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Majoring on the minors – Part 11

Zechariah: “Merry Christmas, with love” 

Thomas D. Kock

As he stared into the mirror, he hated what he saw. Memories of what had happened flooded his mind. It was what he had done. How could he?!? He knew it was wrong. He KNEW it!  

And now? The guilt was horrible!  

reflection of guilt 

Oh, it hadn’t started out that way. The temptation had sounded so good! It was as if Satan was whispering pleasantly into his ears: “Oh, try it! It will feel great! You’ll be so much happier, so much more fulfilled if you try it.” The “voice” was smooth and enticing.  

Once he did it, the same voice berated him. “You jerk! You knew it was wrong, but you did it anyway! You must be the worst ever! How could you?!?” He heard that voice over and over as he stared into the mirror.  

Maybe that was the voice which was playing in Joshua’s ears. No, this isn’t the Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho. This Joshua was the high priest at the time of Zechariah and Haggai. Zechariah recorded the vision given by the Lord: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him” (3:1). That’s what Satan does—he accuses. In fact, Satan means “accuser.”  

And he’s really good at it! His ultimate goal is to lead us away from God forever. After he woos us into temptation, he turns around and points his finger at us and says, “You! How could you?!? You horrid, horrible person!”  

In the vision, Zechariah saw Joshua, the high priest “dressed in filthy cloths.” He was guilty. 

A reflection of forgiveness 

We’re thrilled to hear what happens next: “The angel said . . ., ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’ . . . So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by” (3:4,5). In a visual way, God showed the glory of forgiveness by immaculately re-clothing Joshua!   

God has re-clothed you, too. God has taken away your sin. In his eyes, you’re re-clothed in glorious finery! And so when you look into the mirror, you no longer have to cringe because of the sins committed the day/week/year before; God has forgiven them all!  

Oh, but don’t take sin lightly! God is serious about sin. When we sin, we spit in God’s face. Do NOT play with sin!  

But God promises, “See, I have taken away your sin!” Jesus came to this earth to pay for your sins and to win perfection for you. He did it! That gives us the reason to love God and avoid sin.  

So look in that mirror! Do so with joy! See a forgiven person, someone who glows where it matters most—in the eyes of God.  

Merry Christmas, with love!  


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


This is the 11th article in a 12-part series on minor prophets.


ZECHARIAH

Lineage:  A prophet, son of Berechiah, grandson of Iddo. A priest named Iddo is named in Nehemiah 12:4. Is he the same Iddo? If so, Zechariah is also a priest.   
Date of writing:  Late October or early November, 520 B.C.December, 518 B.C. (Haggai is a contemporary.)   
Unique feature:  Amazing oracles with vivid imagery. Quoted often in the New Testament. 
Key verse:  Multiple prophecies of Jesus’ passion: 9:9 (Palm Sunday); 11:12,13 (Judas’ betrayal); 12:10 (Jesus’ crucifixion); 13:7 (the disciples being scattered). 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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The Book of Revelation: Part 1

Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 1 

Timothy J. Westendorf 

Introduction 

The title is one of the opening words of the book. “Revelation” is an accurate and helpful translation of the Greek word which is also rendered “Apocalypse.” Immediately we hear that the book’s ultimate author is Jesus Christ, who gives it to show (make known, reveal) what is going to take place. His intended audience is “his servants,” those who already know him and listen to his voice.  

As always, when Jesus speaks he does so not to confuse and discourage but to comfort and encourage his flock. Although his words are sometimes difficult to understand, we remember that these words are spoken by our Savior. He has spoken to us before. We look to other words he has given us, remembering that he is our Good Shepherd. He speaks in order to lead and guide us. We trust that he won’t tell us anything in this revelation that goes against other very clear words that he has revealed to us in the Bible.  

We’ll approach our study with humility, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal his truth to our hearts. These words are from God himself, through Jesus Christ, given by an angel to John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  

Conflict 

That’s important to remember! Like John, all those who hear these words are loved by the One who speaks. That’s important to remember because it wouldn’t have looked like that at first glance. It may not have felt like that to John and his fellow first-century believers. It sometimes doesn’t look or feel that way for 21st-century Christians either.  

John was in exile. He was on an island . . . literally. He had been forcibly removed from family and friends, congregation and comforts, to Patmos. Because of his faith in Jesus and his faithfulness in proclaiming the good news of Jesus, he was punished.  

The year was likely A.D. 95. The Roman Emperor Domitian was leading an active and often brutal persecution of the Christians in his empire. There was conflict for the church. They might have been asking, “Does God love us? Does he care about us? Are we precious in his sight? Are we sons and daughters of the Great King? Will he come for us?“ 

Comfort 

The church is his bride and needed to hear from her Bridegroom. She needed assurances that he was still in charge. She needed reminders of his real and unfailing love. She needed to hear that she was his precious possession and that she possessed all that was rightfully his. She needed his comfort in the midst of conflict. And that is what he graciously and generously gives her.  

We need to hear his voice too. We need comfort in the midst of our conflicts. Our prayer is that we would hear just that as we study this beautiful Revelation of Jesus.  


Reflect on the Revelation chapter 1 

  1. Read vv. 4-8. How does God comfort us in these verses? Compare these verses with 1 Peter 1:1-12 and 2:9,10.
    God—Father Son, and Holy Spirit—identifies himself at the author of this revelation. He has only our good in mind, giving us peace and grace. Consider all the blessings we have: he loves us; he freed us from our sins by his blood; he made us a kingdom; he made us priests to serve him; he is coming again. (Peter says the same things and summarizes our status before God in 1 Peter 2:9.) 

    God is Alpha and Omega and endures from the beginning of time to the end. He is everything—A to Z according to our alphabet and Alpha and Omega according to the Greek alphabet. 

  2. Read vv.9-20. In what ways is the vision of Jesus both frightening and comforting? (Note John’s reaction and Jesus’ words in verse 17.)

    Consider the way Jesus is pictured: eyes like blazing fire, feet like bronze glowing in a furnace, a voice like rushing waters, his face like the sun. These and other things about him made John fall down as if dead. But he is the son of man, like us only glorious, and he touched John gently and spoke, “Do not be afraid” He wants us to benefit from his resurrection and victory over death and hell. 

  3. Reread v. 20. Explain the comfort you can have from the vision of Jesus walking among the lampstands holding the stars in his hands. (Note: The lampstands are the churches, and the stars are the angels or messengers of the gospel.)
    Jesus promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus continues to be present in your church and in other churches as he has promised. As long as they proclaim the gospel, he holds the pastors or messengers of his truth in his hand, protecting, guiding, and caring for them and the message they proclaim.


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


This is the first article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after Dec.5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 10

Haggai: “A need for peace”

Thomas D. Kock

Mom was visiting; the phone call about Grandpa was for her. “Your father just had a massive heart attack; we don’t think he’ll make it. If you want to see him, you better come now!” Shaken, Mom asked me to drive the one-hour trip.  

What did we need? On the way, I suppose we could have talked about my need for a new car, our favorite football team, or politics. But with Grandpa’s life hanging in the balance, none of that seemed important.  

Our real need 

Haggai wrote in 520 B.C., 16 years after a small group of exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. Almost immediately they began rebuilding the temple.  

And then they stopped. God confronts them: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house [the temple] remains a ruin?” (1:3). They had been busy with planting and working for themselves.  

But God says, “What you brought home, I blew away” (1:9). Why? “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house” (1:9). They thought they needed houses, crops, and wages, but they needed something far more important.  

So many of us in America have been blessed with so much. This Thanksgiving many of us will give thanks for food, clothes, jobs, houses, cars, boats, and so much more. Yes, those are blessings!  

But those aren’t the things we really need! Racing down the interstate to try to see Grandpa, I didn’t care about my car, my clothes, or the football team. God’s peace—that’s what I needed.  

Peace was what the Israelites needed too. For them, it was connected to building God’s house, so God urged them on.  

God fills that need 

And the Israelites listened! They resumed work (cf. 1:12-15). But this temple they built paled in comparison to Solomon’s grand temple, and the people became discouraged. God asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?” (2:3). 

Keep building, God told them! For God promised: “ ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty” (2:9). Why so? The builders needed to look forward to the coming of the Messiah. The buildings—even Herod’s temple—were nothing compared to the arrival of the One who would bring peace. “ ‘In this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (2:9). The suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus centuries later near this building would bring peace.  

Peace! That’s what I need. Peace of knowing that my sins are forgiven, that I’m going to heaven! Peace between me and my God! The peace that God earned—that’s what I really need!  

When we got to the hospital, Grandpa was dead. Or to put it far better, Grandpa was with Jesus, his Savior, and he was at peace.  

And so are we, now and forever.  

That’s what we really need.  


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


This is the tenth article in a 12-part series on minor prophets.


HAGGAI

Lineage: Haggai is described only as a “prophet.” 
Date of writing: August–December, likely 520 B.C. Zechariah is a contemporary. 
Unique feature: The words “LORD Almighty” occur about 14 times in 38 verses.
Key verse: 2:9: “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place, I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 12

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

The wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-9) 

“Everybody, up on your feet! Put your hands together and let’s hear a warm welcome for Mr. & Mrs. Joe Smith!” 

Ever hear a disc jockey say something similar at a wedding reception? Music is blaring. Hands are clapping. All stand in anticipation of the bride and groom’s entrance into the reception hall. It’s a festive occasion. 

As soon as you hear “Mr. & Mrs.”, you dance your way to the head table. There’s your mom and dad at the table in front of you. Tears of joy well up as you think about everything they did for you. Then you see Grandpa and Grandma, still in love after 54 years of marriage. You see your friends and your colleagues. You even see third-cousin Betty who crashed your wedding, and you’re glad she’s there. You take it all in, and all you can think is, Wow, I’m blessed. 

Blessed. What a rich word! There’s something about that word that is calming, humbling, joyful, and so many other emotions wrapped up in one. Blessed makes you ponder. Blessed makes you smile.  

