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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.


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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 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.


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 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. 


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 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).


 

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: 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. 


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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
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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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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 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. 


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 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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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.  


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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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Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest : Part 1

Nourished by meals with the Messiah

Joel S. Heckendorf

Bethany buffet (Luke 10:38-42)

The Thanksgiving turkey has barely settled in your stomach, and you’re already planning the Christmas cookie assortment. Ever since God said in Genesis, “They will be yours for food” (1:29), eating has played an important role in our lives. Jesus also came and ate with friends, disciples, and others. Fully human, the Son of Man came “eating and drinking” (Matthew 11:19). We continue to invite him to be our guest at mealtime.

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest”

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” Martha didn’t rush through those words as a precursor to, “Please pass the potatoes.” She truly wanted Jesus to be a guest in her home. Martha often gets remembered for being on the wrong side of Jesus’ rebuke, but don’t miss the compliment: “Martha opened her home to him” (Luke 10:38). Considering the circumstances, her “Welcome” was more than a word on her doormat; it was evidence of her faith in Jesus.

Welcoming Jesus was not cheap. Remember, he didn’t travel alone. Martha couldn’t just instruct her family, “F.H.B.” (Family-Hold-Back), in order to stretch the mutton when Jesus landed at her Bethany home. Jesus usually arrived with 12 hungry students. I don’t mind if my son brings a few friends home for supper, but if he brings the whole basketball team I get concerned about the grocery bill. Not Martha! She welcomed Jesus and his disciples into her home without counting the cost.

It wasn’t only her checkbook. Having Jesus in her home also had the potential to cost Martha her safety and reputation. This Bethany buffet occurred during the “year of opposition.” Jesus was no longer viewed as a popular miracle worker. He was increasingly viewed as a rebel who stood up to the “righteous” religious rulers. Yet, Martha “opened her home to him.” May we too pray and live in such a way that invites Jesus to be our guest.

“And let these gifts to us be blessed”

At the same time, Jesus did not come to be served. He came to serve. This was a difficult lesson for Martha to learn. It’s difficult for us too. Among the readers of this article are Sunday school teachers and funeral-meal preparers, choir members, ushers, canvassers. councilmen, coffee roasters, and parent/teacher organization leaders. You may be tired of being the 20 percent who does 80 percent of the work. Thank you for your service to the Lord. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

But, “Martha, Martha,” is your service getting in the way of being served? Even if you think it’s not, listen to your Savior, “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42). Like Martha, your service is a blessing to Jesus’ work and his people. But the Savior’s primary goal is to serve you. That’s a lesson Martha’s sister Mary knew well.

Have you ever been told as the host, “Just sit down and enjoy the meal”? That’s what our Savior says to you. Sitting at Jesus’ feet with Mary, we are served endless helpings of forgiveness, inexhaustible portions of peace, limitless servings of grace, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of blessings.

Like Mary, may our prayer be, “And let these gifts to us be blessed.”


Food for thought

1. What helps sharpen your focus on “the one thing needed”?

Examples may include: 

  • Actually writing in “Bible Time” on our calendars.
  • Enlisting an accountability partner.
  • Link your reading of God’s Word to your personal prayer life.
  • When you read the Bible, look for yourself and your Savior in every text, story, prophecy, and promise.
  • Set asidefive minutes daily to read God’s Word and ask, “What is God telling me through this text for this particular day?” 
  • Tell someone else what you learned or thought. Telling others helps clarify our thoughts.
  • Devotional books or lists of key Bible texts can help guide our meditation.

2. How have you learned not to count the cost of service?

By focusing our eyes on what Christ has done for us, our service will feel less forced. Christ’s love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14,15) is the key to joyful service. This same focus also humbles us so that we are glorifying God’s name in what we say and do and not glorifying ourselves. 

3. Read Matthew 6:25-34. What comfort do you have concerning the worries of this world?

One of the most comforting truths of Matthew chapter 6 is the fact that our heavenly Father takes care of the birds. If he takes care of the “stuff”even the little “stuff”of this world, we don’t have to worry or get upset. 


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


This is the first 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 Dec. 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 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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What it means to be truly Lutheran: Public ministers of the gospel are called to serve

Joel D. Otto

Priests in the Middle Ages had two primary tasks: Correctly perform the sacraments of the church to earn God’s grace on behalf of the people and listen to confession. The people were required to confess all their sins to the priest at least once a year. Priests had to learn how to cajole people into remembering all their sins. They also had to investigate and probe the circumstances and motives of those sins to know what earthly punishments the person had to perform. The priests had to be spiritual detectives. And they knew everyone’s secrets. 

