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MORE mission opportunities

Ministering to Sudanese refugees isn’t the only mission possibility in Ethiopia. Rev. Dr. Kebede Getachew Yigezu contacted WELS in 2013. Kebede has gathered a group of like-minded Christians in and near his hometown of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, and registered the church with the Ethiopian government as the Lutheran Church of Ethiopia (LCE). The church body now numbers three hundred members. “The members of the LCE earnestly seek membership in the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference so they can stand with and be encouraged by fellow Lutherans of the Reformation heritage,” says Prof. E. Allen Sorum.

Sorum enjoyed two weeks in October discussing doctrine with Kebede and LCE members; sharing seminars on leadership and preaching with students in the LCE’s college and seminary program; and appreciating warm hospitality as a guest in the LCE’s facility, which also serves as Kebede’s home. “It was a wonderful blessing to enjoy devotions from Luther’s Catechism every night with this family who wants to share confessional Christianity with Ethiopia, Africa, and beyond,” says Sorum. WELS leadership will be discussing the next steps in upcoming months.

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

 

 

New mission opportunities in Ethiopia

A relatively new cross-cultural ministry in the United States is leading into further opportunities for outreach in Africa.

In October, Prof. E. Allen Sorum, director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., and two Sudanese PSI students, Peter Bur and Simon Duoth, traveled to Ethiopia to meet with five local pastors and other refugees from the Nuer tribe, who fled from South Sudan because of civil unrest.

WELS connection with the Nuer tribe from South Sudan happened a little over eight years ago when Sudanese refugees in the United States visited Lincoln Heights, Des Moines, Iowa, looking for a church that practices what Scripture teaches. These refugees spread the word to others in the United States that WELS churches taught the truth of God’s Word. This led to Sudanese refugees looking for WELS churches. Eight congregations now have Sudanese members, 21 of whom are interested in further ministry training to serve as spiritual leaders of the U.S. Sudanese population.

But these immigrants aren’t content with ministry just in the United States. Their hearts are still with the people—many of them family members—in South Sudan. “They have been very passionate about getting a team [to South Sudan] to teach the people and to evaluate the situation and hopefully start a more intentional mission for sharing the good news of Jesus with the people there,” says Michael Ewart, pastor at Good Shepherd, Omaha, Neb., where Peter Bur and 40 other Nuer members worship.

Bur is recognized as a spiritual leader among the Nuer refugees in the United States—and also in South Sudan and the refugee camps in neighboring countries. The five pastors in Ethiopia contacted Bur to ask for more spiritual training.

Working with WELS Missions, the Sudanese, with the help of the local WELS congregations of which they are members, raised the money to send Bur and Duoth, a member at Holy Trinity, Des Moines, Wash., to Ethiopia.

Sorum, Bur, and Duoth traveled to several different areas in Ethiopia where they taught classes to refugees, encouraged worship groups, and met with the local leadership. “Our work here is blessed beyond words,” writes Sorum from Ethiopia. “We have been meeting with five local pastors explaining confessional Lutheran Christianity. . . . After only three days here we are talking very openly about our doctrinal differences. They are all eager to know the truth and do not automatically assume their position is right but want to see what the Bible says. . . . These pastors want training and structure to establish outreach ministries to Sudanese refugees in Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, and Ethiopia.”

Discussion is still underway to determine the next step in working with the refugees in Ethiopia and those still in South Sudan. “The Lord has brought the world to our doorsteps,” says Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. “Peter [Bur] and his group are just one example of the many nations that live and work among us. It is exciting to consider the possibilities of neighborhood outreach reaching all the way to the heart of Africa and many other corners of our world that need the light that Jesus gives.”

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

 

 

Counseling support in the 21st century

A pastor in the North Atlantic District had a common problem. Members of his congregation who were in recovery from substance abuse wanted to start a support group, but no one was available to lead the group. So he contacted WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions, which offers counseling services by trained Christian counselors. Although no one was available in the area to lead a support group in person, WLCFS brought a support group leader to the group via live video.

“Our congregation knew a support group would meet a need,” says the congregation’s pastor, “but we didn’t know anything about how to start or run one. Jeff Richardson, a certified substance abuse counselor, used Web-based video conferencing to meet with our group for eight weeks. He led the first few sessions then observed and offered suggestions for the final sessions. Now we have several participants who know how to run a meeting on their own.”

In addition to several members of the church consistently attending meetings, a member of the community was invited by one of the group members and attended. Everyone in the group heard the comfort and promises that are found in God’s Word.

This service, as well as the other video counseling services provided by WLCFS, are covered through its Member Assistance Program. Through the Member Assistance Program, congregations can buy blocks of counseling hours or support group hours so that members can obtain services at no charge.

As Dan Nommensen, program operations director at WLCFS, notes, “It is just another way for congregations to reflect the love of Jesus to their members as they work through life’s challenges.”

For more information on the Member Assistance Program or on offering a video support group led by a WLCFS counselor, call 800-438-1772 or visit www.ChristianFamilySolutions.org.

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014

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

 

 

WELS supports mission in North Dakota

“People here are so excited to finally have someone to serve as a full-time pastor,” says Nate Walther.

In May, Walther graduated from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and was assigned as a home missionary to Grace, Minot, N.D. A group began worshiping together in Minot in the mid-1990s and was served by “nearby” pastors anywhere from one to three times per month, depending on the weather. Most of these pastors lived about two hours away. The core group in Minot fluctuated between 3 to 12 people during most of this time.

Then, in April 2013, the WELS Board for Home Missions authorized funding for this mission. Keith Free, administrator of the Board for Home Missions, explains that the energy boom in North Dakota is causing the state to see an influx of people, so the time is right to support a church in this area.

Since Walther arrived this summer, the core group has grown and now numbers between 20 to 25. The group gathers each Sunday in a rented meeting room of a local hotel.

“I wasn’t expecting to be in a new mission setting,” says Walther, “but it’s been a fun, humbling ride to see how God is supporting me and using my gifts to serve this church.”

Walther has spent much of his time learning more about Minot and its residents so that he can determine how best to minister to those in this area. During its preliminary research, the Dakota-Montana District Mission Board came to the conclusion that beginning an early childhood ministry might be a good outreach strategy in Minot. Walther’s research has confirmed that thought.

Walther notes, “It is my absolute conviction that an early childhood ministry is not just a strong way to share the gospel, I believe it is the best way to grow Grace Lutheran Church in this community.”

Walther’s view is based on many factors, including the strong need for quality child care in Minot. As a fast-growing community with a low unemployment rate, many new families are moving into the area. These families will need a social network, and an early childhood center will let Grace build relationships with these families as it provides a service to them.

Walther acknowledges that he has no idea how God is going to work, but he is comforted knowing that it is God who is doing the work. Walther also has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from across the synod. “You have no idea how much your prayers and support mean to us,” he says. “It’s so encouraging, and every act of support makes a difference. Thank you.”

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014

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

 

 

WELS names new HR director

 

Dennis Maurer has been named director of Human Resources for WELS. He began his service at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis., in October.

As Human Resources director, Maurer oversees the personnel functions for the synod and is responsible for the implementation of personnel policies, recruitment, compensation, benefits, performance management, and employee relations. Human Resources also serves as a resource to WELS congregations and to affiliated groups and entities. “I’m here to help with any day-to-day issue that may arise,” says Maurer. “I look forward to assisting our congregations and schools with their questions.”

The outgoing director of Human Resources, Todd Scott, accepted a similar position for Washington County in Wisconsin in July after two years of service to the synod.

Maurer has held senior human resources management positions the past 17 years for Rockwell Automation and Telsmith, Inc. He is excited to share his knowledge with the synod. “I couldn’t ask for a more worthwhile position in human resources than to support and assist the people who are serving our Lord,” says Maurer. “The synod, and my church in particular, has been very good to me and my family over the years, and the opportunity to serve my Lord in this position appeals to me greatly.”

Maurer, a member of St. John, Wauwatosa, Wis., is married (Lois) with four children: a son at UW-Madison; a son in his senior year at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, Milwaukee, Wis.; and nine-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

Author:
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

 

 

Bible study booklets help share the gospel in Eastern Europe

Since 2002, WELS Multi-Language Publications has been translating and using simple, self-guided Bible study booklets for distance learning programs in Latin America and South Asia. Initially developed by WELS Prison Ministry for outreach to prisoners, the Bible Teachings Series now numbers 33 volumes and has been printed in 14 languages. Here John Vogt, WELS regional coordinator for Eastern Europe, shares some new places in which these booklets are being used.

In Bulgaria, a new project is underway. One of the theological students has translated Jesus the Christ, a booklet in the Bible Teachings Series, into Bulgarian. Pastor Radoslav Radkov, leader of the Bulgarian Lutheran Church, is scheduled to visit the four congregations in the Bulgarian Lutheran Church and challenge each member to take at least two of the booklets and give them to a friend, relative, or neighbor. Another pastor, Dimitar Shishkov, will correct any final tests sent back and send out the next book in the series.

