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Majoring on the minors – Part 12

Malachi: “The Son-Rise” 

Thomas D. Kock

It was about a 20-hour trip to reach our summer vacation destination. Since the kids were young, it made more sense to drive through the night while they slept.  

I listened to tapes, slurped down coffee (but not too much so I wouldn’t have to stop), and munched on sunflower seeds. Sometimes I’d slap myself to drive away the sleepiness, or I sat up straight in the driver’s seat. My eyes were often bleary.  

But then would come the sunrise. As its warming rays streaked the sky, the countryside was more and more revealed. Energy crept back into me. Somehow, it didn’t matter that I’d been driving all night. The sun was shining!  

The wounding darkness of sin 

There’s something about a sunrise, isn’t there? Maybe you’ve experienced the all-nighter and the refreshing rise of the sun. Maybe you’re an early morning riser and see the sun rise regularly. Either way, for many of us it’s energizing and encouraging.  

Perhaps that’s why God chose to use that imagery near the end of the book of Malachi: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2). That “sun of righteousness” is Jesus, the Son. And what does Jesus bring? He brings healing!  

And isn’t that what I need as I enter a new year? I have so many wounds from the year past. Some of those wounds came from others as I struggled with health issues or job losses or relationship struggles. Unfortunately, way too many of those wounds were self-inflicted, the results of my own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. 

Oh, how I struggle! Oh, how I make a mess out of so much!  

And it hurts! Sin can bring horrible results, either for me or for those around me—or both. Sometimes it hurts more, sometimes less, but it always hurts. It always wounds. 

Thank God it does! If it didn’t hurt, we’d be even more tempted to live in rebellion against God, walking down the road to hell. Thank God that sin wounds us!  

But even as I thank God for the wounds, they’re still wounds. And the wounds drain energy from me, similar to how the all-night drive through darkness drained my energy.  

The healing light of forgiveness 

Take heart, brothers and sisters; it’s sunrise time again! We’ve just celebrated Jesus’ birth; he came to this world because sinners needed forgiveness. And he won that forgiveness for sinners like you and me.  

With that forgiveness comes healing. Jesus’ death and resurrection assure us that forgiveness for ALL sin has been won. Those sins that were committed last year? They’re forgiven. Jesus won that forgiveness. And the sins that were committed last month? They’re forgiven too! What about the sins that were committed last week? Yesterday? An hour ago? They’re all forgiven. God still loves us! He always will.  

Hearing that is oh, so healing! Kind of like feeling the warm, bright rays of the sun as it rises after a long, cold, dark night.  

May the Son shine brightly upon you in 2019! And may he bring wonderful healing in his wings.  


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


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


MALACHI

Lineage: “Malachi” means “my messenger.”  

Date of writing: c. 450 B.C.  

Unique feature: Written in a dialogue—or disputation—format: a question is posed, and then God answers it. 

Key verse: Malachi 3:6: “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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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A very safe prediction for 2019

Mark G. Schroeder

My wife and children absolutely hate it when I made predictions. That’s because my predictions more often than not are wrong.  

They cringe when I predict a win for our favorite football or baseball team, because that prediction usually guarantees a loss. They moan when I predict good weather for a family event and immediately start preparing to hold the festivities indoors. When they ask who I think will win an election, they don’t have to wait for the results to learn the winner; they just assume the person I predicted to win will be on the losing end of the vote count. 

We are at the beginning of another new year. It’s not only a time for resolutions; it’s also a time for predictions. So, I will make a prediction for 2019. But this prediction will be different from others that I make, so often based only on wishful thinking or an irrational denial of reality. This prediction will be different because it is guaranteed to be correct. 

Here is my prediction: For each one of us, the coming year will bring days of happiness and days of sorrow. There will be the celebration of happy family events like graduations, weddings, births, and anniversaries. But there will also be days of sadness and mourning, when families gather to say good-bye to loved ones, when parents agonize over their children’s unwise choices, when the doctor’s diagnosis jolts us with the worst possible news. 

