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Unlocked by God’s power

John A. Braun

C.S. Lewis wrote that he believed the damned are “rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside” (“Hell” from The Problem of Pain). Jesus tells us in the parable of the beggar Lazarus (Luke chapter 16) that the rich man wanted to warn his five brothers so they would not “come to this place of torment” (v. 28). The rich man was told that there was “a great chasm” so that no one could cross over from hell to heaven. 

I don’t think that C. S. Lewis would disagree with the description of hell by Jesus, but Lewis makes a different point. He suggests that those who are in hell are rebels who have opposed God and always oppose God. Satan is the prime example. We don’t have to think too long for other examples. We know others who, at least in this life, have opposed Jesus, Christianity, and Christians without remorse. They have hearts locked from inside. The familiar painting of Jesus knocking at the door comes to mind. For them, the door is locked to prevent Jesus from entering. 

Think about that a moment. David says that he was “sinful from birth” (Psalm 51:5). Paul describes us as “dead” (Ephesians 2:1). But what we have by birth is not just a passive defect. It’s an active opposition and rebellion against God. Paul also wrote, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). Hostile and rebellious. So in reality, our hearts were locked from the inside too. All hearts are by nature. 

In the first chapter of Corinthians Paul writes of those whose hearts are locked. He suggests that the Gentiles think that the gospel is so much foolishness and the Jews think it is a stumbling block. His experiences remind us that culture does not matter. He experiences reveal opposition, imprisonment, and beatings from Jews and Gentiles. (See his summary in 2 Corinthians 11:24-26.) 

Paul’s experiences are not just ancient oppositions to a new idea, oppositions that disappeared in the modern era. We also experience opposition. Some Christians in the world we know today have been shunned, beaten, imprisoned, and killed. Hearts are still locked. They are rebels, hostile to the God who has graciously provided forgiveness and eternal life through his Son Jesus and wants all to be saved.  

But Paul was different, David was different, and so are we. Why? What happened to cause us to unlock our hearts? We have not decided to open our hearts to Jesus. By nature we, like everyone else, want the door to remain locked. Did we find some power within us to open our hearts? No! 

Only one key can unlock a human heart. Paul clearly identified that key, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it the power of God that brings salvation” (Romans 1:16). The gospel is the key. It doesn’t come from inside of any of our hearts. It comes from outside when we are baptized or when we hear and read about Christ crucified. Then the Holy Spirit gives us the power to unbolt the lock of our rebellious and hostile hearts. His power unlocks our hearts, not ours. Once our hearts are unlocked, we understand that the message of Christ crucified is the wisdom of God.  

Amazingly God entrusts that key to us to trust it, live it, and share it. In our experience that key won’t open every locked heart. Hostility will persist. But by his grace some will open their hearts to the message of Jesus. 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Trees

John A. Braun

Warm weather and more sunshine draw the leaves of the trees out from their winter nap. They soon soak up the sunlight, allowing the trees to grow wider and taller. The tree we want so desperately will get larger, but we must wait for the slow process of growth. In a world where we want everything instantaneously, impatience nibbles away at our resolve to wait. 

Yet we know about the slow process of growth in our own families. Children enter our lives as little babies and slowly grow to adults. I think we sometimes become impatient with their growth, especially when they do not grow spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually as we want. But growth does not happen quickly or even in a straight line. Ups and downs, advances and retreats, become chapters in any kind of growth. It takes time to grow.  

The pictures of the graduates of Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary are part of this issue (pp. ??-??). Like the trees, they did not suddenly appear as graduates ready to serve our churches and schools. Once they were little saplings—perhaps a little awkward and weak—babes who were baptized and brought to faith and life by the Holy Spirit. God placed them in Christian families, and they grew. Yes, by Word and sacrament, they learned to treasure their Lord Jesus.  

I remember my own early growth—a little sapling in grade school always interested in my studies and especially what I was learning about Jesus. I grew to appreciate my pastors and sought ways to imitate them. I remember “playing” church. I was part of a junior choir, and we had choir gowns we brought home until we needed them in church. I made use of mine at home by pretending to be a pastor and leading a church service with my family. My mother always announced at the end of our little game that there would be an ice cream social after the service.  

My pastors encouraged me to grow, and he bent this young sapling in the direction of becoming a pastor. The journey wasn’t a straight line to the seminary any more than it is for almost anyone else. Ups, downs, doubts, and certainty—often repeated over the years—became the rings of growth one can see in any tree. Turning from the little sapling to a mature tree took time. Grade school, high school, college, and seminary are measured in years, not hours, days, or months. 

As you look at the pictures of the graduates this year, thank God for their growth. They are ready to serve. And remember they will not stop growing at graduation and after their assignments to their first years of service. The next years will bring experiences that become additional rings of growth for them as trees that provide the shade of the gospel for young and old.  

Remember also that the need for full-time workers in the Lord’s church does not end with these graduates. Jesus reminded us, “ ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’ ” (Matthew 9:37,38). 

So we all have a task: pray for workers. In addition, we can encourage those we think have the gifts and inclination to be pastors and teachers. Parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, and every member of God’s church can look for and encourage the little trees. Then depend on the Lord to grow them to serve him in public ministry. It takes time to grow pastors and teachers, but it starts early with prayer and encouragement. 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Bondage and freedom

John A. Braun

“Prove that there is a God!” We all have heard the challenge. After all the data measured by the first Soviet satellites, some boasted that the satellites discovered no evidence of God. Since then we have sent men to the moon and probes all over our solar system. Still no proof of God in all that data. 

So some claim such probing is clear evidence that there is no God. Richard Dawkins and other atheists build their concepts without God and aggressively proclaim that all who believe in God are weak; superstitious; and, to put it mildly, stupid. Stephen Hawking* may have been a little more tolerant of those who believe in God, but he also said, “The laws [of science] may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”  

I thought about this as I listened to the sermon on Easter Sunday. It struck me that the scientists who abandon God are bound and confined by their own self-imposed principles. They are slaves of scientific thinking that can only observe the world and understand it based on the evidence that human senses can provide. I understand that and accept the value of science and the advances made in all the sciences. I even await new advances. Yet all these advances are based on observation, experimentation, and evidence measured and verified by instruments. 

That thinking not only does not see anything beyond the physical world, but it also refuses to assume that something more exists. It will not allow the idea that something exists that cannot be measured or observed. In their view, belief in God is a foolish crutch without any scientific evidence or proof. That’s true if you only accept proofs verified by the scientific method. Yet scientists who abandon God are in bondage, and they fail to see their own bondage. They are limited to the one vision of life without anything more or beyond the horizon of human observation. Their worldview has a hard ceiling that science cannot penetrate because they refuse to entertain any ideas beyond their own. 

While listening to the Easter sermon, I heard again that Jesus has defied the natural laws. He arose from the dead, and he even predicted that resurrection before it happened. I have no scientific evidence of these events. But the Holy Spirit has smashed the ceiling of limited human thought and allowed me to think beyond such physical evidence. God is above this physical world, and he is superior to all human thinking and speculation. He has revealed his love for me through Jesus (Hebrews 1:2). He intervened to break not only the ceiling of my thinking, but he also allowed me to think beyond the natural laws that govern earthly life and death.  

But we must be careful here. I can’t simply imagine anything and claim it is true. The only reliable guidebook I can depend on is the Scriptures.  

With that guidebook, I soar to explore God’s grace. I circle around it as I read the Scriptures, and by its words I marvel at the majesty of his love and his limitless power. The Holy Spirit has given me wings. I glide on those wings and depend on his power in dark and difficult days, as he promises in the Scriptures. Like an eagle, I have a clear vision of Christ crucified and risen again. That vision provides hope for another life in a world no one can yet see except on the pages of God’s Word. I am free because in Christ I can see beyond death and beyond this physical world.  

*Stephen Hawking died on March 14, 2018.


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Amen.

