Posts

A look back: Part 9

In the 1990s, WELS acknowledged that its members were not exempt from the hurts and problems suffered by the world.

Mark E. Braun

The anonymous author of the second-century Letter to Diognetus wrote: “The soul is in the body but is not of the body. Christians are in the world but not of the world.”

Yet Christians have never been entirely free of their surroundings. WELS long ceased being separated from its American culture by foreign tongue or immigrant isolation. As the 20th century drew to a close, the hurts and problems suffered by the world seemed increasingly to afflict WELS members too.

The world, as Wordsworth put it, is too much with us. Or maybe it was always so, but in the 1990s we could finally admit it.

DRUG AND ALCOHOL ADDICTION 

In June 1990, Northwestern Lutheran (NL) writer Carleton Toppe insisted that the Bible treats excessive use of alcohol as something one can control. “God does not consider the alcoholic a victim of disease.” A spirited reply came from John Cook, recovering alcoholic and counselor. Though alcohol abuse is a sin, a Christian alcoholic “may be truly repentant and may desire to amend his sinful life.” Alcoholism is “the inability to control the amount of alcohol consumed,” recognized by many experts as “a fatal disease.”

This frank exchange opened a floodgate. The addictive world seemed to have “its own logic, language, and rules,” Phil Merten, hospital and prison chaplain, explained. Addicts live lives “dominated by self-hatred, resentment, and fear,” powerless to quit because they have become “physically, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt.”

Hardest to accept was that the alcoholics and drug abusers Merten described were all members of WELS congregations. On any given Sunday, one-fourth of a pastor’s audience “may not be able to function effectively in the body of Christ due to their own addiction or that of a loved one.”

The church, one addict figured, was probably like the rest of the world, hoping to ignore the problem. “I think there are a lot of people like me in the church, and that’s the first place they should go to get help; but they’re afraid they’ll be rejected.”

Most painful were the confessions of a former pastor. Preparing for the ministry, he spent his college Friday nights trying to be a “real man” who could survive a pilgrimage to the local bars and down a beer at every stop. Finishing seminary and receiving a call, he resolved to quit drinking, but as duties and stress increased, his alcoholism returned. He lost his family and his ministry, yet God used other Christians to restore him. Today he drinks only communion wine. The cup that once enslaved him now sets him free.

“I’m finding out what power Jesus has to dismantle this trap,” Merten wrote. One recovering alcoholic rejoiced that “the love and acceptance God has for me, the love of Jesus dying on the cross” broke through the pain and “emotionlessness” his addiction caused.

OTHER SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Soon others acknowledged that their troubles had also entered through the church door. An incest survivor recalled the confusion she felt because her father and mother took her to church, even while she was being abused by her father and an uncle. “I’d think I wasn’t worthy.” God “only watches over the important people,” she thought, and she never felt important.

Evangelical and conservative Christians often fail to see that “a homosexual may not be a gay libber.” She may be the housewife who heads the church altar guild or the teenage boy who ushers you to your pew. “Condemn the sin of homosexuality. But don’t condemn the repentant sinner,” advised one man who changed his way of life.

The October 1996 NL cover featured a young woman cowering in a corner of her kitchen. In the cover article, a county prosecuting attorney urged congregations to ensure the physical safety of domestic violence victims and pressed pastors to speak out about this sin. “When church-going dad beats church-going mom, and a congregation of Christians looks the other way, it is understandable why many children abandon their faith and look elsewhere for comfort.”

CHURCH PROBLEMS

The Program Review Committee of the synod’s 1993 convention noted a “growing cynicism and loss of confidence” plaguing not only society and business but churches as well. NL editor James Schaefer agreed that “a deadly lack-of-trust virus” had spread from Washington politicians to WELS pews.

The catchword of the decade appeared to be bashing. “Are Lutherans hypercritical?” Paul Kelm asked in 1992. For us a “little error” in theology is “a contradiction in terms,” yet “nit-picking perfectionism” and negative criticism debilitated both critic and target. Kelm warned how “labeling” had grown destructive in the church: “ ‘Traditionalists’ do ‘maintenance ministry.’ ‘Visionaries’ must be infected with ‘church growth.’ ” Such labeling obscures truth and polarizes people.

HEALING

Though the world seems too much with us, we turn where Christians have always turned for healing and hope. “I opened the door to my past,” a survivor of childhood sexual abuse reported. Her Christian counselor reacted not with shock or dismay but with genuine understanding. “I learned there is no sin that God has not forgiven through Jesus, or any wound that cannot be healed by the Holy Spirit. I learned to lay claim to the truth that I am a child of God.”

We’re never going to get it right, Kelm wrote in 1993. But “Jesus got it right. He did everything God asked of us, perfectly. Then he suffered God’s judgment on all our screw-ups. He got it right for us.” And so “you and I don’t have to be so defensive, so self-justifying and perfectionist. Now we don’t have to make each other pay for screw-ups.” We are free to enjoy the Savior’s forgiveness and to pass it on to others. “We can be part of God’s solution instead of mere critics of the world’s problem. Life is looking up!”

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

This is the ninth 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.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Mark E. Braun
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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 North Atlantic District

Donald L. Tollefson

The North Atlantic District stretches along the eastern seaboard of our nation, from North Carolina up the coast to Maine and into the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Within its borders rest two national capitals—Ottawa and Washington, D.C.—and large cities—Charlotte, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. It was known as the Colonial Conference of the Michigan District before being granted status as a district in 1983—one of the youngest of the 12 districts.

ROOTS

The first seeds of our district were sown when a call came from some concerned Lutherans imploring help to hold onto and strengthen their scriptural and confessional roots. Pastor Leonard Koeninger, on leave from his congregation in Lansing, Michigan, conducted the first WELS worship service on the East Coast in March 1963. By the fall of that year, in the shadow of our nation’s capital, Walter Beckmann was installed as mission pastor at Grace, Falls Church, Virginia. It became the first of a string of mission congregations planted in the mid-Atlantic region of the Colonial Conference. Twenty years later when the district was formed, he was called to serve as district president (1983–2004) of this newly formed district.

SHOOTS

The planting of the first WELS congregation in Virginia led to others. Prior to the planting of these congregations, a WELS family who had moved into New Jersey considered their options when the nearest church of their fellowship was in Ohio. They debated: Compromise or pray? Thankfully, they chose the latter and were elated when a WELS church within a day’s driving distance got its start in Virginia. They made the 200-mile trip frequently. Soon the pastor from Virginia was making the trip to New Jersey. It wasn’t long before another congregation was planted. Others began to spring up, branching out along the coastal states in New Jersey (East Brunswick), Pennsylvania (King of Prussia), Maryland (Baltimore), Connecticut (South Windsor), Virginia (Virginia Beach), and Massachusetts (Pittsfield). Like circuit riders, the early pastors of the Colonial Conference were willing to drive long hours, navigating East Coast traffic, in order to serve gatherings of concerned confessional believers. The Lord used that willingness and that concern to plant congregations where his saving Word would be proclaimed and grow.

The 1970s and ’80s were decades of rapid growth. More than half of the congregations in the district serving God’s people with the gospel today sprang up in those years.

In those years the door was also opened to serve souls to the country to our north—Canada. St Paul in Ottawa, Ontario, organized in 1874 as a member of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, numbered some seven hundred communicants. Led by their scriptural and confessional convictions, the congregation along with its pastor, Thomas Pfotenhauer, applied for membership in WELS. They were welcomed as a member congregation in 1970 and were used by God to assist in the planting and growth of several sister congregations in the Ottawa Valley and beyond.

CHALLENGES

Ministering on the East Coast presents challenges. The mobility of the population as well as the high costs of operating a ministry are factors to be faced. And the independent mindset of the original 13 colonies seems to be alive and well. Of those states listed as the ten least religious in the United States today, six are in New England. It presents a challenge. But then, when has the church been without a challenge?

Challenges also bring blessings. The Lord has blessed the efforts of serving and seeking souls with the gospel of Jesus. Hope in Toronto ministers well to several cultures. Falls Church, Virginia, and Woodside, Queens, New York, minister to the Spanish-speaking population in their neighborhoods. On the horizon, outreach among the growing Korean population is showing promise. Several of our congregations serve Asian students, attracted to colleges and universities up and down the East Coast. Illumine, a ministry to college students, is an active part of the ministry in Ottawa, Ontario. Opportunities and untold blessings come when serving military families and members at various facilities—Fort Drum, US Military Academy, Groton Submarine Base, McGuire Air Force Base, US Naval Academy, Fort Belvoir, Quantico, Fort Lee, Langley AFB, Norfolk, Camp Lejeune, and Fort Bragg.

Not every church planting on the East Coast survives. Several have been absorbed into other congregations; several were restarted and begun with renewed vigor; several are no more. While it saddens us to see plantings not blossom as we had hoped, it gives us a firmer resolve not to let such setbacks discourage us. We find strength in God’s promises to move forward in order to share his Word that it may bear rich fruit.