In Ukraine, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod-sponsored medical and dental vans crisscross the country providing care in orphanages, prisons, and remote villages. In most of those places there is no Lutheran pastor or congregation. Now the staff on the vans offers these self-study booklets with the encouragement to complete the test at the end and mail it back in order to receive the next book. This is a way to help the vans carry out their mission of building bridges to the gospel.

The Lord is also opening two new doors. In Bucharest, the capital of Romania, lives Sorin-Horia Trifa, a preaching elder in the country’s only Romanian-language Lutheran congregation. He is well educated with a theological degree and is eager to study for his master’s degree through Martin Luther College. He is translating the first book in the Bible Teaching Series into Romanian and has gotten a promise from the Association of Christian Taxi Drivers to hand out the booklets. Potentially there will be scores of taxis running around Bucharest serving as distribution centers.

In Turkey, a Turkish couple has converted from Islam and wants to find ways to share the gospel. Ferda Balancar is a newspaper editor, his wife, Esra, a university professor. They are the only Turkish members of a small Finnish Lutheran congregation in Istanbul. Ferda has written three books of oral history telling the stories of Christians living in Turkey from 1915 to the present. He is also one of the directors of the only Christian TV station allowed on the government-controlled TV system. Ferda and Esra say that they consider it their mission in life to produce solid Christian literature in the Turkish language.

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

 

 

Putting a face on World Mission work

This past year, members at Mount Olive, Appleton, Wis., did more than just hear about mission work being done through Gereja Lutheran Indonesia (GLI), our sister church in Indonesia. They got to meet the people involved—and fund an effort that will help further outreach in that country.

As part of its 100th anniversary in 2015, Mount Olive planned to have a thank offering—something special over and above its Congregation Mission Offerings and other synod support. Members wanted part of that offering to focus on mission work. Robert Raasch, pastor at Mount Olive and also liaison to Indonesia for WELS World Missions, suggested that the congregation sponsor two Indonesian students, Mikael and his wife, Ester, so they could study at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., for the 2013–14 school year through the Pastoral Studies Institute. This would give the couple an opportunity to strengthen their theological English so they can better translate biblical materials into Indonesian for WELS Multi-Language Publications.

Congregation members gave enough money to pay for travel, housing, health insurance, and tuition. They donated bicycles for their transportation and also winter clothes for the long Wisconsin winter.

“We’re thankful for Mount Olive support to us,” says Ester. “We feel touched by church members’ generosity and kindness. It’s kind of like the spirit that we also want to share to others.”

Several times throughout the year, Mikael and Ester visited Mount Olive to spend time with their family in Christ. They conducted several presentations for the congregation and the school children and even joined congregation members for a community project in a local park.

“It’s one thing to just talk about missions,” says Raasch. “It’s another thing to see these people from Indonesia and hear them tell us about what they believe, to see their fire for Christ and their determination to bring that message back to their people. It had a huge impact.”

Visiting Mount Olive and getting to know its members also had a huge impact on Mikael and Ester. “If we compare Mount Olive with GLI, there is a significant difference both in quantity and quality,” says Ester. “However, this make Mount Olive as a role model for GLI to be a church that supports synod ministry and WELS mission. We are impressed by Mount Olive’s effort in bringing over the heart of missions and showing the need to spread gospel to church members. We can say that Mount Olive is a church that lives to do Jesus’ mandate.”

Learn more about Mikael and Ester and the Pastoral Studies Institute in this month’s edition of WELS Connection.

 

Author:
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

John A. Braun

Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (9:2). The words are familiar to every Christian because they are part of a familiar Christmas text. Isaiah went on to identify the light as a child born for humanity who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6).

Jesus identified himself as that light: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). By the power of the Holy Spirit we have the light in our hearts. We believe in the One whom God has sent to rescue us from the darkness.

But there is still darkness in this world. Jesus reminded us, “Nation will rise against nation. . . . There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events” (Luke 21:10,11). Was he reading our newspaper headlines? Remember he was the Son of God. He knew that disasters such as earthquakes were an ongoing part of history. He also knew more clearly than anyone else the darkness within the human heart.

In spite of the darkness, he came. His message was God’s love for darkened souls—forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and hope. The apostle John (1:1-4) saw the light of the One who was with God in the beginning. It was a light for all mankind. He treasured that light and waited for the time he would leave the darkness for eternal light and life.

But Jesus did not come to remove the troubles of this life. Some in his own day expected him to bring a return to glory for Israel and the destruction of their enemies. They wanted a world without subjection, disappointment, struggle, and pain. Perhaps they interpreted the miracles of Jesus as promises of a perfect life on earth without disease or death. The hope of those in darkness is often a perpetual life of ease without much change except for the removal of what troubles them.

The hope this light gives is different. It looks to God. We have been called out of the darkness, as Peter says (1 Peter 2:9), into God’s marvelous light. Because Jesus came we are declared right and holy; he has suffered for our sins—all that we want to hide in the darkness. Because of Jesus, we stand as children of God and do not shrink in his holy presence or hide from his gaze. We are children of light—forgiven and loved. We hope for a new life after this one is over.

Now we live in a world of darkness. We, like others, experience trouble, pain, and sorrow. Our hope helps us endure these tragedies and wait patiently for life with Jesus. And while we are here, we “shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). Our lives are transformed and different from the crooked and twisted world that is still blind to the light of Jesus. While we have opportunity, we work to be God’s people here—kind, gentle, courteous, courageous, thoughtful, loving, and persistent in our hope. We remain ready to give an explanation for the hope within to those who ask.

The world remains blind to the light of the gospel. Even at Christmas the world only sees the joy of another holiday rather than a celebration of the Savior’s birth. The lights that shine from decorated trees are attractive and interesting trimmings for all of us. Yet for children of the Light, those Christmas lights remind us that Jesus is the Light that shines in our dark world.

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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 2

Jesus prayed persistently. Neither work nor rest kept him from time with his Father.

Samuel C. Degner

Picture yourself at the end of a long day. Countless people and tasks have demanded your time from sunup to sundown. You found just enough time to sit down to a couple of meals—but not enough time to enjoy them. You’ve been on the go all day long.

Now you’re home. You kick off the world’s heaviest shoes and plop down into an easy chair. You turn on the late news, but your sinking eyelids are quickly squeezing the weatherman out of sight. You drag yourself to bed and turn out the lights.

But wait . . . what about your nighttime devotion? Your bedtime prayers? Your mind musters up just enough energy to think, There will be time tomorrow.

JESUS MADE TIME TO PRAY

Now picture Jesus on a day like that. The apostles had just returned from their first mission, but so many people were swarming around that they didn’t even have time to eat, much less get some needed rest. So Jesus invited them to sail across the Sea of Galilee to a solitary place . . . only it wasn’t very solitary when they landed. Crowds of people had followed on foot and gotten there first. In compassion Jesus spent the whole day teaching and healing them. It was very late when Jesus served a miraculous supper to thousands. It was later still by the time the disciples finished picking up the leftovers and Jesus sent them back across the lake while he sent the crowds home.

Finally, the day was over. Finally, Jesus had that elusive peace and quiet. Finally, he could rest. Right?

Not according to Matthew 14:23: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.” Jesus hadn’t had time to rest yet, but he hadn’t had time to pray either. Now that he was finally alone, he chose prayer. While his disciples were bending their oars on a stormy lake, Jesus was bending his Father’s ears in prayer into the early morning hours.

An all-night prayer session after an all-day work shift—just picturing it is tiring! Yet this was Jesus’ pattern. Sometimes he got up early (Mark 1:35) and sometimes he stayed up all night (Luke 6:12), so that neither work nor rest would keep him from time with his Father.

JESUS’ PERSISTENCE MOTIVATES US

If only we were so determined to pray! When the day’s demands threaten to cut into our meal time, our family time, our rest time, we guard those things and leave our prayer time on the chopping block. We fit in a few petitions when we can—perhaps while we’re driving or drifting off to sleep—but the quality and the quantity of those moments is often lacking.

This is why it’s so good to know that Jesus prayed early and often, long and late. He did so in our place! In prayer Jesus was even more determined than the crowds that chased him from shore to shore. That tireless prayer life is credited to us through the miracle of faith. The Father does not find us lacking at all. So the sight of Jesus still praying in the middle of the night after a long day doesn’t bring us feelings of fatigue but of rest.

It also makes us want to pray all the more. If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, felt the need to spend time communicating with his Father, how much more do we, forgiven sinners, want to do the same! We’re glad to carve out time—generous time, prime time—each day to spend with our Father in prayer, just as Jesus did for us.

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

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

 

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Author: Timothy J. Spaude
Volume 102, Number 4
Issue: April 2015

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 2

“We believe in . . . the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen”

Joel D. Otto

For the fourth-century writers and confessors of the Nicene Creed, this statement was not very controversial. There was no dispute among Christians that God was the almighty Creator of the universe. Even heathen unbelievers accepted that some divine being or force was the cause or “prime mover” of the universe.

