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The Book of Revelation: Part 6

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 12 to 15 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Seven churches. Seven sealsSeven trumpets. The next grouping is comprised of seven mini-visions. They are recorded in Revelation chapters 1215. We’ll cover the first three this month.  

The red dragon 

The first mini-vision plays out in three distinct but interconnected scenes. We see a woman, glorious, “clothed with the sun” and reigning “with the moon under her feet. The 12 stars in her crown tell us that she represents the church, the bride of Christ, gloriously dressed in the shining righteousness of Jesus, living and ruling with him. Satan, the enormous red dragon, ferociously tried but could not defeat Jesus or derail God’s salvation planSo the dragon, hurled to the earth, turns his murderous attention to ruining the church, the offspring of the woman 

The church seems anything but glorious and influential as she flees into the wilderness. It might even appear that she is abandoned by the Bridegroom and left to fend for herself. But no. She is taken care of by God in that place.  

How? The next scene beautifully reminds us. The accusing dragon is powerless against the works and Word of Jesus. God’s people are shielded from Satan’s rage by the power of the Spirit in the gospel of forgivenessWhile he has time during the New Testament age (42 months), the devil will try his worst, but, armed with the gospel, the church will prevail 

The two beasts 

The second and third visions remind us of Satan’s two powerful allies. They are represented by a pair of strange-looking beasts. The first emerges from the sea. There is unmistakable parallel between it and a vision seen by the prophet in Daniel chapter 7. This beast from the sea has characteristics of Daniel’s four beasts, whom we’re told represent four kingdoms of the earth. So we identify the first beast as representative of ungodly, anti-Christian government during the New Testament age. 

All human government derives its ultimate authority from God. However, the prince of this world seeks to use God’s gift for his own wicked purposesHuman governments often fall under Satan’s evil influencesometimes even using their authority to wage war against God and his church.  

The second beast comes from the earth. It is lamb-like in appearance but dragon-like in speech. This second beast is closely connected to the firstIt usurps and wields the power of the first beast; it works wonders to deceive the earth’s inhabitants into worshiping the first beast and its image rather than God. Itinfamous number is 666. This number seems to represent a counterfeit covenant, seeking to replace Christ and his Word but always falling short of his perfect covenant of grace.  

This beast is deceptive and represents false religions that claim a way to God through works not Christ. It includes groups that claim to follow Christ but show a beastly character by teaching other than what Christ has taught. This beast includes the visible Christian churches that teach a false gospel based on human effort or righteousness. The preeminent example would be the Roman Catholic papacy, which claims to possess Christ’s authority over all Christians. The beast appears innocent but points people to their own goodness and works for salvation. Ultimately the message of this beast drives people away from trust in Christ alone.     


Reflect on Revelation chapters 1213 

  1. Why do you suppose 12:10a is used in communion liturgy (ChristianWorship, p. 34)?

  2. How does chapter 13 help us better understand the past, present, and future when it comes to human governments and religious institutions?


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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: What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?

What’s a parent’s role as a child dates?

It’s not often that I don’t chime in with my opinion on a topicbut this is going to be one of those rare moments. My oldest just turned 13, and although the prospect of dating is getting closer every day, this is not a topic with which I have any experience. Honestly, just the idea of my daughter dating makes me a little panicky. That’s why I’m grateful that I can turn to wise Christian parents who have been through this stage of parenting—and in some cases still are navigating it—for tips and advice.  

Do you have any anecdotes or advice to share about how to approach your child’s dating years? If so, e-mail fic@wels.net or comment on the articles posted at forwardinchrist.net 

Nicole Balza


I remember when my oldest son went on his first date as a high school freshman. It was hardly the stuff of romantic legend. Since neither he nor his girlfriend could yet drive, their “date” consisted of sitting in a corner booth at Culver’s while I parked myself in a booth nearby and tried to be inconspicuous. I think the date may have ended with an awkward handshake. If only dating could remain this innocent! But as our teens get older and their relationships become more serious, what’s a parent’s role as a child dates? How much—or how little—do we get involved? 

From the outset, be very clear about dating parameters. Ask where, when, and what questions. Give firm expectations about rules and curfews, and enforce consequences when rules are broken. 

Meet your child’s date and connect with his or her parents, if possible. Even if you can’t meet in person, connect via phone call or text and communicate often. If it’s more than a couple of dates, it’s very important for both sets of parents to be a “team” when it comes to dating expectations and guidelines. 

Have THE TALK with your child—again. Sorry, I know it will be cringe-worthy and awkward, but your child needs to learn about sex from you, not the Internet or peers. Look at what God says about purity in relationships (1 Corinthians 6:18-20) and read Galatians 2:20 together to remind your teen that Christ lives in him. Discuss the very real consequences of a sexual relationship outside of marriageeverything from STDs to pregnancyand the emotional and spiritual impacts it has 

Be your child’s “brain.” It’s a scientific fact that the brain isn’t fully wired until about age 25. So . . . the developing teen brain + raging hormones = the opportunity for some very poor choices. Parents can help be their child’s surrogate brain during the teen years. Although teens have to learn to make their own choices and understand the consequences of their actions, we can help guide them through the dating minefield. 

