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Light for our path: Is is a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?

I am dealing with a terminal illness and am tired of the suffering and pain this icausing me and my family. I am scared to die, but is it a sin to want to die so I can go home and be with Jesus? 

James F. Pope

It is definitely not a sin to desire to leave this world at God’s time and be with Jesus. That, finally, is the goal of our faith. It would be good to review what Scripture says about Christians and death. 

Longing for heaven 

The apostle Paul longed to be with God in heaven. When Paul was first imprisoned in Rome, he wrote to the Christians in the city of Philippi. He confessed that he was conflicted over the thought of continuing his life on earth or joining his Lord in heaven. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (Philippians 1:21-24). Paul also spoke of “longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 5:2). The apostle Paul found joys in his earthly life as a child of God, but he knew there was something much, much better awaiting him, and he looked forward to that. 

Job, in the Old Testament, did as well. When he thought of his new life with God, he exclaimed, “How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:27). If you agree with Job, it is because you also agree with the writer to the Hebrews, who compared this life to the next in concrete terms: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).  

While you and I look forward to the perfect life that is to come, we recognize that our life is in God’s hands (Psalm 31:15), so we do nothing that would hasten our death.  

Looking at death 

Death is inevitable for us all unless the Lord returns visibly to this world on the Last Day before we die. Ththought of death can be unsettling even for Christians. Death is an unnatural intruder into God’s perfect world; death was never a part of God’s design for life. Death is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23). The unnatural origin of death, along with not knowing what it is like to take a final breath, can generate fear. 

What we want to remember is that Jesus has taken away every reason for fearing death. Jesus, after all, lived and died as our perfect substitute and then rose triumphantly from the dead. Those people in the Bible who were raised to life eventually experienced death as the end of their earthly life. Jesus rose from the dead as “the firstfruits” (1 Corinthians 15:23). He was the first person to die and rise from the dead—never to die again. And as the firstfruits, that means there will be others like him. Christians who die will be raised to life on the Last Day and will never experience death again.  

So take heart in the works and words of Jesus. They give us sure confidence for the future. 


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 9
Issue: September 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 11

Knowing when to say when 

Jonathan P. Bilitz   

One day about two years ago, the desk phone in my office rang. When I answered, I wasn’t prepared for the conversation that would span the next hour. The caller identified himself as Jacob. He wanted to talk about Hebrew words in the Old Testament and how I (and the Lutheran church) defined and explained those words. 

Don’t be afraid to engage in conversation 

I felt woefully inadequate to answer his questions. But I was intrigued, so I listened and scrambled to find every Hebrew resource I had on my bookshelf! Though I wasn’t sure I could give every answer he might be looking for, I am thankful for my college and seminary training. The Hebrew I learned in preparation to be a pastor allowed me to at least engage in this conversation. 

I remember saying a quick prayer as Jacob launched into his first question. My prayer was simple“Lord, whatever happens in this conversation, give me the words to say so that Jesus and his love for all people shine through.” No matter how able or unable I was to answer the questions, I knew God was at work through his Word. 

Jacob’s first question involved the Hebrew word for virgin in Isaiah 7:14, The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Jacob asked me, “How do you translate the Hebrew word for virgin? I explained that I thought virgin was a proper translation. He asked, “But doesn’t the word almah (Hebrew) simply mean young woman? How can we know for sure it is referring to a virgin?” 

His question was a good one. The word doesn’t necessarily mean virgin. But the New Testament gives us all the evidence we need to translate the word as virgin. Matthew clearly tells us the birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy given in Isaiah 7. He wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means “God with us”)” (Matthew 1:22,23). As the gospel writer speaks about Mary and Joseph, he uses these phrases: “Before they came together” (v. 18) and “he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son (v. 25). Those words clearly indicate that Mary was a virgin.  

Jacob respectfully listened to my answer and did not object to my reasoning. What he said next, however, made me realize this conversation was a challenge. Jacob remarked, “I guess that is a good explanation if you believe the New Testament.” If you believe? I was speaking with someone who perhaps did not consider the Bible in the same way I did. Suddenly I knew that Jacob and I lived in different spiritual worlds.  

As we spoke about some other Hebrew words and I frantically paged through resources to maintain the conversation, he expressed an appreciation that we were able to engage in this way. He mentioned that he had called other places and had not been successful in getting anyone to talk to him.  

Jacob then confessed, “I am the rabbi in the synagogue in town. I enjoy hearing what Christians have to say about the Old Testament and have a personal mission to correct some misconceptions.” His admission didn’t completely surprise me. His Hebrew knowledge certainly surpassed my own. Several times I said to him, “I will have to do a deeper study on that word.” He never seemed put off by my disclosure. His comment from earlier about the New Testament now made perfect sense. 

Look for opportunities to share Jesus’ love 

What could I say? How could I witness to him? I kept asking myself the question, “Where can I direct him so that he can see Jesus as the Savior?” The words of Isaiah 53:5,6 came to mind: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I asked him for his interpretation of the passage. In my mind, this passage clearly referred to a Messiah who would suffer as a substitute for sinners. 

For the first time in the conversation, Jacob surprised me. He said, “Those verses don’t refer to a single Messiah, but the nation of Israel collectively. The nation of Israel has and continues to suffer for the Lord.” He continued by offering proof. He said that the people alive when Jesus came weren’t looking for someone to suffer for them and even Jesus’ own disciples objected when Jesus repeatedly predicted his death. He went on to claim that the Jewish people in Jesus’ time did not read this prophecy as a Messiah suffering in their place. 

I tried to explain that one of those disciples, Peter, later demonstrated a different understanding, an understanding that was more complete:  ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24,25). Clearly, Peter was referencing Isaiah 53 and connecting it to Jesus. 

