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The harvest is on!

Pentecost celebrates the harvest of souls that has continued through the ages. 

 E. Allen Sorum

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to help his church testify about him, but he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem. Ten days later Jerusalem was packed with religious tourists who had gathered to celebrate the Festival of Weeks. This festival got its name because God directed his people to count off seven weeks after the first day after the Passover Sabbath and on the day after—50 days laterto gather for a “sacred assembly. On this 50th day, the assembly presented grain offerings to praise God for the grain harvest. The story of Pentecost is the amazing outpouring of the Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem. 

God likes to illustrate his teachings to his people through familiar things. God’s Word uses yeast to help us appreciate some beautiful features of the Festival of Pentecost. We know that yeast is the leavening agent in dough that causes it to rise. Because yeast makes a loaf of bread soft, fluffy, and delicious, it gives us glorious insight into the Day of Pentecost. 

The Passover: Without yeast 

But first let’s step back to the Passover, the first sacred assembly in the Old Testament church. Passover was the first day of the weeklong Festival of Unleavened Bread. This was bread without yeast—flat bread. For the entire week of this festival, God required his people to eat only unleavened bread. Additionally, God wanted every bit of yeast swept out of every Hebrew home! Eating crackers instead of bread for a week was probably not a severe sacrifice. Regardless, anyone caught eating a raised loaf of bread or ignoring the “no yeast” rule was cut off from the community! 

Avoiding leaven for a week every year helped God’s people remember how God rescued them from slavery. The first Passover meal was eaten in haste because the tenth plague finally broke Pharaoh. The firstborn all died except in those houses that had the blood of the lamb swabbed over the doorposts. Pharaoh let God’s people go. It was a sudden reversal. God told his people to be ready to leave. They would have no time for bread to rise. Excited ex-slaves pushed bitter herbs into doughpressed it onto a hot surface, and ate it with their bags packed and travel clothes onThe Passover without yeast reminded God’s people of the urgency of escape and the hard journey ahead. Yes, it was a hard journey, but it also was a new beginning, a new freedom, and the anticipation of the new Promised Land.  

But there was another lesson. Yeast permeates the dough. At the Passover, God wanted homes swept clean of yeast. This picture might make us think of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees” (Mark 8:15). Paul described false teaching as yeast that works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9). Yeast is a picture of a strong, pervasive, and penetrating influence. The picture helped the Hebrew people see the true nature of sin, hypocrisy, and pride in human things. These sins were a threat to the assembly’s unity with God and with each other. The worldly influence of Egypt was to be left behind. So God commanded no yeast. 

Pentecost: With yeast 

Pentecost was different. The people had been counting days: seven weeks and one day. During these weeks, they were preparing for the harvest. On the 50th day, all God’s people from every place gathered in a “sacred assembly” (Leviticus 23:21) to praise God for the harvest. God commanded, “From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:17). The prominent act of worship for this joyful gathering was to pick up two loaves of leavened bread—the fun, fluffy flavor—and wave them before the Lord. The waving the bread before the Lord was a way to acknowledge God as the giver of the grain harvest used to make the bread. Then the Levites actually got to take the bread home to feed their families 

Note the two loaves. We might say it’s a doubly generous gift offered to God for his doubly generous harvest. What an appropriate way to praise God for his sustaining gifts! And what a joyful community celebration, as all of God’s people would share their common blessings and give testimony to their spiritual unity. They were all members of God’s holy nation; a royal people; a people belonging to God; a people who, by virtue of this sacred assembly, declared God to the nations. 

The harvest in Jerusalem 

Two thousand years agoGod chose this festival for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. From all over the Mediterranean world, God’s people gathered in Jerusalem: “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs (Acts 2:9–11). 

They had gathered to celebrate a harvest. But on this harvest festival, they became the harvest. The New Testament church on earth began, and it was given a mission. The Holy Spirit was poured out. The gospel of Jesus was proclaimed. Timid disciples became international evangelists. Thousands of spiritual loaves that made up the one loaf of Christ’s church were brought into a joyful unity with God and, in spite of their various origins and languages and differences, into a joyful unity with each other. This was an abundant harvest from a generous God through his powerful gospel.  

Our Pentecost 

When we gather together in sacred assembly to celebrate Pentecost, we continue the celebration of God’s gracious preservation and also God’s harvesting of souls. Today this celebration commemorates a harvest of precious human souls through the preaching of the gospel. It is a celebration of a great harvest that “no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). 

