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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 © 2021
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 © 2021
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 © 2021
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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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: Stephen M. Luchterhand
Volume 102, Number 5
Issue: May 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
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 © 2021
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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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2021
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