Model healthy and loving male/female relationships in your home. Dads, cherish your wife in front of your daughters. Moms, hold your sons accountable by teaching them to respect you and respect women. Also talk about what is and is not acceptable in a dating relationship. Verbal, emotional, and physical abuse are NEVER okay. If your child is uncomfortable or injured in a relationship, teach him to speak up. 

Be realistic about your teen’s dating journey. Are you married to the first person you dated? It happens, but it’s not likely. Keep in mind that dating for our teens is about exploring who they are and what they are looking for in a future spouse. Don’t push too hard or encourage your child’s dating relationship to be more serious than it should, yet don’t be so hands-off that you are unaware of what is happening. 

Pray continually. I recently told a friend, “I will pray for you. It’s the least I can do.” She gently corrected me, “No, it’s the most you can do.” She’s right. We forget how powerful and effective prayer is. Bring your child’s dating relationship to God in prayer. Ask him to help your child remain pure, make wise choices, and stay safe. Also pray for a God-fearing spouse for your child someday, if they choose to marry. Finally, pray for patience and understanding and to be able to lovingly keep the lines of communication open with your teen as he navigates the world of dating. 


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest. 


I’m a parent of 2 boys and 2 girls ages 15 to 22. I have a frontrow seat to view the corn maze called courting. I admit to thoughts of electronic surveillance, homing devices, and background checks. Making it more complicated is that the way my kids date is as unique as they are. They open up to my wife and me in different ways and to varying degrees.  

Along the way, I have learned a few things: 

First, crushes are an innocent way of saying, “I like you and want to spend time with you.” Young teens are practicing their dating legs. They are learning social skills. The early years are building the skills they need for future and more serious relationships.  

You can never prevent them from getting hurt. Sometimes a parent sees and offers caution such as, “Does the person to whom you’re giving your heart make you a better person or bring you down? Liking someone is one thing, but if he makes you feel worse about yourself, ditch himI don’t care how good looking he is. Yet they still get hurt . . . and your heart breaks when your child’s heart breaks.  

Take their feelings seriously. I never joke or make light of their feelings. I may view it as puppy love. But when seen through the lens of a teenager, those feelings of the moment are under a magnifying glass. They are huge and all-consuming. Validate that their feelings are real . . . and realize that these feelings may change at any moment. 

I’m still learning . . . 

To know when to quit talking so I can be a better listener. A good listener will be able to repeat everything back. deep listener internalizes it, mulls it around, and empathizes with a child. A note of cautionbeing a listener doesn’t qualify you as their “relationship fixer. Parents can’t fix relationships. I may want to offer advice on every conversation point. But more important than getting my point across is allowing them to share. That may mean your tongue will bleed from biting it.  

Not to be afraid to ask the hard questions: “Does your boyfriend drink?” “Are you getting in the car with him?” Will there be parents supervising that party? 

Sometimes, a boyfriend/girlfriend can be controlling, like when you see a child with ONLY this one person and no longer with his friends. But differentiate between a red flag and a child who is just private. There’s a difference between hiding things and not wanting to talk about things.  

Finally, I believe that the best way to model dating for your children is to treat your spouse well. It’s like the map that helps them through that corn maze.


Donn Dobberstein and his wife, Beth, have four children ranging in age from 15 to 22.


 

Ah, the halcyon days of dating! The excitement, the romance, the mystery! Will he call? Does she like me? But now, you are the parent, and the word dating seems more worrisome than wonderful. What is your role as a parent in Christian courtship? 

Pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). God would have us pray about everything. Certainly early and numerous prayers for our child and his or her future spouse and all things dating fall under this category.  

Teach (Proverbs 22:6). Godly conversations about the blessings of dating, marriage, and sex should also start early and continue age appropriately as your child matures. Not entirely comfortable with these conversations? Christian books to the rescue! Always remind your child that he or she is a special and loved child of Godsingle, dating, or married. 

Model (1 Corinthians 13). Actions speak louder than words! Pray that God gives you the strength to make your marriage a Christian model of sacrificial love. Show your child that your marriage is a priority and a blessing. Fathers, show respect to your wives and daughters. Mothers, encourage your husbands and sons in their Christian roles. 

Advise (Psalm 119:105). As dating age approaches (in our family rules, that’s approximately age 16, because that seemed like a good age, and it’s no fun to have your parents drive you on dates), look for moments like car rides or walking the dog that are good talking and listening times. You can regale your children with stories of your own courtship and marriage. But also remind them that while dating can be fun, the ultimate purpose is to look for a husband or wife, and that is serious business. Most important, continue to point them to God’s Word. How about a Saturday coffee outing that includes a Bible study with your child, looking at passages on God’s love for us, our love for God and others, friendship, marriage, God’s timing, temptation, true beauty, forgiveness, what to look for in a marriage partner, how to handle a break up?  

