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A gospel-filled life: Part 1

simple way to pray  

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Learning to swim can be traumatic enough. But in the captivating memoir The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls tells of her father’s no-nonsense way of getting her to swim. He simply tossed her in the pool. If the desire to live was strong enough, he figured, she’d figure out a way to keep her head above water and eventually learn to swim.   

Devotional encouragement 

God’s people sometimes feel similar sensations after repeated encouragements to read the Bible and do devotions. At times we just want to tiptoe around the edge of the pool. We stare apprehensively into the water and stay perched safely on the outside. 

Thankfully, God promises to work through his Word: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11). 

We also have practical encouragement to jump into our devotions on God’s Word.  Five hundred years ago, Peter the Barber was an average Christian who took seriously the encouragement to make devotional practices an essential part of his daily routines. A personal friend to Martin Luther, he was frustrated by attempts to engage in this unfamiliar task, and so he appealed to Luther for guidance. Luther wrote the little booklet A Simple Way to Pray to help his friend.  

Devotional instructions 

Unsurprisingly, Luther encouraged devotional habits that make prayer a priority. He instructed his friend to make devotions his first activity every day. He also suggested that finding a private, quiet place would be beneficial. 

But what should one do during that study? Start with something simple and familiar such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, any part of the catechism, or even any part of Scripture as a basis for your devotions.  

Luther’s suggestions came from his own personal experiences. He suggested that you fashion “a garland of four strands” based on your topic for the day. Those four strands mean you think of the Scripture passage or portion of the catechism in four ways: 

  1. Consider what your reading teaches you.
  2. Discover what in your reading makes you thankful.
  3. Think what leads you to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. 
  4. Respond to the Lord with a prayer on what you have learned.

This is the time of year when lots of children start to feel cooped up. Parents look for appropriate ways to allow them to burn off some energy without risking their health and safety. Swimming lessons provide a great opportunity to play and learn at the same time. Toddlers can jump into the shallow end with certified swim instructors within arm’s reach. More advanced swimmers can work out to improve their skills.  

Devotions don’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Jump in. Start with Scripture. It can be something simple and familiar. Using Luther’s four strands can help you get going:  

  1. See what God is teaching you in Scripture.  
  2. Respond to God in thanksgiving. 
  3. Confess your shortcomings. 
  4. Offer requests to God based on Scripture.

Whether we tiptoe into the shallow end or dive into the deep end, God promises to work powerfully in the lives of his children through his Word. 


Contributing editor Jeffrey Enderle is pastor at Christ the Rock, Farmington, New Mexico.  


This is the first article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.


Want to read Martin Luther’s booklet, A Simple Way to Pray? It’s available at Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net; 1-800-662-6022. 


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 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 see Jesus : Part 4

Ask Questions Before You Confront 

Jeremiah J. Gumm 

When Michael first walked through our doors, I wonder if he even knew what he believed. One thing was certain, his search for answers had left him with a confused “religious” worldview. Growing up, his family had been Episcopalian, but in late junior high, he became an atheist. A teacher in high school helped him return to the Episcopalian church. In time, he got fed up with the liberal teachings of his church. So he started dabbling in Islam. Michael was a security guard and a couple of his co-workers were Muslims. He found Islam’s strict, morally conservative teachings to be attractive and fascinating. He considered converting, but was not quite ready to take the plunge. 

He started checking out Lutheran churches. Liberal Lutheran churches failed to provide the answers he sought. Then one Reformation Sunday, he showed up at our church for worship, full of questions, misguided views, and searching for truth. 

I have to admit that my initial conversations with Michael were rather frustrating. I had difficulty identifying whether he was raising an actual objection or if he was simply playing devil’s advocate from the perspective of Islam, atheism, or a liberal, progressive Christianity. I would have been wise to remember what James wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (1:19). Unfortunately, I tended to be slow to listen and quick to speak, which caused our early conversations to circle round and round without actually getting at the heart of Michael’s objections and questions. 

In time, though, the Lord taught me to listen to Michael’s objections, to ask questions to better understand what his objections actually were. For example, when Michael and I would discuss Christ’s death on the cross, he would often bring up an objection that likely came from his conversations with his Muslim co-workers—an objection he himself could not answer satisfactorily. “If Jesus is God’s son and God the Father had Jesus die on a cross, then God would have to be an abusive father since he would be putting his son through so much suffering, torture, and pain.” By that logic, Jesus’ death on the cross would make God no better than an abusive father. 