We are part of this leavened loaf that honors the power and generosity of God’s grace in Jesus. By Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and by the shedding of his holy blood, he has saved us for himself. He has made us one with God in heaven. And he has made us one with all those who have been harvested before us, with us, and after us.  

The harvesting continues. Wave a symbolic pair of delicious leavened loaves to God! Praise him because he has made us part of his people and given us all a mission to share the gospel. Praise him for the witness of our congregations, Lutheran elementary schools, and early childhood centersPraise him for our worker training schools that prepare harvesters for the harvest fields. Praise him for the harvesting of our 41 WELS missionaries overseas. Praise him for the witnessing of our Pastoral Studies Institute pastors who are leading our church body into brand new outreach opportunities in  Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Thailand, Vietnam, and more! God is generous. He is worthy of praise.  

Pentecost is not over. The harvest is on! 


E. Allen Sorumdirector of the Pastoral Studies Institute at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ, Big Bend, Wisconsin. 


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Author: E. Allen Sorum 
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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: Nelson

Unable to pay for her sins even as a nun, one woman finds the peace of the gospel.

Jennifer Nelson

I grew up as a Roman Catholic, but I confess that I did not regularly attend church until my late teens. After my father died unexpectedly when I was ten years old, I allowed my grief to turn into anger against God. I became angrier with God and the world around me as the years passed. I finally hit rock bottom around the age of 17.

A neighbor encouraged me to begin attending church. He also assured me that Jesus died on the cross and paid the ultimate price for all the sins of the world. There was nothing I had to do to earn God’s grace. He invited me to attend church with his family. Instead I went to church with my mother, attending the familiar Catholic services. At first there was a feeling of relief that the pillars of the church did not come down as soon as I walked in!

Becoming a nun

I quickly became immersed in studying the Catholic faith. While taking an adult confirmation course at the age of 19, I had a deep sense that the Lord was calling me into the religious life as a nun. My parish priest was so thrilled that he set up an appointment for me to speak with a religious sister. I spoke to her, but my excitement quickly turned into fear and doubt. I just could not make such a monumental decision at that moment in my life.

Ten years later, I was actively involved in the church, but I also lived a life outside of those walls of which I was ashamed. I hit rock bottom again. I was exhausted. I became so confused! I would be in the confessional on Saturday evening, feeling relieved that I was once again “good to go” for the next week, but I could not turn from my life of sin. I had no peace. I was certain that I would be doing serious time in purgatory in order to clean up the residue all my sins had left on my soul. I wondered if the religious life would help overcome my sins.

Two years later, at the age of 31, I entered a monastery to become a Carmelite nun. I would be “hidden from the world.” The life of a cloistered Carmelite nun is a life of prayer, silence, penance, and sacrifice. I would awake every morning at 5:30 a.m. to gather for our first prayer of the day. We met six other times throughout the day. I had a bed, desk, rocking chair, and a cross hanging above my bed. It was not a crucifix because we were told that we had to wake every morning and put ourselves on the cross.

After a few months of living this life of “sacrifice,” I was still feeling I wasn’t doing enough to erase the sins of my past. I felt that if I lived to be 200 years old, nothing I did would be enough. On top of this, I was having difficulty with the normal everyday activities at the monastery. My novice mistress, who oversaw me, grew frustrated with me and reprimanded me a few times in front of the other nuns. I would go back to my cell and cry myself to sleep.

Then one day my novice mistress, still frustrated with me and angry, said, “Jennifer, do you even want to live this life?” I looked her in the eye and said, “No.”

She avoided me for a couple days, and then she asked me why. I told her I could not make up for my sins or the sins of others. She reminded me that the Lord wanted me to offer up my life as a sacrifice for myself and others. A week after this incident, I decided to leave the monastery.

While it may seem that I had no joy after almost a year of being a nun, I had many joyful moments with the other nuns. Despite those friendships, I was forbidden to say good-bye to anyone. I had to leave discreetly. My mother came for me one day in secret, and I did not look back.

A new life

I felt too embarrassed to go back to my home church where people knew me. So I decided to move to New Mexico where my brother and sister and some other relatives were living.

After moving to New Mexico, I begun working at a machine shop, and there I met my future husband, Rob. We were just friends for the first six months, before we finally went out on a dinner date. We were engaged four months later and married two months after that, exactly one year after we initially met.

Rob is a lifelong WELS Lutheran. At first, I had many questions for Rob that often turned into one-sided arguments because I was determined to get him to become a Catholic. But he always remained patient with me and never pressured me. I would go into our office and study Rob’s Lutheran books and literature. This led to even more questions.