This wasn’t the only problem among clergy at the time of Luther. Some of the more radical reform movements had self-proclaimed, self-appointed preachers. They took on the duties of spiritual leadership without being properly called to do so. 

Truly Lutheran public ministers of the gospel are called to serve God’s people with the gospel. First, they are properly called to do this work. Individually, every Christian has the right and privilege to “declare God’s praises” (1 Peter 2:9,10) and every Christian can forgive sins (John 20:19-23). But when Christians gather together around the Word and sacraments, someone who is gifted and trained needs to be called to serve the group with the Word and sacraments. Otherwise, disorder could result (1 Corinthians 14:33,40). The Augsburg Confession stated the point succinctly and clearly. “It is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (Article XIV). The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is calling public ministers of the gospel through the church’s call (Acts 20:28). 

Second, truly Lutheran public ministers are called to proclaim the Word faithfully and administer the sacraments rightly. Pastors and other public ministers of the gospel are not spiritual detectives, entertainers, or corporate executives. They are not to act as dictators in the church (1 Peter 5:1-3). They are simply servants of Christ whose name they proclaim, and servants of Christ’s people whose blood purchased them as his people. That’s why the qualifications Paul listed for public spiritual leadership emphasize a Christian character that won’t be an obstacle to the gospel. He wrote that a spiritual leader should “be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable . . . not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2,3). These qualified public ministers are called to use the Word and sacraments for the spiritual benefit of those whom they are called to serve. So they also need to be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2).  

Truly Lutheran public ministers of the gospel need to know the Word and know how to communicate the Word. That’s why Luther encouraged, “Pray diligently, as Christ Himself commands us to pray (Matt. 9:38), that God may grant us faithful laborers and pastors who are sincere and adhere to the Word” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 28, p. 62). 


Questions to consider 

  1. Read 1 Peter 2:9,10. Explain how this passage relates to the public ministry.

Every Christian is a royal priest, God’s special possession, part of the people of God, by faith in Jesus. Every Christian has received mercy. Every Christian, therefore, has the right, privilege, and duty to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” In other words, every Christian is to proclaim the gospel. But when two or more Christians get together to proclaim the gospel, or when a group of royal priests desires to proclaim the gospel in places where they cannot go, then one of those “royal priests” has to serve as a leader; one of those royal priests has to serve in those other areas of ministry. For the sake of order and so that the gospel will be proclaimed faithfully, someone has to be chosen, trained, and called to serve the group with the gospel or serve on behalf of the group.

2. Describe how the teaching of the divine call is comforting to both called workers and congregation members.

Called workers can have the confidence and comfort that, even in challenging situations, they are serving where the Lord has called them to serve at this time. Likewise, for the congregation members, they can be sure that the called workers who are serving at this time and place are those whom the Lord has placed among them. The Lord has worked through the church to place his workers where he wants them to serve at this time (see Acts 20:28).

3. How does the Lutheran view of the public ministry affect the way that we educate future called workers (especially pastors)?

Since those who serve in the public ministry are called to proclaim the Word to and on behalf of the church, public ministers need to be taught the Word. Since those public ministers need to have the ability to teach the Word, those gifts need to be developed and cultivated. Therefore, the education of public ministers, especially pastors, emphasizes the tools needed to study the Word in depth, including the languages in which the Bible was written. The education of public ministers will also focus on learning how to communicate the Word. Therefore, classes in education, preaching, evangelism, and counseling are important. Since public ministers are serving the church and reaching out to the lost, they also have to understand people and the world in which we live. Therefore, classes in psychology and history are also part of training called workers.

 


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


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


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 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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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 7

As you look aheadremember the Israelites’ monument at the Jordan that shows how God keeps his past promises and continues to fulfill his promises for the future.  

Samuel C. Degner 

The people of Israel gazed out across the Jordan Valley. There it was, right in front of them: the land flowing with milk and honey, the one they had dreamed of for generations. Exhilaration must have filled their hearts as they pictured the places where they would put up their houses—houses, not tents! 

A promise kept 

But then again . . . they had been here before. Forty years earlier, their forebears had looked at the same landscape and concluded they could never take it from its occupants. Now, those Canaanites were still there. Moses, on the other hand, was not; the one who had led them to this point now lay buried somewhere in Moab. Then there was that river at flood stage . . . perhaps the people hadn’t noticed its distant roar at first. Was it excitement or fear that made their hearts beat faster? 

