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Supporting mission work through WELS CEF

Supporting mission work through WELS Church Extension Fund

WELS Church Extension Fund (WELS CEF) is planning to grant Home Missions more than $1.4 million in additional funding in the 2015–17 biennium, as a result of a newly adopted policy regarding its unrestricted and undesignated net assets.

The policy allows WELS CEF to review its unrestricted net assets annually and then grant a percentage of those dollars directly to Home Missions for the start of new mission fields. According to Ron Hillmann, WELS CEF president, that may add up to more than $700,000 in each year of the next biennium.

Keith Free, administrator for WELS Home Missions, says that this year’s grant will allow the board to start and support two additional missions in 2015 than what is planned using money from Congregation Mission Offerings and special gifts to Home Missions.* “How blessed we are that we need to continue to ask our district mission boards to work diligently in finding new mission opportunities, knowing that there is consistent money to help fund these new missions so that more souls are reached with the saving gospel message,” says Free.

WELS CEF, a self-supporting, not-for-profit corporation affiliated with WELS, provides financing through loans and grants to mission congregations so they can acquire land and ministry facilities to be used for gospel outreach. WELS CEF currently has more than $141 million in low-interest loans to both mission and self-supporting congregations. WELS CEF is on pace to approve more than $20 million in new loans and $2 million in new grants for fiscal year 2014–15.

In addition, WELS CEF has given more than $26.5 million to mission congregations in matching grant money since 1993. In recent years, WELS CEF has also given $2.3 million in special grants to WELS Home Missions to help congregations purchase land or build facilities more quickly than is normally the case.

More than 3,800 WELS members invest $80.5 million with WELS CEF, and WELS CEF has received nearly $22.3 million in bequests and gifts since 1993.

Scott Bauman, a long-time investor with WELS CEF, was first exposed to the organization more than 30 years ago. He has various accounts with different maturity dates, “in case I do need to have access to the funds,” he says. “I put the money in the fund because the synod wins—they get money available to use for church expansion. God’s kingdom is winning with the work that gets done.”

“We continue to be blessed by people investing with us and by remembering us with bequests and gifts,” says Hillmann. “Our first responsibility is to ensure the security of our investors’ money, which we do. Once that is secure, then the extra dollars are used to do mission work.”

He continues, “This is an absolutely extraordinary, rewarding opportunity to serve my Lord. When you see and feel the generosity of the people and how they want to do mission work, it’s a humbling experience.”

*The Board for Home Missions met in April, after the writing of this article. Look for an update on the meeting in the June issue.


 

WELS Mission Work:

Light of Life, Greenwood, Ind., began as a home mission in the summer of 2009. After operating from rental facilities, the congregation broke ground on its own church facility in August 2013 and dedicated the building in October 2014. WELS Church Extension Fund was instrumental in helping organize and fund the building project, providing the congregation more than $150,000 in grants and $1.1 million in loans. Builders For Christ, a division of Kingdom Workers, put in about four months of work to help construct the facility. As John Stelljes, pastor at Light of Life, notes, “We have received so much support—not just financial support but godly support. It is so encouraging to know that we are not alone and that we have thousands of brothers and sisters who are praying for and supporting us.”

 

Author:
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

 

Where are they now?

Where are they now?

In Forward in Christ, we report the news but aren’t always able to follow up. “Where are they now?” is our way of giving you the rest of the story.


In May 2014, we reported on Martin Luther Elder Care Ministries (MLECM), an organization in the Michigan District that is working to share the gospel with the aging.

Here’s a recap:

Martin Luther Elder Care Ministries grew out of another organization, Martin Luther Memorial Homes, which at one point operated six elder care facilities in Michigan. The board decided to sell its remaining two homes and use its resources to minister more directly to the elderly in the Michigan District. Its twofold plan was to have pastors hold ongoing weekly worship services at nursing homes and assisted living facilities with MLECM compensating the pastors for their time and to train laypeople to help their pastors with this important ministry.

So where are they now?

The ministry continues to grow. “We now have 20 pastors who together serve 39 elder care facilities and reach between 400 and 500 people weekly—most who are not WELS and many who are not ‘anything’ except a priceless soul to the Lord,” says Jim Rohrback, MLECM administrator.

In cooperation with Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., MLECM also has moved forward in the second part of its plan. This fall MLC will be offering a three-credit online course called “Geriatric and Care Facility Ministry.” The course is aimed at training laypeople to effectively assist their pastors in providing spiritual care to the aging who may be in elder care facilities or who are homebound. The course is also open to pastors, teachers, and staff ministers who want to grow in their skills for ministering to the elderly and serves as an elective for those in the Chaplain Certificate Program.

MLECM is providing members of Michigan District WELS/ELS congregations a 50 percent tuition grant and covering fees to encourage them to participate. Three pastors from the Michigan District have already registered.

Rohrback says MLECM is thrilled to be involved in offering this program to help train people to, as MLECM’s goal states, “share the words of life with those nearing the end of life.” “Our vision is with the Lord’s blessing, this grows into a national WELS ministry/program,” says Rohrback.

 

Author:
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

 

Ten years of blessings for Asia Lutheran Seminary

Asia Lutheran Seminary in Hong Kong is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month. God has certainly blessed this school throughout the years. Let’s look at ten of these blessings:

1. The opportunity to provide confessional Lutheran theological education at all levels in Hong Kong and East Asia. “In Hong Kong and East Asia there are many first-generation Christians,” says Angus Au, a 2010 graduate and now an assistant instructor at ALS. “We must learn to interpret and use the Bible well in our Asian context. We need to show how the doctrines work out in life. We want our Chinese students not just to get notes from a class. That knowledge is limited. But knowing Jesus Christ is unlimited.”

2. A quality curriculum and highly educated professors to attract Chinese students. “Hong Kong and East Asia are highly educated societies,” says Dr. Steven Witte, ALS president. “Our students have sophisticated educational experiences and needs. We need to deliver biblical truth and confessional Lutheranism in that context.” Currently four full-time professors teach at ALS, including courses in Hebrew and Greek.

3. The use of more than 20 visiting professors from the United States to help with training. Not only do the students gain multiple perspectives, but the professors are blessed too. “Teaching Chinese seminary students gives me great joy because it impresses on me how our dear heavenly Father has opened an enormous door of opportunity for the gospel in that immense country,” says Forrest Bivens, a Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary professor who recently returned from teaching in East Asia. “It also forces me, due to language challenges, to cultivate the skill of communicating revealed truths as clearly and simply as I can—a skill that I can hopefully use anywhere in God’s world.”

4. Twenty-seven graduates with theological degrees since 2009, with all but two trained to serve as full-time workers in East Asia.

5. The opportunity to help laypeople grow in their knowledge of their Savior and confessional Lutheranism. Seventy-five percent of the 100 current students will remain laypeople in their congregations, “creating a proper theological leaven in their church body as teachers and leaders,” says Witte.

6. A satellite seminary in East Asia. Six students from the satellite seminary graduated with bachelor of theology degrees in November 2014 and are touching thousands with the gospel. Another group of six men from various metropolises throughout East Asia will start training this year.

7. The translation, production, and distribution of confessional Lutheran materials in Chinese by the Translation Working Group, based at Asia Lutheran Seminary. Since July 2014, more than 25,000 Chinese books have been distributed in East Asia and around the world.

8. New courses of study to fill needs in Hong Kong and beyond. Asia Lutheran Seminary and Multi-Language Publications added a new degree in Theology and Translation this year to further equip current and future translators of Christian literature. This June, 25 to 30 students, half from the Chinese-speaking world and half from six other Asian nations, will be taking the first of five courses in a curriculum designed by Dr. Ernst Wendland from the Lutheran Seminary in Lusaka, Zambia.

9. Additional support for WELS’ sister church in Hong Kong, South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM). Begun by WELS in 1976 and operating independently since 1997, SALEM consists of nine churches with about 2,250 members. Ten percent of the adult members of SALEM have attended classes at Asia Lutheran Seminary.

10. WELS members and their support of ALS through the years—both in finances and in prayers. Says Larry Schlomer, administrator for WELS World Missions, “We continue to pray that after celebrating ten years of success under God’s grace that the Lord will keep blessing Asia Lutheran Seminary so that it continues to be a gospel beacon in an area of the world that desperately needs it.”

 

Author:
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

 

Becoming a marriage-building church

Becoming a marriage-building church

“Often couples aren’t comfortable telling people at church about marriage struggles, “ says Bethany Brewster, a member of the Marriage Ministry Team at St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis. “We are trying to change that. Couples need to be vulnerable in order for fellow members to be able to love and support them. We can then build a stronger community of believers.”