How do you respond to that? Without taking the time to unpack that objection with thoughtful questions to get further explanation, it would be very tempting to attack that objection with a vengeance. After all, this objection blasphemes our God! But what was at the heart of Michael’s objection? What questions could be asked “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15b) that would peel away the layers of misunderstanding and help Michael to truly see the compassionate love of God for sinners demonstrated in the sending of his Son Jesus Christ? What questions would help me understand the source of Michael’s objection and enable me to respond? 

Michael’s objection started from the premise that God is a holy God of power and control who forces people to submit to his will. That is a commonly held view of Allah among Muslims. Tied to that initial premise is the question whether Jesus Christ is truly God or not—another Muslim objection to the Christian faith. Jesus is acknowledged to be a prophet, but he is not Allah. From that perspective, Michael’s objection makes sense. If Jesus is actually God’s son and if Jesus did actually did suffer and die on the cross, then God must be forcing his son to suffer and die, rightly earning him the charge of “abuser.” 

Yet what was Michael missing? He was missing a complete picture of the God of the Bible—the God who is love—described in 1 John 4:9,10, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” That is not the God of Islam. Yet Michael needed to see the God whose love for sinners moved him to act on our behalf, to sacrifice what was most precious to him—his one and only Son—to reconcile us to himself. Michael needed to see that that God is not an abusive father forcing his son to suffer, but the God who loves us even when we were dead and hostile in our sins. So questions needed to be asked to help Michael see the God of love he was missing. 

Yet Michael still had objections and questions—objections that required further investigation, further questions to sort through the confusion of his religious worldview, further discussions on what he actually believed and what others tried to convince him to believe. Related to the last objection, Michael would sometimes say, “If Jesus is God and if Jesus willingly died on the cross, then he is a suicidal God.” To that I would often ask him, “What about the parent who pushes their child out of the way of an oncoming truck only to be struck themselves and severely injured or killed? Were they ‘suicidal’ in that moment? If not, then what would you call that?” “What of the soldier who falls on a hand grenade tossed into a mess tent full of soldiers? Was he ‘suicidal’ in that moment? 

If not, then what would you call that?” While there was logic to Michael’s argument, he was missing the element of love and concern for others. He again was missing the most important element when it comes to any discussion on the death of Christ—the love of God for undeserving sinners demonstrated in the death of Christ our Savior. 

So what can you do when others object to Christianity? Being prepared “to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15) means you need not cower in fear at their objections. In fact, many objections to Christianity actually do not make sense when you explore them further. Ask questions to help you understand what they mean. How does that person support their opinion? Why do they believe what they believe? Do they have proof for their objection or is this just opinion? Are they just parroting what they have heard from others? Much like trying to understand the context behind an objection, it is vitally important that we ask questions to understand the actual objection that is posed to us. 

At the same time, we do so “with gentleness and respect.” We do not rush to confront the one who poses the objection. Instead we take time to explore further, to better understand why that blood-bought soul before us has these objections to what God’s Word has to say, to take time with people like Michael. 

In the end, Michael eventually moved on. Yet after we had spent considerable time studying God’s Word together and sorting through all his confusion, for the first time in his life, he recognized that the alluring teachings of various “-isms” and Islam did not have what he sought. The Bible was the only reliable source for truth. The questions asked helped Michael to see that. So don’t be afraid to ask if someone objects to your faith. The Lord may just give you an opportunity to help them see the truth for the first time in their lives. 


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


This is the fourth 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 2
Issue: February 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: Luke 10 : Part 1

Pray dangerously 

Eric S. Roecker 

I was sitting at the gate, waiting to board my flight, and I was excited. I was flying to Florida for a golf trip with my buddies. I had never been on a golf trip before, and the thought of spending a few days with nothing to do but play golf and enjoy the company of my friends was exhilarating. The fact that I had not seen some of these friends for years made the anticipation even greater.  

As I sat thinking of warm, sunny days and lush, green fairways, for some reason I remembered something I had heard a pastor say a few months earlier. He encouraged people to pray dangerously when it came to personal evangelism. He explained that praying dangerously meant to ask the Lord to provide opportunities to tell other people about Jesus—and not just to provide those opportunities to pastors and missionaries but to provide those opportunities to you. It was dangerous, he explained, because God might very well say yes. 