But this is not your wedding supper. It’s THE wedding supper. The apostle John had a glimpse of the eternal wedding reception. His angelic host told him, “Write this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” (Revelation 19:9). 

But we are not sitting at the table of honor yet. Today, you and I stand at the door, ready to be introduced. We know some of the guests who are already inside. We’ve been waiting to see some of them for a very long time. The anticipation is building.  

But nothing happens. At least, not yet. And we begin to wonder: Can we go in? Are we fit to go in? Are we ready? As we sit in the hallway of this world, we worry about our unworthiness to be at the wedding supper of the Lamb.  

And it’s then that we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror God put in the hallway for us. And we look stunning. “The wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Revelation 19:7,8). Dressed in his perfection, our Savior, the Bridegroom, grabs us by the arm, and we go in to enjoy his supper. As we sit there, we look around. There’s Mom and Dad. Grandpa and Grandma. Friends. Colleagues. Betty. And more.  

And then we see him, the One who promised to love us forever. The One who loved us from eternity to eternity. We see the happiness beaming in his eye. And as we are about to enjoy our heavenly feast, we realize, Wow, we are blessed.  

And that’s why we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come, and let us be your guest.” 


Food for thought 

  1. Say the word blessed out loud. List those things that make you feel blessed today.

    Answers will vary, likely to include blessings such as family, health, wealth, employment, faith, etc.

  2. Compare the previous list with what it will mean to be blessed when we’re in heaven.

    Likely, the list of heavenly blessings will be far more in depth than the earthly ones listed above. For example, Revelation 18 talks about the Fall of Babylon, i.e., the fall of the Church’s enemies. Or we could celebrate the sheer “multitude” (Revelation 19:1) celebrating in heaven. As we see the Church attacked on earth, how glorious it will be to see the many people that are there. 

  3. Prior to the vision of the heavenly wedding banquet in Revelation chapter 19, the apostle John sees many visions about the struggles facing the church on earth. Why?

    By seeing plagues, and wrath, and beasts, and much more, the victory of the Lamb becomes that much greater.It also offers great encouragement to us as we see the Church suffering today.How comforting to know that in the end Jesus wins.


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


This is the final article in a 12-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Nov.5 atwels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 9

Zephaniah: “I feel like I’ve heard that before.”  

Thomas D. Kock

“I feel like I’ve heard that before.” Ever thought that?  

A repeated message of wrath 

Listen to these verses from Zephaniah. Do you feel like you’ve heard this before?  

“ ‘I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,’ declares the LORD” (1:2). 

“At that time I will . . . punish those who are complacent” (1:12, selected). 

“I will bring such distress on all people . . . because they have sinned against the LORD” (1:17, selected). 

“Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the LORD, she does not draw near to her God” (3:1,2). 

Maybe we’re not familiar with those exact words, but the concept is clear: It’s the fearsome reminder that our God is holy and he hates sin. It’s the fearsome reminder that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  

Thank God we have heard this before! Sinful human beings need to hear that we deserve God’s anger, that we deserve to be sent to hell. I need to hear it so that I despair of saving myself and look outside of myself, to God. The listeners at Zephaniah’s time were no different; they needed to hear it too.  

A repeated message of forgiveness 

Thankfully God goes on. 

He also says, “The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm” (3:15). 

And again, “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (3:17). 

Yes, you’ve heard the message of those verses too. The New Testament fleshes it out fully. Jesus came to this earth; he lived a perfect life in your place; he died a perfect death in your place, paying for your sins and for the sins of the whole world. He rose from the dead, defeating your number one enemy, death. You’ve heard that before. 

And thank God you have! Sinful human beings need to hear that God’s anger has been appeased and that sin has been paid for. That message works faith in our hearts, comforts us, and encourages us. I need to hear that! The listeners at Zephaniah’s time were no different; they needed to hear it too.  

Often, we sinful human beings crave something new and different. But the “old treasures” (cf. Matthew 13:52) are treasures! As we read the Bible, God reminds us of the same truths over and over again. Yes, God hates sin; yes, unbelievers will be sent to hell. Ouch! But yes, God has won forgiveness for you, and yes, God has opened heaven to you and will take you there someday.  

Yes, you’ve heard those things before. Thank God you have! Pray that you hear them over and over again.  


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


This is the ninth article in a 12-part series on minor prophets


Zephaniah

Hometown/lineage: Great-great-grandson of Hezekiah.

Date:  c. 639-610 B.C. (during reign of Josiah) 

Unique feature:  The “day of the LORD” theme runs throughout.

Key verse:  3:17a. “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 11

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Getting enough to eat (John 6:1-15) 

Ding-dong. The unexpected guests are at the front door. It was going to be a light supper, but all of a sudden, the chef of the house has to become creative. Ever happen to you? I think we all know culinary experts who have learned the fine art of “peel another potato, we’ve got company.”  

The feeding of the five thousand continues to rank among the most popular miracles. We marvel at the details. Five loaves, two fish, and twelve baskets of leftovers. But there is a detail we often miss. Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5). Jesus knew there wasn’t $25,000 sitting in the disciples’ “grocery fund,” so his question was legitimate. But it’s why he asked the question that teaches us something about our Savior. “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do” (John 6:6). In other words, Jesus had a plan. 

How often don’t we wonder, worry, or whine about our physical needs? Whatever your wonder, worry, or whine is about, chew on these words: “[Jesus] already had in mind what he was going to do.” Jesus, the all-powerful Son of God, has a plan on how he is going to provide for you. Oh, maybe he’s not going to feed your family for a year on two fish and five loaves of bread. God’s plan of providing doesn’t always include such miracles. Nonetheless, he still does have a plan. And when you think about it, God’s normal way of providing for our physical needs still is miraculous.  

For example, did you ever consider what it takes for you to enjoy a piece of toast with your morning breakfast? It takes much more than a farmer, a grocery store, and you. A farmer needs to plant the seed. He needs to buy the seed from a seed company. How does the seed company get the seed to the farmer? By truck? Who manufactured the truck? How did the farmer order the seed? By phone? Or did he order online? What does it take for that to happen?  

Or what about on the other end. You bought the loaf from the store. How did you get to the store? How did you pay for the bread? Did you use a credit card? Who made the credit card swiping machine? And on and on and on. Literally thousands of people and materials were involved. Pretty amazing when you think about it. It’s pretty miraculous the way the Lord provides for us.  

The point? God has a plan. He has a plan to care for your physical needs. So, when you pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” he’s not surprised by the invitation. He planned to be there all along. And he’ll even bring butter for your toast.  


Food for thought 

  1. Why didn’t Jesus simply tell the people to go home?
    Mark 6 tells us that Jesus had compassion on the people, because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus’ actions are spurred on by a great love for the people. So, too, if we are going to help people in need, it will be our compassion for them that will drive our actions. 
  2. List as many ways you can remember that God provided for the physical needs of people.
    There are numerous answers. Old Testament examples include manna and quail in the desert (Exodus 16), Elijah taken care of by ravens and the bottomless jar of oil and flour from the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17). New Testament examples include turning water into wine (John 2), the numerous healings that Jesus performed, etc. All of which are reminders of how God provides for us and we need not worry.
  3. Pray about how God has addressed one of your wonders, worries, or whines about your lack of physical needs in the past.
    Answers will vary. But as we consider how God has provided in the past, we can go forward confident of his blessings in the future. 

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


This is the 11th article in a 12-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Oct.5 atwels.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 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 8

Habakkuk: You’re going to do . . . what?!?  

Thomas D. Kock

“You’re going to do . . . what?!?” Perhaps we expect that surprised question from the parents of a teenagers who announce their latest “plans.” But we wouldn’t expect it to come from a prophet addressing God, would we? Yet Habakkuk directed that sort of question to God himself.  

God has a plan 

Here’s how it happened. Habakkuk was discouraged. He saw evil; he failed to see good. He laments: “Therefore, the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (1:4). 

And, to Habakkuk, it seemed as if God was doing nothing about it! (cf. 1:2,3).  

Oh, but God had a plan! He tells Habakkuk, “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor. . . . They fly like an eagle swooping to devour; they all come intent on violence (1:6-9). 

At that point Habakkuk basically says, “You’re going to do . . . what?!?” This “solution” sounded worse than the problem! Destruction and judgment would come. 

God responds to Habakkuk, “But the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4 NIV84). To Habakkuk, all looked disjointed, random, even crazy! To God, the plan was crystal clear. And then God adds, “The Babylonians will be punished eventually too.” 

In short, God is saying, “Trust me, Habakkuk; I’ve got this.” He will bring judgment, but salvation was the best part of his plan. 

God’s plan assures our salvation 

In Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11,12, God quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to emphatically make the point that salvation is his work and his work alone. So “the righteous will live by his faith.” Or to put it colloquially, as God said to Habakkuk, so God says to us: “Trust me; I’ve got this.”  

Perhaps we’re tempted to say, “You’re going to do . . . what?!? You’re going to do all the work of salvation?” After all, as we look at our own lives we see the same problems Habakkuk did: violence, injustice, strife, and wickedness. When we hear God will send judgment, we understand that we are guilty and deserve judgment. We can’t understand how we could possibly hope to stand “right” in God’s sight, since we’ve failed so much! But God will do what we cannot do. He will save us.  

Why would he want to do that?!? 

God’s answer? “Trust me; I’ve got this.” The salvation plan may not make human sense, but it makes perfect sense to God.  

So Habakkuk was assured! He may not totally understand the plan, but he was assured that God did. He, therefore, concluded his book with a psalm, including these moving verses: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen  

and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17,18). 

“Trust me,” God says. “I’ve got this.” That’s true, no matter what.  


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


This is the eighth article in a 12-part series on minor prophets


Habakkuk

Hometown/lineage: Unknown.   

Date: Not long before 605 B.C. (c. 610? 620?)   