And the Lord continues to bless the proclamation of his gospel. A congregational restart in Sterling, Virginia, is producing fruit. Preschools, such as Precious Lambs in

Raleigh, North Carolina, give hope for the future. Woodbridge, Virginia, is given renewed vigor with the blessings of a new worship facility that is being filled with worshipers. A new mission congregation in Watertown, New York, is just getting off the ground.

This young mission, like every one of our congregations on the East Coast, is supported by the generous prayers and gifts of God’s people. The support of others will help the congregations of the North Atlantic District sink their roots in the rich soil of God’s Word so that they might produce fruit. The Lord has promised he will not let his Word return empty but will accomplish what he desires. We take him at his Word!

Donald Tollefson, pastor at Immanuel, Long Valley, New Jersey, is president of the North Atlantic District.

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


 

STATISTICS

District president: Pastor Donald L. Tollefson
Congregations: 45
Mission churches: 6
Baptized members: 6,479
Communicant members: 4,860
Early childhood ministries: 3
Lutheran elementary schools: 2
Area Lutheran high schools: 0

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Donald L. Tollefson
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

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

 

A Father’s letter

Dear Melanie,

I knew what the news would do to you.

How could I not? It had been quite the frenzy recently. With only a month to prepare, your mom had come. There was excited shopping to do and a baby shower from our church family to attend. Just a joyous time. Everything was ready for the big day. Mia was coming home! Everything in the house was ready for the daughter you would soon adopt. The baby blanket was draped expectantly over the rocking chair. Mia’s name was pinned to the wall in letters lovingly chosen along with the butterflies that symbolized your heart taking flight in the promise of a coming child.

So much history came to bear during that time. I was there for all of it. Marriage seven years earlier along with the hope of an immediate pregnancy. Do you remember talking about five future kids? I know you pictured it and prayed for it. I know it’s all you really wanted to do outside of being a wife.

I know it was hard for you to wait to see doctors when pregnancy didn’t come. Three years you patiently waited. And even then there were no answers for you. None. The tests explained nothing. Your exploratory surgery was inconclusive. Finally, you sought out the best of the best in fertility medicine.

I know you remember sitting in that quiet, meditative office with the green walls and the upbeat staff. I know you remember the plan the smartest doctor you ever met laid out to treat the infertility. I know you had hope. Lots of it. I know you remember how each time the doctor met with you he’d say, “Now, let’s get you pregnant.” And you’d hope.

That’s how it was. Each month there was so much hope. Let’s try this. Let’s try that. Maybe this is it. Maybe that’s it. And it never, ever was. Each month there was more pain, more tears. Each month another disappointment. I was there for all of it.

I saw the mixed feelings you experienced at a Facebook birth announcement or the news of an unwanted pregnancy. I saw how some of it was envy you fought and some of it was sharp pangs and longing. It felt like a desperately dehydrated desert traveler who looks on as another person is showered with water—water that is always just out of reach. Then there were the well-intentioned comments that felt like daggers, “When you decide to start a family . . .,” or, “Someday when you have kids . . .”

I also knew how the tears, the pain, and the deep disappointment withered hope in those years. Yet it grew Hope. Do you remember that? Do you remember how right there in the ashes of burnt dreams grew beautiful, gleaming Hope? So counterintuitive to what you’d been expecting. So freeing. So beautiful. Those moments of pain became defining moments for your Hope in Jesus. You rejected a worldview that said, “Life is unfair. This random infertility is only an unfortunate circumstance to fix.” You embraced a divine view that said, “This is an intentional, designed pain in my life that is here to do one thing: send me into the arms of Jesus.” And I got a front-row seat to watching you step closer and closer to Jesus painful month after painful month. I saw your conviction grow and heard you say, “What I really need is Jesus. He is all I need.” Right there in the ashes of burnt dreams grew the greatest gift of all—Hope in Jesus.

That’s why I knew what the news would do to you. You were ready. The phone call came. “She decided to keep the baby.” You were numb at first. Really sad later, but never defeated. Never devastated and never in despair. You didn’t have hope just for a baby. You did, however, have Hope. You trusted that despite all appearances there was a master plan that kept your best interests in mind. Yes, I think we both know that on the day this hope died, Hope lived.

As time passed, for the first time in your life you could talk about being a childless woman and it was okay. It really was. You were even trying to figure out when and how you could share this conviction with your mom, who had been on this journey with you. Remember the conversations about not only accepting a childless life but actually celebrating it as a gift? Remember that? Yes, hope had died, but Hope had grown strong.

I know you now see how divine and necessary it all was. You wouldn’t be the woman you are now if none of this had happened. You wouldn’t be so confident in adversity. You wouldn’t be so peaceful when the going is tough. You wouldn’t be so focused on the finish line of heaven’s gates unless it had happened just this way. You can see how the identity of motherhood was chiseled, hammered, and pried away from your soul. You can see that as that identity was carved away your true identity took a firmer shape in your soul and came into greater focus in you. It became your anchor, your lifeline in life’s greatest waves.

“I am a blood-bought child of God,” you’d say as if it was the only thing that mattered in the world. And it was. You came to see those circumstances as tailor made to drive you to your gospel-centered mantra: “If Jesus would care to forgive me and resurrect me, then he certainly would care to bless my family life—perhaps with no children.” And, yes, it is true that you came to believe that too would be a blessing.

And that’s when I knew you were finally ready to get a different bit of news. You were ready to be the kind of mom that my Holy Spirit had shaped you to be—a woman who is my child first and now happens to be a mother.

Melanie, you and I both know that it wasn’t a coincidence that another pastor asked your husband about your story. I was in that. I personally saw to it that just days later that pastor would come across a young lady who needed to place her baby for adoption. And, remarkably, it was just three days later when Elliana’s birth grandma called and said, “Melanie, we want you and Jonathan to be the parents.” A few hours later you were holding Elliana with all the love, tenacity, and strength only one of my children can have. I know you remember and treasure deeply that first moment of motherhood. You always will.

Just as you held her in that moment, I have always and will always hold you. Don’t see pain, failure, or disappointment in any other light. Its intent is always to drive you to my gospel. And there, my dear daughter, you will always find all the love, comfort, identity, joy, and strength you’ll ever need.

With love,

Your Father


 

Jonathan Bourman is pastor at Peace, Aiken, South Carolina.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Jonathan Bourman
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

Are there really 58 genders?

Kenneth L. Brokmeier

My ears perked up when I heard the morning news. Fifty-eight genders? What? Earlier this year Facebook announced that they are now offering 58 different gender options from which users can choose when they set up their Facebook page. Apparently gone are the days when you are either male or female.

Some of the new genders include: “Pansexual,” someone who believes they are many or all genders; “Agender,” someone who believes they are no gender at all; “Transgender,” where the state of one’s gender identity or gender expression doesn’t match one’s assigned sex; and “Cis,” which describes related types of gender identity where an individual’s experience of their own gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth. By the way if you needed to reread what “Cis” means exactly you are not alone—I had to do so several times. And so as not to offend anyone, there is a gender ID listed simply as “Other.” My guess is that more categories will be added as individuals seek to express their gender identity based on their feelings.

Therein lies the problem. For the vast majority of our nation’s existence, the terms sex and gender were interchangeable. You were either male or female, boy or girl, man or woman. But the past few decades have prompted a shift in the use of those terms.

After briefly reading sources on this subject I would summarize the differences like this: Sex has to do with my anatomy. Gender has to do with how I or others view me. Or to put it another way sex has to do with biology and gender has to do with my desire.

Desire? Do you smell what I smell? The sly serpent is at it again—patiently planting seeds of doubt. Satan is duping individuals into thinking that one’s gender identity is based on one’s personal desire rather than the way God made us.

But why make such a big deal out of this? After all less than 0.2 percent of the United States population is transgendered (AFA Journal, June 2014). Facebook is only about ten years old, yet 57 percent of all American adults and 73 percent of all those ages 12 to 17 use Facebook (Pew Research Center, 2-3-2014). The old evil foe seems bent on using a little yeast, or in this case gender identity crisis, to work through the entire batch of dough.

The devil will continue to play his trump card that human beings are interested in following their own desires. He employed that tactic at the time of Noah (Genesis 6:5) and the Judges (Judges 17:6). The apostle Paul warned Timothy that in the last days people will want to find false teachers to suit their own desires (2 Timothy 4:3). Sinful desires lead to sinful actions—including gender misidentity.

If I have understood correctly who (or what) a “Cis” is, then on my Facebook page I could check that I’m Cis, Cis Male, Cis Man, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, or just a plain Male. All mean the same thing. I plan to stick with male since it was one of the two genders God made (Genesis 1:27).

I wonder if the Facebook gender expansion will prompt job applications to include a completely separate page for gender identity. I pray not. But I also pray that God may continue to utilize Christians and tools like Facebook to patiently “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) so that all will find that their true identity lies in knowing the one who identified himself with us, Jesus.

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

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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 12

Paul’s epistles model his approach to ministry.