Hmm. . . . I thought. I wonder what would happen if I tried that? What if I tried it right here, right now? Like the disciples Jesus sent out, I am his messenger so I decided to pray dangerously. “Lord Jesus,” I prayed silently, “if it is your will, provide me an opportunity to tell someone about you on this flight.”  

This prayer was even more dangerous than you might imagineYou see, I do not chat with people on airplanes. It’s not that I’m not a people person. It’s just that I sometimes get motion sickness when flying. So my standard operating procedure is to take a Dramamine about an hour before takeoff, settle down in a window seat, place my head gently but firmly against the wall, and fall fast asleep. It has proven stunningly successful over the years. I am often out cold before we finish taxiing for takeoff and jerk awake as the wheels hammer the runway upon landing. It keeps me from feeling nauseous and makes flights fly by. 

As I said, asking the Lord to put me next to a person who had never heard the good news about Jesus was dangerous. What if he said yes? What if I got airsick?  What if I fell asleep or was so groggy I couldn’t carry on a conversation? 

Forty-five minutes later, I found myself more curious than usual as I walked down the aisle of the plane to locate my assigned seat. Who would be seated next to me? No one, I discovered. The seat next to mine was open.  

Well, perhaps the Lord has not seen fit to say yes to my request, I thought with some small sense of relief. I shuffled into my seat, strapped the seatbelt around my waist, tilted my head until it rested on the wall to my right, closed my eyes, and looked forward to two hours of Dramamine-induced slumber. Aaah. 

Then I felt a bump. Had someone sat down next to me? I peered through a slightly opened left eyelid. Sure enough, a young woman was just getting settled. I repositioned my eyelid to the closed position to continue my journey to dreamland.  

Then I remembered my prayer. What if she was the answer? What if this young woman did not know her Savior and I slept away my opportunity to tell her about him? 

With a bit of lazy reluctance still clinging to my heart, I opened my eyes, turned, and said, “Hello!” 

“Hi!” She said smartly with a bright smile. 

“Are you heading home or vacationing in Florida?” 

“I’m actually traveling to see my mother for a much-needed break.” 

“Oh! What do you do for a living?” 

“I’m an actress in New York.” 

“What have you been working on?” 

“I’ve spent the last year playing the lead in The Lion King on Broadway.” 

“Really!? Wow!” 

“It’s been an amazing experience. But it has also been exhausting. What do you do for a living?” 

“I’m a Lutheran pastor.” 

“Really!? Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a pastor before. We didn’t really go to church when I was growing up.” 

“So, you don’t know much about the Bible?” 

“I don’t know anything about the Bible.” 

I probably don’t have to tell you that the hair on my neck stood up as straight as the bristles on a brand-new brush. Here was an answer to a prayer I had silently uttered less than an hour earlier.  

I wonder how Jesus’ seventy-two followers felt when he told them that he was sending them out to preach the good news (Luke 10:1-24). Jesus had just instructed them to ask the Lord to send out workers into his harvest field. Then he proceeded to send them. They were the answer to their own prayer! Talk about praying dangerously!  

The young actress and I spent the next two hours discussing who God is and how much he loves us and what he did to save us from the sins that separated us from him. She had many perfectly understandable and reasonable questions. She listened carefully and respectfully to the answers I shared from God’s Word. It was wonderful.  

I was even able to use The Lion King in our conversation. I mentioned that the theme of the musical was the circle of life, that is, we should take comfort in the fact that dying is just a part of life. “Isn’t it interesting, though,” I concluded, “that at the end of the musical, the little lion’s father who had died shows up in the sky and speaks to his son. Even a musical that claims death is just a part of life could not help but reunite the living with the dead. It’s because we all have an inborn desire to live forever. That is what Jesus’ resurrection gives us.” 

As we went our separate ways at the Orlando airport, I told her I would keep her in my prayers and gave her the name of the WELS church in Queens, N.Y., encouraging her to visit.

I have no idea what has happened to her since. But I do know that she heard about her Savior that day. And I have our Lord’s promise that his Word is powerful and effective. This gives me hope that the Holy Spirit found his way into her heart and that, one day, I might meet her again in heaven. 