One day during a family dinner my mother-in-law asked me if I truly believed that if I died I would go to heaven. Tears welled in my eyes and quickly I said, “No.”

I told her that according to the Catholic Church, I was living in mortal sin, and I would go to hell, not purgatory. She explained what I had heard once before—that all of the work has already been done by Jesus. I said that it just sounded too simple; it could not be that easy. I have to do something.

I continued to read Rob’s books as well as Forward in Christ—especially the “Confessions of faith” articles. I read several stories about people who had once been Roman Catholic. Those stories really stuck with me. Then one day I asked Rob if we could attend church together. There I heard not just the condemning law but also the saving gospel. After the service, the pastor asked if I wanted him to come to our home and talk a little more. I happily agreed.

Slowly the weight I once carried began to disappear. Even though I had read the Bible before, it was like God’s Word was all new to me. I admit it was hard to let go of the beliefs I had clung to for so long. I still had so many questions. But I also realized that for so many years I had depended on my own works and was not looking to Jesus and the cross. After six months of instruction, with much joy I became a WELS Lutheran.

We now belong to Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, where I am surrounded by Christian people who have become my everyday family. And by God’s grace, without fail, every Sunday I continue to hear law and gospel and the assurance that my sins are forgiven. I finally feel confident—not in myself and the good works I perform—but in what my Savior did for me so undeservedly.


Jennifer Nelson is a member at Cross of Christ, Las Cruces, New Mexico.


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Author: Jennifer Nelson
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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: KARMA?

What is karma? How is it different than reaping what you sow? Is it okay to use the term in conversation? 

James F. Pope

We do hear that word karma frequently today, don’t we?From commercials to conversations, people speak of karma.Understanding the word better will guide our thoughts in using it.

Karma examined 

Karma is the belief in Hinduism and Buddhism that people’s actions in this life determine what transpires in their next life, and the life after that, and every succeeding life. But the Bible does not teach reincarnation. The Bible, God’s only written revelation to the world, states that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Scripture teaches that once people have died and received judgment from God, that judgment is permanent (Luke 16:19-31).  

Additionally, the Bible teaches that people cannot improve their standing with God by their works (Psalm 49:7,8; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5-7). As Christians, we reject the concept of karma because it is intertwined with reincarnation and workrighteousness. Still, that concept might enter our conversations.   

Karma compared 

Imagine you and a friend are driving down the interstate. Suddenly, a car whizzes by you and almost cuts you off. “What’s with that driver?” your friend fumes. Five miles down the road you disengage your cruise control because of the flashing lights of a state trooper on the shoulder of the road. And the car directly ahead of the trooper’s is the one that swerved around you just a few minutes earlier. “Karma!” your friend exclaims excitedly. “What?” you say. Your friend explains, “You reap what you sow. The Bible says that. You drive crazy; you get a ticket.” 

Did you and your friend just witness a Christian version of karma? Not at all. The Bible does warn: Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7,8). But those verses do not describe an instant “gotcha” approach on God’s part toward sinners. Those verses speak of the harvest people will reap on the Last Day. If people sowed “to please their flesh” by living only according to their sinful nature, they will reap destruction; they have ignored the one thing needful. If they sowed “to please the Spirit” as a follower of Jesus Christ, they will reap eternal life. 

Jesus instructs us not to make connections between people’s misfortunes in life and their relationship with God (Luke 13:1-5). Rather than trying to make such connections, Jesus directs us to look at our own lives: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:5). With repentant hearts, we confess our sins to God. As Christians, wthank God that he “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).   

Karma avoided 

Personally, I avoid the word karma because I do not want to be confused with people who believe in reincarnation and workrighteousness. also avoid the term because I do not want to mislead people on what the Bible teaches about sin, repentance, faith, God’s justice, and God’s forgiveness. Your concern for these matters will show itself by the words you use in everyday conversation. “Let your conversation be always full of grace” (Colossians 4:6).   


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 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 2

In spite of the First Commandment, idolatry still persists in our world. 

John A. Braun 

Idolatry? Today? Yes! And in familiar and unfamiliar forms. Paul walked the streets of Athens and noted the statues of idols almost everywhere. When he spoke to the Athenians, he said, “I see that in every way you are very religious” (Acts 17:22). He had passed altars dedicated to Zeus, Athena, and a host of others, including “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. The ancient world was full of gods and knew little of the God of grace, peace, and joy. 