Daniel N. Balge

It comes as no surprise that seminary students intently study the pastoral epistles— Paul’s letter to Titus and his two to Timothy. In all three, Paul, the master pastor, addresses the responsibilities, tasks, and challenges of ministry. His words come from long experience and, better yet, through inspiration of God’s Spirit. Paul counseled these younger pastors—and really all who aspire to ministry’s “noble task”—so that they would “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

We have much to learn from Paul’s pastoral epistles and his other letters. Books could be—and have been—written about Paul’s approach to ministry, as gleaned from his epistles and sifted from Luke’s record in Acts. From the epistles we take brief note here of a few prominent features of Paul’s gospel service.

Paul loved people. His letters usually end by him greeting people by name. Those people were affectionately bonded to him in friendship, by hardship, and through shared toil. Coworkers Timothy and Titus were like sons to him (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). In his passion for souls he longed to be among people whom he had served (1 Thessalonians 2:17) or would serve (Romans 15:23). From the heart he told the Thessalonians, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

Paul showed humility. He told the Ephesians, “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).” He “boasted” only to make a point against boasting in self-righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:16–12:10) or to present his credentials (2 Corinthians 12:11,12; Galatians 2:11-21).

Paul persevered. Neither hardships nor disappointments nor opposition—not even his own body’s steady decline—deterred him (2 Corinthians chapter 4). He drew strength from the truth that “all this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart” (4:15,16).

Paul kept praying. He told the Colossian Christians, “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9,10). In turn he asked for prayers on his behalf, “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

In Paul’s ministry there was no line between style and substance. About his apostleship he emphasized, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). The message had created the messenger.

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

This is the final articled in a 12-part series examining how the written word in Paul’s epistles strengthens early and present-day Christians.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

By faith

We assert and confess that we are justified by grace through faith. That idea comes from the Scriptures and has been the core teaching of Christians through all history. The apostles, especially Paul, proclaimed it clearly. Yet God had already revealed it in the Old Testament (Romans 3:21). Paul cited Abraham as one justified by faith (Romans chapter 4 and Galatians chapter 3).

But “by faith” is misunderstood by so many. During the time of Luther, “by faith” was considered heresy by some. They professed belief in grace and faith, but in a different way. They believed that people had to become righteous by faith and deeds of charity and devotion. Then God could pass a favorable judgment on their lives and allow them into eternity. If they could not achieve enough righteousness, they could get more from the church.

They objected to justification by faith alone in the way the Lutherans confessed it. They understood the Lutherans to say that the only human effort required to make one righteous was simple faith. One didn’t need any other Christian virtue or characteristic. Faith, for them, became license to avoid all other Christian behavior. Some even believed that Lutherans led godless and immoral lives—Luther included.

But faith is not a human characteristic or virtue we offer to God in the hope of earning a good verdict and entrance into heaven. Faith should not be considered a way to earn anything from God. Faith is not the one offering we make to God to turn away his judgment. It’s not like the way a small child melts a mother’s heart with a handmade card that says, “I love you, Mom.” The problem is that we are incapable of pacifying the holy and powerful God of the universe by anything we can do, think, or say. Faith is no exception; it’s not a work we do to move God to love us.

Faith is simple trust in what God gives: full forgiveness, life, and salvation because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Jesus offered the sacrifice of himself once for all time for all humans. “It is finished,” he said (John 19:30). We trust his words—we believe. Like Abraham, we trust God, and he credits to us the complete and full righteousness Christ earned (Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3).

Faith is also new life. When we trust God’s promises, we are not the same but different. When we know Christ by faith, we understand how wide, long, high, and deep God’s love is for us unworthy creatures (Ephesians 3:18). Gratitude for the love of God in Christ moves us to respect, love, and trust God. We still don’t do anything to earn God’s favor. Instead we do things because we are filled with love for him and want to do what pleases him. Even after we trust God’s promises we could never do enough to earn his blessings. Instead we find ourselves unable to do enough to show our gratitude.

Faith is the open hand that receives the gifts of God in Christ and holds them as our own personal treasures. Faith changes us. By the power of the Holy Spirit through Word and sacrament, faith brings us from death to life, from sin to virtue, from selfish preoccupation to love for others. We are grateful and live for him. In our daily lives we look for opportunities to show his love to the thirsty, hungry, poor, lonely, imprisoned, and sick (Matthew 25:35-37). And we think it is nothing special because we are not trying to earn anything from God. We already have all things by faith.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

John 3:16: Part 12

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

Grandpas carry them in pockets. Restaurants stock them next to the cash register. A peppermint candy swirl is one of the most mouth-refreshing candies. Yet it poses a problem. It’s too easy to chomp down. Instead of lasting 10 minutes, you devour it in 30 seconds. Soon you wish you had a new piece of candy so you could savor its sweetness again.

John 3:16 is one of the sweetest pieces of gospel candy. Because of its familiarity, it’s easy to chomp this verse down without considering its meaning. Slow down. Let it sit in your heart and steadily send sweet sensations to your head and life. Savor the sweetness each layer of this verse offers.

GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON

The first sweet taste comes in the key word love. The original language of the Bible employs numerous terms for love. Agape, the term used here, is the sweetest and richest. Agape is a special kind of selfless love. It’s an attitude that results in action. Look at the action love prompted our Father to do—he gave his one and only Son.

Savor that sweet truth. God gave his Son. Relationships are strengthened by shared experiences. Think about the experiences the Father shared with his Son. Sitting in the heavens, they could recall the day of creation when they said, “Let’s make man in our image.” They could reminisce about their rescue effort of Noah or how they led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had an eternity of experiences together, and yet God gave his one and only Son for you.

THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM

The Bible clearly teaches that no one can believe on his or her own. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Savor the sweetness of this verse that subtly points to the miracle of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. Also, savor the sweetness of the seemingly insignificant word whoever. Whoever assures us that we don’t need a special pedigree to be part of God’s family. We don’t have to live in a certain era or location. The gospel spans cultures and classes. Savor the sweetness of the unity the Spirit brings to “whoever believes.” And you can’t earn the status God freely gives to “whoever believes.”

But it’s not just belief in anything. It says, “Whoever believes in him,” which brings us to the core of this piece of gospel candy:

SHALL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE

To savor the full flavor of this sweet message, we need to grasp that hell is real. Hell is suffering. Hell is anger. Hell is pain. Hell is separation from God. Hell is where we were headed. But just as hell is real, so is heaven. Heaven is joy. Heaven is peace. Heaven is contentment. Heaven is seeing God face-to-face. Heaven is ours because Jesus rescued us by living a perfect life and dying an innocent death in our place. Through Jesus, God places the sweet taste of eternal life on our tongues. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Savor the sweetness.


 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. What was the most difficult “good-bye” you ever had?

Answers will vary. Usually, the longer you are with someone, the more difficult it is to say good-bye. I think of my grandparents. Having been married for 68 years, my grandfather touched every pillow in the funeral home because he wanted the softest pillow for his now departed bride. Having lost the one who shared his life’s experiences threw him into a tailspin so that he died of a broken heart. The fact that we can witness such closeness in imperfect, human relationships makes us marvel at the love of the Father that he was willing to give his Son for us, the Son with whom he had a perfect relationship.

2. Describe a time when you most appreciated your unity with other believers.

Answers will vary. Examples may include a time when you were traveling. When Christians find one another in a heathen-dominant country or area, there is great joy in the bond of faith. Cherish the miracle that the Holy Spirit can make many “whoevers” believe.

3. Why do we often fail to celebrate the miracle of faith in our hearts?

We all are born with an attitude that I can do something to earn salvation. Or, we believe and live in a culture that promotes we are inherently good. Until we realize with the apostle Paul that each of us ranks as the “chief of sinners,” we will fail to fully celebrate the miracle of faith.

4. How does a declining belief in the reality of hell impact the sweetness of this verse?

Readers may want to check out this USA Today article: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-08-01-hell-damnation_N.htm. Five years ago, only 59 percent of Americans believed in hell. If hell is nothing to worry about, the need for a Savior diminishes. On the contrary, when we realize hell is where we were headed, our appreciation for the Son is magnified.

 

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

This is the final 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.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

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

 

A team effort

When does fishing become a team effort?

Andrew Schroer

My father is from Minnesota—the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Like many native Minnesotans, he and everybody else in my family fishes. That’s why it should come as no surprise that our latest family get-together took place at a small lake.

CATCHING FISH

We all stayed in a big house with a tiny dock. Every day, my children and their cousins fished off the dock in three feet of water. The water was so clear they could see the tiny bluegills swim as they baited hooks. Their dads, however, preferred to go out on the boat for largemouth bass.

One afternoon the children were on the dock, when suddenly one yelled, “It’s a monster!” A large bass was swimming among the tiny baitfish. Their fathers sprang into action. We started dropping lures into the water as the children followed “Moby Dick” in the water.

Then Uncle Tom had an idea. His nine-year-old daughter Grace just caught a small bluegill. Uncle Tom took it and put it on a hook. With the help of the children he dropped it in front of the giant bass. The bass sucked the bait into his massive mouth, and the battle began. Uncle Tom slowly worked the fish to the dock as I nervously maneuvered the net.

After five chaotic minutes, the children cheered as the trophy fish was brought on shore. “It was a team effort,” Uncle Tom announced with a smile. The bass gasped for air as we all took turns taking pictures with our prized catch.

