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Welcome Home: Part 3

An elder appreciates the opportunity to encourage other members to stay close to Christ. 

Rachel Hartman 

After first hearing of Jesus as a child, Jim Plumlee was baptized as an adult. He now serves as chairman of the board of elders at CalvaryDallas, Texas. He has learned many lessons. “The spiritual wisdom and strength that come from the Word and volunteering time and talent to God’s church is priceless,” Plumlee says.  

Moving around 

Plumlee was born in Dallas but moved to Alabama when he was one year old. Then he moved to North Carolina. “Dad was in a retail tire business and traveled the East Coast,” he says. His grandmother lived with the family and helped care for Plumlee and his three siblings.  

After the family had settled, World War II broke out. As a result, tires were rationed, and the family moved back to Dallas. Plumlee’s parents took jobs at North American Aviation and helped build the B17, B-25, and P-51 Mustang airplanes. Both worked ten-hour night shifts.  

During that time, Plumlee’s grandmother helped care for the children. In addition to cooking and cleaning, she looked after their spiritual needs. On Sundays, “Grandmother had us children walk the 2.5 miles to a Methodist church,” Plumlee says. “There I was taught about Jesus. . . . . Sunday fried chicken dinners and fruit cobbler were a reward,” he says.  

When Plumlee attended high school, he continued to look for ways to learn about Christ. He went to meetings run by an organization called Young Life and purchased his first King James Bible. At graduation, a neighbor gave him a small book of Proverbs. “These two books made a difference to me,” Plumlee says. 

Then Plumlee went to Texas A&M UniversityHe kept attending Young Life meetings and went to a Methodist church when he could get a ride into town. He listened to preachers on the radio and looked for ways to learn more about God and help others. “Texas A&M was an all-male military college back then, and as a senior I was appointed Assistant Corps Chaplain on Corps Staff, he says.  

Taking on new roles  

Plumlee got married and went into the manufacturing industry after college and military service. He spent 32 years helping build a family company, serving as CEO the last nine years. The family sold the business in 1982, and he purchased a ranch near Athens, Texas. After some time and a move back to Dallas, Plumlee’s wife, Joyce, wanted to operate bed and breakfast. The couple decided on a location in East Texas. 

While Plumlee and his wife were overseeing their bed and breakfast, a friend invited them to attend Grace, Scroggins, Texas. The couple went and were happy with the experience. “It was awesome,” Plumlee says. They began attending as often as they could, and Plumlee got baptized there. “The congregation was kind and loving, and the pastor inspired me to a faith in God through Jesus so real, which had been absent in my life for so many years.”  

After seven years in the business, the couple moved back to Dallas and transferred their membership to Calvary. They attended regularly and continued to grow in the Word. When the pastor encouraged Plumlee to consider leadership roles, he took on the duty of congregation secretary. He also began serving as an elder. For the past four years, he has been the chairman of the board of elders. 

Encouraging others 

The elder program at the congregation is set up as three groups, designed to help care for the spiritual wellbeing of members. The first group consists of eight core elders who oversee administrative tasks and meet once every two months. Another group of eight duty elders rotate duties for worship services. Sixteen visiting elders, made up of the core elders and eight additional elders, visit members. 

As an elder, Plumlee has become familiar with the system the congregation uses to identify members and record their attendance. During worship, attendees fill out a sheet in a book on the pews. They note the date, their family name, and visitor or membership status. “From these pages from each service, a spreadsheet format is used to enter the attendance information for that family as it accumulates each month,” Plumlee says.  

The spreadsheet shows how many worship services were available during a month and the number of services each member family attended during that time. This information is compiled into a report every two months and is also listed as a running total for the calendar year. The ratio of the number of services attended compared to the number of services available is converted to a percentage for each family member. “This is an extremely valuable tool for our visiting elders,” Plumlee says. “They can see at a glance from their group of families who they need to contact either by phone, text, email, or in person.”  

Elders first undergo training from the pastor to gain insight and direction. They then reach out to members who rarely attend or don’t attend at all. They ask for the reason the family is not able to worship more consistently and then ask them to aim to attend more services. “The family needs to be in the shelter of God and within the arms of Jesus Christ,” Plumlee says. “All joy and peace come from it.” 