There will be times of success and achievement at work, with rewards of promotion and pay raises. But there will be times of frustration and disappointment when our efforts fall short, our boss reprimands us, or the layoff notice appears in our final pay envelope. 

In our congregations and in our synod, there will be times when it seems like the Lord is blessing our efforts with great and visible success and growth. But there will also be times when we feel like the Christians in the days of the apostles, undergoing hardship and persecution, under attack from false teachers, wondering if Satan is in fact succeeding in his efforts to destroy God’s church. 

I can predict with absolute certainty that 2019 will bring both joy and sorrow, not because I have any special insight to the future, but because God himself and our own experiences tell us that is exactly what life is like for God’s people living in a fallen world. 

And there is one more prediction that can safely be made about the coming year.  

Whether we experience days of happiness or days of sorrow, whether our plans are crowned with success or end in frustration and failure, whether we leap for joy or stumble under the burden of our crosses, we know that in all these things our gracious God will be working to bless us, to strengthen our faith, and to accomplish his saving purpose in our lives. We will learn to see God’s hand of blessing both in the outwardly happy events in our lives as well as in the difficulties and sorrows he allows. We will be filled with hope and confidence, not because we believe things will always go well, but because we know that in days both happy and sad the God who sacrificed his Son to make us his own will never leave us, never forsake us, and never stop working to turn all things to our eternal good.


Mark Schroeder is president of WELS.


 

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Author: Mark G. Schroeder
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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 2

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 2 and 3

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Introduction 

Revelation is symbolic. That’s important to remember, and symbolic numbers play a big role.  

The number seven (7) is the most common. It is used multiple times in the first chapter. The entire revelation can be conveniently divided into seven parts or visions, with the number seven appearing throughout.  

But Revelation isn’t the first time God uses that number. In the Old Testament the number is also used. While God doesn’t reveal why he chose seven, its association with his covenant seems rather clear. A comforting suggestion could be this: Three is the number for God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); four is the number of the world (four directions); and the sum of these numbers (3+4=7) represents the reconciliation of God and humankind through Christ Jesus.  

Keep that thought in mind as we move forward. The first vision contains a command from Jesus for John to write letters to seven churches.      

Conflict 

What are we to learn from these letters? Some see only prophecy of future events, even seven different and distinct eras of the church’s history. Context, however, leads us more naturally to conclude that Jesus is speaking about “what is now” (1:19) in these letters.  

These were real, ancient, historic cities in Asia Minor where there were real, historic Christian congregations. Real, historic people were the members of those churches. God’s redeemed children, living with their own weaknesses and in enemy territory, were dealing with conflicts from within and without. It was messy. It was tough. False teaching. Flagging love. Ungodly living. Persecution. Poverty. Indifference. Weariness.  

Sound familiar? It was no different for those churches than it is for ours today. And so, we hear Jesus’ words to ancient congregations as his words to Christian congregations in every age and place. Some might hit home more in your place and time than mine. They might apply differently at different stages in the history of individuals, congregations, and church bodies. But they are meant for us, the church militant, struggling in this world. “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (written multiple times in Revelation chapters 2 and 3). 

Comfort 

Go ahead and read the letters. Do you feel comforted? Maybe not. Perhaps you feel convicted. Is your own natural heart exposed by Jesus’ words? Do these letters paint an uncomfortably accurate picture of your congregation or synod?  

Jesus isn’t bashful about pointing out our shortcomings. But he does so in love. He knows the danger posed by unrepentant sin. He knows the damage caused by false teaching and ungodly living. And so he lovingly calls on his people to repent of sin that so easily traps them. He always does this so he can comfort us with his word of redemption and restoration. So be convicted, but also be comforted by his forgiving grace.  

What about when you are persecuted and feeling weak? Hear the voice of Jesus tell you that he knows you and what you are experiencing, just as he knew these ancient believers. Hear him invite you to find comfort in his promises. Victory over every enemy is yours alone in him. The gracious prize of heaven itself awaits those who faithfully cling by faith alone to him. Hide yourself in him, and find your peace and strength and hope in him.  