That mix of anticipation and uncertainty is timeless. Brides and grooms feel it as they prepare to enter marriage, expecting both joys and challenges. So do graduates as they step into a wide open future, full of both opportunity and danger, without those who had guided them to that point. Retirees may wonder whether the coming years will be as golden as they imagine. Christians nearing death see paradise lying before them as well as the pain they may have to traverse to get there. 

As you survey your future, consider the Israelites at the Jordan (Joshua chapter 3). By God’s power, they walked across the dry riverbed into a land that would no longer be promised but simply theirs.  

A future guaranteed 

This was more than the fulfillment of a centuries-old promise. God showed himself to be a “living God,” always present with his people and fully capable of giving them the Canaanites’ land. He wanted Israel to know they could confidently follow Joshua just as they had followed Moses, who had once led them across a different body of water. In other words, God was fulfilling his words from the past and guaranteeing his words about the future. 

To help his people remember this lesson through the coming years of conquest and for generations to come, the Lord commanded one man from each tribe to take a stone from the middle of the riverbed and place it at the Israelites’ camp (Joshua chapter 4). What a powerful monument: Rocks, worn and wet from years under a river, now stacked on dry land! A memorial to a promise kept—and a promise of more of the same. 

Somewhere in that same river, some 1,400 years later, stood a living monument with the same message. As Jesus stepped out of those descending waters, another miracle took place: A dove and a voice from heaven, said, “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17). It marked a promise kept: The Savior had come, who was the reason God brought Israel to that land in the first place. It was also a sign of good things on the horizon: Jesus’ perfect life on earth earned us a perfect life in heaven.  

As you make your way toward that promised land, you can trust the same living God’s presence and power to bring you safely through the obstacles in your path. The future that lies before you may both fill your daydreams and keep you up at night. But the Lord goes ahead to defend and bless you. It’s his promise. 


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


This is the seventh 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 104, Number 11
Issue: November 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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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 6

A monument marking the burial of a wife and mother also marks the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Samuel C. Degner 

The monuments we see most often may be the ones we like the least: a headstone in a cemetery, a plaque on a vault, an urn on a mantel. They are sad reminders of sin’s grave consequences. 

Hopes unfulfilled 

When Moses wrote down the Spirit’s words in the book of Genesis, he mentioned an old monument in Palestine, one put down by a grieving but believing wanderer some four hundred years earlier. It was a simple memorial—just an upright stone—that marked the burial place of Jacob’s dear wife Rachel (Genesis 35:20).  

Imagine how Jacob felt as he set up that stone. He had fallen in love with Rachel in less than a month. He had worked for his uncle Laban 14 years to make her his bride. She was the mother of Joseph. Tragically, she died giving birth to Benjamin on the journey to Jacob’s home.  

Often grave markers appear to us as reminders of dashed dreams: A life seemingly cut short by disease or accident, a grandparent that never got to meet a grandchild, a husband whose wife lived alone for many years. Surely, you’ve felt the bitterness in your heart as you walked away from the headstone or gently set the urn in its place. 

However, as Jacob set up this stone over his wife’s fresh grave, could it be that his mind was not on hopes unfulfilled but on promises kept? 

Promises kept 

This new monument stood not far from Bethel, where Jacob had set up another stone perhaps 30 years earlier. In fact, he had just stopped there to worship again—and how things had changed since his last visit! The one-time fugitive was heading home. He had made peace with his brother and no longer feared for his life. He was not alone anymore but accompanied by his wives; 12 children (and one soon to be born); and enough flocks, herds, and servants to split into two camps. He even had a new name: Israel. The Lord had kept his word spoken at Bethel years earlier to protect Jacob, bless him, and bring him back. Certainly he would also keep his promise to give Jacob many descendants, who would own the land under the stone and through whom eternal salvation would come to the world. Rachel would live with Jacob—in his heavenly Father’s home! 

Not many miles from the place where Rachel was laid to rest, another stone would mark a grave. This one was rolled over the opening of the tomb that held Jacob’s descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. How his followers who watched it set in its place must have felt the bitterness of their unfulfilled hopes! But this stone didn’t stand in place for long; on the third day, an angel rolled it aside. No need for a stone over a vacant tomb!  

Jesus’ empty grave now stands as its own monument, proof that God has kept his word to us: Our sins are buried and eternal life is ours. His empty tomb also changes our perspective on the graves of those dear to us. Death still brings heartache, but Jesus’ resurrection promises life after death for all those who believe in him.  