Each elder oversees between 7 and 15 members, who are divided up by geographical location. If a family’s attendance level declines or drops to zero, the congregation takes notice. “This is one of our church’s concerns and has high priority,” Plumlee says. “Finding WELS Christians who are attending worship just a little bit or not at all has the attention of leaders because it generally is a soul, or family, who is hurting. And Christ and the Word is the answer. 

Growing spiritually 

Helping others stay close to the Word has helped Plumlee place a priority on his own spiritual well-being. “By being more active in the needs of our church, the efforts become the nutrients of growth, spiritually and health wise,” he says. He views the journey of faith as one that needs a continual connection to the Word. “If you plan corn without water, good soil, and sun, it will stunt or die. Faith is like that.”God’s Word and the sacraments are the water they need, and attending church is where they can get watered. 

During his time as an elder, Plumlee has also had the opportunity to see younger members take on new roles in the congregation. “It is a blessing to me that we are experiencing a younger generation of active worshipers,” he says. “I encourage young people to choose to volunteer time to benefit their church.” Even if a member is only able to help in a small way, that initial start is worth the effort.  

Plumlee adds. “They can grow from that as time passes.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida. 


This is the final article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 


There are approximately 155,000 WELS individuals who attend worship three or fewer times a year. Having a strong elder program in place can help a congregation as they encourage those who are not attending worship regularly. WELS Congregational Services has produced an online video elder training program as well as resources to help congregations track member attendance. Find the materials at welscongregationalservices.net 


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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 10

Be careful of the facts! 

Samuel C. Degner 

I was lingering in the plumbing aisle when an employee noticed me. “Can I help you find something?” he asked. I explained what I needed. He picked up a part and told me it would do the trick. I had put in a few hours of work that morning and two trips to other stores. I had learned enough to know that he was wrongSo I politely thanked him and kept looking. He had lost my confidenceIt’s not that I thought he was deceiving me to make a sale. But his error led me to question his ability to help me. 

Can we, as ambassadors of Christ, have the same effect on people? 

Our conversations with the unchurched of this world can be far-ranging. Our goal is to proclaim the gospel, but often witnessing opportunities arise in the context of back-and-forth discussions. People ask tough questions. They are skeptical—or even hostile—toward what the Bible says. In those kinds of situations, we may want to reach for outside facts that can help us defend biblical truth. 

Make sure of the facts 

While I think it’s rare for Christian witnesses to be purposely deceptive, it’s probably not as uncommon for us to be careless with the facts we present. That fact that you readthe one that supports your biblical point of view—what’s the source? Where did you hear that statistic? The internet is notoriously fraught with misinformation. That something comes from a Christian source doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true, no matter how much we want to believe itA person may have a PhDbut that doesn’t make him an expert in everything. It may not even mean he is respected in his own field.  

This isn’t about biblical truths that can only be accepted by faith, like a six-day creation or life after death. This is about facts that have to do with observation and reasonAsk yourself: Is this information reliable and respectable? You might even go a step further and ask whether non-Christians will find it persuasive—or at least worthy of consideration. If not, that doesn’t necessarily make it untrueit just might not be useful in your witnessing.  

Last summer I took my family to the Ark Encounter in Kentucky. This full-scale model of Noah’s ark was built to persuade skeptics of the plausibility of the Bible’s flood accountThe interior is outfitted to demonstrate how the eight passengers could have lived and taken care of the animals on board. Displays describe how the biblical flood could have caused the geological and fossil records we see on earth today. The experience helped us appreciate how big the boat was. It was heartening to see fellow Christians unabashedly proclaiming the Bible’s truth—including the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Nonetheless, as I walked through the ark, I found myself wondering what a scientist or skeptical layperson would think—not about the biblical message, but about the science they use to support it. I had the sneaking feeling they might shake their heads at some of the theories presented. And while these were offered only as possible explanations of what happened in Genesis, I wondered how many Christians would go home and repeat them as facts in future evangelistic conversations. That might not seem to be a problem. But what if the person they’re speaking with finds valid holes in those facts? What if those particular models are refuted by solid science? It wouldn’t make the flood untrue, but it would make the ones who shared those theories look untrustworthy. 

