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Let God’s light shine

Christmas can be a dark time. We need to share the light of Jesus so all can see what their Savior has done for them. 

Nathan W. Strutz 

Christmas. The day is supposed to be filled with such happiness. Who doesn’t love gathering with family? Who doesn’t love seeing a tree with presents that fill the living room?  

A time of darkness 

Maybe you don’t. Maybe your family is not a happy gathering. Grandma’s place at the table is dark because Grandma isn’t there anymore. Your nephew Jimmy will be there, but not with the wife and kids after their recent divorce. Uncle Joe hasn’t come in years, because he’s been estranged so long. Maybe there isn’t a room full of presents. 

Instead there’s a heart full of fear, a darkness that there won’t be enough money to pay the bills. Maybe the lights don’t brighten your heart because all you can see is darkness. 

Sadness spikes in the winter time. Suicide rates go up around the holidays.  

Too many think, I’m supposed to be so happy, but I’m not. I’ve done my share to make the family gatherings awkward or haven’t done anything to reach out to Uncle Joe. Maybe it’s my fault. I could have worked harder and been nicer to the boss. Then money wouldn’t be so tight. If I had just made better choices, just worked a little harder at being happy, I could really enjoy Christmas. 

Jesus is the light 

There is hope. Jesus is the light for that darkness, especially at Christmas. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). 

Jesus brings light to lighten your eyes beyond your earthly troubles. Jesus loved you so much he made you part of his perfect family. The holy God is your Father, loving you so much he sent his Son into a manger, to a cross, to rise from the dead to give you the light of life. Jesus is your perfect brother, the brother who took all the blame for all your sins. What other brother would do that? Jesus did! Jesus, our perfect brother, piled all the darkness for all the guilt of everyone on himself. That means your guilt is gone. Your darkness has become light. 

Jesus provided your greatest need: forgiveness. Jesus will take care of all your other needs as well. 

Jesus has given you a heavenly mansion, monogrammed with your initials, already waiting for you. He signed it with his blood, sealed it with his empty tomb, and delivers it to you in water and his Word, “You are baptized! You are my child!” 

We must share the light 

This light needs to be shared. Just as the shepherds shared it on the first Christmas, just as a parent or friend shared the light with you, so you get to share this light with others. Who wouldn’t like to hear, “Your guilt is gone!”? Who wouldn’t love to hear, “Your sins are forgiven!”?  

We’ve set a goal as a church body to reach one million people this Christmas with the good news of great joy that is for all the people: A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. One million sounds like a lot of people. But 35,000 people get this magazine. They—you—are today’s shepherds. I encourage all of you to do what the shepherds at Bethlehem did: “Spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). If each one of you would share the light of Jesus with 10 neighbors, friends, or relatives, we would be on our way to reaching one million.  

What a merry Christmas that would be!


Nathan Strutz is pastor at Resurrection, Verona, Wisconsin. 


Learn more about the goal to reach one million people with the gospel message this Christmas at wels.net/c18


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Author: Nathan Strutz
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Ambassadors: Help them see Jesus : Part 2

So many need to hear about Jesus. Pray for them and for the opportunity to share Jesus with them.  

Kenneth L. Brokmeier 

“Prayer changes things!”  

Go ahead! Google “phrases about prayer.” You quickly can find yourself immersed for hours sifting through the sites, uncovering little snippets about prayer. Some excerpts are authored by well-known believers like Martin Luther, and other quotes are by those who aren’t even Christian.  

Prayer is an important part of our calling as Christ’s disciples. We pray because we are connected to Jesus. But like so many other facets of our Christian life, sometimes prayer can seem almost non-existent . . . until crunch time. You know what I mean. Suddenly there is trouble! That’s when we take God’s invitation to call upon him (Psalm 50:15) rather seriously. 

Those on the wrong road 

Well, there is trouble out there right now. There is a whole world without Christ, and they on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Jesus knew it. He described them as harassed and helpless—sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)—people misled by the lies and philosophies of the world and, sometimes, even the church. Before his very eyes were souls who were still looking for answers because their own solutions always brought the same dead-end results. Jesus had compassion on them because they didn’t even realize their great need. They had numbed themselves into thinking that there is no God or that Jesus can’t be God’s answer.  

The years and the faces may have changed, but the problem is still there. It’s not just on the other side of our planet but right in our own families, friends, and neighbors. It is on the campuses and classrooms of not just colleges, but all levels of education. Do you see them? The sheep? Sheep who think they know better, even though they were once Jesus’ little lamb. Sheep who are wearing the glitter and glitz of their own self-righteousness. Sheep who think they have all the answers to life’s questions because of their education. Sheep who are quick to tell you to your face you are foolish for following your Good Shepherd. Sheep. And all of them are unaware they are lost because they don’t have the heavenly Shepherd named Jesus. What’s a person to do?  

Listen to Jesus. Pray! That is what Jesus tells his disciples to do—pray, literally beg the Lord to send out more workers.  

Our prayers as God’s ambassadors 

But wait! Are you ready for this? Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for more workers and then he sends those same disciples out as those workers (Matthew 10). When we pray, he sends us out as his workers. 

Knowing that we are the answer to our own prayer leads us to pray more fervently and zealously to the Lord, “Help!” And he does. We have examples from Scripture of ambassadors praying to the One they represent for help. Look at Daniel (chapter 6). Daniel knew the king’s decree that anyone who prayed—except to the king—would be thrown into the den of lions. Yet Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day, just as he had done before. I can imagine Daniel begging God to be with him so he could testify boldly when he stood before the king. God answered Daniel’s prayer.  