Are you a person of prayer? Do you regularly spend prayer time asking the Lord to send workers into his harvest field? Good. Those prayers are much needed and well-received by our Lord. But, perhaps you might consider adding a new element to your prayer. You might consider praying a bit more dangerously and ask the Savior to send someone who still needs to learn about him to you. How he chooses to answer that prayer is, of course, up to him. It may not be as immediate and dramatic as it was for me that day. Then again, it might.  

Are you ready to pray dangerously? 


Eric Roecker, the director for WELS Commission on Evangelism, is a member at Pilgrim, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. 


This is the first article in a threepart series on the story of Jesus sending out his disciples in Luke 10.   


 

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Author: Eric S. Roecker
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 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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Called to love, called to speak

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18 

Joel C. Seifert 

What does it look like when the church loves the world? It depends on what you mean by “the church.” 

The “social gospel” movement began its influence on American Christianity a century ago. It taught that the mission Christ gave to the church is to love the world by feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and providing for the needy. Increasingly today, there’s a call for churches to love the world by being involved in “social justice.” The United Nations has declared Feb. 20 “World Social Justice Day.” 

Remember the mission of the church 

God calls the church to love the world. When it comes to our corporate activity as his church, he tells us what that means. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). The church’s primary mission is to proclaim God’s Word in truth and to administer the sacraments. When our churches do this, they proclaim God’s love to the world. 

When the church is called to take an active role in social justice movements, there’s much to be cautious about. We dare not lose our focus on the gospel. It’s easy to give the impression that the goal of the church is to reform society, not preach salvation for sinners. And at times the modern social justice movement advocates for the recognition of immoral lifestyles or actions as legitimate and good. It’s good that a Christian doesn’t take part in such activities.  

But we dare not lose sight of our responsibility to love the world in other ways. 

Remember God’s call to the Christian  

Certainly, God calls the church to love the world by proclaiming the gospel. God calls the Christian to love the world in so many additional ways: We’re to provide for our families and be good citizens and good neighbors, to name a few. Consider also his command in Proverbs: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (31:8,9). 

God calls the Christian to love the world by caring about justice for all and by actively working for it. When individual believers do that, his “invisible church” loves the world. 

What a unique gift Christians are to the world when we do that in our personal lives! Guided by God’s Word, instead of the shifting morals of this world, we can speak up to protect the unborn, because we know that those living souls are precious to God. We can sound a clear call for equal justice for people of all economic and ethnic backgrounds, knowing all of mankind is created and loved by God. We can listen to God’s call to defend the rights of the poor and needy, rejoicing in Jesus’ promise that when we do this, we do it for him. 

February is a month when we love to talk about love. Let’s always encourage our churches to keep their focus on the proclamation of the gospel. And let that gospel message continue to encourage us to love our neighbor in action and in truth. God grant that he blesses this world as his people love others by speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. 


Contributing editor Joel Seifert is pastor at Beautiful Savior, Marietta, Georgia. 


 

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Author: Joel C. Seifert
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 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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Serving those who serve

The Care Committee for Called Workers (CCCW), part of the WELS Commission on Special Ministries, exists to help congregations provide spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional care to their pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. This can take on many forms, depending on the needs of the workers and congregations, but one constant is that congregations with a CCCW place a high value on aiding and supporting those who serve them. 

Kurt Holzhueter, an investment advisor and member at Christ Our Savior, Rockford, Mich., was asked to produce information on retirement planning for the CCCW a few years ago. He’s now the chairman of the group. While retirement planning is his specialty and one of the latest efforts from the committee, Holzhueter says that other areas such as help when moving for a new call and acclimating to a new community, confidential spiritual care or counseling, and continuing education are also ways a congregation’s care committee can help its called workers. 

Lisa Schroeder and her husband, Bob, have been serving on the CCCW at Immanuel, Greenville, Wis., for about 10 years. At Immanuel, Lisa explains, the committee is made up of couples, and while it doesn’t need to be that way, it works out well as they try to support the called workers and their families. Each committee member has “designated” workers whom they follow up with and help as needed.  

“The reason we got involved is because the called workers are so important to us and we want to make sure they have support and know that they’re appreciated,” says Schroeder. “We try to meet with them periodically, once to twice a year, to get together with them and see how things are going and if there’s something we can do to be of service to them. We always mention if they have any concerns they’d like to bring to us anonymously or would like any assistance with, we’d be glad to help with that. And, also we let them know we’re praying for them and praying for their ministry.” 