This is just one exampleConsider others, like the statistics Christians sometimes present on the effects of divorce, homosexuality, or abortion on people and society. Think of archaeological evidence that speaks to biblical accountsCertainly, it’s refreshing to hear a Christian perspective in fields like science and historyespecially for our young people in secular schools who are constantly bombarded with anti-biblical points of view. It can be gratifying to see God’s wisdom for human thriving confirmed by secular studies. It’s good for people to hear legitimate interpretations of data that are compatible with Scripture. Still, caution is in order.  

In our day, many consider truth to be malleable (like the presidential counselor who coined the phrase “alternative facts”). This is one result of postmodernism’s creep into every crevice of our society. But that doesn’t make it okay to play fast and loose with facts—especially for us who follow the one who calls himself the Truth. It doesn’t excuse laziness in vetting information before passing it along. In fact, it means we ought to be more careful than ever. People are wary of the spin. They know they’re constantly being marketed to. If we’re careless with the facts we present, people may see us as untrustworthy and be less likely to listen to the gospel we want to share.  

Use the one fact wknow 

Yes, we need to be careful about the facts . . . but not so cautious that we avoid conversations for fear of saying the wrong thing. Remember, the sacrifice of the Savior who never once spoke falsely atones for all the times we have done so, even if unintentionally. His resurrection guarantees forgiveness for our imagined need to prop up his gospel with feeble factsMoreover, that same Savior gives us his Word of truthwith which we can navigate this whole issue of facts without fear. Trusting in that Word, we can look for—even patiently wait for—opportunities to unleash its power.  

We have an objective standard like none other. We have a Scripture that “cannot be broken” (John 10:35 CSB). This means that we can compare anything we hear to what God has already said. If it contradicts his truth in any way, we know we need not be influenced by it, no matter what “authority” decrees itIf what we hear is not in conflict with Scripture, we can consider it. We’re cautious, of course. We use our God-given reason and resources to evaluate it. But we need not be afraid of it nor enthralled by it. 

Furthermore, our Spirit-worked confidence in the inspired Word frees us from the need to latch onto any extra-biblical facts that seem to support our messageWe don’t have to search for science that backs up our belief in a six-day creation or a global flood. We aren’t waiting for the latest archaeological finds to confirm that what God said happened or for studies that show God’s commandments are goodThese kinds of facts can be valuable for starting or prolonging conversations with skeptics. But our witness in no way depends on them. God’s truth stands on its own. The gospel is God’s power to change hearts. Jesus died and rose for us—you can never go wrong with that fact! 

Unlike me in the hardware store, many people in this world don’t know what they’re really looking for. We have iteternal salvation in Jesus—and want to help them find it. That desire to share the truth heightens our concern for truth in everything we say.  

 


Samuel Degner, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


This is the tentharticle 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? How did you respond to a know-it-all? 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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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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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God’s actors

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21) 

Peter M. Prange 

God works in mysterious ways. We’ve probably all had opportunity to experience that reality. For instance, we may have the feeling at times that God has abandoned us in our time of need, only to have the problem were facing resolve itself in a way we could have never imagined. With a smile, we conclude, “God works in mysterious ways. 

His mysterious ways 

The Scriptures indeed tell us that God works in mysterious ways. He’s acting behind the scenes, so to speak, hidden from our eyes. That’s what a mystery is: a reality hidden from sight. 

The Old Testament believer Joseph had a wonderful and heart-wrenching opportunity to suffer God’s behind-the-scenes work in his life, only to have God’s good purpose revealed to him much later on. He went from being a young prisoner sold into slavery by his jealous brothers to second-in-command over all Egypt and in a position to save his family and many others from starvation. “You intended to harm me,” he reminded his brothers, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). 

The reality is that God is present with every person every moment of the day, acting in and through the people of this world, both believers and unbelievers. “For in him we live and move and have our being, St. Paul taught the skeptical crowd at Athens about their “UNKNOWN GOD (Acts 17:23,28). But our loving Father’s acting in us and through us is hidden from our eyes and the eyes of the people around usWe don’t normally see or understand it because God works in mysterious ways. 

His actions through us 

Have you ever considered yourself one of God’s actors? That’s what you are. Martin Luther described all people as “masks of God” to illustrate how God is acting through us. Especially as someone who trusts in Jesus, God employs you and your spiritual gifts to bless the people and world around you. He has sent his guiding Holy Spirit into your heart to lead you gently in all your thoughts, words, and ways. “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Yes, God has been acting inside you and through you in a mysterious way, even if you didn’t realize it! 