Randy Hunter, pastor at St. Andrew, has been working to strengthen marriages for more than 30 years. In addition to working with couples at St. Andrew, Hunter leads marriage enrichment retreats for the WELS Commission on Adult Discipleship. So, why does Hunter place such an emphasis on having a strong marriage?

For one thing, “Marriage provides Christians with a ready-made opportunity to witness,” says Hunter. “Even unbelievers want strong marriages. Christian couples can learn to speak about the difference the gospel—what Jesus has done for them—makes in their marriage. Of course, first of all, that means Christian couples need to live the strong connection between the gospel and their marriage.”

Brewster agrees and believes that helping couples strengthen their marriage and their connection to Christ can also help them avoid problems down the road. She says that if a congregation creates a culture of supporting marriage, it can help connect couples that are in similar circumstances and allow the church to serve people during the hard times in their marriages.

Although St. Andrew’s Marriage Ministry Team is just in its initial planning stages, the congregation is serious about supporting marriage and families. In fact, one part of St. Andrew’s new five-year vision statement is to “build Christian marriages and families.”

Hunter says, “Our goal is that when someone who knows our church hears a co-worker say on Monday morning, ‘I got engaged,’ his or her automatic response is, ‘Oh, you have to come to St. Andrew. You won’t believe what they do for marriage.’ ”

As Hunter continues to work on this within his own congregation, he is also working with congregations across the United States and Canada to encourage other churches to implement marriage-strengthening activities. In conjunction with WELS Adult Discipleship, Hunter has been hosting what he calls “marriage conversation cafes” in which he leads 20 to 25 laypeople from three or four local churches in a conversation about marriage. During these conversations, Hunter shares Scripture, statistics on marriage, and anecdotal evidence to show how important it is for churches to support marriage.

“Our desire is to raise up an army of people curious about what their churches can do to become marriage-building churches,” says Hunter. “Our desire isn’t to produce a program around this because being a marriage-building church will look different for different congregations. Rather, churches that catch on to this might become ‘demonstration churches’ to help other WELS churches see what can be done and borrow resources to do it.”

As he concludes, Hunter has just one question: “What would it take for your church to be known in your community as a marriage-building church?”


 

WELS marriage enrichment weekends

Throughout the year, the WELS Commission on Adult Discipleship offers marriage enrichment weekends in various locations across the United States. The goals of these retreats are to offer gospel-centered and practical information on marriage to couples—both members and prospects—as well as to provide materials and training to attending pastors so they can hold similar retreats in their congregations.

“Spiritual growth is always the theme, and marriage is the setting,” says Randy Hunter, chairman of Adult Discipleship and leader of the retreats.

Recent attendees of a Simply Marriage retreat held in Lake Geneva, Wis., commented:

• “All of the topics were just what we struggle with and have been trying to find help for. This weekend provided the safe place and skills to practice so we can take them home and put them into action. We also met some really wonderful couples who are of the same faith and purpose.”

• “This is just what we needed to move forward in a more Christ-like marriage.”

• “It is always good to grow together and renew our faith together. Sometimes life’s busyness can put you into a groove that has potential to pull you away from your spouse. This weekend has built us up in life, in love, and in oneness.”

• “I was very apprehensive about coming—wanting to hide like Adam and Eve. But God answered my prayers and blessed us and our marriage richly. Thank you!”

 

Author:
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

 

Local families go bananas for Monkey Junction ministry

Local families go bananas for Monkey Junction ministry

It started five years ago with a need to reach out into the community. Members at Resurrection, Rochester, Minn., were planning to build a second site, Life, on the northwest side of Rochester and wanted to connect with the young families there. They considered a preschool, but there were already several established programs at nearby churches. Instead, they decided on an indoor playground — a place for parents and their young children to visit during the long Minnesota winters.

“Monkey Junction” opened in Fall 2010, and it didn’t take long for word to get out about the new facility. “We were hoping for 500 people that first year and we had over 5,000,” says Rev. Stephen Meyer, pastor at Resurrection and Life. And the numbers have been increasing ever since: this year, they had more than 7,000 people attend and only two percent were members.

“It’s nice seeing parents getting to know each other and the kids really enjoying themselves,” says Katie Christensen, Early Childhood Ministry Coordinator at Life and Resurrection. “It’s also fun seeing the people who come visit again and again.” She says many parents have expressed their appreciation for the indoor play space — just one of two in Rochester — and one happy father even brought in a large bag of batteries and replaced batteries in all of the toys.

Christensen said she also enjoys talking with the parents, some of whom already have church homes and others who are looking for a place to worship. “There was a single mom who came in and we visited while her kids played,” she says. “We got around to talking about how we feel less burdened when we have a chance to read God’s Word.” Before the mom left, she asked if she could take a Bible home. “I’ve met a lot of neat moms,” says Christensen. “It’s great to be able to connect with people in the same season of life and create relationships that can point to God’s Word.”

James Stelzer, member at Life and Resurrection, says this ministry played a part in helping his family find their church home. Several years ago they visited Monkey Junction at the invitation of their neighbors, the Meyers. “They started talking to us regarding child activities during the winter months and we ended up at Monkey Junction,” he says. “Our kids really enjoyed it!” Soon, the Stelzers were attending Life, James and his wife were volunteering at Monkey Junction and the family was going through membership classes. Now the children are older and are attending Resurrection Lutheran School. “Monkey Junction was a big stepping stone for us,” says Stelzer. “I think it’s a great way for the church to reach out into the community.”

Moving forward, Meyer says Monkey Junction will continue trying new things — like its most recent additions of holiday events for kids and weekday Bible stories and snack — to reach new families and connect them with the church and school. “We’re still getting new people each week, it’s just amazing,” says Meyer. “If your congregation is located in a place where it’s hard to get out and meet people during a portion of the year, this is a good way to do it. You get to meet a lot of new people and share God’s Word with them.”

For more information, visit www.rlrochester.com/monkey-junction.

 

Author:
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

 

The quilt of our lives

The quilt of our lives

God makes all the pieces of our lives fit together.

Andrew C. Schroer

My grandmother is a master quilter. In her lifetime she has made dozens of quilts, each one a work of art.

Quilts don’t start off as works of art though. Quilts are made from scraps of cloth. Old shirts and dresses, curtains, and even jeans are cut into small pieces and sewn together in different patterns.

I remember as a boy watching my grandmother sew the odd, mismatched scraps together into small squares. I remember thinking to myself: That isn’t going to look good. Those little squares are ugly.

But then patterns began to emerge. By the time my grandmother was finished, the quilt had become an amazing mosaic masterpiece.

I think of my grandmother’s quilts every time I read the story of Ruth in the Bible.

God’s pattern for Ruth’s life

Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, had been through a lot. Naomi had suffered through a severe famine. She was forced to move to a foreign land hundreds of miles from her home in Bethlehem. There she lost her husband and buried her two sons, leaving her alone with her two daughters-in-law. She set a new course and returned to Bethlehem.  Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law, returned with her.

There in Bethlehem, young Ruth was forced to glean grain for both of them to survive. By law, harvesters could not pick up any grain that fell to the ground during the harvest. They were to leave it for the poor. Every day, Ruth went out and gathered the leftover grain so she and her mother-in-law could eat.

The patch work started to become a pattern because Ruth ended up gleaning in the field of a man named Boaz, a distant cousin of her dead husband. To make a long story short, Boaz and Ruth fell in love. They were married, and Boaz took care of Ruth and Naomi the rest of their lives.

Even if that was the end of the story, it is a wonderful example of God making all things work together for the good of his children.

But, there’s more.

Ruth and Boaz had a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David. Do you remember hearing about a David from Bethlehem in the Bible? Yep. That’s right. Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother.

Even more important, one thousand years later another descendant of Ruth was born in Bethlehem. His name was Jesus. God worked all the events of Naomi and Ruth’s lives in order to bring about the birth of our Savior from sin.

Ugly patches become beautiful 

When Naomi and Ruth lost their husbands and suffered near-starvation, do you think they knew it was so that Ruth would marry Boaz and have a great-grandson who would become king? Could they see that the Savior of the world would be born because of it?

No. At the time, they only could see the ugly, mismatched scraps of their lives. They couldn’t see how God would sew it all together into a beautiful work of art. The separate patches were part of God’s plan to bring Jesus into the world to live and die for everyone’s sins. His plans end up with all believers in heaven.

The same is true in our lives. We face sickness and heartache. We watch people we love suffer and die. Oftentimes we think, “God, you’re messing this up. Why are you doing this?” But even though right now we can only see pieces and scraps, one day we will see the beautiful quilts that God has made of our lives.

Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas. 

 

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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

We believe as all believers have: Part 7

We believe as all believers have

“On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.”