Yet, those early century Christians thought it was important enough to clearly confess that God created all things. They were blessed with foresight because today this is an extremely controversial issue both inside and outside of the church.

Public education has long accepted the theory of evolution as the “scientific” explanation for the origins of the universe. But many Christian churches, in an attempt to appear intellectually acceptable to the secular culture, have compromised the creation account in Genesis. Some claim that God got things started and used the evolutionary process to bring the different species into existence. Others dismiss Genesis chapters 1–2 as myth. They say it was simply the way primitive believers tried to explain the origin of the world. Since scientific discoveries, they claim, have progressed so much, we have to get away from such myths.

The problem is that every attempt to diminish or compromise the Genesis creation account diminishes and compromises the power of the one true God. If he is truly “the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” as the church has been confessing for centuries, then by all means he has the power to call into existence this entire universe by his spoken word in six 24-hour days. Consider the intricacies of the human body, the orderliness of the orbit of the planets, the fact that our planet is the right distance from the sun and rotates at the right angle and at the right speed.

Finally, however, it is a matter of faith. We can study God’s creation and marvel at it. We can attempt to debunk evolutionary theories. In the end, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe what the Bible says: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Believing that our heavenly Father has created this universe gives us additional confidence that he has the power to help us. Even when the world appears to be falling apart, even when our lives might seem to be unraveling, we remember that by faith in Jesus we are children of the heavenly Father who in love and power called all the heavens and earth into existence, “seen and unseen.” He lives and rules all things for the good of his children.

So we can echo the confession of the psalmist: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).


 

EXPLORING THE WORD

1. We often marvel at what we can see of God’s creation. Describe as many of the “unseen” things of God’s creation as you can.

There are many answers. Here are just a few: air (consider how it contains just the right amount of oxygen), gravity (consider that the earth rotates at the right speed, on the right axis, at the right distance from the sun and moon), sound waves, heat/light/energy (we can’t usually see this, but we often see its source or feel the results), angels. One might also consider the way God makes the crops grow. We observe it happen, but it happens in such a way that it is hard for us to see. One might also think about the internal workings of the human body. These things are unseen unless we get an X-ray, MRI, or have surgery or some traumatic injury.

2. Read Psalm 139:13-16. How does an understanding about God’s creative activity help us view our bodies, intellect, and abilities?

It is true that sin has marred God’s perfect creation. That is why, for example, there are genetic defects. However, because we are knit together in our mother’s womb by the almighty God, the different look of our bodies, the different skills and abilities we have, and the different levels of intellect and understanding we possess, all are used by God to make us the unique people that we are. And God uses the uniqueness of each one of us for his good purposes and for our spiritual and eternal good. So we can view our bodies, intellect, and abilities as gifts of God’s power and grace, knit together to make each of us a unique blessing in his world and in his church to serve him and others, even if sometimes we might see what we consider to be defects and deficiencies.

3. Read Genesis 1:2,26; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17. While we usually confess that the Father is Creator, how do these passages inform a complete picture of creation? What does this tell us about the Trinity?

Both the Son and the Holy Spirit were also involved in the work of creation and continue to be involved in the work of preserving creation. The Bible does ascribe specific tasks to a particular person of God. For example, only the Son became flesh and was crucified. And we will often delineate certain titles for the persons of God based on the tasks typically ascribed to them (for example, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier). However, when it comes to creation, all three persons were active. The three persons of the one God take counsel together and work together to care for us and save us.

4. In what way does your view of the origin of the universe affect your worldview and purpose in life?

If you hold an evolutionary view of the world where the world’s existence is a result of change, accident, or survival of the fittest, then your worldview is focused on yourself, and your purpose in life becomes personal survival and advancement in life and/or a pursuit of personal pleasure. There is no accountability toward something or someone higher than yourself. There is no Creator to honor and glorify, so you end of glorifying humanity and humanity’s achievements. Or people might turn creation itself or created things into “god.” Consider the way some people refer to “Mother Earth” or the way different civilizations have worshiped the sun, planets, or animals (cf. Romans 1:18-32).

On the other hand, if you believe that God created the universe, gave us life, and provides all that we need, then you also recognize that you are accountable to that Creator. Adam and Eve recognized that they were accountable to God for their disobedience, even though they tried to hide from him (see Genesis 3). Your worldview is focused on your Creator, and your purpose in life becomes obeying his commands; glorifying and honoring him in attitude, word, and action; and serving others (1 Corinthians 10:31; Deuteronomy 10:12). There is an accountability and responsibility to the God who gives and sustains life. Luther brings this thought out in his explanation to the First Article. After reviewing all that God has done to create us, provide for us, and protect us, he writes, “All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him.” While ultimately we worship, honor, and obey God in gratitude for his saving works, his creating work also elicits our praise and forms our worldview as one where we strive to glorify our Almighty Maker in all that we do.

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

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

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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

 

Not faultless, but forgiven

Jeffrey L. Samelson

WELS is not perfect.

There—I said it. From comments I’ve heard and read, it’s clear that some people think we believe our synod can do no wrong—and perhaps never has. Maybe too often we actually believe that ourselves. This magazine can inadvertently contribute to this perception, being filled with successes on the mission field; blessings to individuals and churches that come from following and trusting God’s Word; and, of course, anniversaries like the 100 years of this magazine celebrated in these last 12 issues. The end of a year like this provides a valuable opportunity to take stock of our achievements, but we should not forget our imperfections.

Shall we start at the top and confess that the synod and district presidents through the years have sometimes acted when they shouldn’t have and failed to act when they should have? What about individual WELS members? Consider how so many of us are happy to be ignorant of basic Christian doctrines; fail to value the means of grace provided through our churches and ministers; and generally struggle to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

We can mention the church councils that have been more concerned with budgets than with ministry and mission or that have placed personal loyalties or the appearance of peace above meeting the needs of sinners—siding with the powerful, turning a blind eye to abuse, ignoring problems of doctrine and practice. District and synod conventions have approved positions and programs that later proved imprudent, and right decisions have been made at the wrong time. We admit to doctrines that have been poorly expressed or taught and to simultaneously trusting in our history for orthodoxy and taking our confessional Lutheran heritage for granted.

Too many can testify to incidents in our WELS “culture” when some have gone too far with our freedoms, have aimed to cut down those whose successes have lifted them too high above the rest, have elevated school and family loyalties higher than

the church, or have stopped taking seriously things that we should. We have shamed people who needed support, and we have supported those who should have been shamed.

So no, WELS is not perfect; its people are sinners. We still say wrong things, break promises, miss deadlines, deny errors, exceed speed limits, prioritize things we should not prioritize, and fail to love God and our neighbor as we should. Just like everyone else.

And just like everyone else, the answer to our imperfections is God’s grace. He sent his own Son to pass through manger, cross, and tomb, not only to take away all our sins but also to transfer to us Christ’s own righteousness. We are not faultless, we are forgiven; we are not perfect in ourselves, we are made perfect despite ourselves.

So why then be WELS Lutherans? Because of God’s grace and blessing, we are convinced that the Lutheran church is where we will best find the things the Lord wants to give us—the law preached firmly, the gospel preached sweetly, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper administered faithfully, and words of forgiveness and restoration spoken generously. Our synod is blessed to be a fellowship where those gifts are treasured, preserved, and promoted with a fidelity and orthodoxy not frequently found.

All the good things of our WELS—past, present, and future—are not ours by right or nature but entirely by grace and to God’s glory alone. We don’t celebrate ourselves; our confidence is in Christ.

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

 

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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 with us

The Christmas message answers life’s perplexing questions.

Joel C. Gerlach

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Those three questions, in French, are inscribed in the upper left corner of Paul Gauguin’s 19th-century masterpiece, now hanging in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The painting suggests that Gauguin didn’t have a clue.

In 1986, comedienne Lily Tomlin won a Tony Award for her starring role in Jane Wagner’s “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” “I worry where tonight fits in the cosmic scheme of things,” she laments. She concludes, “I worry there is no cosmic scheme to things.” The search was futile.

Two millennia ago, Magi in the east were searching too. In the cosmic sky, a quaint and wandering star appeared. It led them to a house in Bethlehem where they found you know what—a tiny infant. Strangely enough, the baby’s mother was a virgin. That rang a bell. Isaiah’s ancient prophecy popped into mind. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 KJV)—God with us.

Those three one-syllable words answer all three of Gauguin’s perplexing questions.

WHERE DO WE COME FROM?

Definitely not from the bottom rung of an evolutionary ladder. Like Gauguin, “a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers” in Athens were also unsure of the answer to his question. So Paul answered them unequivocally. Speaking of “the God who made the world and everything in it,” Paul went on to say, “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’ ” (Acts 17:18,24,28).