John A. Braun

Amen is a word we say so often we don’t even realize we say it. At the end of every prayer it’s a kind of a spoken period. When we worship, we sing or say it in response to the worship leader said. If we use it outside of church and our prayers, it’s simply something like, “Amen to that.” We agree with what someone has just said. It often simply means, “Yes, I certainly agree.”

The word, of course, has roots in both Old and New Testament. Actually it’s a Hebrew word emphasizing certainty, assurance, and dependability. For example, Psalm 89 ends, ”Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen”. (v. 52). The Psalms have other examples of Amen used to assert and confirm praise to God (Psalm 41:13, Psalm 72:19).

The apostles Paul, Peter and John also use the word to emphasize their praise. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (4:20), Peter used the word in the same way, ”To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11). And John’s Revelation ends with two uses of amen. Both are part of his concluding prayer, “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Revelation 22:20,21).

The word also comes from the mouth of Jesus, but it’s not translated as “Amen.” Instead it becomes “Verily” (KJV) and “Truly” (ESV and NIV). When the gospels quote Jesus using the word “Amen” they write, Jesus said, “Truly (amen). I say to you.” The word emphasizes the truth of what Jesus said. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “ Truly (amen) I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). When John quotes Jesus he often doubles the amen. For example Jesus said, “Very truly (amen, amen) I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life” (John 5:47). John’s double use of amen doesn’t mean that Jesus words are “really, really” true and the other sayings of Jesus are only “really” true. Whether there is one amen, two amens, or none. All of the Scripture is equally true and sure.

So what does this all mean to us in our worship and our spiritual lives. First, I think it means that we are following the example of believers throughout the history of the world. Amen was on the lips of God’s people in the Old Testament and the New. We are connected with them all by faith in Jesus, and the little word amen is one of those connections. What a amazing blessing that is! Then also remember that we say it together with our brothers and sisters here and now. We are also connected to each other whether we say the word in worship or at home with our loved ones. Our amen affirms we are all of the same mind. It is a word of faith and trust in God.

And that’s the second thing. Amen is a word of faith. When we speak it, we say we trust in the God who gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen! Like little children we come to our heavenly Father with our prayers and praise. He scoops us up in his arms and soothes us with his love. Confident in his arms, he invites us to praise and pray. “Amen” is our word of confident faith in all the promises God makes and a word of assurance that the Lord’s Prayer and every prayer ascends to our heavenly Father where it will receive his attention. Amen! Amen!


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever

John A. Braun

Kingdom? So often we think in such narrow terms about the word kingdom. We consider it defined by our personal experiences and activities. Even if we consider kingdom as Christ’s kingdom, we still see its shape and contours by what we know. 

That perspective is good and healthy as far as it goes. We praise God for finding us in the span of history, calling us by the gospel, and making us part of a kingdom. We—most often we think and say I, using the singular—are chosen, royal, holy people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9). We have all that by grace through faith. We are—I am—called by the gospel, enlightened, and incorporated into his church. 

But then that enlightened heart expands our vision. I am not alone; others belong to that kingdom. We are together—his. But that still becomes too narrow. We are here at this time and this place. Even time and place confine Christ’s kingdom. His kingdom stretches over all time to include those who have gone before us and those who will come after us. Place is just as limiting. Place might imply culture, social, racial, and economic similarities, but those are also gone—one kingdom, one head, Jesus and all who believe in him together. 

Our vision of his kingdom can come into focus when we say his prayer together in our worship. For two thousand years Christians have prayed to their heavenly Father using the words Jesus taught us. And they haven’t all spoken his prayer in English or in churches with pews.  

Yours is the kingdom! We simply find ourselves citizens now with so many others over time and geography. His power sustains that church. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). That power made us believers and still sustains us. It is the means by which God keeps us in his kingdom and converts new hearts to marvel at his grace.  

But I think we most often think of Christ’s almighty power. That’s okay, for he rules all things for the benefit of those in his kingdom. He controls the stars and still sees our struggles as well as our joys. He knows the number of hairs on our heads and tells us that not one sparrow falls to the ground without his knowledge (Matthew 10:29,30). We depend on his power for daily breath, for strength, for care, and for the ability to use our talents for him and for others. He even invites us to pray that he will use that power for us in our needs. Yours is the power, Lord. 

Naturally we conclude, “Yours is the glory!” What else could we possibly say or think? We are not worthy of anything, but God has made us recipients of so much. But now our hymn of praise is imperfect. We are still tied to life here with its trials, troubles, and traumas. At times it is not easy to give him glory, but we do, even while we anguish over some pain or problem. But at other times, when the Holy Spirit helps us see clearly all that God has done for us, we praise him without complaint.  

We look forward to the time when our praise will be perfect and we will join those in heaven to sing, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever” (Revelation 7:12). Here we simply say together, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.” 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Deliver us from evil

John A. Braun

The prayer Jesus taught us begins, “Our Father in heaven.” With those words Jesus directs us to look beyond our space and time to our Father above who cares for us while we are here. Each time we pray to our heavenly Father, we turn our attention above to the source of all our blessings.  

But because we are here, our attention often drops to our own challenges. We get so wrapped up in our troubles, struggles, and burdens that we do not look up enough and we do not consider what our heavenly Father has given us. His love gave us the promise of heaven—citizenship where he will wipe away our tears and dispel death, sorrow, and pain. In Christ, he claimed us and made us his children, but he did not remove us from this world. Not yet. 

Each birthday brings us face-to-face with a relentless truth: We are closer to the end of our earthly journey. Yet even the birthdays somehow turn our attention away from that reality. We think one day will be just like the next, and we will continue to be as we are. No change. And sometimes we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” thinking that God promises to keep us and those we love just as we are—young, healthy, and happy.  

God listens to our prayer and responds, but not in the way we often expect. Instead of removing our burdens and struggles, he leaves them as our crosses to bear while we are here. Those troubles are often especially painful and shattering. Then the sour notes of our anguish prompt a question: “Why me? Did God forget to deliver me from evil?” 

We cannot always understand enough to answer the question, but God has his reasons. For one thing, when we suffer, God points us to heaven. We come to know: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for a city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Our presence in that city is the greatest good God could provide for anyone. He teaches us in our tragedies to groan and long for the complete absence of our earthly woes and to be in the peace and joy of heaven.  

We are not only to look above, but also around. When you pray this prayer with your fellow Christians in worship, look around. Among your brothers and sisters in Christ some carry crosses of all sizes and shapes: cancer, disability, poverty, loneliness, heartache—a host of anxieties. It’s a much longer list. These children of God come to their heavenly Father with their own versions of “evil” and pray for deliverance. Their crosses give you an opportunity to show your compassion. Your compassion, caring, and prayers—for your own family and for your fellow believers—is one answer to their prayers for deliverance.  

For all of us, troubles are a time to look up to our heavenly Father and patiently wait. He continues to care for us in good and bad days. So when we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” we must not think as small children who cry when they scrape a knee and think everything is coming to an end. As children of God, we know that our heavenly Father comforts us, picks us up, and gives us the strength and courage to face the next challenge. In the process, we mature and grow knowing that we need each trouble to learn and also to treasure the final deliverance God promises. He does not desert us. “Heavenly Father, deliver us from evil.”  


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Lead us not into temptation

John A. Braun

Christian life in this world is difficult. We live as disciples of Jesus in a complex world that operates on a different frequency than we do. Our world has no forgiving God who promises not only forgiveness but also eternal life. It owes nothing to Jesus and therefore thinks only how to get the most out of life: love, happiness, fame, comfort, and family—good things. 

That all sounds so familiar to us too. We want the same things, but our vision and thinking include a loving Savior and his promises. We think differently. We treasure the one thing needed while we experience what life deals out to all— whether blessings or trials.  

God places us here in this world to be his witnesses. We are to be salt and light where both are in short supply. But being disciples in this world is not so easy. Agur, in the book of Proverbs. observed the problem. He writes, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, “ ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” (30:8,9). 

In this life we are often distracted from the grace of God in Christ, but not always for the same reason. Sometimes the distractions are wealth, as Agur notes, and sometimes they are poverty. 