Jacob didn’t back down. He was cordial, but he could sense that he wasn’t changing my mind. I was reading him the same way. At this point, I said, “Jacob, I appreciate this conversation. I have learned from you. But I am afraid that we approach the Bible in two different ways. My understanding of the Old Testament is completely influenced by the events of the New Testament. I view the Bible as a seamless account of God’s love for us through Jesus. If we cannot agree about that, we will struggle to agree about much else.” He agreed, thanked me for my time, and hung up. 

I pray that the testimony about Jesus will change Jacob’s heart. Isaiah planted the seed. God can make it grow. In that conversation, no common ground could be reached. I had to know when to say when.  

Cling to Jesus throughout 

As you testify about Jesus, recognize not everyone has the same capacity for a conversation about every aspect of the Bible. If you don’t know something, you don’t know something. Knowledge doesn’t make you a child of God; Jesus does. If you don’t have an answer to every objection that can be raised, that’s normal. Cling to Jesus and the salvation that belongs to you through him.  

Even when you don’t have the answer, speaking about Jesus and his love for all people is always good. That includes someone who might disagree with you or for whom you don’t have an answer. Most ambassadors for Jesus come to the end of their knowledge and ability. What a blessing to say, “I don’t know about that, but I do know Jesus loves you, me, and everyone!” 


Jonathan Bilitz is pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, Madison, Wisconsin. 


This is the eleventharticle 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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Author: Jonathan P. Bilitz
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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 10

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 20

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Chapter 20 introduces the seventh and final vision. Many Christians have been taught to expect a coming millennial (thousandyear) reign of Jesus on earth based, in large part, on the words of this chapter 

On the one hand, we will be sympathetic to and patient with those who are troubled and confused by this section of God’s Word as they seek his truth. On the other hand, we’ll want to read these words carefully and compare them to the rest of the Bible.  From that study, we conclude that the so-called millennium is not taught anywhere in Scripture.  

Thousand-year reign 

Chapter 20 begins with the dramatization of a historical truth and the ongoing reality that results from it: Jesus, the angel from heaven, has defeated Satan, the dragon, by his life, death, and resurrection. That good news of Jesus’ victory, the gospel, keeps the devil chained up from fully and freely deceiving people and nations with his wicked lies. The dragon will be bound for “a thousand years,” a complete number (10 cubed) representing a definite and determined time from Jesus’ ascension until shortly before his return in glory. 

During that same time, we’re told that a group of people, those who have taken part in the first resurrection, reign with Jesus. Who are those people? When we remember the Bible teaching that all human beings are born dead in sin, we understand the first resurrection to be the new birth given by the Holy Spirit through faith. These are all believers in JesusWhile they take part in the first death, a physical one, they all have eternal life in Christ and need not fear the second death (eternal separation from God). Along with all people, they will participate in the second resurrection, a bodily one at Christ’s return. In the meanwhile, saints in heaven and on earth live and reign with their living and ruling Savior.  

Satan’s short season and final demise 

At the end of this periodSatan will be loosed from his chain and allowed to deceive widely and freely. This vision tells us that it will be a “short time (v. 3)We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:21-25, where he speaks of a time of severe testing but promises that he will mercifully cut that time short for the sake of his peoplePrevious visions in Revelation also point to this time when gospel witness will be nearly or completely silenced. But that short season will come to an end. That end means final judgment for the old evil foe.  

That end also means Jesus’ return to judge the living and the dead. Those who stand before the judge without the righteousness of Christ by faith are justly sentenced based on their own faulty record. Those who are found in Christ, who are written in the book of life, are judged on his perfect performance and guilt-removing sacrifice. They have life and peace with God through Christ and need not fear his judgment now or ever.  

Jesus himself, the victor over sin and Satan, is our life and hope, our comfort in every conflict. 


Reflect on Revelation chapter 20 

  1. Read Ephesians 1:1-10. What reasons to praise the Lord are similar to those in Revelation 20?Revelation 20 shows us the results of Christ’s work of redemption, picturing the saints in heaven who were faithful to the Lord even during persecution. We see the end of Satan’s reign on earth and his eternal destruction, which involves torment day and night for ever and ever. John also writes what God revealed to him about the resurrection—the first resurrection, that is, the coming to faith, and the second resurrection of the dead as humanity of all kinds stand before the judge. Those whose names are written in the book of life receive life, but those whose names are not written in the book of life—those who did not do what God demanded, that is, believe in the one he had sent, Jesus Christ—are thrown into the lake of fire. 

    Paul’s words in Ephesians praise God for the blessings we have in Christ. He has chosen us to be his eternally. We are holy and blameless in his sight because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We have redemption through Christ’s blood, forgiveness, and eternal life. All these blessings depend on the pleasure and will of God—his grace.  

    Both sections focus on the same things but from different perspectives. Paul sees these blessings through the eyes of faith. John sees them all accomplished at the end of time. 

  2. How do the words of Jesus in John 5:24-30 teach the same lessons as Revelation 20?Jesus is the judge who will raise the dead and welcome all those who believe into eternal life. The words of Jesus point us to the events John sees in Revelation 20.  

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


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


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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: Are we modeling kindness for our children?

Are we modeling kindness for our children?

“Forming character in children combines parental instruction and modeling,” notes Kenneth Kremer in his book Embracing Godly CharacterWhen parents lead a moral life, God gives them many opportunities to be godly examples for their children. But the models we provide will never be perfect, because all parents are sinners. Our children need to be able to see us finding peace from our guilt and receiving God’s assurance that we are forgiven.” 