It was a team effort.

PROCLAIMING JESUS

Jesus’ first disciples were from families of fishermen. One day, Jesus stood on the shore and invited them to go fishing with him. “Come follow me,” Jesus told them, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Jesus was inviting them to be his messengers, making disciples of all nations.

Jesus has also invited you to go fishing. He has called you to be his messenger—to tell others of his love and forgiveness. Sometimes that fishing too is a team effort.

Many years ago, when I lived in Mexico, we held worship services on the patio of a butcher shop. The owner and most of his family were members of the church. His nephew Chago was not. He would usually stay upstairs as we worshiped.

A month before I left Mexico, Chago suffered a kidney infection that required surgery. I went to visit Chago in the hospital. I prayed with him. I told him about God’s love and the forgiveness Jesus won for him on the cross. He didn’t seem too interested.

After I left, though, one of the Mexican pastors followed up with Chago. The pastor continued to share the good news of God’s love with him. His family continued to encourage him to go to church. Two years later, Chago joined the church.

Sometimes fishing is a team effort. You may tell someone about Jesus, but you may not see any results. That doesn’t mean God isn’t working through your message. To use the apostle Paul’s metaphor, you have planted a seed. Someone else may water it and see it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

So don’t give up. Go fishing. Talk about Jesus and his love with everyone you can. Though you may not always see the results, you may be a part of a bigger team God is using to help that person see his love. Sometimes fishing is a team effort.

Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

Jesus gives us a new way to think

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds. Ephesians 4:22,23

Norman F. Burger Jr.

I was just sitting down for the Mission Festival dinner when I saw him headed my way. The farmer sat down across from me, eager to share how he looked at supporting the Lord’s work. “Pastor,” he told me, “Here’s how I look at it. When my crops come in, I have to give the Lord his share first. Because if I don’t, when the machinery break downs or the cows get sick, those expenses won’t let me give him what he deserves.” He said that with an earnestness that made it clear that his actions were a matter of love for Jesus.

The college student in my office had just explained her dilemma to me. She really liked a young man she had been dating. But they disagreed on religious beliefs, and her love and respect for God’s Word would not let her compromise her convictions. She could not get serious with this young man if they could not be united in a common faith. Her tears showed how hard this was for her and how much she loved Jesus.

OUR OLDER WAY OF THINKING

That farmer could just as easily have said he couldn’t give God the first share of his income since that would leave him short when those unplanned expenses cropped up. That young woman could just as easily have reasoned that she could live with the differences in faith. But that’s not how they were taught to think about things. They were taught to “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds.”

You know how your old self thinks. It approaches every situation asking, “What do I want? What will benefit me? What will cause me the least amount of discomfort or sacrifice?” And when that self-centered thinking butts up against God’s thinking in his Word, your old self gets very clever—“deceitful,” as Paul puts it. It’s not hard for us to think of a whole list of excuses that we could use to justify taking the easy path of self-interest. Our old self—our old way of thinking—sets Jesus below our interests.

OUR TRANSFORMED WAY OF THINKING

But the gospel changes us. It shows us Jesus, and we see that we have been on God’s mind from eternity, when he planned our salvation before the creation of the world. I see that God was not thinking of himself but you and me, when he decided to enter our broken world to rescue us. It was the thought of what we would gain that led him to face temptation and trials every day and finally to give up his life for our sins. We are still on his mind, as his work is still all about giving us just what we need each day and preparing a place for us in heaven for all eternity.

There is power in the gospel not only to give us peace of mind but also to transform our thinking. In the gospel, find the power to think about things the way that farmer and that young woman did, with the desire to serve Jesus as he has served you at the center of your thoughts and plans.

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

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Norman F. Burger Jr.
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

Small events with lasting consequences

What seem to be insignificant events when they occur have sometimes changed the course of history.

In the year 1215, England was ruled by a king whose reign had been marked by military failure and capitulation to foreign powers. Sensing the king’s weakness and fearing for their own loss of power and wealth, a group of English nobles rebelled against the king’s authority and demanded that he grant them certain legal rights and that he limit his own power and authority. The document that King John was compelled to sign is known as the Magna Carta. By establishing England as a nation of laws and rights and limiting the power of government, the document played a significant role in the development of democracy throughout the western world. A seemingly small event that changed history.

It was the summer of 1914 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. The motorcade of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, was stopped in a traffic jam. Suddenly, a gunman appeared, shooting and killing both Ferdinand and his wife. It was a tragic incident to be sure. But who could have imagined that this incident would spark the First World War, resulting in the deaths of more than 16 million people and forever changing the face of Europe.

In the summer of 1971, a high school senior named Steve was working a summer job at the Hewlett-Packard Company. So was a college dropout named Steve. The two Steves—Jobs and Wozniak—shared a fascination with electronics and arcade games. After tinkering with circuit boards in bedrooms and garages, they designed and built what would eventually become known as the Apple 1 computer. That chance meeting of two budding geniuses changed the world of communications, business, and entertainment in ways that no one could have imagined.

It was a brisk fall morning in 1517. An unassuming Roman Catholic monk made his way through the narrow streets of Wittenberg, Germany, on his way to the Castle Church. The doors of that church served as a community bulletin board. The poster in Martin Luther’s hand was simply an invitation to discuss and debate a number statements, or theses, that he had written. Little did Martin Luther know that the blows of his hammer when he posted his notice on the church door would shake the religious and political worlds of his day to their very foundations. Little did he know that a gracious God would use him to restore the precious gospel of salvation in a church that had obscured and distorted God’s truth. And scarcely could he have imagined that his hammer blows would still be echoing 497 years later, as people around the world who call themselves Lutheran would be remembering that day and thanking God for what he did through Martin Luther.

None of those seemingly insignificant events happen by chance. Each one is an illustration and reminder that the entire course of human history—from its monumental events down to the smallest details—is guided by the hands of a powerful and gracious God. As we celebrate the Lutheran Reformation once again this month, Marvel how God used that seemingly unimportant invitation to an academic debate to change not just the world but your life for now and for all eternity. In the sound of that hammer, still ringing in our ears almost five centuries later, is a reminder of the precious message rediscovered in the Lutheran Reformation: We have been saved by God’s grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, revealed to us in Scripture alone.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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: Catholic vs. Lutheran approach to faith

The Lutheran approach is that faith = salvation and salvation brings about good works. The Roman Catholic approach is that faith + good works = salvation. In both cases you have faith, good works, and salvation. Why is the difference so important?

James F. Pope

Your question about what could be called the “salvation equation” has timeless application, but let me address it with three different time periods in mind.

A FIRST-CENTURY QUESTION

The Galatian Christians who received the apostle Paul’s inspired letter had made a good beginning. Through the power of the Holy Spirit they had acknowledged Jesus Christ in faith as their Savior from sin. Then, individuals called Judaizers got them off track by leading them to believe that the performance of certain Old Testament ceremonial laws, notably circumcision, was necessary for salvation along with believing in Jesus. The letter that Paul penned to the Galatian Christians reflected his bewilderment, sadness, and concern that they had fallen for the Judaizers’ lie.

Paul made it clear that works of the law are not part of the salvation equation. “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). In fact, Paul reminded the Galatians that if they were going to look to the law for salvation, they would have to live flawless, perfect lives, or else they could expect God’s curse (Galatians 3:10).

A 16TH-CENTURY QUESTION

By Martin Luther’s time, the Judaizers were long gone, but tenets of their theology had found a home in the Roman Catholic Church. Luther grew up believing the teaching of the church that there was a spark of goodness naturally within him that he needed to fan into flame. The church of Luther’s day taught that salvation was not entirely God’s gift to people. Rather, people needed to supplement their faith with good works in order to enjoy forgiveness and eventually heaven. Even then, people heard that they needed to spend long periods of time in an imaginary, purifying place called purgatory. Luther wrote thoroughly about the despair that dominated his life when he thought that the salvation equation included his works.

How different life was when he understood and believed what Scripture actually taught—that “the righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17)! Faith alone! Joy then replaced despair, and certainty of salvation supplanted doubt. Gratitude for God’s gift of salvation expressed itself in a life of love and good deeds.

A 21ST-CENTURY QUESTION

Today people still naturally think that there is something they can do—and have to do—to be at peace with God. But the equation that salvation is the result of adding works to faith is unscriptural, wrong, dangerous, and deadly. It is a misunderstanding of law and gospel.

One of our hymns nicely spells out the difference between those two teachings: “The law uncovers guilt and sin And shows how vile our hearts have been; The gospel only can express Forgiving love and cleansing grace. What curses does the law pronounce Against the one who fails but once! But in the gospel Christ appears, Pard’ning the guilt of num’rous years” (Christian Worship 286:2,3).

All this explains why it is so important to understand the difference in the equations you mentioned. Faith alone saves. Salvation is entirely God’s work. If we try to add anything to Jesus’ redeeming work, we risk losing out on all the blessings he won. Works come when we treasure his blessings. We do good works to thank God for saving us.

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

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

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

 

A Mighty Fortress is Our God

The most famous songs in the world usually have a story to tell, and our most famous Lutheran hymn is no different.