Acts of the flesh: Idolatry and witchcraft 

Has anything really changed? Gods abound in many cultures. For many, demons and witches populate their everyday life so that they need to call a shaman, witch doctor, or some other priest to exorcise the demons from their homes and lives. Even without these obvious illustrations of idolatry, imitations of the true God abound. Many like to think that all gods or all theologies lead to the same place and have the same goals, but just a little research shows that to be only wishful thinking to justify rejecting the true God. 

Paul lists idolatry and witchcraft as acts of the flesh. Humans create gods because of the natural knowledge of God embedded within their hearts. The gods they create are talismans to soothe human worries and fears or to bring good fortune. They believe their imaginary gods will guide them through the unknown and help them journey through death. Such gods all require obedience or rituals to earn something. Perhaps it is easy for us to see them as acts of the flesh flowing from superstition and fear.  

We may easily think we have kept the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” These gods or idols don’t interrupt our Christian way too often. We may encounter them in Wiccans, those who worship Satan, and others, but they are mostly far away from our Christian way of life.  

Yet see how Luther defines god: “Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (Large Catechism I:3). With that definition the acts of the flesh come into focus, and we realize that the temptations to adopt a different god cross our path frequently. 

Jesus warned us about one of them, “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Too many people in our world today set their heart on money and put their trust in wealth. Jesus warned how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:24). If our focus is on what we possess and we have no time for the God who sent Jesus to save uswe have created an idol and yielded to the temptations of the flesh.  

But it’s not just money. It is anything that we choose that eventually becomes more important than our loving God—pleasure, free time, friends, sleep, career, sports, even family. God gives us all these things to use and enjoy—money included—as long as they do not replace God and remove him from our lives 

Our sinful flesh has an arrogant pride that resists the true God. Our natural tendency is a desire to control our lives without interference or direction even from God himself. That sinful flesh wants to elevate our thoughts and ideas above God’s. How often that tendency crosses our paths. When God tells us one thing in his Word, our sinful flesh can find all kinds of explanations or opinions more appealinthan what God wants. Sometimes those thoughts even make more sense to our way of thinking. But that’s our way of thinking, not God’s. When we abandon what God reveals in the Scriptures, we make gods of ourselves. When we respect the opinions of others instead of God’s Word, we elevate their ideas above God 

Why the warning? Jesus reminds us that everything in this world is temporary. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Building lives on the disappearing promises of this world—even when they are attractive and alluring—is like building our house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). If we abandon God and choose the idols we create for ourselves, we do not heed the warning of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). 

Fruit of the spirit: Joy and peace 

When Jesus warned about the treasures we value on earth, he took one more step and said, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). The treasures Jesus spoke about were those that he himself gave. Paul identifies two of them as fruit of the Spirit—joy and peace. They are gifts to us by the grace of God through Jesus. 

Paul reminded the Roman Christians of the peace we have, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1,2). When we see our God on Mount Sinai in thunder and lightening, he strikes fear into our hearts. Demanding perfect obedience, we fail and deserve punishment. But the obedience we could not give him, he provides freely for us. Jesus suffered the fierce punishment for the sins of all humanity and then rose again to provide victory over death. We are justified—declared acquitted of our sins—and have peace with God. In Jesus, he is not angry with us.  

That peace with God because of Jesus fills us with joy. We rejoice because we have treasures in heaven waiting for us. Jesus has prepared a place for us and reminds us, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). As Christians we are on the way to heaven and choose not to be distracted from that goal. 

With all this in mind, it is important to remember that any concept of God that excludes Jesus or minimizes what he has done is only the vain imagination of the human mind and an idol. Sadly, many live devoted to such gods and spread their notions aggressively. On our journey through life as Christians, we encounter them often. At times their concepts appeal to our sinful human nature. Many follow that path, as Jesus reminds us (Matthew 7:13).  

But Christians are different and follow a different way. The Spirit has changed us so we understand that without Jesus we lose the peace and joy he provided. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6:58), so we turn to him to reap the fruit of the Spirit. 

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him” (Romans 15:13). 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the second 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 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 8

Quiz the intimidator  

Thomas H. Trapp 

In my early years as a full-time campus pastor, I attended a gathering of diverse university religious clergy. Intriguingly, they invited a Christ-centered scholar to speak to a group of mostly skeptical theologians. During the questionandanswer period, one of them quizzed the scholar: “So, what is your view of salvation?”  