This month’s article gives us a real-life example of Kremer’s words. Read on and see if you relate to Nicole Smith’s story as much as I do. Have your own parenting story to share? Send it to me at fic@wels.net 

Nicole Balza


“Use kind wordsgentle hands, and find someone who needs a friend today,” I said to my son as I dropped him off at the gym day care. 

“I will, Mommy, I will be kind today. I will share,” he replied as he bounced away gleefully. 

Kindness with our children 

It is so important to me that my kids are kind; in fact, sometimes I think I place a little too much emphasis on it. In a world that so desperately needs more kindness, I want to make sure I’m raising boys who love God and love others unconditionally. 

For as much as I give verbal reminders, true kindness is shown by modeling the behavior—seeing kindness in action. So when my son reminded me, “You need to be kind, Mommy!” when I was asking him to do something, it made me stop in my tracks. 

How often am I really modeling kindness for my sons? 

“Don’t do that.” 

“Hurry up!” 

“Get your shoes on, NOW!” 

Commands that are often heard throughout our day blare like sirens in my brain when I lay down at nightAm I nurturing my boys and showing them kindness? 

Kindness with our spouses 

Recently my husband and I—just the two of us—went out on our first date in more than eight months. We have an eight-monthold baby at home, so I’ll let you do the math. To be honest, it felt like a chore to get that date planned. It seems the longer you don’t give a relationship proper nurturing, the harder it is to get back to that baseline foundation. Once we were out, we had a blast, but it’s the getting out that is hard right now. 

At one point during our date, I found myself apologizing for not expressing gratitude enough. The truth is he works really, really hard so that I can stay home with our boys. We both work hard to make our home what it is, but stress can take its toll on each of us. 

Jesus quoted words from Genesis, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Matthew 19:5). 

When is the last time we felt we were a united front or on the same exact page? When is the last time we were truly one? I wondered. 

Like most couples with young kids, we are sleepdeprived and over scheduled. Many evenings and weekends are jampacked with obligations, home improvement projects, grocery shopping, cleaning, bathing our children, and keeping them alive. I admitted honestly to him, “You know, I wonder what our marriage would be like if I spent as much time working on being a better wife as I do trying to be a better parent.” 

Just like my kids feel they can be sassy and defiant to me, I often feel I can be sarcastic and harsh with my husband. That’s never easy to admit, but the more and more I think about the example I want to set for my children, I recognize that I need to start with me. 

Power in our weakness 

This admission may seem like I’m airing out a vulnerable weakness, and if that’s how you see it, you’d be correct. The truth is there are many days I wonder if God picked the right woman for the job. Raising kids in a sinful world is no joke! 

In her book You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons says, “God demonstrates his power through our frailty. In fact, this is the only thing we can boast in: His power is made perfect and on full display in our never-enough-ness. When we are weak, we are actually made strong in Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10). 

God nurtures us in the most perfect way. First, when I’m falling short, full admission of my weakness and asking God for forgiveness helps me seek forgiveness from my husband, my kids, or anyone else I’ve wronged. His forgiveness sets me back on the path he created for me. 

So, while modeling kind words, gentlenessand love is extremely important in raising empathetic and God-fearing boys, so is admission of sin and forgiveness. Recognizing that I’m not a perfect wife and mother doesn’t make me want to give up, but rather helps me recognize that I need God more than ever and makes me want to try better next time. A heart full of thankfulness for Jesus’ love on the cross motivates me to display that love in all my relationships.  

It’s not always easy to admit weakness (sometimes the list feels so long that I don’t know where to even begin), but I’ve regularly been asking God to show me areas of my life that I need to work on, areas that could use a little nurturing. My son pointing out that I wasn’t using kind words could have made me angry, but it didn’t. I believe God was using that sweet boy to kindly point out that Mommy needs to remember that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45). 

Lyons also writes and reminds us to take action, “God delights in us. He doesn’t want us to live in bondage. . . . He comes and says, ‘Let’s nail this thing. Let’s not dance around it, perform around it, or seek validation to make it feel better. Let’s just go after it.’ ” 

Strength from God 

So now, instead of just repeating my mantra when I drop my son off to play with other children, we speak it every morning, together, as a reminder for us both: “Today we will try our hardest to use kind words, gentle hands, and to be a good friend. With God’s help, we can do it!” 

God’s calling to nurture and love my husband and these boys doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, but he has fully equipped me with Christ’s example and his promise that we are in this together.  


Nicole Smith and her husband are raising two young boys in Sussex, Wisconsin. This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.coma blog for “imperfect women spurred on by God’s perfect grace.”


Character formation can be messy 

“Though the plan for character formation, along with the tools to make it happen, come from God, the process doesn’t always go smoothly. Sometimes it isn’t even linear. Character usually forms in a herky-jerky rhythm, with awkward starts and unexpected fits of regression. It can be clumsy, uncomfortable, challenging, frustrating, disappointing, depressing, costly, and messy. This is because human relationships can be messy. Nonetheless, character never forms in a vacuum. Our relationships, rooted in our relationship with our loving Lord Jesus, are the critical mass that God uses to get the job of character formation done. Our homes are His preferred culture for getting a good head start.” Excerpt from the book Embracing Godly Character: The Christian Community’s Response to a Godless Culture by Kenneth Kremer, pp. 42,43. Available through Northwestern Publishing House at nph.net or by calling 800-662-6022. $14.99. 



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Author: Nicole Smith
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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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Be imitators of Jesus in doing good

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9,10) 

Peter M. Prange 

Do you think Jesus has ever been tempted to quit his job as our Savior? Do you imagine he ever becomes fed up with our weaknessesWould it be possible for him to ever become weary in doing good? 

