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What it means to be truly Lutheran: Faith alone

Faith alone

Joel D. Otto

How does a person have a right to stand before God and obtain eternal life? The Bible presents two answers. Perfect obedience of all the commandments is one answer. Jesus once gave that answer to an expert in the law (Luke 10:25-37). But no one can do this. The other answer is faith, belief, and trust in Jesus. We read it in the most well-known passage in Scripture (John 3:16). Paul also expressed it clearly: “We maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28).

This teaching that we are justified by faith alone has been obscured, even in the church. At the time of Paul, some tried to say that faith was not enough. You also had to obey certain Jewish customs to be a good Christian. Paul had an answer: “[We] know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

By Martin Luther’s day, the church

was teaching a similar combination of faith and works. Faith had to be completed by works. But whenever works are added, you cannot be certain that heaven is secure. How do you know if you’ve done enough works or the right works?

Luther was led to rediscover what the Scriptures had always taught. Only by faith in Jesus do we receive the blessings Jesus won for us through his life, death, and resurrection. The Augsburg Confession states concisely, “It is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21–26] and 4[:5]” (The Book of Concord, IV, pp. 38,40).

True Lutherans believe that we have a right standing before God through Christ alone by faith alone in Jesus. True Lutherans understand that it is all by grace and that faith is not a decision we make or the one work we must do but simply the hand that receives the gifts God gives through the gospel. To be truly Lutheran means to have the confident certainty of eternal life because faith holds on to Jesus alone.

Questions to consider

1. Read Romans 4:4-8 and Ephesians 2:8,9. How do these passages help answer the idea that faith is the one work we must do?

In Romans chapter 4, Paul contrasts faith with doing something that earns a wage. Faith is not working to earn a wage. Instead it is receiving a gift already completely purchased and earned for us by Christ. In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul says that the whole concept of being saved “by grace through faith” is God’s gift; nothing about it is a work in which we can boast. Both passage clearly show that faith is not the one condition we have to meet or the one work we have to do in order to complete our salvation. God freely gives us the completed work of Christ, and the gospel works faith in our hearts to receive it.

2. Luther emphasized that we are saved by faith alone, but he also frequently said that faith is never alone. Read Romans 3:28 and James 2:20-24. How do these passages seem to contradict each other? Describe how they do not contradict each other.

At first, these passages seem to contradict each other because Paul excludes works from justification (“apart from the works of the law”), while James says the opposite (“faith without deeds is useless”). But they are writing from different perspectives. Paul is considering justification before God. If we are to receive the “not guilty” verdict from God, it has to be a gift of God’s grace, received by faith, because our works are always incomplete; we are all sinful and fall short of what he demands (Romans 3:23,24). James is considering justification in the context of the world and what people see. Others cannot see faith in our hearts. They can only see our faith in action. James is speaking about the fact that our faith in Jesus naturally produces good works to thank and glorify Jesus for what he has done for us. These good works are evidence of the faith in our hearts. If there are no good works, faith doesn’t exist.

To put it another way, Paul is speaking about how we are saved (justification), while James is speaking about how the saved person lives (sanctification). The good works James is speaking about do not save us, but they are evidence that we are already saved.

3. Which is more important and why: the act of believing or what we believe?

Faith, or the act of believing, is trust in something. If a person believes the wrong thing or trusts in someone who isn’t trustworthy, that can have disastrous results. For example, if you believe that a ladder is sturdy and well-constructed, you’ll climb up the ladder to clean out your gutters. If it turns out that the ladder has faulty construction, you could end up with serious injuries. That is why the content of what we believe, the object of our faith, is more important. For example, if someone believes that their good lives will earn them heaven, the object of their faith is wrong and useless. No matter how firmly they believe such a thought, it does not save them. The correct object of our faith is Jesus and his work of redemption. When we believe in Christ, we receive the forgiveness, life, and salvation he has won for sinners like us.

The wonderful way God works is that the gospel, the good news about Jesus which reveals how God saves, is not only what we are to believe (the object of our faith) but it is also the tool the Holy Spirit uses to bring us to believe (the means of grace). Read more in Romans 10:17 and Romans 1:16.

Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the fifth article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation. Find this article and answers online after Feb. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

 


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

The ripple effect: Silas

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

The leaders of the early Christian church must have thought highly of Silas. They kept choosing him for important work.

We first meet Silas just after the council in Jerusalem settled an important issue for the early church: Must a Christian keep the Old Testament cer-emonial law? Some said yes. Jewish Christians had gone from Judea to Antioch with the argument that circumcision was required for Christian males. They said it this starkly, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

It’s hardly a stretch to suppose that other Old Testament regulations were being imposed as well. But Antioch’s pastors, Barnabas and Paul, argued sharply against such teaching. Souls were at stake. To decide the matter, the Antioch community sent a delegation—Paul, Barnabas, and others to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem council

What followed was as important to the church as anything that happened after Pentecost. In the assembly of leaders and other believers, Christians who were Pharisees by background argued, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (15:5). Discussion followed, until Peter spoke against adding the ceremonial law to the gospel. He said, “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that [Jews] are saved, just as [Gentiles] are” (15:11). Barnabas and Paul told of the miracles God had done through them among the Gentiles. James, “the brother of the Lord” and a prominent leader, quoted the prophet Amos as further proof that God intended Gentiles—without the trappings of Old Testament law—to be part of the church. So both Jews and Gentiles were part of the church by faith with or without the Old Test-ament ceremonies.

As “leaders among the believers” in Jerusalem, Silas and Judas Barsabbas were picked to go back to Antioch and “confirm by word of mouth” (15:27) the written decision of the Jerusalem council. In Antioch, Judas and Silas as “prophets”—spokesmen for God—encouraged their fellow believers and then returned to Jerusalem.

With Paul and then Peter

Silas’ next assignment, as recorded in Acts chapters 16–18, was as Paul’s coworker. After Paul and Barnabas disagreed over personnel for Paul’s second missionary journey, they decided to work separately in different regions. Paul chose Silas to travel with him on the second journey. They shared the routine and the risks of that trip. Early at Lystra they added Timothy to their team. For a time, Silas and Timothy worked independently and distant from Paul, as need and danger dictated. Silas evidently had the knack of knowing both how to lead and how to follow.

Silas did not travel again with Paul once this journey reached its end. Yet his service to God’s church was not over. We find him next at the side of another giant, Peter, serving somewhat like a proofreader for Peter’s first epistle. It seems that Peter used him—and God had provided him—to polish Peter’s Spirit-inspired Greek prose. Peter makes clear (1 Peter 5:12) that he had written the letter “with the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother.”

As had Paul. As do we.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the ninth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

What it means to be truly Lutheran: Grace alone

Grace alone

Joel D. Otto

Grace is one of those big, beautiful Bible words. As with all big, beautiful Bible words, while it is an immensely comforting concept, it has also been misunderstood and misapplied throughout history. Roman Catholicism has traditionally taught that grace is a quality that God injects into people so that they can obey his will and earn his blessings. Others try to limit the power of grace, teaching that grace can only get a person so far; we have to apply ourselves to doing acts of love or making the right decision for Jesus to finish the job.

Grace, however, is a quality in God. In fact, it defines who the true God is and what he does. Throughout the Old Testament, when God’s characteristics are listed, grace is usually near the top of the list. For example, when God revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai, he declared, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). The standard catechism definition of grace is “God’s undeserved love.” Yet grace is deeper than that. It is the love that moves God to act for those who cannot act for themselves and need his loving action. God acts in grace simply because God wants to act in grace. That is who God is and what God does. Martin Luther defined grace this way: “Grace means the favor by which God accepts us, forgiving sins and justifying freely through Christ” (Luther’s Works Vol. 12, p. 376).

True Lutherans confess that it is by grace alone that we have been rescued from the curse and condemnation of sin (Romans 3:23,24). It is by grace alone that we have been given new life as one of God’s children (Ephesians 2:4,5). It is by grace alone that we have been given the gift of eternal life (John 3:16). The Formula of Concord states this clearly and precisely. “We unanimously believe, teach, and confess the following about the righteousness of faith before God. . . . A poor sinful person is justified before God, that is, absolved and declared free and exempt from all his sins and from the sentence of well-deserved condemnation, and is adopted into sonship and inheritance of eternal life, without any merit or worth of his own. This happens without any preceding, present, or subsequent works, out of pure grace, because of the sole merit, complete obedience, bitter suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Christ alone” (III:9).

This is what makes grace such a big, beautiful, comforting Bible word. Our forgiveness, our right standing before God, and our eternal home in heaven are certain and secure entirely “out of pure grace.” That pure grace is centered in Jesus’ completed work for us. Grace alone means that our salvation, from beginning to end, is accomplished. True Lutherans understand this, proclaim it, confess it, and find comfort and confidence in grace alone.

Questions to consider

1. Read Roman 11:6 and Galatians 2:19-21. How do these passages help us understand the true definition of grace?

In Romans 11:6, Paul sets grace and works as opposites. If something can be gained by works, then grace is no longer in the picture. Paul makes a similar point in Galatians 2:19-21. Here he brings in the activity of God’s grace in Christ. Christ’s death is everything. Even the Christian life is only possible by faith in Christ who gave his life for us. If people think that good works get them somewhere with God, then Christ isn’t needed and even pointless. Grace is set aside.

Both passages show that grace is something that comes from God; it is not a quality in us. It is an action love: In love, God acts by sacrificing his Son for us.

2. Read Ephesians 2:1-10. Using these verses, describe the need for God’s grace and how God’s grace is the cause of our salvation.