You and I have seen and heard some who are tempted by wealth to abandon the Lord. But not everyone who is wealthy abandons the Lord. On the other hand, we have also seen and heard some who are tempted by their poverty to turn away from the Lord, either blaming him for their hardship or abandoning him because life is a difficult struggle. But here too not everyone who is poor turns away from the Lord. 

No matter what challenges we face, the potential exists to find a reason to turn away from the Lord’s grace. It might be riches, poverty, fame, obscurity, disaster, safety, health, sickness, happiness, or sorrow. You can add to the list from your own experiences.  

It gets even more complicated. We are surrounded by so many ideas that contradict the Scriptures and our faith. We see the ungodly prosper and God’s truth mocked or disregarded. In all this too, Satan prowls, always looking for an opportunity to rob us of our faith. He is a master of using the temptations posed by the world around us. Remember, he came to Jesus promising all the world’s wealth, and he also made use of the need for daily bread hoping Jesus would turn stones into something to satisfy his hunger after a 40 days’ fast. 

It’s no surprise that the Lord Jesus asks us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” As we face the ups and downs of life, we pray that our heavenly Father would preserve our faith in Jesus. Nothing could be worse than having our lamps empty when the Lord calls us home (Matthew 25:1-13). 

Our Father hasn’t left us alone to face these challenges. He promises always to strengthen and help us. He sends his angels to protect us. He also reminds us that the hardships and difficulties we must face are his discipline sent for our good to refine our faith (Hebrews chapter 12 and 1 Peter chapter 1).  

Temptation surrounds us all in many different forms. So this petition is for all of us. “Heavenly Father, lead us not into temptation.” Keep us secure in our faith as your children here on earth. 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Forgive us our sins

John A. Braun

Forgiveness! Jesus wanted us to pray for the forgiveness we need in our daily lives. How often we stray from God’s will. Our words, our thoughts, and our actions always seem to define what it means to miss the mark. So, in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for forgiveness. 

Possessing God’s forgiveness by faith is one of our core needs. In this prayer, it comes after we ask for “daily bread.” We understand our need for daily bread to live in this life and serve God and others. But an even greater need is the forgiveness that Jesus has accomplished for us all. We need that forgiveness if we are going to stand before him when we no longer need daily bread. 

So humbly, with each repetition of this prayer, we come for the forgiveness Jesus has achieved by his pain and blood. At those times when we lose the comfort and confidence in the gospel of forgiveness, the words of this petition turn our attention away from what is inside our hearts and to what is inside God’s heart—unconditional love in Christ and forgiveness. We need the consolation that we are indeed forgiven children of God. 

The forgiveness we possess by faith transforms us and empowers us. It awakens in us a desire to thank God. It moves us to desire to please our God for the forgiveness Christ has paid for so dearly. A part of that transformation is the willingness to forgive as we have been forgiven. 

This petition does not limit the forgiveness of our sins to only when we will forgive others. That would only drive us all to despair. No, God’s forgiveness is freely given before we can think, say, or do anything good—yes, before we can forgive. It’s by grace; there is no condition on God’s forgiveness. And it transforms us, bending our attitudes to forgive others rather than hold a grudge or seek revenge. 

I think this prayer is an essential part of our lives together as believers in his church. How often do family feuds divide the work of the church? How often do the real and imagined insults and slights color our attitudes and sour our work together? How often do decisions of the council, committee, or the pastor create not just differences of opinion but real animosity and bitterness? The apostle Paul warns, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). He advised earlier, “Serve one another humbly in love” (v. 13). Forgiving each other is as important in the church as it is in marriage. When personalities, opinions, and visions of what is best clash, forgiveness is required. 

The wonder of it all is that we are all forgiven by a gracious God. Jesus provides not only the motivation but also a pure example for us to follow. Jesus endured pain and suffering at the hands of sinful humans. We may not have been there, but our sins caused the scourging, the insults, and the mockery. But Jesus did not retaliate. He forgave. He said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). When we grasp what Jesus endured to forgive us, then how can we refuse to forgive others—especially other believers in his church?  

When you are tempted to hold a grudge and withhold forgiveness, think of Jesus. Who has inflicted as much harm and misery on you as we have all inflicted on Jesus? So we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Give us today our daily bread

John A. Braun

Daily bread! When we learned the meaning to the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in Luther’s Catechism we memorized a list of the things included in daily bread. We also learned that God gives daily bread to all people. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded us that our heavenly Father “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).  

We are in the habit of saying prayers when we sit down to eat. If God gives even without our prayers, why pray for daily bread? Those prayers are regular reminders that all we have comes from a gracious and loving God.  

At times, we might find it difficult to be grateful when our customary blessings are interrupted and we are without. Then we worry. But Jesus reminds us not to worry. He pointed his disciples—and us—to the birds and the flowers. God feeds the birds each day and clothes the flowers so beautifully even Solomon might envy them. Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:32,33). 

To some he gives abundantly. To others he gives little. We don’t know why God gives some more than others. We can only face each day with the blessings he gives—much or little. God wishes to create thankful hearts in all of us—hearts that are not tied to the size of his gifts. 

But the idea of daily bread creates a question. Is there more to it than just being thankful? Why does God give us daily bread and allow us rhythmically to draw daily breath? For the evil and the unrighteous who receive sunshine and rain, life provides an opportunity to turn to the Lord and discover his boundless love in Christ.  

But life is not all sunshine. Sometimes God sends disaster, pain, or misery. With these he challenges both the righteous and the unrighteous to consider what Moses saw: Our days “are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). He embeds another truth in trials and disasters, “Here we do not have an enduring city” (Hebrews 13:14). That heavenly city awaits all believers in Christ.  

And when we count our blessings and note how richly he has blessed us, consider that God allows us to live as his disciples here. That means to show love and compassion—to love our neighbor as we love ourselves—and to use his blessings for others. The Macedonian congregation learned that lesson. Although they had difficulties and were in “extreme poverty,” their love for Christ “welled up in rich generosity” for those affected by the famine in Palestine (2 Corinthians chapter 8). We also have opportunity for generosity, compassion, and love. 

One more thing. We pray the Lord’s Prayer together in our worship. Certainly we ask for our individual portion of daily bread, but we also ask that our fellow believers may have their portion too. We pray for our daily bread. Among the reasons that we ask God to bless us all with daily bread is so that we might have the resources to carry out the work of his church. Each one contributes some of God’s blessings—some of that daily bread—in the collection plate. We share those blessings to proclaim our Jesus around the country and the world.  

It is well for us to pray, “Heavenly Father, give us today our daily bread.” 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Your will be done on earth as in heaven

John A. Braun

Our heavenly Father’s will does not change. He is not willing that any should perish, but he wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He has a special concern for his believers. He always works everything out for the good of the people he has called to faith in Jesus (Romans 8:28). 

In heaven, God’s will is done without opposition and without question. That means what he decides is accomplished, and the entire host of the angels and saints in heaven rejoice and praise him freely and without complaint. 

Those in heaven know that God wants nothing but the best for his people. The believers there see that he has brought them safely through their struggles on earth. The angels witnessed God’s justice and love in expelling the rebel angels and confirming those who remained faithful. In heaven all is well; God’s will is unchallenged and perfect. 

But on earth, the devil prowls among the living, seeking to devour souls (1 Peter 5:8). He has been at his tasks for a long time—ever since he was expelled from heaven. He knows how to thwart God’s will, how to pervert his Word, and how to distract the living with every imaginable temptation. The believers in heaven are safe, but the living on earth are still under attack. And it’s not just the devil that God’s people must contend with here on earth. The world and our sinful flesh also have become our enemies.  

The church on earth often seems to be singled out for special attention from the devil. If he can rob the church of the gospel, so many souls will go into eternity without the grace of God. If he can use the world to intimidate the church or in other ways lead the church to proclaim false teaching, he also achieves his goal. It should not surprise us that Jesus asks us to pray that our heavenly Father’s will be done on earth as in heaven. 