Paul and Silas prayed (Acts 16:25). They had just been beaten and locked up, and yet they prayed and sang hymns. Can’t you just picture Paul begging God to open doors for the spread of the gospel? God answered Paul’s prayer. He not only opened the prison doors but also the heart of the jailer to believe in the Lord Jesus!  

God also promises to answer our prayers as his ambassadors. So pray! Ask boldly that God will give you wisdom so that you may know him better and trust his incomparably great power that is at work in you (cf. Ephesians 1:17-22).  

When you pray, trust that God will keep his promises that he will never leave or forsake you (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) when you are called upon to witness.  

Pray dangerously. Challenge or beg that God would permit your life and the life of the one for whom you are praying to intersect so that you can be God’s ambassador. Then look for God to open those doors to encounter others with whom you can share the news of Jesus. Most of all, be ready to walk through those doors when he opens them!  

Pray with urgency. After all, billions are still in the state of spiritual darkness or unbelief. Scripture clearly teaches that if they remain and die in that state, their destiny is more than just darkness. It is the eternal misery, pain and suffering of hell, where “their worm that eats them will not die, the fire that burns will not be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24).  

Our personal connections 

Sometimes that sense of urgency can wane, can’t it? We don’t always picture the mass of humanity on the other side of the world who are hellbound without Christ. After all, we are busy with our lives of tweeting, texting, or updating our status on Facebook with the latest picture of what we deem to be important.  

But then it hits us. A friend. Someone with whom we have broken bread at many meals. Someone with whom we went to Lutheran grade school and high school. Slowly they have stopped coming to church. Or they head off to college and we lose touch and, before you know it, they are caught in the web of ungodly philosophies.  

Or it might be a family member—a parent, sibling, child, niece, or nephew. “What happened?” we ask ourselves. We might, humanly speaking, know the answer. But, more important, we know the solution: Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus!  

So pray! Because “prayer changes things.”  

My family knows this to be true.  

There were six children in my family growing up. We all had received the blessings of a Christian upbringing, including attending a Lutheran grade school and high school. But something happened, spiritually, with my brother. He made poor choices and drifted, slowly but surely, away from his Savior.  

Those who loved him—his parents, siblings, relatives, pastors, and teachers—spoke words of concern, warning him he was on that broad road. He would often respond— sometimes saying the right things—but his actions were also speaking, unfortunately, louder than his words. The drifting continued.  

Those who loved him prayed for him. We prayed boldly. We prayed dangerously. We prayed with urgency!  

God answered . . . with an accident. An accident that suddenly found my brother teetering between life and death. An accident that would leave him needing care 24 hours per day for the nearly 16 years remaining in his life. But, most important, God answered our prayers with an accident that opened the heart of his blood-bought child to once more hear, believe, and completely trust that Jesus is the only Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). 

And so, as his ambassadors, we pray!


Ken Brokmeier is pastor at Our Savior’s, Brookings, South Dakota.  


This is the second article in a 12-part series on sharing your faith. 


What’s your story? How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear your stories. To whom in your life did you reach out? What barriers did you have to overcome? How do you prepare yourself for these outreach opportunities? E-mail responses tofic@wels.netwith the subject line: How I shared Jesus. Include your name, congregation, and contact information. Questions? Call 414-256-3231. 


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Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can our families stay focused on Jesus this Christmas?

How can I help my son grow into a godly man? 

Sometimes providing ideas to tackle parenting challenges can get complicated. We deal with some complex issues as we raise these little people. Other times it’s surprisingly simple. 

This month, our authors remind us that we don’t need to go to great lengths to focus our families on Jesus this Christmas. Simple traditions, simple questions, simple explanations can provide rich opportunities to worship our King and celebrate his birth.  

Interested in beginning your own family Advent devotion time this year? Visit forwardinchrist.net/chrismons for a resource that can help you put together a devotion similar to the one the Geiger family enjoys (see Anna Geiger’s article).  

Nicole Balza


During most of the year, our family gathers each evening for a Bible story and song. But we take a break from our regular devotions for Advent. Instead, we sit at the dining room table around a lovely handcrafted Advent tree, a gift from my father-in-law.  

Simple Advent devotions 

First, my husband lights one or more candles, depending how close we are to Christmas. Then we choose a Chrismon (a Christmas decoration with a Christian symbol) to hang on the tree. My husband leads an impromptu devotion based on the symbol we’ve chosen, and we conclude with a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” 

The short devotions are often simple. The cross reminds us that Jesus died to take away our sins. The shell reminds us that God forgave our sins and brought us into his family through Baptism. The lamb is a symbol for Jesus, the Lamb of God. 

Sometimes our devotions are a little more complex. We may talk about the fish being an ancient Christian symbol because the letters of the Greek word for fish stand for Jesus. We may talk about the Chi-Ro, which looks like a P with an X on top. These two letters are the first letters of the Greek word Christos, which means Christ. 

Our five oldest kids (4, 6, 8, 10, 11) take turns doing different jobs. One chooses the Chrismon, another places it on the tree, a third child turns out the lights, a fourth child passes out the music, and a fifth has the favorite job of blowing out the candles. Because our youngest will be turning 3 this Advent season, he will be part of the devotions as well. I suppose we will need a sixth job . . . but I don’t think we’re ready to let the kids take turns lighting the candles! 