By nature, we are dead in our sins. We are spiritually lifeless. This means we cannot, in any way, approach God or obey his commands. We demonstrate this deadness by living lives of disobedience, giving in to the devil’s temptations, and adopting the mindset of the sinful world. We live to gratify our sinful desires. Therefore, we deserve God’s wrath and judgment. We need God to act for us because we are powerless to have “true fear of God and true faith in God” (Augsburg Confession, Article II).

God took pity on us. Because God is love, he acted in love to save us. His grace moved him to act; nothing good in us moved him to save us. Even when we were still spiritually dead in our sins, God acted to make us spiritually alive. He gave us the gift of faith in Jesus. By faith, we receive the incomparable riches of his grace. This is entirely a gift from God to us; it is not earned by us in any way. He has even made us people who can do good works. From beginning to end, God’s grace is the active agent.

3. List at least five ways God’s grace is evident in your life.

Among others, one might consider the following:

  • God created the world in which we live, a world perfectly suited for human life to exist.
  • God gave me life.
  • God provides what I need for daily living.
  • God protects me from harm and/or works trouble for my good.
  • God blessed me with a wife and family.
  • God sent his Son in human flesh to be my Savior.
  • Jesus lived a perfect life in my place.
  • Jesus suffered the punishment for my sins on the cross.
  • Through Baptism, God made me his child and gave me the gift of faith in Christ.
  • I was born into a Christian family who had me baptized and taught me about Jesus.
  • God continues to preserve and strengthen me in my faith through the Word and sacraments.
  • God has prepared a place for me in heaven.

Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the fourth article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation. Find this article and answers online after Jan. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

 


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

 

Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

What it means to be truly Lutheran: Original sin

Original sin

Joel D. Otto

“There’s a little bit of good in everyone.” “Such a cute baby . . . so innocent.” “Everyone’s got the choice to be good or bad. We just have to put people into the right environment so they’ll make the right choices.”

We have all heard such thoughts. It’s the prevailing view today. It is also the view of every non-Christian religion and even many Christian denominations. It’s nothing new. Throughout history, people have believed that they are not that bad, that they can do enough good to earn heaven—or at least make some kind of contribution.

The Bible, however, says the opposite. The Bible teaches that every person who is born of a mother and father inherits a corrupt sinful condition, going all the way back to the first sin of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12; Psalm 51:5). Of all Christian denominations, true Lutherans believe, teach, and confess this more clearly than most. The Augsburg Confession states: “It is taught among us that since the fall of Adam, all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. This means that from birth they are full of evil lust and inclination and cannot by nature possess true fear of God and true faith in God” (II:2).

The Formula of Concord explains in even more precise language. “In spiritual and divine matters, the mind, heart, and will of the unreborn human being can in absolutely no way, on the basis of its own natural powers, understand, believe, accept, consider, will, begin, accomplish, do, effect, or cooperate. Instead, it is completely dead to the good—completely corrupted. This means that in this human nature, after the fall and before rebirth, there is not a spark of spiritual power left or present with which human beings can prepare themselves for the grace of God or accept grace as it is offered” (II:7).

That is a far cry from believing that we enter the world morally neutral or possess some spark of goodness. That is recognizing and confessing that from the moment of conception we are lost and condemned creatures. We are incapable of taking the first steps toward God. We cannot by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus.

The problem with denying the totality and severity of original sin is that people imagine they can do something to earn God’s favor. But how could anyone ever be certain they have done enough? When we confess and understand our absolute helplessness and hopelessness, we can see that salvation has to be entirely, from beginning to end, the work of God for us. And it is. Of that we are certain.

Questions to consider

1. Read Ephesians 2:1; Romans 8:7; 1 Corinthians 2:14. How do each of these passages describe our natural spiritual condition?

  • Ephesians 2:1: We are spiritually dead by nature. This means we are incapable of doing anything positive in a spiritual sense (a corpse cannot do anything except be lifeless). We do not have the power, for example, to make a decision for Jesus.
  • Romans 8:7: We are enemies of God, actively hostile to his will. We fight against his will. Not only are we incapable of obeying him; we do not even want to. This is even stronger than the description of spiritual deadness.
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14: Unbelievers are incapable of understanding what God reveals in his Word. Without the Spirit’s work, the gospel remains foolishness; it makes no sense. It should not surprise us that people reject the good news about Jesus. We should be amazed and rejoice that we (and anyone) believes in Jesus.

2. Why is it so difficult for people to believe the Bible’s teaching about original sin? Why do you think this might be an especially “American” problem?

By nature, people think that they have the capacity to do what God says, at least to the extent that God will be pleased. Or people think they can accept Jesus on their own. No one wants to think that they are spiritually dead, enemies of God, and blind to spiritual truth, which is how the Bible describes them. No one wants to believe that they are as powerless as the Bible says. This is an especially “American” problem because the American dream and mindset is that if you just set your mind to it, you can be anything you want. You can succeed. You can climb the ladder of success. The American mindset thinks that you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and get things done. This kind of attitude especially makes the biblical teaching of original sin difficult to accept because this teaching leaves no room for human contribution in salvation.

3. Read Psalm 51:1-12. Explain how the teaching about original sin fits into this psalm of repentance. Why is confessing that we are “by nature sinful” so important in our regular confession of sins?

David wrote this psalm after Nathan confronted him about his sins of adultery and murder involving Bathsheba and Uriah. David was brought to repentance and expresses that repentance in this psalm. The first part of repentance is acknowledging our sins and turning from them. David confesses his natural sinful condition. That’s where actual sins begin. This is so important in our regular confession of sins. In our minds, we might be able to minimize and even excuse some of our sinful behavior. But we cannot get around our natural sinful condition. And because this condition is universal and makes us so spiritually powerless, we come to see and appreciate even more the grace and mercy of God in blotting out our transgressions and washing away all our iniquities. This is especially important in the corporate Confession of Sins in worship. Certain sins may not apply to some members of a congregation. But all of us are “by nature sinful.” Therefore, all of us equally need to hear and receive the forgiveness of sins which Christ has earned and which the Word and sacraments proclaim and give.

Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the third article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation. Find this article and answers online after Dec. 5.


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

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

 

Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

The ripple effect: Rhoda

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

Imagine having news so good that no one believes it. That was the predicament of a servant girl named Rhoda.

A bleak future

Rhoda worked in the Jerusalem household of Mary, the mother of John Mark. That household was apparently a hub of activity in the early church. Mark—despite once badly disappointing Paul (Acts 13:13, 15:38)—was “helpful to [him] in [his] ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark became also a close associate of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) and later wrote the gospel that bears his name. But all that lay in the future. Until Rhoda’s wonderful news, the future looked bleak.

Acts 12:1-5 records that the church had just suffered a terrible blow. James—he, with Peter and John, was once of the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples—had been beheaded by King Herod, the grandson of Herod the Great. Because James’ execution had pleased Jewish enemies of the church, Herod had now imprisoned Peter to await trial. Herod put Peter in maximum security. Four squads of four soldiers each took turns guarding him. Two soldiers guarded the cell door; two were chained to Peter’s wrists. He slept between them. Meanwhile, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (12:5).

On the night before Peter’s trial, many of the believers were praying at Mary’s house. Even as they did, their prayers were being answered (12:6-19). An angel appeared in Peter’s cell, forcefully woke him, and commanded him to get up and dress. Peter’s chains fell away. At the angel’s direction he wrapped himself in his cloak and followed the angel past guards and through the main gate. A block from the prison, the angel left him, and Peter found his way to Mary’s home and to the servant girl Rhoda, whose duties included answering the door to the courtyard of Mary’s house.

Amazing news

Peter knocked and said something to Rhoda, enough that she recognized his voice. She was so happy that she forgot to open the door and ran back to tell those praying for Peter, “Peter is at the door!”

“You’re out of your mind,” they replied, rejecting the idea that God would answer their prayer so wonderfully so soon (vv. 14,15).

But she kept insisting and Peter kept knocking, and at last the courtyard door was opened to great celebration. Peter signaled for quiet and told the group to get word of his freedom to the other leaders of the church. Then he changed locations. Herod still wanted to kill him. After a strenuous search for him, Herod executed the guards on whose watch Peter had escaped.

Scripture records nothing further of Rhoda. But let’s not remember her only for leaving Peter at the door. Consider this detail: In the dark of night, through a thick door, in a time of danger to Christians, she recognized Peter’s voice when she was not expecting to hear it. It says something about Rhoda that she knew Peter’s voice that well. That voice had told her—maybe many times—something far better than even her news of his escape. That voice had told her the good news of Jesus. Such joy!

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the eighth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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

 

Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

What it means to be truly Lutheran: The distinction between law and gospel

The distinction between law and gospel

Joel D. Otto

A question asked in almost every Lutheran catechism class is: “What are the two main teachings of the Bible?” Sometimes, a student might be confused and say, “The Old and New Testament.”

The correct answer is the law and the gospel. One of the unique emphases of being truly Lutheran is the understanding of the distinctive content and functions of these two main teachings of the Bible.

In a sermon, Martin Luther noted the different content of the law and the gospel. “Everything that proclaims something about our sin and God’s wrath is the proclamation of the law, however and whenever it may take place. On the other hand, the gospel is the kind of proclamation that points to and bestows nothing else than grace and forgiveness in Christ” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article V:12). These contrasting messages are evident throughout the Bible. For example, numerous psalms preach law and gospel in the same psalm (Psalm 32; 51). Paul’s letters often place law and gospel side by side (see, for example, Romans 3:23,24).

God has a grand purpose for these distinctive teachings of his Word. In the same sermon, Luther preached, “[The apostles] begin by proclaiming the law to those who still do not recognize their sins and feel no terror in the face of God’s wrath. . . . The gospel and Christ are established and given not to terrify or to condemn, but rather to comfort and console those who have felt its terror and are fainthearted.” The law and gospel have distinctive functions. God uses the law to bring people to see and believe the depth of their sins and helplessness. God uses the gospel to bring people to see and believe the heights of his love and power to forgive.