Host (1 Peter 4:9). As dating age approaches, plan gatherings for your child’s classboys and girlsat your home. Encourage your son or daughter to have their boyfriend or girlfriend over for game nights, baking, movies, and devotions. We call this “family dating.” It’s a cheap date, but it’s also a way for the boyfriend/girlfriend to get to know you, the other siblings, the dog (a true test!)and the Christian values your family holds dear.  

Dating. Ever since God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” in Genesis 2:18, men and women have been seeking the perfect partner. Welcome to this exciting/scary/exhilarating/wonderful phase of parenting! God’s blessings as you pray, teach, model, advise, and host your dating child of God, relying on God’s good guidance and timing.


Ann Ponath and her husband, David, have four kids ranging in age from 14 to 23. 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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 7

Face opposition with courage and confidence 

Eric S. Roecker 

It was a fabulous fall day. The sun was shining. Brightly colored leaves were floating downward from the trees. The air had just a hint of the crispness that makes fall feel like fall. 

It was a fabulous fall day. And I was doing what I lovedwalking a neighborhood near our church, handing out invitations. Where there was no one home I would leave the invitation at the door. But where someone was washing the car in the driveway or trimming the bushes, I would hand out an invitation and say, “Hi! I’m the pastor at the church down the road. I just wanted to invite you to visit us sometime. We would love to have you!” 

Often people responded to my little speech with a smile, a nod, and a wary thank you. I could see in their eyes and the way their body seemed to stiffen what they were thinking. I could read their thoughts as if I were reading a book. “I hope this guy isn’t going to waste the next hour of this beautiful day talking to me about religious stuff.”  

But once in a while, the person lit up like a Christmas tree, eagerly taking the invitation and asking, “Where is your church?”  

“Just down the road. The one with the tower.” 

“Oh! Sure. I drive by every day on my way to work. It’s beautiful. I’ve actually thought about stopping in some Sunday. We haven’t been to church for quite a while and have been meaning to get back into it. So what kind of church is it?” 

And we would be off and running. I would share information about the church. My new friend would ask questions. I would do my best to answer. Sometimes the conversation lasted five minutes. Other times it lasted an hour. Every time it was exhilarating.  

So there was a bit of a bounce in my step as I made my way down the sun-drenched street of the subdivision that Saturday, looking forward to my next adventure. Whom would I meet? What would they say? What would they ask? Where would our conversation lead? God only knew.  

I certainly didn’t know. And it is probably good I didn’t. Otherwise, I might have been tempted to turn around, get back in my car, and head home for the day.  

He was standing in the middle of his front lawn, rake in hand. There was nothing extraordinary about him. He was middle-aged, brown haired, wearing khaki pants and a flannel shirt. He looked like he belonged there. Just your average middle-class American homeowner doing his weekend duty taking care of his yard. 

I approached cheerfully and began my now-familiar speech, “Hi! I’m Eric Roecker, the pastor at . . .”  

I didn’t say another word for 20 minutes. I couldn’t. The air was too full of other wordshis words.  

He began with a general tirade against religionall the evils it had brought into the world, all the cruelty, from ancient Christian crusades to modern Islamic terrorism, from the scandals of televangelists to the scandals of Roman Catholic priests.  

I had heard his objections beforemany times. What surprised me was the anger. I was completely unprepared for it. His voice grew louder and louder. This man was angry. 

What should I do? What would you do? How should a Christian react when facing such opposition? Although the Bible does not give us a playbook that spells out the specific steps to handle every uncomfortable interaction with an unbeliever, it does tell us the following: 

  • “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”(John 3:16). The red-faced man screaming at me in his front yard was loved by Godso loved that God sacrificed his son to save that man’s soul. 
  • “We love because he first loved us”(1 John 4:19). Rather than hating this man for hating people like me, I loved him and wanted him to know the joy and peace and comfort I know because I know my Savior. 
  • “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”(1 Peter 3:15,16). 

So, what did I do? I listened. By God’s grace, I didn’t get angry. I didn’t shout back. I just listened.  

Eventually, his tirade reached a kind of climax, and he began to speak more quietly. He was still angry and still attacking, but he was losing steam. Finally, he stopped. Now I was able to respond.  

I did not respond to everything he had said. Instead, I decided to address the last point he had made to see where it might lead. He had pointed out that there were many different religions in the world and they all basically taught the same things. Christianity wasn’t anything special. 

“Well,” I replied, “You are right, of course, that there are many different religions in the world. However, they are not all the same. Hinduism, for example, teaches that there are thousands of gods. Christianity teaches that there is only one God.” 

“So, who’s to say Christianity is right!?” he shouted angrily. 

“My point isn’t that Christianity is right,” I answered. “I am simply pointing out that Hinduism and Christianity cannot both be right. Either one is right and the other is wrong or both are wrong. But they cannot both be right.” 

He thought about that for a moment. His face was now closer to its original color than the crimson red hue it had been for the past few minutes.  

“I suppose that’s true,” he said. 