WHAT ARE WE?

In Psalm 100 David answers the where and the what: “Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (v. 3). The repetition makes it emphatic—“his people.”. . . “The Lord is God . . . and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” The sound of this is music to our ears.

But let’s not forget: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). What the wise men found at Bethlehem was only the down payment of that price. The full and final payment was made at Calvary, not Bethlehem: “It is finished” (John 19:30). So on to question three:

WHERE ARE WE GOING?

Gauguin went to Polynesia in search of heaven on earth. But his profligacy was not the answer to his haunting question. Here is Immanuel’s answer: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

Once again, Christmas reminds us that there most certainly is a cosmic scheme of things. Christmas sends us back into a world that is as clueless as Gauguin was with a purpose. Now you and I are the artists, fully equipped by God to paint a picture with our lives that lovingly tells the world where we came from, what we’re here for, and where we’re going. Christmas reminds us that life really does have meaning and purpose. God is with us—and for us.

That’s what makes my Christmas special, and I trust yours too.

Joel Gerlach, a retired pastor, is a member at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

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Author: Joel C. Gerlach
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

 

100 years of God’s grace

Julie K. Wietzke

It was 1 a.m. Irene struggled to open her eyes as she realized her husband needed her help. He’d finished writing his devotion for The Northwestern Lutheran, and she had to type it up for him. It was due the next day—actually later the same day—so it had to be ready to take to the publisher. “He was so busy as the president of the seminary,” says Irene Zabel Lawrenz of her husband, Carl Lawrenz, “that sometimes it would be very late at night before he could write his devotion. But he trusted my typing, because, well, I did that for a living.”

Irene has a long history with The Northwestern Lutheran, typing her husband’s devotions when he served as a contributing editor to the magazine from 1946 to 1959. In 2014 Irene shares something else with the magazine The Northwestern Lutheran, now known as Forward in Christ: 100 years of God’s grace. “I never expected to be one hundred,” she says. “However, it’s not for me to argue about that. I’ve been blessed.”

The Northwestern Lutheran was in its fifth month of production when Irene was born on May 20, 1914, in Montello, Wisconsin. Growing up, her interests ranged from music to art to biology—with the dream for her future to be a missionary nurse in Africa. “I was raised in a small town and never thought I would get past the next village,” she says. Little did she know that her dream to go to Africa would one day be realized.

When she was 18 years old, she got her first job—working as a courthouse secretary for eight different bosses. This was during the Depression, a time where jobs were scarce and money was tight.

During that time, she met Carl Lawrenz, a Lutheran pastor in a neighboring town. Then she had to make a decision. Irene said she wasn’t sure what she should do. She liked her job and didn’t know if she was “qualified” to be a pastor’s wife. She says that she remembers Carl saying to her, “You’re seeing the seamy side of life here [at your job]. You marry me, and you’ll see the other side.”

“And I did,” Irene says, “for 50 years.”

That 50 years started at the Wisconsin church where Carl was serving: St. Paul, North Fond du Lac. As Carl shared the gospel message with the congregation, Irene learned how to be a pastor’s wife. Irene remembers those early days—becoming a mother, singing in the choir, cleaning up the rice after weddings, pulling weeds from the church lawn, and learning to cook.

When Carl accepted a call to teach at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 1944, the young family moved to the seminary grounds in Mequon, a place they would stay for the next 38 years. Their first home there was an apartment above the dining hall.

While caring for her five children, Irene also helped Carl with projects in the office. In 1959, the seminary asked Irene to fill in for the school’s secretary. “I said, well, sure, I’ll help out although I haven’t been a secretary for a long time,” says Irene. “They said that’s okay, it’s an emergency. Well, that lasted almost 20 years!” Irene soon became known as Snow White, not because of her white hair but because she worked with seven professors at the seminary at the time.

It’s been estimated that Carl taught 1,200 pastors during his time at the seminary, men who have taken God’s Word all over the world. Irene touched those men’s lives as well. “I had a marvelous relationship with the students,” she says. “I loved those students. They were like my sons.”

Whether it was feeding cookies to student workers painting around the windows—“He, this tall fellow with long legs, came right through the window,” she says—giving away one of her husband’s coats to a student on a cold winter’s day, or comforting students during times of sadness, Irene’s “mom” instinct came shining through.

She even helped them with their homework. When a seminarian came into the office to drop off a paper at the last minute, she stopped him as he was running out the door. “I said, ‘Hey, come back. Do you want an A on this paper? Then you better spell the professor’s name right.’ ” (He had spelled the name Lawrence instead of Lawrenz.) He had no time to fix it, so she took off the cover page and retyped it with the proper spelling. “I never betrayed that student,” she says. “I gave [the students] all the help I could. They could expect it.”

Irene also served as encourager for her husband, especially during the difficult years of the split with the Missouri Synod. The seminary’s president, Edmund Reim, resigned in 1957 because WELS didn’t separate itself from Missouri fast enough. Carl, who believed strongly in waiting as long as possible before separating, was named president. “It was a ticklish time,” says Irene. “I told him to do his best. I had to be the encourager.”

Though Irene lived in Wisconsin her whole life, the world came to her door, with the Lawrenz family often hosting foreign guests because of Carl’s work with the Commission on Inter-Church Relations. Irene especially remembers one guest, a pastor from Poland, telling about the atrocities during World War II. She also remembers him wanting her to teach him English, which she tried her best to do, and how he followed her into the kitchen for more lessons when she made an excuse that she needed to do the dishes.

A longtime wish of Irene’s finally came true in 1975 when Carl and Irene traveled to Malawi and Zambia, Africa. Carl was teaching at the seminary in Zambia for three months. Though Irene wasn’t there as a nurse, she did witness the births of three babies and was given the honor of naming them. “There was a grandma [at one birth]—gray-haired and a few teeth missing. She started to shake my hand and danced around me again and again thanking me for giving them another child,” says Irene. “And I thought to myself, What did I have to do with it?” In her bedroom, she still proudly displays a homemade clay pot and spoon given to them at a village congregation “because you have shown us that you love us.” She remembers fondly the worship services they attended, the meals they shared, and the people they met. Today those memories help her picture where her son, Stephen, now serves as a missionary with the help of his wife, Lori.

One hundred years. That’s a long time. But Irene has seen God’s grace and served his kingdom throughout her life. She’s also touched the lives of hundreds—thousands—of people. “I study people, and I love them all,” she says. “They are all God’s souls.”

We at Forward in Christ have also been around a long time—though in the end, it’s only a blink in the eternity Christians will one day experience. We pray that like

Irene we have touched people’s lives—with the gospel message we proclaim and the stories we share of God’s grace and favor.

We can echo Irene’s sentiment: We’ve been blessed.

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ.

 

 

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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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: Dakota-Montana District

Peter J. Naumann

“Go West, young man and young lady,” has been the assignment given to hundreds of pastors and teachers during the history of the Dakota-Montana District. Following the Lord’s call, they found a big, beautiful country with people needing and wanting to hear the gospel.

Dakota-Montana served as the joint synod’s largest mission field for decades, through the Depression and World War II. That changed with the 1961 fellowship decision and the synod’s sudden need to follow members throughout all 50 states. Still, many past and present pastors, teachers, professors, and synodical officials started their ministries in the district. “They assign them to us so they can learn ministry,” one older member stated.

“Big and beautiful, boom and change” describe the scenery and life in the district, which comprises the states of North and South Dakota, Montana, and the Canadian province of Alberta. There are also a few congregations on the borders of Minnesota and Wyoming. Dakota-Montana contains the majestic beauty of the Northern and Canadian Rockies. Of course, who hasn’t heard of the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore? It seems fitting that this series on the 12 districts ends in Big Sky country.

The district covers the seemingly endless expanse of the northern plains, which contain several desert badlands locations. Arable land is covered as far as one can see with amber waves of grain, sunflowers, and also corn and soybeans. Pastureland is paradise for cattle and honeybees. The former remind a person of Psalm 50:10: “the cattle on a thousand hills.” A marker on the 100th meridian, just east of the Missouri River, says that in the 1800s insurance companies and banks would not loan money any further west because beyond that point was only the Great American Desert. Current residents just smile and keep on working. (Rainfall is measured, however, in hundredths of an inch not in tenths of an inch.)

The district spans 1,233 miles from Yankton, South Dakota, in the southeast to Saint Albert, Alberta, Canada, in the northwest, and 954 miles from Missoula, Montana, on the Idaho border to Moorhead, Minnesota, in the east. Out here it is hard to relate to urban sprawl or overpopulation. The Canadian cities of Calgary and Edmonton are the only cities in the district with a metropolitan population of over one million.

The “boom times” included the waves of European immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s, encouraged by congressional homestead acts. Hardy Reisepraedigern (traveling preachers) followed these determined people to gather them into congregations. Of one such missionary, a son said, “Dad had a hand in starting 43 congregations.” There have also been population spikes brought on by the gold rushes, the railroads crossing the plains, vast supplies of coal, and now the oil and natural gas boom, especially in western North Dakota and northern Alberta.