A meaningful tradition 

With a houseful of young children, I wouldn’t exactly call our Advent devotions peaceful. And the proximity of children to open flames keeps my husband and me at the edge of our seats. But all of us look forward to this simple family tradition. Not only does it distract us from the hustle and bustle of the season, but it also keeps our eyes on our coming Savior.  


Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wisconsin. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. 


 I can see the candlelight in her eyes. It flickers there in the dark sanctuary. It lights up her small face in constantly new ways as the flame dances, pushing shadows off her face. It was Christmas Eve 2014. She was singing “Silent Night.” 

I almost lost it. I hope it wasn’t just sentimentality. I doubt it was. I long for something as a father. I pray for it more than most anything else in my life. It makes me do things like ask my daughter every day on her way to school, “Who are you?” Just to hear her say back, “I’m a blood-bought child of God.” It makes me haul out my little devotional every night at dinner or lay on the Bermuda grass outside just so I can point to the stars and say, “Look at what God did.” I want my daughter to see the Lord just like Job once did (Job 42:5). 

There are few better places to see him than the manger. I’ve got no secret sauce for that. I’m not sure we even have totally rooted family traditions around Christmas yet. I do know that I’ve done some things now for a few years. I love to walk with her up to the Chrismons. I love telling her what they mean. I love talking to her about the lights on the tree and how they point to the Light of the world. I love talking to her about the Christmas lessons she learns every year at Sunday school. I love interrupting her occasionally to remind her to back out of the commercialism and to ask her what the season is really about. I love to open the presents with her and tell her where they all ultimately come from and what the best gift of all is. I love to bust out the hymnal and sing a Christmas hymn before we go to sleep. I love to help her with her recitations just so I can make a comment to her about what they mean.  

I hope you know I’m not slavish about how I lean into unique Christmas moments. I’m not. There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes it’s best simply to grab some Christmas cookies together and laugh about how crazy her dad is. I do, however, at Christmas time maintain the regular ways I disciple my daughter and always look for opportunities to use the uniqueness of the season to connect truth to her soul. No, it’s not a secret sauce. It’s just real life, trusting the Spirit to use the Word in my daughter’s life.  

I love my daughter. More than anything else I want her to have the joy of seeing the Lord in her life. I want that because I know that is what will chase away the shadows and darkness that lie within her and will make light dance in her little heart in new ways all year long. 


Jonathan Bourman is a pastor at Peace, Aiken, South Carolina. He and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter


It’s almost Christmas. Time stops for no one. So we dash through the snow to pick up kids. Buy the latest toy. Find dresses for the girls and suits for the boys. Bake Christmas cookies. Help the kids memorize their part in the Christmas services. Set up Christmas get-togethers with our family and friends. Bake more Christmas cookies. Schedule and wrangle crabby kids to get family pictures taken for the two hundred Christmas cards we have to order, address, place in envelopes, buy stamps for, and send. Decorate upstairs. Decorate downstairs. Decorate outside. Did I mention bake cookies?  

My house, inside or out, doesn’t look like a Pinterest page. My kids might be wearing hand-me-down dresses and suits for the Christmas services. My gifts might not be wrapped until the night before Christmas Eve (and might just be placed into a gift bag!). We will eventually get the Christmas tree up. And perhaps a string of lights outside . . . if we’ve taken them down from last year. My cookies just might be bought from the local grocery store. But, this is what allows our family to savor and enjoy Christmas. The simplicity.  

You don’t have to spend hundreds of hours or dollars making a perfect Christmas. We already have a perfect Christmas with the most perfect gift—Christ Jesus. Our focus should not be on making more work for an earthly perfect—one that takes the center of attention away from the true meaning of Christmas—but on how to bring our loved ones closer to the manger.  

First comes our beautiful Christmas Eve service filled with children’s voices, praises to God for sending his Son, and the comforting passages and hymns we have committed to memory. 

Then our family continues in sharing God’s goodness in our living room. Sharing the blessings he has given us, reminding our children of the best gift that allows us to give them gifts, and reveling in the love of family—one of the most marvelous gifts God has given us on earth.  

Traditions are wonderful and can be an amazing blessing to you, your children, and your grandchildren. But in the busyness of Christmas, might I suggest keeping it simple?  

Set aside time to spend with your family.
Find a Christmas service or two.
Remind your loved ones of the greatest gift of Christmas.
Breathe in the crisp winter air (or the warm breeze).
Take in some twinkling lights.
And feel the love of Jesus envelop you.   


Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, are raising four children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?

Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?

James F. Pope

Your question illustrates the need to bridge the culture gap of marriage customs and laws that existed in biblical days. 

A marriage established by commitment 

In our society today, we are familiar with relationships that progress from friendship to dating to engagement to marriage. Because we are used to this sequence of events, we might think that people in biblical times followed the same pattern. That was not the case. 

“Betrothal,” as the term appears in some Bible translations, was not the engagement of our day and age. Betrothal in biblical days was the time when the bride and groom, or their representatives, signed papers to commit themselves to each other and to establish the beginning of their marriage. From that point on, the man and woman were legally married, but they did not have the right to live together as husband and wife or have sexual relations with one another. They lived separately for a time until the wedding celebration took place. Then, the man and woman lived together as husband and wife. Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) illustrates the interval of time between the beginning of a marriage and the wedding celebration. 