Law and gospel can be easily confused. Our natural sinful condition wants to turn the law into something that saves us. “Tell me the things I need to do so God will love me and give me heaven.” Or it makes the unconditional gospel conditional. “Jesus died and rose again. If you only turn your life over to Jesus, then you’ll be one of his blessed children.” Being truly Lutheran means that we do not give the impression that God’s love can be earned by our obedience to the law. Being truly Lutheran means that we do not undercut the good news of God’s love by adding conditions. Instead, we let the law thunder its commands and drive people to see their need for God’s mercy. It also means that we let the gospel be the good news of Jesus to comfort sinners with the love and forgiveness of our gracious God.

Questions to consider:

1. List at least five verbs that describe what the law does. List at least five verbs that describe what the gospel does.

Law: commands, demands, accuses, curbs, convicts, exposes, condemns, guides

Gospel: gives, forgives, justifies, redeems, saves, motivates, strengthens, encourages, comforts, assures

2. Compare Jesus’ use of law and gospel in helping the paralyzed man in Luke 5:17-26 with how Jesus addressed the expert of the law in Luke 10:25-37.

Jesus could see that the paralyzed man (Luke 5:17-26) had already been crushed by the law. Perhaps his paralyzed condition left him a lot of time to think about this sinfulness. So Jesus is quick to proclaim the gospel of forgiveness. The expert in the law (Luke 10:25-37), on the other hand, clearly thought that through his obedience of the law he could attain eternal life. He needed to hear what the law really demands. He needed to hear the accusing voice of the law so that he could be convicted of his sin.

Because we still have an old sinful nature, we regularly need to hear the accusing, condemning words of the law. We need to be convicted of our sins. We need our sinfulness exposed. The stinging, condemning words of the law lead us to turn from our sins. That’s when the comforting, forgiving message about Jesus lifts us up and strengthens us. At other times, we may already be feeling the weight of our guilt. So the gospel needs to be applied.

3. How do these incidents and the list of verbs help us understand how the distinctive messages of law and gospel function in the lives of people?

The gospel also motivates us for Christian living; we want to thank God for his forgiving love. The law guides us so we know how to live lives of thankfulness.

The messages of law and gospel are distinct with distinct purposes. But they work together in the lives of God’s people so that we remain and live as his people.


Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the second article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation.


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

The ripple effect: Epaphras

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

It is a blessing of sharing the gospel that—by the Holy Spirit’s power—the work produces more workers. What other human endeavor can claim that? Sharing the gospel adds miles and years to the ripple effect that Pentecost set in motion.

The apostle Paul’s work produced many more workers, among them Epaphras of Colossae. We don’t know much about him. The Bible mentions him only three times. But from those few words we get the impression of a man of action.

A slave for the gospel

Under God and as Paul’s representative and colleague, Epaphras founded the Christian congregation in his hometown (Colossians 1:7). We don’t know how this Gentile first heard the gospel, but reasonable speculation puts him in Ephesus (more than 100 miles east of Colossae) during the time of Paul’s residence in that major trade center. Paul spent the better part of three years there. At the very least, Epaphras and his work in Colossae underscore what Luke meant when he wrote that during Paul’s time in Ephesus “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia [the western third of modern Turkey] heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). Paul couldn’t get everywhere, but Ephesus was well connected by land and sea to just about everywhere.

Epaphras toiled in a tri-city area—in Colossae of course, but also in Laodicea, 10 miles to the west, and Hierapolis, 13 miles to the northwest (Colossians 4:13). The Greek word summing up his ministry there implies hard work and mighty labor. Epaphras prayed the same way. Paul reported to Epaphras’ Colossian congregation that “he is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (4:12). For Epaphras, these prayers for his congregations meant exertion and strain. It’s no surprise then that when Paul calls Epaphras a “fellow servant” (1:7) and a “servant of Christ Jesus” (4:12), the words are strong and emphatic. The Greek means “slave.” Epaphras worked like a slave for the gospel, like Paul himself (Romans 1:1).

An encourager in faith

Epaphras spared no effort for his tri-parish. He traveled some 1,200 miles—a bit less if he made part of his journey by ship—from Colossae to Rome to visit Paul. The apostle was under house arrest and Epaphras’ visit encouraged him (Colossians 1:8). But that was not the main reason Epaphras had come. He was there for advice and instruction on how to deal with false teachings that threatened his congregations.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians addresses those problems, though without labeling the heresies. It’s from Paul’s answers that we deduce the questions disturbing the faith of these fairly new Christians. The issues were mostly familiar, local recipes of doctrinal poison that had hurt other young congregations: confusion of law and gospel, misunderstanding about who Jesus is, and claims of a better knowledge than the foolishness of the pure good news. Paul also needed to condemn the worship of angels (2:18).

Paul’s letter went back to Colossae ahead of Epaphras. Epaphras sent greetings with it (4:12) and lingered for a time as Paul’s “fellow prisoner” (Philemon 23). Apparently there was work for him in Rome too.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the seventh article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

The ripple effect: Onesimus and Philemon

After Jesus’ ascension believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

The ripple effect of Pentecost meant that the gospel spread not only across land and sea to Jew and Gentile but also up and down within society. Soon the good news of Jesus converted an Ethiopian government official; reached a businesswoman in Philippi; touched a centurion in Caesarea and elite soldiers in Rome; instructed Jewish craftsmen like Apollos (tentmaker) and Simon (tanner); and brought both Zenas, a lawyer, and Dionysius, a member of Athens’ court, to faith. Jailers and sailors heard God’s truth.

The slave-master relationship

So did slaves and masters. This is not surprising, since about a third of the people in the Roman Empire of Paul’s day were slaves. Enough slaves and masters became followers of Jesus that Paul addressed the slave-master relationship in his letter to the Ephesians (6:5-9).

This was not an endorsement of slavery but an application of Christian living to a reality of the Roman Empire. When Paul had written to the Galatian Christians that under Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28), he did not do away with slavery. He dealt with the facts as he met them. Within the Christian church there were still slaves and masters, just as there were still men and women and people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Paul’s point was that such human distinctions of sex, race, or status meant nothing before God.

Moreover, the circumstances of slavery under Rome could be different from what we commonly think. Roman slavery was not race-based. Slaves were not kidnapped into servitude, though peoples conquered by Rome’s legions were sometimes used as slaves. Similarly, some slaves were prisoners of war. Others were convicts. Still others went into slavery to pay off debt, essentially mortgaging their time, skills, and strength. There were both privately and publicly owned slaves. The latter worked for the state. Slaves might do hard labor, practice trades, or be clerks and record keepers. By law slaves had some rights. They could earn money, acquire property, and buy their freedom, even become citizens. Still, on average their life was harder and shorter.

Christ’s love for slaves and masters

Against that backdrop Paul asked a favor of a Christian slaveholder, Philemon. Paul appealed to Philemon to take back a runaway slave, Onesimus, who had become a believer while on the run. “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains . . . welcome him as you would welcome me” (Philemon 8-10,17).

Paul asked a favor, confident of Philemon’s love for him. Let’s share Paul’s confidence. It rested ultimately on Christ’s love—a love that Onesimus would reflect as he worked faithfully in Philemon’s household, a love that Philemon would reflect in forgiving Onesimus and treating him kindly, a love that—they all knew—caused Jesus to die to set both slave and master free.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the sixth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

What it means to be truly Lutheran: Scripture alone

Scripture alone

Joel D. Otto

What was the Lutheran Reformation all about? Was it merely that we Lutherans don’t pray to Mary and our clergy can get married? What does it mean to be truly Lutheran? Is it all about having a German or Scandinavian background and enjoying potlucks?

While the Reformation changed the way most people view the church, Luther was not interested in starting something new. He only wanted to bring the church back to its origins. Yes, we certainly may enjoy our potluck suppers, but that’s not what it means to be truly Lutheran. What made the Lutheran Reformation different from many other efforts to reform the church and what distinguishes true Lutherans today is doctrine—what we believe, teach, and confess.

It starts with the source of what we believe, teach, and confess. Unlike Roman Catholicism and other churches which rely on the Bible and tradition, other writings, or the decisions of church leaders, true Lutherans look to Scripture alone where God reveals what we are to know, believe, and do.

The introduction to the Formula of Concord, one of the Lutheran Confessions, states:

We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone, as it is written, ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Ps. 119[:105]), and Saint Paul: ‘If . . . an angel from heaven should proclaim to you something contrary, . . . let that one be accursed!’ (Gal. 1[:8]).

Unlike many churches that try to adjust the Bible to human thinking, true Lutherans accept what God reveals in his Word, even if it doesn’t make logical or reasonable sense. The Formula of Concord also states: “Although these answers are contrary to reason and philosophy in all their arrogance, nonetheless, we know that ‘the wisdom of this ‘perverted’ world is only foolishness in God’s sight’ [cf. 1 Cor. 3:19] and that only on the basis of God’s Word can judgments on articles of faith be made” (Article II:8).

This is comforting for us. In Scripture alone God himself reveals to us what he wants us to believe and proclaim. We are not at the whim of changing interpretations or newly discovered traditions. The Word of God endures forever (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25). It is the truth (John 17:17). God does not, cannot, and would not lie to us (Numbers 23:19). Therefore, we subject our faulty human reason to the Word of God (2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 2:2-8). And we confidently trust that what we believe, teach and confess is divine and powerful truth (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Timothy 3:15,16).


Questions to consider

1. Read 2 Peter 1:21 and 2 Timothy 3:16. Define “verbal inspiration.” What are the implications of this doctrine?

Verbal inspiration means that the Holy Spirit gave (literally: “breathed into”) the human authors the words he wanted them to write down in the Bible. We do not know exactly how the Holy Spirit did this in every case. In some way, he guided those human authors so that what they wrote is what the Spirit wanted them to write.

