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Don’t give thanks

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” Luke 18:11

Steven J. Pagels

Did the title of this devotion grab your attention? Maybe you were thinking to yourself, It must be a typo or Whoever proofreads these articles needs to do a better job of editing. Don’t give thanks? That doesn’t make sense. That advice doesn’t agree with the many Bible passages that encourage Christians to thank God for their many God-given blessings.

Actually it isn’t a typo, and those words do make sense if you look at them in the context of Luke 18. Jesus found himself in a gathering of people who thought very highly of themselves and very little of others. To take these self-righteous people down a notch, the Lord told them a parable about two men. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.

WITH A PROUD HEART

The Pharisee was a respected religious leader. People looked up to him, and probably plenty of people were looking at him when he stood up in the temple and began to pray: “God, I thank you . . . ” It was such a good start, a good beginning to any prayer a believer might pray. But as the Pharisee continued, the self-righteous words that came from his lips revealed that something was wrong inside his heart.

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evil doers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” The Pharisee wasn’t really interested in giving thanks to God. He was more concerned about drawing attention to himself, to how good he was, to how much better he was than all the wicked people in the world.

My guess is that you have never prayed a prayer like that, that you would never imagine praying a prayer like that. I wouldn’t either. But we don’t have to repeat the Pharisee’s words to have the same kind of self-righteous attitude. Instead of letting God know how good we are in our prayers, we can communicate the same idea in the prayers we choose not to pray. Why should I be thankful? I had to work hard to get the things I have. It was my effort, my determination, the decisions I made that got me where I am today.

BUT WITH A HUMBLE HEART

The other man in the parable wasn’t interested in telling God how good he was. He couldn’t even bring himself to look up to heaven. Instead he beat his breast and bowed his head and pleaded: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” What a dramatic contrast to the Pharisee’s prayer, and what a beautiful prayer it was!

The tax collector didn’t get into specifics, and he didn’t have to. He knew that God was aware of his many sins. He knew that he had no right to ask God for anything, but he did anyway. He asked God to be merciful, and God was. At the end of the parable Jesus explained that this man went home with his sins forgiven and his head held high.

The best part about this story is that it’s not just a story. It’s a true story. It is our story. We have a merciful God who lifts us up when we are weighed down by guilt. We have a living Savior who has forgiven all our sins. Because we are so blessed, because God has given us so much, we will do what comes naturally. We will do what grateful Christians do. With our lips and with our lives we will say, “Thank you.”

Contributing editor Steven Pagels is pastor at St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

 

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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

Citizens of two kingdoms

Martin Luther, as well as those who wrote and signed the Augsburg Confession, emphasized the existence of two types of kingdoms in this world—the spiritual kingdom in which God works through the proclamation of the gospel and the use of the sacraments, and the secular kingdom in which God works through earthly governments that exist only by his permission and will. Luther adamantly insisted that each has its own role to play, neither should assume the role of the other, and both are established by God.

We as Christians find ourselves, then, as citizens of two kingdoms. By God’s grace he has brought us into the spiritual kingdom that we call the Christian church. He has also placed us into this world as members of the secular kingdom, as citizens of the nation in which we live. Because God has established both kingdoms and placed Christians into both, Christians have a responsibility to God to be faithful and responsible members of both.

American Christians have been blessed to be placed into a secular kingdom that governs in the form of a democracy. We are blessed because our government has been established with certain freedoms that are guaranteed and with well-defined restrictions on its power. And we are blessed to be able to share in determining how decisions are made and in choosing the leaders who will make those decisions on our behalf. Those decisions are often made in areas of life that are vital and important. Sometimes those decisions are wise and beneficial for individuals and society; sometimes they are not.

There is an ongoing debate on whether the United States is a “Christian nation.” Some have argued that, from the beginning, the nation’s founders recognized that no single religion would receive protection or governmental sanction while others were somehow left to fend for themselves. Yet it cannot be denied that biblical values and principles have served as the guiding influence and foundation for many of our nation’s laws and for much of traditional American culture.

It is not hard to sense that in recent years the foundational and traditional values on which American culture has been based have been under assault. That assault sometimes comes from the hands of a godless culture that embraces no absolute standard of right and wrong. The assault sometimes comes from government itself, with laws and court decisions seeming to cast aside fundamental principles that have undergirded American life for more than two centuries.

As Christians who are members of the spiritual kingdom, we turn to God’s Word to strengthen our faith and affirm our beliefs. We worship regularly. We share with others the reason for the hope that we have. We live our lives as people of God so that others may see our good works and give glory to our heavenly Father.

And as Christians who are also members of the secular kingdom into which God has placed us, we will do all we can to be good, honest, and productive citizens. We will honor and respect the leaders who serve with the authority that God himself has granted, even those whose wisdom or agenda we may question. And, while Luther encouraged us to pray for faithful leaders and good government, we can also act. Since we have the privilege, we will exercise our right to vote for wise and honest leaders who will be a blessing to the nation in which we live. The secular kingdom is blessed and strengthened when members of the spiritual kingdom are faithful in using the rights and privileges they’ve been given by God himself.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 2014

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

 

A look back: Part 10

In the new millennium, ‘Forward in Christ’ shares challenges faced in today’s world as well as many examples of God’s grace to the synod and its individual members.

Mark E. Braun

Many Americans were anxious as they waited for the year 2000. Would everyone’s computer data be erased? Would planes fall from the sky? Would phantom missiles set off a chain of “war games” between Russia and the United States?

All such worries proved unfounded. “I’ve survived Y2K,” wrote Forward in Christ (FIC) editorial writer Walter Beckmann early in 2000. We all awoke to the same world we had known before.

Or was it?

A CHALLENGING WORLD

Y2K did not stun us, but 9/11 did. WELS members joined other Christians in hoping that God would use the dreadful attack “to restore the hearts of many to him as they search for answers.” And for a time it seemed this act of terror had “made a profound impact on our lives—socially and religiously,” FIC editor Gary Baumler ventured. But by early 2002, Barna researchers who explored how people’s faith changed after the attacks reported that “not many differences are seen.” Church attendance rose briefly but soon dropped to previous levels, or even lower.

As in previous generations, soldiers went off to war, leaving families behind. The new wrinkle in the Afghan and Iraqi wars was that some of the soldiers were wives and moms. Dawn Orta, a U.S. Army captain, deployed with 12,500 other men and women from Fort Hood for war with Iraq. Her husband, Carlos, gave up his military career to stay home with their two small children.

The new millennium has seen extraordinary disasters. A tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean, and Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, as did Hurricane Sandy the Jersey shore. How do we answer those who insist such tragedies are special judgments of God in human sinfulness? “Remember not to speak proudly about what God must be doing in that event,” FIC author Richard Gurgel cautioned. “God has not given us inspired words by which to judge those specific tragedies.”

No one expected to face the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression. This downturn also affected our synod. In 2003, offerings fell more than four million dollars short of budget, and the predicted shortfall for the next two years was twice that amount. At the 2007 convention, delegates were presented with a proposal to sell Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) for one dollar to any WELS group who could use the property for a synodical purpose. The delegates ultimately rejected the proposal and kept MLS open.

The numerical growth of past decades did not extend into the new millennium. Enrollment in WELS grade schools was already in decline. Seminary classes were only half the size they had been in the 1970s. Synodical membership decreased by almost 25,000 baptized members; despite ongoing children’s and adult confirmations, more than 150,000 people were released from church membership since 1990.

Some letter writers wondered if the synod was the same place it used to be. “Did anyone notice,” one asked, the loss of the name Northwestern Lutheran, which had graced the magazine cover for more than 75 years? Now it was Forward in Christ. Northwestern College was gone, Northwestern Preparatory School renamed, and Northwestern Lutheran Academy in South Dakota closed. “All that’s left is Northwestern Publishing House,” he lamented. “I noticed. I cared. I weep.” Another asked if we are distancing ourselves from Lutheran doctrine, Luther, and “saved by grace” to become more like nondenominational churches. One pastor remarked that Reformation services—once a Lutheran rallying point—were now attended only by “gray-haired people.”

Americans’ trust in institutional religion was reported to be at its lowest point in 30 years. Americans in their 20s were less likely to attend church or read the Bible than any other age group, though many still considered themselves “spiritual.” One of every three adults in the U.S.—73 million people—has not attended a religious service of any kind.

One development in the new millennium appears to have changed American life permanently. Baumler admitted he was surprised and perhaps naïve when he learned that the Supreme Court dismissed a Texas law prohibiting private homosexual conduct and “trashed with it all remaining sodomy laws in the United States.” We are no longer surprised and dare not be naïve.

Equally surprising was the growing popularity of yoga. When a Forward in Christ editorial writer repeated traditional warnings against a practice rooted in Hinduism, he received a tart retort: “Once again FIC teeters on offending WELS members, particularly younger generations that are already leaving at an alarming rate.”

A WORLD FULL OF GOD’S GRACE

The world is the same place it was before 2000, but more challenging than we remember. But we know we also enjoy the same grace.

Amid the bad news, Forward in Christ brought encouragement that our gospel reach is expanding. The number of baptized souls in WELS world mission fields has increased from 23,000 in 1970 to more than 72,000 today, and the number of national pastors in world mission churches has increased fivefold. WELS has joined in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference with other confessional Lutheran bodies from around the world, including Bulgaria, Nigeria, Australia, Ukraine, and many others. Members of these churches testify to their faith under trying circumstances.