And what’s God’s ultimate “good purpose” for your life? Simply put, he doesn’t want you to “be overcome by evil, but [to] overcome evil with good.” God is good, and he can do nothing but good, even when we initially judge his work in our lives to be evilIn all circumstances, God has called us to be his actors in a spiritual war against evil. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood [i.e., human beings],” Paul reminds us, “but . . . against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). We need to realize that our enemy, the devil, also works in mysterious ways, “looking for someone to devour.” We need to be alert (1 Peter 5:8). 

How do we win this spiritual war against our unseen, evil enemy? By putting on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), which will protect us when the day of evil comes. Then the devil won’t get the best of us. Instead, God’s Word will lead us in victory over Satan’s evil schemes, as we allow our loving God to reveal the good he desires to produce in us and through us as his actors. 


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


 

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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: Peter M. Prange 
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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: What’s the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?

What’s the best parenting advice you’ve received or given?

Years before I became a mother, I wrote a news article for Forward in Christ in which I interviewed a dad who described his nightly ritual of blessing his young daughter before she went to sleep. He noted, “Blessing your child is not hocus pocus. When I bless Kayla, I am asking the Lord to keep my daughter in the faith forever. It’s another tool that I can use to demonstrate my love for Christ and for my child, based on the love that Christ showed for me.” 

That idea resonated with me, and after my daughter was born, I began blessing her each night. I’ve continued the ritual with my sons as well.  

Do you have a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with you through the years? If so, please share it with us! We want to compile feedback from our readers to share in the November issue. Send your advice to fic@wels.net 

And that dad I interviewed? When I started compiling authors for this column, I knew I wanted him to be a part of it. So, you can find his advice on the next page. He’s contributing author Dan Nommensen 

Nicole Balza


What’s the best parenting advice you received?


There have been a number of people in life who have either demonstrated or shared this important piece of parenting advice that I have kept on my heart. In our confessional Lutheran understanding of Scripture, we treasure a right understanding of the importance of God’s law and gospel. Yet I must admit that my tendency is to lean on the law side of my parenting approach. The encouragement that I have received, and try to pass on to others, is not to neglect the importance of the gospel. The pure understanding that I am forgiven, a saint, a new creation through the work of Christ is what sets my heart looking for ways to demonstrate my love for Godnot because I have to, should, or must, but because I can’t help but look for opportunities to be thankful. This is our treasure! Don’t leave it to a chance understanding for your kids. Live in joy with your children and be intentional in sharing the gospel with them so they too can be motivated by Christs love. 


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


Sam and I have given this some real thought. Independent of each other, we both wrote down the same parenting advice my father gave us early in our parenting journey: Dont sweat the small stuff, and pretty much everything is small stuff. Such a seemingly simple saying and yet so full of wisdom!


Mary Clemons and her husband, Sam, have three children and seven grandchildren.


Heres mineI got it from a priest named Zechariah (Luke 1). 

Take your child in your arms every night and speak into their heart the truth. Dont be afraid to tell them what this world is really like. Its dark and deadly outside, Zechariah said (cf. Luke 1:79). Then show them GodSon who has come to dispel the darknessHis love arises for us like the sun each day, bright and warm. Say something like, Tomorrow, my child, you will awaken to a bright new day in God’s love. Let it be the lullaby of their life that wraps them up secure each night no matter what the darkness. 

Im borrowing metaphors and images from Zechariahs great canticle and imagining the scene there where he sings by the Spirit, saying, You, my child (Luke 1:76). Luke marks it in Scripture as a truly Spirit-led parenting moment. 


Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter. 


What parenting advice do you give?


I have two pieces of advice.  

First, I encourage young parents to cultivate a spirit of empathy and service in their children. Start early by finding a cause that your family is passionate about and volunteer for that cause regularly. Help kids to understand the motivation behind serving others (1 John 4:19) and the joy it brings to all involved. Send a clear message that serving others doesn’t need to come with compensation or reward—we do it out of love for those around us and for the God who created us. In serving, we also come to appreciate all the blessings that God has showered upon us! 