Joel D. Otto 

The devil has always recognized that the surest way to undermine the gospel is to call into question the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Without his resurrection, Jesus is just another tragic victim of injustice. Already on the first Easter Sunday, the Jewish leaders concocted the story that Jesus’ disciples stole his body (Matthew 28:11-15). Over the centuries, various other theories have been floated by unbelievers. Some claim that the disciples were hallucinating. Others say that Jesus had merely fainted and the cool air of the tomb revived him. Many simply question the truthfulness of the gospel accounts.

The authors of the Nicene Creed give us the surest line of argument as they clearly confessed, “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” They were merely echoing Paul’s words, “He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). They send us back to the Scriptures, which reveal the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.

“According to the Scriptures” calls to mind the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ resurrection. For example, speaking through King David, Christ prophesied, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay” (Psalm 16:9,10).

“According to the Scriptures” refers to the numerous times Jesus predicted his resurrection. He said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). He referenced the three days Jonah spent in the belly of the great fish as a picture of the three days he would spend in the grave (Matthew 12:40). Numerous times he spoke of how “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).

Most important, “according to the Scriptures” emphasizes the historical gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and the eyewitness testimony of those who saw him alive during the 40 days after Easter. All four gospels give details of that glorious Sunday morning. Throughout the New Testament, the Holy Spirit has given us numerous eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ appearance to various groups of his disciples. Paul gives a list of those appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8. John writes of the importance of this testimony. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

The devil will continue his attempts to raise doubts about the truthfulness of Jesus’ resurrection. But with believers through the centuries we believe and confess the only truth that can silence the false claims of the unbelieving world: “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.”


 

Exploring the Word

1. Of what does Jesus’ resurrection assure us (see Romans 1:4; Romans 4:25; John 14:19)?

  •  Jesus’ resurrection assures us that he is who he claimed to be: the almighty Son of God. Jesus predicted his betrayal, his suffering, his crucifixion, his death and his resurrection (see Matthew 16:21; Matthew 20:17-19; John 2:19-22, among others). Everything happened just as he said. He demonstrated his divine power by raising himself from the dead (Romans 1:4).
  •  Jesus’ resurrection assures us that the Father accepted his death as the sufficient payment for our sins.  His resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on his sacrifice (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:17).
  •  Jesus’ resurrection assures us that we will rise from the dead on the Last Day. Because Jesus conquered death by rising from the dead, so he will raise us from the dead. He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

2. How does the fact of Christ’s resurrection comfort and strengthen you when you are . . .

● praying?

Jesus lives to hear and answer our prayers. He is the Mediator who gives us access to God in prayer because he has taken away our sins. By faith in Jesus we can pray with confidence (John 14:13-14; John 15:7; John 16:23-24). He reigns over all things to carry out his will in answering our prayers in the way he knows is best for us (Ephesians 1:22-23).

● battling temptation?

During his life, Jesus endured the temptations of the devil and won. Now he lives to help us in our temptations. He knows what we are going through (Hebrews 4:15). He has silenced Satan’s accusations against us (Revelation 12:10-12). He lives to intercede for us when we are burdened by guilt (Romans 8:33-34).

● enduring troubles in your life?

We have Jesus’ promise to work all things out for our spiritual and eternal good (Romans 8:28). Jesus invested himself in us by giving his life as the perfect sacrifice. He will give us what we need in the face of trouble (Romans 8:31-32). And Jesus lives and reigns over all things for the good of his church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

● dealing with the death of a fellow Christian?

Think of Jesus’ encounter with Martha at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:21-27). Because Jesus defeated death, those who die in faith in Jesus share his victory over death. Death does not have the final say. For the Christian, while death is still “the wages of sin,” eternal life is a gift won by Christ (Romans 6:23). Therefore, the death of a Christian becomes a blessed and precious thing because a Christian is rescued from the sadness and suffering of this world and brought to the glory of heaven (Revelation 7:13-17; Revelation 21:3-4; Psalm 116:15; Revelation 14:13).

● facing your own death?

While death can be frightening, even for the Christian, Jesus has defeated the One who holds the power over death (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). We have been connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection through baptism (Romans 6:3-5). Jesus has removed the sting of death by his holy life and sacrificial death. By his resurrection he has shown that death is defeated once and for all. Death is not the end for us (1 Corinthians 15:51-57). We will be raised on the Last Day. Therefore, even as we inevitably face death, the Holy Spirit gives us the confidence of Job that because our Redeemer lives we will stand before God in glory and see him face to face with joy (Job 19:23-27).

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

This is the seventh article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed. Find this study and answers online after May 5.

 

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

 

Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

An age of conflict

An age of conflict

John A. Braun

How many words for conflict do we have in English? Do we have more in English than others have in German, Farsi, or Chinese? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do know that conflict is universal.

We don’t like conflict and seek to avoid it at all costs. It’s not just global or national conflicts on a large scale. We don’t relish conflict even on the personal level of our daily lives. Yet conflict plagues us like the symptoms of a deadly disease.

What do we find about conflict in our own families? Children are pitted against parents. Husbands and wives against each other. One household against another to the point that they refuse to be in the same room at family gatherings. Domestic violence remains a challenge for victims and those who try to intervene, including the police.

And, of course, the pictures of conflict in our society is even more brutal. Drive-by shootings. Road rage that escalates into gunfire and death. Bombings by those who hold to ideas different from their targets. In-your-face standoffs marked by a chorus of chants and taunts over political differences.

What is the source of all this conflict? The easy answer for us Christians is that the deadly disease that infects us is sin, and that’s true. Yet that seems like a pat answer that requires no real thought and leaves us with no chance to bring peaceful solutions.

In this world of conflict, Jesus places his disciples to be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). What is a peacemaker to do in this age of conflict? The first thing is to recognize the disease within. Our sinful nature persists even after we know Jesus. It will become angry and push us toward violence. Turn back. Repent. Remember how Jesus was wronged and yet did not retaliate. None of us is very far from being carried away by our anger. Let his peace flow from you rather than your anger.

A peacemaker also understands that violence is not a solution. In a marriage, in family life, with siblings, or in a dispute over even greater issues, violence is not an answer to conflict. When Jesus talked about peacemakers, he also suggested humility, a desire for righteousness, mercy, and purity of heart. Seek those qualities, and, I believe, it will help provide an atmosphere to find a solution.

The vision of a peacemaker is also broader than church and family. God directed Jeremiah to seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). Our attitudes tempered by the love of God in Christ make us citizens who not only want peace for ourselves but also for others, even those who disagree with us. Oppose violence. Let the love of Christ be your beacon in this world—a light that others can see.

So the solution to conflict is not destroying or intimidating those who think differently nor is it creating an equality of opinions. Ideas are not all equal, true, or valuable. We simply cannot give up our Christian convictions. I have some strong positions about moral and religious issues. I will not give them up unless, as Luther said before the Diet of Worms, “I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason.” But I will not use violence to advance any of those convictions. Some of Luther’s early followers felt that they should advance the cause of the Reformation by force, but Luther corrected them. He reminded them that they were not to use force in spreading the gospel (cf. Luther’s Invocavit sermons).

It’s a tall order, but be peacemakers.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Jesus prayed for us: Part 7

Jesus prayed for us

The first word Jesus speaks from the cross is a prayer—but not for himself or his followers. No, he prays for his enemies.

Samuel C. Degner

The victim has been unusually quiet.

The centurion and his men must have done a crucifixion or two. No doubt they’ve heard the desperate appeals, the pathetic cries for mercy. They’ve been the targets of curses and threats. But this particular convict has not uttered a word.

From the moment the sentence was declared, he has kept silent. Silent as they placed the heavy cross on his back. Silent as they tied him down to the wood. Silent as they lined up the nails and drove them home. Silent as they lifted him up off the ground. “As a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

A prayer for his enemies’ forgiveness

When he finally does move his lips, the soldiers’ ears perked up. But Jesus does not speak to them. About them, yes, but not to them. These hardened soldiers hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The first word Jesus speaks from the cross is a prayer—but not for himself or his followers. No, he prays for his enemies.

We pray for our enemies too. It tends to sound like this: “Father, stop them. Take them away from me. Bring them to justice. Rescue me from them.” These too can be God-pleasing prayers. The psalms are full of them. But the one that is often missing from our lips is the one that Jesus spoke: “Father, forgive them.”

It’s not easy to ask God to have mercy on someone who refuses to have mercy on us. It’s hard to pray that God would send away the sins that we cannot bring ourselves to forget. It’s difficult to ask God to reserve a place in heaven for that person we can hardly stand to be with in this life.

Yet even in the midst of his greatest agony, Jesus prayed for his enemies’ forgiveness. After all, isn’t that why he came? He came to atone for the sins of the world. He came to pay the price not just for Peter’s denial and Thomas’ doubts but also for the Pharisees’ hatred; the Sadducees’ schemes; Judas’ betrayal; Herod’s mockery; Pilate’s cowardice; and, yes, the soldiers’ unwitting execution of the Son of God. He came to give his life for each and every one of them. Would he not also pray for them, even for his enemies?