Reflect on the Revelation  chapters 2 and 3 

  1. With which of the seven churches do you most relate?

   Why? 

Answers will vary.  

Ephesus (2:17): Perseverance and faithfulness. 

Smyrna (2:8-11): Earthly poverty and affliction but still rich. 

Pergamum (2:12-17): Faithfulness to Jesus but need to repent. 

Thyatira (2:18-29): Growth “more than you did at first;” do the Lord’s will to the end. 

Sardis (3:1-6): Wake up. The names of the faithful will not be blotted from the book of life. 

Philadelphia (3:7-13): An open door is before you. You have little strength but have kept his word. Hold on to what you have. 

Laodicea (3:14-22): Lukewarm and thinking more of yourself. Jesus stands at the door and knocks.

2. What prayers (for yourself, your congregation, your synod) do these letters prompt? 

Answers will vary: Consider the list above and pray: 

Dear Jesus, forgive (me, my church, my synod) for (my, our) . . . (choose from list) . . . and protect (me. us) from . . . choose from the list). Send your Holy Spirit so that (I, we) can grow in faith and . . . (choose from list). Hear my prayer because I am your child through your suffering and death. Amen. 

This is only a possible pattern for your prayer. You certainly are free to pray a prayer of your own making. 

3. Which description and/or promise of the Savior do you find most comforting? How will you remind yourself of that comforting truth this week? 

Answers will vary.  

Here are some suggestions. You are free to choose something different. 

Ephesus: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life” (2:7). 

Smyrna: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (2:10). 

Pergamum: “You remain true to my name” (2:13). 

Thyatira: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are not doing more than you did at first” (2:19). 

Sardis: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (3:3). 

Philadelphia: “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name” (3:8). 

Laodicea: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (3:20).  

How will you remember? Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Write a note.
  • Underline what you chooseas the most comforting promise. 
  • Memorizeone verse from each letter. 
  • Reread one letter each day this week.

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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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 3

A time and place for sad reflection

James F. Borgwardt 

Jedidiah Davidson lived an extraordinary life. He was acclaimed as a scholar and songwriter, statesman and orator, a king of international commerce. He lectured expertly on so many topics that people traveled from great distances just to hear him speak. 

Yet, at the end of his life, the successes that astounded others no longer satisfied him. His world-renowned achievements had become hollow trinkets of a restless life apart from God.  

I sat down to listen to him the other day. He introduced himself simply as Teacher. This was King David’s son Jedidiah, better known as Solomon. Reading his contemplative book of Ecclesiastes didn’t take long. His hard-won wisdom was no memoir. His message is unsettling, even jarring: Life under the sun—apart from God—is ultimately meaningless.  

Why would Solomon devote 12 chapters of Scripture in order to make his readers uncomfortable? Because he wanted people to contemplate the serious reality of life here without God. 

In our love for others’ souls, we sometimes need to help them ponder the same reality. That will make them uncomfortable. 

Solomon did so through writing wisdom literature. Jesus did so in conversations. 

“One greater than Solomon is here” 

What Solomon did in 12 chapters, Jesus masterfully accomplished in a few verses. 

The young man entered the conversation with Jesus, expecting the Teacher to point him to the one piece missing from his carefully constructed life. Jesus intended to blow it up. Lovingly. 

“Just then 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. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments’ ” (Matthew 19:16,17). 

The young man’s opening question exposed two fallacies in his thinking. He underestimated who Jesus was in merely calling him “Teacher,” and he overestimated himself in assuming he was one special work away from making his good life complete.   

Jesus wanted him to do some deep thinking and question his assumptions. Then he answered the question with the Ten Commandments. The man clearly needed the affliction of the law rather than the comfort of the gospel.  

But notice a second purpose for Jesus’ answer: Jesus first found common ground on Mt. Sinai with this Jewish man. The commandments drew the man deeper into a genuine conversation. 

“ ‘Which ones?’ he inquired. 

“Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (vv 18-19). 

The man wanted specifics. Jesus chose to list the love-your-neighbor commandments because they are easy to keep in a superficial way. They were probably the man’s favorites. More common ground. Many people today genuinely feel the same way. “I’m a faithful spouse. I put in an honest day’s work. I’m not a gossip-monger.” Check. Check. Check. 

“ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ 

Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ ” (vv. 20,21). 

The man was betting his eternity on superficial keeping of the commandments! Jesus challenged him: If he truly loved his neighbor as he claimed, he would use his wealth to help them in their need. And if he loved God more than wealth, he’d be willing to part with all of it.  

The One who is good did a good thing for this man. Jesus dropped both tablets of the Law on him to break the hold that money had on his heart.  

“When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (v. 22). 

We hope the man soon came to the same conclusion as Solomon: “Whoever loves money never has enough; . . . As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?”(Ecclesiastes 5:10,11).  

It’s been said, “Your world will wobble when it orbits the wrong sun.” That’s true for any unbeliever. But coming to that realization may take some time for serious reflection.  

Our work as evangelists includes leading people to wrestle with views of the world that are wrong. They need to recognize the futile end to their faulty reasoning. 

Solomon says this is a good thing“Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:3). Sadness wasn’t the end goal for Solomon or Jesus, of course. Bringing people to contrition prepares them for the gospel. As Solomon’s father wrote, “A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). 

How do we do this? When we don’t have the wisdom of either Solomon or Jesus, how can we possibly go about the same task that they did so well? 

A time for everything 

In an age of instant this and that, we need to remember that witnessing is sometimes a matter of timing. Here too we can take a page from both Jesus and Solomon.  Ecclesiastes chapter 3 begins “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . .” 

  • “A time to tear down and a time to build”(v.3). The worldview of unbelievers must be torn down before their lives can be built on the foundation of grace in Christ. Allow them to do most of the demolition themselves. But you can get the project started by asking a good clarification question, such as “How did you come to that conclusion?” 
  • “A time to be silent and a time to speak” (v. 7). Though we love to tell the story of God’s grace in Christ, you may hold it back for a season. Let them wrestle with themselves rather than with you. Jesus didn’t run after the sad young man. And Solomon leaves the reader with an unsettled feeling.  
  • “[God] has also set eternity in the human heart” (v. 11). God has set a conscience in there too. All people have an innate understanding that there is more than this life under the sun, but they may need to think on it more deeply. That sleeping conscience might just need a little nudge from you. 

But unless the situation calls for it, don’t feel the need to drop both tablets of the Law on their heads. One Christian apologist said: It’s enough to put a stone in their shoe.  

Plant a thought that challenges their worldview. Then pray for them as they go on their restless way, searching for truth and satisfaction. “There is a time to search and a time to give up” (v. 6). 

And when they give up, they’ll hear Jesus calling them, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened . . . and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28,29). 


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


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


 

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Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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 find Jesus : Part 3

When we share our faith, every situation—and every person—idifferent. 

Jeremiah J. Gumm 

“If your God is so almighty, why is there poverty in Africa?”  

I was a new pastor fresh out of the seminary. I had just walked into George’s living room for an every member visit. George’s wife was a longtime member of our congregation, but George? At the time, he had little use for God or the church. When I walked into his living room, George was sitting on the couch watching television. A commercial for a charity helping children in Africa appeared on the screen. George turned to me and fired off his challenge before I could even introduce myself as the new pastor. 

So how did I respond? I would love to tell you that I responded in a way that reached George in that moment in his life. But looking back, I’m not sure how I answered. I know that I made some quick, fumbling attempt to address his question rather than taking the time to get to know George better and to understand his story.  

Why was George so quick to question God’s ability to provide for his world? Why did George seem so angry, so bitter, so hardened toward God and his Word?  