Forward in Christ also brought individual accounts of how the good news of Jesus still brings forgiveness, peace, and courage. A man dying of brain cancer told his pastor, “I lived too much of life my way, and believe me, it was the wrong way. But God loves us and forgives us. It’s just such a relief.” A woman looking for a church in which to have her wedding found much more; she and her siblings were baptized there, and she and her new husband say they have a different outlook on life. A former Jehovah’s Witness took lessons to become a Lutheran and was re-baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” not in the name of the Watchtower Society.

There are many more such stories—a Mormon family from Idaho, Muslims who grew up in Pakistan, young parents who lost one child and faced serious surgery for another, a student from Hong Kong who came to the United States as an atheist. Different stories, but with similar endings: “I know I’m not perfect and I never will be. But the difference between now and then is that there is love and faith in God.” “We were never educated about God, creation, or what happens when we die,” but we learned “there is nothing we can do to earn our way to heaven—that it is given us by grace and faith alone.” “Everything in my life has changed. If God had not chosen me, I never would have come to faith.”

Jesus said that in the last days there would be wars and natural disasters, and the love of many would grow cold. But he also promised that his gospel would be preached to the ends of the earth. His words are still true in the new millennium.

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

This is the final articled 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 yeaers.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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: “New Earth”?

What will the “new earth” be like? Is that supposed to be heaven?

James F. Pope

With your question, you are referencing Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; and Revelation 21:1. In those verses God does speak of creating new heavens/a new heaven and a new earth. God will do that after he brings this present world to an end. Let’s see what Scripture says about our eternal home.

HEAVEN AND EARTH NOW

Right now Christians find themselves in two different places. Those in the church triumphant, those who have died in the faith, are in the presence of God in heaven. By “heaven,” we usually mean that place where God has revealed himself in all his glory.

Those in the church militant, people like you and I, live in this world, and we do so with the assurance that our Lord is present with us every moment of life. We can only imagine the steady stream of people who enter this world at birth, come to faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and then leave this world at death to be with the Lord in heaven.

THE NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH

While believers are in two different places presently, all that will change on judgment day. On that day the Lord Jesus will return visibly to this world for judgment. This world as we know it will be destroyed, and God will fashion a new world to be the eternal home of his people (2 Peter 3:10-13).

No doubt, it is the additional wording of the “new heaven” that leads to some confusion about the “new earth.” Understanding heaven in the same sense as in Genesis 1:1—sky—can reduce and eliminate that confusion. What God will do on the Last Day is make a new world for all his people.

ONE PLACE FOR GOD’S PEOPLE

Rest assured, this is not Jehovah’s Witnesses’ thinking. Among their false teachings is the idea that 144,000 of them will live forever in heaven, while the overflow crowd will live on the new earth. They wrongly view people living in two places throughout eternity, while rejecting the idea of hell.

By telling us about “the new heaven and the new earth,” Scripture has us understand that Christians will be in one place throughout eternity, and that is on the new earth. The last two chapters of the Bible figuratively describe the beauty of our eternal home. The imagery underscores the lavish love of God, who holds back nothing but instead gives his people the best of everything. The symbolism even harkens back to the Garden of Eden, where life was perfect and peaceful (Revelation 21:4).

So with all this in mind, is it inaccurate for us to speak of being in “heaven” for all eternity? Not at all, but we want to understand what the Bible means by heaven from judgment day on. From that great day onward, Christians will not be living among the clouds somewhere but enjoying life on the new earth—with a sky—that God will make. And because God will reveal himself on the new earth in all his glory—as he does in heaven now—we can say that we will be in heaven forever. In that sense we can say that life on the new earth will be heaven on earth.

It’s little wonder that Christians respond to Jesus’ “Yes, I am coming soon” with “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

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

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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 11
Issue: November 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

 

Thanksgiving every day

In China, people do not celebrate Thanksgiving Day, but they are thankful.

Mark J. Lenz

Last year on Nov. 28, our neighbors didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day. In fact no one celebrated it. Did the festival sneak up on them? Did they forget? Didn’t they realize that everything they were and everything they have comes from God?

Maybe not. You see last year my wife and I were living in China. The Chinese people don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day. The fourth Thursday in November is just another day for them.

They celebrate a number of other festivals though. For example they celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. Last year this festival took place Sept. 19, the time of the full moon. For that reason it’s sometimes referred to as Moon Festival. Traditions include moon gazing and, for a few, even moon worship. Some call it Mooncake Festival because of the popular tradition of eating mooncakes, little cakes with a center made of bean-paste that resembles the moon. I somewhat enjoyed the first one I ate. But after a while there were so many being offered it almost got hard to look at them.

Sometimes this festival is referred to as Lantern Festival. Shops carry a wide variety of lanterns. A notable part of the holiday is the carrying of brightly lit lanterns, lighting lanterns on towers, or launching sky lanterns. At night people gather in the parks with their lit lanterns. Some burn incense in reverence to various gods, including Chang’e, the goddess of the moon. Often there are dragon dances or lion dances. At these gatherings they give thanks for the harvest. They pray for babies, a spouse, beauty, longevity, or for a good future.

Other festivals include National Day, which celebrates the People’s Republic of China with a variety of government-organized festivities, including fireworks and concerts. There’s the Chinese Lunar New Year’s Day also known as Spring Festival, which lasts for a couple of weeks and is celebrated with lion dances, fireworks, family gatherings, the visiting of friends and relatives, and the exchanging of red envelopes containing money. There’s Ching Ming or Tomb Sweeping Day, which involves ancestral veneration and the tending of family graves. Other festivals include Labor Day, Buddha’s Birthday, and the Dragon Boat Festival.

It’s all very exciting and colorful and fun, but it’s also very sad. The vast majority of the 1.34 billion people in China do not know the true God. At Mid-Autumn Festival they’re not thanking the triune God for all their blessings of body and soul. That’s because they don’t know him. On Tomb Sweeping Day they’re not thanking Jesus for the resurrection from the dead. That’s because they don’t know about it.

Yet a growing number of people in China do know. True, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day; it’s not part of their culture. But they are thankful. Many remember what life was like before they knew Christ as their Savior. Life then was just a matter of making money, finding an apartment they could afford, getting married, raising a family, making sure there was enough food on the table, staying healthy, and having fun. But as is always the case, Christ at the center of their lives changed everything. To protect their identities I’m not going to use their real names, but all of the following stories are true.

Wong earned his master’s degree in engineering at a prestigious university, but thanks to the witness of some WELS teachers, he decided he wanted to learn more about the Bible. Today he is studying to be a pastor. Already he is preaching and ministering to a group of people. Recently he married a woman he met at a Bible study. At the wedding ceremony the couple gave each set of parents a Bible in the hope that they would read it and come to know Jesus as their Savior. Why is Wong studying to be a pastor? Why did he and his wife give their parents Bibles? It’s because their hearts are filled with gratitude to their Savior.

Li and Cheung translate Lutheran materials into Chinese and interpret for English-speaking teachers. They are taking every theology course they can because they want to learn more about their Savior and because they want to do their work better. A few months ago Li translated a public lecture on a topic that involved communicating deep theological concepts in Chinese. Cheung serves as a music leader at her church. A spirit of selfless service characterizes them both. When complimented on the fine work they do, they simply smile, shrug their shoulders, and give all glory to God whom they gladly and willingly serve.

Chan is a medical doctor with a husband and two young daughters. Some time ago she was diagnosed with leukemia. Recent reports suggest that it is spreading to other parts of her body. So what has she done? She has taken courses in theology and the Lutheran Confessions. She wants to learn more about her Savior. She also has asked if she could serve in a special way in her congregation. Why? Because she knows that heaven is her home, and as long as she is still on this earth she wants to thank her Savior by learning more about him and serving him in any way she can.

A few years ago Chiu retired from the position of chief superintendent of police. Only then did he become a Christian. Recently he has been working toward a degree in theology because he wants to spend his retirement years serving God’s people. Thanks to his sharing of the gospel over the years, several police officers have become Christians. Every year he goes on a mission trip to spread the gospel in remote areas of the country. He has a comfortable pension. He wouldn’t have to work. Why does he? It’s because he finds great joy in serving his gracious Lord.

Suen is an economics professor at a major university. After he and his wife took a Bible course, they said they would like to find a way to send their son to a Lutheran high school in the United States so he could learn more about his Savior. Why? They are grateful for what they have learned and want their son to learn more from God’s Word too.

Often my wife and I attended Chinese worship services. We loved it every time—the enthusiastic, heartfelt singing, the prayers, the handshakes and blessings exchanged with every other worshiper, holding hands when praying the Lord’s Prayer, all the children coming up for an individual blessing at the end of the service, going out to eat after church. The gratitude and joy was obvious in everything they did.

We celebrated Thanksgiving Day in China last year with our English-speaking friends. After the worship service we had a potluck dinner with turkey, ham, and all the trimmings. But our Chinese Christian friends taught us a couple of important lesson. Every day is a day to be thankful to God, and the blessings we have in Christ are the most important blessings of all.