Implications of this doctrine include:

● The Bible is God’s Word, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.

● Since God cannot and does not lie, the Bible is absolutely true in everything. It does not contain any errors.

● Every promise of the Bible has been or will be fulfilled.

● We should not add to, subtract from, or change the meaning of the Bible’s clear words; this is God’s Word.

2. List at least five scriptural teachings that defy human logic. Why is it comforting that many of the Bible’s teachings cannot be completely comprehended by human reason?

Below are just some of the teachings that defy human logic:

● Trinity

● Creation

● The person of Christ (God and man in one person)

● The incarnation (how God became man)

● All of Jesus’ miracles

● Jesus’ resurrection

● The real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper

● Salvation by grace alone

● The conversion of anyone to faith in Christ

The fact that so many doctrines cannot be completely comprehended by human reason just demonstrates how big God is. God and the way he deals with us cannot fit into our little human box. It means that God can and does do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20,21). That is comforting when we are at a loss as to what we need or even what to pray for.

3. What are the inherent dangers when tradition or the “living voice of the church” becomes a source of a church’s teaching? What examples do you see in various churches today?

When something in addition to the Bible becomes a source of a church’s teaching, the Bible takes second place and a church is open to the introduction of new teachings. One can interpret “tradition” to say whatever you want it to say. “The living voice of the church” allows one to compromise with whatever culture or society is saying. The Bible basically becomes irrelevant. Or it is relegated to a “museum piece,” a nice artifact of history that does not really have much to say to us today.

This is evident in Roman Catholicism as one hears Pope Francis hedge on different biblical teachings. It is clearly evident in both the Anglican/Episcopal church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with those churches’ views on sexual issues. Any number of other examples could be given regarding many churches’ views of creation and the miracles in the Bible.


Contributing editor Joel Otto, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation. Find answers online after Oct. 5.


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

The Ripple Effect: Manaen

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

Antioch in Syria felt the ripple effect of Pentecost. Christians fled the persecution in Jerusalem, came to Antioch, and shared the good news of Jesus. Soon a church was prospering.

The commissioning of workers

The growing congregation sent Paul (Saul) and Barnabas as missionaries to the Gentiles. At that commissioning service, leaders of the Antioch church laid hands of blessing on them. These leaders included a man named Manaen (Greek for the Hebrew Menachem).

It was fitting that Manaen participate. Luke tells us, “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:1-3).

Aspects of Paul and Barnabas’ commissioning are still part of the installation of a teacher, staff minister, or pastor, and the commissioning of a missionary. Prayer, blessing, and the laying on of hands mark the occasion then and now.

An unlikely church leader

Manaen was part of the service. What’s startling is his connection to Herod the tetrarch. The phrase “brought up with” reflects the essential meaning of Luke’s Greek word describing Manaen’s role in Herod’s life. The word implies that Manaen had been from boyhood nurtured and educated alongside the tetrarch, who was known also as Herod Antipas. The word suggests “childhood friend” and even “foster-brother,” someone bonded to Herod by early shared experiences, though by this time Herod was dead or in exile.

Herod the tetrarch (literally, “quarter-ruler”) had governed only a fourth of his father Herod the Great’s kingdom—just Galilee and Perea. In that role he ordered the beheading of John the Baptist to keep a careless promise (Mark 6:14-29). While on a Passover visit to Jerusalem, Manaen’s old friend had briefly held custody of Jesus, a Galilean, on Good Friday. When Jesus refused to perform tricks for him or even speak to him, the tetrarch made fun of Jesus and sent him back to Pontius Pilate (Luke 23:6-12). Herod the tetrarch kept up a family tradition of gross wickedness. Lurid stains of intrigue, incest, murder, and general viciousness splash across the story of several generations of the Herodian family.

If ever there was a man in a position to live up to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16), it was Manaen. Amid the Herods, he likely gained the benefit of a first-class education, found deep insight into how the Roman world worked, and lost all illusions about the evil of the human heart. His Hebrew name hints at a familiarity, perhaps a strong one, with the Old Testament. And he had come to faith in Jesus as his Savior from sin. Then all else in his background combined to serve the gospel and make him a respected leader among the Christians in Antioch.

Amazing, isn’t it, the people God uses in his church? People like Manaen. People like us.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the fifth article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: The flood

The Flood

Joel S. Heckendorf

Many estimate it took more than 50 years to build the 450 x 75 x 45 ft. box we know as the ark. I wonder if Noah ever thought, God, did you forget about me? When his neighbors had Friday night fires, do you think it got old for Noah to hear them ask again and again, “Hey Noah, got any firewood?” Each jab may have caused him to think God had forgotten him.

How about when Noah was in the ark? The Bible says, “The LORD shut him in” (Genesis 7:16). No excursions. No escapes. Just 370 days shut in with 7 other humans, 2 rhinoceroses, 2 zebras, 2 elephants, 2 pigs, and 16,000 other animals and birds. The noise and the smell would have led me to ask, “God, have you forgotten about me?”

Noah could have and might have asked that. “But God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). Highlight that verse in your Bible. The same powerful God who could focus his power to exercise universal wrath on a world of people who had so blatantly turned their backs on him—that same powerful God—remembered Noah.

But does God remember me? I’m no Noah. I doubt I would have the patience to swing a hammer for 50-plus years to build a boat so far from the water. I get it that God remembers his people, but how do I know that includes me? Does God remember me?

Simple answer: yes. Not because you’re as good or blameless or righteous as Noah. God remembers his people because God remembers his promises.

Jump ahead to the end of the flood account. With the smell of Noah’s burnt offerings in the air, God promised, “Never again. Even though every inclination of a man’s heart will continue to evil from childhood, never again will I destroy all living creatures. Whenever the rainbow appears in the sky, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (see Genesis chapters 8 and 9). God has remembered that promise.

That isn’t the only covenant God has ever made with you. With the scent of his Son’s sacrifice—his sweat and drying blood—God promises forgiveness, life, and salvation. God remembers his promises. Yes, God remembers you.

The flood is the most popular children’s story. But don’t let it just be about a boat and some animals or universal destruction. See the deliverance. Because God in his grace saved Noah, he preserved the line of the One who would save the universe. Even though God destroyed every living thing, he also preserved the path for life everlasting. He remembered a blessing and a promise for you. That’s the ultimate comfort of this popular story.


Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is the most popular story included in children’s Bibles?

Answers will vary. Boats and animals are common themes in children’s books, thus it’s fitting to have the flood be the most popular children’s story. Even the deliverance of Noah and his family will be important to many.

3. Look up the following passages—Genesis 19:29, Genesis 30:22, Exodus 2:24, Leviticus 26:42, 1 Samuel 1:19, Judges 16:28, Luke 23:42. What comfort does each provide?

All these passage speak of God remembering people.

● Genesis 19: God remembers Abraham by rescuing Lot.

● Genesis 30: God remembers Rachel and her inability to have children.

● Exodus 2: God remembers his promises to Israel as they are groaning in Egypt.

● Leviticus 26: God will remember his promises to Abraham even when people disobey.

● Judges 16: God remembers Samson.

● 1 Samuel 1: God remembers Hannah and her prayer for a son.

● Luke 23: Jesus remembers the thief on the cross.

The various situations remind us that no matter our situation, God’s grace leads him to remember us.

4. List other “covenants” that God made with people. What is your takeaway?

● Abraham (Genesis 15 & 17): covenant of land, to be the father of a great nation, and the promise of a Savior.

● Sinai (Exodus 19–24): God would be the God of Israel, and they would be his people.

● David (2 Samuel 7): everlasting kingdom, promise of a Savior.

● New Covenant (Jeremiah 31): promise of forgiveness.

There are many takeaways, not the least of which is that God is serious about keeping his Word. He has promised us salvation through faith in Jesus and will keep that promise.

 


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the last article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Sept. 5.


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: Baby Moses

Baby Moses

Joel Heckendorf

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Even though no child has ever believed those words, parents know the grim truth: Sometimes it hurts to love.

Moses’ mother knew this all too well. Baby number three was on the way. If it was a girl, she would have three mouths to feed. If it was a boy, by government decree she’d have to feed that child to the Nile River. And then he was born. She loved the child. And that’s what made it hurt. It hurt to think what might happen to this child. It hurts to love.

But it’s also that “love-’til-it-hurts” attitude that leads people to act in extraordinary ways. The love of the mother of Moses drove her to great lengths. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to give birth and not tell anyone? Parents today can’t go 24 hours without posting about their child: “Johnny smiled today,” “Faith rolled over,” “Timmy likes carrots.” Out of love, Moses’ mother muffled her infant’s cries for three months. Imagine the energy and determination that took. Every knock at the door she’d have to hide not only her son but also every evidence of his existence.

When hiding his existence no longer seemed viable, love drove Moses’ mother to take another risk. She was willing to give him up, hoping and praying that someone else might take him. By the grace of God, that’s exactly what happened. The Egyptian princess adopted Moses, trained him to be a leader, and even found his very own mother as the nanny. Read the amazing story in Exodus 2:1-10. God’s providence is usually the focal point of this familiar story, but don’t miss the display of love. The love-’til-it-hurts display from Moses’ mother is tremendous.

How could she do it? She knew another’s love. She knew the love of her God. If there is ever a parent who knows that love hurts, it’s our heavenly Father. As children of his creative hand, he has a deep bond with each and every one of us. Imagine how it hurt him to know that because of sin we weren’t just headed for the river, we were heading to the lake of fire. Thankfully, he wasn’t content to just say, “Oh well.” His love drove him to great lengths. His love drove him to offer up his Son to rescue us. Like Father, like Son. Jesus loved ’til it hurt as well. He loved us to hell and back so that he could say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

Because he loved ’til it hurt, we can love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)..