Then, I encourage parents to teach children the value of work and how to work, starting at a very young age. As soon as they are able, give children age-appropriate chores, then add responsibility as they get older. Teach them that all members of a family need to contribute to keep a household running smoothly. Once they are old enough, encourage them to secure a job outside the home to help them learn the value of work and responsibility with finances. After all, one of our main jobs as parents is to raise our children to be productive members of society! 


Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three 20-something sons.


My favorite advice: Say yes first.  

My toddler wants ice cream right before dinner? “Yes! That sounds yummy. Let’s eat supper as fast as we can so we can have ice cream!”  

My over-stretched middle schooler wants to take on a paper route? “Yes! That sounds great. What are some factors to think through before you sign on? Can you foresee anything you wouldn’t like about it? And you do know I won’t be getting up to help you, right?” 

My high schooler is thinking about studying art or music at a pricey college? “Yes! How could we make it work? And what will you do with your art or music degree?” 

When we say yes first to our kids, we’re shifting the responsibility to them. They have to weigh the ramifications. And if they choose unwisely, they have to live with the consequences. That’s what growing up is all about. 

And the best benefit? Saying yes means they’ll keep coming to us with all their schemes and dreams. They know we’re not the dream crusher. We’re the cheerleader! We’re excited to watch them decide how they’re going to take a big bite out of life and make a mark on the world. 


Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her adult daughter and son and his teenage son.


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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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 7

Heart transformation

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Fall sports seasons are preparing to reboot. The starting quarterback reports to camp in excellent shape. Over the summer he has been training vigorously. Intense workouts got his body ready for peak performance. Hundreds of times each day he repeated the same movements to improve arm strength and accuracy. He’s ready.  

But the first time he goes under center and delivers a pass to an open receiver, the coach immediately halts practice. Something is amiss. The long, hard hours the quarterback spent over the summer getting into better shape and improving his skills were flawed. Improper mechanics had been repeated over and over. Poor form had been ingrained. The coach has no choice. He has to strip down the entire throwing process and start all over.  

Going back to the basics 

Christians know God’s Word is good for us. We spend time in prayer, Bible study, and meditation with the best of intentions. We know God will bring us personal benefits. Occasionally though, it’s good to take a step back and remember our natural need for the work God does through his Word.  

Galatians 5:17 tells us about a real and persistent conflict competing for dominance in our hearts: The flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” God points his people to the heart transformation worked by the Holy Spirit when we take advantage of time in his Word.  

As we embark on our journeys into God’s Word, Luther’s first of the Ninety-five Theses gives a good reminder: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ [Matthew 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” As we pray in Jesus’ name, we recall the benefits of his life and work. As we grow to know God better, we have confidence in the forgiveness he freely offers. Repeated repentance becomes a crucial component to our spiritual growth. 

Devotions for Christians aren’t just about developing habits or gathering information. Even as we grow in the Christian faith, we still need to strip it down to the basics. Repentance and forgiveness are key to seeing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. 

Reaping the harvest 

As we watch athletes appear on fields and take their places on courts, we are reminded of another seasonal reality. Soon summer heat will transition to fall chills in many parts of our country. Minor weather alterations remind us harvesttime is near. In my state, freshly picked chiles roasting outside grocery stores will send pungent aromas into the air. Trucks filled with Colorado peaches will soon rumble into town, loaded down with their sweet goodness.  

God’s people can expect a different kind of harvest from the Word planted in our hearts. The Holy Spirit plants the seed of faith in our hearts and causes it to grow. Repeated use of God’s Word pushes out the weeds of anger, anxiety, discouragement, and relational strife. His rays of sunlight warm what he has planted until sprouts of kindness, goodness, and faithfulness break into view. Faith flowers into joy, love, and peace in the soil of believing hearts. God benefits our lives and the lives of those around us with a harvest of gentleness, forbearance, and self-control.  

Our prayers, Bible study, and meditation take various forms. But through that focus on God’s Word, we reap a necessary harvest. God breaks it down to basics and transforms human hearts by the power of his Holy Spirit. 


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


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


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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: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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: Applauding in church…what advice can you give?

Recently our congregation has begun applauding the singing groups in our worship services. This offends some people. If we discouraged applauding, others would be offended. What advice can you give? 

James F. Pope

It is not likely that I can resolve this tension, but I hope I can give both groups spiritual food for thought.  