Jesus didn’t give up 

Sometimes in the gospel accounts you can detect a tinge of frustration in Jesus’ words, even whenno, especially when!—he’s speaking with his closest disciples. For instance, when those disciples once attempted unsuccessfully to cast out a demon, our Savior exclaimed, “You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (Luke 9:41). On the night Judas betrayed himPeter denied him, and the rest abandoned himJesus questioned his snoring supporters indignantly, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).  

Already through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, our Lord Jesus had vocalized how wearisome the object of his saving work would become. There he lamented, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all” (Isaiah 49:4). Do you think Jesus has ever been tempted to quit his job as our Savior? Certainly so! 

Despite that frustration, however, Jesus has never given up. He’s never submitted his letter of resignation. He’s never stopped loving us, forgiving us, saving us, and carrying our burdens. Though tempted to do so, Jesus has never become weary in doing good. 

What’s stopped him? First and foremost, his love for all people is so unfailing and so flawless. But he also knows that there is great, eternal reward in doing good to others, even if that reward isn’t immediately obvious. Jesus understood that, as his words through the prophet indicate: “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s handand my reward is with my God” (Isaiah 49:4). 

We should not become weary 

Like Jesus, we’re often tempted to become weary in doing good. Unlike Jesus, we succumb to that temptation all too often and all too easily. 

But consider what would happen if Jesus ever quit his job as our Savior and threw in the towel. We’d be finished immediatelyLife would consist of nothing but death. Without Jesus working for our good, every blessing would instantly vanish. Thankfully, Jesus hasn’t and won’t become weary in doing good to us, and that’s a promise (Hebrews 13:5). 

As his dear children, then, neither should we become weary in doing “good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. True, our service to others might not have the same impact as Jesus’ work, but our Savior has called us to serve as his hands and feet, his mouth and eyes in the world. We are Jesus’ coworkers. Through us, he comforts others (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). Through us, he cares for others (2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Through us, he saves others through the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22). Through us, he does good to others. What a thought! What a privilege! What a joy! 

So be imitators of Jesus: Don’t become weary in doing good, “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” The fruits are eternal, both for us and for those we are called to serve. 


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


 

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Author: Peter M. Prange 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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 gifts, our giving: Part 1

First things first 

Aaron L. Christie 

Americans have an issue with discerning theory from reality. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but they are friends in theory. In reality, we don’t know many of them. We have gym memberships to help us get in shape. Unfortunately, we don’t get in shape in theory but by making real choices on diet and dedicating ourselves to exercise. 

If we struggle with theory and reality as Americans, we struggle far more as sinners. Do we love the Lord in theory? Or in reality?  

The First Commandment comes first for a reason. The Lord unapologetically asks to be first on our life’s list. We are to fear, love, and trust in him above ALL things. We all know that. We are quick to say that the Lord is the Lord of our lives. God comes first! 

Showing the reality of our priorities 

But does he?  

Is God really truly the Creator of everything that exists? Has God personally blessed us with eyes, ears, mind, members, strength, and abilities? Does everything we possess really come from him? We talk about questions like these as if they were theoretical. In reality, all of these questions are either yes or no.  

In order to help make loving and trusting God into something real, tangible, and personal, the Lord commanded his Old Testament believers to offer him their firstfruits: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9). Whether the offering was one of grapes or grain, the first and the best of the harvest went to the Lord.  

In other words, it is an easy thing to say that the Lord is “Lord of the harvest.” It is an entirely different thing to recognize him as such with the tangible very first portion of the harvest. It is one thing to say that the Lord will “take care of us.” It is an entirely different thing to offer him the first portion of the harvest—even before you have fed your family or stored away seed for the next planting. The Lord’s commands regarding giving firstfruits helped the Israelites put the Lord first—not just on paper, but in practice. It helped them live by faith in God’s providence. God did not intend for them to give just with words but also with faith-stretching deeds. 

Humanly speaking, firstfruits offerings don’t make a bit of sense. Investment professionals tell us that if we “pay ourselves first” and invest it carefully over time, our money will grow. Human logic tells us that if we make the Lord’s work our firstfruits priority, then that means we have less for every other area of life, including important things like mortgages and medications. It’s true: Humanly speaking, giving firstfruits doesn’t make a bit of sense. 

It’s also true that giving firstfruits goes against every inclination of our sinful nature. The default setting of our sinful nature is to keep stuff, stockpile stuff, even hoard stuff in a never-ending quest to look out for number one. We call it the good life. God calls it greed. We call it being sensible. God calls it sin.  

God takes many positions in our lives, but second place dare never be one of them. There is no theory here: Our offerings either recognize God’s position of first place in our lives or they don’t.  

Reflecting God’s attitude 

There are consequences to putting God first in theory, but not in practice. Take a moment to read the major stewardship message contained in the book of the minor prophet Haggai. Look how the Lordnot in theory, but in realityturns people’s eloquent excuses for withholding their offerings upside down: You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. . . . You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little (1:6,9). In other words, the people had less, because they gave little. God himself was seeing to that with one drought, one holepurse at a time! Think about it. The God who once fed five thousand hungry stomachs using only a boy’s picnic lunch is the very same God who can ensure that a stockpile of stuff won’t be able to make ends meet. 

But even more wonderful, giving firstfruits recognizes and reflects the giving nature of our God. He himself practiced giving firstfruits. He didn’t place our salvation toward the bottom of the list of things that needed to be done. He didn’t give us a bite of daily bread to keep us from starving until he sent us to the hell that our misplaced priorities deserved. What did he do? The giving heart of the Father gave us his first and best: His firstborn, his only begotten Son. First things first! And with his Son, he graciously gives us all things! “God so loved the world that he gave . . . (John 3:16). 

The point? Offering our firstfruits in Christian freedom is more about an attitude of gratitude than agriculture. It is more about God being our priority than it is about our personal property. It is about being who we really are in Christ: The firstfruits of all creation (James 1:18); blessed with the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23); and rejoicing in Christ, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).  