So, the monuments we place near our departed loved ones can serve not as reminders of unmet expectations but as signs pointing to a hope that is sure to be fulfilled. 


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


This is the sixth 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 104, Number 10
Issue: October 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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What it means to be truly Lutheran: The church is believers in Jesus

Joel D. Otto

In Luther’s days, there were differing views about what the church looked like. The Roman Catholic Church considered the one holy church to be the church of Rome. Others, like Anabaptists and even Calvinists, sought a church that was pure in members and ministers. They tried to create a perfect church and community where God’s law reigned supreme and everyone was living holy lives. Both views emphasized the outward nature of the church. 

Luther went back to Scripture. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The one holy church is not a visible organization. Instead, the church is made up of people who believe in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2). Therefore, God only knows members of the holy Christian church because only God can see faith in a person’s heart (2 Timothy 2:19). We know where the church is because believers gather around the Word and sacraments, but in these visible congregations there will always be hypocrites (Matthew 13:24-30,36-43).  

The church always will be under attack from false teachings and worldly influences (Matthew 7:15; 2 Timothy 3:1-5). But the church will endure because the Word of God will endure (1 Peter 1:23-25). We have God’s promise that when the Word is proclaimed, he is at work to accomplish his purposes (Isaiah 55:10,11). That is why the church gathers around the Word and sacraments and uses the Word and sacraments. Jesus promised his presence when believers gather in his name (Matthew 18:20). The Spirit is at work through the gospel of Jesus, bringing unbelievers to faith and strengthening the faith of believers (Romans 10:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14; John 3:5,6; Titus 3:5).  

When we see believers and the gospel under attack, we can wonder if God is still at work and if the church will endure. But we find comfort in God’s promise to preserve and bless his little flock (John 10:27-30; Luke 12:32). Instead of getting envious about larger church organizations, we endeavor to faithfully do the work Jesus has given his church to do. Believers simply proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). 

Luther summarized this well when he confessed in the Smalcald Articles, “We do not concede to them that they are the church, and frankly they are not the church. We do not want to hear what they command or forbid in the name of the church, because, God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is: holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’ This is why children pray in this way, ‘I believe in one holy Christian church.’ . . . Its holiness exists in the Word of God and true faith” (Part III, Article XII). 


Questions to consider 

  1. Read Ephesians 2:19-22. Why does Paul say that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets”? What does it mean that Jesus is “the chief cornerstone” of the church?

The words “the apostles and prophets” refer to the Scriptures. They were the human authors God used to give us his holy, inspired, inerrant Word (2 Peter 1:21). Through his Word, God reveals his saving love for us. Through his Word, God reveals what we are to believe in order to be saved. Our faith rests on the solid foundation of his Word, and his Word is powerful. It is God’s power through which he gives us the faith to believe (2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 1:16; Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25). 

In ancient times, the cornerstone was laid first. It had to be cut perfectly square because the walls lined up from the cornerstone. If the cornerstone wasn’t perfect, the walls would be crooked and the building would probably collapse. The church (and God’s Word) finds its center in Jesus. Only faith in Jesus saves (e.g. John 3:16). Only faith in Jesus makes us members of his church (1 Corinthians 3:11). All of God’s Word revolves around God’s promise of a Savior and the fulfillment in Christ (John 5:39). All of the teachings of God’s Word are really lined up on Jesus. 

  1. Read Matthew 16:15-18 and 24:14. How do these words of Jesus assure us that the church will endure?What comfort do Jesus’ words provide when we see the gospel and the church under attack? 

First, we have Jesus’ clear promise that the gates of hell will not overcome his church. Satan is our most powerful enemy.  So if we have Jesus’ promise that the devil won’t conquer the church, then nothing else will. Second, we also have Jesus’ promise that the gospel will be proclaimed until he returns. The gospel (in both word and sacraments) is what sustains, strengthens, and grows the church. If the gospel will continue to be proclaimed, the church will continue to endure (Isaiah 55:10,11; 1 Peter 1:23-25). 

These promises are immensely comforting because it can be easy for Christians to get discouraged and lose heart when it seems like false teachings and sinful lifestyles are running rampant in our world. We can feel like God’s church will fade away when we don’t see our church growing like we think it should or desire; we feel like such an outcast minority. We can feel helpless when the government or other forces in society ridicule the truth of God’s Word or it seems like their attempts to silence the gospel will succeed. But we have Jesus’ powerful promises. The church will endure, even against the darkest, most evil forces. The gospel will continue to be proclaimed until the end of the world, even in the face of persecution or false teachings. 