But Jesus not only gave us this prayer; he also prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42). With that prayer on his lips, he shows us how to face the anguish and turmoil on earth. In his challenges, he wanted the assurance that his Father’s will would be done. He willingly submitted to the will of his heavenly Father. 

So we have a clear lesson from Jesus. Our heavenly Father’s will is sure and certain. But we doubt and often are confused by what we face. When life doesn’t make sense to us, we wonder. When death and pain afflict us, our loved ones, and other Christians here, how is God’s will done? When persecution and disaster strike, we are confused about how this is God’s good and gracious will to protect his own and bring them home to heaven. When, like Jesus, we face difficult days or the church faces serious challenges, decisions, or hardship, we crave the assurance that our heavenly Father’s will be done. 

It is at such times that we should pray, “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” We don’t always understand God’s will while we are here on earth. We are tempted to abandon God when he allows so much trouble on earth. But God always knows what he is doing, even if we don’t know and wonder why. We are still in his hands and under his loving care. And in heaven, when we join the saints and angels, we will not wonder.  

But for now on earth, we pray, “Your will be done.” 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Christ, the center

John A. Braun

Over the past few years, I have grown closer to Luther than I ever imagined. Research, reading, writing, research again, reading more, and writing again have brought Luther into focus more clearly for me than ever before. For that I am grateful. I don’t consider myself a Luther expert, but the focus I have acquired is important. 

I think that the greatest clarity comes from understanding the central principle Luther found in the Scriptures and on which he stood. It was Christ! He said and wrote as much often.  

When he learned that so many of the common people in the churches in Saxony, had “no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine,” he wrote the Small Catechism which has one of the greatest confessions of his faith in Christ: “I believe that Jesus Christ . . . has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Luther captured the central message of the Bible. For Luther it was never a dry academic principle. Luther wrote personally; he said “me.” That’s the beauty of Luther. He points us to Christ because he treasures Christ. We too have come to treasure Christ. 

This wasn’t an isolated incident. At home in Wittenberg, boarders, friends, and relatives often joined Luther at the supper table to listen to him and learn. Once he said, “If anybody strays from the center, it is impossible for him to have the circle around him, he must blunder. The center is Christ” (Luther’s Works [LW], Vol. 54, p. 45). Again Christ and, therefore, faith and forgiveness. 

Luther had to struggle to discover the greatness of God’s grace in Christ. He was tormented by his unworthiness before a holy, just, and omnipotent God. When the Holy Spirit opened his eyes and enlightened him, he confessed it was as if paradise was opened for him. Then the words of Scripture became a clear message of Christ that Luther was not willing to abandon, no matter what the cost. 

Perhaps we may consider Luther a kind of idol when we consider all that God brought to pass because of him. But human idols are not perfect, and neither is Luther. He was a sinner whose flaws are easy to discover. But Christ was his treasure and hope. He said, “The Christian faith differs from other religions in this, that the Christian hopes even in the midst of evils and sins” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 70). 

Rather than  being an idol to whom we give blind reverence, Luther is a signpost, pointing us to the Scriptures and to the message of the Scriptures—Christ.  

In the past few months I also have read comments by my brothers and sisters in the faith about being Lutheran. A few of those comments are included in this issue. Some of them are in the special insert, and another page shares thoughts from confessional Lutherans around the world. As I read all of these comments, I stand in grateful praise to God for what he has done in bringing them also to be signposts pointing to Christ. As you read them, I suggest you consider how many times they point to the certainty of salvation in Christ.  

Not only are they all signposts, but they are also examples that encourage us all to share our faith and to point others to Christ. For Luther, for these believers, for all of us, Christ is the center. Christ is still the message the world desperately needs. 


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Your kingdom come

John A. Braun

Believers have always longed for the Lord’s kingdom to come. The Old Testament believers, like Abraham, were “looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We also pray for its coming the way John ends Revelation. When the Lord promises, “Yes, I am coming soon,” believers respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Our prayer is a longing for the perfect kingdom Jesus promised, a place where there is no more death, sorrow, pain, or crying. It springs from hearts that daily endure the harsh realities of life in the trenches of unrest, anger, immorality, addiction, and all that comes with them. Here we have nothing perfect. We anticipate something much better because Jesus, our King, has promised it will come.

But Jesus reminded his disciples that the kingdom of his Father is more than a distant hope. It already exists (Luke 17:21). All those who listen to the gospel and believe become citizens even though they must wait for its glorious coming. The glory waits, but not the love and care of God.

Our Father placed all things under the power and authority of Jesus (Ephesians 1:22). Now Jesus rules his kingdom so that all things work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). That’s the kingdom we pray will continue to advance.

Perhaps we need to remember that our King came here and lived with us as a poor, humble servant. He stood accused of treason and bound before Pilate. In his interview with the Roman official, Jesus maintained he was a king, but his kingdom was not of this world. It was different.

When we remember Jesus before Pilate, we begin to understand how different the kingdom of God is. It is not kingdom of power, borders, armies, decrees, or legislative action. It is a kingdom of God’s action on behalf of his people—quietly, relentlessly, efficiently carried out by an unseen and unnoticed almighty God who loves his own.

Our great King now rules even in the presence of his enemies. Today, the headlines announce how often the enemies of Christ seek to destroy his kingdom and belittle or even persecute his people. They almost always seem to be more powerful, more successful, and more important than Christ’s kingdom. But Jesus reminds us that even hell itself cannot overcome his kingdom (Matthew 16:18).

The gospel of Jesus had called, gathered, and enlightened sinful humans like us. We are his kingdom waiting for the glory to come. When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” we recognize that we are citizens of his kingdom and pray that he will keep us as his subjects.

We could say that Christ’s kingdom is a kingdom of words because his power is in the words of the gospel of forgiveness. That power not only sustains us as his own, but it also brings others to treasure the grace of God. In spite of attempts to wipe Christians from the face of the earth, the kingdom of God continues to claim new believers and to sustain all those who trust in him. Your kingdom come, Lord.

Sometimes we need to remember that the kingdom is his, not ours. This is a prayer to “our Father in heaven,” and we pray, “Your kingdom come”—not mine or ours. We are challenged to see that we do indeed contribute to the rule of Christ our King, but we serve him. We pray that God would keep us focused on his kingdom and our humble service to him while we are here waiting for his glorious kingdom to come.


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Hallowed be your name

John A. Braun

I think the only time I use the word hallowed might be when I say the Lord’s Prayer. It’s not that I don’t understand what it means. It’s just a word that doesn’t come up in conversation—with one exception. It is an important part of my conversation with my heavenly Father.

So I often use hallowed when I pray, “Our Father, hallowed be your name.” I ask for God’s name to be honored, appreciated, or set apart for special reverence. Of course, we cannot make it any more special or holy than it already is. His name is forever connected to what he has done for us. That God has sent his Son to redeem sinners is a glorious and profound truth. God has given us forgiveness, life, and salvation through Christ. What greater reason to treat his name with respect and honor.

Jesus invited believers to pray that his Father’s glorious work of saving us be honored and revered among us. “Hallowed be your name.” When we come together, we need to hear the gospel, the news of God’s gracious work for us. We know the gospel is the power of God (Romans 1:16). It is vital for our spiritual life and our eternal future. We honor God by proclaiming what he has done.

To proclaim something different from the gospel of Christ dishonors our heavenly Father. It diminishes him. John reminds us that when we say something contrary to God’s Word we make God a liar (1 John 5:10). When our works, our thoughts, and our efforts take center stage, we move God to a secondary role as a supporting actor instead of the main attraction. His name is not hallowed.

So we pray that God our heavenly Father would keep our attention on the main thing: Christ. Our regular prayer is necessary because of the temptations we encounter almost every day. In our world, God’s name is used for almost everything but proclaiming Christ crucified. Even in churches the message is distorted and altered to create a kind of Christianity of feeling good without Christ.