Unique feature: Two of the three chapters are a dialogue between one human and God.  

Key verse: 2:4 “The righteous will live by his faith.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 10

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Dinner for one? (Mark 2:13-17) 

It’s a common movie scene: A lonely middle schooler sits by himself at a table in the cafeteria. “Cool” kids walk by and roll their eyes. “Mean” kids point and laugh. The “bully” comes and takes his dessert. But then, one day it all changes. The prettiest girl or the high school quarterback sits with the dork, and his life is changed forever. 

Cafeterias aren’t just scary places for acne-ridden  middle schoolers. Hungry college students, fearful of eating alone, roam the dorm halls before heading out asking, “Anybody want to go eat?” As adults, it can be embarrassing to tell the hostess, “Dinner for one.” Once in a while we’ll sneak a seat close to someone in a pub or restaurant, but as the “Piano Man” aptly sings, we’re simply “sharing a drink called loneliness.” 

That’s what life was like for Levi. As a tax collector, he was surrounded by crowds, but he was used to saying, “Dinner for one.” An outcast to society. The black sheep of the family. A disgrace even to the little guy inside of him named “Conscience.” Levi had plenty of acquaintances but not many, if any, friends.  

Then one day, it all changed. Someone better than the star quarterback visited his booth. Not to make fun of him. Not to scold him. But to invite him. “Follow me.” 

“Follow me.” Were there any sweeter words to Levi’s ears? Every other time he heard those words, they were likely preceded by a “Don’t.” But not this time. Jesus, the miracle worker, the preacher, the doctor, invited him: “Follow me.” 

No longer having to say, “Dinner for one,” Levi couldn’t wait to throw a dinner party for this One. After inviting all the other lonely, guilt-ridden sinners to his table, it no longer fazed Levi when the “cool” teachers of the law walked by with their sneers and snarky remarks. Better yet, it didn’t faze Jesus. When the spiritual leaders mocked, “Why are you sitting with them?” Jesus didn’t move. He knew the bad company needed his company. He knew the sick needed a doctor. He knew the sinners needed a Savior.  

And he knows you need him. So he invites, “Follow me.”  

No matter what’s in your past, no matter how many times your RSVP was no to Jesus, no matter how many times you’ve set your chair in your modern-day tax booth instead of at his feet, know this: Just like Jesus saw Levi, Jesus sees you. And he doesn’t roll his eyes. He invites, “Follow me.” 

Having received Jesus’ invite through his Word, be like Levi and return the favor. “Come, Lord Jesus, be my guest.” Put out a spread and celebrate him and see how you are blessed by his gifts when you have a dinner for One. 


 Food for thought 

  1. The call of Levi (also called Matthew) appears three times in thegospels (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32). Compare the readings. What details do you appreciate from each account?Matthew – includes Jesus quoting the Old Testament, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus is more about what’s in the heart than simply doing spiritual things for show.  

    Mark – knowing that Jesus was teaching a large crowd when he saw Levi is a great reminder that Jesus is never too busy to notice us. He goes out of his way to invite, “Follow me.” Mark also includes that Levi is the “son of Alphaeus,” which personalizes Levi. 

    Luke – Paints a wonderful picture of Levi’s response, “leaving everything” and hosting a “great banquet for Jesus.” What a beautiful picture of not being cheap in our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us. 

  2. How have you acted like the “teachers of the law” in this account?Answers will vary. So much of our life is about comparison. For example, when we see people who we don’t think would be “good fits” at our congregation so we don’t invite them to worship like we may someone else, we could ask ourselves, “Do I think Jesus should only ‘eat’ with me?’ 
  3. How has Jesus invited you to follow him?He always invites us through his Word and through the Sacraments.Thinking of particular times when that has happened, we may give thanks for giving us Christian parents who brought us to a baptismal font where we heard Jesus say, “Follow me.”Maybe we heard Jesus’ voice to follow him through a neighbor who invited us to worship.Maybe it was through this article you just read in Forward in ChristJesus consistently invites, “Follow me.”

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


This is the tenth article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after September 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 09
Issue: September 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 9

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

“Did you wash your hands?” (Luke 11:37-54) 

Moms, how many times have you asked the question, “Did you wash your hands?”? And if your child says yes, what’s your follow-up question? “Did you use soap?”  

Washing hands before you touch food is a good routine. And yet, it’s something that Jesus intentionally refused to do on occasion. Strange, isn’t it? Even a bit uncivilized. Why did the Savior, who deemed it necessary to wash his disciples’ feet before they ate his special meal, refuse to wash his hands when he was a guest at another meal? 

It had nothing to do with hygiene. It had everything to do with hypocrisy. Jesus was willing to risk some germs on his hands so he could address the sin germinating in the heart of his host. “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). 

Whoa! That’s pretty bold for Jesus to address the host in such a way. To call the host out was a feather-ruffling, wave-making statement, especially when you consider the host didn’t even voice his disapproval of Jesus’ dirty hands. He simply noticed it (v. 38). But Jesus wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and address the host’s sin straight on. For the many times that we dance around addressing sin because we don’t want to “offend someone,” appreciate Jesus’ comments. Appreciate Jesus’ love and concern and his willingness to do the dirty work. He didn’t care about whose toes he stepped on or about which tradition he broke. Even when others chimed in, “Hey, that hurts my feelings. You’re insulting us also” (cf. v. 45), Jesus didn’t let their feelings get in the way about how he felt about their spiritual condition. Six times Jesus scolded, “Woe to you.”  

Considering we live in a society that promotes so much tolerance, Jesus’ willingness to have tough conversations catches our attention. His “woes” make us say, “Whoa!” 

But should we be surprised? Jesus was always willing to do the tough thing. He doesn’t just love people enough to address sin with his words. He was also willing to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to address sin with his actions. As he went to the cross, he carried in his hands our lack of love. His hands were stained with our pride, our poor leadership, our hypocrisy. For all the times we hid the gospel from someone or unnecessarily burdened their consciences, Jesus took matters into his own hands. Jesus got his hands dirty so he could wash our hearts. As we see Jesus’ hands dirty on the outside, know that it was because he wanted to make us clean on the inside. 

And so, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts”—your willingness to call sin a sin, but also your willingness to cleanse our hearts—“to us be blessed. Amen.” 


Food for thought 

  1. What traditions may get in the way of the spiritual condition of our hearts?Answers will vary. Examples may include things like church membership or Confirmation. We may be tempted to think that as long as our names on the books of some congregation, that’s all that matters, instead of being concerned about our personal relationship with Jesus. Or we may feel Confirmation is necessary because that’s just what you do, but we fail to put into practice the importance of being in the Word outside of Confirmation class.
  2. “The church is simply a bunch of hypocrites!” How do you respond?Christians often are accused of hypocrisy – saying one thing and doing another. Instead of putting up our defenses, better to repent. Hypocrisy is a sin of which all our guilty, often being more concerned about what’s on the outside instead of the inside. But having repented, also know that hypocrisy is a sin that Jesus was willing to carry to the cross. He forgives us our hypocrisy.
  3. Jesus calls out six particular sins of the Pharisees and experts of the law. Which sins most apply to you? To our culture? 

Answers will vary depending on your personal situation. Answers may even vary by the day or hour. As a culture or society, we may want to take to heart Jesus’ “woe” in Luke 11:44. There, Jesus is addressing how we lead people into sin, allowing themselves to be defiled unknowingly. In the name of “tolerance” or our personal fear of getting our hands dirty and having tough (but loving) conversations, other people may keep on sinning without even knowing it.


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


This is the ninth article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after August 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 08
Issue: August 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 7

Nahum: A prophet of . . . comfort?!?  

Thomas D. Kock

Nahum means “comfort.”  

But Nahum’s prophecy begins: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath” (1:2).  

That’s . . . comfort?  

Let’s talk about it.  

A messages of wrath  

The book of Nahum is directed primarily against Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians built their empire by ferociously attacking other nations, killing, pillaging, then exacting exorbitant tribute. Indeed, Nineveh’s cruelty was breathtaking. History records the Ninevites flaying some of their prisoners or impaling captured peoples on sharpened poles. Their warfare was brutal.  

Yet what did God do? In amazing grace, God sent Jonah to prophesy to the Ninevites, probably around 760 B.C. And amazingly, the people of Nineveh repented! Jonah’s book ends with a beautiful statement of God’s love even for Nineveh: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” (Jonah 3:11) 

But it wasn’t long until Nineveh was back at it. About 40 years later, they would conquer the Northern Kingdom, killing or exiling most of its inhabitants. The Assyrians then imported other captured peoples into the conquered north, and the intermarriage between them and the remaining Israelites resulted in the people called Samaritans. Later (about 701 B.C.) they would invade Judah and decimate most of the country, but God miraculously intervened and preserved Judah (cf. Isaiah 37:36,37). 

Now it’s Nahum’s time, and God’s patience with Nineveh had run out. Yes, God is “slow to anger,” but he also “will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3). Although “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (1:7), it’s also true that “with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh” (1:8). God had been incredibly gracious! He’d even sent a prophet to Nineveh. But Nineveh had abused his patient grace. So, now they would feel God’s severe punishment: “Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses” (3:3). Naham concludes his prophecy: “All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” (3:19). 

Jonah taught us that God graciously cared for Nineveh; Nahum tells us that the Ninevites, who scorned God’s grace, would feel his wrath.  

A message of comfort for believers 

And this is comfort?  

For the people of God, yes, it’s comfort, for it reminds us of important truths:  

  • God will not be mocked. Those who stand against God will eventually feel his wrath.
  • God advanced his plan of salvation through the Ninevites. Their judgment meant God was serious about disobedience and rebellion, and that judgmentbrought the Southern Kingdom to its knees in repentance.  
  • Even in the middle of this great judgment, theLord held out grace and mercy to his faithful. 

Yes, that’s comfort!  