Applause in society 

There is nothing innovative about applause. History is replete with examples of applause in the politics and theater of ancient civilizations. Regardless of the venue or the objects of applause, people have long seen clapping as “a pat on the back from a distance,” in the words of sociobiologist Desmond Morris. With applause in society, people are stamping their “secular Amen” on the efforts of others.  

Informal worship styles and cultural differences among Christians worldwide are among the factors that explain the presence of applause in worship services. As your question illustrates, that can create tensions in congregations. 

Freedom in church 

Christians will want to recognize that the Bible does not address the topic of applause in worship services. Certainly, Scripture states, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy” (Psalm 47:1). Those instructions of clapping and shouting, framed in the language of Hebrew poetry, guide children of God in their overall praise of the Lord. Yet Scripture is silent on applause—for songs or sermons—in worship services; that practice is one that God neither condemns nor forbids. That means there is Christian freedom in this area of worship. 

Christian freedom is definitely a topic the Bible addresses. 1 Corinthians chapter 8 and Romans chapter 14 instruct Christians to exercise their God-given freedoms with an eye toward others. While the sinful nature in us likes to assert our freedoms “because we can,” the new self in us is very willing to pull back on those freedoms for the same reason: “because we can.” Christian freedom is also the right not to do something out of consideration for others. Christian thoughtfulness and selflessness can go a long way in resolving differences of opinions and personal preferences in congregations. 

Gratitude to God 

If applause in worship services remains a practice in your congregation, perhaps there is a way for those who are bothered by it to adjust their thinking. Rather than seeing the singers as the objects of applause, perhaps they can view the acclamation being directed to God. That suggestion is not far-fetched. 

In one of the congregations I served, volunteer help for church cleaning and lawn maintenance was essential. To recognize efforts and express appreciation, the Sunday worship folder listed the names of the volunteers under a simple heading of “We thank our volunteers.” One family that volunteered regularly did not want any public expression of thanks. If I had honored that request, one could have wrongly concluded that our volunteerism was suffering or that church maintenance happened on its own. So I asked the family what they thought of having their names listed in the service folder under a new heading: “We thank the Lord for our volunteers.” They were okay with that, and a new custom started. 

That custom was not new to the apostle Paul. He informed the Christians in Thessalonica: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). The faithful lives of Christians moved Paul to thank God for them. Likewise, the singing efforts of others can move us to thank God—perhaps even in audible ways. 


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 8
Issue: August 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 4

Solomon wrote, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Yet sadly those on the Christian Way easily turn down the road to jealousy and anger. 

John A. Braun 

Road rage is a relatively new term. One expert said that it was coined in 1988. Today the local news frequently carries a story about two drivers enraged and creating danger not only for themselves but also for other drivers.  

The apostle Paul never drove a car or truck down a freeway, but he listed “fits of rage” in his list of acts of the flesh. Two additional attitudes—jealousy and selfish ambition—help us see what lies within us allPaul also knew the fruits of the Spirit—kindness and goodnessthat were different and part of the Christian way of life.  

Acts of the flesh: Jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition 

All three of these acts of the flesh—jealousy, fits of rage, and selfish ambition—flow from the natural sinful tendency within us. Sometimes they lie hidden behind a face of respectability. At other times they erupt into acts that are destructive and sometimes violent.  

For example, a driver cuts another driver off, almost oactually creating an accident. Most of us have been in that situation. We feel the sudden surge of anger. We may control the impulse and drive on, still seething. But the urge doesn’t disappear all at once. At times it explodes like a volcano, sending sparks and hot angry retaliation. We don’t even think. We just react as our blood pressure spikes and our sinful natures take over.  

We easily see the trouble with road rage. It’s explosive and dangerous. Yet fits of rage also show up in marriages. Ask any police officer about domestic abuse calls. Bruises, broken bones, even gunshot wounds are familiar to police who must calm a fit of domestic rage. Shelters for abused women and children exist because of such fits of rage. Some of those angry outbursts hide behind closed doors and never rise to the level that requires a police report. 

There are victims. Children are abused, starved, beatennot just by fathers and boyfriends, but also by mothers. Sadly, children sometimes are in the middle of a family dispute and are hurt in the crossfire of words, fists, and whatever else is handy to throw. These acts of the flesh are obvious as Paul says (Galatians 5:19), and they are destructive at so many levels. Even if we have escaped the worst of the consequences, wall have felt the anger and rage within. Sometimes we have painfully learned how destructive rage can be. 