When Joseph learned that Mary was pregnant (Matthew 1:18,19), the couple was between the time when they had established their marriage and before any wedding celebration was going to take place. They were legally married. Only death or divorce (Deuteronomy 22:22-29) could break the bond they had established, and divorce was on Joseph’s mind. 

A marriage rooted in love 

Joseph is the forgotten man in the account of Jesus’ birth. In the Bible, Mary receives appropriate attention as the one whom God graciously chose to be the one to give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:30-33). But what about Joseph?  

We first come across Joseph in the family tree of Jesus’ human ancestry found in Matthew 1:16. We learn that Joseph came from royal lineage, but we know little else about him. We are aware of what Joseph was thinking when he realized Mary was pregnant: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).  

Mary’s miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit put Joseph in a challenging situation. Without knowing about the Holy Spirit’s work in Mary, Joseph could only conclude that Mary had been unfaithful to him. If Joseph had wanted to press the issue, the results could have been disastrous for Mary and the unborn child in her womb, the Messiah (Deuteronomy 22:23,24). Love for God and love for Mary led Joseph to pursue a different course of action—a divorce that was intended to shelter Mary from public shame. 

God thwarted that plan by directing an angel to inform Joseph in a dream that Mary’s pregnancy was the result of the Holy Spirit’s work. We see Joseph’s love for God in his next waking moments: “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). The last words of that verse demonstrate that Joseph and Mary were legally married at this time. 

Joseph was a man who displayed the kind of love that reflected the love of his foster son and Savior: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Joseph and Mary’s marriage was established by commitment and rooted in love. 


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Pope
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 11

Zechariah: “Merry Christmas, with love” 

Thomas D. Kock

As he stared into the mirror, he hated what he saw. Memories of what had happened flooded his mind. It was what he had done. How could he?!? He knew it was wrong. He KNEW it!  

And now? The guilt was horrible!  

reflection of guilt 

Oh, it hadn’t started out that way. The temptation had sounded so good! It was as if Satan was whispering pleasantly into his ears: “Oh, try it! It will feel great! You’ll be so much happier, so much more fulfilled if you try it.” The “voice” was smooth and enticing.  

Once he did it, the same voice berated him. “You jerk! You knew it was wrong, but you did it anyway! You must be the worst ever! How could you?!?” He heard that voice over and over as he stared into the mirror.  

Maybe that was the voice which was playing in Joshua’s ears. No, this isn’t the Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho. This Joshua was the high priest at the time of Zechariah and Haggai. Zechariah recorded the vision given by the Lord: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him” (3:1). That’s what Satan does—he accuses. In fact, Satan means “accuser.”  

And he’s really good at it! His ultimate goal is to lead us away from God forever. After he woos us into temptation, he turns around and points his finger at us and says, “You! How could you?!? You horrid, horrible person!”  

In the vision, Zechariah saw Joshua, the high priest “dressed in filthy cloths.” He was guilty. 

A reflection of forgiveness 

We’re thrilled to hear what happens next: “The angel said . . ., ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’ . . . So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by” (3:4,5). In a visual way, God showed the glory of forgiveness by immaculately re-clothing Joshua!   

God has re-clothed you, too. God has taken away your sin. In his eyes, you’re re-clothed in glorious finery! And so when you look into the mirror, you no longer have to cringe because of the sins committed the day/week/year before; God has forgiven them all!  

Oh, but don’t take sin lightly! God is serious about sin. When we sin, we spit in God’s face. Do NOT play with sin!  

But God promises, “See, I have taken away your sin!” Jesus came to this earth to pay for your sins and to win perfection for you. He did it! That gives us the reason to love God and avoid sin.  

So look in that mirror! Do so with joy! See a forgiven person, someone who glows where it matters most—in the eyes of God.  

Merry Christmas, with love!  


Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.


This is the 11th article in a 12-part series on minor prophets.


ZECHARIAH

Lineage:  A prophet, son of Berechiah, grandson of Iddo. A priest named Iddo is named in Nehemiah 12:4. Is he the same Iddo? If so, Zechariah is also a priest.   
Date of writing:  Late October or early November, 520 B.C.December, 518 B.C. (Haggai is a contemporary.)   
Unique feature:  Amazing oracles with vivid imagery. Quoted often in the New Testament. 
Key verse:  Multiple prophecies of Jesus’ passion: 9:9 (Palm Sunday); 11:12,13 (Judas’ betrayal); 12:10 (Jesus’ crucifixion); 13:7 (the disciples being scattered). 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Pastor Lau

Hmong outreach in Vietnam

The fields are white for the harvest in Vietnam, and through the gospel, the Holy Spirit is bringing many to faith. 

Jonathan Bare as told to him by Wasa Lau 
Translated by Bounkeo Lor 

Pastor Wasa Lau is one of 60 Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) leaders who are receiving theological training in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, and members of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI). Lau serves Immanuel 1997 church in Laichao province.  

Here is more of his story of faith as told to Jonathan Bare, PSI team member, and Lor:  

People in my area started becoming Christian already in 1993 when we heard radio broadcastings about Christianity. From 1993 to 1997, Christianity spread very quickly in our area. We heard that if you believed, you would be released from Shamanism and Satan—so within a short amount of time, the whole area believed. I believed in 1997.  