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

Many children’s books end with, “Happily ever after.” The account of baby Moses is such a story. Perhaps it is a popular children’s story because it has a baby in the story.

3. Trace the many displays of God’s providence in this account.

Answers will vary. Examples include:

● The miracle of a healthy child being born.

● Moses’ mother being able to keep him safely hidden for three months.

● The basket being able to hold Moses safely.

● Moses being kept safe from the dangers of the Nile River.

● The princess finding him.

● The princess being willing to adopt Moses.

● The Pharaoh permitting a Hebrew baby to be raised in the palace.

● Moses’ mom being able to raise Moses as a maid.

4. List times when it has “hurt” to show love to someone.

Answers will vary. Examples include:

● Telling grown children they are living contrary to God’s will.

● Sacrificing your free time or money for the sake of someone else.

● Watching parents slowly die. It hurts to see them suffer because you love them so much.

● Seeing your children being picked on at school. Your love for them makes you hurt for and with them.

In every situation, God’s will is clear: love. We continue to love even when it tears our heart out. We love because God loves us.


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the ninth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Aug. 5.

 

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Author: Joel Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

The ripple effect: Lois and Eunice

After Jesus’ ascension, believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

As the power of Pentecost rippled across Rome’s empire, not everyone who came to know Jesus as Savior was new to the faith. Some of those learning about Jesus for the first time already had faith in the true God. The Holy Spirit had already created their faith in God’s forgiveness through God’s promises in the Old Testament. So they weren’t strictly converts, but they did learn the news that Jesus had come and was the Messiah promised by the prophets.

A son’s strong faith

Such longtime and now better informed believers included a Jewish woman named Lois, her daughter Eunice, and Eunice’s son Timothy. The apostle Paul met them in Lystra in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), probably on his first missionary journey and certainly on his second.

That first visit (Acts 14:6-20) had been tumultuous. Because Paul healed a crippled man there, he and coworker Barnabas were mistaken for Greek gods. Soon hostile Jews from earlier stops on the first journey reached Lystra and incited locals to stone Paul. So thorough was the assault, that these Lystrans pronounced Paul dead and dumped his body outside the town. But after a group of believers gathered around Paul, he revived and returned to Lystra. The next day he and Barnabas moved on to Derbe.

Timothy may have been in that circle of Lystran believers. Paul’s second letter to Timothy hints at that (3:11). What is certain is that, when Paul returned to Lystra (Acts 16:1-5) on his second journey, this time with Silas, Timothy was described as a “disciple.” He was so well regarded by local Christians and so impressive to Paul and Silas, that Paul took him along on this journey and the next as a coworker.

Indeed Timothy was at Paul’s side in good times and bad. He sometimes served also as an extension of Paul’s ministry, going ahead of him to Macedonia or taking up work where Paul could not be (Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and likely Philippi). Whether with him or not, Timothy was always close to Paul’s heart. Paul loved him like a son (1 Timothy 1:18; Philippians 2:22) and longed to see him again as Paul was finishing his race in a cold jail cell (2 Timothy 4:7,9).

A mother’s example

And what had made Timothy such an asset to Paul and to the gospel? Paul knew: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Because Timothy’s father was a Greek, apparently not a believer, it had fallen to Lois and Eunice to train this child in the way he should go. Because of their efforts, blessed by the Holy Spirit, Timothy had “from infancy . . . known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

No one in ministry ever has had the mentor and model that Timothy had in Paul. But even that unparalleled example only built on what Timothy heard first from his mother’s lips as he sat on his grandma’s lap.

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the third article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.

 

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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: Joseph

Joseph

Joel S. Heckendorf

“What God ordains is always good.” Try saying that to a preschool mother who just found out that her husband has stage-four cancer. “What God ordains is always good.” Try saying that to a congregation president whose pastor resigned because his lifestyle is no longer above reproach. “What God ordains is always good.” Try saying that to a dad whose teenage daughter died in a rollover accident. Then duck, because you never know what they might throw at you.

As Christians, we know that bad things happen because of sin. But when bad things happen to us, our voices quickly harmonize with the skeptics, “How can a good God let bad things happen?”

Welcome to Joseph’s world (Genesis chapters 37–50). Early on, life was good. Yes, his mother died when he was a young boy, but Joseph still had big dreams. He had a loving father and 11 brothers who helped put food on the table. He dressed well, sporting a multicolored robe you’d expect to see modeled on a red carpet. But what once was a promising life, as vibrant as the coat that he donned while skipping his way to the fields, soon turned gray. Hated. Framed. Forgotten. At one point, all could have served as the title of his autobiography. But thankfully, those titles were merely chapter headings. None of them were the final chapter.

The final chapter of the Bible’s first book (Genesis 50) shares one of the great biblical lessons when it comes to dealing with difficult times. The lesson is simple: Wait. Why doesn’t God show his power over this disease? Wait. Why did God allow a congregation to endure that struggle? Wait. Why did he call that person out of this world? Wait. In other words, don’t be too quick to close the book on your autobiography. Leave room for a final chapter. In the end, you’ll see God’s providence. In the end, you’ll see that “God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

We may not always appreciate or understand how God exercises his authoritative hand. But when we look at his leading hand, the conclusion is clear: God is good, no matter the present circumstances. God is so good that he sent his Son to this world to live and die for us so that he could lead us to eternal life. If he is leading us to life, you can bet he will lead us through life. With that perspective, we no longer view things of this world as “good things” or “bad things.” They’re “God” things—things that God is using to bring us through this life to himself in heaven.

Therefore, we can say with confidence, “What God ordains is always good.”


Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s bibles?

Many children’s books end with “happily ever after.” The account of Joseph is such a story.

3. What were once difficult times in your life that you now see how God intended them for your good?

Answers will vary. After considering how God worked out difficult things in the past, consider the difficulties you are presently facing. Read Romans 8:28.

4. Read all of Genesis chapters 37–50. Trace how God used each difficulty in Joseph’s life for a blessing.

Answers will vary. Examples include:

● If Joseph’s mother hadn’t died, his father may not have spoiled him as much.

● If Joseph wouldn’t have been spoiled, his brothers wouldn’t have hated him.

● If Joseph’s brothers hadn’t hated him, they wouldn’t have sold him into slavery.

● If Joseph hadn’t been a slave, he never would have made it to Egypt, the country that would supply food for thousands of people in the whole region.

● If Joseph hadn’t been framed for a crime, he never would have met Pharaoh’s butler.

● If Pharaoh’s butler hadn’t forgotten about Joseph for two years, Joseph would have been long gone before Pharaoh needs a dream interpreter.

● If all this wouldn’t have happened, the lineage of Jesus could have been cut off, and we wouldn’t have a Savior.


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the eighth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after July 5.

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: Creation

Creation

Joel S. Heckendorf

I’m not looking to gain a Twitter following from Forward in Christ readers with this next statement: I don’t care for the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” Ever since my eight-year-old ears heard it played with too much vibrato on my grandmother’s in-home Hammond organ, I’ve not cared for it. When a grieving family requests it for a funeral, I say, “Wonderful,” and my face smiles, but my ears cringe.

But maybe the problem is not with the hymn. Maybe it’s me. We get so comfortable with our surroundings that unless God bedazzles the sky with some magnificent sunset, we easily take creation for granted. We don’t always see the depth of God’s wisdom, love, power, and care in creation or in the creation account of Genesis chapter 1.

The Bible clearly says its focal point is Jesus. “These [words] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). Absolutely true. Our comfort in God’s love, power and care is wrapped up in Jesus. But there would be no words written to believe in Jesus if there wasn’t an “in the beginning.” Genesis may not clearly portray the power of the cross or the comfort of any empty tomb, but it’s the beginning of a love story . . . a relationship between God and people . . . a relationship between God and me.

On six consecutive, 24-hour days, God said and it was so. That gives us certainty concerning other things God said.

● Because God said, “Let there be there light,” and there was, I can trust Jesus when he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12).

● Because God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters,” and there was, I can trust God when he says Christ made us holy by “the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

● Because God said, “Let there be stars in the sky,” and it was so, I can trust God when he says you will shine like stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:3).

● Because God said, “Let birds fly above the earth,” and it was so, I can trust God when he says he will renew our strength and we will soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).

● Because God said, “Let us make mankind in our image,” and it was so, I can trust God when I stand in front of a coffin knowing that God said about my loved one, “You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

“Then sings my soul, my Savior-God to thee, ‘How great thou art! How great thou art!’ ” (Christian Worship 256).


Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story of creation in your own words. Then read the account (Genesis chapters 1–2). Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

The world is something tangible to which children relate. To learn how it all started is a natural question.

3. Which day of creation amazes you the most and why?

Answers will vary. Take time to marvel at the miracles of each day. For example, study the phenomenon of light as it travels 186,000 miles/second through the universe. Consider the different kinds or rays: ultraviolet, infrared, etc.

4. List as many things as possible that we learn about humankind in Genesis chapters 1–2.

Answers will vary. Examples include: made in the image of God, God blessed humans, ability to pro-create, ruler of creation, Eve was God’s gift to Adam, establishment of marriage, etc. In the end, might a study of creation lead us all to glorify God and say, “God loved me enough to give me this.”


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the seventh article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after June 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

 

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: Ruth: Part 6

Ruth

Joel S. Heckendorf

It’s fun to dream about the future. Where will you live ten years from now? Where will your kids live? Will you be a grandparent?

Perhaps Naomi’s dreams reflected the meaning of her name—“pleasant.” She’d fall in love. Get married. Have sons to take care of her in her old age. Her sons would find some nice Jewish spouses. She’d be a grandma, and they’d live happily ever after.