I thought to myself, That’s an easy answer. The only name under the sky that will bring salvation from God’s just and holy judgment is Jesus. Faith in Jesus saves! (cf. Acts 4:12).  

Then I realized the person sitting across from me firmly rejected Jesus as God and Savior. How was the speaker going to respond without being accused as a hater of non-Christians and an unloving, narrow-minded bigot? The speaker knew he was being set up to be chopped down.  

If you were that speaker, how would you respond? You may want to do what Jesus often didHe answered a question with a question.  

Jesus asked questions 

Jesus knew that questions force antagonists to rethink their positions. Religious leaders once asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t follow their religious traditions and wash their hands before eating. Jesus responded with a question: Why are your man-made traditions more important to you than God’s commands? (paraphrased from Matthew 15:3). With that question, he was calling them to repentanceWhat were they doing wrong before God? Instead of using their money to take care of their parents (the Fourth Commandment), the Phariseebragged that they gave their finances for God’s work. It was a “religious” excuse to break one command of God in order to obey anotherand “look good. Have you ever experienced being more spiritual than others and hoped others noticed itI can hear Jesus ask: “Why does your obedience make you arrogant?”  

During the week before Jesus was crucified, the hate-filled, resentful religious leaders heard children in the temple area singing to Jesus: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus response? A question: “Yes, have you never read [in Psalm 8:2], From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:16). Of course, they knew Psalm 8. They were scholars of the Scriptures! It’s a passage about the coming Godman Messiah (Hebrews 2). Jesus was sending them a clear message: I am that Messiah of Psalm 8. Follow me! “Haven’t your read . . . ?” was a question of love, even though these religious leaders didn’t love him. Jesus wanted his enemies to rethink the words he spoke to them and the miracles he showed them and join the children in singing his praise. 

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” a wealthy man asked Jesus (Luke 18:18). The man of means felt he was living a holy life and on his way to heaven. Jesus answered again with a question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone” (Luke 18:19). Jesus was redirecting the man’s false reasoningIf you think I’m good/God, then give all your riches to the poor and follow me. The man loved money and walked awaybut Jesus penetrating question gave him something to think about. Interestingly some think this rich man was Joseph of Arimathea who eventually committed his life to Jesus and buried the Lord in his personal tomb. Who knows?  

Jesus faced many challenging and attacking questions, even from his own disciples. One dark night the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee when a furious storm came up and made the waves start flooding their vessel (Mark 4:35-41). It’s hard to imagine, but Jesus was sleeping in the back of the rocking boat. The disciples woke him up with an accusatory question: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus answered: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Faith in what? In him! They just saw him perform divine powers of healing and casting out demons. Why wouldn’t he also have power over the wind and the waves? Have you ever asked Jesus: “Don’t you care about me and all the troubles in this world?” Jesus asks us: Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? King David was once terrified of getting killed. When he turned to God’s promises, he wrote: “I lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the LORD sustains me” (Psalm 3:5). It’s not good fortune or luck that keeps us alive. It’s the Lord. He alone will also determine when we go heaven. Do you believe this? 

The goal of questions 

Questions make us rethink our doubts and unbelief. Questions also help people who don’t know God to rethink God. A number of years ago during a television interview, a movie star challenged a Christian theologian: “I understand that you think Jesus is God? Well, that’s your opinion! His response: “Do you really think that’s my opinion?” Then he paused before saying. It’s not my opinion. Either Jesus is or isn’t.”  

Our goal is the Lord’s goal: It’s not to win an argument but to win a soul . . . with truth and love. Intimidators of believers may have no love for us or interest in what we say, so to get their attention, you need to make them question their questions.   

A young Christian woman who came to our campus ministry at UW-Madison lived in the dorm with an atheist. The atheist was nice and friendly, but she loved to challenge Christians. One day she confronted her Lutheran roommate with this question: “As a Christian you must believe that I’m going to hell, right?” Our student sat quietly for a moment and then responded, “Yes, I do believe you’re going to hell as Scripture says.” Then she asked a question that eventually changed her atheist roommate’s life: “Did you know that my family really loves you and is praying that you might come to know the love of Jesus and go to heaven?” Her unbelieving roommate was stunned. She never heard any Christian give such a blunt answer and follow up with such a caring question. The entire family was praying for her?  

Out of curiosity she came to our campus ministry and started to ask me many, many questions. As we searched the Bible together, the Holy Spirit eventually touched her heart. She told me she fought the Spirit-filled words of Scripture for a long time, but one day she woke up believing iJesus as her Lord and SaviorThen she asked to be baptized. The Chapel celebrated that day along with all the angels in heaven! 