Persecution 

One of my uncles served in the army. When he found out that we had become Christians, he was so angry. He brought many guns to our house, and he wanted to kill us. He also brought a big pot and was going to build a big fire and boil our whole family one by one for being Christian. But he drank a glass of alcohol and fell asleep at the table. Early in the morning, he woke up and left. So our family was spared. 

In the end, they arrested the whole village. The local government forced us to make bricks, cut plants, and build houses. For one week we did hard labor for the government in our area. They brought us all together, and the local officials would point a gun at the leaders of the church. “If you don’t renounce your faith, we will kill you,” they threatened. But no one would renounce their faith. Since no one would renounce their faith, the government couldn’t do anything. They just put them in prison or sent them to do hard labor. I was a leader already at that time, but I wasn’t teaching the Bible yet so they didn’t point a gun at my head. But I did get sent with the other leaders to do hard labor.  

After they released all of us believers, we went back to our village. But the local government officials didn’t allow us to worship. So I remember we woke up at 1:00 in the morning to worship God. We couldn’t turn on any lights; we just used some oil lamps. We did that from 1997 to 2000.  

Education 

In 2005, I received some theological training from the Vietnamese Fellowship Church, and I passed my test in 2011. In 2011, they called me to serve Immanuel 1997 as pastor. There were some good things we learned in the training, but it was difficult because Vietnamese [the language they taught in] is not my first language. There were six courses we needed to study. They covered basics of salvation, faith, baptism, and how to administer the church. Once you pass the test, you can be called as a pastor in the church.  

But I needed more. I started receiving training from Pastor Lor in 2013. The first few years I still had a lot of confusion because the training I had received in the past was too limited. But in 2016, I finally understood Lutheran doctrine. Since that time, I have grown in my ability to pass it on to my members and local leaders.  

Currently, in my church, I serve 220 members. I also oversee 7 pastors and 37 leaders who serve a total membership of 1,179. Our relationship was a struggle at first. Before the training from the Lutheran church, each of us had received training from other churches. Now, though, we have a very stable relationship because we all have the same training and doctrine. Now we don’t allow other churches from the outside to provide training to our leaders or our churches. After I get back from the training session in Hanoi, two other students and I work together to provide training to all of our local leaders. We call together over 100 local leaders for three 3-day training sessions to share the training we received in Hanoi.  

One blessing is that in class we receive textbooks that we use to study the course with the professor. The textbook is in Hmong, so we can take it back and print more to use with the pastors and leaders we are training.  

I had dreamed for such training for a long time. Many members would come and ask me to share the Word of God with them, but I didn’t know how to do it. Since receiving training, I have grown in my confidence in what I believe and in sharing God’s Word. I am certain of this: If the Lutheran church did not come to do the training, the Hmong congregations throughout Vietnam would have continued to suffer a lot due to theological differences.  

My own ability is limited. I am not an educated person. But through the training we are receiving, we have materials that we can review. Also, when we attend class, we can listen to the professors in person and ask questions about what we are learning. This has given me a lot more confidence. This has been a big change for me and for the congregations under my leadership. We’ve stopped searching for theological answers and materials from other churches. We know we have the truth now, and we know where to find it!  

Prayers 

The Hmong Fellowship Church currently has more than 300 congregations, but we still lack many things—especially training for all of the leaders of these congregations. We need more training from the Lutheran church. That is what we are looking for now: for generation after generation to grow in the proper understanding of Scripture. That’s what WELS can do for us.  

I also ask that you pray for us. My congregation has a small building for worship. In the past, we had cut down a bunch of trees from the jungle for building a larger space, but someone came and burned all the wood. We’re starting to go back to cut more wood to expand our building, but this project will take a lot of work and we don’t have much money. Pray that the Lord will motivate our members to support it with their offerings so that we can expand the church in the future.  

And more important, in my area many people are believers, but surrounding our area many are not Christian. We don’t have the financial backing or a plan for reaching them. Some are donating money to send evangelists. Please pray that more of my members will support this effort so that we can continue to do more outreach in our area.  


Jonathan Bare, part of the Pastoral Studies Institute team, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


Since WELS began providing training to these leaders in 2013, the HFC has grown from 55,000 to 100,000 members and has formed hundreds of new churches. The communist government now is offering WELS an opportunity to build a permanent facility in Hanoi for theological training. Learn more in this month’s WELS Connection and at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Evangelism lessons from the Savior: Account of the rich young man: Part 2

Always be prepared to . . . ask a question

James F. Borgwardt 

Witnessing to strangers doesn’t come naturally for many Christians, myself included. But like anything else, it becomes easier with practice.  

The essential elements for every Christian witness is God’s law and gospel. But how do we get from a cordial “Hi” to the message of sin and grace? My favorite tool is a question. 

Actually, there are three specific types of questions that help move conversations in the direction I want. The first question turns the dialogue spiritual. The second helps to assess and clarify the non-Christian’s views. And the last draws us to our destination: to the cross of Christ.  

All of them help keep the conversation cordial and non-threatening when they are used with people like Joe. 

The first question 

Joe sat in the next seat on our flight to Chicago and struck up the conversation. His story of leading multiple successful business ventures in the city matched his style and appearance. My story as a pastor didn’t share much in common, except that I have a brother serving a congregation on the north side of Chicago. That was my segue to Question 1: “Do you have a church home?” 

He didn’t. It wasn’t long before he shared his view of religions: “All of them teach basically the same thing. How can Christians insist that they’re the only ones going to heaven?”  