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


This is the 13th articles in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through the Reformation. Find this article and answers online after Oct. 5.


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 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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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 5

Alone and guilty, we need the assurance of God’s love in Christ, just like Jacob.

Samuel C. Degner

Have you ever felt so alone that it seemed even God was far away?

LOOMING LONELINESS

Jacob was a long way from his home in Beersheba, far from his mother and father. He was on his way to his uncle’s house in Harran. When the sun set, he had to stop right there on the road, somewhere near a place called Luz. There, all alone, he lay down for the night (see Genesis 28:10-22).

Making matters worse was the reason for his solitude. Jacob had stolen his father’s blessing from his twin brother, Esau. Now Esau, the hunter, had his sights set on Jacob. Jacob chose to run from Esau.

Imagine the loneliness that must have settled on him along with the darkness as he laid down his head on a stone. He had deceived his father and enraged his brother. He had also failed to trust God’s promises. Had he alienated his God too?

Loneliness is bad enough, but guilt adds to the pain like a stone under the head. We have all been there. Your sibling won’t talk to you because of an argument you started. Your friends stop calling because you let them down. Sometimes it can even feel like you’ve driven God away.

CONSTANT CONNECTION

In those rock-bottom moments, look up!

Look up with Jacob as he dreams. See a stairway resting on the earth and reaching into heaven. Watch the angels ascending and descending. Jacob was not alone! God’s messengers attended to him. God himself spoke—and not a word of condemnation. To the homeless one, he promised the land on which he lay. To the one who fled his family, he promised descendants like the dust. To the one traveling alone, he promised his presence and protection. He even promised to use someone from this guilty one’s line to bring blessing to the whole world. God assured Jacob of his forgiving love—the same love he promised to his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac.

Just what Jacob needed to hear!

Just what we needed too. When we were lying in guilty solitude, God sent that descendant of Jacob to us. Though he was one with the Father and never wandered from him, Jesus lay his head down on a piece of wood and felt what it was like to be truly estranged from God. He suffered that loneliness so that we never would.

Jesus once told Nathanael, “You will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Jesus is that stairway, our bridge between earth and heaven. He is our constant connection to God. Because of him, our cries of loneliness rise to heaven and God sends down his comfort: He will not break his relationship with us.

When Jacob woke up, he seemed surprised. “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16). He took the stone on which he slept, set it upright, and anointed it. He renamed the place Bethel, “house of God.” He still had many miles to go and many years before he would see his family again. But he knew that, wherever he was, God would be with him.

Let his simple monument be a lasting reminder to you too. No matter how isolated you may feel, you’re never alone. Your God is always with you.


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


This is the fifth 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 104, Number 9
Issue: September 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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What it means to be truly Lutheran: God’s different work in two kingdoms

Joel D. Otto

There has always been tension between the church and government. At various times and places in history, the government has tried to wipe out the church. At other times, the government has tried to use the church for its purposes. Eventually, the church started carrying out a governmental role and even tried to bend the government to its will, attempting to use the government to carry out the church’s work. Popes crowned emperors. Kings vowed to defend the church. Popes and bishops ruled territory and led armies. Conflicts arose over who should appoint church leaders: the church or the government. The result was confusion between the church’s work and the government’s work.

Martin Luther and his fellow reformers went back to the Scriptures to sort out this confusion. God carries out his work for the benefit of his believers and for the good of his whole creation in two different kingdoms or realms.

On the one hand, God has established his church, and through the church’s work he cares for our souls (Matthew 16:17-19; Hebrews 13:7,17; Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 4:15). He brings people to faith through the Word and sacraments (Romans 1:16; Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 5:25-27). He strengthens his church and comforts his people through the work he has given the church to do (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-48; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21).

On the other hand, God has established government, and through the government’s work he cares for our bodies (1 Peter 2:13,14; Romans 13:1,2). He maintains peace and order in society through laws; he protects people’s physical well-being through the enforcement of laws (Romans 13:3-7).

True Lutherans have historically tried to avoid using governmental force to further the cause of the gospel, while also recognizing that Christians may serve in the government and be served by the government. True Lutherans have also attempted to avoid the confusion of the two kingdoms. The church and the government each have their own distinct mission and distinct ways to carry out that mission. As God’s children, we live in both kingdoms and strive to be obedient servants in the church and to the government.