Mark W. Tiefel

The most famous songs in the world usually have a story to tell. Those who know the words of “The Star Spangled Banner” likely know the story of Francis Scott Key and his view of Fort McHenry. Sometimes the stories are surprising. For example, most baseball watchers who love to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” would be surprised to know that the song’s composers had never been to a ballgame themselves.

What’s the story of our most famous Lutheran song? Many churches sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (Christian Worship 200). We Lutherans like to sing it. Yet, we’re not all that sure of its story. There’s no record of where, why, or when Martin Luther sat down to write our battle hymn of the Reformation. Most think he wrote it in Wittenberg in the autumn of 1527 or perhaps 1528, but it’s hard to be sure.

We don’t have all the details of where and when Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress.” But if we take a close look at Luther’s composition, we begin to understand why Lutherans have loved singing it for nearly five hundred years.

GOD’S PEOPLE SING

Though the song itself likely wasn’t written high in the tower of the Wartburg Fortress, the story of “A Mighty Fortress” begins in 1521. At the Wartburg, under the protection of his Elector, Luther began the task of reconnecting God’s people to God’s Word. That task would continue well after Luther left the fortress. Luther wanted the people to read God’s Word for themselves. Most could not read the Latin version, so he began a Bible translation in the quiet of the castle. His desire to help people learn God’s Word for themselves would also move him to author the Small and Large Catechisms in 1529.

Luther also wanted God’s people to sing God’s Word for themselves, so he began a hymnal project. The first Lutheran hymnal appeared in 1524 with only eight hymns. Luther wrote four of them. To get the people involved in worship, Luther wanted to reform the Sunday order of service as well. To him, this effort helped people learn and remember the truths of Scripture. Luther had asserted that all God’s people were priests, with unique roles to play in the daily and weekly proclamation of the gospel.

They needed psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to sing (Colossians 3:16). Luther published a Deutsche Messe—a German service—in 1526. Luther’s service was a model of steady compromise and pastoral concern. Many of the old chants and rituals were kept, while many new tunes and prayers were included. And at the heart of the service were hymns for the people to sing. The Lutheran Reformation brought the congregation’s song to life.

For the first time in centuries, all God’s people would participate in singing the gospel. This was a new role for them, and Luther knew that they would need a variety of texts, both old and new, and a variety of tunes, both familiar and unfamiliar, to understand their new role. So, as the catalog of hymns kept growing, a rich variety of ideas and styles was put to use.

Often Luther simply updated the ancient chant tunes that the people had heard for decades. Luther’s revision of “Come, Holy Ghost, Creator Blest” (CW 177) is not drastically different than the Latin chant that preceded it. At other times, Luther simply borrowed tunes that people knew. His Christmas hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (CW 38) was set to a tune used by visiting town musicians: “Ich komm’ aus fremden Landen her.” And even when Luther composed a new tune, he used repetitive Barform patterns to help his people learn the notes. (Note: Barform is a melodic pattern—AAB—not a tavern tune!)

A SONG TO TEACH GOD’S TRUTH

By the time “A Mighty Fortress” appeared in 1528, Luther’s influence had already shifted congregational culture. But Luther wasn’t simply interested in giving God’s people a catchy tune to sing. Congregational participation was only part of Luther’s greater goal for worship and hymns. Luther himself summarized his purpose for writing these texts and tunes, “. . . that the Word of God may abide through music.”

At first glance, it seems that Luther’s hymn is a simple setting of Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength.” The psalm was Israel’s song of thanks for the marvelous deeds of God. God guarded and protected his people. Though believers may be inundated with conflict and persecution, God still preserves them with the steady stream of his promises. As the political and religious climate continued to deteriorate in Germany throughout 1525 and 1526, it seemed that God’s persecuted people of the Reformation era would need a similar song to sing.

“A Mighty Fortress” reveals that Luther was looking for more than a simple psalm paraphrase or an opening hymn for any given Sunday. The times during which the hymn was written had become a battleground not only for God’s people but for God’s

Word itself. Both Luther and the peasants to whom he preached faced persecution and pressure. Again and again the threats to the gospel in Word and sacrament confronted them. Controversy over the Lord’s Supper, false teachings about re-baptism, and the ongoing controversy over justification by faith were clear dangers that called for clear teaching.

Thus, Luther’s hymn tells a story beyond the bounds of Psalm 46. The hymn traces the story of salvation from beginning to end. The ancient threat of the devil fills stanza one. Stanza two notes the desperate plight of sinful humanity. Then, we meet the victorious Christ in stanza three and rely on his cross as we make our way to our heavenly home in stanza four. And all along the way, we are strengthened by God’s grace.

Martin Luther composed powerful confessions of the Christian faith. Luther’s hymns would not only involve the individual but also stabilize and summarize the teaching of the church of all time. As such, Luther’s evangelical hymns were often the object of scorn, not because of the tunes he used, but because of the truth they told. Luther’s enemies lamented, “His hymns have destroyed more souls than his sermons ever did.” Indeed, these sermons of song enjoyed popularity far beyond the weekly service and the church sanctuary. Hymns like “A Mighty Fortress” were part of the daily devotional life in believer’s homes. Eventually Christians would go on to travel the world, carrying Luther’s Bible, catechism, and hymnal with them as they went. And in each, they would remember and sing the central truths of God’s Word.

The most famous songs in the world usually have a story to tell. And though Luther’s reasons for writing his most famous song may be lost to us, the lesson he teaches us with this song are as important as ever: God’s people rely on his power in their trials and troubles! This hymn helps us sing that truth. Other hymns help us treasure God’s truth. By God’s power, “the gospel will abide in song.”

Sing, write new songs, compose new hymns. We’re not done singing God truth and praise.

Mark Tiefel is pastor at Abiding Word, Houston, Texas.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Mark W. Tiefel
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

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

 

God’s cathedral

In our attempts to forge ahead on our own, we must not forget about the one who holds all of the power of this universe in his steady hand.

Jenni Mickelson

I enter the cathedral as soon as I shut my front door behind me.

An inexpressible wonder touches my mind and heart when I look up at the night sky. Stars gleam like tiny crystals embedded in Earth’s darkest corners. The moon, caressing the night with its soft glow, sits in the heavens. Look! I exclaim silently to myself. There’s Mars! Jupiter! The Great Dipper! They all entice me to reach beyond gravity and enter their presence.

I reach out my hand, yearning to touch with my bare fingers. But I know that that’s impossible. They are light-years away.

But I want to know! I say, mesmerized by the awesome sight above me. I want to see it! Touch it!

OUR CRAVING FOR KNOWLEDGE

Humanity has wanted to know all of these things. We continue to penetrate the cosmos with our curiosity and technology, searching for answers and craving the ability to understand, to see, to touch. The Hubble Space Telescope captures breathtaking images of our universe, which overflows with galaxies like ours. Probes have pierced areas of space about which we can only imagine.

It is in that same scientific breath that we hear theories about time and creation itself, the Big Bang being one example. Theorists assert that stars and galaxies have existed for millions and billions of years. Human minds speculate that we can discover so much about the origins of the universe by penetrating farther and farther into space. They reach and reach for more.

Meanwhile, the Lord confronts us in our striving: “Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons? . . . Do you know the laws of the heavens?” (Job 38:32, 33).

When do we grasp for too much power, for too much knowledge? As we find out more and more about what surrounds us, we are in danger of relying more and more on ourselves and our own intellect.

God does encourage us to take advantage of our abilities, interests, and traits: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). However, as members of a world that has fallen into the corruption of sin, are we at fault of wrongly using these gifts? Do we use our gifts to gain more for ourselves, to glorify our own names, goals, and accomplishments—not God’s?

Maybe sometimes we become empty-handed explorers, venturing into a barren frontier, when God is not in the picture. We do this when we become too self-centered in wanting to have that next big scientific discovery, creative idea, or technological breakthrough. Perhaps we invest too much of ourselves into getting that reward or promotion at work. We strain with our own eyes and minds to find answers for the hardships and questions that we face.

Adam and Eve discovered this lonely place when they chose disobedience rather than simply trust in their Maker. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree [of the knowledge of good and evil] was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Genesis 3:6). The cost of this one ungodly act was separation from their loving Creator.

GOD’S CONTROL OVER THE UNIVERSE

In our attempts to forge ahead on our own, we must not forget about the one who holds and wields all of the power of this universe in his steady hand. “‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. . . . Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know,” Job confessed to God (Job 42:2,3). King David also realized God’s overwhelming power over man when he wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge” (Psalm 19:1,2).

There’s more. It is this perfect wisdom and love that has saved us and gives us eternal life. God’s majesty and love physically entered this world and made contact with us in the person of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1,14). He was Immanuel—“God with us” (Matthew 1:23). True power sought us out and walked among us.

Although he was the all-powerful God of the heavens and the earth, Jesus forsook that power by taking all of our sins on himself and humiliating himself in his death on the cross. It is through his suffering and his resurrection from the dead that we gain life and the opportunity to witness and use the blessings that he has generously bestowed upon us.