With my fellow believers, I ask that the Lord’s name be revered, honored, and held in a special place among us as God’s children. After all, he has placed his name on us. We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That name along with the water has washed our sins away and made us children of God. We are clothed with Christ’s perfect life so that all blemishes and faults are covered. And we have become his children, destined to inherit all our Father’s rich blessings.

What troubles me is when God’s children bring dishonor to the Lord Jesus. When I hear that Christians have stumbled into great public sin, my heart sinks. I know sin still lives within us. So when I pray, “Hallowed be your name,” I’m asking God to strengthen both me and my fellow believers so that we do not disgrace our heavenly Father by our behavior.

In a positive way, we pray that God would strengthen and direct us all so that we show more kindness, patience, gentleness, love, joy, and peace as we deal with each other. Those qualities are important in his church. They are also important in our dealings with those who do not know Jesus yet. We ask the Lord to help us honor him in every situation of life. When we are insulted, when the world speaks well of us, when we suffer, when we rejoice and are happy, we pray, “Hallowed be your name, heavenly Father.”


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Our Father in heaven

John A. Braun

“Our Father in heaven.”

How often have you said those words? How often have you said them without thinking what a marvelous truth Jesus taught us? Each of the petitions of this prayer gives us something important to ponder.

I want to spend a few months thinking through what the Lord’s Prayer means for us as Christians and specifically how we can pray this prayer for our needs as a church. My reason is that first word “our.”

Jesus taught his disciples that this prayer included them all together. They asked him to teach them how to pray. Then with the first words of the prayer, he invited them to consider they shared a Father in heaven together.

Most often when I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I pray it personally and think, My Father in heaven. That’s okay because it has much I need to bring to my Father in prayer.

Yet, I should not forget the words Jesus used. It starts with that word “our.” When we gather in worship, we speak the prayer together. Jesus encouraged me to look down the pew at the people who are saying the prayer with me as well as those in the pews in front of me and behind me. We address our Father together.

I think that little word “our” is significant because it reminds me that I’m not the only one in the Lord’s church. Peter was not alone, nor were any of the other disciples. Even later when they went their separate ways to share the gospel with all nations, they were part of the Lord’s church. The Holy Spirit brought new people to faith in Jesus who together would begin their prayers, “Our Father.” In another way, even when they were separated there was still the “Our Father.” A thousand miles away, Christians were saying the Lord’s Prayer. They were in his church and part of the “our” of communion and fellowship with each other.

Believers, the church of Christ, often said this little prayer together over the centuries, just as Jesus taught it. Sometimes the words tumble from lips of family, friends, or a pastor gathered together around a bedside. At other times we mumble them together when facing great trials. “Our Father.” We are not alone. Certainly, our Lord is with us, but this is a reminder that so are other Christians. Together we pray for each other.

Jesus wants our prayers to be addressed to our Father. Luther reminds us that our relationship with God is the relationship of an ideal tender father with his dear children. God’s love has removed what makes us rebellious and infuriating. He sent his perfect Son, Jesus, to be our substitute. Our Father sees us as brothers and sisters of the One whose blood atones for our rebellion. Our Father loves us and wants us to bring our cares and concerns to him in our prayers.

Jesus adds that our Father is “in heaven.” These aren’t just words to fill a sentence or address! No, our Father is powerful and understands our challenges. He does not sit in heaven oblivious to what happens here and unable to help us. He listens and has the power to help in every need and every situation.

And the world seems to spin out of control. We all sense it happening. We are concerned about the believers we know from our regular worship and the believers we read about worldwide. Jesus encourages us to take those concerns to “our Father.” What a wonderful opportunity to pray for each other as dear children, brothers and sisters together.


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Coming to church

John A. Braun

“If I believe in Jesus, why do I have to come to church or even belong to a church? Isn’t it enough that I believe?” Those questions are among the questions asked by people who check “None” when asked about their church preference.

The “Nones” have concluded that the organized church is just too difficult for them. Perhaps they have had a bad experience with a pastor or priest. Perhaps they have listened to or sat through too many meetings that go nowhere and may have been filled with too much bitterness, anger, or squabbling. It may, of course, be simpler than that. They just want their freedom.

I suppose that there’s another group of people who ask those questions or at least variations of them. We call them delinquents—members who stay away from worship. Pastors and elders in our congregations spend time in prayer and use energy trying to connect with them and encourage them to come to church.

In either case, they don’t come to church—at least very often. Perhaps they come for Christmas and Easter—the “C and E” Christians. Some may actually be quite devout—reading their Bibles and even attending a Bible class hosted by a neighbor. But coming to church is another story altogether.

We might imagine the reasons they don’t come and the rationalizations they adopt to justify staying away. Services are boring? Too much emphasis on money? Church people are hypocrites? Pastors are unfriendly, pompous, or whatever? So many people and so many excuses!

Why do we come to church? Perhaps we have as many answers to that question as others have excuses not to come. Let me suggest a few reasons to come to God’s house.

I come to sing God’s praises with others. Yes, we are a flawed assembly with all kinds of people from a great spectrum of personalities and backgrounds. We may not be friends with everyone at worship, but we are all children of God by faith in Jesus. That draws us together, and our love for Jesus helps us put aside our differences. We sing together—even if some can’t sing a note. Our hearts are joined to praise God for his grace in Jesus.

I come for the forgiveness of sins. Martin Luther mentioned something that I think is remarkable. Luther reminds us that when we come to the Lord’s Supper God places the forgiveness there on the table for us. That’s true whenever we hear the gospel. God places forgiveness in front of me—in front of us all—as his gift. We accept his gift by faith, and we take it home, wrapped up in our hearts, for comfort and strength. Whatever lies ahead during the week, we have what is important.

I come for instruction. The daily tasks and weekly worries wear down our resolve to remain faithful. We come together to listen to God’s Word to sharpen our faith, correct our wayward tendencies, and steel our commitment to Jesus.

I come to share a portion of the income God gives me. The collection plate is a welcome opportunity. We bring our offerings to maintain the building we use for worship, to support the servants we call to teach us and our children, and to spread the message of Jesus through our mission efforts.

I’m also there to smile and encourage others who come. I don’t always know the challenges they face every day, but our time together includes prayers for each other—some spoken and others unspoken. Part of coming together is the joy of seeing other disciples of Jesus worship.


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Christ crucified

John A. Braun

I need to hear the gospel—Christ crucified for me—regularly. It’s why I go to church on Sunday. It’s not that I’ve never heard the gospel before. I simply need the reminder. Three reasons to hear the gospel often loom in my life and, I think, in the life of every Christian.

The first is the unwelcome guest that lives within my heart. It’s my old self, the sinful nature that persists even after I know the love of Jesus. When the gospel works within us it is the power of God. The gospel nourishes my faith and strengthens my desire to do as the Lord wills in joy and in gratitude for his love.

But I don’t lose my sinful nature in the joy of Christ’s love. No. His love creates a struggle. The good that I want to do, often I do not do (Romans 7). Then comes guilt when I fail. I try to change, but failure comes so often. I need to hear that Jesus loves me and forgives me. I need the gospel often.

The second reason is more subtle. Sometime my sinful nature is so sneaky that it will turn the gospel into something about me. That’s a common fault of human nature. All too often it becomes all about me. I begin losing sight of Jesus, and I say how proud I am to be a Christian. I stop thinking like the poor publican. Instead, I focus on all I’ve done; I only wish others would notice more often. I become the Pharisee!

Making Christianity all about me instead of about Christ is a temptation that infects so many Christian churches. The message of Christ and his forgiveness shrinks in importance. In its place, the message of Christ changes. It is no longer about Christ crucified for me, but Jesus becomes an example for moral behavior. Hope, joy, satisfaction, and comfort rest not on Christ but on how well one lives as a Christian. That old sinful nature shifts the focus on me and away from Christ who was crucified for me, an unworthy sinner.