The Augsburg Confession stated it well:

Now inasmuch as the power of the church . . . bestows eternal benefits and is used and exercised only through the office of preaching, it does not interfere at all with public order and secular authority. For secular authority deals with matters altogether different from the gospel. Secular power does not protect the soul but, using the sword and physical penalties, it protects the body and goods against external violence.

That is why one should not mix or confuse the two authorities, the spiritual and the secular. For spiritual power has its command to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments. . . . It should not annul or disrupt secular law and obedience to political authority. It should not make or prescribe laws for the secular power concerning secular affairs. . . .

In this way our people distinguish the offices of the two authorities and powers and direct that both be honored as the highest gifts of God on earth. (XXVIII:10-13,18)


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. List at least five blessings we receive from God through the church’s work and through the government’s work.

 Blessings through the church’s work include the following:
● The forgiveness of sins.
● Strengthening of faith.
● Comfort in the face of temptation, doubt, guilt, or trouble.
● Encouragement from fellow believers.
● Opportunities to serve.
● Opportunities to carry out the church’s mission.
Blessings through the government’s work include the following:
● The freedom to worship (in some nations).
● Safety and security (police and fire departments; court system).
● Peace and order.
● Military protection from enemies.
● Roads and other infrastructure.
In both of these lists, there are others that you may think of.

2. Explain and apply Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:15-22.

 During Holy Week, the “Herodians,” men who supported the Roman government,
presented Jesus with a question intending to trap him. Should the Jews pay taxes to the Roman government? If Jesus said, no, they could arrest him on charges of sedition and treason. If Jesus said yes, they hoped that this would discredit him with many of the Jews who despised Roman rule.
Jesus’ answer demonstrated how Christians live in two kingdoms. We owe obedience
to God. We also owe obedience to the government. By obeying the government, we are
obeying God since he has commanded such obedience (see Romans 13:1-7).
How does this apply? For example, as Christians, we know that God owns everything
because he created all things (Psalm 24:1). In loving thankfulness, we give generous
offerings as a sacrifice of praise to our gracious God. But we also owe taxes. We pay our taxes honestly. This is obeying the government. It is also giving “to God what is God’s,” since God has commanded that we pay the taxes we owe.

3. Read Acts 5:17-42. What circumstances demand that Christians disobey the government? What should such disobedience look like?

 The high priest and a segment of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, had
arrested the apostles because they were speaking about Jesus. They had ordered the
apostles not to preach the gospel. The apostles refused to comply. They were flogged,
but they kept preaching and teaching the good news about Jesus.
Christians must disobey the government when the government gives a clear
command to do something that violates a clear command of God. In the case of the
apostles, Jesus had commanded them to preach the gospel. The order of the high priest
clearly contradicted the Great Commission. Thankfully, at least in the United States, the government has not placed such a burden on us.
But if the government does command us to disobey one of God’s clear commands, we
must disobey the government. Like the apostles, we must be ready to suffer the
consequences for such disobedience. We may need to leave the country. We may resort
to passive resistance. But such disobedience should not take the form of violent
rebellion. We never see the apostles arming themselves with swords.


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


This is the 12th article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through the Reformation. Find this article and answers online after Sept. 5.


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 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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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 4

As an altar reminded Abraham of a death that didn’t happen, so a cross reminds us of how our Savior saved us from eternal death.

Samuel C. Degner

It’s not hard to find memorials that mark the place where someone died. White roadside crosses sit at the spot of a highway fatality. A new tower rises over the place where thousands lost their lives on 9/11. A makeshift memorial of candles, flowers, photos, and teddy bears crops up at the site of the latest tragedy.

But have you ever seen a monument to a death that didn’t happen?

A sacrifice God demands

Abraham was a nomad. He was used to walking for days at a time. But the three-day journey he undertook from Beersheba to Moriah must have felt like the longest of his life. It wasn’t just the distance; he was on a mission to sacrifice his son, his only son. He had God’s promise to bless him—and the whole world—through Isaac; he also had God’s command to kill him. How his confidence and confusion must have struggled with every step!

And what about Isaac? What was behind his question, when he noticed that they had all the materials needed for a sacrifice except the sacrifice itself? What was going through his mind when his father tied him up and placed him on top of the altar?

The Bible answers none of these questions. But perhaps it’s good to ask them because, whether you realize it or not, you were once in Isaac’s place.