And, those comforts remain today. Those who stand against God will feel his wrath. God acts sometimes with brutal force to bring people to repentance. But we find comfort because “the LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (1:7). 

And that’s a great comfort.


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 12-part series on minor prophets


Nahum

Home: Elkosh. Maybe in southern Judah?  

Date: Sometime between 663 (fall of Thebes) and 612 B.C. (fall of Nineveh).   

Unique feature: Almost completely directed against one nation—Assyria (and Nineveh, its capital).  

Key verse: 2:13 and 3:5. “ ‘I am against you,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” 


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 6

Micah: A King who’s a small-town kid

Thomas D. Kock

I want him to understand me! I want him to relate to me!

Is that the goal of the reporter’s question?

People who find it hard to relate

During presidential campaigns, reporters sometimes ask the candidates if they know the price of milk or bread. They may not actually ask that question, but they want to know if the candidate “gets normal people.” It amuses me. Are most of our presidential candidates regularly in the local grocery stores, comparing the prices of bread or milk?!? I suppose that maybe some do. I don’t know.

Wouldn’t the difference be even more pronounced for those who are royalty? The prince who grows up in the palace, served by all sorts of people—what would he know about “normal people” or about “normal life”? Probably not much!

A God who “gets it”

Now let’s take it another step. What does God know about us humans? Oh, sure, one could say, “Everything, because he’s God,” and that would be completely accurate. On the other hand, he’s God! He’s all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent. He’s love. He’s the source of all things. What does God have in common with us humans? By nature, nothing.

So what does God do? God comes to earth, as a real human being. Yes, he comes as royalty. Jesus is the Son of David, the rightful heir to the throne.

But he’s also a small-town kid. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which at that time was a “nothing” little town, a “little sister” to Jerusalem, a few miles away. Jesus spends most of his childhood in Nazareth, in Galilee. The “upper crust” at that time looked down on the Galileans. Regarding Nazareth, Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). By our parlance, Jesus is a small-town kid.

So what do we have? We have a Savior who “gets it.” He gets what it means to be a normal person, because that’s how he grew up. He grew up as a normal person in a normal place.

That means he gets you, and he gets me. He understands the challenges of life because he has experienced them. He understands the joys of life, the sorrows, the day-to-day grind. He “gets it”!

And yet he’s also the King! He’s the ruler of all, guiding and directing all things for your benefit, ruling the world for the good of his people.

What a combination! We serve God. We serve the King. He has all power. But we also serve a small-town kid. We serve someone who understands us through and through, the one who was born in a little town, in Bethlehem. He relates to you. He relates to me.

Yep, he knows the price of milk. Bread too.


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 12-part series on minor prophets


Micah

Name meaning: “Micah” means “who is like the Lord.”

Background: Contemporary of Isaiah (late 700s B.C., perhaps early 600s B.C.) from Moresheth (sometimes called Moresheth Gath, cf. 1:14), about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

Unique feature: Jeremiah 26:18 quotes Micah 3:12.

Key verse: 7:18: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 8

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

“Catch any?” (John 21:1-14)

“Catch any?”

If they have no fish, is there anything more annoying to fishermen than to hear that question? Even though a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work, “Catch any?” can be a fillet knife that cuts the ego of fishless fishermen.

Unfortunately, the knifing question, “Catch any?” is not limited to dock conversations. An aunt asks her single-not-by-choice niece, “Not married yet?” The ladies at church ask the young, infertile couple, “When are the little ones coming?” The pick-up basketball player asks his unemployed teammate, “Find a job yet?” Each question is just another way of asking, “Catch any?” Catch any men? Catch any kids? Catch any employment? While it may not show in the respondents’ faces, each question is a knife to the heart, as they’d love the reply to be anything but no.

What about when Jesus asked the probing question? “ ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered” (John 21:5). Yet when Jesus asks a heart-knifing question, the conversation doesn’t end at no. He provides the solution. To the fishless disciples, he directed, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat” (John 21:6). One hundred fifty-three keepers later, they trusted Jesus knew what he was talking about.

While we stand in awe of this abundant miracle, notice what Jesus was doing before he provided the blessing. He was getting the grill ready. Isn’t that neat? He knew how he was going to bless the disciples before he blessed the disciples. The same can be said for you. In his wisdom, he may not choose to bless you with what you long for most. But he’s getting the grill ready. He already knows how he’s going to bless you before he blesses you.

And here’s another detail not to miss. Jesus wasn’t only getting the grill ready. Look what was on the grill. Fish. Before the disciples hauled their 153 in, Jesus already had his own catch on the grill, ready to share. Jesus does the same for you and me. He’s preparing to bless you with your own individual blessings, but don’t neglect to see the blessings that he has already caught and invites you to enjoy with him. Hear him say things like, “Come. Come to my Table for the forgiveness of sins.” “Come. Come to the table that I’ve prepared in the presence of your enemies. You have nothing to fear.” “Come. Come to my banquet table where we can feast forever.” “Come. Come and drink the living water that I provide.”

Pray for the blessings that you hope God is preparing for you. But also pray for the blessings that he already has on his grill. As we pray, “Let these gifts to us be blessed,” we will be so amazed at what he serves that we won’t have to ask, “Who are you?” We’ll know: “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7).


Food for thought 

1. Why does God allow our nets to be empty at times?

We have a tendency to forget our need for our Savior and his blessings when our nets are full. God may be gently, or not so gently, calling us to stay close to him and not to wander away in our prosperity. Sometimes “empty nets” can lead us to rely on God more than ourselves. One may consider how our prayer life increases when our nets are empty and how perseverance can be God’s way of developing our character (Romans 5:4). Also consider how God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8,9). That is a blessing when we consider that he will bless us in ways that are immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). 

2. Why does the Holy Spirit include the number of fish in this lesson?

While we cannot know exactly why the Holy Spirit had “153” included in the Scriptures, it can lead us to appreciate a few things about God and his Word. We might consider just how well God knows us. If we ask a fisherman, “Catch any?” and he’s had a good day, he’ll tell you precisely how many fish he caught. More than once I’ve heard a fisherman say, “17” or “23.” This little detail speaks of its importance to fishermen.  

The fact that the Holy Spirit shares this detail is a great way to remind us that our God is not just a God of generalities. He is a God of specifics. He knows the very number of hairs on your head. Appreciate that this powerful God who can bring about such an abundant miracle is concerned about the details of your life. 

3. Compare Peter’s reaction to two different miraculous catches of fish (Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14). Why the difference?

The contrast is fascinating. Doesn’t it show the difference Jesus makes in our lives? Before I spent time with Jesus, the biggest thing staring at me was my sin, and I was afraid to be in the presence of a holy God. After spending time with Jesus and seeing how he nailed my sin to the cross and buried in in the tomb where it will stay, I don’t have to be afraid of my holy God. I can jump in the water and go to him. One may also consider these words from Acts 4:13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” 


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


This is the eighth article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after July 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 105, Number 07
Issue: July 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 7

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

The best is yet to come (Luke 24:36-49; Acts 1:7,8) 

Over 20 years ago, Robert William Thomas wrote the “Keep Your Fork” story. It’s often quoted in magazines or at funerals, and if you haven’t ever heard this short story, I’d encourage you to look it up. The essence of the story is, in the author’s words, “Keep your fork, because the best is yet come.”

Long before Robert Thomas published his story, Jesus instructed his disciples “that the best was yet to come.” At first glance, that might seem hard to believe. How can anything get better than having the Son of God and Son of Man as a regular dining partner? What can possibly be better than having Jesus begin with “Moses and all the Prophets” and explain how things had to play out the way they did (Luke 24:13-35)? What can possibly be better than having a bit of fish with a living Savior, proving his defeat of death (Luke 24:42)? Yet, after dining with them off and on for 40 days, he promises something better: “Stay in the city until you are empowered from on high” (Luke 24:49 Christian Standard Bible [CSB]). Basically, Jesus tells his disciples, “Keep your fork.”

We don’t always know what sweet thing is coming from the kitchen, so the disciples likely had no idea what a tremendous blessing Jesus had in store for them just 10 days after he ascended into heaven. But as promised, things got better. No longer just satiated with their Savior but “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4), the disciples became confident witnesses (Acts 1:8). As the sweet gospel went out from their lips, the blessings kept pouring in. About three thousand people were added to their number on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Thousands were baptized.

But don’t stop with the day of Pentecost. Look what happens next, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles” (Acts 2:42,43 CSB).

As we are about to embark on the non-festival half of the church year, there may be a tendency to push away from the table because we feel spiritually full. Over the past six months, we’ve been fed the beautiful truth of “God with us” as Jesus became one of us. We’ve “tasted and seen” that the Lord is good as we watched him give body and blood for our forgiveness. We feasted over the great celebration of Jesus’ victory over death. Yet, the same Holy Spirit that was promised to the disciples is promised to us every time we gather around Word and sacrament. Like the early Christian church in the days after Pentecost, may we continue to be devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Though these things, the Lord assures us the best is yet to come.

Therefore, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this gift—the gift of the Holy Spirit—to us be blessed. Amen.”


Food for thought 

  1. Why is Pentecost often the least celebrated holiday?

    Perhaps Pentecost is celebrated least because it has not been commercialized. Instead of bemoaning this, understand how this can be a good thing. Instead of Christmas becoming about Santa and Easter becoming about a bunny, we can continue to emphasize the spiritual blessings of this “holy-day” — the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  2. List three practical ways that you can keep“being devoted to the apostles’ teaching” during the summer months when people are often tempted to push away from the table because they think they are spiritually full?Answers will vary. Family or personal challenges about doing an in depth Bible study, visiting churches across the country when on vacation, memorizing a hymn a week, etc. are examples of “keeping our fork” during the non-festival time of worship.
  3. Why did Jesus tell his disciples to“wait” for the gift of the Holy Spirit instead of sending this gift right away?