When people want to belittle our faith or attack it, develop a penetrating question from their question. Make them think. Then be ready to give them answers from God’s Word, with loving “gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). 

Now here’s a closing question for you: If antagonists ever quizzed you, asking, “So what’s your view of salvation?”—what question would you ask them? 

 


Thomas Trapp served as campus pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel at UW-Madison for 38 years. The Lord called him home in March. We are saddened he is gone from us but rejoice he has found complete joy in his Savior’s presence. 


This is the eightharticle 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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Author: Thomas H. Trapp
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 7

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 14

Timothy J. Westendorf 

We’ve seen the first three of the seven “visionsthe dragon and his two beastly allies. Chapter 14 reveals the next three.  

The 144,000 and the Lamb 

Contemplating the frightening enemies of Christ and his church can fill human hearts with fear. The next vision, seen by John and revealed to us, helps us overcome the fear 

God shows us the church triumphant, symbolized by 144,000 people12×12 (the representative of believers from Old and New Testament eras) multiplied by 1,000 (the number for completeness, 10 cubed). They are with Jesus, the Lamb, and have his name and that of his Father on their heads. They have been redeemed by the Lamb’s precious sacrifice, completely cleansed and purified through the waters of Baptism and the work of the Spirit in the gospel. Their song is a Spirit-taught song of praise and thanks to the Lamb, and their purity comes from the robes of his righteousness that they wear. They are safe from the fearful visions. 

The three angels 

Rather abruptly, the glimpse of heaven fades, and the scene shifts back to the earth in the fifth vision. After receiving reassurance of the church’s final victory, John is reminded of the Savior’s promise that his gospel will be preached until the end of time. 

As long as this world endures, the church has work to do. There is good news to proclaim to the inhabitants of this world that they too might be brought from darkness to light, from unbelief to faith.  

The urgency of the work is underscored by what John sees and hears next. The second and third angels clearly announce a warning about the result of rejecting the gospel. Those who oppose Christ and his church will ultimately be destroyed. The enemies of God’s people are Babylon. Those who stubbornly hold to the beastly, un-Christian message and philosophies multiplied by Satan and his allies will be left to face God in his holiness and justice on their own. The faithful believers are blessed and find rest from their labors. 

The harvest 

Throughout the Bible the day of judgment is pictured as a harvest time. The sixth vision takes up the pictureOne “like a son of man,” Jesus himself, comes on the clouds. As we regularly confess in the Apostles’ Creed, he “has risen from death and live and rules eternally.” He comes to judge the living and the dead. 

The world as we know it and in which we now live won’t last forever. It will come to an end. Throughout the Bible and in Revelation too, we are encouraged to see in that end a new and glorious beginning, our final redemption carried out by the Savior who loves us. Until that day, the church, consisting of each believer in Christ, is encouraged to take up the announcement of the first flying angel, calling young and old, near and far, to find their comfort and rest, now and forever, in the good news of our triumphant Savior and King.  


Reflect on Revelation chapter 14 

1.Why do you think that Revelation 14:6,7 is sometimes read on Reformation Sunday in Lutheran churches? 

The gospel is eternal, and the Holy Spirit has used it through history to bring sinners to faith in Jesus. At the time of the Reformation, however, the gospel was hidden in the traditions and structure of the visible church. The Holy Spirit led Martin Luther to find it. When he did, he said it felt as if “the doors of paradise were opened.” From that moment, he spent his energy to proclaim what he found to all who would listen. The eternal gospel was no longer hidden but preached to edify God’s people. 

2. How might this chapter help sharpen our focus on the purpose of our lives and the mission of our churches? 

When we consider the fate of all those who “worship the beast” and reject the gospel, we first find reason to treasure what has made us believers—the gospel.  We want to preserve that message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus for ourselves and for the generations that come after us. 

That means we come to hear the message of the gospel because it sustains us in this world of trouble and error. Then we want our children to know the gospel of Jesus so we train them at home, in our schools, and in confirmation instruction. 

We do not forget that the gospel is for all “those who live on the earth.” We tell others of Jesus and the hope we have and we send missionaries to places where we cannot go so that others around the world might hear the message of salvation. 


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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Heart to heart: Parent conversations: How can we prepare children for summer camp?

How can we prepare children for summer camp?

When I was going into eighth grade, I went to band camp for a week during the summer. I had a blast, and the experience really gave me confidence in my own independence.  