The second question 

Would you have given a quick answer? Jesus wouldn’t. At least he didn’t when the rich young man in Matthew 19 asked him a question about eternal life. Jesus responded instead with a question of his own. Answering a question with another question was common for Jesus. He often extended conversations with questions and not answers.  

This is another evangelism lesson we can learn from Jesus’ dialogue in Matthew 19. When someone comes to you with a question about the Christian faith, don’t always be so quick with an answer. Try a question instead.  

“A man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ 

‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied” (Matthew 19:16,17). 

Jesus fielded questions from a variety of people with a variety of motives. Some raised question to trap him.  Others were hurting souls who approached him in desperate need. They pleaded for mercy from the only one they believed could help them. 

The rich, young ruler fit neither of these extremes. His question was both serious and seriously misguided. He respected Jesus as a great teacher. He approached him with a genuine desire to receive new insight into his godly living. He loved the law of God and convinced himself that he had kept it. Yet he felt that he was missing something—something that would finally give him the peace with God that he craved. He figured that the renowned rabbi from Nazareth could prescribe the elusive, extraordinary work that needed to be done. He was ready to carry it out and thereby earn the assurance that life everlasting was indeed his reward. 

This young man came to the right man for the wrong reasons. And Jesus could have told him as much. But a question was the more effective tool.  

The same is often true in our witnessing. 

Granted, Jesus was far better at this than we could be. He knew the perfect response to a question long before it was asked. Not being God, we can’t do that. 

But questions do serve us well in these crucial conversations. They help us assess the person and their situation. They buy us time as we think how to best lead this soul to the cross.  

More than that, asking questions helps us in similar ways to how it helped Jesus in his ministry. Questions display that we’re genuinely interested in the person with whom we’re speaking. And questions lead that person to do some important self-reflection. They are a polite, non-confrontational tool to help the other person re-examine their assumptions. 

When Jesus replied with “Why do you ask me about what is good?” the man had to start digging into the assumptions that were buried beneath his question. 

We want people to do the same thing. This is where Question 2 comes in handy. It’s the question, “What makes you say that?”* 

In my conversation with Joe, I responded to his claim that all religions basically teach the same thing with, “What makes you say that? In what way are they similar?” 

Like the man in Matthew 19, Joe held the natural opinion that good works gain the reward of eternal life. He didn’t understand grace. Outside of Christ, no one can. 

The third question 

At the time, I responded with a C. S. Lewis illustration of how the one word that separates Christianity from all other religions is grace. And that opened into a law and gospel witness. 

But thinking back on it, I could have asked Joe a third question that’s become my favorite. Sometimes it’s the only one needed. It’s direct and polite at the same time. Question 3a is, “What you do believe about Jesus?”  

Try it. And after asking the question, just listen. The response could be a hundred different kinds of wrong, but fight the urge to correct the person. People appreciate that you don’t want to argue. By listening you’ll earn the right to speak. When they’re done, ask permission to do so with Question 3b, “May I share with you what I believe about Jesus?” Then share the good news of God’s eternal love for all people in Jesus. And the Holy Spirit will bless it as he sees fit. 

Someone may be thinking, That’s all fine and good. But the apostle Peter commanded a different approach: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). He told us to be prepared to give an answer, not a question. 

Yes, we need to be prepared to give answers too! Read 1 Peter chapter 3 in its entirety. People will ask us about our eternal hope when they see us respond to evil with love and grace. They’ll want to know why. They’ll cut right to the point. And so we respond. 

Paul, Silas, and the jailor (Acts 16) lived out the exact scenario that Peter outlined. When the Philippian jailor fell trembling before them and asked a question of desperation and hope, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” it was clear to the evangelists that this man was in a far different—and far better—spot than the man in Matthew 19. He was ready for the gospel. 

So Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30,31).  

God grant that we’re all prepared with questions and answers pointing to Jesus. 


James Borgwardt is pastor at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  


This is the second article in a three-part series on evangelism lessons from the account of the rich young man in Matthew chapter 19. 


*Thanks to Christian apologist Gregory Koukl for these insights.


 

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Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 1

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 1 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Introduction 

The title is one of the opening words of the book. “Revelation” is an accurate and helpful translation of the Greek word which is also rendered “Apocalypse.” Immediately we hear that the book’s ultimate author is Jesus Christ, who gives it to show (make known, reveal) what is going to take place. His intended audience is “his servants,” those who already know him and listen to his voice.  

As always, when Jesus speaks he does so not to confuse and discourage but to comfort and encourage his flock. Although his words are sometimes difficult to understand, we remember that these words are spoken by our Savior. He has spoken to us before. We look to other words he has given us, remembering that he is our Good Shepherd. He speaks in order to lead and guide us. We trust that he won’t tell us anything in this revelation that goes against other very clear words that he has revealed to us in the Bible.  

We’ll approach our study with humility, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal his truth to our hearts. These words are from God himself, through Jesus Christ, given by an angel to John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  

Conflict 

That’s important to remember! Like John, all those who hear these words are loved by the One who speaks. That’s important to remember because it wouldn’t have looked like that at first glance. It may not have felt like that to John and his fellow first-century believers. It sometimes doesn’t look or feel that way for 21st-century Christians either.  

John was in exile. He was on an island . . . literally. He had been forcibly removed from family and friends, congregation and comforts, to Patmos. Because of his faith in Jesus and his faithfulness in proclaiming the good news of Jesus, he was punished.  