    While I can’t say definitively Jesus’ reason, think about the same reason why parents tell children to “wait” for various gifts. When you have to wait for something, you usually appreciate it more. Also, by creating a ten-day gap between his physical presence and the promised gift, Jesus was showing that all authority in heaven and earth did belong to him and that he was still in control, even if he wasn’t physically with the disciples.


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


This is the seventh article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after June 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 06
Issue: June 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 5

Obadiah: Did God say that?!?

Thomas D. Kock

Did God say that?!?

The question is reasonable, and Obadiah likely raises that question.

A cruel message of punishment

The one-chapter book of Obadiah is unusual. It’s addressed to a specific nation: Edom. Edom was located to the east and south of the Dead Sea and was a perpetual enemy of the Israelites. That is tragic, for the Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. (Read the account of Jacob and Esau, starting at Genesis 25:19.) So, Edom was a cousin nation to Israel.

But the relationship between Edom and Israel was awful. Psalm 137:7 tells us that on the day Jerusalem was destroyed (586 B.C.), some Edomites were there, crying out, “Tear it down . . . tear it down to its foundations!” Wow!

So perhaps we’re not surprised to hear God say, “But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged!” (v. 6), and “everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter” (v. 9), and “you will be destroyed forever” (v. 10).

Edom was Israel’s enemy. Edom deserved this. And yet, it’s quite reasonable to ask, “Why would God say that? It sounds so cruel! So harsh!”

In a sense, it is cruel; it is harsh. But it’s a message that I need to hear. Why?

It reminds me that there is a God who rules this universe and to stand against him is a horrible decision. Indeed, the only ultimate result of obstinately standing opposed to God (as Edom did) is to suffer an eternity in hell.

That’s a message I need to hear because my sinful self too often takes sin so lightly. Every sin is rebellion against God. As I hear God’s strong words to Edom, I’m reminded that I too deserve what Edom received: “As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head” (v. 15). Just as Edom deserved punishment, I deserve punishment. I need to hear that!

A needed message of deliverance

Thankfully, Obadiah continues. “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance” (v. 17). Jesus came to win deliverance for sinners, for all sinners. He won forgiveness for the

Edomites—and for me. It happened on Mount Zion, the “mountain” on which Jerusalem was located. No, Mount Zion isn’t as impressive as some of the mountains of Edom, but what happened there was oh-so-impressive. There Jesus earned deliverance for all mankind—by dying and rising. Obadiah reminds me of that; I need to hear that.

Obadiah ends, “And the kingdom will be the LORD’s” (v. 21). Obadiah reminds me that God is in charge. He really does rule all things! Even when nations are in overt rebellion, God remains in charge. Even when I’m struggling mightily, God remains in charge. Even when I’m soaring high, God remains in charge. I need to hear that!

So, in Obadiah I’m reminded that I’m a sinner who deserves God’s judgment. In Obadiah I’m reminded that God has earned salvation for all, for me. In Obadiah I’m reminded that God is in charge, always.

Did God say that?!? Thank God, yes, he said that


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 12-part series on the minor prophets.


Obadiah

Name meaning: “Obadiah” means “servant of the Lord.”

What is Obadiah?: Is “Obadiah” a person? Or a title? We don’t know.

Background: Obadiah prophesied sometime after 586 B.C., when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed.

Key concept: God rules all things. Mock him at your own risk!

Key verse: “Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (v. 4).


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 6

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Were not our hearts burning within us? (Luke 24:13-35)  

Already in this series, you’ve nibbled on some fish with Jesus. You’ve broken bread and sipped some wine. You’ve sat in an aroma-filled dining room and a crowded wedding reception hall. I pray you have been spiritually nourished by these meals with the Messiah. But, be warned, you might want to take some heartburn medication before you indulge in the meal set before us today. At least Cleopas got heartburn. What caused it? 

Before we get to that, you should know that Cleopas had a preexisting heart condition, at least, that was Jesus’ diagnosis after examining him for a couple of hours late one Sunday afternoon. Jesus could see it in his face and in his pace, as Cleopas trudged the seven miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus.  

If his outward appearance wasn’t a strong enough symptom, Cleopas’ words certainly were, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Unable to recognize the one speaking to him as the One on whom he pinned his hopes, Cleopas droned on and on about Jesus, “He was a prophet . . . he was powerful . . . but he was sentenced to death . . . they crucified him . . . it’s been three days since this happened . . . some women said his tomb was empty and that he was alive . . . our friends also said the tomb was empty . . . but they didn’t see Jesus” (cf. Luke 24:20-24). Nor did Cleopas. And he didn’t see Jesus standing before him. Nor did he see Jesus in the Scriptures.  

Yet, Jesus doesn’t diagnose him with having eye problems. It was a heart problem. “How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25 NIV84). 

Has the powerful Jesus ever acted in such a way that your hopes were dashed? Has failing to see Jesus working in your life or in Scripture left you with a mind clouded with doubt and despair? Ever find yourself searching for a spiritual pulse because you have a slow heart? Jesus has just the prescription: it’s his Word.  

And if you need someone to endorse Dr. Jesus, listen to Cleopas. He invited Jesus in for a meal after their long walk, but it was the seven-course meal of Scripture that Jesus spoon-fed him that led him to say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).   

And look what a burning heart fuels: “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33). After Jesus miraculously vanished, basically so did Cleopas and his buddy. They didn’t stick around to do the dishes. They didn’t even finish their supper.  They didn’t care that it was dark outside. Without giving it a second thought, they ran back the seven miles they had just walked. Same road, but what a different journey! No longer were they trying to escape defeat; they were equipped with victory. They were no longer questioning; they were proclaiming. What a different attitude filled their hearts as they realized their Deliver was not dead but alive! How they must have shouted to the huddled disciples, “It’s true! Jesus is alive!”   

You can do the same. Come, Lord Jesus, let these heart-burning gifts to us be blessed! 


Food for thought 

  1. Why do we sometimes fail to recognize Jesus?

 In the case of the Emmaus disciples, the Bible says that they were “kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). But sometimes we may fail to recognize Jesus because we look for him according to our hope and expectations. For example, if we expect a powerful Jesus who will take away all our illnesses, we may not always see him working in a hospital room where we can witness to a nurse or see him working to work through our suffering (Romans 5:1-5).  

  1. What are some portions of “Moses and all the Prophets” (Luke 24:27) that you have found to be especially heart-burning? 

 Answers will vary. Examples may include any passage that so clearly show God’s forgiveness and care. For example, for a heart-aching person, God’s promise that a “bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3) can be extremely comforting. Or for the heart that aches with guilt, how tremendous to hear our God say, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).   

  1. What is significant about Jesus’ words, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things?” (Luke 24:25, emphasis added)? 

The Passion season that we just went through was not by chance. It was all part of God’s plans. Readers may want to consider other things that Jesus “had to do” (e.g., he had to go through Samaria in John chapter 4 to speak to the woman at the well). Being reminded that our Savior is in control of all things, even his suffering, assures us that he is in control of our lives. How comforting to know that, especially when we are “slow of heart.” 


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


This is the sixth article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after May 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 05
Issue: May 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 4

Amos: What if God had asked you?

Thomas D. Kock

Amos wasn’t a staff minister; he wasn’t a teacher; he wasn’t a pastor. He describes himself as being a rancher of sorts, raising sheep, as well as doing something with figs—though we’re not sure what the fig part entailed (cf. 1:1; 7:14). Amos was a layman, a typical Israelite!

But God had different plans for Amos: “The LORD took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’ ” (7:15).

What if God has asked you? Would you have been ready?

God’s messenger—then

I would imagine that Amos might have wondered, “Why me?!? Why not send one of the prophets?” God didn’t do that; he chose to send a layman.

What if God had asked you? Would you have been ready?

And then there’s the message! God called Amos to bring a difficult message to the Northern Kingdom! The people had rebelled against God over and over. God’s patience was coming to an end. So Amos had to deliver this message: Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country. And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land” (7:17).

Ouch! I’m guessing the people weren’t gathering around Amos to say, “What a great ‘sermon!’ I was really blessed by that!” This was a hard message . . . but a message that needed to be brought to the people because they were becoming more and more hardened in unbelief. It was imperative that Amos—the layman—deliver this message.

What if God had asked you? Would you have been ready?

God’s messengers—now

During this month we’ll celebrate Pentecost. We’ll again celebrate how the Holy Spirit was poured out in a miraculous way, giving power to proclaim the Word. And what had some of those proclaimers done previously? They’d been fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, John), tax collectors (Matthew), and political activists (Simon). In other words, they hadn’t been officially trained clergy. They’d been laymen!

And?

And God touched the world through their message! The message of Jesus spread from person to person! And generally, it seems to have spread through laity! Through people like Amos!

Through people like you.

What if God had asked you? Would you have been ready?

I’m convinced that the answer is yes! You know Jesus; you know his Word.

However, could it hurt to deepen your knowledge? While it’s critical for our church body to train our public ministers thoroughly, it’s also incredibly important that our laity understands the Word of God deeply!

So, if you’re not sure if you’d be ready, head to Bible study! If you think you might be ready, head to Bible study! If you’re pretty sure you’re ready, head to Bible study—both for yourself and for the good of others!

And in the study of the Word, God will make you ready for whatever opportunities he grants you.


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


This is the fourth article in a 12-part series on the minor prophets.


Amos

Background: A shepherd and fig-picker from Tekoa (in the Southern Kingdom). He prophesied in the Northern Kingdom from 760-765 B.C.

The book’s major truth: God’s patience with the Northern Kingdom is running out. Judgement!

Key verse: “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD’ ” (8:11).


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 5

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Do you have anything here to eat? (Luke 24:36-49) 

“Do we have anything to eat?” Being the father of two teenage boys, that’s a question I’m accustomed to hearing. So much so, I sometimes don’t even hear it. But when Jesus asks this seemingly ordinary question, it’s anything but mundane. 