Change has come in several forms. The railroads helped span and populate the plains. Railheads sprouted towns every ten miles, and towns sprouted churches. Now interstate highways carry people and commerce, attracting jobs and people to different towns. Farms and ranches have changed too. Modern machinery causes today’s family farm not to be sized by acres but by quarters and sections.

Two things of course have not changed: the natural spiritual condition of people and the Lord’s burning desire to reach and save as many as possible. Responding to our Savior’s direction to “go into all the world,” the church, missionaries, and schools have followed the population and pioneers west. And they have not bypassed the local population, as Native American names such as Pourier, Cadotte, Catch the Bear, Trevan, Never-Misses-a-Shot, Handboy, Traversie, Dancing Fox, River, and Hawk witness. Asked why he accepted a call to the far-flung, sparsely populated Dakotas, one veteran pastor replied, “They all have souls too.” Fifty-four pastors and fifty teachers address that need daily with the good news.

Formerly part of the Minnesota Synod, three years after the death of its president and the full amalgamation of the joint synod, the Dakota-Montana District was

formed in 1920. It is currently composed of 73 congregations with 10,103 members. It supports five elementary schools and one high school, Great Plains in Watertown, South Dakota. Though an area Lutheran high school and not supported by the synod, Great Plains is an able and growing successor to Northwestern Lutheran Academy. That former synod preparatory school in Mobridge, South Dakota, thrived for 50 years until 1979 when it merged with Martin Luther Academy, New Ulm, Minn. The new school, Martin Luther Preparatory School, was relocated to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

The states and province comprising the district have enjoyed low unemployment rates for decades. That is especially true now with the oil boom. Thousands of young people and families are heeding Horace Greeley’s advice. The many new, young families have caused a great demand for child care. District congregations have responded by establishing nine early childhood ministries, with more in the planning stages.

If you are planning a vacation or looking for new job or home in beautiful surroundings, come and take a look at our district. It has much to offer. Some locals refer to it as “real America.” Be that as it may, the Dakota-Montana District is thankful for the gospel and eager to proclaim real wisdom, wealth, forgiveness, and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Peter Naumann served as president of the Dakota-Montana District from 1994–2014. He currently serves the dual parish of Zion, Mobridge, South Dakota, and Saint Jacobi, Glenham, South Dakota.

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

 

 

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Author: Peter J. Naumann
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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 into the future of Forward in Christ

John A. Braun

One hundred years brings a lot of change. The Northwestern Lutheran began in 1914, just before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. That event sparked World War I, the war to end all wars. We know the war did not achieve that result.

Over the years, Lindbergh’s flight, the stock market crash, World War II, a new hymnal in 1941, and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls troubled and excited not just Americans but people around the world—Lutheran Christians among them. Elvis, prosperity, the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of a United States president, the resignation of another, and the scandal attached to still another were noted in the newspapers and television, a new communication tool. A new hymnal may not have received much attention in national or international media, but it appeared in our congregations and schools.

History has not stopped. September 11, the war on terror, hurricanes, oil spills, recession, and drone warfare have received more recent ink and airtime.

WHAT’S THE FUTURE?

When one asks, “What will the future bring?” the answer might not be very encouraging. A look at the list above indicates that history repeats itself. We might look ahead with some anxiety. Emerging trends and stories add to the worry. Christians persecuted. Disease. International tensions.

But wait! God’s people have persisted through all of history, not just the past one hundred years. They have regularly turned to the Lord in prayer, seeking strength, comfort, direction, and protection. If the ongoing course of history with all its troubles continues, God’s people will pray to their heavenly Father.

Solomon did it long ago. His prayer was printed in the first issue of The Northwestern Lutheran. “May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us” (1 Kings 8:57). That prayer has found a place in every issue since. So what’s ahead? Prayer. If not the prayer of Solomon, then another.

The reasons for the prayers of God’s people—and the editors and staff of this magazine—encourage more of the same. God in his love has claimed us as his people. We have been called out of the darkness into his wonderful light. We are declared holy and righteous because of Jesus Christ. We have forgiveness, life, and salvation by faith in Jesus. His cross and empty tomb stand in sharp contrast to the darkness. History’s events cannot change them or remove their blessings. History may seek to hide them, but it cannot destroy them.

We pray also because the God who loves us is also the powerful God of the universe. We may never fully understand why the events of history seem so dark or why God does not remove history’s darkest chapters. But if he did not remove them from the history books, we don’t expect him to eliminate them from future editions either. We pray because he loves us. We pray because he has the power to watch over us no matter what lies ahead.

Even if we do not understand, we know that we have no permanent dwelling here. We cling to the Savior’s cross and its rich, bright promise. And we wait. We wait for God to do as he promised. Even if all seems against that promise, we hold to it because he stands behind it.

FORWARD IN CHRIST LOOKS AHEAD

Our vision for the future is unreliable! We have challenges. The first is that people are reading less than they were. We have noticed the subscriptions for FIC slowly drip away. A part of that erosion is also the readership of the magazine and of the synod as a whole. We are all aging. Attendance in our elementary schools had dropped in recent years, partly because families are smaller than they were a generation ago.

Another challenge is the budgets of congregations and families. FIC does not take money from mission offerings; it is supported by subscriptions. Congregations look to cut costs at budget time, and sometimes the blanket subscription to FIC is an easy target. It is a reality FIC has confronted for more than a few years, and it will persist. Families also look for things to cut from their household budgets. The cost of subscribing to FIC may be a place to save on expenses. That’s also a reality.

We also face the challenge of being relevant and interesting each month. We are not afraid to try new things, but we are unwilling to abandon the one thing God’s people have needed in the past and will need in the future—the gospel. Our goal is to make that gospel a part of all we write and publish. The gospel is the one thing that sustains God’s people in all the events of history. So we will try new things. You’ll even see something new in the January issue. But we won’t try anything that moves us away from the one thing needful.

We work to meet the challenges ahead and then turn ourselves and our efforts into the Lord’s hands with a prayer from the pen of Moses: “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).

John Braun is the executive editor of Forward in Christ.

 

 

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014

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

 

Teen Talk: Being bold

Sometimes it’s difficult to stand up for what we believe in, but we need to let our light shine.

Annah Dobson

It’s not always easy to be bold—to stand up for what you like, love, and believe. We all have times where we just want to fade away in the back, ignore the questions, and disappear from everyone’s mind. But we shouldn’t.

One day I was hanging out with my friends, talking. We started talking about high school. The majority of the girls in the group go to public school. They know that I go to Lakeside Lutheran High School. So one girl asked why I go there. Another said she was thinking of going there but knew she could use her money for college or something better. They all made their case for why I should change schools.

Finally one of my friends asked again why I go to Lakeside. I didn’t know what to say. I stood there for a moment, then I quickly changed the subject and tried to forget how I didn’t answer her question.

On my way home I couldn’t shake how I had failed to say anything. That night I recalled my religion class and how we talked about being bold in our faith and standing firm in what we believe. I always thought in class, Yeah, yeah. I can speak my faith very well. It will never happen to me that I won’t be able to. Well, that night I proved myself wrong. I just didn’t understand why!

I felt so alone. I knew I had done the wrong thing and thought I was so stupid. If it had been anyone else, he or she would have been right on the ball and said the truth.

But I soon began to realize that I wasn’t the only one. Peter was right there in the same boat with me. He had denied being a follower of Jesus, not only once but three times (John 18:15-27). I could never understand how Peter could have done such a thing. But as I stepped into his shoes, I realized that with everything going on around me, I had done exactly the same thing.

I know what I can do differently next time. I can boldly show my faith by stopping, taking a breath, and thinking for a moment. I can show my beliefs by saying why I love Lakeside, why I am glad—no, privileged—to be attending such a school.

They may not want to spend thousands of dollars on four teenage-crazed years of their life. But I am proud to say that I go to a high school where we pray a lot and set time aside every day to worship. I go to Lakeside because I want to stay close to Jesus. I don’t want to forget about him now or even later on. I want to stay forever close to my Lord, who will bring me to my rightful home in heaven. I’m just sorry I didn’t say that when I had the chance.

When you get caught in a sticky situation and you feel like curling up in a ball or crawling away to hide, don’t freeze up. Pray! God will guide you in what to say. Even if you do make a mistake, you will learn from it and know what to say next time. Like it says in Acts 4:29, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

Don’t hide your light. Let it shine!

Annah Dobson, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at Immanuel, Farmington, Wisconsin.

 

 

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Author: Annah Dobson
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014

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

 

No man ever spoke like this man: Part 4

C. S. Lewis wrote that the idea that Jesus was only a great moral teacher is simply not true. Jesus made remarkable claims about himself. If Jesus is not what he said about himself, then he was either a lunatic or the very devil. To accept Jesus only as a great moral teacher is to reject him as Savior and Lord. There is no middle way.