What was reality? The book of Ruth tells us. Naomi falls in love and marries. She’s blessed with two sons. But then famine forces the family to move to a foreign land. Her husband dies. Her sons marry foreign women. Tragedy strikes again. Both sons die. Naomi is stuck in a foreign country with no husband, no legal heirs, and two daughters-in-law that are not bound to her. She laments, “Don’t call me ‘Pleasant’ anymore. Call me ‘Bitter’ ” (cf. Ruth 1:20).

Fast-forward and you soon learn that our God is not a God of percentages. Against all odds, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, accompanies her to Bethlehem and becomes a believer in the true God. Against all odds, a God-fearing Israelite, Boaz, buys Naomi’s land for a generous price. Against all odds, Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a son who would be the legal heir of Naomi’s late husband, assuring that she’d be taken care of in her old age.

When the local ladies saw Naomi bouncing her grandbaby on her lap, they preached a wonderful sermon, “Praise the Lord, Naomi. The Lord has not left you” (cf. Ruth 4:14). When famine drove Naomi to a foreign land, God didn’t say, “I stop at the border.” When Naomi’s husband and sons died, God did not forget her.

That boy on Naomi’s lap was God’s testimony that the Lord never stopped working. That boy would also be God’s promise that he wouldn’t stop working in the future. Twenty-eight generations later, that boy would have a descendant named Jesus.

Naomi’s life is not unique. Look back on your life. We’ve had our famines and our funerals. But God was working, wasn’t he? He worked to help you trust his promises in every setback and tragedy. You may even remember how God seemingly miraculously provided you with a month’s mortgage or next month’s tuition.

So where will you live ten years from now? Where will your kids live? Will you be a grandparent? Whether the picture you imagine ever fully develops, I can’t tell you.

But this I can say with certainty, “The Lord never stops working.”


 

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

This story has so many emotional “hooks.” Three widows, a faithful daughter-in-law, a love story, a happy ending. All play into this account’s popularity.

3. Work through the mental exercise described in the article. Think of situations where God never stopped working and turned you from “bitter” to “blessed.”

Answers will vary. Relating our story to Naomi’s story helps us appreciate and trust God’s providence.

4. List as many passages as you can that demonstrate how God continues to work in our lives.

Answers will vary. Examples include Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 50:15; and 1 Corinthians 10:13.


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the sixth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after May 5.

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: Part 5: Daniel and the lions’ den

Joel S. Heckendorf

“God bless our native land. Firm may she ever stand.”

A Massachusetts native penned those words in 1835. But the words are a free translation of an 1815 German song. Apparently, the tune was first sung in England in 1740. In between, it was used for political songs in Denmark, France, Austria, and Russia. So which “native land” is God supposed to bless?

When we hear Daniel, a word association game may follow up with the words lions or prayer. Certainly those are major themes of this popular story (Daniel chapter 6). But don’t miss how Daniel was a blessing for the governments—yes, governments—he served.

Showing leadership potential at a young age, Daniel was ripped away from his country to serve a king hundreds of miles away. Instead of kicking and screaming, he served the king and was a blessing for a government that threw his God-fearing friends into a fiery furnace and that consulted sorcerers and astrologers.

When that Babylonian government was overthrown by the Persians 60 years later, Daniel didn’t protest, “I’m too old to help.” He didn’t grumble, “I don’t have enough energy to learn this new Medes and Persians system.” No. He served. He served so exceptionally that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

This month, we have an obligation to pay taxes to our government. While grateful for our government, our gratitude is often challenged. It’s especially challenging when a government makes decisions and implements laws that don’t always reflect God’s will for our lives. What should we do when some laws make it more difficult to be honest about what God’s Word says? God gives us an option, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7). In other words, as you live in “Babylon,” continue to be faithful to your God and show your love for “Babylon.”

That’s what Daniel did. “He was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:4). He was a blessing to those around him. He let his light shine. His light was faithful, diligent service to his adopted country. He made enemies; they tried to destroy him in the lion’s den. But his light also caused some to notice his faith and his God. Darius even issued a decree saying that “in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel” (Daniel 6:26).

Perhaps it’s not the main point of the story. But as you pay your taxes this month, may the story of Daniel lead you to wrestle with these thoughts: How can I be a blessing to those in authority? How can my deeds lead others to glorify God?


 

EXPLORING THE WORD

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

As with many popular stories, the “good guy” lives and the “bad guys” die. In addition, the miracle of surviving an overnight stay in the lions’ den would seem to be a remarkable feat for children.

 

3. Agree or disagree: We encourage too much time to be spent with fellow Christians instead of letting our light shine for others.

Your personal situation will differ. Point is, we will want a balance. God warns, “Bad company corrupts good character,” but also encourages us to be light to the world. Looking at how Daniel was able to positively influence the king is a model for us to be a shining light in society.

4. Name at least three lessons you can learn about prayer from Daniel’s example?

Answers may vary. Perhaps most amazing is the content of Daniel’s prayer. He “gave thanks, just as he had done before.” Through Jesus, we have reason to give thanks in all circumstances. Other lessons to learn from Daniel include his humility (kneeled) and his regular prayer life (three times a day).


 

Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the fifth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after April 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: David and Goliath: Part: 4

Great stories of the Bible: David & Goliath

Joel S. Heckendorf

Rudy. Hoosiers. Moneyball. Miracle. Karate Kid. Cool Runnings. Rocky. What do all these sport movies have in common? Against all odds, the underdog wins.

We love such movies. But we don’t just love the big-screen stories; we also cheer for the underdog in life. We cheer for the “Cinderella” team in the NCAA basketball tournament. Underdog victories are heartwarming and motivational.

David and Goliath is the ultimate underdog story (1 Samuel chapter 17). Standing at six cubits and a span (about 9’6”), Goliath towered over David by about four feet. The giant’s 126-pound armor weighed almost the same as his opponent. The iron tip of his spear was as heavy as a bowling ball. David had five smooth stones from a stream. To say the Vegas odds were against this sling-shooting shepherd is quite the understatement. And Goliath knew it. Shaking his massive head in disbelief at the boy coming to meet him in the valley, the Philistine’s pride pumped his armored chest out just a bit more.

But you know what happened next. Pride goes before the fall. One stone. That’s all it took. One stone to the head, and the giant fell.

David vs. Goliath isn’t just a clash between a boy with a peach-fuzzed face and a man’s man. It wasn’t just a battle between a sling and a sword. The battle didn’t belong to David. “The battle is the LORD’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). Goliath’s sarcasm was true . . . he was a dog in this battle. Against the Lord, Goliath was the underdog.

We often go through life with an underdog mentality. With chips on our shoulders we are out to prove something. We want to “be a David.” Self-help books encourage us to “be a David” as we face our giants. But this popular story is not about being the hero. If David walked into the valley alone, he would have died there. Don’t try to be a David; rather see David’s greater Son. See Jesus, the Son of David.

Although he didn’t look like much, Jesus, the Son of David, has taken down bigger giants than Goliath. When the devil tempted him in the desert, Jesus slung the smooth stone of his Word at this mighty foe. When sin towered over Jesus and pinned him to the cross, what did Jesus do? With his words, “It is finished,” he hurled a stone and struck sin in the head, knocking it to the ground. Three days later, when death thought it had Jesus defeated, Jesus burst through the stone of the tomb and cut off death’s head.

The big giants have been defeated. Therefore, little giants in our life don’t stand a chance. No matter what you are facing, you are always the favorite because “the battle is the LORD’s.”

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

We are inspired by David because we often see ourselves as the underdog. But hopefully we now see that with the Lord we are never the underdog.

3. What can we learn from David when Saul told him he couldn’t fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:33)?

David looked at victories he had in the past. So, too, as we look at the challenges of our future, may we remember how the Lord has provided in the past.


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the fourth article in a 10-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after March 5.

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Real people. Real Savior: Perez : Part 8

Matthew chapter 1 lists the ancestors of Jesus. You will learn more about your Savior as we trace through segments of his family tree.

Perez

God is willing to be part of a family that includes the worst of sinners—including you and me.

Thomas D. Kock

Judah, fourth son of Jacob, went off to live with a friend named Hirah, an Adullamite. There Judah married a Canaanite woman, and had three sons. When his oldest son Er came of age, Judah got a wife for him. Her name was Tamar.

A SHOCKING STORY

But God put Er to death because he “was wicked in the LORD’s sight” (Genesis 38:7).

So Judah asked Onan, his second son, to marry Tamar in order to provide a son that would be considered the son of Er, his dead brother. It was a proper request even if it seems strange to us. But Onan didn’t want to provide a child who would be considered his brother’s, so when he and Tamar had relations, “he spilled his semen on the ground” (38:9). What he did was also “wicked in the LORD’s sight” (38:10), and God put him to death too.

With two of his three sons dead, Judah told Tamar to live in her father’s house as a widow until Shelah was old enough to be married.

After a long time Judah’s wife died. After a time of grief, Judah went to where his men were shearing his sheep. Tamar was told that her father-in-law was going to visit the sheepshearers; she dressed up as if she was a shrine prostitute.

Judah saw her and wanted to pay her to have sexual relations with him. He promised that he’ll give her a young goat as payment; she wanted something to keep as a pledge. So he gave her his seal, cord, and staff, all of which would have identified him.

Later when it becomes obvious that she was pregnant, Judah wanted to burn her to death as a prostitute! He still did not know that he was the father of the child. She produced the evidence (seal, cord, staff), and Judah recognized his own sinfulness.

From that sinful alliance, Tamar bore twins, Perez and Zerah. Amazingly, Perez was one of the ancestors of our Savior.