It was Easter night. The huddled disciples were just hearing the reports for the first time. “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34). But they weren’t quite sure if the report was fake news or not. Was Simon mistaken? Were his eyes playing tricks on him? Were his hopes creating a false reality? 

But soon Jesus stood before them. Was that him? Sounded like him. “Peace be with you.” Looked like him. “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself!” But was it really him? Was it too good to be true? And then came the question, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41). 

Why did Jesus ask that question? Was he starving because he hadn’t eaten since Thursday? No, it wasn’t his glorified body that needed to be fed that night. Jesus didn’t ask for food because he needed to be fed. He asked for food to feed his friends’ faith. Their hearts were emptier than his glorified stomach. He asked for a bite to dispel their doubts.  

Imagine how the next moments played out. The designated chef walked over to the first-century oven and plated a piece of fish. The designated waiter handed it to Jesus, thankful that he didn’t drop the plate to the floor. Real-flesh hands of Jesus took it. With great anticipation, the disciples watched those scarred hands bring the fish to his mouth. As the candles cast their dim light on this unexpected guest of honor, they caught a glimpse of the fish grease glistening on Jesus’ chin. Like a parent watching a child eat their first spoonful, they intently watched this grown man chew. Munch. Munch. Munch. When he swallowed, it wasn’t just the fish that went down, so did their doubts. The next bite confirmed their joy. The bite after that confirmed their amazement. He is alive! Just as he told them. Just as it was written. 

But this Easter meal doesn’t just tell us something about Jesus’ resurrected body. We also learn something about ours. Because Jesus’ body was real, we can say, “In my flesh, I will see God” (Job 19:26). Because Jesus could dine with the disciples, we can look forward to eating with Jesus in the kingdom of God with glorified bodies (Luke 22:16). Because Jesus’ body stood in that room, we can confidently stand and confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come” (Apostles’ Creed), a life where we can enjoy paradise in soul and body.  

This Easter, you may gather with friends or family for dinner. Before you eat your Easter ham or peel those Easter eggs, you will pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” As he joins you for dinner, may the message of a living, 100 percent human, risen Lord, dispel your doubts. May the certainty of a victorious, death-defying Savior certify your joy and amazement. May his resurrection lead you to look forward to your resurrection. Let all these gifts to us be blessed! 


Food for thought 

  1. Why did the disciples think they saw a ghost? 

    People are quick to come down harshly on the disciples. But consider the circumstances. At the time, there was a general belief that the souls of dead people were able to roam the earth, often appearing in the evening. Suddenly, this “being” was among them, even though no door had been opened. Combine Jesus’ sudden appearance and the difference between his former state and his new glorified state, one can begin to understand why the disciples were a little slow to enjoy the “peace” that Jesus offered. The disciples might also think that they were seeing things—hallucinating in their deep despair at the death of their beloved Teacher. Did they only wish him back? Was this Jesus real or just their imagination playing tricks?

  2. How does this section compare to other times that Jesus asked, “Why did you doubt?” 

    Probably the other two most common times that Jesus addressed the disciples’ doubt was Peter walking on water (Matthew 14:22-35) and Thomas’ doubt a week after Easter (John 20:24-29). In both instances, Jesus went above and beyond to dispel their doubts. Peter said, “If it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Jesus’ simple answer was, “Come.” Likewise, he invited Thomas to touch his hands and his side to dispel Thomas’ doubts. These are wonderful examples of our Savior’s patience as we face our doubts. He doesn’t give up on us; rather, his will is for us to believe.  

  3. How does Jesus still appeal to our various senses to show us himself?What does this say about our Savior? The sacraments are a wonderful way in which our Savior appeals to our senses to show us his love. While his Word, in and of itself, can create and sustain faith, what a testimony to our Savior’s patience as well as his knowledge of his people. He knows that we don’t always “hear” so well. So what does he do? He allows us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8) by attaching his Word to earthly elements. We are assured of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the bread and wine because it is also his body and blood. In Baptism it is the same thing. We are washed clean. He places forgiveness in the water with the Word. We see it and touch it. 

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


This is the fifth article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Apr. 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 105, Number 04
Issue: April 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 3

Jonah: Hope in hopeless situations

Thomas D. Kock

“This is hopeless! There’s no way out of this, no way to escape! There’s nothing good that can come of this!”

Who had the most reason to make statements like the above? Perhaps Adam and Eve right after they’d eaten that forbidden fruit? Oh, how hopeless their situation!

Another group who thought it was hopeless were Jesus’ followers as they saw him being put to death and laid in a grave. Think of Mary Magdalene as she talked to the One she thought was the gardener. Hopeless!

Jonah’s “hopeless” situation

What about Jonah?

Remember, God had said to Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (1:2). But Jonah rebelled! He got onto a ship headed away from his task. God caused a mighty storm to come up; Jonah knew he was the reason for it (cf. 1:7-10,12). Jonah told the sailors to throw him into the sea, which they did. How did he feel as he plunged into the raging sea? Hopeless? I’d guess! After all, it appeared his life was about to end, and it was because he’d blatantly rebelled against God!

Not so much.

“Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). Chapter 2 of Jonah records a prayer of Jonah and ends by telling us that the fish, at God’s command, “vomited Jonah onto dry land” (2:10). Was Jonah’s situation hopeless? Not at all!

Jesus’ hope-filled promise

And, had Jesus’ followers paid better attention, they would have known that their situation wasn’t hopeless either. Jesus had said, “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Jonah came out of the fish; Jesus would come out of the grave! And he did!

Because Jesus came out of the grave, you and I will never face a hopeless situation, ever. That’s true because ultimately, we know where our journey is heading—to heaven! We know we’ll enter eternal life because Jesus died paying for all sins, even the sin of overt rebellion like Jonah’s. Then Jesus rose, proving that his payment for sin was all-sufficient! We who deserved hell are now journeying toward glory! So no matter what we might be facing, no matter how “hopeless” our situation seems, ultimately we will journey through that situation to eternal glory!

Hopeless? Never. Not for you! You know where you’re going!


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


This is the third article in a 12-part series on the minor prophets.


Jonah

Background: Jonah, the son of Amittai of Gath Hepher (land of Zebulun, cf. Joshua 19:13), was a prophet at the time of about 700-650 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 14:25).

The book’s major truth: “Salvation comes from the LORD” (2:9). God’s love is undeserved; God’s love is for all.

Interesting note: The book is full of ironies. For example, unbelievers pray while the prophet sleeps; the most rebellious of the Old Testament prophets is, humanly speaking, the most successful.

Unusual fact: Jonah was swallowed by a fish!


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 4

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

The last supper (John 13:1-15) 

Ding-dong. It’s Mike and Maggie. Handing you a bottle of wine, Mike says, “Here. It’s for you.”  

Ding-dong. It’s Mike and Maggie. Handing you a bottle of hand soap, Maggie says, “Here. This is for you.”  

Mike and Maggie never show up at our door empty-handed. There is always a “for you.” 

Can’t the same be said of Jesus? Every time he showed up as a guest, he came bearing gifts. But there is no bigger “for you” than the gifts we see him bring to the upper room.  

His first “for you” comes wrapped in a towel. Nobody expected this gift. Peter almost refused it because he was so offended by it. But what a gift it was! After Jesus bent down to wash his disciples’ feet, he asked, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (John 13:12, emphasis added). He showed them—and he shows us—what serving love looks like. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, emphasis added). 

Consider how valuable it is to be shown how to do something. A coach is a good coach if he shows you how to shoot a lay-up. Parents learn from their parents how to parent. The old adage, “More is caught than taught,” rings true. So when God in his Word says, “Love one another,” how valuable it is to have this picture of a towel-wielding Savior in our mind. Our world and even our churches talk much about love, but they know so little about it. But Jesus does know. Jesus shows us that to love means to put others first.  

But Jesus gives us another gift in the upper room. We open Jesus’ second “for you” gift as we get to see and taste his saving love wrapped in a wafer and wine. Many of you have heard “for you” hundreds of times as an observer from the pew or as a participant at the communion rail. “Take and eat, this is my body for you. Take and drink, this is the blood of the new covenant poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” 

John’s gospel doesn’t record the Words of Institution. But cherish how this inspired writer captures the extent of Jesus’ for you gift that he brought to the upper room: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). When John wrote those words, no doubt his mind went past the serving love he saw on display in the upper room. His mind went to the Garden where he saw Jesus’ soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. His mind went to the court, where he saw Jesus mocked and beaten. John’s mind went to the cross where the words still echoed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” knowing that he was the one who deserved to be separated. 

This month, many of you will have the opportunity to attend Maundy Thursday worship. As you prepare for that meal, Jesus is the host. But might your prayer still be, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts of your serving and saving love to us be blessed. Amen.” 


Food for thought 

1. What is the most special “for you” gift you have received?

Answers will vary. Readers may want to consider some of the most personal gifts they have received. Perhaps someone went way out of their way for you, devoting hours of time and research to come up with something that was extremely meaningful to you.   Apply that to Jesus’ gifts that he gives in the upper room. His service and his sacrifice and the lengths he went to give them to us enrich the “for you” we hear in Holy Communion.  

2. Do we have a tendency to look past the gift of Jesus’ example of serving love? If so, why?

We are blessed to know all that Christ has done for us. That continues rightly to be the emphasis of our teaching. But sometimes, perhaps, in fear of swinging the pendulum too far, we don’t spend much time considering how Christ works in us and through us.  We maybe also choose not to dwell on the example of Christ’s serving love because we see how often we fail to get down on our hands and knees with a towel. The more we look at Christ’s saving love, the more we will be compelled to also demonstrate his serving love. 