I want my children to have a similar camp experience. I’m excited because we live in an area where we can choose from a number of WELS camps for them to attend. They can have all the fun, surrounded by Christian friends and mentors. Bonus! Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t have some qualms . . . which is where this month’s articles come in. No matter what type of camp your child might be attending, both Dan and Jenni offer some great tips to help make the experience a success.  

Wondering if you have a WELS camp near you? Visit wels.net/event/wels-camps for a listing that includes contact information and links to websites.  

Nicole Balza


“It’s time for camp!”  

These four words are the highlight of our family’s year every summer. I have had the privilege of serving as a camp leader at Camp Bird in Crivitz, Wis., for many years. Camp Bird is a week long Christian youth camp for kids in fifth to eighth grade. This year my son Josh will be in his last year as a camper and my daughter Kayla will be in her third year as a camp counselor. For nearly 30 years my wife and I have been volunteering at Camp Bird. We have seen kids create memories and friendships that last a lifetime.  

We are blessed to have a great network of Christian youth camps in our synod. As thousands of families prepare for their childrens camp experiences, this question comes to mind: How can parents help prepare their kids for a youth camp experience so their kids can have a terrific time? Here are a few things I have noticed over the years as I have interacted with families and seen some excellent examples of encouragement: 

  • Go with a friendThis is perhaps one of the best ways to help kids feel comfortable with a new camp experience.Knowing just one other person can help them not feel alone and make it easier to meet others.  
  • Know the campIts easy to be afraid of what is unknown or unfamiliar.Review the camp website or printed materials with your child. Look at the pictures and videos. Check out the daily schedule. Review information on the staff. Find out what to pack, etc.  
  • Talk to othersTalk to parents and kids who have been at the summer camp in the past to find out what their experience was like and what to expect. 
  • Meet the staffBefore you leave the camp at drop-off timeintroduce yourself and your child to some of the staff. This can not only help you feel more comfortable leaving your child with others, but it can also help the child know exactly who he can go to if he has questions.  
  • Focus on the experiences your child can haveTalk about all the fun experiences the camp has to offer! Swimming, kayaking, basketball, hiking, ropes courses, campfires, archery, kickball, singing, crafts, and all the other activities.  
  • But what about . ..” —Acknowledge the things that may be concerns for your child and reassure him that you will find answers to the what about questions. Your child may be worried if he has special dietary needs, medications, or other concerns. Its helpful to get specific answers so your child knows what to expect.  
  • CommunicateIt is helpful to have boundaries and expectations set regarding communication with your child while at camp. There may be limits on the ability to communicate with phones, but maybe cards, letters, postcards can be used. Find out the recommended communication procedures and let your child know how you will use them.  
  • StuffWhats one of the simplest ways to make sure your child has a great time? Make sure she packs the right things. Get a supply list from the camp and go through it with your child. Packing itself can be a fun experience, but make sure she has the essentials like mosquito spray and sunblock. 
  • FoodWhats top on the list of the best parts of a camp experience?The food! What’s on the menu at camp? remember one child who came to camp worried about what he would make himself to eat! Not too many camps I know would ever expect a fifth-grader to make his own meals! He was pretty excited to hear the meals would be all prepared for him. But this was a concern that he never expressed to anyone until arrival.   

Parents, these are just a few ways to help your children prepare for their summer camp experiences. Separation from our kids can not only be anxiety-provoking for our kids but also for us as well. Seeing them prepared and excited can help alleviate some of our anxiety. You also might want to ask the camp if there will be Facebook posts or other updates so you can see how things are going at the camp.  

Take advantage of the opportunity to see your child enjoy a Christian summer youth camp. Consider using some of the techniques above to help her prepare for her time away as she expands her experiences with new activities and meets new friends. Use this time of preparation to communicate with your child and be understanding, encouraging, and reassuring.  


Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son. 


I love camp!

When I was a kid I went to soccer camp and basketball camp and Camp Phillip, a Christian camp in Wautoma, Wis. My love for Camp Phillip grew as I got older. I became part of the junior staff (high school volunteers) and then paid staff. It then moved into my fulltime job when I graduated college. As a camp counselor, I saw hundreds of children get dropped off at campsome for the first time and some who kept returning. 