Indeed, no man ever spoke like this man.

Theodore J. Hartwig

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

The picture of vine and branches that Jesus paints in John 15:5 (NIV 2011) would be intimately familiar to the 12 disciples celebrating the Passover meal with their Lord in the upper room. Together with figs, olives, honey, wheat, and milk, grapes converted into wine were among the staple foods for people living in the Holy Land. Water that was safe to drink was not as available for them. Normally water had to be obtained from a well at the edge of town and was used most often for washing and purification ceremonies. Wine was safe to drink.

Vineyards and all the work that they required—especially the radical pruning of suckers and unproductive branches—would be a common sight in Jewish gardens and fields. A pitcher and cups for the wine would be on the table as part of the Passover celebration. In speaking of himself as the vine and his disciples as the branches, Jesus as master-teacher used something immediately at hand to visualize his lesson. In their mind’s eye, the disciples could see the cut-off suckers withering on the ground. But they would also visualize the good branches attached to the stout stem of the vine and heavy with bunches of grapes. Their land had good soil for grape production. Remember how the Israelite spies under Moses’ leadership returned from surveying their Promised Land. Two of them were carrying a single cluster of grapes on a pole between them (Numbers 13:23). When his disciples remained with Jesus and he with them, they would bear much fruit in the form of serving him and loving their fellow human beings.

But what can Jesus mean when he declares: “Apart from me you can do nothing”? This sounds like the height of exclusivity and arrogance. Are we helpless without Jesus? Certainly Christians and non-Christian people will pounce on this bold assertion. They assert that Jesus never made such a statement.

Perhaps we can uncover what he meant with a comparison from our personal lives. The comparison will be imperfect yet is not unbiblical. Jesus spoke of himself as the bridegroom, his disciples as the bride. Now think of a Christian husband and wife who are deeply in love. In the strength of their love, these Christian spouses, despite the sin that will mar their marriage, are of one mind and one heart. They want to be with each other, they want to serve each other, they willingly defer to each other and make sacrifices for each other, and they trust each other implicitly. For them, marriage means living together in mutual love. So strong is this bond in the marriage of Christian spouses who are deeply in love with each other!

Now apply this earthly bond to the one between Jesus and his disciples. They are attached to their Lord in a union far deeper and stronger than that between loving Christian husbands and wives. Jesus suffered and died for them so that they could live with him eternally. This love transcends all others. And in this setting, the statement Jesus made about himself as vine and his disciples as branches will have its natural and amazing outcome. Apart from Jesus, his disciples can do nothing. It means that Jesus will be the source, guide, and goal of their entire life and behavior.

I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Winged words! As is true of John’s entire gospel, the words of John 11:25,26 (ESV) soar like an eagle. They soar with authority. They soar with grace. They soar with comfort.

Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Those words ring with an absolute authority. No other person in all history could say this of himself. But Jesus could say it because he became the trailblazer of all resurrections. His resurrection prepared the way for all other resurrections. Except for him, there would be no resurrection. So there is immense authority in his declaration that he is the resurrection and the life.

His words also soar with pure grace: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Believing in him has happened without the tiniest cooperation on our part. It happened solely by grace, as a gift from God. His Word, speaking the unvarnished truth about sinful human nature, broke down the natural resistance in stubborn human hearts immersed in their own will, intellect, and pride. His Word comes to the rescue of crushed hearts with the sweet fragrance of forgiveness, peace, and love. The good news of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, brings gracious comfort. This gospel takes possession of sinful hearts and creates new people who put their trust in Jesus. Despite all the death in this world, believers rejoice to know they will be with him eternally. All of this story is pure grace.

Jesus concludes with a statement bearing overwhelming comfort: “And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Herewith Jesus wipes out the natural grief that Christians will endure at the death of loved ones. When Lazarus died, Jesus gave this death its once-and-for-all description in life. For believers like Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, death is just a sleep. Therefore, Jesus declared that whoever lives and believes in him shall never die, shall not die eternally.

What are we to make of Jesus’ statements? Some liberal and unbelieving commentators assert that Jesus never made these claims about himself. They are either garbled recollections or inventions of his followers written 50 to 100 years later. To any casual reader, such a solution may seem persuasive. But only a persistent skeptic and slave to intellect would stick by this explanation. Jesus’ claims about himself are so unique, so extraordinary, so contrary to normal human experience that they could not have been garbled or dreamed up by his followers. Such “solutions” are simply and frankly unhistorical. These solutions are proposed by people who seek to avoid the claim of all of Scripture that Jesus is no mere human moralist or philosopher. He is the God of heaven come to earth for sinful humans. He became a Jew on earth for a time to claim us as his own and destroy sin and death. So, for us, Jesus must have the last word: “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30).

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

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

 

 

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Author:Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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: Kolterjahn

God used a woman’s “mistake” to not only give her a husband but also to give her an active faith life.

Linda R. Buxa

“If you ask my husband, he will tell you that we met at an international teachers’ conference,” says Sophie Kolterjahn, laughing, because that’s not what actually happened. “Although meeting online can be an embarrassing piece to share, it clearly shows the Lord’s intervention in our lives and is genuine evidence of the Holy Spirit guiding me to WELS.”

AN HONEST MISTAKE

By all accounts, Sophie is a successful woman. Because her father was a chuckwagon racer in his spare time, she grew up around horses—and began competitive barrel racing at age 4. Eventually, she represented her Canadian province—and placed first—in the Alberta Winter Games. She also played on the U-21 Canadian National Rugby team for two years. She was also named as an All-Canadian two of her four years at the University of Alberta, where she earned a

degree in French immersion education. Later, she received her master of arts in leadership and administration through Gonzaga University. Today she is the culture and engagement advisor at Cenovus Energy in Calgary.

Still, something was missing from her busy life. That’s when a friend suggested Sophie try online dating. “After a bit of pushback, I decided one day to give it a go. I took a deep breath, set up my profile, and hit submit,” she says. “The next day I had an inbox full of messages from men in the United States!”

It took her friend three days to discover the problem. “Rather than having my parameters set to 10 miles from my current location, they were set to 10,000 miles!” Sophie explains.

God used that mistake to match Sophie with Nathan Kolterjahn, a medical student in Tennessee. “His profile was amazing. It was hard to believe that someone with a strong faith, who valued family and was as ambitious as he, truly existed!” said Sophie. She took a chance and sent him a message.

PERSONAL AND SPIRITUAL CHANGES

Not only was her personal life about to change, so was her faith life.

Though Sophie’s father was an atheist, he supported his wife’s desire to raise Sophie Catholic. Without a church in their hometown, they drove to the neighboring community every Sunday and made attending Mass an integral part of her life.

On a visit to Wisconsin to get to know Nate’s family, “I shared with Nate’s dad, Pastor Darrick Kolterjahn, my love for his son and my desire to learn more about the WELS faith and Nathan’s beliefs,” she says. With her blessing, he connected Sophie with the pastor at Mountain View, Calgary.

When she returned home to Calgary, she attended worship and started taking a Bible information class. “I wanted to understand the true basis of the Lutheran faith so that I could make an informed decision as to whether I would leave the Catholic Church,” she says. “After ten months of studies, I was confirmed at Mountain View on Feb. 2, 2014.”

“Although I had been an active member in the Catholic Church my entire life, I had never dived into the Bible and felt the teachings to be so true to the gospel,” she says. “Certainly the Catholic Church provided me with the foundation for my beliefs; however, having the Bible at your fingertips and truly understanding the Word of God and how he intended us to apply it to our lives have been an incredible blessing.”

In the early months of their relationship, Nate shared his favorite passage with Sophie. She remembers thinking that she didn’t even know a Bible passage by heart. How would she even have a favorite? So she picked up his Bible, determined to find out which passage was her favorite.

“I read for hours that day . . . starting at the very beginning in Genesis, but I did not find my favorite passage that day,” she says. “However, it was the beginning of my journey to get more familiar with my Bible. The day I did find my favorite Bible passage, it brought me to tears, for it hit home exactly how I have felt in the past and many times even today.”

She picked 1 Timothy 1:15: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

“This passage spoke to me then and speaks to me now, for I am a sinner,” she says. “There are many sins I have committed in the past, and, despite my best efforts, there will be many more in the future. Understanding that Jesus died on the cross for us all, even for me a sinner, is the most amazing feeling of all.”

FAITH AND A CHALLENGE

This newly active faith gives her the strength for what has been a change-filled and challenge-filled year. Nate and Sophie were married on April 26, 2014. Because Nate is still in his final year of medical school, the entire relationship has been long distance, “but he is worth every flight and every lonely day,” she shares.

Then shortly after their April wedding, they found out Sophie is pregnant. “Nate and I were over-the-moon excited to discover we were expecting our first child, as we have both wanted to have children our entire lives,” she explains.

