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Let your light shine: Marathon

Members of Eternal Love, Appleton, Wis., have turned an irritant into an opportunity to let their lights shine.

Every September the Fox Cities Marathon is run on a Sunday morning. The marathon’s route surrounds our church property, going down the street in front of our church early in the route and then on the street behind our church at about mile 18. As a result, the roads around our church are blocked off and closed at portions of the morning between 7 A.M. and noon. This makes it extremely difficult for our worshipers to get to our church that Sunday, and our attendance (and offerings) drop by about 30 to 50 percent.

For the first few years this happened, we were irritated by the marathon because it kept so many away from the Word. But for the past six years, instead of resenting it, Eternal Love has embraced it and has held hymn-sings down at the road as the runners and walkers go past.

More than five thousand marathon participants are greeted with our testimony of praise and a confession of our faith in the words of our hymns and praise songs. Many marathoners react in kind, pointing to the sky, giving us thumbs up, and running close to give high-fives to the singers. Almost every year runners send notes of thanks after the marathon for the Christian testimony that we give. The marathon is no longer an irritant, but an opportunity to share our testimony of praise to our God.

This year we made our testimony bigger and better. In spite of the rain, we set up a tent; rolled a keyboard out there; had a trumpet, guitars, and a lead singer; put up witness signs and balloons; and sang and cheered for 30 minutes as the mass of runners went by. It was awesome. We had about 35 participants from our church, in spite of the fact that it was 7 A.M., rainy, cold, and very hard to get to the church.

Next year, if the weather is better, we hope to double the numbers. We actually hope the marathon doesn’t change the route.

 

 

Author: Robert Balza Sr.
Volume 102, Number 2
Issue: February 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

 

Confessions of faith: Baptist

A burnt-out Baptist searching for the truth discovers the gospel message in the Bible.

Ann M. Ponath

“You were a Lutheran before you knew you were a Lutheran,” Pastor Jon Scharf told Bob Finch.

Led by the Spirit, Bob was searching for the truth. But Bob turned out to be hard to find after his visit to the new church in town. Scharf also had to search for him.

The search

Bob, a purchasing manager, lives in Conyers, Georgia, 23 miles outside of Atlanta, where he was born and raised. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Cindy, for 32 years; the couple is blessed with three children. Bob spent 49 years in the Baptist church, but he says, “As far back as I can remember I always knew Baptism was more than just for joining the local Baptist church and the Lord’s Supper was more than just something to do four times a year. I was seeking what the Holy Spirit had revealed to me from reading the Bible and letting the Word lead me, not man.”

Bob was searching the Scriptures, but he was also “nosy about the new church that was just being built.” He visited Abiding Grace, Covington, Ga., one Sunday, but he didn’t want anyone to know who he was or where he lived. Bob didn’t reckon with the friendship register.

Scharf recalls that the first time Bob visited he “snuck in right at the bell and out the same way, not giving much chance to talk other than a handshake and ‘Good morning’ on the way out.” He signed the register with only “Bob.” The second time it was “Bob . . . Conyers, Georgia.” The third time it was “Bob Finch . . . Conyers.”

“At that point, I did a quick Google search and found a couple options and picked the most likely,” says Scharf.

Abiding Grace uses the friendship register as one of its key ways to connect with visitors. “We encourage everyone to fill in all their info, hoping that guests will follow their example,” says Scharf. Once the registers are collected, Scharf highlights first-time visitors for the “mugging coordinator.” She assigns mug visits to volunteers who live near the visitor, and they drop off a thank-you package Monday night, including a coffee mug. “I then go and visit on Thursday night and try to have a conversation about the worship experience and their church background—hopefully leading into a ‘what do you believe?’ question which I can answer by taking them through a law/gospel presentation,” says Scharf.

The discovery

Scharf usually shows up unannounced for the first visit—something he also did at the Finch household. “The best part of [his] showing up at my house the first time was that I was out of town on business and my wife got to meet him for the first time because she had told me when I started to visit that she didn’t want to have anything to do with ‘that church,’ ” says Bob.

Scharf returned to the Finch home once Bob was home. “My wife still had not visited the church when Pastor came to visit, and I had to really convince her to sit in the meeting, and she did,” says Bob. “I had printed information from the different Lutheran [church] bodies. I told [Pastor Scharf] that I wanted to go over what the Lutherans are teaching.