As familiar as I am with camp life, it was a crazy different perspective to be the one dropping off her child. As a mom, I have been dropping off my children at camp for the past ten years. Every year comes with excitement and anxiousness. How do I prepare myself? How do I prepare my child? Here are a few thoughts: 

  1. Let him help pack. Go through the list so you don’t forget anything. And let him pack it so he knows where everything is. 
  2. Make writing to you easy.Pack paper and self-addressed stamped envelopes. That way it is easy for her to write to you if she would like to. Also know that she might be having way too much fun to write, so give her permission not to write. After all, we want our children to focus on where they are and enjoy that! 
  3. Write a letter to him. I’ll be honest, I always think about this one too late. But maybe this can help you. Write him a letter and send it a day or two before camp starts. That way he gets a letter right away (see point #5 when writing). 
  4. DON’T LINGER! When you drop her off, introduce yourself and your child to the counselor. Help her get situated (make her bed, etc.), give her a hug, and go. 
  5. Leave your child with confidence. As a counselor I could pick out the kids who would probably be homesick. Why? Because their parents gave them permission to be homesick by saying things like, “If you get sad, you can call me” or “I am going to miss you soooo much!” or “I can’t wait until I see you on Saturday!” Instead say, “You are going to have such a good time” or “I can’t wait to hear all about the fun you’re going to have this week.” Put the focus on why they are there instead of “missing” them, even though you are going to miss them. Cry after you are gone. 

I truly believe in the camping ministry. It allows children to be who they are. It gives them the opportunity to see young adults model loving Jesus and loving others, including your child. It also gives your child a small piece of independence. After all, our goal as parents is to teach our children how to fly. 



Jenni Schubring and her husband, Tad, currently have six children in their clan ranging in age from 10 to 18 as well as their crazy dog. 

 


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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 5

Pray to know God better 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Someone was bound to invent an easy button. One office supply company has already used an easy button to advertise solutions to office headaches. But we could use simple solutions for all kinds of issues. 

Enter prayer. It’s a tremendous comfort to know that God wants us to come to him (Matthew 11:28). When we are faced with problems outside of our ability to handle, it’s a relief to entrust them to the One who has limitless ability to effect real change in our chaotic world (Philippians 4:6). God wants to know what’s on our hearts and has the power to handle the burdens we are facing in life (1 Peter 5:7).  

Not just an easy button 

Yet it is healthy for us to pause and consider why we are praying. What are we hoping to get out of prayer? Our reasons for turning to God in prayer might be different than some of God’s reasons for inviting us to pray. Essentially, are we asking God to be our easy button for every problem area in life? While God invites us to come to him in prayer, God may desire something more personally beneficial and durable from prayer for his children than what we’re after.  

Consider Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even as our Savior engaged in prayer, he expressed his own personal desires. He unloaded the deepest concerns troubling his heart. Yet in childlike humility, Jesus resolved to submit to his Father’s will (Matthew 26:39,42). Scripture was clear: It was the LORDs will to crush him and cause him to suffer and finally make his life an offering for sin. The same Scripture promised the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand (Isaiah 53:10). Jesus accepted his cup of suffering and turned to the promise of his Father for strength. 

That pattern reflects the way Paul often prays for fellow believers. He repeatedly prays that they grow to know God better (Ephesians 1:15-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12; Philemon 6). Didn’t they have serious doctrinal issues in need of correction? Of course, they did. Weren’t there precarious situations around them threatening their spiritual and physical safety? Undeniably so. Weren’t there pressing practical matters to be resolved among fellow Christians? Absolutely. Could he have gotten right to the point of the urgent needs they faced? Certainly.  

All of those issues were important. And their prayers were no doubt filled with requests for solutions. But Paul had told the new believers they would have many hardships (Acts 14:22). Yet he prays that God would send them the Spirit “so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17).  

A way to know God 

Knowing God better isn’t simply about gaining information so you are the champion of Bible trivia. It’s about gaining a personal appreciation for who your Savior is and what he has done and still does for his children. Above all else, God desires the salvation of sinners (1 Timothy 2:4). Internal uncertainty swirls around our hearts. He has given us great promises that stand as monuments to divine truth (e.gRomans 8:28).  

The Spirit works through God’s promises. Knowing God through his revealed Word produces growth in faith. Prayer produced as a byproduct of Scripture study might not immediately change your circumstances or eliminate obstacles in your life. All your problems might not be resolved instantaneously by means of some divine easy button. Rediscovering God’s truth and realigning yourself to God’s will will fill you with the joy of the hope you have in Christ. Knowing God will allow you to become more confident in God’s actions being carried out in our world. Knowing God better will build appreciation of the blessings you already have in Christ.  


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


This is the fifth 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 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
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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