The year was likely A.D. 95. The Roman Emperor Domitian was leading an active and often brutal persecution of the Christians in his empire. There was conflict for the church. They might have been asking, “Does God love us? Does he care about us? Are we precious in his sight? Are we sons and daughters of the Great King? Will he come for us?“ 

Comfort 

The church is his bride and needed to hear from her Bridegroom. She needed assurances that he was still in charge. She needed reminders of his real and unfailing love. She needed to hear that she was his precious possession and that she possessed all that was rightfully his. She needed his comfort in the midst of conflict. And that is what he graciously and generously gives her.  

We need to hear his voice too. We need comfort in the midst of our conflicts. Our prayer is that we would hear just that as we study this beautiful Revelation of Jesus.  


Reflect on the Revelation chapter 1 

  1. Read vv. 4-8. How does God comfort us in these verses? Compare these verses with 1 Peter 1:1-12 and 2:9,10.
    God—Father Son, and Holy Spirit—identifies himself at the author of this revelation. He has only our good in mind, giving us peace and grace. Consider all the blessings we have: he loves us; he freed us from our sins by his blood; he made us a kingdom; he made us priests to serve him; he is coming again. (Peter says the same things and summarizes our status before God in 1 Peter 2:9.) 

    God is Alpha and Omega and endures from the beginning of time to the end. He is everything—A to Z according to our alphabet and Alpha and Omega according to the Greek alphabet. 

  2. Read vv.9-20. In what ways is the vision of Jesus both frightening and comforting? (Note John’s reaction and Jesus’ words in verse 17.)

    Consider the way Jesus is pictured: eyes like blazing fire, feet like bronze glowing in a furnace, a voice like rushing waters, his face like the sun. These and other things about him made John fall down as if dead. But he is the son of man, like us only glorious, and he touched John gently and spoke, “Do not be afraid” He wants us to benefit from his resurrection and victory over death and hell. 

  3. Reread v. 20. Explain the comfort you can have from the vision of Jesus walking among the lampstands holding the stars in his hands. (Note: The lampstands are the churches, and the stars are the angels or messengers of the gospel.)
    Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus continues to be present in your church and in other churches as he has promised. As long as they proclaim the gospel, he holds the pastors or messengers of his truth in his hand, protecting, guiding, and caring for them and the message they proclaim.


Contributing editor Timothy Westendorf is pastor at Abiding Word, Highlands Ranch, Colorado.


This is the first article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after Dec.5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Confessions of faith: Asongo

Songs come from the hearts of African immigrants who love Jesus. 

Daniel J. Laitinen 

On a typical Saturday afternoon when most people are doing chores, watching TV, or just checking out after a long work week, you will find African native Israel Asongo making music at his church in Austin, Texas.  

Israel and his pastor have gathered a group of African immigrants from the area who meet every week to learn Bible stories, practice English, pray, eat, and sing together for the entire afternoon. With every Bible story comes a new sense of awe about God’s rich love for them. Scribbling down a weekly Bible passage in English, they are eager to practice their pronunciation.  

Then Israel plugs in his keyboard, turns up the speakers, and cues his choir. His bright demeanor is enough to fill the space. When the music begins, you are transported to a country and culture far away from a little church in central Texas. “It’s not like the music you’re used to in church,” Israel says with a smile. They worship all afternoon using every vocal chord and muscle: singing and swaying for Jesus. The music is unlike anything this church is used to.  

God’s grace in Africa 

So how did God bring about this opportunity to bless both immigrants in the Austin area and Holy Word Lutheran Church? 

Born in the Congo, Africa, Israel has had an incredible journey. His father was a Christian preacher, his mother a full-time parent of 11. His first memories of the gospel and music were with his family in the home. They would sing traditional African hymns and songs late into the evening.  

Israel’s love for sharing the gospel is inspiring. He once went into the African bush to share the gospel with a primitive—and sometimes suspicious and violent—pygmy tribe. Israel says, “If you want to share the gospel with them, you must first find a translator from their tribe willing to accompany you. Then, before you go, you must dress like them. I had to change out of my clothes and put on basically leaves you find along the way. Otherwise you are a threat and they will not speak with you. Then you must eat whatever they put before you. They roasted a small animal on a stick over a fire and told me to eat it like they do. Then, once they saw me eat it, they were pleased and said, ‘Okay. Now give us your message.’ You cannot start by just telling them about Jesus. You must start with who God is because they do not know. I told them, ‘The rocks and trees and river, these are not gods, but there is a God who created it all.’ It all takes time to teach them what they never knew.”  

Life in the Congo can be dangerous for Christians like Israel. His father was persecuted and killed for his faith. “Some of my family, I don’t know today whether they are alive or not,” he says. Faced with persecution himself, Israel made a daring escape. “Many people wanted to kill us Christians. They gathered hundreds of us in a stadium to be executed. As the executioner was on his way, we ran for the exits—some of us this way, some of us that. They began shooting. By God’s grace, I escaped.”  

After living in the bush for ten days surviving on only sugar cane, Israel crossed two countries and could have been deported back to Congo. Finally he arrived at a refugee camp in Kenya. “All by God’s grace,” he says. 

Life in the refugee camp wasn’t easy either. Divisions between religious groups, poor shelter, sickness, and persecution continued. However, Israel met his wife, began a family, and shared the gospel even in this harsh environment. Speaking six languages and understanding ten, he became a teacher and interpreter for the United Nations.  