No silver bullet 

Trying to answer George’s challenge with a silver-bullet answer from the Bible—and a poorly fired one at that—failed to get at the heart of George’s objections to God and his Word. In time, I got to know George and the story of his difficult life. He had lost his parents at a young age, dealt with the hardships of living in Nazi-controlled Europe as a young man, and then started a new life from the ground up in America. As I listened, the Lord provided opportunities for me to give the reason for the hope that we have. In time, the Lord worked through his Word patiently shared. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a silver-bullet response to fire at every objection that comes your way? “How can there be a good God in such an evil world?” Zing! “Doesn’t science discredit religion?” Zing! “Why should I believe in the Bible? It’s so ancient and outdated!” Zing! “There are many paths to God.” Zing! Wouldn’t it be nice to simply turn a page of your Bible and drop another silver bullet in the chamber ready to cut down the next objection that comes your way? It sure would. 

While such an approach may win an apologetic argument and give you another notch in your belt, it rarely wins the war for that person’s soul. Rarely does it convince someone of the importance of the gospel, of sins forgiven and heaven opened wide through the blood of Christ. Rarely do such responses work if you do not take the time to get to know the person and his or her story. 

Building the bridge 

To truly help people find Jesus, you need to build a relationship with them. You need to spend time getting to know them and giving them the opportunity to get to know you. You need to spend time getting to know their story—their background, their life experience, their personality. You need to ask questions and actively listen.  

Why? You have the most precious treasure of all in the gospel. You want that person to enjoy that treasure for all eternity.  

Think of it this way. If you had to carry a priceless artifact across a deep and dangerous ravine, would you want to cross that ravine on a rickety, jungle bridge with planks breaking beneath your feet? Or would you prefer to cross that ravine on a strong bridge made of steel and concrete that can bear the weight of even the heaviest trucks? Unless you are Indiana Jones, you want to carry that priceless treasure across the bridge of concrete and steel. So too your sharing of the gospel. Patiently building a connection—no matter what the objections—enables you to convey the gospel in such a way that is personal, respectful, and understanding. 

Building that bridge to that person who objects to our God and his Word is so very important because every person is different. While the gospel is the same, how you respond to questions and opportunities to share it will likely be very different, depending on the person.  

Responding to George was very different from responding to an agnostic former scientist that I once met in a hospital waiting room. The man had retired from the Canadian Ministry of Science. Growing up, he had attended church. He had learned about the Bible. At one time, he had even believed what the Bible said. Yet for much of his adult life, this man had been a proponent of evolutionary theory. He had accepted the argument of evolution that dismissed the Bible as legend and myth. He understood the science and agreed with what the Ministry of Science put forward as fact. Yet something bothered him as he got older. “I know the science, but I hope that what I learned as a child is true,” he said. That was all the confidence he had as he got older and the possibility of dying became more of a reality. There was a sadness about the man. At that moment, I knew exactly what he needed to hear, but sadly, he was not willing to listen. I did not have another opportunity to speak with him. 

How do you reach people where they are? How do you convey the gospel to those who reject or misunderstand God’s Word? You get to know them. You learn their story. You seek to dig beneath their objections. What life experiences made them so bitter toward the church? What happened that made them so angry at God? Why do they reject God’s Word so sharply? How did they get to this point? What is their story?  

To learn someone’s story takes God-given patience and compassion. It means keeping that silver bullet response in the chamber to let Christlike love for that person’s soul keep the bridge open. It means recognizing that no matter how frustrated you are, you need patiently to keep that bridge of communication open for the next opportunity the Lord might present. It means going out on a limb and asking tough questions that peel back what is really the story behind a particular objection. It means taking advantage of even the slightest opening or opportunity that the Lord presents. It takes gentleness and respect for each person. It takes understanding of that person’s situation. Ultimately, it takes love for his or her soul to connect that person to the Savior.  

To share Christ’s story, learn their story! 


Jeremiah Gumm is pastor at King of Kings, Maitland, Florida. 


This is the third 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: Jeremiah J. Gumm
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?

I see a lot of upsidedown crosses these days in tattoos, posts on social media, and drawings on kids’ notebooks. I know its origin is biblical, but it doesn’t seem like people are using it that way. Is the symbol now anti-Christian? 