“Obviously, as a Christian pastor, I believe that the Christian teaching about God is the true teaching about God. And that truth about Godwho he is, what he’s like, what he has done for you and for meis incredibly comforting. I don’t want to take up the rest of your afternoon, but would it be alright if I very briefly shared it with you?” 

He never did visit our church. But he did hear about Jesus that fine fall day. And, where the good news about Jesus is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit of God is at work. 

Remember this the next time you face opposition when witnessing: You are not alone. In the very last verse of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20).  

I was not alone on that lawn. My Jesus was right beside me, giving me the love and patience I needed to tell this angry man that his God loved him. And Jesus will be right beside you every time you tell others about him


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


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


Sidebar:  

What’s your story?How have you shared Jesus? Every encounter is different, and we want to hear from you. To whom in your life did you reach out? Did you employ the KISS method? 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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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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

 

Author: Eric S. Roecker 
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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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Our very great reward

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” Genesis 15:1             

Daniel J. Habben 

What is the greatest reward you’ve ever received? Your fifth-grade spelling bee trophy? A medal from a race in which you set a personal recordA work-related bonus delivered to you personally by an appreciative boss?  

The best reward possible 

God once told the patriarch Abraham that he was Abraham’s “very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). I love that phrase. God didn’t just say he was Abraham’s reward. He didn’t even say that he was his great reward. He said that he was Abraham’s very great reward.  

Think of how that phrase highlights this truth: Our God doesn’t deal in minimums! He didn’t, for example, send his Son Jesus just to forgive past sins and enter us in the race for heaven—leaving it in our hands to finish securing eternal life. No way! Through Jesus, God forgave our past and future sins. Because of Jesus, we look forward to an eternal life of happiness.  

To put this mind-boggling gift in earthly terms, that’s like saying that even though we’ve cheated on our taxes, the tax auditor not only refuses to press charges, but he also gives us a check for a million dollars! Likewise, Jesus doesn’t just keep us out of hellhe also gives us heaven.  

A reward we do not earn 

But how can God really be our very great reward? Isn’t a reward something that is earned? 

If we’re honest, we have to admit that we’ve done nothing to earn God’s favor. Even those kind words we spoke this week—weren’t they partly shared to feel good about ourselves and to receive praise from others? Or consider why you’re reading this devotion. I hope it’s because you want the Holy Spirit to work through the message to strengthen your faith. But isn’t there also a part of you that picks up this magazine because, well, you paid for the subscription, so you might as well read it? You’re expected to keep up with what’s going in our church body anyway. I know I approach the study of God’s Word that way sometimes—as if it’s just a textbook that I use in my preaching and teaching.  

So how can we say that God’s love is our reward when we often do the right things for the wrong reasons? We can because whenever the heavenly Father looks at us, he sees his perfect Son to whom we have been joined in Baptism. It’s like Jesus is the star vocalist in the choir who covered up my mistakes. “The choir was great today, Pastor!” members often comment. Ah yes, by joining his voice to the choir’s, the star vocalist makes the congregation smile. Jesus, of course, doesn’t simply add to what we have done. No, his life and his death are the sole reasons that heaven is ours. What we have done—no matter how great—is not enough. The reward that we have received from him is a reward of grace.  

I am your very great reward. God gave Abraham this reminder after the patriarch had returned from a successful commando-style mission to rescue his nephew Lot, who had been carried away as a prisoner of warMaybe Abraham felt on top of the world after that experience. Yet God reminded Abraham, and now he reminds us, that no matter what success we enjoy in life, there’s only one reward that matters: the very great reward of his grace.  


Contributing editor Daniel Habben is pastor at St. John, Saint John, Antigua.  


 

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Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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

 

Author: Daniel J. Habben 
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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: How I shared Jesus – submissions

Through several different seriesForward in Christ authors have been providing tips and encouragement from their own personal experiences about how to share God’s Word with people who desperately need to hear about God’s grace.  

We asked for your feedback, and several of you have shared your own tips, encouragements, and outreach stories. Take a look:


A waiting room opportunity 

Betty Pfeiffer, a member at Heritage, Gilbert, Arizona, shares her story of praying dangerously for the opportunity to tell someone about God’s love [“Praying dangerously,” Feb.]. 

My husband needed an eye exam, and it was going to require dilation of his pupils. I went along to drive him home. I was in a hurry and walked out without a book to read. None of the magazines in the waiting area held any interest for me, so I sat there figuratively twiddling my thumbs. 

Until an older man sat next to me and started a conversation. He asked me if I believed that the world is billions of years old. 

I replied with a smile, “No. I’m a Christian.” 

“Well,” he responded, “do you believe in spirits that live in heaven and come down to earth to inhabit earthly bodies?” 

“No. I don’t believe it that either.” His premise was becoming clear to me. He was a Mormon. So I asked, “Are you a Mormon?” 

“Yes, and we believe . . .”  He started to tell me about the necessity of good works to get into heaven. 