Jealousy and selfish ambition may hide from public view, but they also lurk in the sinful human heart. They quietly take over, sometimes with just a slight bump of discontent. Shakespeare described jealousy as a green-eyed monster in the Merchant of Venice. His story tells how jealousy can destroy love, distort words, imagine the worst, and bring destruction. Jealousy sours marriages, families, and friendships. It removes contentment not only from the vocabulary but also from the heart. All the while it hides behind that face of respectability while consuming us from within.  

Is selfish ambition any different? Maybe a little, but it’s related to jealousy. Perhaps it does not hide as cleverly as jealousy. We should remember that there is nothing wrong with ambition and a desire to achieve. But selfish ambition drives people to action in order to seek an advantage over someone else at all costs. A person’s desire to move ahead can leave wounded and bruised people who have been sacrificed for advancement. The wounded know they have been run over or used, but they are in the rear view mirror of selfish ambition and no longer count. The greatest casualty of selfish ambition is love and concern for others. The same casualty comes in the wake of rage and jealousy. Personal agendas and desires trump love for others. 

Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness and goodness 

The counterweights to rage, jealousy, and selfish ambition are kindness and goodness. These are created within us by the Holy Spirit. We remain sinners, forgiven, but still retaining our sinful flesh. So the works of the flesh show up in our lives, and at the same time so do the fruits of the Spirit. We are both saints and sinners.  

Others, even those that do not know Jesus, are often gentle and good. We should rejoice and give thanks for those qualities no matter where we find them. They contribute to the welfare of our neighborhoods and society. At times they put Christians to shame. Yet our kindness and goodness on the way to heaven has a distinctively Christian characteristic. 

What lies behind Christian goodness and kindness? Two things. First, our faith in Jesus has changed us. We know the love Jesus has for us unworthy, angry, jealous, and selfish sinners. We are deeply loved and forgiven. That warms our hearts and changes our attitudes. We see things differently. Second, our attitude has changed so we want to do as Jesus directed. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart. . . . The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself  (Mark 12:30,31). We are familiar with his two commandments and also know his example. We understand his compassion for us and for those who suffer in this world. We know that he did not show rage, jealousy, or selfish ambition while he lived here. We are his disciples here and now and want to be like him. We want our lives to show our compassion, our generosity, and our willingness to do what is right and good for others. 

So the Christian Way is a path of kindness and goodness. It is also a way of repentance. We all find it difficult at times to wrestle with and control the acts of the flesh when we feel the strong urge to be angry, jealous, or selfish. Again and again we must repent of our failings, turn toward the mercy of our loving Savior, and resolve to be better disciples.  

The works of the flesh erupt so quickly in our marriages, families, and daily lives. It’s no wonder that we learned “the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desire be put to death. It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Luther’s Small Catechism, Baptism, The Mean of Baptism for Our Daily LifeFourth). Note the word “daily.” 

We are to be lights in this world and let our good deeds—including our kindness and goodnessbe seen so others can give glory not to us but to our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16). When our light is dimmed by our rage, jealousy, or enmity toward others, Jesus beckons to us embrace the forgiveness we need, to turn away from those acts of the flesh, and to repent, so that we can reignite the light of kindness and goodness on the way to heaven. 

 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fourth 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 8
Issue: August 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: Beasley

woman finds true peace after learning about God’s full forgiveness and grace.  

Alicia A. Neumann

“Never have I felt so loved, valued, and taught correctly in my life.” Those are the words of Gina Beasley, member at The Vine, Couer d’Alene, IdahoGina was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and never thought that someday she’d be part of a small, Lutheran mission church. 

Growing up Mormon 

Gina was the youngest of eight kids and went to church every Sunday with her familyShe says she always grew up having faith in God and Jesus, but “there were a lot of morals and standards to live by,” Gina remembers. “I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or do anything bad or wrong.” Based on what she was taught, Gina says that God’s love seemed conditional. “It was, ‘Do this or you won’t live with your family in heaven, ” she says. “And that’s a tough one to swallow when you make mistakes.” 

After high school, Gina moved to Utah to get a job. She met a man who converted to Mormonism, and they got married in the Mormon Temple. However, after three years, they divorced. Around that time, Gina started withdrawing from the Mormon church. “I wanted to go out with my friends on the weekends. I wanted to participate and have a drink. But I felt guilty because drinking was against the LDS Word of Wisdom. It was against their standards, she says. 