One aspect that Schroeder coordinates is helping new workers move to Greenville, whether it’s organizing a moving company, getting volunteers together to help unload boxes, or getting a meal together for the family on their first night in town. 

“Our called workers are giving their lives to share the gospel and they need our support, and it’s so good to get to know them on a level you might not otherwise,” says Schroeder. “It’s just been such a positive experience. 

Holzhueter says that many congregations do not have an active CCCW but he would like to see more congregations do something, even if it’s not a formal committee, to make sure its workers’ needs are being met. “To get more participation from congregations, we’re trying to make things simpler, easier to get started, and a little less formal,” he says. 

The CCCW has many resources available online, including a quick-start guide, to help a congregation get started on forming a care committee for their workers, as well as additional aids for specific areas of assistance.  


Find more information about Care Committee for Called Worker resources at wels.net/cccw. Also, in this month’s edition of WELS Connection, learn about how congregations can help and support new pastors through a mentoring program.  


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Author:
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 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 parents model healthy cell phone use?

How can parents model healthy cell phone use?

Do you ever feel like your smartphone use is out of control and you’re not sure how it happened?  

I am not an early adapter, so I didn’t jump right on the smartphone wagon. Gradually, though, it crept into my life. First I wanted the camera. Then I liked the idea of being able to check my work e-mail when I was on the go since I do much of my work from home (or from my minivan). Somehow, my phone is now my lifeline. All my recipes live there as well as my music, videos, and to-do lists. I do most of my shopping on my phone. I stay in touch with family and friends via texting. Almost any question that is asked can be answered by checking my phone. Weather? Directions? Calendar? You get the picture.  

My uses feel legitimate—and they may be—but all that my kids know is that Mom is always on her phone. If you relate to any of this, read our articles this month—and join me in resolving to make a change. 

Nicole Balza


Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are struggling to determine what healthy cell phone use looks like?  

Value 

Struggling can be good because it helps us identify our values. I really love how God tells us in Deuteronomy to love him wholly—to value him above all things. He doesn’t say fleetingly or haphazardly share his words and precepts. He says, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).  

We value our God who saved us, and we value the children he’s entrusted to us. And, since we are people using media devices who are raising children in the way of the Lord, how we use and model using devices is an important topic of our struggle . . . when we walk along the road (or drive to school), when we put our kids to bed (or sit in the family room)—really at any and all times. 

Evaluate 

Remember the expression, “more is caught than taught.” Our kids are watching us and listening—weighing what we say against what we do. Short of some cataclysmic dystopian accident, cell phones are not going away. Children can see if the device appears more interesting to us than the people around us do.  

There is value in struggling with how to have and show healthy media habits. Notice when you choose to give attention to a device. While it’s fine to view entertainment online and be connected to others, it’s also good to evaluate: “Is my media time excessive or to the exclusion of those around me?” Evaluate whether you would allow or encourage those choices for your child. 

Value in struggle 

Recently, I was sitting with my youngest daughter when she beelined to retrieve my beeping phone. I thanked her and told her to leave the phone in the other room because I was spending time with her. The phone could wait.  

Herein lies a struggle. We will have times when we need to take phone calls and answer messages. We also don’t want to give the impression that we value what’s on the other side of the beep more than we value the people present. 

The apostle Paul reminds us that just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s constructive to do so. He writes, “ ’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). 

Evaluate how your personal habits appear to your child. Would your son notice that Dad stops what he’s doing to check every notification or that Mom checks her social media in the middle of conversations? None of these situations are necessarily wrong, but each one begs us to evaluate and struggle with: “Is this how I want my child to interact with those around him?” Where are the boundaries—or where would I want them to be? 

There is no magic pattern to win the “best media boundaries parent award.” Yet being aware and evaluating media choices makes a difference. Share your values and discuss what you are doing: “I’m putting the phone away because . . .” 

You may show healthy boundaries by deliberately putting the phone out of reach more often. Explain why you don’t want phones at meals or decide the family will all put them in the other room or turn them off during family time. Even declare the hour that it’s absolutely okay for everyone to catch up on their favorite media platform.  

Let your children have input—work through this together so your family can use these God-given tools in moderate, healthy ways.  There will be some struggling, tweaking, and reevaluating, but sharing your values with your children is priceless. 