When he paused, I (more or less) responded, “I know that’s what you believe, but you see, I can’t find any scriptural foundation for that. Remember Christ said on the cross that it is finished. That is, he completed all that was necessary for the forgiveness of our sins.” I went on to quote the book of James that says faith without works is dead, but that means only that if we don’t love one another enough to help them in ways we can, we don’t love Jesus enough to follow his commandments. Our works come from our faith, through our love. They won’t earn us anything more. Christ has done it all. To think we can add something more or better to our salvation than when he said “It is finished” is arrogant. 

I quoted a couple more passages as the gentleman sat there quietly blinking. Then he was called in for his eye exam. 

I have prayed that God would give me opportunities to share his good news, but I never really expected an encounter like this. Did I say anything that would change his beliefs? Only the Holy Spirit knows. But I am glad that I forgot my book.


Coffee evangelism 

Scott Albrecht talks about a unique evangelism program at Beautiful Savior, Grove City, Ohio. He writes:  

Coffee Evangelism is a weekly meeting of evangelists at our local diner where we fellowship over coffee briefly but then get it in to-go mugs as our meeting is half fellowship/half evangelism (half and halfhonestly didn’t see that joke coming). 

One of our members maps out a neighborhood near the diner. After our coffee, we hand out coffee sleeves to those who answer the door and leave them for those who dont. The sleeves have information about our church on one side and an invite on the other side to join us at the diner next week to learn more about our church—coffee is on us! 

After a year we have visited over 1,600 households. Many friendships have been madeand visitors at our church are on the rise.  

The level of skill or education to go door to door is not daunting. The presentation is easy: The ask is to have a cup of coffee for free with church members or attend a service if they do not have a church home.  

I pray this idea may inspire others to come up with creative new ways to share God’s message


A meaningful day 

A story from Thomas Gumm, a retired pastor, shows that you will never know when God will give you an opportunity to proclaim his name. You just need to be ready.  

Yesterday I had a young man come in to get info on a storage unit. After talking with him, he told me he was a pastors kid but was the black sheep. We talked for an hour. He was guiltridden and unable to forgive himself. This was causing great problems in his marriage. I took him for a walk to the cross. I explained Gods forgiveness. I also explained that God loved him because God wanted to love him. Tears flowed a number of times. It was a very meaningful day.


 Taking time to reflect  

In his article “KISS them” [March], Ken Brokmeier recommended that after an evangelism opportunity, we should take time to evaluate and reflect on the encounter.  

Ann Behrs, a member at Christ Alone, Mequon, Wisconsin, shares that she writes down a synopsis of each encounter she has. As part of her summary, she asks and answers some simple questions—questions ranging from What can I do to start a conversation? to How did the conversation transition to something spiritual? to How can I get to know this person better? She says, It’s a great way to try to understand if it was effective, what worked, and what didn’t.” 


Lessons from the county jail 

Dan Krueger, a member at Mt. Zion, Kenosha, Wisconsin, leads a Bible study in a county jail. He shares the following things he learned from his experiences: 

  1. The men at the weekly meeting have different experiences than me, and not just because they spend their days and nights in a cavernous room of 70 bunk beds, a few tables,and a TV, with others who are accused of breaking the law. They ask my opinion about personal situations that are new to me. When you talk to other people, they may bring up something in their past that surprises or even shocks you. But it’s an opportunity to point out the biblical principles that address the situation. You can plainly state you don’t have a simple answer but offer to help them look at what God says. 
  2. The people you meet may not know their Bibles well. If you are talking to others about Jesus, look for opportunities to assist them in opening a Bible so they can read it for themselves. 
  3. In the county approved sessions, we have a strict warning to avoid doctrinal differences. Your unchurched friends may ask about something unique to their church background,but it’s likely they are just trying to put things into perspective. You can stick to the basics of sin, grace, and peace in Jesus.   
  4. The faces at the prison Bible study can change from week to week. It can be daunting knowing that you may only get one meaningful conversation, one opportunity to tell them what Jesus has done for you and what Jesus can do for themIt’s a good reminder that our task is to get involved and then let the Holy Spirit continue the work.   
  5. Feeding yourself at Bible study, especially at church, is huge. The pastoral insight on the context of passages and how they relate to our modern culture gives you confidence, credibility, and flexibility when witnessing. The other benefit is listening to the questions and answers of other members. Just like the unchurched people we want to reach, other members may view the question from a slightly different perspective or background than your own.  

What’s your story?How have you shared Jesus? 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: Various Submissions
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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 gospel-filled life: Part 4

Prayer comes from the heart 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Once preschoolers have acquired the ability to talk, their words just pour out. What tumbles out of their mouths can be a source of great entertainment. What might be slightly embarrassing for parents is mildly amusing to grandparents. Nonstop chatter around exhausted stay-at-home moms converts into a delightfully endearing experience at the infrequent visits with grandparents. They can’t get enough. They soak up every word. They cherish every moment they get to spend with these wide-eyed explorers. While grandparents appreciate the childishness of grandchildren, they still cheer for their growth and work to develop their maturity.  

Prattling our childish prayers 

Christians can appreciate our relationship with our God in the same way. Our Father loves to hear from his children. He is always available. He invites us to come to him whenever with whatever is on our minds. He cherishes our time with him.  