THE KEY TO OUR FULFILLMENT

Despite this amazing grace, we continue to strive for power in ways that are displeasing to God. We in our weakness so easily fall back into our sinful habits and use our gifts for our own gain rather than for serving God. God knows this but nevertheless continues to love us. He yearns for us to come to him in repentance and to surrender to him rather than struggle futilely on our own.

What is the key to true strength in God’s eyes? “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). We do not trust in ourselves but rather rely wholly on God: the Father who made this incomprehensible universe; the Son who saved us through his perfect life, death, and resurrection; and the Spirit who preserves us for heaven through his work in our hearts. It is when we first abdicate everything to God that we then can explore, discover, teach, and work in a manner pleasing to the almighty Creator.

We don’t have to search out power or find answers by ourselves to gain fulfillment. God’s power touches us daily through his gift of faith: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). This faith believes what God reveals to us in the Bible. This faith knows that he will always be present in our lives: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all of the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (Ephesians 4:10). This faith realizes that it is not up to us to know everything. It is up to God.

And so it is by faith that we can boldly declare: “We understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

I look up at the sky, about to reach up my hand.

Then I stop. No more straining.

Thank you, Lord, I say silently to my Maker. In his cathedral.

Jenni Mickelson is a member at Holy Trinity, an Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregation in Okauchee, Wisconsin.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Jenni Mickelson
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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: Werwie

WELS congregations provide a man spiritual help and support when he needed it the most.

Alicia A. Neumann

“Six years ago, I considered myself Catholic—but my wife and I basically just went to church on Christmas and Easter,” says Bernie Werwie, member at Living Hope, Midlothian, Va. But after a series of life challenges, including losing his sight, Werwie ended up at Living Hope—and is confident this is where God wants him to be.

A CATHOLIC UPBRINGING

“I was raised in the Catholic Church, I went to a Catholic college, and I was married in the Catholic Church,” says Werwie. “In the Catholic Church, we didn’t read the Bible much. We read a few verses on Sunday, but that was it. We weren’t encouraged to read it on our own or ask questions.”

About six years ago, he and his wife decided to find a new church. “In hindsight, we were looking for the Word of God,” says Werwie. “We were not being fed and nourished in the Catholic Church.” They attended a few different non-denominational churches but never joined.

A SERIES OF CHALLENGES

At the time, Werwie was going through some physical challenges. He has been legally blind since birth because of a hereditary condition, but for most of his life he had retained some of his sight. So when he eventually lost all of his sight, it was difficult to accept. “I was angry at myself, at God, and at the world,” he says.

In an effort to restore some of his sight, Werwie went through several painful surgeries but didn’t get the results he was hoping for. That, coupled with losing his job, put a strain on his finances and on his marriage.

“I was having all of these problems with work and my marriage—my whole life was crashing down on me,” says Werwie. During that time he met a Baptist pastor who was blind and had been through similar challenges. “He counseled me, and I started learning about the Bible,” he says. “That was the first time I was seriously exposed to the Bible.” Werwie became good friends with the pastor and was part of that church until he found a temporary job in Harrisburg, Pa. His family stayed behind in Virginia.

“I arrived in Harrisburg as an individual who was blind, without my family, and with absolutely no community supports,” says Werwie. He was living in a run-down part of town and wasn’t able to travel back to Virginia to see his family often. He shared his frustrations with his long-time friend, Larry Povinelli, who lives in Alabama. Povinelli, a WELS member, mentioned a WELS church near Harrisburg that Werwie could check out. Werwie had gone to a WELS church service with Povinelli in the past but didn’t feel comfortable because it was different from the Catholic services he was used to. Even though he didn’t think he’d ever go back to a WELS church, Werwie contacted Pastor M. Robert Green at Ascension in Harrisburg.

AN OUTPOURING OF CHRISTIAN LOVE

“During my first visit to a WELS church more than 20 years ago, I was not impressed because I was young and naïve and thought I knew it all,” says Werwie. “But when I contacted Pastor Green, my perspective on life was very different because I was returning to work after becoming totally blind, losing my job, and facing financial ruin. I was carrying a heavy burden, and the church helped to bear my burden. They provided me spiritual help and support when I needed it most.”

Werwie was only in Pennsylvania for a few months before he got a job in Richmond, Va. He was much closer to his family now but still living on his own because of work. While in Richmond, he contacted ten local churches and said he’d like to attend but would need help finding transportation to Sunday morning services. Either the pastors didn’t call him back or said they couldn’t help him.

His friend, Larry, pointed him once again to a WELS church in the area. Werwie contacted Michael Seifert, pastor at Living Hope, Midlothian, and “that was the last church I had to call,” Werwie says. Seifert not only helped Werwie with transportation to services but also found members who could help him with things like grocery shopping and reading his mail.

“Pastor Seifert has just been wonderful,” says Werwie. “He’s been a pastor and a friend. We started meeting and one night a week we’d have dinner together. I wasn’t even interested in joining the church at that point—I just wanted a place to go and someone to counsel me.” But after three to four months of meeting with Seifert, Werwie says he really started to feel comfortable at Living Hope. He began taking confirmation classes and was confirmed last April.

A NEW APPRECIATION FOR WELS

“What was most refreshing for me was being able to read the Bible,” says Werwie. “Growing up we always had a Bible in our house, but it was more of a decoration. We never really read it.” He says he also appreciates how the message is the same at each WELS church he’s been to. “It’s not dependent on the pastor and how he interprets the Bible,” says Werwie. “Whether I’m in Pennsylvania or Virginia, I know I’m going to hear the same teachings. I’m confident God has put me in the right place, at the right church.”

Werwie also gives credit to his friend, Larry, for helping him find his church family. During the last 20 years, Werwie has personally witnessed the love and support that Larry and his family have received from their congregation. “This was a major factor in my decision and desire in joining the WELS church,” says Werwie. He says his experience has been no different. “This church has shown me true Christian love. I found a church where I can lay my burdens down, and people help and support me as I deal with this catastrophic disability. That’s a wonderful feeling.”

FINDING HIS CALLING

Now Werwie finds himself helping others in their time of need. In his new job with the Department of Defense, Werwie connects veterans who have recently lost their sight with the resources and technology they need. He’s also been able to help with their spiritual needs. Some of the veterans have called Werwie, saying they’re ready to end their life—and Werwie uses that opportunity to share his faith. “You can give them all of this wonderful technology that will help make their life better, but unless they have Christ in their life, they really don’t know true joy,” he says. “Without Christ in your life, nothing else matters.”

He says never in a million years would he have anticipated doing this, but now that he’s helping disabled veterans, he feels it’s his calling. “God put me in a position where I can help others coming back from the war,” he says. “There’s such a large, hurting group of people out there who need to hear God’s Word.” He says his next step is to complete the WELS Chaplaincy program. “These last two years have been an epiphany for me,” he says. “I’ve received such wonderful help and support, and now I want to give back and share God’s grace with others. I have a burning desire to do that.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Resurrection, Rochester, Minn.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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 2

What Jesus said about himself makes him is more than a great human teacher. By his words he claims to be 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.

Theodore J. Hartwig

“CAN ANY OF YOU PROVE ME GUILTY OF SIN? IF I AM TELLING THE TRUTH, WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE ME?”

Jesus spoke this extraordinary statement in John 8:46 while debating with the Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus’ question must have boggled the minds of all the people disputing with him. How could he, a mere man, dare to claim he was without sin as if he were God? They had seen his power and were familiar with his miracles, but outward signs and wonders do not change hearts. Only the still, small voice of the gospel converts and creates new hearts.

Peter and his companions knew who Jesus was. They had experienced the miracles of Jesus probably more than anyone. They had just served as waiters when Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish. When many of these people the next day deserted Jesus for his hard teachings, Jesus then asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter made his beautiful confession: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69). Peter did not name miracles as the cause for his faith. No, it was the power of Jesus’ words, which moved him to call this man of human flesh and blood the Holy One of God.

And what about doubting Thomas? Jesus appeared to Thomas and the disciples the week after his resurrection and removed Thomas’ doubts. But he also directed Thomas and the others about faith. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Seeing can be a mind-persuasive obstruction to faith. People saw Jesus in the flesh, spoke with him, ate with him, witnessed his miracles, saw a human person like themselves. But except for the few who listened to and took his words to heart, many would reject him. They would respond, “We are not stoning you for any of these [great miracles] . . . but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). So these people understood Jesus clearly. They understood his stupendous self-identifications. But what their ears heard did not match what their eyes saw. So they rejected him.

The same happened at his trial before the Jewish high court. When the high priest put Jesus under oath and demanded of him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus made his good confession: “Yes, it is as you say.” To which the high priest responded: “He has spoken blasphemy!” (Matthew 26:63-65).

This is how it has been, how it is, and how it always will be when Jesus occupies people’s thoughts and conversation. He confronts us with an either-or. Those not with him are against him. There is no middle ground. To be with him is to respect, to believe, to rejoice, and to be comforted by his astounding question: Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?