James F. Pope

The meaning people inject into symbols and images can vary, and that is certainly the case with what you are seeing. 

Christian cross 

Centuries ago, Christians developed symbols to depict the lives and ministries of Jesus’ apostles. One of the symbols associated with the apostle Peter is an upside-down cross.  

After the risen Lord instructed Peter to feed his lambs and sheep, Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). While Jesus spoke of the future need for Peter to receive assistance in life, some people understood Jesus’ words about Peter “stretching out his hands” to mean that someday his hands would be stretched out on a cross.  

Then, some traditions speak of Peter’s desire to be crucified in a manner that differed from Jesus’ crucifixion—presumably because he did not consider himself worthy to die as Jesus did.  

For unsubstantiated reasons like these, an upside-down cross became a symbol for Peter. 

Satanic symbol 

Not surprisingly, Satan hates the cross and anything connected to Jesus Christ and his redeeming work. The fact that Satan’s followers blaspheme the cross of Christ by inverting it should not catch Christians by surprise either. The apostle Paul offers this reminder: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18). To Satan’s followers, it is not just the message of the cross that is foolishness, but it is also the Christian symbol of the cross that is foolishness. The devil’s disciples have expressed that attitude of foolishness by turning the cross upside-down. 

The Church of Satan explains on its website that its members are free to use the upside-down cross as an indication of their rejection of Jesus Christ. They make it clear, however, that the inverted cross is not their official symbol; the Sigil of Baphomet is. 

Trendy times 

Finally, there is a third group of people who might use an upside-down cross in everyday life. Those are people who do not put any significance into using that symbol—it’s just the trendy thing. College students I talked to confirmed this prevalent attitude today.   

Whether it is the clothing they wear, the tattoos they sport, or the genre of music to which they listen, young people might get caught up in the latest trends without intending to make any kind of statement. Those same students also reminded me that Christians might have a tattoo of a cross on their arms that is right side up to them but upside-down to others. 

So, where does all this leave us? It means that when you see someone with an upside-down cross, you may not know what the intended message is until, and unless, you ask that person.  

When it comes to Christians, there is no mistaking our use of the cross: “Lift high the cross; the love of Christ proclaim till all the world adore his sacred name” (Christian Worship 579).  


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 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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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Epiphanies change everything

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.  Acts 9:18-20. 

Peter M. Prange 

One of the most famous epiphanies in world history took place when a Greek mathematician named Archimedes jumped into his bathtub and noticed that the water level rose the further he submerged himself. This discovery allowed him to measure the volume of an irregular shape and unravel a conundrum he was asked to solve for his king. As the story goes, the naked Archimedes jumped out of his bathtub and ran through the streets of Syracuse, shouting “Eureka!” (Greek for “I found it!”). He had a grand epiphany. He wanted to share the good news. 

It was as if a lightbulb had suddenly gone on. Archimedes had taken baths before, so the truth he now discovered had always been there. It had simply eluded him. Finally, he saw it. Eureka! What a change! 

Celebrating Paul’s epiphany 

The same can be said of the apostle Paul. It wasn’t as if Jesus became the Son of God and the Savior of the world the day Paul first realized it. That had always been true of Jesus, even when Paul failed to see it and stubbornly worked to snuff out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus was Paul’s Savior, whether he believed it or not. 

Paul openly acknowledged his former life in darkness under Judaism, how he “was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13) and how he had put many Christians in jail and voted for their execution (Acts 26:10). But then on the road to Damascus, something changed. Paul saw the light of Jesus, literally! He had an epiphany. He came to understand how backward his perspective had been, and it changed everything. 

For many centuries Christians have celebrated Paul’s grand epiphany and conversion on Jan. 25, during the season of Epiphany. His conversion and apostolic ministry are emblematic of the great mystery of God’s saving will, how he shines light on utter darkness.  