In offering our firstfruits, we are simply reflecting the giving nature of God who gave us his first, his best, his only begotten Son! 

 


Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


This is the first article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10. 


A different way to give 

When you read the Bible, it tells all over the place about giving your firstfruits,” says Becky Wagner, a member at The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “I’m just so thankful for everything I have and have been given to take care of in this life, and I want to use my time, talents, AND treasures to give back.” 

Wagner uses Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to give her offerings to The Vine. This commonly used payment method allows Wagner to set funds to be transferred directly from her bank account to her church on a recurring basis.  

“It’s nice to have that knowledge that it is taken care of because it is automatic. It’s done; it’s set,” says Wagner. “It’s not anything to question—Did I do it? Did I forget? You don’t have to worry about it because you know you’re doing what you want to do.” 

Kevin Schultz, pastor of The Vine, says about ?? percent of his members use EFT for their regular giving. He says it’s a convenient way for his members—and himself—to give that also offers accountability. “I tell my members don’t think of it as paying a bill once a month or once a week. Look at it as an opportunity to give without the devil getting his hand in there,” he says. “We’re making a commitment to God, and we want to fulfill that commitment without having those temptations to go back on our promise.” 

The Vine also offers the traditional envelope system as well as one-time online giving through a giving app for those who don’t carry cash or a checkbook. “It’s not that one way is better than another,” he says. “It’s just offering multiple ways to give in a culture that requires multiple ways.” 

To consider: Have you thought about giving your firstfruits offering via EFT? If so, why so? If not, why not?


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Author: Aaron L. Christie 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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: How I shared Jesus stories

How I shared Jesus 

We asked, and you shared! Here are more stories from you, our readers, on how you let your faith shine in your daily lives.


Witnessing through the written word 

I had the blessings of sharing Jesus with many children for 22 years. I retired from teaching in 2003.  

That year a unique opportunity to share Jesus with adults began. Our daily newspaper has a Public Forum column for readers to share their thoughts. One day a writer accused Martin Luther of removing the Apocrypha books from the Bible, thereby removing evidence of the existence of purgatory. 

 I felt compelled to reply about the completeness of Jesus salvation with Bible passagesThat started a correspondence in the paper on a variety of religious topics that was to last until 2007. 

 In my research on the Apocrypha I learned that St. Jerome was the first to state that seven books in the Old Testament were useful for history but not of the same quality as the other Old Testament books for doctrine. He suggested that these books be grouped together and placed at the end of the Old Testament.  I wrote that Martin Luther was the first to follow St. Jeromes suggestion. Luther did include the apocryphal books in his German translation of the Bible, but it was the Puritans who requested that the apocryphal books be removed. 

 The necessity of purgatory continued to be discussed at least once a month. One day the writer shared this thought: Whenever I pass a cemetery, I pray for the souls there, that they may be received into heaven.  

I replied that it was kind of him to think of others salvation, but it was not necessary to pray for those who have already died believing in Jesus as their Savior. I had already shared Jesus words about passing from death to life. This time I used 1 John 1:7: The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. I ended with this question, If Jesus death purified us from all sins, what is the need for purgatory? 

 That 1 John verse ended the discussion of purgatory.  

Later I discovered one special result of sharing Jesus through the newspaper. A few years ago, I was visiting an elderly friend in a nursing home. The last time I saw him, he said, I have read all your letters, and they comfort me. I want to ask you a question. Do you have to belong to a certain church to be saved? 

 No, I replied, if you believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, when you die, you will be with him in heaven. 

 With tears in his eyes, the gentleman grasped my hand and smiled, thanking me for coming to see him. 

 A few weeks later, my husband and I attended his funeral in his hometown church. I found myself startled to hear these words after the homily: He was a fine Christian man, but when he died he still had icky things clinging to him, like we all do. You can help him be found worthy in Gods sight by praying for him and offering the sacrifice of the mass. 

 Later my husband and I shared our thankfulness that our friend knew the truth: We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10).  

 Trudy Madetzke
Zion, Russell, Minnesota


Opportunities at an assisted living facility 

I volunteer at the local assisted living facility. It is a way that us laypeople can share the good news of Jesus. Our witness plants the seed of faith in some. For others it encourages them in their faith.  

I have two memorable events concerning sharing the message of Jesus at the assisted living facility: 

  • I was engaged in conversation with several elderly men.Somehow the topic of discussion shifted to circumcision. The discussion centered around reasons for circumcision. There were the typical comments of ouch. One man said he was circumcised at age six.  

How can a conversation about circumcision be turned into a gospel message? I asked myself. 

My contribution was telling them the good news that we no longer have to follow the Old Testament law of circumcision because Jesus took our place and died on the cross to fulfill the law and pay for our sins. I found it to be a unique opportunity for sharing the gospel message.  

  • After our chapel services, I help push the wheelchairbound residents to their respective lunch rooms. 

One lady complimented me on the service while I pushed her chair. I thanked her and then asked if she got anything out of the message. Her reply? Yes! Lots of questions! 

What kind of questions? I pressed.  

She replied, Too many to ask here. Then there was a long pauseHow can I be good enough? How do I know if Ive done enough good things? she suddenly asked.  

That was my “jailer of Philippi moment! I knelt by her chair and told her, You dont have to. The beauty of it is Jesus has done it all. He paid for all your sins when he died on that cross for you. 

Ministry at assisted living facilities is awesome.  

Jim Baur
Christ, Baxter, Minnesota


Outreach at 35,000 feet 

It was a simple question that normally would have a simple answer. But the young man next to me on the plane did not anticipate my response.  