However, an early ultrasound discovered that the baby was at high risk for chromosomal and developmental abnormalities. “We were heartbroken,” she shares. “They arranged for us to do further testing to gain a better understanding of what we were dealing with. Two doctors suggested that we may want to consider ‘all of our options.’ In other words, consider aborting our beautiful baby. Nate and I held firm that we would not be considering any other ‘option’ other than carrying our baby to full term and allowing God to take care of our little baby.”

The tests, and subsequent wait for the results, took over a month. “Our entire family fell back on our foundation of prayer. I read my Bible to the baby every night, with one hand on my belly, and asked the Lord to take care of our precious gift,” she says.

The tests finally came back—and they were negative. A completely healthy baby girl will be joining the family in February.

“It’s a funny thing to try and describe what it feels like to have active faith in your life,” says Sophie. “My faith now leads me; it surrounds me and is my security blanket no matter what life throws at me.”

Sophie knows that life has a few more changes to throw their way. “With Nate and I currently living in different countries, there are sure to be many changes over the coming years, involving moving and, God willing, we will see our family continue to grow,” she says. Many people might wonder how they get through the hard times. “Don’t get me wrong, it is not easy,” she admits. “But we have such deep faith in the Lord’s plan for us that we can’t help but smile and say, ‘We know it will all turn out in the end.’ ”

Linda Buxa is a member at St. Matthew, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

 

 

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Author: Linda R. Buxa
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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 outlook for life

Each moment of every day is a new opportunity to be the person Christ freed you to be.

Jeffrey D. Enderle

Reports of rescue grip our attention. Horrors experienced by captives at the hands of crazed criminals send chills down our spines. The mental abuse they must face is unimaginable to us. The dire physical conditions are beyond our comprehension. Our minds won’t allow us even to contemplate the grim horrors they face for weeks or even years. Even after their freedom is secured, we prefer to celebrate the good news and try not to think about the harrowing tales of captivity at the hands of terrorists.

GOD’S RESCUE OPERATION

For a populace living in relative safety, stories of captivity and threats of execution sound like material for action movie scripts. They don’t seem real. You might fret about the dangers, yet you know the probability is extremely low. Masked gunmen probably won’t come to your home, kick down the doors, and take you to a secret, undisclosed location. Your life is not in imminent danger. Suffering the maddening demands of bloodthirsty extremists is for the people on the news from far away.

But, in fact, you were held captive by enemies. You were under the threat of death, held in the grasp of a maniacal villain. This was your fate just because of the sin handed down to every human being descended from Adam and Eve. Sin and unbelief confined you in the grim prison, waiting for eternal destruction. Satan held the keys to your chains. You had no means to escape.

During December, Christians gear up to welcome the birth of God’s precious Son. His coming in the package of a tiny infant is cause for celebration. In reality it was just a step, an important step, in God’s rescue operation for souls held in the devil’s dominion. The arrival of the newborn brings more than glowing smiles to the faces of expectant parents: “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13,14).

The plan first announced in Eden was launched with great urgency. Bethlehem became the drop zone for God’s special force of one. His objective was your

salvation. The cross and tomb were his priority. Jesus confronted the enemy of every soul when he went to the cross. Jesus paid the ultimate price to secure release for every spiritual hostage: “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18,19). By his resurrection, Jesus stormed the gates of hell to release sin’s prisoners. His daring rescue means your life.

OUR NEW FOCUS IN LIFE

It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to be rescued from the grasp of evil terrorists. You can understand, however, how each rescued hostage will have a new appreciation for life. Death may have seemed inevitable. Begrudgingly, the hostage may have prepared for the worst. Escaping that violent outcome brings with it a look at life with new eyes. With that certain danger overcome, a hostage will appreciate things that previously were overlooked.

As Christians redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, you and I have a similar outlook for life. Your certain death was overcome by Jesus’ death. The violent outcome awaiting your last breath has been reversed by the sacrifice of your Savior. Your life through Christ gives you a transformed purpose in life: “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Your baptismal life now defines your identity. Your life now has an entirely new focus for each day: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1,2).

Dramatic rescue operations carried out by heroic special operations forces aren’t the only way to bring a new appreciation and new focus for living. You may have experienced a health scare and felt like your fate was hanging in the hands of medical professionals. You probably know people who were told to put their houses in order only to get medical reprieves. Somehow they beat the worst-case scenarios and received unexplainable cures and bonus years tacked on to their lives.

Beating the odds does wonders for making adjustments for living. After coming to grips with mortality and successfully passing through to enjoy improved health, many celebrate this new lease on life. It doesn’t just help them make appropriate changes to diet and exercise habits. They look at work and family differently. Important people and meaningful relationships rise to the top of priorities. Stress and worry are put in better perspective. Each day has a different sense of urgency. Life is understood as a gift.

In Christ, your life is a gift. You were redeemed to be God’s child. You were shown grace to be God’s instrument: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Each moment of every day is a chance to live your identity. Every human interaction is a new opportunity to be the person Christ freed you to be.

When it comes to faithful management of God’s gifts, it is easy to overlook the most important one. He gave you life. He rescued your soul. You can appropriately think about how you can give back to God from the gifts he has already given you. In practice, however, it means you are categorizing too narrowly. Sure you can give back some of the things he has given you. You can use your time and energy wisely. Even better though, God wants you to see your entire person, your very life, as a gift.

So it’s not a matter of the things you can give back to God. Life is an opportunity to reflect God’s priorities. Everything you are can be used for God’s purposes. Your worries and concerns are put in a godly perspective. Your entire focus is given a makeover. Your life isn’t really even yours.

Martin Luther explains the life focus for Christians in the Small Catechism’s explanation of the Second Article: “All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” Service isn’t a burden or an obligation but an opportunity to be who you are in Christ. Rescued by Jesus Christ, your life has purpose, meaning, and direction. Make the most of each day. Look at the world through the eyes of Christ. Balance your relationships with a tilt toward their eternal outcomes. Take your concerns and worries to the Lord. And simply give God the best of who you are every moment of every day.

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

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

 

 

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Author: Jeffrey Enderle
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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

 

Christmas means that God cares

 “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Justin C. Cloute

The words cut through the cold December air, announcing a reality that was hard to accept. The little boy, just two and a half years old, had died on Christmas Eve. What had begun as a cough and fever quickly escalated into something much worse. The doctor at the small hospital said that there was something wrong with his liver and that they were doing everything they could.

But it wasn’t enough. Despite the prayers and the tears, the boy fell asleep one last time in his mother’s arms. When she went home that night, she saw the presents under the tree with his name on them. Who would open them now? Since she was the organist and her husband was the pastor for their small church, Christmas Eve services were canceled. Days later, as she watched the small casket being lowered into the frozen ground, she worried that her baby would be cold. The pain and sadness was overwhelming. Christmas would never be the same for this family.

JESUS UNDERSTANDS OUR PAIN

Yet, Christmas would still be Christmas. It would still be Christmas because they knew that years earlier another mom had held her precious baby in her arms. As Mary stared into her child’s eyes, perhaps she remembered some of the things the angels had said: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31,32). “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). “ ‘They will call him Immanuel’—which means, ‘God with us’ ” (Matthew 1:23).

This child was the Son of God and Savior of the world. But that didn’t mean his life would be exempt from tragedy. Several days after he was born, Mary heard those mysterious words spoken by Simeon at the temple: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34,35). A sword will pierce your own soul too! Even though Mary didn’t completely understand what this meant at the time, she would.

Christmas reminds us that instead of remaining far away from our sadness, Jesus was born into it. Since we live in pain, brokenness, and sin, God himself descended into the depths of our pain, brokenness, and sin. The Lord of creation, the one who formed the first man from the dust of the earth and then woman from that man, became dust himself.

The God who is exalted above the highest heavens stooped down to be born on earth. He wasn’t born into a palace or a mansion, because he didn’t come to rule with earthly power or to be treated as he deserved. Instead, he was born in Bethlehem, a lowly little town in Judea, and placed in a feeding trough among the smells of manure and dirt. He came to be dust like us, and the circumstances of his birth set the pattern for the rest of his life. Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (53:3). Jesus came to be like us, to be a sufferer, to be human.

Christmas means that Jesus knows and understands our pain. The writer to the Hebrews says, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (2:10,11). Jesus knows what it is like to be lonely and filled with sadness. He knows what it is like to experience disappointment and loss. He knows what it is like to be human and is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.

JESUS DESTROYED OUT ETERNAL PAIN

But our brother not only came to understand our pain; he came to do something about it. Instead of doubting or complaining when faced with suffering, he trusted in his heavenly Father. Then after living his entire life in obedience to God’s will and commands, he gave himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.

This is what makes our celebration of Christmas so joyful. We not only know that God came to be with us, but we also know why he came to be with us. Again the writer to the Hebrews says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of

death—that is, the devil” (2:14). Jesus was born to die, because that’s what it took to save us. The baby who was wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger would one day be crucified and again wrapped in cloths before being placed in a tomb. The fact that God raised him from the dead three days later proves that Jesus not only knows about pain, suffering, and death—and experienced it all—but he also destroyed it all.