“I TELL YOU THE TRUTH, BEFORE ABRAHAM WAS BORN, I AM”

John’s gospel records many disputes Jesus had in Jerusalem with the Jewish religious leaders. In one, Jesus told them that their father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing the day when he would leave his Father and come to earth. Indeed, in faith Abraham saw that future day as if it had already happened, and he rejoiced. The Jewish leaders responded, “You are not yet fifty years old . . . and you have seen Abraham!” And the surprising answer of Jesus? “I tell you the truth, . . . before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).

Jesus’ words in the book of Revelation seem to have a similar ring. There he tells John: “I am the Alpha and the Omega [the First and the Last] . . . who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (1:8).

Jesus is. Amid all the ongoing tumults fomented by wars, hatreds, human monsters, and rampant immorality in this world, Jesus will not relinquish his office as overseer. “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working,” he told the Jewish leaders (John 5:17). All things are under his care and control. He does not take his gift of liberty away from people, but he executes his work of preservation by keeping his oversight within bounds, normally through good civil government and capable human leaders. The Lord remains in charge. He is at his work in the present and everywhere.

Jesus was. All that has happened in the past, all history, occurred under his oversight because it is all His Story. The Lord Jesus stands at the center of history, and only in this light does one find the key to history. The apostle Paul expressed history’s meaning when he wrote that history is “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

Jesus is to come. He is Lord of the future. Revelation tells the story of the future of the world and the church until the Lord’s return at the end of this age. Since that future is beyond human experience, its story is couched in the language of symbols and pictures. It all points to the truth of Jesus.

Jesus identifies himself as “I Am” to the Jewish leaders. These men knew that Jesus was referring to what God said to their hero Moses from the burning bush on Mt. Horeb: “I AM WHO I AM. . . . This is my name forever, the name I am to be remembered from generation to generation” (Exodus 3:14,15).

And here in front of these Jews, this man, Jesus of Nazareth, dared to call himself “I Am.” He dared to put himself on the same level with God. What blasphemy to their minds! It was bound to inflame their murderous hatred and move them to take up stones to stone him.

These Jews were scandalized by Jesus’ words because they regarded him only on the basis of their reason and senses. They saw only a man of flesh and blood, a human being like themselves. The tragic failure with these Jews lay in their refusal to listen to and taking seriously the word Jesus taught. His Word, with its innate power, did not pierce their hearts. They shrugged it off, rejected it, and so they never came to faith. They would not and could not believe that this man of flesh and blood was also the very God.

The words of Jesus have penetrated our hearts. We believe him to be true God and true man—Savior and Lord.

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

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

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Theodore Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

Teen Talk: God is in control

Doubt about the future can drive you crazy until you realize who’s in control.

Amelia Asmus

A person’s entire school career prepares them for the life ahead of them. From preschool to senior year of high school is typically about the amount of time someone has to choose what field of work they want to enter. A lot of people decide what they want to be by the time that they enter high school. I am not one of those people.

When I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but when I entered my freshman year, I realized that I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life anymore. I began to get scared. The majority of my classmates had already chosen what jobs they wanted and were even starting to plan what colleges they should look into. My head was starting to spin, and I seemed frozen in time while the rest of the world flew by me.

Then one night, after spending a lot of time thinking about my dilemma, I turned to God’s Word for guidance. I found Jeremiah 29:11: “ ‘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.’ ” Then I sort of had an epiphany: It was completely okay that I was uncertain. God is in control. I need to let him do the planning, because his plans have no flaws.

That one little Bible passage brought me so much comfort. I do not know my future—even what is going to happen tomorrow—but that doesn’t matter. God has a plan designed specifically for me, and I pray that God gives me the faith to trust his path and to follow him without a doubt. God once told Abraham to pack up his family and everything he owned and go to a place that God would show him. Abraham trusted God wholeheartedly and gladly followed God’s command to leave.

Imagine the amount of blessing that God has in store for us if we put our trust in him. From the beginning of time, God had a plan to save us from sin by sending his one and only Son to die on a tree. The entire Bible is centered around that promise of a Savior. God had a plan to save the entire human race from eternal damnation, so why wouldn’t someone put their trust in God when it comes to their future job?

I had my whole life planned out for me about a year and a half ago. But now I have absolutely no idea what I want to do. I strongly believe that God faced me with this

indecision to wake me up and show me that I am not in control—he is. I realize that it’s a terrifying thought if I’m in control. God’s control, on the other hand, is steadfast and strong. Being unsure about the future is okay. What really matters is trust in God, because he always leads you onto the right path.

So now, as I listen to all my classmate talk about becoming teachers, doctors, and football stars, I know that it is completely okay not to know what job I want right now. God has a plan for me, and I know that he is going to do what is best, because he loves me.

Amelia Asmus, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at Trinity, Watertown, Wisconsin.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Amelia Asmus
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

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

 

A mission is born in New York

The church doesn’t even have a name. “Just New WELS Mission Congregation,” says freshly installed Harland (Aaron) Goetzinger III. But with a strong start and exciting, God-blessed plans, the future looks bright for this congregation in Watertown, New York, one of five missions approved for funding this spring.

“When I think of the new mission starting in Watertown, New York, I think of perseverance,” says Keith Free, administrator for WELS Home Missions. “A WELS pastor 75 miles from Watertown served the group for years. Through those years, God’s Word was proclaimed. And the North Atlantic district mission board also worked with the group. And through faithful service and perseverance, a mission was born.”

The journey began when Jeremiah Gumm was assigned to restart a church in Liverpool, N.Y., in 2005. “It became clear that the pocket of member families and WELS [Fort Drum military] personnel in the Watertown area were traveling 70 to 80 miles down to Liverpool through one of the heaviest lake-effect snow belts in the eastern United States,” recounts Gumm. Watertown was a growing area, and Liverpool was the closest WELS church for miles.

In April 2006, Gumm and congregational leaders met “and made the first plans for our ‘Up North Ministry’ with monthly Bible studies in a home followed by a meal,” says Gumm. The group eventually transitioned to a community center on post, then to a chapel facility. In summer 2009 they moved off-post, meeting twice a month in a rented meeting space. Youth events such as Creation for Kids and God’s Great Rescues and adult Bible information classes, on-site and via Skype, were also held.

Gumm has been busy serving both congregations the past eight years, but “helping to start a mission from the ground up was a dream of mine going back to my school days. Now that the Lord has allowed me to see that dream fulfilled with the arrival of a resident pastor in Watertown, I can say that I now understand God’s grace much better through this experience. It was a privilege to be part of all that God’s grace allowed me and God’s people in the Watertown area to do. Pastor Goetzinger’s installation was a time to celebrate God’s grace in all its fullness.”

Goetzinger is no stranger to New York. His father, a second-career pastor, vicared at King of Kings, Clifton Park, New York. “Even though I was at [Luther] Prep by that time, I was able to come home on vacations and see much of the East and New England,” he says. “I really grew to love the beauty of the eastern part of the U.S.”

After graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2011, Goetzinger was assigned as a tutor and instructor at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. After three years as tutor and later, recruiter, he was up for assignment again. “When reading my name, I heard President Schroeder make a dramatic pause before reading the state,” he says. “In those few microseconds, my mind raced as I tried to think of which Watertown it would be.”

On July 27, Goetzinger was installed as pastor in Watertown, New York. “Around 100 people came along with 11 area pastors. Some drove 3.5 hours to come. That showing made their prayers for us all the more tangible.”

The congregation is grateful for the “great history” between Watertown and Liverpool, but now it’s time to strike out on their own. Preliminary plans call for conducting a community study, promoting the mission in the community, finding a ministry center to lease, and choosing a name.

Says Goetzinger, “All those plans may change, but one plan will not change: We will proclaim Christ and Christ alone. It is imperative for us to view the people in our community as souls who urgently need saving. God has given us just the thing that will save them.”

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

 

Asian outreach in New Jersey

It began small, with Mark Johnston, pastor at Our Savior’s, East Brunswick, N.J., and his wife visiting their new neighbors, a Chinese couple named Kevin and Susan Zhang.

But God had big plans.

Johnston says more and more Chinese were moving into the church’s neighborhood. After meeting the Zhangs, Johnston and his congregation started thinking about offering the church’s fellowship hall for a Chinese New Year celebration. The Zhangs loved the idea and wanted the church to be involved so members could learn more about the Chinese culture. The first year, in 2011, 133 people showed up to the event; the congregation was expecting 40. Johnston says the congregation gets a chance to share a law/gospel message during this now annual event. “We want to make sure the kingdom of God is advanced by this,” he notes.

Through these celebrations, several Chinese began taking English/Christianity classes at the church. “They virtually know nothing about Christianity,” says Johnston. “Some of our Chinese people did not know the name Jesus.” Some also began attending the English worship service.

Last Easter Our Savior’s took a recorded Mandarin Easter service from Joshua Yu, pastor at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wis., and showed it to the seven Asians in attendance. This past June, the congregation offered another Mandarin service, this time having Daniel Wu, a Chinese layperson from Sure Foundation, Queens, N.Y., conduct the liturgy and read a sermon. “It is a real joy as we join the hands of fellowship across our synod to use the resources in other congregations to share the saving message of the Savior of all nations,” says Johnston.