Finally, one day he and his family were selected by lottery to be relocated in the United States. His son was very ill at the time, and the news came as a huge relief. “It was an answer to prayer!” Israel says. 

God’s grace in America 

Today Israel lives in Austin, Texas, with his family. Life in America was another major adjustment. He recalls one summer evening in his new home when he heard what seemed to be gunshots, bombs, and explosions outside. Remembering similar violence in Africa, he feared for his family’s life. He assumed that death was imminent. He gathered his wife and children into the corner of their apartment. He prayed to God to spare them. The next morning they woke up, alive. He went outside. To his amazement there was no damage or injury to people or property. It was the morning of July 5!  

One day Israel was at a store when he heard a man singing a Christian song one aisle over. Israel began singing along. The two voices found each other at the end of the aisle. They laughed and introduced themselves.  

“Do you have a church home?” Israel’s new friend Stacy asked.  

Israel said he did not.  

“You do now!” Stacy said, inviting him to his church, Holy Word.   

Months passed, but Stacy still hadn’t seen Israel in church. When they ran into each other once again, Stacy said, “Israel, come home.”  

Israel smiled and said, “I like that!”  

From then on Israel began attending Holy Word. I invited him to Bible information class. As we studied the Word together Israel soon knew he had found a home.  

“Why did you choose our church?” I asked.  

He replied, “Because you teach us about the Bible: sin and Jesus. Not every church does that.” 

One Sunday Israel approached me with a request: “I want to share what I learned here with more people like me. Can I invite some immigrant friends in Austin to meet here, sing, and learn God’s Word with you?” Within a month Israel’s Saturday group was studying God’s Word, praying, and singing. After several months, the group performed an African music concert for the congregation that drew in many visitors and other immigrants to Holy Word.  

Israel’s choir has changed the perspective of Holy Word members as well. Lynn, a weekly volunteer who brings food for the group, says, “Israel’s group is such an encouragement to my faith. Most of the choir members are older teens and young adults, and it is so inspiring to experience their joy as they worship the Lord. In their young lives they have undergone trials and poverty that I as an American cannot really imagine, yet they are filled with thanksgiving for what they have. Their joy and love for Jesus shines in their faces and through their voices. It is a blessing for our church to be able to connect with brothers and sisters from across the world, and they remind us of how much we too have to be thankful for.”  

One Saturday evening on the car ride home, a choir member asked Israel, “Why is this church doing this for us? What have we done to deserve food and kind treatment?”  

Israel replied, “Because they have Jesus in their heart.”  


Dan Laitinen is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.


Check out a short video of the African music concert at Holy Word, Austin, Texas, at https://vimeo.com/300502188 


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Author: Dan Laitinen
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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

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Teen Talk: Addiction comes in many forms

If you suffer from an addiction, you are not alone. Jesus wants to help you. 

Dinesh Ting Tadepalli

Most days during summer break, I would wake up around 8:50 a.m., turn on the TV, and just lie on the couch. 

Here’s the problem: There are shows always airing on TV, 24/7. Because of this, I would constantly watch TV, while also constantly text on my phone. I never wanted to miss a single episode on TV or text from my phone. It was clear that I was addicted. Overall, I was pretty sluggish during summer break. I didn’t want to do anything else. 

And it did not work out for my good. Heading toward the first day of the school year, I was very lazy. Though I didn’t often watch TV during the school year, I was on my phone frequently. I was addicted to my phone. You could say my motto at that time was “First play, then work.” I wanted to know what the next message would be. I’d tell myself every couple of minutes to do my homework thoroughly and diligently. But later, I found myself cramming in my homework at the last second before school.  

My irresponsibility eventually led to a huge blow when I saw my first quarter grades. It was the worst quarterly GPA of my high school years. I wanted to hide the grades, but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t go back in time and change them. What happened happened. The toothpaste was already out of the tube, and I couldn’t put it back. My addiction was controlling my life and my grades. What happened during summer break had taken over.  

I know I’m not alone. Others daily and excessively use drugs and/or cigarettes, play video games, watch pornography, or text on their phone. They sacrifice what is important for their addiction.  

And the worst is that your addiction cannot be seen as okay, because it’s slaughtering your faith in what matters most—Jesus Christ. You think of him less and less. It may happen that what you want becomes more important than your faith.   

Jesus is what should be meaningful in your life. He lived a perfect life and died not just for your addiction, but also for all of your wrongdoings. There may be consequences of your addiction, like my poor semester grades. But God annihilated the spiritual consequence—eternal death. God doesn’t see you as a filthy sinner. Despite your addiction, he sees you as his holy and righteous child. Because of Jesus, God delights in you. 

When you remember that, you can do something about your addiction. To destroy a sinful addiction, you have to take it out by the root. If you are addicted to drugs and/or cigarettes, throw them all in the garbage. If it is video games, uninstall all your games and use your computer less frequently. If it is pornography, block it and get rid of your computer. If it is texting, power off your phone and do something that gives glory to God. You may also need to seek counseling. But what’s even more important is to stay strong in your faith. 

If you think that you’ll never get rid of your addiction, you’re actually right. You probably can’t get rid of it. But Jesus can. Nothing is impossible through him. With his strength, you can conquer your addiction. He is always by your side.


Dinesh Ting Tadepelli, a junior at Lakeside Lutheran High School, Lake Mills, Wisconsin, is a member at Eastside, Madison, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Dinesh Ting Tadepalli
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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