Yet our sinner-saint status distorts even our devotional life. Our natural, default mode for prayer is to approach God to get things we want in life. We blurt our verbal vomit, foaming up out of our feelings about what we think we need. Hearts filled with pain overflow to express our suffering before God. Anxious, wondering minds prattle incomprehensibly. Awestruck shock at life’s unexpected plot twists leaves us open-mouthed and speechless before our Creator. Unexpected joy runs over in blathering ecstasy, unleashing giddy ramblings to our all-knowing God.  

Through it all, God delights to hear from his children. Yet our childishness in prayer reveals more about our own hearts than it does about God. We assume we know what is best for God to give us without first consulting God himself. We struggle to find the right words but know exactly what we expect in return. 

Developing a childlike faith 

Skim through the book of Job. After repeated examples of venting frustration at God’s silence (Job 7:11), Job gets a dose of humility. When God finally answers (Job 38 & 39), Job becomes aware of the childishness behind his arrogance. God-granted humility strips him of his assumed certainties. Job was made to stand dumbstruck in silence before the awe-inducing omniscience of the Lord (Job 40:4,5). He matured. Childlike trust developed where there had been childish demands to God.  

Reexamine some of your most cherished psalms. King David and other psalmists express themselves to God, pouring out their souls, exposing the raw emotions of their hearts (e.g. Psalm 4:1; 5:1; 12:1,2; 13:1,2; 60:1-12; 70:1,2). Yet as we work our way through their poetic outpourings, they take us on a journey of faith development. God directs the psalmists back to his promises. They come to understand that God is not removed from the pain of his children. He’s not standing aloof from our concerns just because he isn’t granting our every request. Neither, though, is God our personal assistant scurrying after our every whim, hoping his frantic positive responses will bring us the satisfaction we seek.  

Prayers come from the heart. But devotional life centered on God’s promises transforms our hearts. God’s promises show us a Father who gave us his best when he gave up his Son for us. God’s promises guarantee God’s unconditional love for us through everything life throws at us. God’s promises direct us away from the mess of our own hearts to see him as the true source of our joy and hope. As children of God, we come to our Father with childish prattle, looking for repeated assurances of his love. God gives us that assurance in his Word. That reorders our hearts. Prayer then becomes a response of faith to God’s gracious words of promise.  


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


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


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Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?

Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?

James F. Pope

Your question leads us to look in Scripture and examine how the devil measures up against God and people. 

The devil and people 

The Bible makes it clear that the devil has abilities superior to those of human beings. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11,12).  

While the devil’s abilities are superior to people’s, they are inferior to God’s. That brings us to the heart of your question. 

The devil and God 

As an angel—a fallen one at that—the devil is not omniscient. Only God is. The devil cannot read hearts and minds. Only God can do that (1 Kings 8:39). The devil operates by observing patterns in people’s lives. As an angel, the devil is not omnipresent either. Only God the Creator is (Psalm 139:7-10). Much as the human soul, housed in a body, can occupy only one space at one time, so the devil, a spirit being, can occupy only one space at one time.  

Yet, as a spirit being without a body, the devil is able to move from one space to another faster than human beings can. And move he does. Job 1:7 and Job 2:2 describe the devil “roaming throughout the earth.” 1 Peter 5:8 states that the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Roaming and prowling describe the devil’s non-stop activity as he moves from person to person, seeking to destroy them. 

Although the devil himself may not be able to “tempt you and a lot of other people at the same time,” he has helpers to assist him in his dastardly work (Matthew 25:41). The devil’s minions flit about from person to person on seekanddestroy missions. 

The devil and the sinful nature 

More than having helpers in the form of evil angels, we need to recognize that the devil has an accomplice inside each person. The sinful nature, passed on from generation to generation, is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7). The sinful nature hates anything good and godly and desires to do the devil’s bidding (Galatians 5:19-21). So while the devil is not personally present in the life of a Christian 24/7, his ally, the sinful nature, is. 

With intermittent and ever-present enemies like these, what is a Christian to do? “Put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13) and launch a counter-offensive. That is not a foolhardy course of action. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7) is God’s instruction and promise. More than that, we combat our sinful nature through daily contrition and repentance, and we build up the new self through God’s gospel in Word and sacrament (Ephesians 4:22-24). 

Finally, we remember that our spiritual enemies are not permanent. Our sinful nature is limited to life on this earth. Satan is an enemy whom Jesus has already defeated (Genesis 3:15). One day, he will lose all ability to tempt us (Revelation 20:10). 


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 5
Issue: May 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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Confessions of faith: Lore

An assault survivor shares how her life went from tragedy to triumph and how that has helped her reach out to others.  

Alicia A. Neumann 

Jay Lore says there was “nothing spectacular” about the way her story started. She was born to a working-class family in New Jersey in the late 1950s. She says they weren’t especially religious, but she and her brother did attend the Baptist church down the street. “I learned the Bible verses. I learned Jesus loves me. I listened to the felt-board stories about all the people God uses to do mighty things.”  