A prayer for reconciliation

Yes, and that means he also prayed for us. Even when we had set ourselves up in a trench opposite God and were content to fire away, he loved us and sent his Son to die for us. Jesus didn’t just pray for those who persecuted him; he gave his life for them. He didn’t just ask for forgiveness; he won it by his sacrifice on that cross. He has sent away every one of our sins and, in doing so, has reconciled us to the Father. Through faith we are no longer his enemies but his children.

Isn’t forgiveness ultimately what we want for those who mistreat us? Relief from them may give us temporary peace. Revenge on them might soothe an itch somewhere in our sinful flesh. But how wonderful it would be for our enemies to share in our forgiveness in Christ! How supremely satisfying it would be to enjoy eternal peace with them, forever reconciled!

“Father, forgive them.” Let this be our prayer too.

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

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

 

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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Judge me, please!

Judge me, please!

Earle D. Treptow

While standing in line to board a plane, I noticed her tattoo. “No one can judge me,” it said.

My first thought ran along these lines: “What a helpful reminder for a Christian when the devil rubs her nose in her sin and argues, ‘God cannot love you and will not forgive you. Because you do not have the righteousness he demands, he has no choice but to punish you, now and forever.’ ” Though Satan acts as if he is both judge and jury, he has no standing in God’s court. The truth is that Jesus died for every sinner, enduring the punishment for every transgression, even the ones the devil suggests have stretched beyond the pale. Jesus’ resurrection proves that every sin has been forgiven. What’s more, Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father and continually intercedes for all who trust in him. Since Jesus does not condemn us, the devil cannot condemn us.

What struck me later about her tattoo was its placement. It was on the back of her neck, a place she probably didn’t see all that often. The words of the tattoo, then, weren’t really intended as words of comfort or encouragement for her. The tattoo meant to sound a warning to others. “You are going to judge me? Please! Who are you to talk to me about my attitude or my words or my actions? You’re no better than I am. I don’t need your opinion, so you might as well keep your thoughts to yourself.”

We know exactly where she’s coming from! We don’t particularly care to have people question our attitudes or confront us about our actions. If they want to praise us for what we do, we are willing to listen. But should they wish to address some failing, we definitely don’t want to hear it. We’re fairly certain they don’t have the right to say it.

What a wonderful world this would be if people understood that they have no right to judge us! We’re ready to sign on the dotted line, eager to move into a safe and secure “judge-me-not” world. Residents in the “judge-me-not” community dismiss any charges leveled against them. They feel no need to explain their actions, because they’re convinced that everything they’ve done is, by the fact that they did it, good and right.

That, however, is not the community in which the Lord wants his people to live. He brought us into his church and gave us our fellow believers for our benefit.

The Savior instructs our brothers and sisters in faith, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Jesus wants our fellow believers to judge us, to compare our actions with God’s Word and to rebuke us when we sin. That’s how much our Savior loves us! The One who gave himself into death refuses to sit idly by and let us wander from the path of life. Because he wants you to live with him forever, the Lord puts fellow believers into your life. He moves them to love you enough to judge you, to confront you with your sinful attitudes, and to rebuke your sinful actions. He does so for your everlasting good, to lead you to repentance and rescue you from death.

That changes our perspective, doesn’t it? We need not dismiss those who confront us, scoffing at their arrogance, “Judge me? Please!” Instead, knowing our Savior’s love for our souls, we humbly ask our brothers and sisters in Christ, “Judge me, please!”

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

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Prayer answered

Prayer answered

Can anything good come from falling into the lake? Here’s a story that says it can! 

Frederick A. Kogler

Recently “Rose Garden Jordan”—that’s what I call my grandson since he helped me plant and establish a rose garden a few years back—and I undertook a major task together. We headed north to our family cabin for a few days to do some work and try our hands at some early spring crappie fishing.

A fall into the lake

Our task was to put down a floating floor in our cabin kitchen, replacing an aged surface that Grandma found impossible to keep clean. We had enlisted the help of my longtime friend Al, who was an experienced carpenter and wood worker and a “year rounder” in northern Minnesota. Both Al and I, however, are getting to the point where our newest friend “Arthir Ritus” (AR) keeps us company by interfering with what we think we should do and what we are able to accomplish. Getting down and crawling around on hard surfaces is more difficult than you might think when you’ve gotten to be our age and have AR as your constant companion.

Over the course of ten hours spread over two days, we finished cleaning out the kitchen down to the subfloor, cutting and fitting a subfloor, and installing the new planks that make up the new floating floor. Without Jordan, it would have taken us old guys a full week to get the job done.

Now it was time to go fishing! Yahoo! Whoopee! I could hardly wait.

We minnow fish in shallow water during the crappie spawn. Earlier Jordon and I had picked up our minnies and an ice cream cone at the bait shop. The bait had been carried in an oxygenated bag and transferred to our minnow bucket. We bailed the boat, selected our tackle carefully, put on our life preservers, and calculated that we had a couple of good hours for fishing. Jordon got down into the boat with the grace of a young athlete, and then it was my turn. But when I stepped down into the boat, it had lost its moorings and moved away from the dock. There I was, one foot in the boat and one foot on the dock. I ended up taking my first swim of the summer season!

When I realized I was only waist deep in the lake, I stood up, embarrassed, chilled, and soaked with my glasses still on my face. Jordon assessed the situation with typical wide-eyed surprise: “Well, okay then!” Then he pointed out that I had spilled the minnow bucket in my boarding attempt and our bait was swimming all over the boat floor. So still standing waist deep in the lake, I asked for the minnow scoop, and we recaptured all our minnows and deposited them in the bucket.

A ruined cell phone

It was right about then that I remembered that I had pocketed my cell phone earlier. I wanted to have it with me either to take a picture or to call someone in the case of an emergency. Well, you may have guessed it already. The expensive smartphone was deader than an old rusty nail. We decided to go fishing without it. Wet from the middle of my chest down, I owed it to my number-one helper to drown a few minnows. We had great success, catching our limit that night but losing the use of my phone.

In the days following I tried everything to fix it: my wife’s old hairdryer, some long-grain rice in a ziplock plastic bag . . . I even pondered the feasibility of self repair following the directions of some YouTube videos.

But I finally yielded to the temptation to return to the cell phone store to look into repair or replacement. After all, I reasoned, my cell phone had become an occupational necessity and I couldn’t live without it! All I could see in this episode so far was dollar signs and extreme frustration.

As I was driving to the store my frustration was quieted by the Spirit-guided remembrance of Romans 8:28. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

An amazing opportunity

As I walked into the store the manager greeted me with a smile on his face and a clipboard in his hand. After I explained what had happened, he passed me off to one of his sales consultants. As I re-explained my circumstance, all the time waving my dead smartphone in the air, I noticed that the consultant seemed to have an unusually quiet manner and somewhat of a dark look on his face.

It didn’t take long to decide on a new phone, a watertight case, and a contract plan. In the process of the financing and setup, he asked me, “What do you do for a living?” I explained briefly that I was a pastor serving a small congregation, and, yes, I enjoyed my work very much and found it extremely satisfying.

I did not expect the next question: “Do you really believe in God and the power of prayer?”

I answered quickly, “Yes, I certainly do. But why do you ask?”

In the next few minutes he poured out his story. Right there in front of the others waiting for his attention, he explained that he had wronged his wife, offended his son, and crossed the line of marital faithfulness. He continued by stating that today was to be his last day at work—and on earth! He added that when he got up this morning he had prayed to Jesus to send him some message, some messenger to help him understand and to cope.

By this time my heart was racing. I prayed in my mind, “Lord give me the words. Give me the wisdom to share your love.”

I started, “I think I might be the answer to your prayer.” Then I launched into a gospel presentation of Scripture and accumulated life experience that flowed so easily and readily that I didn’t have to pause. As I spoke, I sensed a small group gathering closer to hear what was being said. I told him about Jesus. I told him about forgiveness. I told him about sin and brokenness. I told him about God’s love. The passages flowed spontaneously as each idea was expressed. One guy in the group standing near even uttered a quiet “Amen.”

Then the store manager stepped in, and, with a clearing of his throat, the window of opportunity was closed.

But not quite. His sales consultant walked me to the door and then accompanied me to my car. Thanking me profusely, he dropped two of his business cards in my bag and said, “Please call me sometime and thanks again!”

I can only add my “Praise the Lord!”

And remember it all happened because I fell in the lake!

Fred Kogler is pastor at Emmanuel, Hudson, Wisconsin. 

 

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Author: Frederick A. Kogler
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Mission stories: Hong Kong

The most important job

Robert A. Siirila

“What’s the most important job in life?” This question changed the life of Angus Au. He serves a Lutheran church in Hong Kong and is helping train the next generation of Christian leaders there. This is his story.