In addition, the shift away from Christ to “me” comes with the temptation to take a small step toward thinking I’m a better Christian than others and that others are missing something. That’s a virus that infected the Galatians. They were taken in by those who thought they needed Christ and works. Paul chided them, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (3:1). In our age, it becomes a dominant focus on the obedience of a Christian to the law of love. Sounds good, but where is Christ crucified? All too often he must take a back seat to “me,” my obedience, and my effort. It becomes Christ and works not Christ alone.

That’s the third reason I need to hear the gospel of Christ crucified. The second reason is that the gospel is the antidote to the temptations I feel inside. The third reason? The gospel is also the antidote to the temptation to satisfy my itching ears with a message my sinful nature wants to hear—a message that is different than Christ crucified for me.

A friend recently said, “If you think you are someone special, put your hand in a bucket of water and pull it out. How much of an impression have you left?” My sinful nature recoils at that reality, but my spirit rejoices that God loved such a good-for-nothing. Christ was crucified for me and for all other sinners. May God nourish our spirits with the message of Christ crucified.


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Ricochet

John A. Braun

The bullets always ricocheted off the boulders protecting the hero. When he popped up his head and raised his gun to shoot at the bad guy, he rarely missed. I grew up with that firmly in my mind as I watched the Westerns of my day. Sound effects and that puff of debris from where the bullet hit the rock made it all the more believable.

Most people do not remember the television shows I watched years ago, but they still see the same thing happening in the movies today. In some movies the bullets still fly, but in others it’s the flash of light from the lasers or blasters. Either way the bad guys still miss more often than they hit the hero. The special effects and the surprising escapes still keep our attention. The hero survives to achieve his mission and save the day, the world, his friend, or the nation.

I sometimes wonder if my idea of rescue and protection is shaped by what I saw on TV or in the movies. Do I consider my prayers answered when I escape danger or disease? Then the threat only ricochets away harmlessly. I’m safe and so is the one I prayed for. Yes, my prayers are answered, and I thank God for his protection and, in some cases, his modern miracles. The bullets have missed.

But sometimes the bullets don’t miss. Our heroes get wounded and suffer. At times they also die in the face of disease or accident. They are not just our heroes; they are also our friends, loved ones, and colleagues. Then there is the temptation to think that God has not answered our prayers. We need to hunker down and rethink things.

God always has in mind what is best for us and all his people. He does what is best, just as he promised. But he does not simply preserve our life as it is and keep us going ahead without trouble. He will challenge us to remember that heroes (read friends, loved ones, and colleagues) don’t always live as they have or live to fight another day. He strategically changes our lives in many ways for our good.

Before we go too far, we need to be a bit introspective about our own situation. We like to think about those other heroes we know but in the comfort and security that we are personally safe and the bullets of disaster have whizzed over our heads. We breathe a sigh of relief, but we ought never ignore the reality that our journey through this life follows a narrow path to heaven. That path has hardships, pain, and misery for us too.

Like soldiers in the midst of battle, casualties and death are realities we cannot prevent. Sometimes they do just miss us. But whether we are counted among them or not, whether we have escaped difficulties or been stopped in our tracks by them, we have a hope from a God who loves us. He, at times, will challenge us by turning our world upside down, but he does not desert us.

That hope grows large as we remember the empty tomb in Joseph’s garden. The Lord Jesus is alive. Death could not hold him. It can’t hold any of his disciples either. Easter is our sure hope on the battleground of life.

The bullet with our name on it is out there somewhere, but Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25,26 ESV).


John Braun is executive editor of the Forward in Christ magazine.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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The fool

John A. Braun

Psalm 14 begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ” The atheist is a fool? God thinks so. The evaluation is repeated in Psalm 53.

Such judgmental pronouncements, however, are not welcome in our world. And from the perspective of atheists, of course, it’s not true. They would think of Christians as fools. For the atheist, nothing exists but what can be proven, observed, and documented. Science is the standard of what is and what is not. Believing in God and especially trusting in a crucified and resurrected Savior make Christians fools. The message of the cross is just so much foolishness to the world’s wise and intelligent (1 Corinthians 1:23).

If you do any reading of atheistic thought, it doesn’t take very long to hear the utter disdain for religious people who accept the concept of God. Their view of God may be that he is a cruel jerk who promises a boring existence in heaven. I’ve read that assessment by one atheist. He discards all ideas of such a god. But the god he rejects was created according to his own intellectual assumptions. Of course, he would object to my critique. To his way of thinking, I am a fool and accept foolish things.

Reading some of their literature means reading claims of their superior intellect and a belittling of anyone who thinks differently. Those who accept the concept of God are naïve, superstitious, and deluded. Some have even concluded that the “religious” are social misfits who need a crutch to get through life. It’s a kind of arrogance and superiority that borders on intellectual bullying. In effect it comes across as, “You are not as smart as I am because I don’t believe in God.”

What makes this so frustrating is that the human mind is an amazing organ. The contributions of great minds over the course of human history is long and impressive. Beginning with the simple wheel down to the latest discoveries in all scientific fields, the list is nothing short of amazing. Who knows how much more there is yet to come? I confess to meeting and talking with men and women who surpass my intellectual gifts.

While I marvel at those accomplishments, I do not measure things by human standards that are limited and changeable only to deny that God does not exist. One silent and relentless witness to the limitations of human thinking is that every one of us grows old and deteriorates. Atheists too. Intelligent. Poor. Cognitively limited. I wonder if that’s one of the reasons “The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Psalm 2:4).

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20). God’s thoughts and God’s ways are higher than mine or any of the greatest minds the world has ever seen or will ever see. Our human standards are too small to judge him, our human thought too limited to contain his thoughts. Profound humility in the face of God is an appropriate response and cancels any arrogant bravado.

Who would have ever imagined that God would send his Son to endure crucifixion for those who could not even grasp his greatness? That’s foolish to atheists and most of the intellectual world around us. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Lent beckons us again. Be bold in trusting God’s foolishness in Christ crucified. Remember God’s critique of those without God, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”


John Braun is executive editor of Forward in Christ magazine. 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Weary and burned out

John A. Braun

Spiritual life can seem like a wasteland sometimes. We might imagine that we’re standing on the edge of a vast landscape of sand dunes with no clear path to follow. The longer we stand there and ponder what to do, the worse it gets.

I’ve been there, and I find company there. The people who come are weary and tired. Some have labored long and hard at life’s challenges and living as Christians. They’re burned out. I even find Elijah there, who wondered if he was the only one who was still faithful (1 Kings chapter 19), and Jeremiah with his Lamentations.

We all come here from time to time. A parent confronted with challenges posed by a child’s dangerous choices becomes weary and drained by the effort to do what is right. A spouse sits helpless as life and vitality creep away from a beloved partner. We all have our own journeys and stories of how we came to the edge of the wasteland.

Exhausted by our struggles, we seem to have lost our enthusiasm for Christ and our energy for the next challenge. We anguish over what we sense is a drop in our intensity and a sign of weakness. The dents in our armor are difficult to repair sometimes. After the struggle,

it seems like we will never be able to attain the same level of commitment, strength, and vitality.

But let’s be careful as we join the company of those other weary believers. What we are experiencing is not so much a wasteland but a sign of spiritual maturity. We’ve come through troubles. The Lord has given us all we need to come to a place for rest. We have endured. The maturity comes in recognizing that the Lord has trained and molded us in the exertion—even given us a time to reflect.

We should remember that all our tri-als and challenges do not leave us the same as we were before. Even if we don’t realize it, we have grown to a new level of spiritual maturity, that is, if we have turned to the Lord’s Word for strength, comfort, and encouragement. He has led us to deeper prayer as well. Even if God seems to be silent after our repeated cries for help, he sharpens our vision of his will and leads us away from our will. Wait. Trust. Hope. That’s part of spiritual maturity.

At those moments of spiritual weariness, we may be tempted to do something to breathe vitality back into our spiritual life. I know some have sought a solution in another church or even another church body, hoping to recapture some of what appears lost. Temptations await us in these places. But our spiritual health does not depend as much on our efforts as it depends on God’s power in the gospel. Don’t be too quick to find a path away from his grace and love.