I was quietly reading my Kindle when he asked. Likely he thought I would say I was reading John Grisham or Danielle Steele. Instead, I told him I was reading a book about the culture war against ChristianityHe seemed surprised. But that answer led to a conversation that lasted for the duration of the flight.  

He was a well-mannered young man in his late 20s or early 30s. I am in my 60s, so I was surprised he engaged me in conversation. Yet, it was clear the conversation was led by someone other than us! He said he was raised in the church and had good parents, but he had not been to church in years. We talked about marriage and its importance, and he agreed that a Christian marriage was important and he would only marry once. I shared that my own marriage was 45 years old, but my relationship with Christ was lifelong. I told him how important church was to my life and how engaging with God’s Word kept my faith strong. We discussed how today’s social upheavals have changed the culture, and I told him these changes resulted in moving “boundary stones” and could destroy our country but not God’s Word.  

The young man was polite and receptive. He did not offer much in the way of argument, and he seemed to be thinking about what he was hearing. As the flight came to an end, he told me he did not feel close to God. I said, “There is a verse in the Bible that says ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you ” (James 4:8). I asked him to keep that verse in mind, and he said he would. 

I have no idea if this nice young man ever thought of our conversation again. I do know that whenever he comes to my mind, I pray for him. I pray for a nice, Christian young woman to enter his life. And I pray that he comes near to his God.  

Mary Snyder
Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tennessee 


 

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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Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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 8

Cross-centered life and thought 

Jeffrey D. Enderle 

Her first restaurant job was nothing like cooking at home. Personal safety videos. Rigorous sanitation rules. Strict food handling standards. Weeks into the job, she had no chance of forgetting them. Multiple signs made safety an ever-present issue. Other cooks didn’t tolerate shortcuts. Managers kept constant vigilance.  

Likewise, Christians benefit from keeping the basics of the faith in focus at all times. That means that the cross is an essential part of our lives of faith. The cross of Christ and what it means for us is not something we can move beyond and leave behind. Martin Luther adopted a motto to encapsulate his Reformation rediscoveries: “The cross alone is our theology” (Crux sola est nostra theologia) 

Seeing life through the cross 

Christians see everything in our lives through the prism of Jesus’ cross. From a purely human perspective, the cross of Christ is a crashing defeat for his ministry. Yet far from a failure, the cross of Jesus meant he accomplished the rescue of humanity just as he set out to do. So, his cross enables us to see everything in life through the perspective of what we have from Jesus.  

Why is the cross such a crucial and constant element to our faith? Just think back to your default reactions when you experience painful suffering or injustices. Do your prayers accuse God of being unfair? You might never actually say it in these exact words, but when you are faithfully studying God’s Word and spending time in prayer, do you expect favorable treatment from God? 

When Paul says the cross is “is the power of God” for believers (1 Corinthians 1:18), he wants us to know the practical, ongoing value of the cross for our daily lives. Christ crucified is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) for us when we experience struggles that induce doubt, confusion, and uncertainty in our faith. The cross is the key to trusting in God when things in life seem incomprehensible. Luther commends the believer who “comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross” (The Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis #20). 

The cross means Jesus fulfilled every condition laid down for the salvation of every sinner. The cross of Christ means we get to enjoy God’s unconditional love because of what Jesus did for us. The cross helps us see our ultimate problem in life isn’t self-improvement, but ingrained and pervasive sin in our hearts. The cross gives us a constant reminder to find meaning in life from the sacrifice Jesus made and the victory he secured for us.  

Living life by the cross 

As we study Scripture, we gain a deeper understanding of who God is. As we meditate on his gospel promises, we are drawn into a great appreciation of his gifts. As our hearts are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, our prayers are shaped by the cross of Christ. Every aspect of our lives flows out of God’s riches to us in Jesus.  

The message of the cross is something we need to preach to ourselves. The cross of Jesus is the dual destroyer of both our pride and despair. Infinite riches are ours through the grace of God poured out on the cross. So, the finished work of Jesus provides certainty in the middle of our confusion and a solid foundation for faith in a chaotic world. The cross is something we never outgrow. 


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


This is the eighth 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 9
Issue: September 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 5

Dissentions and factions create roadblocks along the Christian Way. 

John A. Braun 

Paul’s acts of the flesh include some hazards we must avoid on our journey. He lists them as dissensions, factions, and envy. But he does not leave us paralyzed, unable to move toward our heavenly goal. He also cites two important fruits of the Spirit to help us make progress: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Acts of the flesh: Dissensions, factions, and envy 

Paul’s world was different from our own. It’s hard to imagine that Paul faced protests for civil rights, abortion, or other political causesRoman law and power settled almost all such issues. Most found little tolerance for social or political protestsYet Paul was in the midst of a vehement protest with Demetrius and the silversmiths. That disagreement turned into a riot in Ephesus (Acts chapter 19). That was an example of dissention, faction, and envy caused by the message of the gospel.  

It was ugly and dangerous. “Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there [in the theater] (Acts 19:32). Finally the city clerk quieted the crowd and told the people to take their grievances to the courts, warning them of the danger of causing a riot. The crowd melted away.  

In our own age, protests and divisions are part of our everyday newscasts. Differences escalate into heated confrontations. Like the riot in Ephesus, some shout one thing and some another. Perhaps such displays of factions and dissension are part of our system of government. We vote and contend for our positions in a way people in Paul’s world did not. Roman soldiers did not stand by in riot gear awaiting flying stones.  

That factor doesn’t matter much today. What does matter is that dissensions, factions, and envy have not disappeared. The sinful nature within asserts itself from time to time and creates conflict. Paul’s list is not just a list of ancient characteristics we no longer have. His acts of the flesh persist in our age because the sinful nature persists. Envy persists. Factions persist. 