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

 

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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 J. Lenz
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

Stewardship: My identity in Christ

Your identity as a baptized child of God gives you a new outlook on life and a unique way to approach living every day.

Jeffrey D. Enderle

Opening credits of reality television shows flash smiling faces of the contestants across the screen and cut to footage of them in action. During the competition, all we get are their names and possibly their ages and occupations. It’s hard to tell who is going to win, but predicting the outcome requires knowing more than just that basic information about a person.

Occasionally we get a little back story. We see her out for walks, playfully rolling around with her adorable Labrador retriever. Another contestant is in a setting starkly contrasting the wilderness environment of the reality competition. The camera shows him stepping out of a limousine, buttoning up a tailored business suit, and then holding influence over an impressive looking boardroom.

But even then, even if we know where they come from and what they do for a living, do we really know who they are? Isn’t there more to a person?

Christians face this same struggle. What does the label “Christian” really tell us? When you call yourself a Christian, do you struggle coming to grips with what that means?

Regrettably this struggle comes to us because we often treat our identity as Christians the same way reality television contestants are described for viewers. Our Christianity, by default, becomes a small category of who we are. We compartmentalize our faith the way we think of our job. Being a Christian in practical terms becomes equivalent to being a mechanic or banker or stay-at-home mom. Practicing our faith gets as much attention as our roles and interests like coaching soccer, scrapbooking, or collecting Star Wars’ memorabilia.

IDENTITY DEFINED

Defining our Christian faith in biblical terms gives us an entirely different approach. Being a Christian defines who we are: “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:6) Your entire identity is defined by your relationship with Christ: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

The closest equivalent to this identity, in human terms, is the way the men and women serving in the armed forces see themselves. Being a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine means more than just holding a job. That identity defines a life and a lifestyle rather than simply a job or a role a person occasionally plays.

A young man or woman enlisting in the military has a picture of what life will be like in a few short months. Successfully completing boot camp will change how they see themselves and likely alter the way they view the world. When they pass through that training and get to the other side, they will actually be soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines. That transformation gives them a new identity and a changed purpose.

We all might have our own expectations for what it means to be a Christian. Depending on when and how you first explored what it means to be a Christian, you had a unique view of what that life would be like. Maybe you had a hole in your heart and started searching for a vague spiritual solution to help you solve life’s problems. Maybe you grew up in a Christian household but wandered away and became confused about your path for life. When the Holy Spirit gets a hold of you though, you are changed (1 Corinthians 1:26). The Holy Spirit takes you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you have done, and transforms you into a child of God (1 Peter 2:9).

Now your baptism defines your identity. Whether you went to the font kicking and screaming or calmly conscious of what God was promising, you went into your baptism a condemned sinner bound for hell. You came away a child of God. At the baptismal font God’s word of condemnation for your sin met his word of promise. In the waters of Baptism God’s acceptance of Jesus’ payment for your sin became your verdict of innocence. Your baptism into faith in Jesus is your release paper, setting you free from a meaningless life destined for an eternity of agony.

Your relationship with Christ now defines who you are: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26,27 NIV 2011). Your baptism gives new life: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4). Your identity as a baptized child of God gives you a new outlook on life and a unique way to approach living every day. Your Christianity isn’t just one facet of your life: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV 2011). Your very life is defined by your relationship with Christ. Now your outlook on life and your attitude toward God’s blessings are shaped by this identity in Christ.

A LIFE OF SERVICE

The Christian duty to thank and praise God, to serve and obey him can seem a little intimidating. Boot camp again is probably the best comparison to handling this imposing task. A marine drill sergeant described the eye-opening difference in the way he looks at boot camp now compared with the way he thought of it when he was first going through it. As a young recruit, he thought his drill sergeants had it in for him. He felt like he and so many of his fellow recruits were destined to fail. Now, on the other side of the training, he sees the whole system is designed to ensure a vast majority make it. Recruits have to be pushed. They have to be changed. In the end, though, the U.S. Marine Corps wants those young men and women to be successful. The whole process is designed and implemented to produce well-trained, capable marines.

When you are pressured by the stress of serving your Savior, remember where you came from. When you get anxious and upset about how well you are living up to God’s expectations or disappointed by your dismal record of past performances, remind yourself how you got to be a child of God in the first place. When you feel unworthy of your heritage of faith, think back to the One who made you what you are. Simply put, remember who you are. More importantly, remember whose you are. Your Father has claimed you as his own. The Holy Spirit has brought you into this relationship through faith in Jesus. Your power to carry out the tasks God gives you comes directly from him.

You might never be a contestant on a reality television show, but as a Christian you know your identity. As a Christian, you are a child of God through your baptismal relationship of faith in Jesus Christ. People around you might not be able to accurately predict how you will fare in this competitive life. As a Christian, you can live with the confidence of knowing you are victorious in Christ Jesus. In times of struggle, you know: “I am his. He is mine.”

Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Beautiful Saviour, Carlsbad, California.

This is the first article in a three-part series on stewardship.

 

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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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: Schermerhorn

After spending his early years involved in the Roman Catholic Church, an architect learns of God’s eternal design for his life.

Rachel Hartman

Tom Schermerhorn, a registered architect and engineer, has designed worship and educational facilities for many WELS congregations. And while Schermerhorn appreciates the chance to help in these areas, he has an unmatched appreciation for something else: the Word of God and the solid teaching of its lasting promises.

In his youth, Schermerhorn was unaware of the comforting message of salvation through Jesus alone. Raised in the Roman Catholic Church, he saw the need to be good enough for God. Over the years, God not only shaped Schermerhorn and called him to be his own, but he also gave him the chance to serve in a wide variety of ways.

SEARCHING FOR TRUTH

Schermerhorn spent his early years in Winneconne, Wisconsin. In some respects, life did not start out smoothly. “My father died from cancer before I was two years old,” he recalls. Schermerhorn had three older sisters, and all four children were under five.

After his father’s death, his mother moved to his grandparents’ home with her four children. They stayed there for about a year. “My mother was Roman Catholic, as were my grandparents,” he says.

A couple of years after his father died, Schermerhorn’s mother remarried. His stepfather, who filled the role of father for him, was agnostic. “My dad supported my mother in her wishes to raise us as Catholics,” he notes. “We attended church regularly, but my dad usually did not go.”

When he was in third grade, Schermerhorn moved with his family to Ripon, Wisconsin. There, as a teenager, he became more involved with the Roman Catholic Church. He started participating in a group known as the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Set up for high school aged children, the CYO often got together for activities or held fundraisers. During his senior year of high school, Schermerhorn became the leader for the group.

Even though he was active in the Roman Catholic Church, Schermerhorn was not fully satisfied. “A couple of things happened in those high school years,” he recalls. “First, I remember going to a service and praying to various saints for various reasons.”

The idea of approaching saints with requests rather than presenting them to God troubled Schermerhorn. He went to a priest at the church and questioned the purpose of the service. “I asked why we prayed to saints and not directly to God. He said we needed them to intercede for us since we were not good enough to pray to God.”

Then, at age 16, Schermerhorn met a new friend, and it became another turning point. His friend, Chris, was 14 years old, and she attended the same high school in Ripon. Soon the two started dating. “We talked about religions and the differences between them,” Schermerhorn recalls. Chris was a member of a WELS congregation. “I invited her to my church, and she invited me to her church,” he says. As a result of the invitation, Schermerhorn attended his first WELS service at Grace, Pickett, Wisconsin.

A LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT

After dating in high school, the couple went to separate colleges. Schermerhorn attended Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) to further his education. While there, he noticed Grace, Milwaukee. It was located near the college and was offering adult information classes. Schermerhorn decided to attend.

At the first class, Schermerhorn faced a revealing question. “The pastor asked, ‘If you were to die tonight, where would your soul go?’ ” he says. “I answered I thought I would go to heaven because I lived a good life and had done more good than bad.” In response, the pastor said that faith in Jesus alone would get Schermerhorn to heaven.

Schermerhorn, who had grown up with an understanding that salvation was based on a person’s works, was deeply struck by the words. To have Jesus take care of everything sounded so simple and reassuring. “That was my epiphany moment,” he notes.

While attending classes at MSOE, Schermerhorn went to more adult information classes. When he graduated, he decided to take Bible instruction classes once more. He was then confirmed, in 1981, at Divine Peace, Milwaukee.

GIVING THANKS

A couple of years after joining a Lutheran congregation, Schermerhorn married Chris, the friend he had met in high school who had invited him to a WELS church for the first time. The newlywed couple lived in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and attended St. John’s there. Soon they were asked to be leaders of the youth group.

Schermerhorn and his wife were happy to help out. Being involved with others during their teen years resonated with Schermerhorn. “That was a time in my life when I had really struggled,” he explains. “I still feel it’s an important time for our teens.” He and his wife wanted to help teens remain faithful through their struggles.

A couple of years later, Schermerhorn and his wife moved to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. There they became members of Faith, Fond du Lac. “We were blessed to have three children who had the privilege to attend Faith Lutheran School and Winnebago Lutheran Academy,” notes Schermerhorn. “They are all now involved members at their churches in the Milwaukee area.”