Come follow me!

In 1989, a classmate introduced Angus to an English class at Sam Shing Lutheran Church. Angus recalls, “It was a warm atmosphere and a good example of Christian love. I paid just a little for the classes, but the teacher gave me so much help!”

Angus quickly got involved in the youth group. As he thought of Baptism, he was concerned about his non-Christian parents. “Because I was an only son, I had the responsibility of doing rituals like burning fake paper money for my parents after they pass. My mom wondered who would provide for her in the afterlife if I don’t burn that money.” Angus assured her he would always show love for her. “My Dad didn’t forbid Baptism. I found out later that friends had told him that many people get baptized and then forget all about it. So they told him not to be worried.”

After graduating from college, Angus got a job as a project engineer in a toy company. He remained active in his local church, leading worship and the youth group. The more he served, the more he realized he needed training. The church body in Hong Kong was called South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) at first, and it had a Bible institute where Angus took classes on Christian counseling and a few theological subjects.

After a few years Angus had a chance to get a better paying job. But it would be very demanding on his time. “I talked to my pastor. He asked me a question that changed my life. ‘What is the most important job in life? It’s sharing the gospel. Do your plans fit in with this?’ His question deeply challenged me. So I made a decision. I eventually quit my job and two days later applied to a seminary.”

The first seminary WELS started in Hong Kong had closed due to lack of manpower. So Angus attended a different seminary even though he knew that the seminary was not strong in teaching all the doctrines of the Bible. WELS professors, however, did occasionally come to Hong Kong for short teaching visits. “In 2001, Dr. Glen Thompson was here. We were in class when we heard about a disaster in the USA. It was Sept. 11,” says Angus. Several WELS mission committee members were in Hong Kong for meetings and were also stranded because all flights to the States were canceled. Angus and other SALEM members cared for the visitors and even arranged a prayer service to help both Hong Kong and American Christians deal with the tragedy.

Time of testing

Angus graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in theology. That fall he was called by the Sam Shing church to be a full-time evangelist. About this time Missionary Rob Siirila arrived from Taiwan to direct WELS work in Hong Kong. One goal emerged at this time. The work in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the region needed a new generation of native pastors and teachers. The solution seemed obvious: reestablish the seminary. Working toward that goal, plans were drafted to start a new regional seminary. The next year Dr. John Lawrenz was called to start the seminary.

Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS) officially opened on May 29, 2005. Its purpose was to provide solid Lutheran theological training for SALEM students as well as others in Hong Kong and beyond.

Angus jumped at the chance to be in the first class. He now looks back with appreciation to Dr. Lawrenz. “He always talked with me. He encouraged me to study more.”

In January of 2006, Angus married Ceci Lee. Less than three months later, he went to see a doctor and found out he had cancer. “This was a huge shock! But thanks to God, my cancer treatments went well. I was in recovery but still weak,” says Angus. God had more plans. “Ceci knew I needed to further my theological study. She wanted me to reduce my workload, so she offered to work and support me. But then she got sick. We talked to Dr. Lawrenz and wondered what we could do.”

That year ALS had a visiting professor, Dr. Allen Sorum, from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS). “Dr. Allen Sorum and Dr. Lawrenz came up with a plan. I could go to the USA to study for a year! Studying with ALS and WLS, I would work towards a Master of Divinity degree. All I needed was funding,” says Angus. And God provided! A generous WELS donor enabled Angus and Ceci to go in 2008.

“It took time to adjust to the new environment. I didn’t know many people,” says Angus. “My parents came to Wisconsin to visit and told me ‘You live in heaven! It’s not so crowded like Hong Kong. The people are so friendly and polite.’ ”

But that wasn’t his main discovery. “Leaving my familiar surroundings helped me experience new things. I didn’t know much about denominations. I saw a synod that had been going on for over 150 years because they held to Scripture. I hadn’t thought much of the value of good doctrine. From faculty and students I saw an integration of doctrine and life. They were following Jesus in the classroom, family, church, and community.”

Hong Kong and the future

Angus and Ceci returned to Hong Kong in 2009 with lots of experience and a new baby boy! A year later, Angus became the second graduate of ALS to receive a master’s of divinity. Now besides continuing as a full-time church worker, Angus has become an assistant instructor at ALS. He continues to grow as he works with seasoned professors. And his family has grown with the addition of a daughter and another son.

“In Hong Kong and East Asia there are many first-generation Christians. Chinese people need to be built up so they know the good news,” says Angus. “We need to learn to interpret and use the Bible well in our Asian context. We need to show how the doctrines work out in life. We want our Chinese students not just to get notes from a class. That knowledge is limited. But knowing Jesus Christ is unlimited.

“I have a good friend whose spiritual journey is much like mine. He’s now at ALS and sees how we are committed to God’s Word. Our teachings all line up with Scripture. I pray he and many others can receive this kind of training.”

Is there anything more important than that?

Rob Siirila is field coordinator for East Asia.


Mission Facts:

South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission
Established: 1976
Baptized members: 2,251
Congregations: 9
Missionaries: 1, plus 4 who are teaching at Asia Lutheran Seminary (ALS)
National pastors: 5
Evangelists: 10
Unique fact: 10 percent of the adult members of SALEM have attended classes at Asia Lutheran Seminary

 

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Author: Robert A. Siirila
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

We like to sing

We like to sing!

What is worship like in our churches? How will we prepare for the next hymnal?

Jonathan P. Bauer

What does worship in our synod look like? Is it large sanctuaries with vaulted ceilings or tiny storefronts with makeshift altars? Are the people aging German farmers sitting on wooden pews or young suburbanite families sprawled out on aluminum folding chairs? Are the instruments for worship organs, digital pianos, a brass ensemble, or an acoustic guitar?

Whatever one might imagine it will include the familiar red book that sits in our pews, the one we’ve finally stopped calling “the new hymnal” and now know simply as Christian Worship.

Producing a new hymnal

In public worship, people of different ages, races, and backgrounds come together for a single purpose—to declare “the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4). Public worship requires each of us to set aside our own personal preferences and instead show concern for the entire body of Christ. As a result, it’s only natural that—for better or worse—a church body’s hymnal will shape that church body’s worship.

That makes the development of a new hymnal a rather daunting task. Those entrusted with the task have sought to listen to what the people of our church body have to say about worship. The WELS Hymnal Project’s mission statement puts it this way: “This hymnal will be produced with thorough study of the character of worship in WELS and the prayer that it may be used joyfully by the people and congregations of our synod.”

To that end, the WELS Hymnal Project’s communications committee has been busy working to understand what characterizes worship in our church body. For the past two years, congregations were invited to participate in sharing information and feedback on their worship. Roughly one hundred congregations have been participating each week. Hymn usage data has been collected from any congregation willing to share it.

The project director, Pastor Michael Schultz, has been invited to many conferences and conventions and has collected feedback at each one. The project website, www.welshymnal.com, includes a contact form through which upwards of a thousand comments have been submitted.

Finally, the Hymnal Project conducted four surveys in 2014—one each for pastors, teachers, musicians, and finally for all worshipers—and received just shy of 7,200 responses.

The information gathered in these various ways has been processed and shared with all those working on the project. Several additional research efforts are planned for 2015.

Gathering varied responses

After looking at a great deal of information and listening to a great deal of input, the task of developing a new hymnal might seem even more daunting. Points of view vary greatly. A relatively equal number of passionate comments have been offered from opposite points of view. After reading some of the comments and the data we’ve collected, one might be tempted to think that developing a single set of resources that serves and shapes the public worship of our church body is a futile endeavor.

However, such varying points of view lead us to remember what Paul told the Corinthians: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). In Christ, what unites us far surpasses that which makes us different. Furthermore, variety within the body of Christ is not to be lamented but rather celebrated. Finally, when our eyes are opened to some of the different viewpoints within our church body, it’s a needed and healthy reminder that we must continually strive to seek the good of the whole body in our public worship. As Paul said, “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Singing in worship

So what have we learned so far?

The people of our church body want to be actively involved in worship. Specifically, they love to sing and want to continue to be able to do so. Seventy­nine percent of those who completed the final survey described themselves this way: “I enjoy singing and feel confident doing so.” A good portion of those who completed the same survey (34 percent) indicated that they enjoy singing in parts. Many comments indicated that worshipers do not want too many parts of the service to be taken from the congregation and given to the choir.

Many of the comments that are critical of Christian Worship come from those who feel

it frustrates their ability to sing. What sometimes stands in the way of their love of singing? Quite a few individuals point to the range of a hymn. Just over 50 percent of those who filled out the final survey commented that hymns often have notes that are too high for them to sing. Quite a few comments have been submitted requesting that hymn keys be lowered. Some have indicated that they often sing in harmony because it enables them to sing a part that is more in their range. In fact, one of the requests we’ve heard most frequently is for songs of the printed orders of service to include all four parts rather than just melody.