After the boy’s death at that small church in Washington services were canceled on Christmas Eve, but not on the next day. The pastor had to preach the message of Christmas because this was the only thing that gave meaning to his child’s death. It was the only thing that brought hope in the midst of his sadness. The birth of the child in Bethlehem meant that the death of his son was not the end. It meant that even though there was sadness and pain, since his boy had already died with Christ in Baptism, he would be raised again to be with Christ forever. It meant that even though his son was dust, he was dust redeemed. It meant that even though Christmas would never be the same for him or his wife, there was still a reason for joy.

Beneath all of the outward preparations and celebrations of this holiday, this is what makes Christmas so special. The message of Christmas assures us that even when we do not understand the suffering in our lives, we do not bear it alone. And even if we never completely heal from the pain or overcome the sadness, Christmas announces good news and great joy for us and for all people, because the birth of the child of Bethlehem brings forgiveness and eternal salvation.

The birth of this child means that God cares.

Justin Cloute is pastor at Mount Zion, Missoula, Montana.

 

 

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Author: Justin C. Cloute
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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: Praying for Muslims

Jesus told us to love our enemies. How can I love and pray for people like the Muslims who are killing Christians in the Middle East?

James F. Pope

You ask a good question. We can show love and we can pray for the people you mentioned by keeping in mind God’s will, God’s kingdom, and God’s heart.

PRAY GOD’S WILL BE DONE

In the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s “will be done on earth as in heaven.” Recall how Martin Luther in his Catechism explained it: “God’s will is done when he breaks and defeats every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, which try to prevent us from keeping God’s name holy and letting his kingdom come.”

Our request in this part of the Lord’s Prayer is that God crush and put down all opposition to his kingdom, including opposition that comes from some of his kingdom’s citizens. Imprecatory psalms—those psalms that contain curses or prayers for the punishment of the psalmist’s enemies, like Psalm 58—express that request in ways that can disturb some people, but they too reflect the pious desire that God control evil and evildoers. We can have these thoughts in mind—and in our prayers—when we consider what is happening to Christians in the Middle East.

Our prayers, however, do not stop there. After all, we are also to love our enemies as you indicated.

PRAY GOD’S KINGDOM COME

In the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that God’s “kingdom come.” In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther offered this explanation of that request: “We pray that [God’s kingdom] may gain approbation and adherence among other people and proceed with power throughout the world, that many may find entrance into the kingdom of grace, be made partakers of redemption, being led thereto by the Holy Ghost, in order that thus we may all together remain forever in the one kingdom now begun.”

Our request in this part of the Lord’s Prayer is that God would reach out through his powerful Word and change the hearts of those who persecute Christians, much as he did with the apostle Paul.

That is challenging, isn’t it? How do we love our enemies enough to pray for their eternal good? We look to God for the answer.

PRAY GOD’S HEART BE OURS

The Advent and Christmas seasons provide a window into God’s heart. He loved a world of sinners and natural enemies so much that he gave up his one and only Son to be their Savior (John 3:16). Consider how the Son of God treated people who were putting him to death. He cried out for their forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The heart of Jesus pulsated with love for people who were intent on harming him, and from it flowed the blood that cleanses people from sin.

We who enjoy that forgiveness through Spirit-worked faith now seek to reflect God’s love in our lives. That means loving others as God has loved us. That means seeking their eternal good.

No doubt you can sense a tension between praying that God crush his enemies and that God change the hearts of those who oppose him. But both those thoughts can be the content of our prayers.

Finally, when we do pray those and any prayers, we add our “Amen”—fully confident that God will hear and respond with the best answer.

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

James Pope also answers questions online at www.wels.net. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

 

 

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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 peace—perfect peace

We live in a world in which there is no peace.

Using a thinly veiled disguise of anti-government rebels, Russia invades neighboring Ukraine, resulting in hundreds of deaths and sending thousands of refugees fleeing for safety. Islamist extremists advance relentlessly with their brutal attacks on Christians, Kurds, and other Muslims, subjecting towns and villages to their beheadings and executions and warped notions of “religious” laws. Rebellious citizens in dozens of countries rise up in violent protests against their governments. Embassies are attacked, and diplomats are murdered. Peace, it seems, is no-where to be found.

The lack of peace in our world extends beyond armed conflict to politics. It’s no longer enough to debate or disagree with political opponents. In today’s world, politicians attack those who disagree with them in an attempt to destroy lives and reputations. Even compromise, the cornerstone of the political process for any democracy, disappears in the wake of bitter partisan attacks and counterattacks.

And the streets of our nation are anything but peaceful. Protests turn violent. Gunshots pierce the nights (and days) in our cities. Crazed and disturbed criminals explode bombs and massacre children in schools. Police challenged with maintaining order are themselves attacked and, at times, respond in kind. Drive-by shooters kill and wound their targets and innocent bystanders, including children.

No peace between nations. No peace in politics. No peace in our streets. And no peace in sinful human hearts burdened with guilt and riddled with fears and despair.

Yes, we live in a world in which there is no peace.

But at the very same time we live in a world in which there is a real and perfect peace that no war can shatter and no violence can destroy.

The message of the angels on the night of the Savior’s birth proclaimed good news. The angels announced that God’s long-standing promise to send a Savior had been kept. Christ had been born in Bethlehem. The fullness of time had come. His coming was worth the heavenly announcement. The angels proclaimed that the reason for fear and despair need not trouble human hearts. They said, “Fear not!” It was welcome news in a world not all that much different from our own. Fear not God and his judgment; a Savior was born. Fear not death; a deliverer came. The song of the angels proclaimed something else: The Savior had come to bring a perfect peace to a sick and sinful and lost world.

As we struggle in a world that knows no peace in so many ways, we also celebrate once again with thankful and reverent hearts that God brought into this world a perfect and complete peace—a peace that calms all fears and overcomes all sadness. It’s a peace between sinners and their Creator, a peace that comes from sins forgiven and grace out poured. It’s a peace that belongs to all who kneel at the manger to worship their newborn Savior, the Prince of genuine and eternal peace. We have peace. We are forgiven by the work this child finished at Calvary. We have life

because he rose from his tomb. No matter how many bullets, protests, and violent demonstrations we may witness, we are at peace with God. Now we can be peacemakers here.

Have a blessed, joyful, and peace-filled Christmas!

 

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014

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

 

The perfect name for a perfect child

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

Steven J. Pagels

My wife was totally exhausted, but it was totally worth it. After more than 12 hours of labor, God had given us our first child, a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

Like many expectant parents, we had spent the previous nine months talking about baby names. We couldn’t agree on a boy name. I’ll take the blame for that, because I wanted to name our first son Otto after my grandfather. But we had our girl name all picked out: Hannah.

But later that night in the hospital, something didn’t feel quite right. We looked at our daughter, and she did not look like a Hannah. And so when we left the hospital three days later, the tiny band on her wrist identified the baby cradled in my wife’s arms as Claire.

CHOSEN BY GOD HIMSELF

Mary and Joseph didn’t go through this parental rite of passage as they prepared for the birth of their first child. There was no need to consult any baby name books. There was no discussion about naming their child after someone on either side of the family. They didn’t have to come up with a list of possible names and narrow it down to one they could agree on because that important decision had been taken out of their hands.

The angel Gabriel had appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce the coming birth of a son. An angel also appeared to Joseph in a dream to explain what was happening to Mary. That angel told Joseph that his firstborn would be a son, and he told Joseph to give him the name Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus was not just a nice-sounding name. It was a prophetic name, a name that had been chosen by God himself, a name that predicted what this special child would eventually do.

BORN FOR YOU AND ME

Forty-two years ago my parents named their firstborn son Steven, which means “crowned one,” but it didn’t take them long to figure out that I was no prince. When I was a baby, I fussed and cried. As a toddler I threw toys and tantrums. There were many times in my childhood when my behavior disappointed my parents, but it didn’t surprise them. Even before I was born, they knew I wouldn’t be perfect because they weren’t perfect either. Every parent, every child, every person on earth is sinful. Every one of us is fatally flawed. Every one of us desperately needs a Savior.

That is what makes our celebration of Christmas so wonderful. That is what makes the Son whom God entrusted to Joseph and Mary so special. And that is what makes this child’s name so meaningful. Jesus came into this world to save the world from sin. Jesus was born into this world for you and me, to live a perfect life for us, to forgive all of our imperfections, to give us peace on earth and the sure hope of eternal life in heaven.

You and I know the Son whom Mary gave birth to in Bethlehem by many different names. We call him Lord, Teacher, Redeemer, Messiah . . . the list goes on. But there is one name for this holy child that rises above the rest, a name that was given to him by God himself, the perfect name for our perfect Savior: Jesus.

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

 

 

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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 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