During the following years as members of Faith, Schermerhorn found various ways to use his gifts. He served on the Board of Youth Discipleship as well as the Board of Elders. He was also vice chairman and then chairman of the congregation. “I also had the privilege to coach both boys’ and girls’ basketball at Faith, and my wife and I led the teen Bible study and youth group for seven years,” he explains.

Schermerhorn currently serves on the Synodical Council as the representative for the Northern Wisconsin District. He serves on the council’s finance committee and is the chair of the Capital Planning Committee, which oversees all the buildings and physical assets of the synod. In addition, Schermerhorn is on the Board of Directors for Wisconsin Lutheran and Child Family Services and the Wisconsin Lutheran Retirement Committee.

When Schermerhorn works with congregations to design worship facilities, he can offer valuable insight. Since he did not spend his entire life at a WELS church, he is able to suggest ways to help visitors find their way and follow along during a service. “It can take a while for someone to feel comfortable,” he explains.

Schermerhorn is grateful for the chance to help in whatever role he can. “To me, it’s a rewarding experience to be able to serve,” he says.

He also appreciates the continuity that can be found throughout WELS churches. “The biggest blessing to me in WELS is the solid doctrine that is consistently taught everywhere we go, and the exposure my children have had to this life-saving message for all eternity,” he says. “We know our lives here are temporary; we know we will enjoy heaven for all eternity.”

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

 

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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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: Northern Wisconsin District

Northern Wisconsin District

Joel M. Zank

“Northern Wisconsin District”—the sharp letters of the stamp left their impression on the shiny gold foil.

It was the first time I had used the district seal as I put the finishing touch on a young pastor’s ordination certificate. I quickly learned the hard way that such a project offers no room for error. The letters that form the seal’s circle must be perfectly centered. By my third attempt the words finally fell into place. That’s when I took a closer look at them: EV. LUTHERAN JOINT SYNOD OF WISCONSIN A.O.S. Wow! I could tell the stamp was old, but these words suggest that it’s as old as the district itself. How old is that?

A DISTRICT LONG IN HISTORY

The Northern Wisconsin District was formed in 1917 with the merger of the Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin Synods. These four church bodies, wanting to express their oneness in Christ and all of his teachings, became the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin And Other States. The members of this “new” Wisconsin Synod would, among other things, share in the work of proclaiming the gospel and training called workers.

With this resolution to unite came a decision to divide the “old” Wisconsin Synod into three districts, one of those being Northern Wisconsin. This explains why dozens of Northern Wisconsin District congregations are older than the district itself. In fact more than 30 congregations in the district were established in the mid-1800s. Their dates of charter help trace the gospel’s course from Fond du Lac to Manitowoc to Algoma to Green Bay to the Fox Cities and beyond.

A DISTRICT FULL OF MISSION SPIRIT

The district’s very existence is a tribute to the missionary spirit of our fathers in the faith. It was not uncommon for our first generation of pastors to accept a call to serve a congregation and then immediately request a leave of absence. The pastors weren’t asking for a vacation. They were looking to “explore” opportunities to share the gospel in nearby communities. These missionaries would travel by foot or oxcart for weeks, even months at a time, taking the good news of Jesus throughout the north woods of Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You might think that that the congregations that called these men would feel cheated of their service. Instead the members were only too happy to receive reports of the gospel’s success. Those who had been given so much in Christ were eager to share him with others.

Of course, “sharing Christ” meant more than starting new congregations. It also involved establishing schools. From the start, member churches of the Northern Wisconsin District had a burning desire to teach the pure truth of God’s Word to children, first in German and later in English. Lutheran elementary schools opened across the district, often in places where there were no public schools.

By 1917 only larger towns and cities in Wisconsin had public high schools. There was talk among some congregations of expanding parochial education to include ninth grade or perhaps even a four-year high school program. In 1925 the members of St. Peter, Fond du Lac, Wis., together with those of neighboring churches were the first in the district to offer a ninth-grade education. The very next year that effort gave birth to Winnebago Lutheran Academy, a school dedicated to training both called workers and lay people for service in the Lord’s kingdom. In 1953 the churches in and around the Fox Cities opened Fox Valley Lutheran High School in Appleton, Wis. Three years later Manitowoc Lutheran High School began offering classes.

To this day the Northern Wisconsin District is known for its emphasis on Christian education. Yes, the schools look different than the old one-room schools. Textbooks have given way to tablets and blackboards to interactive whiteboards, but the one thing needful remains ever the same—Christ is at the center of every lesson whether taught in the classroom or on the playground. As our district approaches its 100th birthday, aging schools are being remodeled or rebuilt from the ground up. Look at Weyauwega, where earlier this year the members of St. Peter Lutheran Church dedicated their new school building, replacing the structure that had served the congregation’s children since 1941. Our schools are expanding too in an effort to reach out to the young families in the community. Early childhood centers are opening in every corner of the district. In Appleton, Bethany uses its early childhood center to do ministry on a second campus. One of the congregation’s three pastors spends most of his time at the center, meeting the unchurched and offering a weekly worship service on the very campus where their children spend their weekdays.

Yes, the mission spirit that founded this district is alive and well. Congregations are reaching out to changing neighborhoods with the unchanging news of a Savior who died for all. One of the oldest churches in Northern Wisconsin, First German,

Manitowoc, is now also the site of Trinity Hmong. Bethel, Menasha, is calling for a second Spanish-speaking pastor to expand its cross-cultural ministry. What’s truly exciting is the fact that this is grass-roots mission work. The members of these congregations have seen and seized the opportunities to reach out. They have taken up the work themselves and only after these ministries have been established have they called workers to come and help them.

Northern Wisconsin District—EV. LUTHERAN JOINT SYNOD OF WISCONSIN A.O.S. It took a few attempts, but I finally finished that ordination certificate. It now hangs in the study of a young man who is brand new to the public ministry and to our district. He may notice that the words on our seal are a bit dated, but he can be sure that they will never be “outdated.” Why? Because they are packed with His-Story, God’s story of grace to his people in Northern Wisconsin—past, present, and future!

Joel Zank, pastor at Mount Olive, Appleton, Wisconsin, is president of the Northern Wisconsin District.


 

Statistics:
District president: Pastor Joel M. Zank
Congregations: 157
Mission churches: 4
Baptized members: 70,698
Communicant members: 56,963
Early childhood ministries: 46
Lutheran elementary schools: 55
Area Lutheran high schools: 3

 

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Author: Joel M. Zank
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not conform to human reason and senses. The four authentic records of Jesus’ life and teaching—the gospels—together with the writings of his apostles that accompany those records breathe the spirit of authentic witnesses. They wrote about what they saw and heard rather than what they began to think and believe through the passage of time. All of these are so clear and natural. But human reason and scientific methodology wreak havoc with the gospel and put the lie to whatever stupendous claims Jesus made about himself. 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

“TRULY, TRULY, I SAY TO YOU, UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU HAVE NO LIFE IN YOU.”

After Jesus had fed the five thousand, the crowds tried to make him their king. He resisted and withdrew into the hills. The disciples headed to Capernaum by boat. During the night, Jesus walked on the water and joined them in their boat. Together they all returned to Capernaum. But the people were determined to keep on trying to make him king. They took to their own boats, made their way across the sea, and found Jesus in Capernaum.

Jesus reproached them for seeking him to feed them with a free lunch and not seeking him for the more important food he could give them that endures to eternal life. They were still thinking of the bread they ate the day before and somehow thought that Jesus would supply them with bread like Moses gave their ancestors manna in the wilderness. They grumbled when Jesus claimed to be the bread of life. He told them clearly, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51 ESV).

Reason and senses closed their minds to the words Jesus spoke. They could see only a human being of flesh and blood talking with them. Then Jesus made a more profound statement about himself. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54 ESV).

Jesus claimed he was greater than Moses and greater than the bread Moses gave in the desert. Manna sustained the Israelites’ lives; Jesus gives eternal life. They did not understand.

What was so difficult? Faith in Jesus never makes sense to the human heart. Jesus chose his words very carefully to break down that opposition and pierce their hearts with the knowledge of the truth. Therefore he spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. His flesh and blood are not phantom or spiritual; they are real flesh and real blood. Yet this man, contrary to what they saw, came down from heaven; he is also true God. The gospel of Jesus Christ is gospel only with this truth that he is both God and man. And this alone has the power to bring human hearts, without their cooperation, to saving faith.

Jesus, with his message of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, powerfully proclaims that believing in him means belonging to him completely. It means that he is ours and we are his. It means that he dwells in us and we in him. And so it assures believers that Jesus will be with them and will raise them from the dead to live with him forever. Just as he said, “Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40 ESV).

“ALL AUTHORITY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH HAVE BEEN GIVEN TO ME”

When Jesus says that all authority in heaven and earth has been given him, a person may wonder whether Jesus did not always have this authority. Surely, as the Son of God he had all authority from eternity. This brings us face to face with the second great mystery of our Christian faith. Its first mystery is that we believe that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, yet one God. We call it the article of the Trinity.

The second great mystery is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God fully divine and the son of Mary fully human, yet a single person, not two Christs but one Christ. Because he is a single person, we confess that wherever he is as the Son of God, he is also naturally there as the son of Mary. Therefore we also believe, teach, and confess that when he suffered and died on the cross, the single person of Jesus Christ, God and man, suffered and died.