Sharing God’s truth 

One would think that Saul would be the last person on earth Jesus would be interested in saving. If anyone deserved to suffer forever for his resistance to the saving gospel, it was Paul. Who could possibly be a more unlikely candidate for conversion than someone who was openly attacking Christians, even seeking their extermination? 

But Jesus does the unexpected, and Paul marveled at the irony. The apostle also understood the Savior’s purpose. “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Paul’s conversion proves many things, but it demonstrates one thing above all: Jesus’ love and forgiveness extends to every sinner, whether they know it or not, whether they believe it or not. No situation is too hopeless. Epiphanies happen. 

When Paul discovered the truth, he couldn’t help but share it. His epiphany changed everything. We have the same privilege today. Our faith in Jesus as the world’s Savior is not just an opinion or one saving truth among many. It’s a singular, objective truth, whether people believe it or not. 

It’s our task to proclaim that truth. It’s Jesus’ job to turn on the light and provide the epiphanies. 


Contributing editor Peter Prange is pastor at Bethany, Kenosha, Wisconsin.


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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 we protect kids without scaring them?

How can we protect kids without scaring them? 

When I was a child, McGruff the crime dog taught us about “stranger danger,” and “Mr. Yuk” stickers alerted us to the phone number for poison control. Boom. My parents’ job was done. We kids knew how to handle dangerous situations.  

That’s probably an exaggeration, but it’s how I remember my childhood. Today as a parent I feel like the dangers have multiplied. School shootings. Child trafficking. Cyber stalking. These are the new fears that prey on parents’ minds—and that are splashed on media outlets each day for our kids to hear about and see images of.  

So, how do we alert our kids to the dangers around us without scaring them? Dan Nommensen and Sarah Reik offer practical solutions that we can start incorporating into our lives today. 

Nicole Balza


How can we protect our kids without scaring them? I think it’s possible to look at this question and focus on at least two different aspects. The first is the practical reality of communicating issues of safety in an age-appropriate way with our kids (for help with that, see Sarah Reik’s article). But the second part of this question involves my own reaction to living in a sinful world with all its potential dangers, pitfalls, and challenges for my kids. As I look at this question with that in mind, I have to say, “Moms and Dads, I’m scared! I really am!” 

In so many ways we can now get instant access to every newsfeed, channel, blog, app, and site that inconveniently keeps us up to date on all the stories of our broken and sinful world. Then, after all that, it’s time to send our kids to the first day of kindergarten or high school or worse—college!  

We not only hear all the detailed ways people’s lives are hurt, but we also have our own life experiences and the hardships we have had to face. Unlike our kids and their developing brains, we are better able to appreciate consequences, dangers, and even our own mortality. Yep—not gonna lie. I get scared for my kids. At times I think, How could I possibly do enough to keep them safe? 

An example to consider. Have you ever read the account in Exodus chapter 2 when Moses’s mother hid Moses from the king of Egypt for three months when he sent out a decree to kill all the baby boys? Moses’s mother did all she could do to keep Moses safe from this danger for the first three months of his life but then came to appreciate the reality that she simply couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t be discovered and be put to death. So she made a basket and sent him adrift down the Nile River. By faith and trusting that God would protect her baby, she watched that basket float away. We know how the Lord protected Moses when he was discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved him from all that could have happened.  

This example of a parent’s trust in God has given me such relief from my own fear. It has reminded me that God is truly in control—not me. As much as I like to think that I have built an impenetrable fortress of safety around my kids, that fortress is nothing compared to the everlasting and immeasurable love God has for my kids.  

A God to rely on. The reality of living in a broken and sinful world means that my kids won’t be living in a protected bubble here on earth. The absence of all evil and danger will come in heaven. Until then, all the dangers of evil will be present in the lives of my children. Let’s remember this—God loves my kids even more than I am capable of loving them. Remember he not only provides his protection, but he also sent his own Son to die for us and our children. When my kids feel the effect of their brokenness and face the results of sin, his love and forgiveness are still there.  

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). 