3. How does Holy Communion bring Jesus’ “for you” home for you personally?

When one worshiper was recently asked, “How would you depict peace,” he said, “Standing at the communion rail and hearing the words, ‘All is forgiven.’ ” Our God knows us. He knows that he made some of us visual learners, others audible, and others action. In Communion, he simply employs other senses to bring home the truth of his forgiveness. Each communicant receives the wafer and wine; each one personally receives the assurance of the forgiveness of sins “for you.” 


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


This is the fourth article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Mar. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 03
Issue: March 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 2

Joel: Deliverance for God’s people 

Thomas Kock

Tears formed in Joshe’s eyes as he overlooked the devastation. The locusts had eaten everything!  The two olive trees—his chief source of the so-often-used olive oil as well as a critical food-source—were stripped bare. Not only had the locusts devoured every leaf, they’d even attacked the tree bark! The grain had been gnawed to the ground, and the grape vines had fared no better.  

And it wasn’t just Joshe’s property; the locusts had invaded the entire land. Devastation was rampant! What would people eat? How could they survive? 

Joshe” helps us to envision the situation when the book of Joel is written. A locust plague had devastated the land! Thousands, millions of locusts would eat voraciously and reproduce quickly. (There are even stories of clothing being eaten off people’s backs!) And, while it’s unclear, it seems as if an invading armyof humansis on the way too, bringing even more devastation. How would the people respond? How would the Lord respond? 

Our devastation 

Lent reminds us that sin has devastated humanity. Selfishness, anger, timidity, greed, lust, fear, substance abuse, rebelliousness—those things have devastated individuals, families, and nations! Only if you deny it will you claim to be untouched. Our heads and hearts contain devastatingly sinful thoughts and desires, earning us damnation.  

How will we respond? Joel called to the Israelites: “Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD” (1:14). 

Cry out to the Lord for help in time of distress! For rescue! The Israelites desperately needed God’s help both for their physical needs and for their spiritual needs. Our need is just as desperate.  

And, God wants us to turn to him! “ ‘Even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning’ ” (2:12). 

God’s deliverance 

The people seemed to listen! And how does God respond? “Then the LORD was jealous for his land and took pity on his people” (2:18). 

God pitied his people! He then promised to restore their fortunes, replenishing the grain bins and the olive oil. Joshe’s fortunes were looking up! And in amazing grace God promised, “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed (2:27). 

And yet it gets better.  

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people. . . . And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance” (2:28,32). 

Deliverance! The message of Lent! You and I need deliverance; Jesus came to win deliverance for us!  

And so when the final day of the Lord comes? “The LORD will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel (3:16). 


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


This is the second article in a 12-part series on the minor prophets.


Joel 

Background: Son of Pethuel. (We know nothing more about either man.) 

Time he prophesied: Perhaps 722-586 B.C. (The Northern Kingdom is not mentioned; temple worship is taking place.)  

Key phrase: The day of the Lord

The book’s major truth: Rescue for repentant, distressed sinners.

Interesting fact: Peter “preached” on Joel 2:28-32 on Pentecost Day.  


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 3

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Saving the best for last (John 2:1-12) 

When Mary tapped Jesus on the shoulder at a wedding in Cana, informing him of the soon-to-be-discovered faux pas, she got a “Not yet,” from her son (John 2:4). Didn’t he get it? Didn’t he know how embarrassing it would be for their friends to run out of wine at their own wedding? An array of thoughts might have filled Mary’s mind as she walked away from that conversation, with her patience likely tested by Jesus’ “not yet.”  

What thoughts fill your mind when you tap Jesus on the shoulder with your prayers and get a simple, “Not yet.” “Jesus, I’m a little short this month on my bills. Is that new job going to happen?” “Not yet.” “Jesus, I’m running dry here. Can you at least pour me a drip of hope? A drop of joy? A dribble of peace?” With every “not yet,” Jesus seems to fill our whine glasses with disappointment, anger, frustration, and many other blends that test our patience. 

But before you completely lose your patience, pause. Hold Jesus’ “not yet” up to the light and examine it a little closer. Give it a swirl and a second sniff. What do you notice? “Not yet” does not mean no. “Not yet” may test your patience, but it also holds out promise.  

To Mary’s credit, she got that. That’s why she cued the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). She realized that the impending problem maybe wouldn’t get solved in her way or on her timetable. But it would get solved.  

And did it ever. Jesus miraculously turned 180 gallons of foot-washing water into 908 bottles of top-shelf wine. Just like that, Jesus’ “not yet” turned into the best yet. Jesus promises the same to you. In his wisdom, he may not always fill your glasses with whatever you want. He may test your patience with one “not yet” after another. But he also promises that his divine solution will be the best yet. 

That’s so evident as we begin another season of Lent. At first glance, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are an odd combination for Feb. 14. But they beautifully go hand-in-hand. On the surface, Valentine’s Day is all about our present wants: chocolates, courtship, and the like. Ash Wednesday kicks off our Savior’s journey to the cross. After saying on numerous occasions, “My time has not yet come,” the time came for Jesus to offer his life as payment for our sins. The season of Lent doesn’t paint a pretty picture with its strokes of suffering, shame, and sacrifice. But they were all part of God’s saving plan. They were necessary for what followed. First came the cross. Then came the crown. 

Because of his Easter victory, be assured, he’s saving the best for last. Therefore, like that wedding couple in Cana, may we invite, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Then, with eager anticipation, even in ways unknown to us, watch how his gifts to us will be blessed.  


Food for thought 

  1. What significance is there in knowing that Jesus was an invited guest to a wedding?

    Considering this is the first week of Jesus’ public ministry, it says something about his care and concern for people and their daily lives.  Especially when you consider that wedding celebrations were sometimes a week long in their culture, Jesus’ attendance shows that he wasn’t “too busy” for people.  The Almighty didn’t act high and mighty.  Similar to the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” this accounts that we can bring any request to our Lord in prayer.  There is nothing too small for him. 

  2. Recall a time when God’s “not yet” turned out being a blessing in your life.

    Answers will vary.  While not a theologian, consider the country songwriter Garth Brooks and his song, “Unanswered Prayers.”  After talking about how a high school fling didn’t end up in marriage he sings, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”  When we look back on our lives, often we can see how temporary “not yets” from God ended up being a blessing.  In heaven, we’ll see the “best yet.” 

  3. Why did Jesus ask Mary, “Woman, why do you involve me?” (John 2:4)?

    Jesus’ answer sounds disrespectful or uncaring to our ears.  But by calling her “woman”, he is reminding Mary that his work as Savior does not hinge on her.  In a way, he is distancing himself from her.  She is no longer a boy that she raised in Nazareth, but he has just entered the “public” ministry.  
    In regards to his public ministry, Mary was a sinner who needed to be saved, just like you and me. 
  4. Besides meeting the immediate need of the host, what purpose did Jesus’ miracle serve?

    The closing phrase, “his disciples believed in him,” shares the bigger blessing of this miracle.  His disciples had just started following him.  They already had faith in him as the promised Messiah, but this sign (or miracle) strengthened their faith in Jesus as the Son of God.  Consider the words of John 20:30-31 and how they relate to this account, “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples… these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”


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


This is the third article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the article and answers online after Feb. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist. 


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

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 02
Issue: February 2018

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

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Majoring on the minors – Part 1

Hosea: I’d like you to marry . . .

Thomas Kock

The final 12 books of the Old Testament are called “the minor prophets”—minor because of their length, not because of their importance. These minor books are full of major truths. In this series, we will major on the minors! Let’s start with Hosea.

Our unfaithfulness

I never, ever thought about praying for what we’re about to discuss.

My wife and I have been blessed with four children. Knowing that a spouse has a major impact on a person’s life, I began praying when my kids were young for their future spouses. I prayed that God would guide and guard them. I prayed that God would work strong faith in their hearts. I prayed that their parents would stay married, that they might have a good role model for marriage.

But I never, ever thought about praying like this: “The LORD said to [Hosea], ‘Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife’ ” (Hosea 1:2).

Can you imagine Hosea’s reaction? “You want me to do . . . what?!?” Yes, God wanted him to marry an adulterous wife. I never, ever prayed for something like that for my children! Why would God do this?

At God’s command, Hosea married Gomer, and they had three children. But there’s big trouble! We read: “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.’ So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley” (Hosea 3:1,2). Can you imagine? He had to BUY his wife back! Had she married another man? Perhaps so.

God’s faithful love

But did you hear the key point? “Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites.” God often describes his relation to his people as a marriage—God is the husband; the church is the bride. Whenever the church fails to love God with all her heart, whenever the church gives her love to other “gods” (money, fame, work, recreation, etc.), the church is committing spiritual adultery. In Hosea’s day, many of the Israelites were giving their

love to other gods. And so God decided to work through Hosea to paint this concrete picture of what God’s love is all about. Although Gomer was unfaithful, Hosea was to love her faithfully, just as God would continue to love his people.

February is the month of love because of Valentine’s Day. Do you look forward to this month or dread it? Unfortunately, too many people have experienced faithless love and have been hurt by those who ought to show them love. But far more terrible, each of us has shown lack of faithfulness—lack of love—to the One who is love itself.

Yet God continues to love us faithfully, no matter how often we have failed to love him.

And he always will.


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


This is the first article in a 12-part series on the minor prophets.


Hosea

Background: Hosea was the son of Beeri and a prophet during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the reign of Jeroboam son of Jehoash, king of Israel, c. 755-720 B.C.

His family: Hosea married Gomer, daughter of Diblaim. They had three children: Jezreel, whose means “the LORD plants and sows”; Lo-Ruhamah, whose name means “no pity”; and Lo-Ammi, whose name means “not my people.”

The book’s major truth: God’s faithful love.

Interesting fact: The New Testament quotes Hosea 30 times! Of the prophets, only Isaiah is quoted more!


 

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Author: Thomas Kock
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

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

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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 2

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Smells better than dinner (Mark 14:1-9)

Fresh baked bread. Chocolate chip cookies. Simmering cinnamon sticks. French roast coffee. Go ahead . . . take a whiff. Did you crack a little smile? It’s hard not to.