There is one more truth to this mystery. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

He possessed the authority of God’s Son from eternity. Then throughout his short life on earth, he retained all authority as God’s Son, but he kept it hidden and used it only when he wanted to use it. But all of this changed with his resurrection. Then his glory was evident, not only as the Son of God but also as Mary’s son. Though his appearance as a human being remained unchanged, he revealed the full glory and majesty of God because he was one person.

Because these truths about the person of Jesus Christ are mysteries, they may seem far removed from living our normal Christian lives as his disciples. We have read and heard these truths in Bible passages and have heard and spoken them in our Christian worship, but perhaps we weren’t fully aware of their far-ranging significance and comfort.

Because Jesus Christ, God and man, remains one person, he spoke of all authority in heaven and on earth being given to him. He spoke to his disciples of all times, “to the end of the age” of his constant presence as they always knew him. He will be with them not only as God but also as a human being, who had spoken to them, who had tasted their griefs and sorrows, and who sympathizes with his followers because he is still our flesh-and-blood brother.

This man who in his hidden divine majesty fed over five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes can also do what he promises in the Supper he gave us. In, with, and under real bread and wine he can give us his real body and blood. This is as certain and true as his Word, his promises, and his resurrection from the dead are true. As with all that Jesus is and taught, the mystery that he is God and man in one person has the goal of comforting his disciples.

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

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

 

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Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

What can I possibly say to them?

How do you reach college students with the gospel in a world already inundated with information vying for their attention?

Glenn L. Schwanke

The headline caught my attention. “Goldfish have longer attention spans than Americans.” It seems that goldfish pay attention to that flake of food on the top of the tank for nine seconds. The average American Web surfer has an attention span of eight seconds.

I wasn’t particularly surprised by the data, and I’m not too sure our attention spans are a whole lot better when we’re not using the Internet. Harvard business school historian Nancy Kroehn has been studying the recent publishing-world phenomenon that’s called “series publishing.” It seems publishers see a need to release shorter books, rapid-fire, rather than wait to release one larger work. In part that’s because we’re in an instant society, and nobody wants to wait years for their favorite author to release another book. But perhaps “series” publishing is also gaining traction because nobody wants to read the 500-page book. After all, even Twitter, with its limit of 140 total characters in a tweet, is too wordy for some these days. It’s being replaced by Instagram where the picture is worth a thousand words.

Even as our attention spans are plummeting faster than a rock tossed into the lake, more information is inundating us. Some media mavens will consume up to 285 pieces of content every day. That’s some 54,000 words and as many as 1,000 clickable links. Or its 443 minutes of video—the equivalent of four Star Wars movies.

No wonder our attention spans are shorter than that of little Bubbles the goldfish! There aren’t enough hours in the day to take in all the content that fights for our attention.

As a campus pastor, when I think about these things, I wonder, How can I hope to grab even eight seconds of a college student’s attention? What can I possibly say to them? My timing with jokes has always been bad, and too often I forget the punch lines. The stories I tell they’ve heard one hundred times before. I don’t have a clue about hashtags. And Instagram? I always manage to have my finger over a corner of the camera lens.

For such moments, it’s important that I remember what I’ve been called to do by my fellow believers in the Wisconsin Synod: “Preach the good news” (Mark 16:15). “Repentance and forgiveness of sins”—that’s what Jesus wants his church to proclaim till the end of time (Luke 24:47). That’s what I am to share with students in our campus ministry.

Will I prepare sermons, Bible classes, and evangelism outlines to the very best of my God-given ability? Will I seek to use language students will understand? Will I use carefully chosen illustrations that resonate with them? Will I even—gulp—try to be briefer in my presentations? Yes. The Lord hasn’t called me to be sloppy or out-of-touch with those I serve, but rather “faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

Yet at the end of the day, I need to remember that my jokes, my powers of reasoning, and my ability to debate won’t win a single soul for Christ. Only the power of the gospel does that. Only the work of the Holy Spirit brings someone to faith and keeps them in faith.

What can I say to the students I serve? What Paul once said to the intellectuals at Corinth: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1,2).

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

 

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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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 Pentecost miracle in Manitowoc

Twenty-five years ago, a little Hmong boy named Xiong Lee got on a bus every Sunday to go to church. The bus took him to First German, Manitowoc, Wis., where he sat with his surrogate church parents and other Hmong children. There he learned about Jesus.

Now Xiong Lee serves as president of Trinity Hmong, a congregation that grew out of this 30-year mission of First German to reach an immigrant community in Manitowoc.

First German itself started out as an immigrant congregation in 1855 when a nearby minister began making trips on horseback to downtown Manitowoc to gather German Lutherans around the Word. The German influence continued in that congregation, with regular monthly German services through 1970. Mission work also was at the forefront with First German daughtering two congregations and helping support a third.

When First German’s vicar, Loren Steele, and its pastor, Arno Wolfgramm, began making inroads in the Hmong community in the early 1980s, the congregation recognized an opportunity to reach a culture with the peace and love of Jesus. They made friends with these immigrants who wanted to know about American culture, including Christianity.

In the early days of Hmong outreach, the congregation sponsored a mission bus that picked up Hmong children from all over the city for church. “Sponsors would sit with the children on Sundays,” says Ben Schaefer, current pastor at First German. “One lady had nine Hmong children in the pew with her and her husband. Kids were crawling underneath the pews.”

The ministry progressed with invitations to Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and other church events. The parents began attending Bible information class to learn more about Jesus and the basic Bible stories. Soon First German began offering Hmong/English worship services, with Hmong men translating the sermon as it was being preached. “I was told that there would be Sundays where you would hear Hmong, German, and English all in the same hour in different services and Bible classes, all under one roof!” says Schaefer. “God’s Pentecost miracle was still happening in our little corner in Manitowoc.”

By the year 2000, First German had 200 Hmong members and wanted a Hmong pastor to serve them. Enter Nau Lee. A member since 1992, he was recognized as a leader among the Hmong. But he wasn’t sure about becoming a pastor. “Pastor Bitter asked me to become a pastor to reach the Hmong,” says Nau. “He asked me three times to become a Hmong pastor, and finally I said yes to him because I think that if I don’t do it, who will do it?”

Nau first became an evangelist and then continued studying through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to become a pastor. Supported by WELS Kingdom Workers, he served at First German while he was studying. He graduated in 2009 and was called to serve the congregation full time.

While First German had been planning to keep the two groups in one congregation, the vision started to change when Nau became the group’s pastor and the Hmong members began realizing the potential if they became more independent. “If we are not separate from First German congregation, some [Hmong] people will say you are only First German congregation. You are not strong enough to stand on your own, as Hmong people,” says Nau. “First German has helped the Hmong people crawl and grow in God’s Word. Now, we want to walk and run with the Lord’s help.”

In 2013, WELS Home Missions granted funding so First German’s Hmong members could start their own congregation. In June 2013 Trinity Hmong was born.

Currently serving 170 souls, Trinity Hmong continues to worship at First German. The congregations work closely together, with First German providing financial help as well as leadership mentoring. But Trinity Hmong has its own constitution, church council, choirs, and committees. It’s also supporting synod mission work with its offerings.

Of course, challenges remain, including how to reach people engrained in their ancient religion. “People are tempted to return to the old religion and serve their ancestors. If someone leaves the old religion, other Hmong people will say, ‘Don’t you respect your ancestors?’ ” says Nau. “We take time to help them understand the truth of God’s Word and how we trust in Jesus, the true God.”

Taking that time has brought amazing results. Just ask Xiong. “Many years ago the First German congregation decided to plant some seeds. Not knowing what the outcome will be they just keep watering those seeds with God’s Word and unconditional love. Those seeds grew to what it is today, Trinity Hmong. I’m am very happy to be one of those seeds. It just goes to show what can happen if we trust and put all our faith in God.”

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

 

Meet the editorial staff: Uncut

Ever ask yourself, “Who are these people who write for Forward in Christ?” Through this series you can find out.

Forward in Christ’s newest Bible study series is entitled “Jesus prayed for us.” The writer of the series is Pastor Samuel Degner, and he’s excited to share his learnings. “I had always noticed how often the Scriptures record Jesus praying and I thought it would be interesting to study further,” he says. “As I delved into Jesus’ prayer life, it struck me how he prayed just the way he taught us to pray. There are so many connections to be made between Jesus’ prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, and the rest of Scripture.”

The son of Pastor Charles and Linda Degner, Degner attended Bloomington Lutheran, Bloomington, Minn., and Trinity, Nicollet, Minn., for his grade school years. He continued his education at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School and Martin Luther College, both in New Ulm, Minnesota, and graduating from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2005. Fluent in Spanish, Degner vicared in Mexico and was assigned to Bethel, Menasha, Wis., after graduation. He and his wife, Mandy, have three children: Evelyn (7), Ana (5), and William (3).

Degner describes Bethel as “a mid-size congregation with a shared elementary school and an outreach focus on the local Hispanic community.” The Hispanic outreach “began with ESL classes, then progressed to Spanish Bible classes, then bilingual worship services, then Spanish worship services once a month and now twice a month. We’re currently calling for a full-time bilingual associate so we can, God willing, keep expanding that effort,” he says.

