wedding. “They were not happy, but they were there,” says Betty.

At first, Betty chose to go to church with Karl. “It was a comfortable place for me to be. My father-in-law was our pastor, and I was welcomed with open arms by the entire congregation.” Still, she always thought that she would eventually convert Karl to Mormonism. “When Karl would point to something in the Bible that went against what I had been taught, I questioned what he was saying. I had been taught that the Bible had been translated too many times and contained many imperfections.” But as Betty continued to attend church with Karl, “my heart began to open a little more. I loved hearing Bible stories and was touched by many verses that I would hear,” she says.

Their first baby was born about a year after they were married—and baptized two weeks later. “That day was a turning point for me. I was the only one that stood up at our son’s baptism that was not a Lutheran,” says Betty. “I began to question what I had just done, why I had my baby boy baptized into a church I felt I didn’t know enough about. I asked my father-in-law that week if I could start taking classes. I was baptized about six months after our son.”

More than anything, Betty says she appreciates knowing Jesus as her Savior. “I was raised to believe that it was through my good works that I would be saved,” she says. “I worked as hard as I possibly could to achieve my place in heaven. Now I know that Christ did it all for me. There is no way that I could ever work hard enough to pay him back. . . . Every day I thank God for this knowledge and for the path he put me on.”

Now Betty shares her story through group presentations so others can understand better how to reach out to Mormons. She and her husband also are involved with Truth in Love Ministry (www.tilm.org), an organization of WELS believers that shares Christ with Mormons and equips other Christians to do the same. “For most Mormons, their mission is where they first have any real interaction with a Christian,” she says. “When the majority of those Christians won’t even talk to them, it sends a pretty strong message. But if you invite them in and share your faith with them, God can do amazing things!”

Betty loves “any verse that speaks about being saved in Jesus Christ,” but she keeps going back to Proverbs 16:9. “I thought all of my life that I would grow up to marry a Mormon man, that I would have lots of children, and that we would live our Mormon life. When I look back at how everything worked out, it is incredible to see how God was directing every single step I took. What an amazing path he laid out for me!”

Ann Ponath is a member at Christ, North St. Paul, Minnesota.

 

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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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

 

No man ever spoke like this man Part: 1

No man ever spoke like this man

Great moral teacher or Savior? Jesus’ claims about himself make him more than a moral teacher. 

Theodore J. Hartwig

C. S. Lewis, the British teacher at Oxford and Cambridge, was a prominent defender of the Christian faith. He first came to the attention of Americans with the publication of his satirical Screwtape Letters in 1942. The book featured letters of a senior devil, Screwtape, giving advice to his protégé, Wormword, on proper methods for encouraging sin and undermining Christian faith.

In another work, Mere Christianity, Lewis makes a case that Jesus was exactly who he said he was and could be no other. In its best known passage he writes:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I am ready to accept Jesus as a really great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would rather be a lunatic—or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at him and call him a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him God and Lord. But let us not come with any patronising [sic] nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not let that open to us. In the end, to receive Jesus as nothing more than a great moral teacher is to reject Him as your Savior and Lord; it is to receive a Jesus of your own devising and imagination. He did not just come to teach you and improve you, but to save you from your sins (p. 45).

Lewis’s words ring with the same stark either-or message of Jesus. “He who is not with me,” Jesus declared, “is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). Jesus makes a startling claim. So Lewis observed that Jesus is not just a man who is merely a great teacher because he would not say the sort of things Jesus said.

We note that also in what people thought of Jesus. “The crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28,29). Even the palace officers confirmed this. The chief priests and Pharisees had sent them to arrest Jesus in the temple. But they returned from their assignment without Jesus and told the men who sent them: “No one ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46 ESV)!

Let’s explore what Jesus said about himself and discover that he is more than a great human teacher. He is God and Lord. Unbelievers and naysayers, to be sure, have written off whatever words they think Jesus actually spoke. They conclude that those words are simply garbled recollections or inventions added by his followers 50 to 100 years later. They become victims of their own human intellect and their scientific method of Bible dissection. But the words Jesus spoke of himself no other great religious teacher in all history ever spoke.

Indeed, no man ever spoke like this man.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Gospel of St. John records seven extraordinary claims Jesus makes about himself. They are known as the “I Am’s.”

Among the most beloved are his words to Martha at her brother Lazarus’s death. Jesus claims he is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).