Eventually she met Jason, who was Catholic. After they started dating, they talked about religion. “I wanted to see if our religious philosophies matched up; that was critical,” says Gina. So Jason read the Book of Mormon twice and visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to join. “He said he didn’t feel quite right about it,” Gina says.  

Finding WELS 

A few years went by and Jason and Gina hadn’t made any substantial decisions about religion. “We were working a lot, and honestly we wanted to sleep in on the weekends,” says Gina.  

It was around that time that Jason’s longtime boss, a WELS member, invited them to St. Matthew’s in Spokane, Wash. 

Ron was kind of like a father figure to Jason,” says Gina. “We had a really nice relationship with him and his wife, Margot.” Gina says she really appreciated how Ron and Margot invited them to church in a way that didn’t make them feel pressured, so the Beasleys decided to give it a try. “We would go with them every once in a while,” says Gina. “I felt really good in my heart about the messages I was hearing in the sermons. Finally, we decided we should just start going to Ron and Margot’s church. It just felt like it was where we needed to be, spiritually.” 

Eventually they started taking a Bible Information Class at St. Matthew’s, which was about an hour drive for the Beasleys. “I loved how the messages we were learning were straight up from the Bible,” says Gina. Even though I had heard them before, I had never fully grasped and understood them.”  

One of the lessons was especially eye-opening for her. “We were talking about God’s grace. Pastor said it’s like an umbrellayou just step under it, and you’re protected from the rain.” Gina says this was so different from what she’d been taught growing upthat you have to “do” something to receive God’s full grace and be able to go to heaven. She says she had always felt guilty and worried as a result. “But in that moment, I felt truly forgiven; it took off the huge backpack of rocks I felt like I was carryingThe guilt and shame were gone, and I felt peace,” she says. I am so grateful every day that we decided to go to that class.” 

Gina has been trying to share that same peace with her family members, who are all still part of the Mormon church. “I see them once a year, and I try to put my little words of love in there if we are talking about religion,” she says. “In the past when we’ve talked about grace, they’ve said, ‘Gina you are right,’ but they aren’t living that. They are living good works. I think deep down they know what’s right, but they are still on that hamster wheel of trying to get to heaven.”  

Gina hopes that someday her family realizes that they don’t have to be perfect and that God’s grace is not conditional. “I’m trying to help them understand and accept God’s grace and get the ultimate peace, she says. 

Thriving at The Vine 

A few years after the Beasleys got married, St. Matthew’s began a new ministrya mission church called The Vine in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, which was only 20 minutes away from them. “It’s been great being part of a small, mission-style church,” says Gina. She still struggles with Mormon teachings from time to time, and she appreciates being able to talk to her pastor anytime and ask him questions. “I also get to sing with the worship band and really utilize my talents. It makes me feel fulfilled,” Gina says.  

In addition to participating in the church’s outreach activities, the Beasleys now host a Bible study twice a month. “I invite people I’ve established a relationship with,” says Gina. “If you earn peoples trust first, they are more apt to come. She says some people are afraid to come to a class if they feel like they’re committing to something, so the Beasleys use a curriculum from their pastor that makes it easy for people to join in when they can. 

Gina also has had opportunities to share her journey of faith through connections she made with other moms at the local preschool her son attended. A couple of new friends from the preschool have met me and asked if I am Mormon because they used to be Mormon too. It’s been kind of interesting discussing my upbringing with them, she says. 

Gina says her upbringing has made a big impact on how she’s raising her own kids. “When I grew up, I would hear people ‘give their testimony’ at church. And as kids, they would teach us the exact words to say,” remembers Gina. She says it would have been much more helpful to learn why it’s important to pray and how to pray from the heart. “So, really try to be open with my children and talk to them about the reasons we believe what we do and provide them with factual structure, she says. 

Gina says it’s been really amazing to see what God has done for her and her family. “I am just so grateful for how God has orchestrated it all,” she says. “Someday when I’m an old lady in my rocking chair, I will look back at how God has connected all the dots and think, ‘Wow!  


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


Learn more about the home mission The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, is this month’s edition of WELS Connection. 


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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: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 106, Number 8
Issue: August 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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