A special joy for Degner is “bringing God’s Word to many different kinds of people.” He says studying for the ministry was “something that was always in the back of my mind growing up in a parsonage, and I wanted to give it a try. The more I studied for it, the more I became convinced it was how I wanted to serve the Lord.” In addition to serving at Bethel, Degner is also a circuit pastor and just finished “The Twelve,” a bulletin insert series for Northwestern Publishing House.

In his free time, Degner enjoys traveling, “exploring places we haven’t seen before, whether nearby or far away,” and he loves spending time with his family. “It’s precious, so anything we can do together is great,” he says. “Right now it tends to revolve around things the kids like to do.”

As FIC readers study Jesus’ prayers, Degner hopes we “will come away with a greater appreciation for the way Jesus prayed in our place and the way we can pray because of him.”

 

 

Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

 

Faith in war

A World War II veteran shares how God was with him during his wartime service and throughout his life.

Eugene G. Schulz

God often used warfare when dealing with his people to accomplish his purposes. As Israel was camped on the east side of the Jordan River while they waited for the command to enter the Promised Land, God provided a military leader, Joshua, to lead them into their new home that was occupied by pagans. This was an enormous challenge for an inexperienced and untried commander-in-chief.

After the death of Moses, God told Joshua that he would lead the Israelites into the land God had promised. God said he would give Joshua great military victories and no enemy would be able to withstand Joshua’s army. God gave Joshua this command: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

ENTERING THE WAR

World War II was the greatest conflict that America was involved in during its history. The date that will “live in infamy” was Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. I graduated from high school in Clintonville, Wisconsin, six months earlier. My parents were devout Christians who sent me to St. Martin Lutheran School where I was instructed in sound Christian doctrine.

I was 19 years old when I entered the United States Army, leaving home for the first time. Joshua was one of my heroes of the Bible, and I decided to adopt the Lord’s command to Joshua as my own personal mantra during my service. My faith was tested immediately as I was exposed to the world of evil that I knew little about. I was shocked when watching a training film that showed the consequences of sin in festering body sores as a result of sexually transmitted diseases.

During 1943 I received training in two camps in the States, and then my life changed when I was shipped to England early in 1944 where we prepared for the coming invasion of Europe. My pastor and my family sent devotional materials, and everyone said they were praying for my safety. These words of encouragement were a blessing during the periods of loneliness and absence from home.

My unit, the XX Corps Headquarters of General Patton’s Army, crossed Utah Beach on July 22. We entered combat on Aug. 1, and 16 days later tragedy hit our unit, when my boss Colonel Welborn Griffith was killed in action near the city of Chartres, France. I was the Colonel’s typist for 18 months, and this event struck me deeply, because for the first time I realized the closeness of death in war. This incident prompted me to pray more earnestly for my own safety and the safety of all soldiers.

HOMESICKNESS AND SMALL PLEASURES

During the winter of 1944–45, my unit was stationed in Thionville, France, just south of the Battle of the Bulge. After supper on Christmas Eve, my buddies and I gathered in the day room of the school where we lived and we exchanged stories of how each of us celebrated Christmas Eve with our families. My mood, as well as the moods of my fellow soldiers, was depressed.

I described how my family was celebrating this night at home. They went to St. Martin’s Church for the children’s service of songs and recitations about the birth of Jesus. After the service, Mom and Dad went home where, together with my brother and his wife, they gathered in front of their Christmas tree to exchange presents. I was sure that they wondered where I was and if I was okay or even alive! Then Mom would serve schnecken, stollen, and cookies that she baked that morning along with hot chocolate. I told the guys that this was the tradition in my home on Christmas Eve, and now I was extremely homesick and lonely. There were many homesick soldiers that night in France as each man told his own personal story. As we told our stories, a soldier arrived with a water can full of Moselle wine. He said that a combat patrol discovered an abandoned winery and brought us this booty. We enjoyed this newly liberated and elegant “fruit of the vine” as we listened to more stories.

On Christmas Day I attended the service in the school’s chapel. It was inspiring to hear the story of Christ’s birth and sing hymns and carols that I had learned as a child. My spirits were lifted higher than ever. The joys of my faith returned from the low point of the previous night to this high point on Christmas morning. To top this off, our cooks prepared a sumptuous turkey dinner. A great blessing!

WARTIME ATROCITIES

In April 1945, American troops discovered a grisly Nazi concentration camp in the German town of Ohrdruf, 25 miles south of Erfurt. There were rumors that such camps existed, but this discovery was the first tangible evidence and proof of Nazi atrocities. General Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered all American soldiers who were nearby to go and see these horrifying sights because he wanted eyewitnesses. As I was stationed in Weimar, 30 miles away, I drove there in my jeep with some buddies. What I saw that day has tormented me to this day. I am an eyewitness of the Holocaust as I looked at hundreds of dead men and decaying corpses. No living inmates were left after the commandant and his SS guards had fled when American troops arrived.

The first sight was a pile of 30 men lying in a circle where they fell after being shot in the head. I looked in a shed where 40 or more naked bodies were lying in a pile. In the camp commander’s office I saw more horrors. A book on his desk had a cover made of human skin and the desk lamp had a shade made of skin; a framed picture on the wall actually was the skin from a man’s chest showing a tattoo of a nude woman. A fire pit held partially burned bodies, and a grassy slope contained scores of corpses waiting to be buried in a ditch.

As a 21-year-old soldier, I experienced many emotions. I was dazed, and my eyes were blurred with tears. My head was spinning. The stench was overpowering, and I had an urgent feeling to vomit. My brain was in total disbelief.

This traumatic experience affected my mind and soul deeply. As a Christian, how could I handle these atrocious deeds of the devil? I witnessed the unbelievable wickedness unleashed by Satan through the minds of these evil men who committed these horrible atrocities. My faith reminded me that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but did that include the unspeakable sins committed by these Nazi tyrants? Surely the load of sin carried by Jesus to the cross was enormous when you include such ferocious evils as I witnessed at Ohrdruf.

My faith had its ups and downs during my wartime army service, but it was strengthened over and over. God’s promise to Joshua was also his promise to me, and the fact that he was with me wherever I went was fulfilled in my life.

Eugene Schulz is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is interviewed in the movie Honor Flight.

 

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Author: Eugene G. Schulz
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

Benefiting our workers with WELS VEBA

Charles Heup, pastor at Good Shepherd, Plymouth, Wis., discovered he had Cystic Fibrosis (CF) when he was in college. Now 59, he has been controlling the disease through daily treatment and highly specialized medication. His lungs operate at less than 40 percent of their capacity, but the treatment and medication keep him functioning normally, a blessing to this pastor, husband, and father.

Heup’s congregation offers its called workers WELS VEBA health care coverage.

“Every time my doctor says we need something, we submit it to WELS VEBA and VEBA has covered everything that we’ve needed to do, including a new medication,” says Heup.

The Husby family had a similar experience with their WELS VEBA coverage. The evidence is displayed proudly on their refrigerator—an explanation of benefits from Cassie Husby’s recent double lung transplant. The cost: $494,000. What the Husbys owed: $0.

“WELS VEBA is a program that works so well that I don’t even have to think about it,” says Jeremy Husby, pastor at Peace, Hartford, Wis. “It allows me to be able to focus on the things that are important—my wife’s health, my daughter, and my ministry.”

WELS established the health care system called WELS VEBA more than 30 years ago to provide for its workers’ health care needs. About 80 percent of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod calling bodies provide this nationwide, long-term health coverage to their pastors, teachers, staff ministers, and lay workers.

“WELS VEBA’s strength lies in the large number of workers and calling bodies across the country that join together and participate in our synod’s health plan,” says Joshua Peterman, director of WELS Benefit Plans. “In this way, WELS VEBA has been able to provide consistent, comprehensive benefits to our workers and their families for generations.”

Knowing that coverage will remain intact offers peace of mind to called workers when they receive calls to different ministries or congregations. “[Health care coverage] doesn’t even factor into my decision,” says Heup. “I can focus on the question all called workers should focus on when they get a call: ‘Where can I serve the Lord with the talents he has given me.’ ”

Through WELS VEBA, health care costs of covered workers are shared across all participating calling bodies throughout the synod. Churches and schools don’t have to worry about the cost of benefits when making a call, since the plan’s premium costs are the same across all age groups. WELS VEBA also doesn’t charge higher premiums based on an individual’s medical care needs. It protects called workers and their calling bodies by ensuring comprehensive coverage for all participants in the plan.

“With WELS VEBA rates consistent across all ages and because the vetting of plans has already been done, we can focus on the ministry when making decisions about calling our called workers and not get hung up on details like insurance,” says Stan Bothe, congregation president at Peace, Green Lake, Wis.

He continues, “We’re not big and we don’t have unlimited funding, so to know we can offer our teachers and our pastor a good health plan that will meet their needs and that they can take with them if they should be called into a new ministry is a relief. It’s important to take care of the people who work in the ministry.”

 

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

 

Heart to Heart: Parent Conversations

Sometimes I just really need another parent’s perspective—and their support. How do you discipline a child who doesn’t believe in timeouts? How does your family handle screen time for little kids—or older ones? When should kids begin bringing an offering to church—and does it have to be their money or is it okay if parents give them the money to put in the offering plate?