A common complaint about some of the hymns in Christian Worship has been that the harmony settings are too difficult. A solid majority (83 percent) of the musicians who filled out our survey indicated that the difficulty level of Christian Worship hymns and songs was “Just right for the average musician.” Most of those respondents were organists and keyboardists. But when it comes to singing, we have heard a different tune. Both the worshipers in the pew and the choirs in the balcony have expressed a desire for harmony settings for hymns that are simpler and easier to sing.

Does the variety of the hymnal make it difficult to sing new hymns? Plenty of people have commented that there is already too much variety in worship.  The new hymns are often unfamiliar and considered difficult to sing. Some of those same voices are concerned that a new hymnal will only lead to less familiarity with an ever-increasing array of resources and that will make it more difficult to sing. Others would like to see more variety so that what they are singing doesn’t become stale. In the question for all worshipers that asked about the variety of hymn styles in Christian Worship, 8 percent indicated that there is too much, while 22 percent indicated there is not enough.

Even though opinions differ regarding the best way to facilitate singing, it has been encouraging to hear how strongly people desire to sing in worship. It is also a good reminder that, whether it’s a decade-long hymnal project or the weekly work of organists, instrumentalists, and choirs, the goal should always be to encourage and facilitate active participation of worshipers.

Jonathan Bauer, who serves on the WELS Hymnal Project’s communications committee, is pastor at Good News, Mount Horeb, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a two-part series on the work of the hymnal project.

 

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

 

Heart to heart: Parent conversations: Parenting styles

What happens when Mom and Dad have different parenting styles?

Many parents struggle to provide a united front when it comes to raising their children. Mom and Dad have different personalities and backgrounds that can’t help but factor into the parenting equation. So, how do we turn those differences into strengths in our parenting rather than weaknesses that our children—and the devil—exploit? Our three Heart to heart authors this month share how they’ve navigated—and are continuing to navigate—this tricky area of parenting. 


My husband and I were both raised in Christian homes, which made for many similar views on parenting. We were not, however, raised in the exact same home. So there are just as many differences. My husband grew up with one studious sister and a stressed single parent who was a university professor. Their idea of fun around the dinner table was discussing comparative wars at the time of the Incas. I was raised in a two-parent parsonage with five raucous siblings. A good time at our house involved counting how many grapes we could stuff in our mouths.

The list of variables in any home is endless. When two people come together to form a family, they bring their pasts. This includes the way they were parented. The sooner my husband and I were able to respect those differences, the better off we were in coming to a common parenting style.

The ground rules that we agreed on after much trial and error were actually fairly few:

• Hash out differences away from the children and present a united front in the presence of the children.

• When differences arise, compromise may entail trying each other’s method.

• If an impasse occurs, always defer to Scripture whenever possible.

• Use great parents as resources. Fellow church members are a wonderful reference library. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Having said this, our children definitely knew that Dad was the “good cop” and Mom was the “bad cop.” They tried to play us against each other occasionally but were usually caught at that nefarious game. Children feel most secure when parents work together. God put the structure in place, and I reminded my children of that often. My rough paraphrase was, “Dad’s the king, I’m the queen, and you’re the serfs. You don’t get a vote, but we take care of you.”

Blended families face a whole different set of difficulties when it comes to parenting styles. There are now multiple people with a voice in the matter. The general principles still apply, however. Respect for the other people involved while putting God’s will above all may not make everybody happy but is the best way to go.

We aren’t born knowing how to parent. If we were blessed to have fine Christian parents, we are truly blessed. We can certainly take away some great lessons. But think about it. We’re required to have a license to drive. Yet we’re allowed to have children without a permit or a written test. It just figures that when you try to get two sinful human beings together on the same page, there are bound to be disagreements about the rules of the road. The best roadmap is always Scripture.

Mary Clemons lives in Tucson, Ariz., with her husband, Sam. They have three grown children and four grandchildren. 


I just love meetings! No. Not really. I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the fellowship that we share at our church council and committee meetings. I just don’t think any guy ever said, “I really want to become a pastor so I can go to lots of meetings.”

So why in the world would I choose to have another meeting that I willingly put on my calendar? Because I recognize how important meetings are. They are a chance to communicate the challenges and blessings that we face, a way to proactively address issues before they become problems. And meetings—whether you love them or hate them—are necessary, important, and useful.

So, my wife and I schedule a “Marriage meeting” each month. (I know. I can hear you calling us nerds, but hear me out.)

Each month we get together over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine not for a date but to proactively discuss any issues in our marriage by running through an actual agenda. (Okay, so we are nerds. Fine. I admit it.) But the blessings of this meeting have been huge, not just for my wife and me, but for the kids too. In addition to discussing our worship life, finances, romance and intimacy, workloads, and physical health, each month we talk about the kids too.

We do this because we need to show a united front. Even our two-year-old has learned to go ask Dad for whatever it is Mom just said “no” to. So to stay on the same team, we talk about them behind their backs.

When discussing the kids, we ask these questions:

• Spiritual care—Are we encouraging what matters most? How could we do better?

• Family devotions—How are we doing? How could we improve?

• Church services—How frequently are we attending? How could we get more out of it?

• Education—How are they doing in school? How are we teaching good manners? Finances? Honesty, courage, a good work ethic, etc.? What could we do to improve?

• Health—Are they getting enough to eat? Enough sleep? Enough exercise?

• Discipline—Are we on the same page? Are we being consistent to show a united front?

When we discuss these questions on a regular basis, we often prevent problems before they happen. Others we catch before they get out of hand by discussing how we’re going to deal with an issue together.

It’s said the best thing you can do for your children is have a strong, healthy marriage. That’s what we strive to do as we put God first, then each other, then the boys. And that’s really what our monthly marriage meeting is all about.

Rob Guenther is a pastor in Kenai, Alaska. He and his wife, Becky, have four sons ages 10 and under. 


I have to admit that I laughed out loud when Forward in Christ asked if the topic of conflicting parenting styles is something that resonates with me. Oh, yes, it sure resonates—a little too much. Even after three kids and almost 21 years of parenting, I’m afraid my husband, Thad, and I are still working on this in our home.

I’m convinced that how we parent has a whole lot to do with what my counselor friend Sheryl calls your “family of origin.” Were any of us raised the same way, by the same kinds of parents? Unlikely. For example, in Thad’s home, you only talked if there was something that needed to be said. In my home, we were stream-of-consciousness talkers who lacked filters. In his home, you didn’t open up more than one bag of chips at a time. In my home, the cupboard contained a whole bonanza of accessible snacks.

So it’s not surprising how our unique upbringings can influence our parenting styles. And when you combine two very different parenting styles into one marriage, there is bound to be conflict. Thad tends to be the no-nonsense disciplinarian; I tend to be the softie who can lack follow-through. Over the years we’ve learned some tough lessons about melding our parenting approaches, especially when it comes to the inevitable matter of disciplining our kids. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned—usually the hard way:

• It is important to agree to age-appropriate consequences ahead of time as a couple, then stick to them. Putting consequences in place then not following through only causes confusion for our kids and sends the message that we don’t really mean what we say.

• It’s critical to be a unified parental team in front of our kids. We work not to undermine each other but to back each other up. If I’m not respectful to Thad, why would our boys show him respect? One of the most empowering things Thad does is tell our boys, “You need to listen to your mother.”

• We strive to apply a healthy dose of God’s law, when needed, followed with the soothing balm of the gospel. We are still learning in our parenting journey about discerning the appropriate use and timing of each, depending on the situation.

Even though Thad and I were raised in very different homes, our homes had one thing in common. We were both blessed with godly parents who loved each other, shared God’s Word with us, and modeled the importance of faithful church attendance and selfless service to others as a reflection of God’s love. So despite the differences in how we were raised, the solid foundation of God’s Word was the base upon which our homes were built. And despite any differences Thad and I have in our parenting styles, how comforting it is to know that with Christ at the heart of our home, we will be blessed—and forgiven.

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons, two in college and one in high school.

 

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Author: Multiple
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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: Wiegner

Confessions of faith

A man who grew up atheist in East Germany discovers confessional Lutheranism in the United States.

Ann M. Ponath

To come full circle, to return to a starting place, an original position. Upon examination and in retrospect, how often don’t our lives reflect God’s circular motions as he uses our past experiences in our present lives to his glory, the strengthening of the church and our own faith? Utz Wiegner is an excellent example.

Growing up athiest in East Germany

“I had wonderful parents and family,” says Wiegner, a native of Leipzig in communist East Germany, “but I grew up atheist. Except for frequent family gatherings and vacations within the confines of the Eastern Bloc, life was grey and hopeless. The state controlled almost all areas of life; secret police (Stasi) had an eye on everyone.”