She says her mom described her as a “happy-go-lucky kid.” But that all changed when she was four years old and she was sexually assaulted by her older sister’s husband. “He was a monster,” Jay says. “He said if I tell [my family], they wouldn’t love me. So what choice did I have? Who else would I tell? Who would believe me?” She says it wasn’t a topic that anyone talked about in the 1960s. 

Spiraling downward 

Afraid of the consequences, Jay says she kept silent for years as the abuse continued. She eventually turned to drugs to numb the pain. “I worshipped the euphoric, pain-free feeling,” she says. “That became my mission: to numb all feelings. I was hell-bent on self-destruction.” By the time she was 16, Jay says she had tried suicide twice. “I was filthy, inside and out. Tainted. Broken. I felt like the great God of the felt-board stories was absent and silent; he had better people to take care of anyway, she says.  

She calls the next decade her “drug years.” She says, “It was just a messThings got progressively worse. I started dealing drugs to support my habit.” During that time, she also had three children. “I thought I was going to screw up three more lives,” she says. “It was a frightening thing. I thought, How do I protect them if I can’t protect myself?”  

Things finally reached a breaking point in 1987. Jay describes that night: “I decided I had had enough. There was nothing left to lose. I had lost my house, my car, my kids, my dog, my hope. And now I was going to lose myself. I remember screaming at God with fists clenched, ‘Where are you? You’re supposed to be so great and good! What have I done to deserve this?’ I laid down to die. A billion thoughts were racing, then everything got so still. I thought, This is it. In the stillness, a voice said, ‘Jay, come.’ I turned my head slightly, and a hand wiped a tear. I could not move. Hallucination from drugs? A desperate mental hope? Jay is convinced it was Jesus.  

Discovering forgiveness 

A few days later, Jay went to a nearby clinicthe first step in her long road to recovery. With the help of her counselor, she was able to get sober and finally start processing everything that had happened to her. Eventually, her counselor invited Jay to attend a Lutheran church. “When I got there I thought the roof would fall on my head!” she says. “But then I realized this is what’s been missing. I heard that Jesus loves me and my sins are forgiven, washed away. The more I heard it, I thought, Really, even me? And the answer was yes, even me!” She continued attending and was eventually baptized.  

As Jay continued her recovery, she got her kids backand she insisted they go to counseling. “It wasn’t just me who suffered,” she says. “They needed help too.” She says it took time, but they worked through it together. “My son was in the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in school and he wrote an essay on me and my recovery and how proud he was. He won the D.A.R.E. bear for his essay and gave it to me. That meant so much; I still have that bear.” 

Jay started helping her counselor give presentations to different community groups on the topic of abuse. She also began reaching out to other survivors. “Those who have experienced it are the best counselors,” Jay says. “I tell them, ‘I’ve done everything, I’ve made mistakes. You’re not alone anymore. You don’t have to dry your tears. I’ll hold your hand, I’ll walk with you through it.’ I want to help them take that first step.” 

Finding a home 

Fast forward to 2016. Jay was asked if she could help start an adult support group in Colorado. After a lot of consideration and prayer, she loaded all of her possessions into her car and headed west. She was staying with one of her friends in Commerce City as they worked to get the new group started, but then her friend unexpectedly died. “I looked to heaven and said, ‘Now what?’ I had no family, no friends, no place to stay and I was a stranger in a strange land.” Soon after, her car blew up. Jay was stranded.  

“I have an issue with depression, and I could feel it hovering,” she says. “I knew despair wasn’t far off. I was sinking into the muck. Old, ugly thoughts started rising. I thought of taking my own life. I was in deep trouble.”  

Living Hope was across the street, and she felt that being in God’s house would help. She said the people were friendly and it was a good experienceuntil communion. “About 20 people went up and I was left sitting alone, excluded from the Lord’s Supper,” she says. “I was offended. A vicar was preaching that day, and I asked him about it, but the poor guy couldn’t answer my rapid-fire questions. I left, vowing never to return.”  

But then the new pastor reached out to Jay. They talked about the church and the practice of close communion. “He asked me to visit again, and I said I’d think about it, but I didn’t,” she says. “I wasn’t going back there, period.”  

But she did return. “If that wasn’t the Holy Spirit moving me, I don’t know what is,” she says. When I got there, I made eye contact with the pastor and I knew I was home.” 

Jay says her fellow members at Living Hope have shown her the goodness of God. They provided her with transportation and helped her find a place to live. “It was an answer to my prayers,” she says. “I have found a home here among these folks, and I can’t do enough for Godnot because I need to, but rather because of all he’s done for me.” 

Now, Jay greets everyone at the door each Sunday. She calls herself an “ambassador for Jesus” and hopes that sharing her story with others will show them what God can do.  

“My life went from tragedy to triumph; I went from a mess to a messenger,” she says. “I live in the joy of the trial. I sometimes wonder what potential was stolen, but it’s all good. I’m glad God thought I was strong enough. And I truly believe we all go through what we go through in hopes that we turn to God and he can give us the triumph.” 


Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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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Walk by the Spirit : Part 1

We are surrounded by immorality, but we are different. In the love of Jesus, we find strength to love. 

John A. Braun 

When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, he sets us on the path to heaven. The early Christians described that path as the Way (Acts 9:2; 24:14). We know Jesus is the Way. Wwalk on that path through life to the destination of heaven, but it is also a way of acting and thinking.  

As we follow the path, we encounter crossroads that can lead us in different directions. We know they lead us away from the Way, and our sinful flesh is often tempted. As saints and sinners at the same time, we often need correction to avoid paths that lead us astray 

In Galatians 5:19-23, the apostle Paul warns us about the crossroads he calls acts of the flesh, and then he encourages us to retain the fruits of the Spirit.  

First on the apostle’s list of acts of the flesh is “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery.”  

Acts of the flesh: Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery 

These acts of the flesh are not hard to find. Again and again they cross our paths to lure us from our way. We see them as we browse the Internet, as we watch television and the movies, and as we read magazines or books. Their temptation invades much of what we hear and see in our entertainment choices. And because we still have the sinful flesh, we are not immune to their attraction. 

We find ourselves leaning a bit toward immorality. We laugh at situations and jokes that are off-color. Our entertainment choices push the buttons on our desires of the flesh. We monitor what our children watch in order to shield them from the worst influences, but our own choices sometimes reveal a compromise with the acts of the flesh. We find it difficult to resist some of the influences, and sometimes we pause at the crossroad, looking longingly down the road of temptation. 

But it all leads in the wrong direction. Child pornography and sexual misconduct lead to latenight news stories exposing teachers, politicians, reporters, clergy, and even news agencies. Some lose their jobs. But the immorality persists. Even these consequences are not enough. Some of it still attracts us and can lure us into sin.  

But we don’t like to hear that word sinThat word confronts us with its accusation. If as children of God we use it to describe these acts of the flesh, we are sometimes ridiculed as prudes, oldfashioned, and out of touch with the modern worldWe live in that world and mingle with people who have a different attitude toward sexual immorality. We do not wish to be ridiculed for our morality so at times we go along and hide our Christian way of thinking 

The world doesn’t think carefully about how destructive these temptations become. A family is destroyed by sexual unfaithfulness. A child is murdered by a live-in boyfriend who is not the father. Pornography addiction quietly ruins relationships and marriages. Drugs and human trafficking flow from these acts of the flesh to destroy men and especially women. Children are considered objects of desire, not precious gifts of God. Love is distorted, as some look for love only in intimacy. It results in a “total eclipse of the heart,” as the popular song even acknowledges. 

But we must not become Pharisees and point the finger at all this evil as if it remains on the other side of the street. Christian marriages are sometimes heaped on the jagged rocks of acts of the flesh. Lives have been destroyed. Pornography seeps quietly into Christian lives, destroying some and altering others. It distorts the attitudes of Christian love and marriage. Parents don’t teach their children about alternatives to immorality. Pastors, teachers, church leaders, friends and relatives abandon fruits of the Spirit for acts of the flesh and discredit the message of Christ. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Love 

The Holy Spirit through the gospel has created a new attitude within us. We are children of God by faith (Galatians 3:26). But we are not perfect yet. Within us we still carry the old sinful nature and the desire to yield to those temptations of the flesh. We want to live as children of God, but so often we discover a desire to be rebellious and disobedient renegades. We struggle. Paul says the Spirit and the flesh are “in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5:17). Paul mentioned sexual immorality first among the acts of the flesh. He also mentions love first among the fruits of the Spirit 

The path to sexual immorality will frequently beckon us. When it does, the love of Jesus gives us strength and the willingness to take positive steps as children of God. Love is part of our thinking and acting on the Christian way. We love. Of course, love has many applications. One of them is that it is the opposite of the sexual sins. So Paul mentions it here. 

While many have a distorted view of love, Christians understand love from Jesus. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). How different the Christian concept of love is. Paul expands the definition: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9,10; cf. 1 Corinthians 13).  

Jesus unselfishly did what we could not do for ourselves. He shed his blood for us, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He gave himself for us. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are his. We love and have the fruit of the SpiritWe have an unselfish concern for others that changes our relationships and alters the way we think of sex and immorality.  

Paul encourages us to turn away from acts of the flesh. Love, as Jesus taught it, helps partners in marriage remain devoted to each other and find a Godpleasing place for sexual intimacy. Our relationships in families and friendships honor others and seek their good. We do not exploit others to gratify ourselves. We pursue what is good and turn from what is evil.  

Yet we struggle with our sinful nature. We may have seriously underestimated its grip on us, even as Christians. Acts of the flesh may have destroyed our relationships with spouses, children, friends, and others. The boundless love of Jesus calls us to repent, turn away from our failures, walk by the Spirit, and refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). The loving arms of Jesus are always ready to embrace us with forgiveness and strength. When we stumble, he can plant our feet firmly on the correct path and keep us headed toward our room in his Father’s mansion.  


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the first article in a six-part series on acts of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 106, Number 5
Issue: May 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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