That’s why I’m excited about the new parenting column that is debuting in the January issue of Forward in Christ. Titled “Heart to heart: Parent conversations,” the column is designed to have the feel of a conversation between parents. Each month one topic will be discussed by a diverse group of parents. The idea isn’t for these parents to give us the “right answer” to the topic. After all, how many parenting topics really have one right answer? Most parents will tell you that their days of knowing it all about parenting ended the day they became a parent. Instead, the column will explore multiple facets of the topic and give examples of how parents have handled this topic in the past—with both good and bad results.

More than anything, we want this column to be an honest forum for Christian parents to build each other up and support each other. After all, we are each sinful and admittedly make some bad parenting choices. Thanks to Christ’s sacrifice, though, we know that we are forgiven and can live out our calling as parents in God’s grace. So, let’s let go of the guilt and focus on the grace.

We are hoping that you’ll join the conversation, too. We’ll have an active online presence at www.wels.net/forwardinchrist. We’ll also post items on Facebook and Twitter. We want to hear from you and learn how you’ve dealt with these topics within your family. Some readers may also be chosen to have their contributions printed in Forward in Christ.

The first topic we’ll tackle is how families are adjusting to life in the digital age. How can we stay connected with one another and with Christ when it is so easy to be distracted by a constant barrage of communication and entertainment? Share your thoughts on this topic at fic@wels.net, or Forward in Christ, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Dr, Waukesha, WI 53188.

 

 

Author: Nicole Balza
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

 

Atheist “churches”?

Earle D. Treptow

The Aug. 4, 2014, issue of Time carried an article entitled, “Atheist ‘Churches’ Gain Popularity—Even in the Bible Belt.” One of the atheist “churches” featured in the story is led by Mike Aus, a one-time Lutheran pastor who had later served as a preacher at a nondenominational church. After nearly 20 years as a pastor, he declared himself an atheist. Soon thereafter he helped found Houston Oasis, a “secular community” meant to offer encouragement to the six percent of the population that characterizes itself as atheists and agnostics. (According to the article, that percentage has risen from four percent in 2009.) From Aus’s perspective, “When you’re surrounded by a predominant Christian culture, there’s a need for even more support” (p. 52).

How should a Christian react? Above all, we ought not be surprised. Martin Luther, in his comments on Psalm 101, offered what was likely a well-known adage: “But so things happen in the world: If God builds a church, the devil comes and builds a chapel beside it, yes, even countless chapels” (Luther’s Works 13:159). Driven by his hatred of God, the devil will do anything to destroy the crown of God’s creation. He spins lie after lie about God and his Word, hoping that one of them will capture hearts. He will even lead people to deny God’s existence, though he knows perfectly well that there is a God.

The growth of atheist support groups shouldn’t surprise us, because we recognize the depravity of natural man. We know that depravity both from God’s unmistakable testimony in Scripture and from our own painful experience, as we see daily evidence of the wicked old Adam in our own sinful thoughts and actions. The Lord teaches us a proper pessimism about mankind; we can only expect human beings, on their own, to reject the testimony God has given about himself.

The growth of atheist groups serves as a sign of the end of the age: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:10,11). It’s one thing when lifelong atheists establish communities for support; it’s entirely another when former Christian pastors do so. Let this serve as a cautionary tale. We have the horrible ability to reject the truth and believe the lie. Since the Lord has chosen to preserve us in faith through means, we need to give him access to our hearts by hearing his Word and receiving Holy Communion regularly.

The rise in atheist gatherings also leads us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s will, as he reveals it in his Word, is that his Word be taught in its truth and purity and that all be saved through faith in Christ. We therefore ask the Lord to break the plans of all who claim there is no God so that no more might know the Lord as he is, the One who loves them and has redeemed them by his blood.

After we pray, we speak. Do the math. If 6 percent deny the existence of God or question our ability to know if he exists, that means 94 percent acknowledge that there is a God. That’s something to work with. We proclaim what the Lord has revealed about himself in his Word, with a proper optimism, confident that the Spirit will work through it to create Christian faith where and when it pleases him.

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

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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 prayed for us: Part 1

When Jesus addresses his prayers to his “Father,” he speaks not only as the eternal Son of God but also as our human brother—and so invites us to pray the same way.

Samuel C. Degner

Wouldn’t you love to put your ear on heaven’s door and eavesdrop on a conversation between God the Son and God the Father?

The Holy Spirit allows us do just that in the Scriptures. Read three chapters in the gospels and you’re likely to find Jesus praying—the Son talking to the Father. He prayed early in the morning and late at night. He prayed in front of others and all alone. He prayed at milestone moments and on ordinary occasions.

He prayed so often that we could easily let his prayers fade into the background of the gospel narratives. That would be a shame though. We can learn so much when we listen to our Savior pray. His words open up a window for us to peer into his heart, a heart that always beats in perfect synchronization with that of his Father and that beats with the same deep love for us.

JESUS PRAYED TO HIS FATHER

It is that name, “Father,” that Jesus speaks nearly every time he uses a title to address his prayers. (We’ll study the lone exception in a few months.) Yet if the first two persons of the Trinity simply wanted to have a dialogue, they could have done so in the timeless reaches of the heavenly realms. When Jesus prays, he prays from an actual geographical point on this planet in a fixed moment in time. The sounds emanate from vibrating vocal chords and pass over lips that are pink with human blood. When Jesus prays, he prays as our flesh-and-blood brother.

Thus to hear Jesus pray is more than to catch the Father and Son in conversation. It is to witness our salvation being won.

This is evident in Jesus’ first prayer recorded in Scripture. Watch as Jesus of Nazareth, 30 years of age, steps out of the Jordan River. As the water of John’s baptism runs off of him, he looks to heaven and prays (Luke 3:21,22). His words are not recorded for us but his Father’s reply is: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

For three decades, everything Jesus had done, said, and thought pleased his heavenly Father. Isn’t this why he was here? God’s Son came to live as our brother and give his Father the obedience we owed him. Jesus’ life as our substitute was perfectly in line

with God’s will, and that included his prayer life. As we will see throughout this study, Jesus prayed to God for the right things and in the right ways for all of the times our praying has fallen short.

When Jesus prays to his Father, he prays for us.

WE PRAY TO THAT SAME FATHER

He invites us to do the same. When he taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13), he invited them to pray to the same Father to whom he loved to pray. We can pray to our Father—Jesus’ Father and ours—because God’s Son became our brother and did everything well in our place. Through faith in him, given at our own baptisms, we receive the same pronouncement from God in heaven: “You are my son, my daughter, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” God is pleased with us for the sake of Jesus. Therefore he is pleased to hear our prayers too.

So we are awed to hear Jesus pray to our Father for us . . . and we are thrilled to be able to do the same!

Contributing editor Samuel Degner is pastor at Bethel, Menasha, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a nine-part series on Jesus and his prayer life.

 

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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

Northwestern Publishing House: Relevant yet true to its root

“Northwestern Publishing House materials . . . lift your spirits and keep you focused on Christ for your hope,” says Rev. Gary Pufahl from Christ, Big Bend, Wis.

Pufahl is one of several NPH customers who were featured in a new video that highlights the impact NPH has on those it serves. Congregations recently received a copy of this video that shares how God works through NPH, the synod’s publishing house since 1891.

“NPH remains the trusted publisher for WELS,” says Mr. Bill Ziche, NPH president. “We’re working hard to fulfill that and to make sure we’re meeting people’s needs.”

NPH has called two new editors to continue to look at new ways to address the spiritual needs of people today. Rev. Dan Schroeder will be working to refresh existing Bible studies and to create new ones that are relevant in today’s world. In a newly established position, Rev. Christopher Doerr will be focusing on creating resources to reach newer Christians within WELS as well as those who may or may not be Christian outside WELS.

Using electronic means to distribute its products is another way NPH is looking to reach a wider audience as well as meet the needs of its longtime customers. Over 110 new, bestselling, and classic NPH book titles are available as e-books, and Meditations, a collection of daily devotions and prayers, is now available as an Apple app. Since its release in March, more than 16,500 people from 138 countries have downloaded the Meditations app to take advantage of this daily dose of God’s Word.

Besides creating new products, NPH is working to let people know about its wide array of materials that is already available. Congregations and schools can host book fairs in which NPH will ship a customizable selection of materials to the church, literally bringing the Milwaukee store to their location. NPH itself is hosting weekly and monthly events at its Milwaukee store to reach out in its community. “Whether [our neighbors] are church members or not, we have an opportunity to reach them with the Word through our ministry at NPH,” says Ziche.

A refreshed logo, with a cross and Bible in the forefront, demonstrates NPH’s resolve to carry out its mission to deliver biblically sound Christ-centered resources within WELS and beyond. “The updated logo symbolizes what NPH is doing,” says Ziche. “We’re staying true to our roots in what we do and true to our mission and calling but at the same time we’re making sure that we’re fresh and relevant in today’s world.”

Watch the video and learn more about the meaning behind NPH’s logo at www.nph.net/video.

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

 

Creator of heaven and earth

Did God create the world and all that we see? Did it appear without any supernatural intervention? Creation or evolution? How often have we encountered that question in our time!

Some think that it is possible to prove the answer to the question through cold factual research. Then the proof will be beyond question. But the evidence is not that clear cut. Creationists point to the inconsistencies in the scientific data that evolutionists claim is overwhelming. Evolutionists do the same thing to creationists’ arguments. It comes down to believing one approach or the other, not proving one or the other.