GOD’S AMAZING LOVE

If you haven’t heard that account before, perhaps you are surprised by its graphic sinfulness. But if we’re honest as we look at our own hearts, it’s not much of a surprise. Lent—spring and sheepshearing time—gives us that opportunity to examine our hearts. But Lent is so much more. It’s about the Savior who came for us. He was willing to be part of a family that included Judah, Tamar, and Perez!

He is willing to be part of a family that includes you and me too. That’s amazing! The holy God was willing to suffer and die so that you and I could be part of his family. That’s even more amazing! The holy God made sure that you and I heard about what he did for us, and he led us to trust it. That too is amazing! And thankfully, it’s also true.

So, goodbye to regret and sorrow. Hello to Jesus and his gracious victory for us.

Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the eighth article in a nine-part series on people in Jesus’ family tree.

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Author: Thomas D. Kock
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: The birth of Jesus: Part 3

The birth of Jesus

Joel S. Heckendorf

Crystal-like snowflakes gently cascading over a world filled with celebrations and camaraderie. A snow-globe world where everything stays in place as the music gently plays. Our view of the world at Christmas is often fantasized. Even now, you can remember the smell of the chestnuts roasting and the notes of yuletide carols.

JESUS’ LOVE

The details of Luke chapter 2 remind us that Jesus came to a real world. “In those days, Caesar Augustus . . .” “Those days” were peppered with political scandals, assassination plots, war schemes, military drafts, taxation, and more. Would you want to come to a world like that?

Our real world isn’t much better. Jockeying for position in politics, family, or business. Misguided spirituality. Pride. Anger. Living in the past. Taxes. War. Money. All of these make for a messy world. But if all we concluded this past Christmas is that Jesus came to a messy world and our world is messy, we missed the full beauty of Christmas.

It’s not just the world that is “messed up.” It’s us. I don’t mean that generically, as if to say, “We’re all sinners.” I mean it personally. I admit that pride, anger, greed, jealousy, and envy mess me up—and you too. Even when we do something nice like signing and sending a thoughtful card or paying it forward at Starbucks, what was going on in our minds? “That was nice of me.” How quickly we get self-absorbed.

And yet, as messed up as the world is and as messed up as we are, God came. Why? There’s only one answer: love. That’s what blows me away about Christmas. Not the angels. Not the shepherds. Not the virgin birth. That Jesus came to this world shows us his incomparable, inexhaustible love.

It doesn’t have to be December 25 to marvel at that expression of love. Write on your mirror, “God came to earth for me.” Corrupt-hearted me. When we see how desperate we are, we see what a Deliverer he is. That Jesus came to this world shows us his love.

JESUS’ COMMITMENT

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born” (Luke 2:6). I’ve yet to hear a mascot cheer, “We’re the mighty, mighty Infants!” But that’s how God came—as an infant. The God who holds the world in his hands had to be held by a teenage girl. What kind of weak God is this? Soon you’ll marvel at the strength and determination of Jesus as you watch him walk to Calvary. Those steps were only possible because God came into our world as a baby. God said, “I’m all in.” There was no turning back. How God came to this world shows his commitment.

That commitment doesn’t stop. That Jesus had a human hand shows he is committed to always hold yours. That he had human hair shows he’s committed to care for you, right down to the hairs on your head. His human feet shows he’s committed to walk with you wherever you go. That God came as a lowly human and was laid in a manger in our world shows just how committed he is to take us to his mansions where he made room for us.


 

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

The sentimentality of Christmas. Seeing “baby” Jesus it seems fitting and relatable for a children’s Bible.

3. “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4). Why was this a “good” time for Jesus to enter the world?

Readers are encouraged to read up on their history of the time. While we can never fully understand God’s timing, the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) when Jesus was born would allow for the faster spread of the gospel. It also may have contributed to a longing for a Messiah, even though the people were looking more for an earthly Messiah than a spiritual one.

4. God came to earth in other ways. List them. Why is this one different?

God revealed himself in many different ways: a voice, visions, dreams, pillar of fire/cloud, a human body, whirlwind, whisper, casting of lots, etc. By becoming human, not only was it a permanent revelation (as Jesus still is true God and true man), it was the fullest revelation of who God is. See John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

 

Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the third article in a 10-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Feb. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 02
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Real People Real Savior: David: Part 7

Real People Real Savior: David

Because of Jesus, we, along with King David, get to wear the crown of life.

Thomas D. Kock

Not too long ago we crowned the college football champions. A Super Bowl champion is about to be crowned. Soon after that we’ll crown an NCAA basketball champ. It’s crowning time!

DAVID WORE A CROWN

David is the first person in Jesus’ line who wore a crown. That may be why Matthew lists him as “King David” in chapter 1. He’s the only person in the list who’s called “king,” even though more than ten other kings are listed.

So, what would be the “jewels” in David’s crown? Perhaps one jewel is that he’s the shepherd boy who became king, the classic underdog who became great. A more likely jewel is that he’s the giant-slayer who, trusting in God, took on and defeated Goliath. Or perhaps we’d point to when he honored the kingship—and more important, honored God—by refusing to kill King Saul when given a chance. Awesome work, David! Those are shining jewels in that crown!

Oh, but there was the affair with Bathsheba and the attempted cover-up. Then David arranged the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. Not exactly what we think of as jewels in the crown. But those are key events in the life of David, the king. Even these chunks of asphalt or pieces of gravel are “jewels” in his crown.

WE HAVE ALSO BEEN CROWNED

In amazing grace, God counts you and me to be kings and queens. Yes, in the eyes of God you and I are royalty, and we will be forever, as God will give to us the crown of life (cf. Revelation 2:10). That’s amazing! God has put a “crown” on our heads, and you and I will wear a crown forever.

So let’s consider the jewels in our crowns. Surely there are times when we serve God well. There are times when we practice hospitality, when we show unselfish love, and when we willingly and freely help our neighbor. Yes, those are wonderful jewels in our crowns!

But then there are those other times when we’re selfish, refuse to love, and serve ourselves rather than serving God or others. Perhaps, like David, we’ve committed what the world would call “big” sins—murder or adultery. Unfortunately, those ugly big or little chunks of asphalt are in our crowns too. It sounds like we’re a lot like David. It sounds like we’re kings and queens whose crowns are incredibly flawed.

And so we rejoice that David, the king, is one link in the chain leading us to Jesus, the King. Jesus, the King of all, has a perfect crown glittering with flawless jewels as ruler of the universe. He exchanged that crown for David’s flawed crown—and for ours—when he wore a crown of thorns. He was willing to lay aside his crown to take our punishment.

And now? Now you and I get to be kings and queens! Because the King laid aside his crown, he places eternal crowns on the heads of sinners like you and me.

And that’s why David was really a king.

Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.

This is the seventh article in a nine-part series on people in Jesus’ family tree.

 

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Author: Thomas D. Kock
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Real People Real Savior: Rahab: Part 6

Real People Real Savior: Rahab

Matthew chapter 1 lists the ancestors of Jesus. You will learn more about your Savior as we trace through segments of his family tree.

Thomas D. Kock

In Jesus, we have a fresh start every day.

A fresh start. Wouldn’t that be great?! Perhaps the turn of the year is a time when having a fresh start might be particularly on our mind. Whether 2015 was a great year or a rough year for you, as the new year turns, it is, in a sense, a fresh start.

RAHAB’S FRESH START

Perhaps Rahab would have appreciated the concept of a “fresh start” as well as any of us. Rahab lived in Jericho at the time when the Israelites entered the Promised Land. Joshua sent spies to Jericho on a reconnaissance mission; they stayed at Rahab’s house.

From a strategic point of view, it made sense for them to stay there. You see, Rahab was a prostitute. So seeing strange men coming and going wouldn’t have raised much suspicion.

But life was about to change for Rahab. She said to those spies: “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt. . . . When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9-11). That is remarkable! The Red Sea event had taken place 40 years earlier! Yet, it was remembered.

Next comes the plea for the opportunity to have a fresh start: “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death” (Joshua 2:12,13).

The spies gave their word; she was to hang a scarlet cord in the window of her dwelling. She did, and all in her dwelling were spared (see Joshua chapter 6).

And then? Then Rahab married into the Israelite family—and not just any Israelite family. She married into the family that carried the line of the Savior. Talk about fresh start! The former prostitute became an ancestor of the Savior!

OUR FRESH START

Why in the world would God want someone like that in the line of the Savior? Just as valid a question would be, “Why in the world would God want someone like you or me in his family?” Yes, Rahab’s sins were damning; your sins and mine are just as damning. And yet Jesus, in wonderful grace, has forgiven Rahab as well as you and me. He has adopted us into his family. As Rahab was given a fresh start, so are we.

Day-by-day we get a fresh start as we remember our baptisms and as we hear God’s words of peace. Our sins are forgiven, washed away. At the altar we get a fresh start as Jesus gives us himself, his true body and blood. Each day, each year, a new start—a renewed me—because of God’s grace.

Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.

This is the sixth article in a nine-part series on people in Jesus’ family tree.

 

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Author: Thomas D. Kock
Volume 103, Number 1
Issue: January 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: The Battle of Jericho: Part 2

The Battle of Jericho

Joel S. Heckendorf

The stadium sound system played the familiar trumpet prelude. Then the stadium roared, “CHARGE!” as the slugger stepped to the plate.

The boys were ready. They shouted, “Da-da-da-dah-da-dah! CHARGE!” Running forward, they raided their fellow neighbors’ snow fort.

If only ballfield and backyard “battles” were our only worries.

Joshua knew significant battles awaited God’s people as they approached the Promised Land. What was Joshua thinking as he peered at the mighty walls of Jericho, the first city God’s people would have to conquer? Perhaps he was drawing up battle plans. Perhaps he was dreaming up his “da-da-da-dah-da-dah” speech to inspire the soldiers to charge. Whatever was going on in his mind, Joshua’s thoughts were soon halted as the real “commander of the army of the Lord” stood before him (Joshua 5:13, 14).