When Simon the Leper invited Jesus to be his dinner guest, I’m sure Jesus did not miss all the smells. Baked bread with dipping oils on the side. Fresh cut oranges. The catch of the day. And a crowded room of perfumed, curious people.

Then, cutting through the smells, Jesus got a whiff of something that brought a smile to his face. It was a “beautiful thing” (Mark 14:6) as Mary, the one who chose the one thing needed (Luke 10:42), needed to pour out her love before the One who loved her. When she saw Jesus, the One who changed her life, her appreciation and love welled up and overflowed. With no concern of a shard that may have cut her hand, she broke the neck of that expensive alabaster jar and poured the whole amount over his head until it dripped and dribbled down to his feet.

Proud papalike approval

This dinner at Simon’s table tells us much about Mary. But it also tells us much about our Savior. Look at his response. More than just acknowledging her gift, he called it “beautiful.” Wow! The God who crowns the sky with seven-layered rainbows and paints the sky at sunrise and sunset—the God who dresses the fields with sprays of flowers and invented 33 million times more scents than Bath & Body Works—that God, that creative, full-of-beauty God, called her act of faith “beautiful.” Ours too.

Why? One reason: he loves us. And love affects our perspective and our actions. Just like a proud dad thinks his kindergartner’s art is so beautiful that he displays it at work for all to see, God values our fruits of faith. They may not measure up to the world’s standards for beauty, but they are beautiful to him.

Mama bearlike defense

Moreover, his love leads him to defend us in the same way he defended his dear friend Mary. When the crowd questioned her, Jesus roared back like a protective mama bear, “Leave her alone” (Mark 14:6).

Usually when we pray that the Lord would defend us, we are looking to his mighty power for help. But it’s not just his might that comforts us. It’s why he wants to defend us that gives us his reassuring strength. He holds us in his protective embrace for one reason alone—because he loves us.

Promise-keeping Savior

It didn’t stop there. Having captured the attention of the crowd with his signature “Truly I tell you,” Jesus went on to promise this: “What she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). The fact that I’m writing—and you’re reading—about it today is convincing evidence that Jesus keeps his promises.

A proud papalike approval, a mama bearlike defense, and a promise-keeping Savior. What gifts Jesus put on display as a mealtime guest! Gifts that lead us to pray, “And let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”


Food for thought

  1. Evaluate this statement: Love is not love if it neatly calculates the cost. 

Just because Jesus commended Mary for her gift, that doesn’t mean we necessarily should use our offerings for things that could be deemed “wasteful.” Biblical stewardship principles still apply. However, two things stand out in Jesus’ evaluation of Mary’s offering: 1) he recognized that it was a gift for him (“She has done a beautiful thing to me.); and 2) he acknowledged the timing of this gift (he was about to be buried). As good managers, we too will want to encourage and give offerings that are 1) to God’s glory; and 2) appropriate for the time.  

  1. A Christian man donates $10,000 for a mural in his church, even though the congregation has an outstanding debt of $1.2 million. Apply this biblical account to the situation. 

In the example of the $10,000 mural gift, one would want to rejoice over the man’s motives, if they were indeed out of gratitude for the Lord. Second, one would want to consider the timing. In this particular case, the gift seemed appropriate as it brought him much gospel comfort: he had recently lost his wife. The mural would help him; it reminded him every week when he walked into church, “Take courage, it is I. Don’t be afraid.” It was a way for him to remember the gospel and Jesus’ love. In addition, it was to proclaim the gospel to others as they entered the house of God. 

  1. Read the three accounts of Jesus being anointed (Matthew 26:6-13;Mark 14:1-9; John 12:1-8). Which details do you appreciate the most?  

Together, the three accounts paint a beautiful picture. What you appreciate the most will vary. When studying a portion of Jesus’ life, it is often helpful to look at the various gospel accounts that record it. In this case, I appreciate that John shares the identity of the anointer. But I also appreciate some of the smaller details. For example, Mark tells us that she broke the alabaster jar. In other words, she wasn’t just willing to pour out a year’s worth of wages on Jesus; she even dedicated the expensive container. Or how about the fact that Matthew chimes in that the “disciples” (plural) thought this was a waste, not just Judas. What a reminder about how we too can get caught up in considering certain offerings to be wasteful, even though we’re not thieves like Judas. 


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


This is the second article in a 11-part series that looks at Jesus as a mealtime guest and how he blessed his fellow diners—and us—with his living presence. Find the 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 S. Heckendorf
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018

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

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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 9

Milestone moments and unexpected crises are the perfect opportunities for heartfelt repentance. Then we note God’s deliverance.

Samuel C. Degner 

Milestones have a way of making us stop and think. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, retirements—all are natural times to pause and reflect on the path we’ve traveled so far and the future that lies before us. Other occasions have the same effect: a health scare, an unexpected move, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job.

Soul-searching moments

The people of Israel were at one of these soul-searching moments. Idols were everywhere. The tabernacle had been destroyed, and the ark of God sat in storage. The people knew something was wrong. “Then the whole house of Israel longed for the LORD” (1 Samuel 7:2 Christian Standard Bible [CSB]).

The prophet Samuel knew the people were turning in the right direction. He encouraged them to show their repentance by getting rid of their idols. They did just that; then they gathered together as a nation at Mizpah to confess their sins to the Lord. As we look back at our past, it’s good to confess the sins committed there. It’s always a good time to turn to the Lord.

While Israel was gathered together at Mizpah, the Philistines decided it was a good time to attack. When Israel heard of their attack, they turned to the right place. They said to Samuel, “Don’t stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, so that he will save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8 CSB). Samuel offered a lamb on behalf of the people. The Lord heard their cry. He sent thunder so loud that the Philistines were thrown into a panic and were routed by the Israelites.

God never leaves his people helpless. When we turn to him in repentance, we trust that we have a perfect Prophet, Jesus Christ, mediating for us. He offered himself, the spotless Lamb, on our behalf. He never stops crying out to the Lord our God for us: “Father, remember the sacrifice I made. Forgive their sins. Help them in their trouble!” The Father always hears his cries and helps us in just the right way and at just the right time, just as he helped the Israelites.

Stones of help

After the battle, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer (“stone of help”), saying, “The LORD has helped us to this point” (1 Samuel 7:12 CSB). It was a monument to God’s help that day—and all the days before it. More than that, it was an encouragement for the future. If the Lord had helped them to that point, surely he would help them the rest of the way.

As you look back at your life, consider how the Lord brought you through each crisis. See how he moved you to repentance and forgave your sins. Marvel at how he blessed you at each stage. Those big moments in life weren’t milestones after all; they were Ebenezers. Look back on the road you’ve traveled and see stone after stone, each one set a little farther than the next, each one reminding you that the Lord helped you that far.

Then look toward the horizon of your future with confidence. The Lord will be there to help you until the next stone is set in place, and the next one and the next—until the last one is set on heavenly ground.


Contributing editor Samuel Degner is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin. 


This is the final article in a nine-part series on Old Testament monuments and what they mean to us today.  


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Author: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 105, Number 01
Issue: January 2018

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

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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 8

Two monuments taught the children of Israel—and us—one lasting lesson. 

Samuel C. Degner 

“To this day,” wrote Joshua (7:26). The people of Joshua’s day could still go and see two distinct monuments, which together taught one lasting lesson.  

God’s wrath 

The Lord had just toppled mighty Jericho. So Joshua led his men against the next objective—Ai. He was confident in the Lord’s power and promise to give them the victory. 

Instead, the Israelites were routed. Joshua was dumbfounded and cried out desperately: “Lord, how could you let this happen? If you promise to fight for your people and they lose, what happens to your good name?”  

Indeed, the promise had been broken—but by Israel, not the Lord. Lying hidden beneath the tent of a man named Achan was plunder from Jericho that the Lord had commanded his people not to take, under penalty of death. As long as that sin remained between them, the Lord would not fight for his people.  

But God showed mercy. He told Joshua about the sin and revealed the guilty one. Achan confessed, and both he and his family were stoned and burned. A pile of rocks was heaped over Achan, and that valley was named Achor, which means “trouble”—reminders of what disobedience brings. 

The punishment might seem shocking. But it could have been worse. Death by stoning is nothing compared to what rebellion really deserves. Achan’s sad monument stands as a warning that it is a deadly serious matter not to listen to the Lord—a warning for me and for you still today. 

You may even have your own sad reminder to this day of disobedience and rebellion—a scar, a broken relationship, a criminal record. On the other hand, maybe you managed to hide your sin—at least from others. But God knows. He would have every right to crush you under his wrath.  

God’s faithfulness 

But the Lord is merciful.   

Once the Israelites had dealt with Achan’s sin, the Lord turned from his anger and he went right back to fighting for his people. He gave them a plan of attack and, when they followed it, he granted a resounding victory over Ai (Joshua chapter 8). Its king was put to death, and a pile of rocks was heaped over his body—another monument, this one to God’s faithfulness. God’s people may have broken their covenant with him, but God had an even older promise to keep. 

It’s a promise he repeated centuries later through his prophet: “I . . . will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. . . . I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God’ ” (Hosea 2:15,23). 

Our rebellions should cut us off from the Lord and disqualify us from receiving his help. But Jesus stepped forward and owned our disobedience. He was executed for our crimes, crushed under God’s wrath in our place. By his death, the sin that had cut us off from God was removed and the Lord’s anger is turned away. We are God’s people through faith in Jesus.  

As the Lord’s people, we know he has given us eternal victory over our enemies—and so much more. He has graciously promised to bless us. We can march forward in life, confident in his covenant of forgiveness.  

His word still stands as a witness to that faithfulness; you can see it for yourself to this day. 


Contributing editor Samuel Degner is a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin.  


This is the eighth article in a nine-part series on Old Testament monuments and what they mean to us.  


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: Samuel C. Degner
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

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

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