An evolutionist believes a theory of origins without any god to make it all happen out of nothing. From the perspective of the scientific model, that’s a reasonable approach—an explanation of the data—even when some of the evidence does not fit the explanation. Creationists believe a narrative of origins that includes a God to make it all happen out of nothing. But here too, the data is troubling at times.

We weren’t there when it happened. There are no firsthand eyewitnesses—at least human eyewitnesses. We claim that God was there, and we believe the account he gave to Moses in Genesis. But without that, we have to speculate about what happened. Both require belief in something: a process or God.

I confess every Sunday that I believe that God created heaven and earth. I do that because God tells me that’s what he did. Humbly I look at the world and the universe I can see and read about and conclude, “Wow! What a wonderful beautiful world. God made that all for me—for us.”

Then when I read his account and references to creation he sprinkles throughout the Bible, I find a comforting truth. I am a creature of God: someone in whom he has taken special interest. He gave me “my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my mind and all my abilities” (Explanation of the First Article). I owe him a lot.

My belief that I am a creature God created ties me to God. I have a responsibility to him: “For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him.” My outlook is different from those who hold a belief in an evolutionary process without God. As a believer in “God the . . . Maker of heaven and earth” I find a God-connection to all his commandments.

But I believe these things because God had done something more than provide heaven and earth as a place to live. He decided in love to make me more than just a creature of his powerful hand. He decided to redeem me and all people so we could live with him forever. He sent his Son, Jesus, to claim me and make me his dear child, one who can call him “Father” in the deepest and fullest sense of that relationship. I treasure that tie with God, as his child in Christ, even more than the tie with him as his creature. He has “purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and the power of the devil” (Explanation of the Second Article).

If I can look up at the starry host of heaven and exclaim, “Wow!” I have no difficulty expanding that exclamation: “What an awesome God!” He’s made me his child and wants me to be with him forever. It’s that relationship with God I do not wish to abandon. When he tells me he created the world, I believe it. I simply trust his Word because he loved me more than I deserve.

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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

 

We believe as all believers have: Part 1

“We believe in one God”

Joel D. Otto

It was the beginning of the fourth century. Arius, a deacon in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, questioned the teaching that Jesus was true God, equal to the Father. In an effort to make the teaching about Jesus seem more rational and appealing to the intellectuals of the day, he claimed that Jesus was the first creature of God. He tried to make the logical statement that the Son has to be less eternal and less powerful than the Father.

The teaching of Arius raised a ruckus in the church. Some—like Athanasius, another deacon in Alexandria—vehemently opposed Arius. They said that Arius’ teaching was heretical because it really created a new “god,” rather than the God revealed in Scripture. And if the teaching of Arius was correct, how could Jesus’ sacrifice be sufficient to take away the sins of the world? But Arius was popular and charismatic. He gained a following. His followers even started sending out missionaries. So there was contention in the church.

In order to settle this doctrinal controversy, the Roman Emperor Constantine called the first churchwide council of bishops to meet in the city of Nicaea (located in modern day Turkey) in a.d. 325. Led by Athanasius, the bishops at Nicaea developed a confession of faith that upheld the teaching of Scripture that the Son is equal to the Father in all respects. After another 55 years of dispute, the second churchwide council met in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) in a.d. 381 to reiterate the confession made at Nicaea and make some additions because other issues had surfaced. Their confession of faith continues to be confessed as the truth in what we know as the Nicene Creed. While it was written in response to some specific false teachings, this creed continues to be what all believers have believed.

ONE GOD

We begin by stating, “We believe in one God.” While the church of the fourth century faced a pagan Roman world full of multiple deities, the biggest problem today is that many people believe that each religion is just as legitimate as another, just as reflective of what “god” is like, just as useful for attaining the divine and “heaven.”

What is the result? Muslims worship Allah. Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses worship a “god” that doesn’t include Jesus. Hindus have hundreds, if not thousands, of gods. Various native religions worship the spirits of their ancestors.

Christians claim differently. We always have. “We believe in one God.” After more than four hundred years in slavery in Egypt where the people worshiped multiple gods, the Old Testament believers were taught to confess clearly, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). In the first century Roman Empire where there were a myriad of temples to different deities, Paul asserted, “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4). And from the early fourth century to today’s world of religious pluralism, we continue to believe as all believers have: “We believe in one God.”


 

EXPLORING THE WORD

1. What purpose do written confessions of faith serve?

Written confessions usually flow out of doctrinal controversy. They serve to communicate the truths of Scripture and identify and condemn false teachings that might be threatening the church. Confessions also often allow Christians to succinctly summarize the teachings of Scripture that are critical to our salvation. Confessions can even provide a framework for witnessing because shorter confessions like the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds put the words of Christian truth into the minds and onto the lips of Christians.

2. What statement are we making when we continue to confess the ancient creeds of the church?

When we use the ancient creeds of the church, we are communicating that we are standing among Christians down through the centuries and around the world who continue to confess the basic truths of Christianity. We are part of the long line of believers who confess what the church has always believed using words that the church has used for more than 1,500 years.

3. Why is the fact that there is only one God so important?

There are many different reasons. If there is more than one “god,” how do we know which “god” is the true source of all good things? If there is more than one “god,” how do we know which “god” really deserves our trust and prayers and worship? If there is more than one “god,” there could be more than one way to salvation. How would we know which is the right way? One God means one Creator, one who preserves and protects us, one who has worked out his single plan of salvation, one in whom we trust, one to whom we pray, one who is worthy of our worship. See Ephesians 4:1-6.

4. Read Isaiah 44:6-20. What key point does Isaiah make about “gods” invented by humans?

In Isaiah’s context of idols made of wood and stone, Isaiah points out the foolishness of using half of a tree for firewood and the other half to construct your “god.” What kind of a “god” can this be? While this may not be so prevalent in our American culture today, we still see people try to invent their idea of what “god” should be like. They want a “god” to fit their ideas of right and wrong. They don’t want him to expect too much from them. They want a “god” who will not be too hard to understand or figure out. The result is their “god” isn’t very big, powerful, or loving. Do we sometimes find ourselves trying to impose our thinking and logic on God? Do we sometimes try to cast him into our image? It stresses to us the importance of looking to Scripture alone for God’s revelation of himself and what he is like.

Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee.

This is the first article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed.

 

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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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 holiday for all holidays

Giving thanks shouldn’t just be reserved for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Glenn T. Rosenbaum

Have you ever set off fireworks to celebrate Valentine’s Day? When was the last time you ordered a green beer on Columbus Day? How often do you set up your crèche for Easter Sunday or sing “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” on Dec. 25? Such actions would be like putting a square peg into a round hole. Most holidays have specific traditions connected to them that seem odd if used with a different celebration.

THANKFULNESS ON ALL HOLIDAYS

What sets Thanksgiving apart from the others? While there are certain traditions associated with the holiday—turkey, football, family, to name a few—the main reason for the day is to give thanks. It’s not a holiday like others that celebrate some event. The holiday is set aside to give thanks. But isn’t that also an important component for all the other holidays not named Thanksgiving?

Martin Luther King Jr. Day reminds us to give thanks for the work of the civil rights leader who helped to root out prejudice and promote equal rights among the races. Memorial Day encourages us to give thanks for those who served our country and died to establish and maintain our nation and our freedoms. Labor Day urges us to give thanks for those who diligently work to keep our country moving forward. Giving thanks is a top priority at Christmas when we celebrate Jesus coming to earth to be “God with us.” Easter is no different. We pause on Easter to rejoice over our Savior’s resurrection from the dead, after he faced and defeated death and our enemy Satan.

The Thanksgiving holiday and its purpose—to give thanks—seems to be the one that can’t really be limited to one day or one event. Perhaps the apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonians helps us remember that important thought. Centered among 17 verses of final instructions, Paul writes by God’s inspiration, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

THANKFULNESS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES

As people who face daily battles against our sinful self, the wicked world, and sinister Satan, we are not always successful in accomplishing God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. Our pride leads us to give thanks to ourselves. Our selfishness prompts us to complain about everything—including God—when we don’t get what we want. Our ignorance deftly denies any thankfulness coming from our mouths or hands.

As people of God, redeemed, restored, forgiven, we strive to complete God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. We seek to honor God for his abundant mercy and amazing grace shown to us by Jesus’ work of salvation. We love to give him thanks for freeing us from the curse of our pride, selfishness, and ignorance because of Jesus’ labor of love for us.

If our nation is attacked even on Independence Day, give thanks that God promises to rescue us from every evil (2 Timothy 4:18). When a lackluster economy forces unemployment just before Christmas and reduces the number of family gifts under the tree, give thanks that God sent Jesus as the only necessary Christmas present (Galatians 4:4,5). When your Christian loved one dies on Easter morning, give thanks that Jesus won the victory over death and rose from the dead to welcome all who believe in him home to heaven (John 14:19).

Give thanks in all circumstances! Give thanks on all holidays! Let your Thanksgiving be year-round. This is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Glenn Rosenbaum is pastor at Grace, St. Joseph, Michigan.

 

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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: Glenn T. Rosenbaum
Volume 101, Number 11
Issue: November 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