“That opened up all kinds of discussions and questions, and my wife got in on it. The best part about talking with [Pastor Scharf] was that he never made us feel like we had been misguided, but [he] let the Word do the talking. In all the main areas I had questions, when the pastor explained them, I said, ‘That is the way I understand it too!’ ”

Scharf invited the couple to Bible information classes. Cindy joined Bob for a worship service the following Sunday, and after a couple of weeks, Bob began the 12-week class. Cindy joined later, and the couple was confirmed on Christmas Day 2011. “I remember them both really struggling getting past things they had heard all their lives and then seeing in Scripture the truth—it was fun to see the lights go on,” says Scharf. “It was interesting that the light didn’t go on at the same time for both of them on each topic. Some of the things I thought they’d wrestle with were no problem because they had already realized the false teaching they had been hearing previously. It was also so refreshing to see how passionately they wanted to get into the Word and the way that rubbed off on the whole class.”

Since that time, Bob says, “Our total outlook did a 180. I start my day with a reminder of my baptism and what Christ did for me for the forgiveness of my sins. Now for the first time in my life when someone asks me where I will go if I die today, I can say with full confidence, ‘Heaven.’ All praise to God for that!”

The opportunities

The Baptist church is a “huge” part of the church population in the South, says Scharf. “The 25- to 50-year-olds all seem to have grown up going to church on the Baptist church buses—often without parents,” he says.

But God’s Word has such grace to offer the struggling Baptist. “[Baptists] have been reminded again and again that they must be obedient—God will love them if they choose him and obey him. When God’s law proves that they are helpless in that and the gospel shows them Jesus as their substitute (not just their example)—wow!” says Scharf. “It’s fun to watch, and the energy is contagious even for someone who doesn’t know a day in his life he didn’t get that.”

Now the Finches are active members at Abiding Grace. Bob has been an elder and is now serving as secretary/treasurer, teen Bible study leader, and teen activities assistant. And things have gone full circle as Bob makes follow-up prospect visits. “His outgoing personality and her quiet faithfulness pair perfectly as they do a great job of helping other burnt-out Baptists come to grips with the fact that things they’ve thought their whole life don’t agree with Scripture, and then celebrating together the freedom of the gospel that isn’t based on our sufficient obedience,” says Scharf.

Our Spirit-led story has a happy ending: Scharf found the Finches, and the Finches discovered God’s comforting truth. Scharf says Bob’s reaction to hearing the pure Word of God was “like a breath of fresh air. He seemed so relieved that his battle with false teaching, his search for finding the truth, was finally bearing some fruit.”

Bob adds this encouragement: “Be bold in what you believe and trust daily in Christ. Always remember that the gifts God has given you need to be used for his glory and work only. We all have a daily fight with sin, but don’t forget what Christ said on the cross as he was dying for our sins, ‘It is finished!’ Amen!”

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

 

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Author: Ann M. Ponath
Volume 102, Number 2
Issue: February 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path : Christian fasting

I hear a lot about Christian fasting programs. Should I be participating in them?

James F. Pope

You’re right. Christian dietary programs have been growing in popularity. It would be worth our while to see what the Bible says about fasting and Christian freedom.

Rare requirement

In Old Testament times mandatory fasting was uncommon. The Mosaic Law called for Israelites to fast on only one day of the year—on the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29; 23:27).

Of course people were free to go beyond that requirement, and some did just that. Without being compelled by any divine directive, individuals like Hannah, David, Ezra, and Nehemiah—just to list a few—fasted. People often fasted in times of sorrow, repentance, and intense prayer. After Jonah’s reluctant missionary work in Nineveh, the Bible tells us that the king of Nineveh decreed a fast for all inhabitants— including animals (Jonah chapter 3). Eventually, Jews like the Pharisees fasted twice a week to make plain their claims of spiritual superiority (Luke 18:9-12).

Fasting freedom

In the New Testament, Paul wrote, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink. . . . ” (Colossians 2:16). When Jesus completed his redeeming work and abolished the ceremonial laws, the number of required fasting days for God’s people decreased from one to zero.