Instead, take the time to rest, reflect, and return to God’s rich promises. The path ahead becomes clear as we listen to God’s instruction in his Word. The gospel assures us of God’s love in Christ and promises he will never desert us. Perhaps his new role for us is to stand quietly as one of God’s guideposts for others to follow. Mature and sure of his love, we point to Scripture and the cross it reveals. For those troubled by their journey, our spiritual depth assures them in their own spiritual weariness.

There’s more to do, and God may open new pathways for any of us to follow. In the meantime, wait for the Lord and sink yourselves into his promises.

 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Change

John A. Braun

When we are comfortable and everything is smooth and happy, we don’t want anything to change. Decisions, our actions or failures, and painful events many times must precede the calm and peace that follow. But once we arrive at that spot of tranquility, we don’t want it to change. But it does.

Forgetting the past is part of our resistance to change, but we also do not want to face the challenges and discomfort of adjusting to a new path and a new direction. But the road we travel is most often an exploration that changes from day to day and not a wayside for us to stay.

Each mile requires something a little different from us. Without thinking about it, we make the necessary adjustments and follow the path that seems so clear before us. Many of the changes don’t alter our paths dramatically. Yet every day brings new challenges, and we adjust.

Some changes we initiate in the hope of preserving our spot of tranquility or improving it. An example is relocation and all the changes that brings. Or marriage. Children. A new job. Education. Our personal daily lives illustrate that change is good, at least if the changes only alter our course slightly or they improve our pathway.

Other changes are uncomfortable and unwanted. They lead us down dark, unexpected, or painful paths. They come from many sources: politics, health, relationships, family. We resist those changes when they come from things we cannot control or prevent. That may be the key to understanding our resistance to change. We resist because we have no control. We must travel the dark valley from time to time. And we don’t like it.

As believers in Christ, we have learned to turn to the Lord and trust his direction though we “walk through the darkest valley” (Psalm 23:4). The painful losses we experience—spouse, child, parent, financial security, health—have taught us that the Lord gives strength, comfort, and courage to move forward. We lean on his staff for support to step into the unknown and unwelcome. In addition, we know that the darkest valley is temporary. The end of our journey is the absence of tears, sorrow, pain, and misery in the eternal home Jesus has prepared for us.

Perhaps in the small changes of life, we forget such comfort. Certainly the Lord hasn’t disappeared or abandoned us. We just don’t think about his constant love for us. That thought struck me recently as I was driving to work at sunrise. The traffic was backed up and there was a pause—perhaps a little frustration within. Then I looked at the horizon and noted the golden sun kissing the tops of the low clouds.

I’ve seen sunrises and sunsets many times before. I can’t even count how many I’ve noticed. But every one was different. Every day the sun greets a changed sky. And at night again it sets and sends its diminishing light through a different set of clouds. We see change every day, actually every morning and every night. Yet the sun remains constant. You know the lesson: God remains beautiful and glorious no matter what the changes may be.

As we face the days ahead, we are easily filled with anguish over what changes await us. But remember: God still sends the sun to shine every day. He is in control. We cannot alter that and would only mess it up if we could. His love is undeserved and deep. He has given us his only Son. He will continue to love and care for us through all the changes ahead.

 


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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A beautiful Bible teaching

John A. Braun

“Do you actually believe this?” The question often comes when we confess our faith. Sometimes we wince at the question. When we confess that we are sinners and deserve God’s rejection and punishment, it’s hard for someone else to grasp the reality of sin that exists within us all.

But there are other occasions for the question. “Do you actually believe that God will reject the good people of this world?” The thinking persists that all good people deserve special consideration from God. Yet we confess what the Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

“Do you believe in sin, judgment, God’s wrath, and all those bad things? They kill our self-esteem and mentally cripple our children.” With that thought, the teachings of the Bible are to be rejected as too unrealistic, harsh, or intolerant—too ugly.

But one beautiful incident from the Bible’s pages defies that perception. Yes, some will simply think of it as a myth or fictional story, but it brings us the beauty and purity of God’s love for the foul mass of humanity.

One quiet night in a small town in Judea, a mother gave birth to a son we know as Jesus. She was in Bethlehem because the Roman government required her and Joseph to register for taxation purposes. Interestingly, the people mentioned in Luke’s account are all real people verified by historical research. Mary delivered her son under difficult circumstances, wrapped him, and placed him in a manger. The story still touches our hearts and the hearts of many. It’s simply beautiful.

Then the night sky awoke to the brilliance of angels. Their brilliance terrified the shepherds but also announced the birth of this child who was Christ the Lord. The shepherds went to find the child with Mary and Joseph and told all who would listen about the beautiful event they had just witnessed.

When the baby is identified as Christ the Lord, the beauty transcends every human imagination; it is magnificent. The Lord is a baby in Bethlehem. Where is the ugliness of sin and judgment so many expect from God? It’s a baby instead. This baby is God’s love for ugly human sinners who deserve to be dismissed from his presence.

A glance at any newspaper or history book reveals the corruption and filth that pollutes our world—abuse, violence, greed, lust for power, rage, envy, discord, and immorality. These things find their way to the highest levels of our society, and they are also evident in every human heart and relationship. It’s as the Bible says, “All have sinned.”

The beauty is that God chose to provide a solution—an undeserved alterative. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That baby in Bethlehem is a treasured example of God’s love for a world so filled with ugliness.

“Do you actually believe this?” Yes! Then I have questions: Why does this beautiful truth become so unattractive to so many? Why do some decide it is just a nice myth? Why do they seem to prefer a Christmas without the baby? Why persist in creating and perpetuating a world without the love of God for unworthy sinners?

Ah, God’s beautiful wisdom is foolishness and remains so to those who do not and will not see. But the rude manger in Bethlehem holds a beauty that surpasses the most profound thoughts of all those who have not embraced the baby: Christ the Lord. It’s no wonder we sing “Joy to the World.”


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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No longer captive

John A. Braun

Our human minds are wonderful and fascinating organs. Creative thought lives in even the most humble of humans. Great works of art, medical breakthroughs, and computer technologies cause us to marvel. They are not the products of common, ordinary humans. But I can marvel at the way my neighbor, after careful thought and planning, landscapes his yard or the way a family manages its finances to squeeze out enough for vacation or education.

As fascinating as it is, there is a ceiling to all human effort and creativity. We are captive to the here and now. Well, it might be better to say that we are captive to the horizontal. That doesn’t mean we can’t explore the heavens above and the universe that surrounds us. It only means that we are bound by what we see, know, and understand.

We can add to our knowledge as we explore, imagine, and experiment, and we can come to new understandings and thinking. But like those who explored centuries ago, we go off in a ship or vessel designed and made by a human mind. We still venture out into the unknown as horizontally limited humans. We want to poke holes in the ceiling to know God, heaven, and what is beyond human horizontal thinking, but we are limited by the way we think.

I know some will object to my suggestion that we are captives of our own human thoughts, and I can understand the objection. I’m not saying we cannot expand our horizons. We absolutely should explore, experiment, and imagine, but it will only be an expansion of our horizons, not a vertical breakthrough. By our own efforts, no matter how creative and interesting, we cannot know God, who exists beyond human horizons.

God himself must reveal what we cannot possibly know. And he’s given us a peek, even through our horizontal world. Paul says it this way, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Yet when we speculate about God, even as we see his majesty in the sunset, the oceans, or the mountains, we cannot conceive anything beyond what we have seen, heard, or observed. We are captives in the ship we sail—horizontally limited. We watch the sky but are unable to penetrate the heavens and know fully about the God who made us.

God’s wisdom concerning the horizontally limited is a mystery—but it’s not unknowable. Paul reminds us, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9,10).