Paul adds envy to the list, I think, to help us understand. Envy distorts every thought to help others. It is subtle at times; at other times, it is blatantly obvious. Sometimes we allow envy to blockade our ability to listen and love. As a result, we become harsh and hostile, ready for a fight or argument. It’s so much a part of our world, we are carried along without thinking. We fall for the temptation to be disagreeable, assert our own rights or thinking, and oppose others.  

It is bad enough that the conflicts arise in our country and society, our marriages and families, our neighborhoods and our government at all levels. Sadly, they also arise within the churchamong God people. Paul was no stranger to them. To the Galatians he warned, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (5:15).  

Yes, these negative attitudes reside in Christians as well. Paul saw divisions rise up in the churches he founded. He warned against “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ,” reminding the Corinthians that even Satan masqueraded as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:12-14). He also told the Romans to avoid those who taught false doctrines (Romans 16:17).  

Paul’s view of the future of the Christian church emerges from his words to Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3,4).  

Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness and gentleness 

Throughout history, the church has often had to contend with those who have not put up with sound doctrine and claimed to be right. Sadly, they claimed to be righter than right. That sentence doesn’t make any sense grammatically or theologically, but it raises the question of who is right and who isn’t. There can’t be two rights or a righter than right. How do we navigate differences and factionsPaul suggests two fruits of the Spirit: faithfulness and gentleness. 

Faithfulness first. The antidote to all the false teachers and heretical factions wasand still isfaithfulness to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit has created a desire within us to treasure the Scriptures that tell us of Jesus and of all of God’s promises. So we remain faithful to the Scriptures. They are our authority for truth, our Supreme Court, to decide what is right and what is not. Faithfulness to that truth will move us to compare anyone’s teaching with the Scriptures and evaluate it on the basis of that standard. John suggests, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).  

Then, with firmness in the truth, Paul advises gentleness. Peter advises the same attitude when he said that we are to share the hope we treasure with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). No one wants divisions, and we must deal with love and kindness with those who think differently. When they will not listen to the truth, then we have no alternative but to avoid those ideas and the groups that proclaim them. 

But not all disagreements are about doctrine. Sometimes Christians have arguments and quarrels about whether or not to have carpeting in the church and what color it should be. Some question which preacher is better—even Paul mentioned this disagreement (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)others anguish over how the budget was set and whether we should spend money on the school or on the front steps of the church. Every church has these differences or others like them.  

Faithfulness and gentleness are valuable in all these discussions. We remain faithful to God’s Word and also faithful to Jesus command to love one another. Then we can be gentle in our disagreementsnot belligerent or harsh. 

Dissensions and factions dog every step of our journey, and our sinful flesh is often tempted to feed them. They become group activities. One person solicits support from others who are like-minded. Then another person gathers others who disagree. The result can be belligerent, bitter, and divisive.  

We should not let differences get out of hand. Even everyday disagreements may become roadblocks to the Christian concept of loving one another and may block the work of the congregation and the larger church. They will turn the character of a congregation sour. Perhaps they also will turn some away from the path we follow together. Let us walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:16,25,26). Remain faithful to the Scripture and gentle in our dealings with each other. 


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine.


This is the fifth 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 9
Issue: September 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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Academia Cristo brings new opportunities to share the gospel

Academia Cristo began in 2015 with a primary goal to help people start churches in Latin America that faithfully preach and teach God’s Word. “We provide resources, and train and connect people to a network of mentors as they work to share their faith and start churches,” says Missionary Mike Hartman, coordinator of Academia Cristo and Latin America Missions.  

Academia Cristo, academiacristo.com, offers self-study Bible studies, music, and training courses for leaders. More than eight thousand people have signed up for Bible courses through Academia Cristo. Its Facebook page, where it shares daily Scripture-based messages and regular live devotions, has more than one million followers. “We want to be known as an entity that has a Christ-centered, biblical message,” Hartman says. 

This online presence has led to mission opportunities throughout Latin AmericaIn these places, church leaders have connected with Academia Cristo to access the available resources. During the last years, “we saw a lot of people in Paraguay signing up for courses,” Hartman says.  

To make face-to-face connections, missionaries traveled to the country to meet with Academia Cristo students who were interested in using the resources to share the gospel with others. Later in 2019, two WELS missionaries, Abram Degner and Joel Sutton, will be moving to the city of Asunción, Paraguay, to continue meeting with these individuals. There they will study with them and show leaders how to share the resources with others. 

The missionaries will be located near individuals such as Carlos Fernandez in northern Argentina. Fernandez started studying with Academia Cristo more than two years ago. Previously, he had served as a pastor and missionary for a different church body. He left the church 10 years ago for doctrinal reasons. “I realized I was just preaching and teaching rules that people had come up with, rather than teaching people about Christ,” Fernandez says.  

As he studied the Bible and read it on his own, he realized salvation is through faith by grace. Fernandez, who lives in the Chaco province of northern Argentinawanted to start a church that was faithful to Scripture. In his search for truthful resources, he came across Academia CristoDuring the last two years, missionaries have visited him three times, and now Fernandez is in doctrinal agreement with WELS.  

Now a missionary mentors Fernandez, who then trains other men in the Chaco province who want to start Bible-based churches.  

For years, WELS members in the United States have reached out to missionaries in Latin America in an attempt to share the gospel with loved ones in other countries. Academia Cristo is able to help these members connect with family and friends in Spanish-speaking areas and share the gospel with them. For instance, several years ago, members of a WELS church in Sarasota, Florida, began working with contacts they had in ParaguayThrough Academia Cristo, they can coordinate with WELS missionaries to share the gospel with people in these areas.  

Another WELS church in Arizona has contacts in Cuba. Together with missionaries, members are using Academia Cristo to learn how to share the gospel and start churches in Cuba. Missionaries mentor these members and their connections to help them set up a ministry plan and reach more.  