You were bound guilty and laid out on the altar of God’s justice. You belonged there for all the times you disobeyed your heavenly Father. His wrath was about to come down on you and end your life eternally.

A substitute God provides

Abraham’s reply to Isaac echoes down through the centuries: “God himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8).

Who do you think was happier to see that ram caught in the thicket of Moriah—father or son? What a relief to know that another would die in Isaac’s place! Isaac’s hands and feet were untied, and he came down off the altar. He was safe! He would not die at Moriah that day. The stones stacked there were finally stained with blood, but not his. They stood as a monument to one death—and to another that didn’t happen.

Two thousand years later, not far from that very place, God once again provided a Lamb. The innocent Son of God was bound and laid onto a cross-shaped altar. The Father in heaven “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). The perfect Lamb spilled his innocent blood for our disobedience. The sacrifice is over . . . and we get to live. We’re safe!

Today, we have reminders of that Substitute’s sacrifice all around us—in our sanctuaries, on our steeples, around our necks, on our walls, in the sign the pastor makes at the start of the service, on the stones that mark our final resting place. Each cross is a memorial to the Lamb’s sacrifice in our place. Each cross is a reminder that, because he died for us, we will not die forever but live with him.

Cherish that cross—a monument to a death that happened and to one that never will.


Contributing editor Samuel Degner is pastor at Bethel, Menasha, Wisconsin.


This is the fourth 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 104, Number 8
Issue: August 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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What it means to be truly Lutheran: Vocation: Serving God and others

Joel D. Otto

Monasticism received a lot of attention from Luther and his fellow reformers. They saw that the church promoted this “religious” way of life as the best way to improve a person’s chances to get to heaven. It was an example of salvation by human effort.

The reformers also criticized this life of poverty, chastity, and obedience because monasticism confused what it really meant to serve God and others. People were led to believe that you had to live as some kind of “super Christian” to really serve God. Luther said that Christians serve God in their everyday lives when they serve their families and neighbors. But it is hard to serve your family and neighbor if you are sequestered behind the walls of a monastery.

God gives us opportunities to live our faith (Ephesians 2:10). Luther described these opportunities as a Christian’s “station” in life or a “vocation” or “calling.” We have numerous relationships in our daily living: families, communities, schools, workplaces, the marketplace, friendships, churches, government. Each of these provides opportunities to serve God by serving others and by contributing to the welfare of the larger society.

In fact, God provides what we need to help us carry out our vocations. In Luther’s explanation to the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in his Small Catechism, we notice how many different aspects of “daily bread” intersect with our service to God and others. “Daily bread includes everything we need for our bodily welfare, such as food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, land and cattle, money and goods, a godly spouse, godly children, godly workers, godly and faithful leaders, good government, good weather, peace and order, health, a good name, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” God gives us the opportunities and the means to help others.

Luther especially noted the value God places on the simple, everyday ways that Christians live out their various vocations. Yes, we are serving God. We are doing all things to his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). But God is also acting through us. He is working through us to care for others. Luther wrote, “God’s people please God even in the least and most trifling matters. For he will be working all things through you; he will milk the cow through you and perform the most servile duties through you, and all the greatest and least duties alike will be pleasing to him” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 6, p. 10).

When we think in those terms, we can see how what seems like an ordinary life is elevated in God’s eyes. We don’t have to be “religious” or “super Christians” to serve God. True Lutherans understand that we serve God when we serve others through our various vocations in life.


Questions to consider

1. Read Colossians 3:12–4:1. How do these verses demonstrate attitudes Christians display in their vocations? How do these verses give specific direction for living out our vocations?

Every attitude that Paul lists in these verses—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love—are all critical in fostering relationships. So many of our vocations, if not all of them, involve living out relationships with others in our family, workplace, school, neighborhood, community, society, and church. All of these attitudes are part of obeying the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” For us to live out our vocations in a Christian manner, we need the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts. We need the peace of forgiveness for the times we fail. That peace rules in our hearts when the message about Christ is dwelling in us richly.

These verses give specific directions to various areas of family life and the workplace. There’s also an overall motivation that is present in these verses. Remember who we are. We are God’s chosen people. He has made us holy. He dearly loves us. He forgives us. So whatever vocations we have, the way in which we carry out those vocations should reflect a thankful heart. We live out our vocations in the name of the Savior whose blood bought us and in whom we trust for our salvation.