As was the case in Old Testament times though, Christians today are free to fast if they like. To help people who wish to fast, there are programs like The Daniel Fast, among others. Programs like this are popular in the season of Lent and throughout the year.

Prudent participation

So, should you fast? It is entirely your call. That is the freedom of adiaphora—those activities that God has neither commanded nor forbidden. Of course, you will want to understand what the programs are about. Do the fasts deprive you of food and/or water for extended periods of time? Are there health risks associated with them? Are there spiritual concerns of any kind? A physician can help you with the first two questions; I can help you with the last.

As is the case with any adiaphoron, motives for fasting can be important. Some of the literature I have seen speaks of fasting serving the purpose of “assisting and enhancing” our prayers. In view of that, you may want to ask yourself: “Am I thinking in any way that God is going to hear and answer my prayers because of something I am doing? Am I fasting like the Pharisees—thinking that fasting will put me in a better standing with God and make me superior to non-fasting Christians?” Any thoughts like these would rule out fasting.

On the other hand, are there thoughts of controlling the body and its desires—not being mastered by anything, even food (1 Corinthians 6:12)? Are there thoughts of taking good care of your body in which God lives (1 Corinthians 6:19)? Are there thoughts of eating to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? Thoughts like these can exemplify good motives for fasting.

Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism that “fasting and other outward preparations may serve a good purpose” in preparing ourselves to receive the Lord’s Supper. But the best preparation, he said, is believing Jesus’ words. Fasting—prior to the Lord’s Supper or any time—can be a beneficial practice, but there is no substitute for faith.

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. Submit your questions to fic@wels.net.

 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 2
Issue: February 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

God’s love and repentance

God’s love and repentance

God loves sinners. His love is undeserved and extends to all sinners of all kinds for all times. He loves the ungodly, the degenerate, and the unwilling—like Paul, who considered himself the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)

God’s love has a purpose. He loves to claim sinners and change their lives, bringing them into a close relationship with himself and altering their behavior. We don’t change in order to earn our acceptance from God. No, while we were still sinners Christ died for us. That love from God prompts us to follow his path, not our own. We are changed to love God and our neighbor—the two great commandments that summarize all of God’s commands (Matthew 22:37-40). We become new creatures and abandon our old sinful ways.

We understand the simple principle. But so many others do not understand either God’s love for sinners or the way it changes sinners. God loves all sinners just as they are—unbelievers; atheists; murderers; thieves; idolaters, including those who persecute and slaughter Christians, children, and families; homosexuals; adulterers; witches; violent disturbers of the peace. All of them. You can add to the list from any newspaper or discussion you encounter.

But God’s love is not tolerance. He does not pat sinners on the head and say, “There, there, I love you. It’s all okay.” He loved us sinners so much he gave his Son so we will have eternal life. But his love does not enable us to continue in our self-destructive ways. We don’t treat our children that way. We love them unconditionally, but we don’t stand by and allow them to continue in behavior that will bring them trouble or pain. We don’t let them attack their siblings or neighborhood children and say, “I love you, and it’s okay to do it again.”

We shouldn’t mock God by suggesting that he accepts and condones all behavior and all opinions. He has said something much different. When Jesus began his ministry, Mark and Matthew both identified his message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17; see also Mark 1:15). Repentance is always turning away from a wrong path to God’s. His path of gracious love and forgiveness brings change, but the path away from God’s leads into the abyss of self-destruction. So we turn toward what God wants by the very power he gives in the gospel.

It’s a simple principle even if our sinful natures want to distort and dilute it. Love is not tolerance. It does not excuse what is wrong. It does not enable the sinner to continue in sin. Does God love the murderer? Yes. It murder acceptable? No! When he says that sexual perversion is wrong, does he love those who participate? Yes! Does his love become only a bland and blind tolerance that enables it to continue? No! Does he love the domestic abuser? Yes. Does he excuse the violence? No! He threatens to punish all who transgress, but even that threat is a loving rebuke to lead to repentance and change.

We are to love God in gratitude that he first loved us and gave himself for us. We are also to love others—sinners of all kinds—just as he did but without enabling them to continue in sin and rebellion. Be ready, as Peter says, to respond with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). We seek to bring others to know Jesus so they may proclaim his light by their confession and by the way they live. It is God’s plan for us and for all sinners.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 102, Number 2
Issue: February 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us