“People are interested in these areas and searching for the gospel,” Hartman says. “They are looking for someone who will teach them about the Bible and Christ.” 


Rachel Hartman 


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Author: Rachel Hartman 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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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Returning by the power of God

A native Paraguayan finds motivation from the gospel to revisit her country and share the message of Christ with residents there.  

Rachel Hartman 

Earlier on in her life, Juliana Kennell left Paraguay with the desire never to return. Now, years later, time and again she has gone back to the country. The change of heart, she says, can only be accredited to God and his powerful Word. After finding a Lutheran church in the United States, Juliana realized she could find ways to help others in South America learn more about Christ. 

Early years in Paraguay 

Juliana was born and raised in Asunciónthe capital and largest city in Paraguay. She lived with her mother, who raised her and sent her to a Catholic school. “It was an all-girls school run by a nun,” Juliana says.  

When she was older, Juliana got married and had a child. Her mother moved to New York, but Juliana remained in Paraguay with her family. Her life quickly took a troubling turn when her child passed away at the age of six. “I was very hurt and felt very bad,” she says. “It took me years to move on.” She found her life empty. 

During this sad time, Juliana’s mother developed a heart condition and grew ill. “She invited me to go see her in New York,” Juliana says. Accepting the invitation, Juliana recognized the chance to move on from her past. “I closed the door on Paraguay,” she says. When I left, I said I would never come back.”  

A new life in Florida 

Juliana stayed with her mother in New York for some time. Eventually, when she was again single, she moved south to Florida and began to rebuild her life. One evening, she went fishing at a beach park. During the outing, she met LaVonThe two exchanged phone numbers and two years later, got married. A little later, the couple had a child they named Abby. Life in Florida was a new beginning.  

After LaVon and Juliana got married, LaVon wanted to see the place Juliana had come from. Even though Juliana had vowed never to return, she decided to take a trip to show him what life had been like. When their daughter Abby was just nine months old, they made their first visit back. “My stepdad has a ranch, and LaVon loved it there,” she says. The couple appreciated the way their daughter was welcomed and appreciated in the setting in Paraguay. 

They returned to Florida and soon began thinking about Abby’s education. She was just a toddler, but based on their assessment and comments from others they felt it might be helpful to have their daughter in an environment where she would feel challenged 

One evening, the family went out to dinner. While there, they struck up a conversation with another diner who intrigued their daughter. During the chat, they realized the person was the preschool director at a nearby WELS school.  

Based on the initial encounter, LaVon and Juliana decided to check out the preschool. The place offered a program for children prior to preschool, and they opted to enroll Abby in it. “We started with the school and really liked it,” Juliana says.  

Soon their toddler was exposed to chapel and the Bible. The couple watched as their daughter developed in a Christian environment. It was a place that Abby visibly enjoyed.  

At the time, the family was attending a different evangelical church. While they went regularly, they didn’t find clear teachings regarding the law and gospel. They also came across few resources when looking for further instruction for their daughter. 

The situation led them to turn to Ascension Lutheran Church, Sarasota, Fla., the church connected to the preschool Abby was attending. “I wanted her raised in the truth,” Juliana says. The preschool director invited them to try a Bible class. They soon discovered the church offered a Bible study for adults and a Sunday school for children. 

Growing in the Word 

Juliana appreciated the chance for her daughter to learn more about the Bible and soon found herself absorbed in the Word too. “I knew very little with my Catholic background. I never understood the Bible,” she says. From her past church experiences in Paraguay, she remembered not being able to ask questions to gain a deeper knowledge. 

In the Lutheran church, the Bible was explained, and Juliana learned of the free and full forgiveness offered to her from Jesus. She was eager to study, learn more, and become a member. “I fell in love with the church, she says. She was drawn to the opportunities to talk about God’s World and apply it to daily life. 

Living in Florida, she was far from her other family members. Yet she found a sense of belonging in the congregation. That is the amazing part of Ascension. It’s a small church and feels like family, she says. 

Reaching out back home 

LaVon and Juliana kept making trips to Paraguay and discovered they could help those living thereThe elementary school, for instance, had a green board that was nearly the same color as the chalk they used. This made it difficult to read what was written on the board. The couple came up with an idea to take slatecolored paint for the board when they next visited. 

During following visits, Juliana brought clothes and supplies for family members, friends, and community members. “We started helping people,” she says. On one occasion, the family noticed that elementary children were drawing water from an open well every day for school. They helped oversee a project to put in a cistern and change the well structure, making it an operation that used gravity to draw water. This created a safer source of water for the children who used the well every day 

Back home, the family continued to attend Ascension and grow in the Word. “I like the Bible classes,” Juliana says. “The more I learn, the more I know and can share with others.” Over time, LaVon and Juliana realized they could do more to help those in Paraguay; they could help with the spiritual need they had observed. “The priest comes just once a year,” Juliana says. “The Spirit led us to the opportunity to bring the gospel to the village.”  

Juliana felt God had put her in a position where he could use her to share the message of Christ. “I can explain things in my own language, and I have the experience from the time I spent there before, she says. She could relate to the people and bring the gospel to a place that was hungry for it.  

Now Juliana has made numerous trips to ParaguayHer congregation got involved, and the pastor and other members organized a mission board called Solo Cristo. They also reached out to WELS World Missions and are working with missionaries to spread the gospel further there. 

Juliana recognizes her mission efforts stem from the Word being present in her life. “It’s not what I did; it’s what he did,” she says. “He put us together to work for him.”  


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


Read more about how Ascension is involved in outreach in Paraguay at ascensionwels.org


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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: Rachel Hartman 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email