2. How might we fall into “Lutheran monasticism” today?

None of us will probably be taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience or establishing monasteries next to our Lutheran churches any time soon. But we can fall into a “Lutheran monasticism” when we give the impression that things done in connection with the church are better or godlier than living out one’s vocation in the home, workplace, and community. The unintended message of church leaders can be, “You’re only really serving Jesus if you’re volunteering on the evangelism committee or singing in the choir or serving on the church council.” We are in danger of a “Lutheran monasticism” when some people volunteer so much at church that they are rarely at home to live out their vocations as parents or spouses. They’re so busy at church that their family life suffers.

We even are in danger of a “Lutheran monasticism” if we give the impression that serving in the public ministry is a holier calling than “just” being a lay person. It is true that whoever desires to serve in the public ministry desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1). Making the preaching and teaching of the gospel one’s vocation in life is a wonderful calling. We even can call it a high and holy calling. You get to tell others about Jesus as your life’s work. The church needs people to serve in the full-time public ministry of the gospel. But we must always beware that we don’t make it sound like service in the public ministry puts someone on a higher level than everyone else or that being a pastor or teacher will somehow bring a person closer to God. Service in the public ministry is another way to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus.

3. List specific vocations you have in your life. How have they changed over the years? Choose one vocation and think of ways you serve God and others in that calling.

Answers will vary, but think about the different vocations one has in family life, community, workplace, church, school, etc. Consider how those vocations, especially in terms of relationships, change over the years. For example, your relationship to your parents is different when you are 7 years old than when you are 27 or 57. As you choose a vocation on which to focus, think of attitude, words, and actions you might want to display in that specific calling that will allow you to serve God and others.


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


This is the 11th article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation. Find this article and answers online after August 5.


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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 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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Monuments: Lasting memories – Part 3

As pilgrims in this world, we need to stand out in our worship of the true God, just as Abram did in the land of Canaan.

Samuel C. Degner

There must have been no shortage of shrines in Canaan. The land we now call “holy” was filled with unholy sites dedicated to pagan gods.

An altar to the Lord

But this new altar was different. Its builder was a foreigner named Abram. He came from Ur of the Chaldeans, a people with their own gods. But it wasn’t for one of those gods that he stacked these stones. It wasn’t for one of Canaan’s gods either. In the ancient world, it was common for immigrants to adopt the local religion, not just because they want to fit in but also because they believe that each place had its own deity that had to be pleased.

Not this migrant. Abram knew that the God who had called him in Ur was still with him in Canaan. He trusted that his God could and would bless him in this new land, just as he said.

So, at his first recorded stop in Canaan, at the great tree at Shechem, Abram built an altar to the Lord. When he moved on to the hill country between Bethel and Ai, he built another altar, and “called on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:8). This was a public act of true worship right in the heart of pagan country! These altars were beacons of light in the darkness.

Worship of an outstanding God

What’s the land of your pilgrimage? What god do the people there worship? In secular schools, Reason or Science may be the local deities—and their followers surely are persuasive. In the workforce, many people worship Money—and seem to be rewarded handsomely. Popularity has a devoted following, and people offer great sacrifices to Sports. The rituals in the religion of Pleasure seem quite appealing.

But you, dear pilgrim, were called to be different. That’s not easy, but it’s good, as Abram would tell you.

He and his family were vastly outnumbered in their new land. Other than the mysterious Melchizedek (Genesis 14), we are told of no other true believers there except those with Abram. Yet Abram trusted the Lord’s promise that one day the land would belong to his people. After just a few centuries, Abram’s descendants covered that land like sand on the seashore.

Several more centuries passed, but the Lord also kept his ancient promise to bless the world through Abram’s family. His Offspring was born and made his pilgrimage in the same land Abram once roamed, the only Holy One in a world full of sinners. In place of our crumbling and misdirected altars, Jesus sacrificed himself on a cross to please God on our behalf.

The same God who kept his promises to Abram and the world has kept the promises he made to you when he called you to faith. He has been with you everywhere you have gone. He has blessed you with more good things than you can count. He has reserved a place for you in the eternal land of his people.

Aren’t you glad to stand out in your worship of such an outstanding God? A word of kindness in a negative discussion. A tournament game skipped because it’s Sunday morning. Words that bring honor to God. Actions that reveal godly priorities. These are all acts of worship! With them we raise a beacon in a dark world that needs his saving light.


Contributing editor Samuel Degner is pastor at Bethel, Menasha, Wisconsin.


This is the third 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 104, Number 7
Issue: July 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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