While we cannot penetrate the ceiling from below, God himself has penetrated the ceiling from above by the revelation of Jesus Christ. God has sent his Spirit to bring us understanding beyond anything we will know on our own. Paul again reminds us the Spirit is from God, “so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (v. 12). How did God do that? We are not taught by human wisdom, “but in words taught by the Spirit” (v. 13). We understand God’s gifts of love, joy, peace, grace, forgiveness, and eternity only in Christ because God has opened our minds by his revelation—the Scriptures—to see and understand what human thinking can never imagine.

Let’s not forget to take his Word along with us on our journey. We are no longer vertically challenged.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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A parable for the ages

John A. Braun

Why should anyone become Christian? We would point to the Savior Jesus as the only real reason. He came to earth from the throne of his heavenly Father to accomplish what no human could accomplish. He assumed our place, suffered, and died, but rose again. He paid the full penalty for all human sin and failure and demonstrated his accomplishment by rising from the dead.

The Holy Spirit convinces doubting, uncertain, and opposing hearts to trust that Jesus has accomplished what the Scriptures tell us. We speak, write, sing, and live as disciples of Jesus here and now. Our witness gives the Holy Spirit opportunities to change hearts.

So many still have difficulty with the story of Christ. It has been so throughout the ages.

Over one thousand years ago a king was confronted with the Christian message. His wife was a Christian and urged him to become a Christian, but he still doubted and remained unconvinced. So he convened a meeting of his advisors in the grand hall to ask for advice. Huddled around a warm fire, they talked far into the night. As they talked, a bird entered through one of the windows. They grew quiet as they watched the bird. It flew around the hall and left through another window.

One of the king’s advisors proposed a reason to adopt the Christian message. He adapted the flight of the bird into a short parable. We enter this world, he said, but we don’t really know where we come from. We enjoy the company of our friends and the warmth of life here, but we all must leave this world again. And we don’t really know where we will go once we fly away and return to the unknown darkness. If this Jesus can help us understand what we cannot know about our flight out of life, we should listen to him. (Adapted from the account of the conversion King Edwin by the Venerable Bede.)

We all wonder about what will happen when we fly away at the end of life. Jesus has always been the answer. He was the answer when Luther was troubled by a bolt of lightning on his way back to the university at Erfurt. Luther worked hard to prepare himself to stand before God at life’s end, but he never could do enough. After years of anguish, he found the Bible’s answer: God himself gives us all we need. Jesus gives us his perfect life as a beautiful robe to covers all our sins. When our days “quickly pass, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10), God welcomes us because of Jesus. Then he allows us to perch in the branches of the tree of life. His resurrection is our assurance and comfort.

Christianity has always been about Jesus. It has never been about what we do, think, or feel. We treasure the message of Jesus because it tells us where we are going. Those who walked and talked with Jesus have left us the New Testament, and we trust it because it tells us about Jesus.

The Savior himself designated those apostles to leave behind what we needed to know and promised that they would tell us the truth. Anything else is just speculation told by men and women who enjoy the warm fire and the company of friends. They cannot know what lies outside the window when we fly away. That’s a message only God knows, and he has made it clear to us in Jesus.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Achievement

John A. Braun

How many medals did we win? Which athletes won? It is exciting to watch the struggle and triumph of the Olympic Games. Victorious athletes might crow that they knew if they worked hard in training and kept at it, they’d win. But I know that for every single gold medal, thousands of hopefuls have also trained hard and kept at it. They have no medal to polish and display.

Sometimes we measure value by championships, medals, and public acclaim. In one sense, we need goals to motivate us, whether in politics, athletics, business, finance, the arts, or life in general. But like in the Olympics, thousands do not achieve great status and acclaim. Measuring greatness or even value is often harder than receiving acclaim, awards, or even notice.

Perhaps I should add one more category to the list of areas in our lives—the church. One of the recurring arguments among the disciples was which of them was the greatest. The discussion followed them to the upper room on Thursday of Holy Week. How shall we measure greatness? Jesus on more than one occasion corrected them. Great meant taking the lowly position of a child (Matthew 18:4); great meant being the servant of all (Mark 9:35); the one who was least among them was the greatest (Luke 9:48). And in that upper room, though he was Lord and Master, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John chapter 13). Humility and service are the traits of true greatness.

Both often are in short supply in all areas of life, even in the church, where we measure value and importance by completely different standards. Yet God does say that those who “direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). He also warns about pride and encourages humility.

As Lutheran Christians we have abandoned the idea that clergy—whether pastors or teachers in our context—are a step closer to heaven or better than the people in the pew. Before God, we are all equal in grace and value to the Lord. Leaders in the church are worthy of double honor not because they are better but because of their service: They bring the gospel to God’s people. Paul quoted Isaiah when he wrote, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 10:15).

But I want to turn to the value of every Christian. What makes Christian people so important? They often do not have any medals nor do they get a moment in the spotlight. Instead, they quietly serve others. They fulfill the second most important commandment of the Lord, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). And much of the time they do it without even recognizing their own value.

Is this not a great disciple? A believer who quietly cares for her family. Another who works to supply food, clothing, and shelter for his family. One who takes time to show a son or daughter how to do math or encourages them to read. Another who puts food on the table to nourish the family for the next day’s challenges. All who teach respect for others and instill a desire to help. Those who teach the young how to manage their money or work faithfully at a job. Those who help with prayers and share God’s love in Christ. These may seem like little things, but they are so important and valuable. What is God doing with these works but holding our world together.

Maybe we should remember that God is polishing their medals.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Violence

John A. Braun

With cell phone cameras available in almost every situation, we get pictures of unguarded moments in the lives of many people. Some of those moments are funny, like America’s Funniest Home Videos. Others are embarrassing, but maybe that’s the same thing. Still others reveal the dark side.

More than a few of the dark videos make their way to television news departments. We see road rage, fights, protests turned violent, and a lot more. Sporting events turn into brawls, and not just in professional sports where a lot of money complicates the conflict. Too often it includes Little League games, which are supposed to be fun and learning experiences.

Then add guns, and disagreements aren’t just hostile, aggressive confrontations—they suddenly destroy life. Often we hear that the absence of guns will stop the violence, but I think that the violence stretches beyond guns. As a society, even if we would outlaw all guns, the violence will continue. It might be a little like Prohibition in a previous era of our American history. Banning alcohol solved very little. We sometimes only grasp for solutions so it seems like we are doing something to bring safety.

On the issue of gun control, there can be some spirited debate and disagreement. No matter what one’s opinion, all want brutal outbursts to stop. Yet road rage; violent protests; domestic disturbances; brawls; and bloody, unexpected shootings persist. So where does all this come from?

When children sit with their devices and improve their score by increasing the body count, are we encouraging or discouraging peace and safety? When movies become box office successes because, at least to some extent, they are bloody and violent, what’s the lesson? My grandmother sent her sons off to war and never let us play with guns—even pretend guns—but we played with them anyway. My rifle sticks of the past have become realistic toys with a small bright orange mark somewhere to indicate it is a toy. Have we blurred the boundary between pretend and real? Where does that lead?

Bursts of violence and confrontation are everywhere—in our competitive business practices, in our entertainment choices, even in the way we respond to disagreements in marriage. Some control the bursts of anger before they turn to violence. They exercise self-discipline in contentious exchanges. Others channel their competitive impulses to outlets that do not bring pain and bloodshed. I like to think that my grandmother’s aversion to guns was a warning for my budding personality.

I also heard a better voice. His voice warns not just about violence, but also about the source of violence and all evil. Jesus says, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). His thought stretches back to the beginning when God observed that “every inclination of the thought of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). But his words seem to have little value today when we deny the evil that sits in a corner of all our hearts, something we think is a little thing. It’s not. It remains powerfully violent, easily provoked.

His diagnosis is painfully noted, not embarrassingly and angrily dismissed!

Then I hear his voice again. He does not leave me only with the violence and evil within identified. He creates something new within me. His love forgives. It makes me want to be like him. The new forces within motivate me to work toward “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22,23).

When we fail to understand the source of the problem, we can only treat the symptoms.

 

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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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