God is there when they start school or work or even their own family. God is there in the midst of all the joys. God is there at the school parties, on the dates, on the bus, in the subway, on the trip to study abroad. God is there to give strength to resist temptations. God is there when the bad choices are made and consequences come. What a privilege that we have been given to foster faith in our children so they (and we) can always see the Lord’s presence.  

It seems to me that protecting our kids and talking with them about the scary things in life starts with our own recognition of fear and the opportunity we have to trust our Lord. Let the conversations and teachable moments with our kids flow from a parent’s heart of confident trust in God.  


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son. Dan is also a licensed professional counselor and the coordinator of the Member Assistance Program for WLCFS—Christian Family Solutions. 


When my oldest child was very young, we were at our pediatrician’s office for his yearly physical. As she was checking him all over, she reminded him that only doctors and Moms and Dads can look at private parts of his body. She said that if anyone else ever does, he should say, “No,” and then tell Mom or Dad what happened.  

I remember having a mixture of emotions at that time—fear that something so horrible might ever happen to my son, guilt that I hadn’t thought to have that conversation with him before the doctor did, and sadness that it’s a necessary conversation at all. I was also struck by how matter-of-fact she was as she said those things and how my son seemed unaffected while my own emotions were churning.  

How do we talk to our children about staying safe without scaring them unnecessarily? It is an important part of our responsibility as parents to equip our children with tools to keep them safe, and in order to do that, we need to be realistic about dangerous situations they might face. At the same time, I have talked with adults who continue to struggle with fear and anxiety placed on them at an early age from well-meaning parents who were trying to be protective. So how do we achieve a healthy balance in our conversations?  

I believe there are two important concepts to keep in mind.  

Talk to your children about what they can control. We know as Christians that there has always been sin and evil in the world and there will be until Christ returns. We can’t change that. When we focus on stories of bad things in this fallen world that are out of their control, that breeds worry. Let’s talk to our children instead about what they can control.  

Instead of asking, “What are the dangers?” ask, “What are safe choices?” Avoid the phrase “stranger danger,” and focus on “stranger awareness.” Discuss how to talk to strangers and how to get help from safe strangers. (Statistics tell us that most children are victimized by people they know, so strangers aren’t the issue.)  

Role-play with your children what they can do if they are in a potentially dangerous situation so that they have a chance to practice and feel confident. Make it fun. (I’m always a fan of role-playing with stuffed animals. They’re cute, and then they serve a purpose other than cluttering my house.) Teach confident body language like smiling and eye contact. Teach assertiveness skills. “No, I don’t keep secrets from Mom and Dad.” “That’s not okay, and I’m going to tell someone.”  

Here are a few clear safety guidelines we can share with our children from early on: 

  • Know your name, address, and phone number.
  • Other than doctors or parents, don’t let anyone touch your private parts or tell you to touch theirs.
  • Tell a trusted adult if something or someone makes you uncomfortable. Keeping secrets is never safe.
  • If you get lost, freeze and wait for the adult youwere with to come back and find you.  
  • Don’t share personal information online.
  • Respect dangerous items like matches and weapons.

By teaching our children what they can say and do, we empower them instead of scare them.  

Control your own fear. I am scared of heights. I am proud to say that my children are not. The few times I’ve been brave enough to go on a Ferris wheel with my children, I’ve taken deep, silent breaths, and smiled and gushed about how beautiful it is to be up so high.  

When we talk to our children about staying safe, it is important first to be calm ourselves regarding the issue we are discussing. If you find it is difficult to keep your own anxiety at bay, either because you struggle with anxiety in general or because you were the victim of something yourself as a child, seek help from a trusted friend or professional so that you do not pass along your fears.  

I can equip my children to help them stay safe, but I cannot protect them perfectly. It always comforts me to remember that my children are God’s first. He claimed them by Baptism, forgave them, and made them his own. He has given them guardian angels, and he is working even harder than I am to protect them. Rest securely in that truth, and share it with your children. 


Sarah Reik and her husband have four grade-school-aged children. Sarah is also a licensed professional counselor with WLCFS—Christian Family Solutions.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

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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