Another is the statement spoken to his disciples just before his suffering and death. They were troubled and confused. How could they follow him once he was gone? Jesus assured them, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

It’s a mind-boggling claim, not at all popular in our religiously permissive society. When Jesus describes himself as the way, bear in mind that his way toward eternal life is different from every other. All others ways strive to reach eternal life by natural human thought and wisdom. They all rely, in one way or another, on human effort. But other ways will be not only misleading but illusory. When Jesus is the way, then the means of reaching its goal is absolutely certain. It rests on nothing human but solely on what Jesus has done.

Jesus next describes himself as the truth. Remember the conversation between Jesus and Pilate. When Pilate asked whether Jesus was a king, he answered: “My kingdom is not of this world. . . . For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” To which Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:36-38). The quest for truth has been ceaseless. From antiquity to the present, people have sought to find the truth. But they do not find it outside of Jesus. He is the eternal Word of God—the truth—who became a humanbeing. For us and our salvation he suffered on the cross, died, and on the third day rose from death to assure his followers of their resurrection and eternal life.

Finally, Jesus describes himself as the life. What first comes to mind are Jesus’ words that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). At this place, however, Jesus seems to speak about the life of his followers in this present world. At another place, Jesus added this meaningful postscript to the truth: “[It] will set you free” (John 8:32). Truth creates life that is freely eager and ready to serve. It’s a new life within. The truth of Jesus fills the hearts of his followers not only with gratitude for setting them free from sin but also with hope of eternal life. Then the heart has a glorious freedom of willing obedience to the Savior’s commands. Because he lives in believers, they strive to live like him.

Because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, it must follow that no one comes to the Father except through him. The way of Jesus is unique, discounting all human effort to reach its destination. The truth of Jesus is unique, proclaiming a message that is not a human invention but a proclamation of God—the gospel. The life of Jesus is unique in its power to change natural, self-centered human hearts to be different and other-centered. Because Jesus is this way, this truth, and this life, it must follow that no one comes to his Father except through him.

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

This is the first article in a four-part series about how Jesus describes himself.

 

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Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 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

 

And then there were two

And then there were two

Much of campus ministry starts one-on-one—but can often lead to more.

Glenn L. Schwanke 

It’s quiet as I write this. Yet, maybe I’m just noticing it more, because I just returned from our district convention. There I joined hundreds of fellow WELS members in worship, in work, and in fellowship. The singing reminded me that Garrison Keillor is right. Lutherans love to sing, and if given the chance we’ll do it in rousing four-part harmony, even when the music isn’t printed in the bulletin. The rafters shook from our singing.

But then I came back to Houghton, Michigan. We don’t have hundreds in worship on a Sunday. Most Sundays it’s not even one hundred. The rafters don’t shake quite so much.

On top of that, it’s now summer break. A few students stick around for classes, but it’s only a trickle compared to the flood of students come fall.

Even in fall, the lion’s share of my campus ministry will be quiet. By that I mean it’s not flashy. It doesn’t generate a lot of media buzz. Most of my ministry is not done in front of hundreds or even dozens. Most of my campus ministry is one-on-one. It’s talking to a student over a cup of coffee in a cafeteria on campus or in a restaurant downtown. It’s counseling a student in my office. It’s sharing a Bible and a brief witness with an Islamic student who has heard a bit about Christianity and has some questions.

Or it’s meeting Zhiquiang Zhao for the first time, just days after he arrived in the United States from his homeland of China. On his first Sunday here in the States, Zhao walked down the street from student housing and wandered into our church building to look around. I noticed him visiting with a member. I introduced myself and invited him to stay for Bible study. He did, and then he stayed for worship. But it wasn’t enough. Like so many other students, Zhao was hungry to learn more. A Bible information class was what he needed.

So I invited him to start classes—that very week. But others who were already in class were at an advanced level, so Zhao would get lost. Then, too, it was a challenge to fit everyone’s schedules together. So we began, just the two of us. One-on-one.

Is that good stewardship of my time? Philip the evangelist didn’t argue with the angel who instructed him to “go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” And when God’s Spirit pointed Philip to the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch, Philip didn’t blurt out, “What, all this trouble just for one?” He shared the good news of Jesus, and the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized (Acts 8:26-39). Today, there’s an Ethiopian Orthodox church that boasts some 45 million members, and that church body claims the Ethiopian eunuch as its founder. So maybe one-on-one campus ministry can lead to something more!

It’s still quiet in Houghton right now. I’m getting ready for my next class with Zhao. Here he comes. He is excited. He says, “My friend Zhen would like to join us. Is that okay?” A few moments later, in she comes. Introductions are shared. Zhen tells me a little bit about herself and how much she loves Bible stories. She’s already heard a few, but there are so many more to be shared, including the most important story of all—the story of God’s love in Christ.

And then there were two.

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 9
Issue: September 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