Joshua initiated the conversation, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither.”

At first, this seems to be an unsettling answer. But as the battle of Jericho plays out, the commander’s answer provides a tremendous lesson for any battle we face.

Read Joshua 5:13–6:27.

Remember who’s in charge

In his mercy, God has tremendously blessed us with gifts and abilities. He encourages us to utilize those gifts as we plan for the future. Our plans are influenced by God’s Word and the wisdom of Christian advisors. We often ask God to bless our plans. But in the midst of these God-pleasing actions, it’s easy to forget that our plans are just that—our plans.

Which is why God’s reminder to Joshua is so timely. Joshua was a faithful follower of the Lord. Four decades earlier, he was confident that God would give them victory in the land of the giants (Numbers chapter 14). That was as a spy; now he’s the leader. Even though his position was God-appointed, he could have felt the pressure: It’s up to you, Joshua, to lead the people to victory! No, it wasn’t. God was in charge, not Joshua.

As we face “battles” or new endeavors, the question is not, “God, are you with us? God, will you bless our plans?”

The real question comes from God, “Are you with me?”

God’s in charge. By nature that is not an easy thing to say. That’s not a natural way to live. But it’s the truth, and it brings us so much comfort to know he’s in charge

Remember God’s victory is assured

The old spiritual says the walls of Jericho came tumbling down because Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. Unfortunately, the lyrics don’t match the lesson. Before outlining the strategy for Joshua, before Joshua relayed the strategy to the soldiers, before the soldiers laced up their boots or the priests readied their trumpets, the Lord said, “See, I have given Jericho into your hands, with its king and its fighting men” (Joshua 6:2). Not “will give,” but “have given.” God speaks. His action follows. God declared victory, and the walls fell. Singlehandedly, the Lord achieved victory. Joshua and his troops simply received victory.

God’s victories aren’t limited to Joshua. He also won a battle for you. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” Not “will be” but “is.” With his last breath, the strife was over and the battle was won. Singlehandedly, the Lord achieved victory, and the just judge of heaven and earth declared us “not guilty.” Because of Jesus, the wall of sin that separated us from eternal life with him came tumbling down.

As a result, when that last trumpet sounds, “Da-da-da-dah-da-daaah,” we can joyously shout, “CHARGE!” as we enter into our Promised Land.


 

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. Typically, people may not mention Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army.

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

Answers will vary. Anything that includes a miracle is fascinating story-telling. Likewise, children’s books lean toward stories where the “good guy” wins.

3. Give other examples of “God speaks. His action follows.” What comfort does this provide?

From the very beginning, we see the power of God’s Word. At creation, “God said,” and it was. God told Noah there would be a flood, and there was. God also told Noah there would never be such a flood again. To this day, his Word holds true. Or consider the many prophecies concerning the coming Savior. God said it would happen and it did. Apply God’s 100 percent fulfillment of his Word, and we have tremendous comfort as we look at all his promises to us (e.g., “Never will I leave you,” “I will give you hope and a future,” etc.)

4. Explain what it means to say we fight from victory instead for victory.

There is a tremendous difference if the tune we sing for this story is “I’m in the Lord’s Army” instead of “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” Being in the Lord’s army is fighting from victory. To realize that we have the Commander who defeated death gives us confidence, no matter the battles we face on a daily basis. If the emphasis is fighting for victory, we will likely overemphasize our role or we will needlessly worry.

Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the second article in a 10-part series on the top ten stories include in children’s Bible and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Jan. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 01
Issue: January 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Real People Real Savior: Hezekiah: Part 5

Hezekiah

Matthew chapter 1 lists the ancestors of Jesus. You will learn more about your Savior as we trace through segments of his family tree.

Though the terminal illness of sin affects us all, God uses daily events to draw us closer to him until we see him in heaven.

Thomas D. Kock

All I want for Christmas is . . . a terminal illness.

Wait. He wants what?!?

Yeah, I’m guessing that a terminal illness isn’t likely to hit the wish list for any of us this Christmas season. But that’s the situation in which Hezekiah found himself.

HEZEKIAH’S TERMINAL ILLNESS

Hezekiah was a young man, probably 39 years old (compare 2 Kings 18:2 and 2 Kings 20:6). He became ill, and it was clear that his life was in danger. Isaiah was sent to him with the message, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover” (Isaiah 38:1). We’re told that Hezekiah wept greatly. We’re told that he prayed, reminding God that he’d done his best to serve God faithfully.

Interestingly, we’re not told that Hezekiah asked for a longer life. Perhaps he desired that. Perhaps he even did ask for it, but we’re not told that he asked for it. Regardless, God chose to add 15 years to his life, and Isaiah was sent back to deliver the message.

After his recovery, Hezekiah wrote, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back” (Isaiah 38:17; read all his thoughts in Isaiah 38:9-20). As Hezekiah looked at that illness, he could see God’s hand of grace. God intended the illness for Hezekiah’s benefit. He doesn’t detail how the illness was for his benefit. We don’t know, but we do know that Hezekiah’s focus became “you have put all my sins behind your back.”

OUR TERMINAL ILLNESS OF SIN

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Ultimately we need a God who is willing and able to put all our sins behind his back. To put it more bluntly, we need a God who is willing and able to forgive us. And as we gaze at the babe of Bethlehem, a descendant of Hezekiah, we see the God who was able—and willing—to come to this earth to win forgiveness of sins for us. That’s what we really need!

Because whether we want it or not, we all have a terminal illness—the terminal illness of sin. Death will happen.

Yes, it’s true that Hezekiah was blessed with 15 more years of life on this earth, but that only delayed the inevitable. Fifteen years later, he died. But every indication we have is that Hezekiah was a believer and went to heaven. So, he didn’t really die! While his body ceased to live, his soul lived on as he entered the glories of heaven!

And someday so will you. You too will enter the glories of heaven because of the Babe of Bethlehem, who lived, died, and rose for you. And as God postponed Hezekiah’s terminal illness to draw him closer, so God will use the events of everyday life to humble you and me, to refocus us, to focus us on the Word, and ultimately to draw us closer to him.

Even if it takes a terminal illness to draw me close to him forever, then I’ll add it to my Christmas wish list. Or a gracious God will add it for me.

Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.

This is the fifth article in a nine-part series on people in Jesus’ family tree.

 

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

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

 

Author: Thomas D. Kock
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Great stories of the Bible: Crossing the Red Sea: Part 1

Crossing of the Red Sea

Joel S. Heckendorf

To the east . . . the Red Sea. To the west . . . the powerful Egyptian army breathing down their necks. How did the people of Israel get themselves between this rock and hard place? More important, what would they do now?

Read Exodus 13:17–15:21.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Culminating in the Passover, God sent a series of amazing plagues that loosened Pharaoh’s grip, allowing Israel to escape Egypt. With eye-popping excitement, an Israelite could divulge details of how they arrived at the banks of the Red Sea. The frogs. The locusts. The darkness.

But the plagues were in preparation for the trip. God’s pillar of cloud did not follow the GPS-recommended route from Egypt to the Promised Land. In fact, the most natural, straight-line route didn’t require the crossing of any water. God went out of his way to lead them to the Red Sea. God knew his people. He knew what he wanted for them. And God knew he needed to guide his people to a point where they had no choice but to depend on him.

God knows you. God knows what he wants for you. And God knows the easiest path is not always the best path to get you there. The Christian life is not lived in straight lines. At times God deals us detours. Sometimes those detours lead us right between a rock and a hard place.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

When the Israelites looked up and saw the Egyptians marching after them, they wanted to go back. They thought being slaves in Egypt was better than the situation that God had presented. Wisely, their God-appointed leader, Moses, encouraged, “Wait.”

God’s delays are not denials. He knows what he’s doing even when it appears that we are hemmed in or pinned down. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm. . . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13,14).

Easier said than done. Like Israel, it’s so easy for us to blame God for leading us to difficult situations. It’s easy to think, “If only I hadn’t followed the Lord.” Fellow Christian, do not be afraid. “Stand firm. . . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

For the Israelites, God split the sea in front of them. The situation that once spelled doom now spelled deliverance. But notice where God was. He led them to the difficult situation. But then the angel of God and pillar of cloud went behind them (Exodus 14:19) to protect them.

You can have that same confidence. When God leads you to a difficult situation and you’re too afraid to put your toes in the water, know that the Lord who brought you there will move your forward and protect you. No matter what enemies pursue or what walls stand in front, know that the Lord already stretched out his hands to bring you to the real Promised Land.

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

It’s action-packed and dramatic. Miracles are popular stories to include in children’s Bibles as they help gain attention.

3. What does this account teach about the difference between fear and faith?

Fear is when we can’t see God through our circumstances. Faith is when we see our circumstances through God. When we know that our God loves us and is powerful, wise, and trustworthy, we will be better prepared to handle rock-and-hard place situations.

4. Read Psalm 27:14. Relate any biblical or personal examples when you’ve “wait[ed] for the Lord”?

Psalm 27:14—“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart.” Biblical examples may include Joseph in Egypt, Job, David while being pursued by Saul, Noah and the flood, Ruth, etc.

5. “Move. Pray. Move.” Apply God’s directive in Exodus 14:15 to your life.

God invites us to pray, but he also encourages us to move forward with the opportunities he presents in life. For example, if we’re praying for a job and he gives us the opportunity to develop skills for a particular job, God doesn’t want us to simply pray. He also wants us to utilize the gifts that he has given us. Even in a perfect world, God gave Adam and Eve activities to carry out (Genesis 1:28). At the same time, we humbly go forward with a “God-willing” attitude and seek to glorify him in whatever we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the first article in a 12-part series on the popular children’s Bible stories and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Dec. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


 

Next month: The battle of Jericho

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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