Johnston says that while all these events were unfolding, the 100-member congregation was considering how to further this outreach. That’s when part two of God’s plan kicked in, and it involved Peter Wee, a local Korean pastor.

Wee served at a non-denominational campus ministry at Rutgers. He and his members needed a place to worship, so he approached Johnston at Our Savior’s.

But Wee got more than he bargained for. Johnston and Wee began talking about doctrine. From those discussions, Wee discovered what he had been missing. “One of the surprise things is that we are really seriously Word of God centered ministry,” says Wee. “We are preaching law and gospel . . . following grace, faith and Scripture alone.”

Wee decided he wanted to become a WELS pastor. Even though he already has a theological degree, he is studying confessional Lutheranism with area pastors through a program put together by the Pastoral Studies Institute. And he couldn’t be happier about what he is learning about WELS and its teachings. “I feel like I found a hidden jewel in the treasure chest.”

Our Savior’s called Wee to be its minister of evangelism. Wee is now working with Johnston to reach out to the Korean community as well as to continue outreach to the Chinese in the area. Wee offers Korean language classes for those interested in learning the language—many of whom are Chinese. He also helps plan community events, including the now renamed Lunar New Year celebration. His goal after becoming a WELS pastor is to start a Korean WELS church in New Jersey.

Johnston says he can see God’s hand as all these events unfold. “He gave me a background that really fits into this situation,” says Johnston, who has served in both home and world mission fields in the past. “We have a congregation that is blessed financially and is eager to see the kingdom of God expand. Pastor Wee has a deep love for souls and unending zeal for touching the lives of Asian people for Jesus. We’re just so thankful to God to have this opportunity. It’s really a lesson in God’s grace that we have here.”

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

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

 

 

Worship Conference uplifts attendees in 2014

WELS Commission on Worship held its seventh triennial worship conference July 22-25 at Carthage College, Kenosha, Wis. More than 1,000 WELS members met to be enriched in worship music, liturgy, and liturgical art at nearly 60 optional presentations.

The conference presentations covered topics from choir directing, teaching children music, graphic design, church architecture, and art. Other highlights of the conference included a festival choir of more than 120 voices, a high school honor choir, a children’s choir, and a 40-piece orchestra.

“The worship conference is very inspirational. I worked with the highest level of Christian musicians I ever have. It’s a great experience for me. It builds me up and gives me increased enthusiasm when I go back to my own congregation,” says attendee Benjamin Benson, Shepherd of the Mountains, Reno, Nev.

Gunilla Hedkvist came all the way from Sweden to attend the conference. She says, “I was at the 2008 conference and I thought it was so great, so wonderful. And when I got the opportunity to come here, I said yes immediately because I knew that I was going to learn a lot here. I’m coming from a very small church—my own congregation we usually have 15 people at a church service. To come here and sing God’s praises with a thousand people—that’s not something that happens very often in my life. It was wonderful.”

Rev. Bryan Gerlach, director of the WELS Commission on Worship, says the conference went smoothly for such a complex event; it broke attendance records for closing worship.

“There was an almost capacity crowd in a chapel rated to seat 1,700 people for the closing worship with a near flawless musical performance. And this wasn’t just music for music’s sake, but think of the spiritual impact that this has on all the attendees,” says Gerlach. “There was not only an inspiration value for all attendees, but also the trickle-down effect as they go back to their churches and serve with renewed enthusiasm, new ideas, and perspectives.”

Gerlach also noted the interest of younger generations in Lutheran worship. “When you talk about talent, the thing that is just thrilling for me is the number of young people—the number of people in the orchestra who are 20-somethings. The blossoming of talent in WELS over the last generation is so gratifying.”

The next WELS Worship Conference will be held in 2017.

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

 

Precious Lambs reaches families in Raleigh

When Julianna Kiecker received the call to be preschool director at Precious Lambs Early Learning Center, Raleigh, N.C., in 2011, she wasn’t sure she could do it. “I wanted God to use me for teaching Spanish in elementary or high school, and/or to do Spanish outreach. In fact, I distinctly did not want to teach preschool. However, God had very different—and better—plans.”

Julianna’s husband, Phil, had just been assigned to be pastor at Gethsemane, Raleigh, Precious Lambs’ sponsoring congregation. The once flourishing preschool was struggling at that time with only nine students. While members were doing what they could, closing the school after 14 years of ministry was a real possibility. But, says Julianna, the congregation hadn’t given up yet. They took a leap of faith and called Julianna to be the full-time director.

God blessed the decision to keep the preschool open. Now Precious Lambs is filled to capacity with 29 three- to five-years-olds. The congregation even is looking at erecting a preschool building. “We were praying and relying on him and trying to do our best to make it the most wonderful program that we could, and he blessed it like he promises he will,” says Julianna.

Gethsemane views Precious Lambs as its main community outreach tool. Besides offering a preschool program, the center—which is located in the church’s fellowship hall—provides extended care to its students, staying open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Julianna says this sets the center apart in the community, where there are many early childhood programs. The congregation also offers tuition assistance to those in their neighborhood who are struggling financially.

Of course, the most important thing Precious Lambs gives its students—and their parents—is the gospel message. “Ninety-nine percent of the students come to our preschool from non-church related contacts, so it has really allowed us to reach families we may not have come into contact with otherwise,” says Julianna. “We find that many of the children do not even know who Jesus is, and it is so exciting to be able to be the first ones to tell them and watch their eyes grow big as they hear the lessons of the Bible for the first time.”

Julianna says that the pastor and congregation members also work hard to build relationships with preschool parents. Whether that’s greeting them when they drop off their children at school or connecting with them at special fellowship activities, “these relationships often grow to godly counsel in life’s difficult situations,” says Julianna. While most parents do not go through formal Bible information classes immediately, Julianna says they consider Gethsemane “their church.” “After [their child] graduates, they realize they don’t have that connection anymore and something’s missing,” she says. “And then they come back.”

Besides the countless opportunities to plant the seed of the gospel, God has been numerically blessing the ministry. Since 2010 the congregation has added 24 members, had 30 people go through Bible information class, conducted 15 baptisms, and seen festival church services with twice the number of people that a normal Sunday holds—“all thanks to God’s work through Precious Lambs,” says Julianna.

She continues, “I guess the bottom line is that I have learned to truly trust in God’s plan. He always knows best. Even when it seems to fly in the face of what we think is best, God always works all things for the good of those who love him.”

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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

 

 

Spreading the gospel after you’re gone

Ron and Arlene Roth lived quiet ordinary lives. He grew up in Nebraska, the son of a pastor, and chose to follow in his father’s footsteps. In his vicar year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, he was assigned to Chicago, for him a surprise and a world much different than rural Nebraska. He would have chosen another assignment, but it was God’s plan not his. He was challenged to reach out to others and share the gospel with them. There he met Arlene. That was all part of God’s plan.

Marriage and children followed, nothing extraordinary. Their children came in the normal course of time: Steve, Cindy and Mike. Each of them carries with them memories of their mother and father. Arlene stayed at home when they were young, simply providing the daily care her little ones needed. Later she returned to the classroom and taught the little ones of other parents. Ron served congregations in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska.

They were frugal Christians with a desire to serve their Savior. They had a large garden while in Omaha. They loved their garden, and it helped ease the food budget. They took one vacation a year—usually to see relatives—and drove a second-hand car. When it needed repair they called on Ron’s brother; he owned an auto parts store and could help with repairs.

Quietly and without fanfare they lived as faithful stewards of God’s blessings. They set money aside regularly. Even when there wasn’t much, they always set aside some. They never went hungry and never lacked laughter and a loving home life with their children. They wanted to take care of their needs after retirement and to provide for their children too.

But they both had a deeper reason for setting aside money each week. They loved their Savior and wanted to spread the good news of his love and forgiveness. Yes, they gave regularly to the work while they were alive, but their vision extended beyond. After the Lord took them home, they wanted to leave behind something that would help spread the gospel.

Ron always flashed an easy smile and was called to serve as a giving counselor for the synod. Then Ron and Arlene talked about how to practice what Ron was to help other Christians do. They created a will that would achieve their goals: to take care of their children and still provide money for the spread of the gospel. Now the money they had been setting aside had a clear direction. They continued to add to funds during those remaining years so the money would be available long after they were gone.

The lessons they left behind in some ways are just as important as their gifts to the synod. They both knew that the Lord had wonderful blessings in store for them after they died. They lived knowing that Jesus is their Lord and Savior and that he would always be there for them no matter what happened. That was everything to them, as their son, Steve, remembers. Another lesson they taught is to set aside something regularly for the future. Do your best and trust God.

The end for Ron was difficult and sudden. On his 72nd birthday, he was working out in the gym and blacked out. After a couple of weeks, he began to have difficulty remembering and recognizing people. The end came two and a half months later. Arlene died 18 months later after losing her fight with cancer. They are in heaven. But Ron and Arlene had prepared for those days after they were gone. The surprising amount of money they had set aside over the years helped their children; most of it also helped share the good news of the Savior with many others.

If you want more information on how you can provide for your family and for the Lord’s work after your death, call 800-827-5482 to be connected to your local WELS Christian giving counselor.

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 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