He continues, “Biblical teachings and churches were far from outlawed in East Germany. However, since the beginning of the Soviet occupation, Christianity had been discouraged. By the time I was born, the Christian population had shrunk significantly. Atheism was the norm.”

Wiegner knew few churchgoers, however, reminders of Christianity remained. Wiegner lived about a mile from St. Thomas Church and attended St. Thomas School, both famous for their connections with J. S. Bach. “Bach played an important part in my life, and I became very interested in his music. It was mainly this way that I became familiar with biblical teachings,” he says.

Wiegner also was living in the midst of Martin Luther’s old stomping grounds. Although East Germany was under the Communists, “Luther was regarded as a social reformer and revolutionary,” says Wiegner, who was aware of Luther and the Reformation. “At a very early age, I got to visit the Lutherhaus and All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg as well as Luther’s birth and death houses in Eisleben. I was fascinated to learn about his translation of the Bible into German and how Luther changed the course of history and Western civilization.”

He continues, “Not much was said about religious reforms, except for that this was how the Protestant Church started. The Bible was regarded as significant only in a historical or cultural sense.” Still, young Wiegner, had Christian ideas planted in his mind and heart—and “as with many other things, I early on suspected Eastern propaganda.”

Wiegner was still living in Leipzig when the Berlin Wall came down. In 1999, 28-year-old Wiegner relocated to Florida to attend flight school.

Finding Lutheranism

It was on his first Christmas there that Wiegner visited a German church in Winter Park. “I thought it would be nice to meet some fellow Germans,” he says. “Most of the churchgoers were elderly and had lived in the United States for a long time. I enjoyed hearing about their life experiences.”

Wiegner became active in the church and made many friends. “I found Christ mainly through the hymns, individual Bible study, and fellowship with other believers. Unfortunately, the saving message of the gospel was not to be found in the sermons, and the pastor was clearly teaching contrary to Scripture.”

Since services were only held once a month, the pastor recommended that members look for a second church for the other Sundays. As God would have it, Wiegner lived across the street from an Evangelical Lutheran Synod church in Kissimmee. He visited the church twice and, in talking to the pastor, was introduced to The Book of Concord. “I immediately bought a copy and decided to not fully commit to any church until I had finished reading this book,” says Wiegner. “After about two years of thoroughly studying The Book of Concord and doing a lot of research on it, I knew I wanted to be part of a confessional Lutheran church.”

Wiegner joined a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) church in Orlando. “Being part of that church was a huge blessing,” he says. “I made a lot of good friends, became part of the church council, and attended preseminary classes to learn more about Scripture, The Book of Concord, and the Christian faith.”

Fast forward to 2007. After a couple of “tedious years as a flight instructor,” Wiegner decided to pursue his childhood passion—language. He began working at Wycliffe Bible Translators, where he met his wife, Grace. They married and moved to Atlanta, Grace’s hometown. They joined a small LCMS church, but it closed a year later.

The couple visited Faith, Sharpsburg, “the closest confessional Lutheran church,” the next Sunday. “The moment we entered the church, I was completely taken aback at the large crowd of Lutherans—so much laughter and joy, so many children. I felt that this was the right place for me,” says Wiegner

Faith’s pastor, Jonathan Schroeder, soon invited Wiegner to FaithBuilders class. He told Wiegner that the classes “give people interested in becoming members the opportunity to examine whether the church teaches according to Scripture—which was a perspective I highly appreciated,” says Wiegner. “I also liked the pastor’s opinion about having our own Bible translation, that the church should not translate the Bible according to its beliefs but rather teach according to the Bible.”

In the summer of 2012, Wiegner became a confirmed member. “I feel well protected in the church against false doctrine because I know the church teaches in accordance with The Book of Concord, which teaches and faithfully explains Scripture.”

Using talents to God’s glory

Wiegner assists with congregational tasks such as church cleaning, ushering, lawn care, and auditing. Recently, however, Schroeder, a member of the WELS new hymnal committee, asked him for help with a special project—translating hymns for the new hymnal. “I started translating old German hymns into clear English prose so that English poets can make new arrangements,” says Wiegner. “I find it interesting how the meaning of some of the terminology has shifted over the centuries. Translating these hymns accurately makes you think very deeply about the intended meaning, the train of thought of the writer, and the circumstances under which he has written them. Some of the hymns have never been translated into English; others only partially, inaccurately, or poorly.”

Schroeder says that having Wiegner involved has been a great blessing. “As a native German speaker and English copy editor, his facility in both languages is excellent. Our hope is to give his prose to English poets to produce quality new hymn stanzas from great, old texts.”

By God’s grace, an atheist became a Christian, using his gifts to translate hymns from his native German to the English that more (including Wiegner and Grace’s six-month old daughter) may hear, as he once did, the saving message of the gospel in words and music.

Wiegner’s favorite hymn texts are the 400-year-old works of Paul Gerhardt. He especially loves “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”), translated by Gerhardt into German from a medieval Latin poem. The hymn also happens to be part of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, first performed on Good Friday 1727 in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

“I grew up in a culture that had little regard for the sanctity of human life or the inherent value of each individual,” says Wiegner. “When I came to Christ, I learned to appreciate his loving regard for each of his children.”

Wiegner’s life has come full circle as God’s good planning continues in the lives of him and his family. As Bach would say: Soli Deo Gloria!

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

 

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Author: Ann M. Ponath
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Touching heaven: Prayer 411

Prayer 411

Information, please. What can we learn about how to pray from God’s Word?

Stephen M. Luchterhand

Misinformation about prayer abounds. Skeptics consider prayer an unnecessary waste of time and breath. Believers may treat prayer rather mechanically as they go through repetitive motions long imprinted on spiritual memory muscles. For many, prayer is nothing more than the spiritual equivalent of a 911 emergency call. Others consider prayer a mere task to check off one’s “to do” list.

These perspectives on prayer minimize God to a mere divine ATM or a vending machine with ears. Ask for something, put enough prayer into the effort, push the right buttons, and wait for the results. If you don’t like what you receive, try again or feel free to express your disappointment.

There is so much more to the precious privilege of prayer. What information do we need to pray? If you need telephone information, you can dial 411. Prayer 411 is simply dialing into God’s Word for his information. Before your next heaven-bound missive, consider some basic information about . . .

Prayer GPS

GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) technology is all about location. In more remote regions of the United States, mobile phones can struggle to pick up a cell tower signal. Expansive forests and mountain ranges can hinder connections and leave a person “off the grid,” unable to establish a connection.

So when praying, does our location matter? The prayers of believers all end up at the same place: in heaven, at the throne of our heavenly Father. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer” (1 Peter 3:12). Our prayer connection isn’t dependent on a satellite or cell tower. Faith is the connection that establishes a link between God and his people. We can pray from any location, anytime, anywhere.

Jesus does offer some guidance about location. Prayer is a part of public worship and is God-pleasing. Jesus often prayed in public. He gave thanks for the food at the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:19). He prayed before a gathering of people in front of Lazarus’ tomb just before raising him from the dead (John 11:41,42).

Motivation is important in determining whether or not public prayers are God-pleasing. If done for show and to bring attention to self, Jesus says, “Don’t bother.” The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is an extreme example (Luke 18:9-14). Temptations for pride in public prayer are significant, so much so that Jesus often recommends praying in private. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. . . . But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:5,6).

Public prayer is certainly acceptable, even desirable at times, “but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

Prayer posture

Nowhere in the Bible does God prescribe a specific prayer posture. Believers throughout both the Old and New Testaments prayed in standing and kneeling positions. David wrote of lying down: “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6). It’s hard to imagine Jonah standing up while inside the belly of the great fish that swallowed him.

What do we do with our hands during prayer? David spoke of lifted hands during prayer. “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2). A more common practice is to pray with hands folded to limit distractions and to aid concentration.

While heads can be raised and eyes opened while praying, especially when lifting up one’s hands, it may be more common for heads to be lowered and eyes closed. Such posture helps concentration, keeping one’s mind focused on prayer. If you are praying while driving, however, keep your eyes open! Again the Bible does not dictate specific prayer posture, but practices like these aid attention and focus.

Readiness speaks to posture. Christians are ready, at any moment, to offer up prayers to God. Prayer can be part of a regular routine. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). In his brief treatise A Simple Way to Pray, Martin Luther asserted, “It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.”

The apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonian Christians to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Elsewhere he urged, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). God’s people are already ready to pray. Whether offering praise reports, urgent 911 intercessions, or requests on behalf of others, God’s people cultivate a constant prayer posture.