Amy Vannieuwenhoven and her husband, Charlie, have four children ranging in age from a fourth-grader to a high school senior. Amy is a teacher at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and the author of Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You from Northwestern Publishing House. 


Our families are at war with technology and digital communication. At a time when information is more readily available than ever and we can connect with friends and loved ones in an instant, depression and anxiety among young adults and parents increase. Many report feeling disconnected from their families because of technology. So something that was designed with the intention to keep us connected actually makes us feel more lonely!  

As beloved children of our heavenly Father, we were designed to be in relationships with one another. The very nature of our triune God points to the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our digital age has given us a false sense of interconnectedness by giving us so much information that we assume our relationships are more complete than they might actually be. Instead, we are lonely because we’ve stopped looking into each other’s eyes, and we’re anxious because we feel that we need to post or perform to receive attention. 

This year, consider making a digital resolution to turn off the smartphone at dinner; forget the in-the-moment Facebook post; and talk face to face with family, friends, and especially your children. Your commitment to set a digital resolution in 2019 could include:  

  • Setting a specific time and place for technology use in your home.  
  • Having all family members agree on when to unplug, perhaps during family meal times and at the same time every night.  
  • Committing not to use technology before a specific time on weekends (Mom and Dad, this means you too!).  
  • Using the resources on your mobile device to set daily time limits for use for every member in your household. Most Apple and Android devices now include this type of software. Consider a tool like mobicip (mobicip.com), which helps parents set healthy limits on their children’s digital experiences (as well as their own!).  

When you set limits around your technology use, watch for the Lord to bless your efforts, including more conversation, more face to face time, and perhaps even more hugs. 


Laura Reinke is a marriage and family therapist at Christian Family Solutions and the director of youth ministry at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 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: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?

“What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?” 

James F. Pope

Answering your question involves bridging a “culture gap” in biblical interpretation and growing in our appreciation for the grace of God in Christ. 

Bridging the gap 

We encounter culture gaps in the Bible whenever we read about customs and practices that differ from our experiences today. To understand what the biblical customs and practices meant then, and to derive accurate, appropriate meaning for our lives today, we need to bridge the culture gap. Revelation 2:17 contains one of those gaps. 

Already going back to the days of ancient Greece, jurors in court cases indicated the verdicts they reached by depositing pebbles or stones in receptacles. That practice continued into the days of ancient Rome. A dark stone reflected a “guilty” decision, while a white stone represented a “not guilty” or “acquittal” decision. Because jurors in our judicial system forward the results of their deliberations to judges by other means of communication, the practice of the ancients has little meaning to us today unless we bridge the culture gap. With that background in mind, we are in a better position to understand the intended meaning of Revelation 2:17 for Christians then and now. 

Acquitting the guilty 

Revelation chapters two and three contain specific messages from the Lord to Christians in seven congregations in Asia Minor. Revelation 2:17 is part of a tailor-made message from the Lord that the apostle John relayed to Christians who were living in the city of Pergamum (present-day Bergama in Turkey).  The Lord’s message to those Christians contained rebuke and encouragement. Their rebuke was appropriate because some of them were drifting away from biblical teaching and godly living. They were yielding to the influence of Satan, whom John describes as living in Pergamum and figuratively occupying a throne there (Revelation 2:13).  To the Christians who resisted Satan’s temptations, the Lord made the promise that he would give them a white stone. That was a picturesque way of describing God’s declaration of those people as “not guilty” of sin; it was a symbolic means of speaking of their justification. By bridging the culture gap, we can see what message God intended for Christians then and now.  

“Not guilty” or “acquittal” is the declaration of God that we Christians today also enjoy. From a worldly, judicial perspective, God’s verdict is surprising. That is because our natural sinful condition and our actual sins deserve a “guilty” verdict from the holy and just God. Yet, in the courtroom of God, the Judge declared the guilty “innocent,” and he pronounced the Innocent One “guilty” (Romans 3). Through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus, Christians personally enjoy that declaration of acquittal. 

Recasting the content 

The answer to your question illustrates the truth that the book of Revelation very often recasts in figurative and symbolic ways what the Bible teaches elsewhere. It is comforting, indeed, to know from the book of Romans, for example, that God declares us “not guilty” for Jesus’ sake.  There is additional comfort in receiving that same message of forgiveness of sins through this vivid picture in the book of Revelation. 