Prayer patterns

So when we pray, what should we say? Jesus offers an ideal template for prayer in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). Entire volumes have been written to discuss and dissect each phrase and petition of this prayer. Because it covers so many aspects of doctrine, Luther’s Catechism treats the Lord’s Prayer as one of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine.

The Bible is filled with hundreds of prayers that cover the entire landscape of circumstances and emotions. Some great prayers of the Bible include:

● Genesis chapter 18 – Abraham’s plea for Sodom.

● 2 Samuel chapter 7 – David’s response to God’s promises.

● 2 Chronicles chapter 20 – Jehoshaphat’s prayer for help.

● Psalm chapters 32 & 51 – David’s confession and rejoicing in forgiveness.

● Psalm chapter 139 – David marvels at God’s power.

● Daniel chapter 9 – Daniel’s prayer of confession.

● John chapter 17 – Jesus’ prayer for his disciples.

● Colossians chapter 1 – Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving.

● Revelation chapters 5, 7, 19 – Prayers of praise to the Lamb of God.

In A Simple Way to Pray, Luther encouraged praying through parts of the Catechism. Using some of these great prayers of the Bible can help expand the patterns we use in our prayers. When we read these passages from the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is always present to strengthen our faith. He has promised to work through the gospel.

Is it permissible to make up our own prayers, known as ex corde (from the heart) prayers? God welcomes this. Such heartfelt, personal prayers break down the misconception that God is a mere divine ATM or a balky vending machine with ears. We have access to the throne of the King of the universe! This access to God is more than just being within range of a connection or somewhere close by. By faith, we are as close to him as a child sitting on his father’s lap, free to discuss anything and everything that comes to mind . . . in our own words.

Appreciate the many details and the rich texture of prayer. Rejoice in the thoughtful, powerful way God enables us to speak with him. Whether your next prayer is a 911-type emergency or a praise report, simply begin. Pray. Talk to God. Touch heaven.

Stephen Luchterhand is pastor at Deer Valley, Phoenix, Arizona.

This is the second article in a seven-part series on prayer.

 

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Author: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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: Spreading the message

Light for our path 

Were the Jews to spread the message about the promised Savior even to Gentiles, as we do mission work today?

James F. Pope 

What will become clear in answering your question is that God showed love to the entire world as he showed love to a specially chosen people.

Love to Israel

There is no question that the people of Israel were the recipients of unparalleled love from the Lord. King Solomon demonstrated he understood that when he prayed to the Lord on the occasion of the dedication of the temple. He recognized that the Lord had “singled [Israel] out from all the nations of the world to be your own inheritance, just as you declared through your servant Moses when you, Sovereign LORD, brought our fathers out of Egypt” (1 Kings 8:53). The apostle Paul identified some of Israel’s special blessings when he wrote: “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen” (Romans 9:4,5).

That last sentence explains the greatest blessing the people of Israel received from the Lord: the promise that the Messiah would enter this world as a human being through their lineage. The “family trees” of Jesus (Matthew 1 and Luke 3) illustrate how God fulfilled that promise.

But if you look carefully at those family trees, you will notice non-Jews, or Gentiles, in the list—people like Rahab and Ruth. The inclusion of those Gentile women in the human ancestry of Jesus tells us something about the love of God.

Love through Israel

God’s love is universal. God so loved the entire world of sinners that he sent his Son into the world as a human being descended from a long line of—mostly—Jews. So while God showed special love to the people of Israel, he never restricted his love to them. Yes, God wanted Israel to let others know about his love for them. Let me point out just a few examples.

God commissioned Jonah to go to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and preach a message of repentance. When the citizenry as a whole took Jonah’s message to heart and the prophet subsequently became despondent that Israel’s enemies would share in their blessings of salvation, the Lord asked him: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11). That great city of Gentiles?

The psalms contain directives for the people of Israel to share their faith. “Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96:2,3). Through the prophet Isaiah, God repeatedly instructed his chosen people to let their light shine. “ ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘. . . the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise’ ” (Isaiah 43:10,21).

Many more examples could be provided to demonstrate that it has always been God’s will that all those who know him in faith share that saving knowledge with others. Certainly, God’s Old Testament ceremonial laws were designed to keep Israel separate from other nations, but being “separate” did not mean uncaring, unloving, or silent. God’s people have always had reason to share their Savior with others.

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 5
Issue: May 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

 

How’s your vision?

How’s your vision?

Mark G. Schroeder

Years ago while serving a congregation in Florida, my family and I would make the trip by car back to Wisconsin. Since our children were still young, we would often try to make that trip as painless as possible by driving straight through the night. I would keep myself awake with a thermos of strong coffee and a selection of snacks to munch on. On one of those trips I had an unnerving experience. Cruising on the interstate somewhere in Tennessee, my eyes spotted some movement to the right of the highway. I slowed down quickly in time to see a group of four elephants sauntering across the road in front of me.

But there were no elephants wandering through rural Tennessee that night. My tired eyes were playing tricks on me. What I saw was not real. It was only an illusion that my overly tired brain caused my eyes to see. My vision proved to be anything but reliable.

More and more we hear that congregations are being encouraged to “cast a vision” for the ministry they plan to carry out in the future. When it comes to the mission of the church, the word vision makes me more than a little uncomfortable.

Please don’t misunderstand my discomfort about the word vision. Carefully evaluating needs and prioritizing efforts echo the New Testament encouragements to us to “count the cost.” Identifying areas of ministry that we need to improve and to devote more time and attention to is sanctified common sense. If we use the term vision to describe what we prayerfully desire to do in response to the gospel message, then there is really no problem

All too often, however, those who speak of vision in the church use it to describe not what the congregation is to do, but what they hope that the church will be and will become. That kind of vision setting is both dangerous and unbiblical. That kind of vision setting, even with the best of intentions, can all too easily foster a sense of pharisaic pride that we somehow, through our efforts and skills, can make the church of tomorrow into something it is not today. Promoting that kind of vision can easily imply that we know the mind of God and what he plans to accomplish. It reflects a theology of glory, which promises that the church will be outwardly successful, growing in numbers, filled with active and eager members who generously support and fully participate in the life and the work of the church—as long as we do things right. Ministry built on such visions often leads either to a false sense of pride when things seem to go well or devastating disappointment when our vision-setting eyes have played tricks on us.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus, those eyes of faith will never play tricks on us. The church needs only to look to the cross and to the empty tomb to find joy and strength. We need only to look to his Word and sacraments, where his promises are clear and in sharp focus. We need only to perceive with eyes of faith that God has placed us in this world as witnesses of Christ and reflectors of his love. As we do that as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod, we pray. We worship. We witness. We show love. We follow him. We work for him as he gives us the opportunity.

And then we trust that our gracious God, who alone has the true vision for the future, will bless our efforts in the way that his love determines.

 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 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

 

Remember for whom you are living

Remember for whom you are living

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. This life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Norman F. Burger Jr.

I attended a college commencement ceremony a few years ago in which the student speaker told her classmates to follow their dreams. She urged them not to do what others expect them to do, want them to do, or tell them to do. She said, “Don’t live someone else’s life.”

I get her point. But it needs to be counter-balanced with this: The life God has called us to live is all about others.

We live for Jesus and others

First of all, God expects us to live for him. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s a no-brainer. As the giver of all we have, God deserves to be honored in everything we do.

God also expects us to live our lives for others. He says, “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13) and “Do nothing out of selfish ambition . . . consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). That’s a no-brainer too. If someone calls us “selfish,” that’s a cut-down. Everyone knows that being unselfish is a good thing.

But how unselfish is your life? How often do you stop to think, “Is this pleasing to God?” before you say or do something? When you pray “Your will be done,” do you mean that or does it mean “Lord, agree that my will be done”? And have you loved others more than yourself? Or have you often tried to get out of things you could do for others? Have you used others instead of serving them?

So what do you need more: To be cautioned about not being too unselfish or to be rescued from your shameful, habitual selfishness?

Christ lived for us

You know what God did for you. The almighty God literally lived your life for you to save you. You couldn’t live a holy life of perfect love for God and others, so he came to your broken world in your frail flesh and lived it for you. And then, when you deserved the suffering of hell for all your selfish living, he took your place on the cross, letting the lightning bolt of the Father’s anger at your sin strike him instead, so you can say with Paul, “God loved me and gave himself for me.” His life was all about you and your salvation.

This is not only the time of year when college graduates are told to live out their dreams. It is also the time of year when confirmands promise to live for Jesus and others. Remember that you made that promise when you are tempted to think you are being too unselfish or when you get comfortable in your selfishness. But above all, remember why you made that promise. It’s not because your parents expected you to or because it was the next step in your church life, but because you knew that Jesus had lived and died and lives again—all for you, always for you and your salvation. Renew that promise every day with a repentant heart that says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. This life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

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

 

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Author: Norman F. Burger Jr.
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 2015

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