This repetition and reshaping of content definitely says something about God. The lesson is that God desires that we be all the more convinced and confident that he has completely removed our sins. In pursuit of that goal, God speaks and restates his message of forgiveness in the Bible. He does that with unmistakable language and unforgettable imagery. He even does that with a little object like a stone, a white stone.  

That stone says, “You are not guilty. Case dismissed.” 


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 2
Issue: February 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 3

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 4 and 5

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Jesus’ letters to the seven churches remind us of an important truth: The Christian Church in this world is always the Church Militant. She is continually under attack from “the powers of this dark world and…the spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.” The true Church stands secure only as she builds on Christ and his Word and his forgiving grace.

She finds strength “in the Lord and his mighty power,” clothing herself with the “full armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:11-12) As Christians fight this good fight of faith they are comforted and strengthened by the reminder that the Lord God Almighty is on the throne, very much in control of the events of this world. From time to time throughout the Revelation, John is given glimpses of this glorious truth.

Chapters 4 and 5 record one such instance and serve as the introduction to the second “sub-vision” seen by John.  

The throne in heaven 

He was an exile on the island of Patmos. Was his isolation and loneliness representative of the reality for those who placed their hope in Jesus? Was God really powerful? Was God really in charge? Or was it just some cruel hoax and scam? What an experience it must have been for John as he was allowed to see the throne room of God! Brilliant and majestic. Thunder claps and lightning flashes. The Spirit’s presence and serene peace. Four rather strange but strangely familiar creatures around the throne, high ranking angels that remind of the Lord’s promise to watch over and care for his people. Twenty-four elders, righteous in Christ and ruling with Christ, calling to mind twelve tribes and twelve apostles as representatives of all believers in Jesus. A continuous chorus of praise to the holy and eternal triune God, reminiscent of the seraphim’s song of Isaiah’s day (6:3). A glory-giving response offered by the crown-casting elders. Wow! 

The scroll and the lamb 

But then a temporary “problem.” God’s right hand held an important but sealed up scroll. It was important because it held information about the world’s and Church’s future. It was sealed up and nobody was found worthy or able to open it. John was moved to tears by this seeming dilemma, weeping until the appearance of the mysterious and paradoxical center of the story. He is the true and triumphant Lion King of the tribe of Judah and the line of David. But his worthiness to open the seals comes as a result of a much different description and set of circumstances. He is the self-sacrificing Lamb who was slain. With his precious blood he paid the redemption price for a world of lost souls. By his grace he grants the status of royal priests or priestly kings to those who place their trust in his worthy works and words. “He is worthy!” so say the four creatures and twenty-four elders. “He is worthy!” so say the thunderous voices of the countless angel army. “He is worthy!” so say all other creatures in heaven and earth, including, by God’s grace, you and me.   


Reflect on the Revelation  chapters 4 and 5 

  1. Can you think of hymns or parts of worship that are drawn from these chapters? (eg, CW #195 or CW p. 34)  

    Consider the hymns in the Worship and Praise section of the hymnal (
    Hymns 233–261). Besides the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy)the order of Morning Praise includes the Te Deum (We Praise you, O God). That song dates back to about a.d. 700 and includes references to the angels, the martyrs, and the entire church that gives praise to God.  
  2. How might reflection on the scene of God’s throne room enrich your personal worship as you sing and say these words?  

    Our hymns of praise here on earth are important, yet when we think that we will join the hosts of heaven to praise our God, we realize how much we have waiting for us.  Think how moving and inspiring it is to hear a choir or a large gathering praise God here on earth. Then think what it means that all the believers of all time will sing God’s praises in heaven. What a sound! What inspiration! What magnificent praise!

  3. What comfort do you draw from remembering that Jesus is worthy to open the seals of the scroll (see and reveal the future) because of his sacrifice for sin as the Lamb of God?

    Jesus has completely finished the work of our salvation. “It is finished,” he said. The sins of all humanity have been paid for. Hell has no power to change his completed salvation or undo the future he has secured for us. The devil is bound and in chains; he cannot hurt us or alter our future or the future God promises.  Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father, equal in power and glory. He controls the future and will allow nothing to harm those who believe. As the Good Shepherd, he will let nothing snatch us from his hand. 


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


This is the third article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after Feb.5 at.


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 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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